Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Ed Rendell, Joan Walsh, Eamon Javers, Jackie DeAngelis, Ron Reagan, Nia-Malika Henderson, Gabriel Gomez, Jon Soltz, Robert Costa
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC GUEST HOST: One week later, what have we
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.
Leading off tonight: Where`s the bounce? A lot has happened in the
week since Paul Ryan joined the Romney ticket. Conservatives are thrilled,
energy is up, money is pouring in. But Republicans are also gnashing their
teeth over Ryan`s plans for Medicare, and the expected poll bounce has been
And now we learn that the anti-stimulus crusader Ryan, in fact, asked
for stimulus money for two companies. That`s something he`s consistently
denied, but yesterday was forced to concede the bottom point. Bottom line:
Is the veep pick working?
Also, Mitt Romney claims he paid at least 13 percent in taxes each of
the past five (SIC) years. Democrats say, Prove it. Consider this. You
probably make a lot less than Romney and paid a lot more than 13 percent,
and this fight isn`t going away.
Plus, is it Swift Boating 2012-style? A group of former Navy SEALs is
trying to deny President Obama credit for killing Osama bin Laden. Where
have we heard this kind of thing before?
And Paul Ryan has always been a disciple and fan of Ayn Rand, the
writer and believer in the free market. So why is he suddenly running in
the other direction?
And "Let Me Finish" tonight with Pennsylvania`s last chance to hold a
fair presidential election.
We begin with whether Mitt Romney`s choice of Paul Ryan is working.
Ed Rendell was governor of Pennsylvania and is now an MSNBC Palestinian
analyst, and Nia-Malika Henderson is covering the campaign for "The
Nearly a week after Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running
mate, the key question is what effect has the Wisconsin congressman had on
the race? Now, immediately after the choice was announced on Saturday, a
Democratic operative suggested this narrative, and I just love it. Listen
"Here`s my prediction. The cycle of reaction will be exactly the one
with Palin. The press will say, Wow, interesting. Democrats, Huh? Press,
He`s so dynamic. What a boost of energy. Republicans, What a great
speech. The base loves it. Democrats, Uh-oh! Republicans, The big mo has
shifted our way. Then the press, He`s breathing new life, et cetera. Then
the Democrats, Oh, but wait, there`s more. Press, Hmmm. Republicans, Uh-
Nia-Malika, where are we in that spectrum relative to Paul Ryan?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, I think as the
press, we`re at the "Hmm," phase, and Republicans are the, "Uh-oh" phase.
HENDERSON: Obviously, we`ve got the speeches that are coming up at
the convention a week from now. But yes, there obviously is a lot more
picking over Ryan`s record that we`ve seen out of the press lately, these
reports about him taking stimulus funds, for instance, and a lot of
reaction from Republicans who had this initial burst of excitement you saw,
certainly, from grass roots folks, a lot of money pouring into the Romney
But still, there is a sense, I think, from Republicans that maybe this
boost of energy and this bold pick might not end up being worth it because
of all of the conversation now that we`re having about the stimulus
package, about Medicare, because this was a campaign, let`s face it, the
Republicans thought they could win just on the economy. But we see now
that we`re talking about Medicare.
SMERCONISH: Governor, I said before this pick was announced that one
thing that united conservatives and this White House was a desire that Paul
Ryan be the pick. How are each looking at it now?
ED RENDELL (D-PA), FMR. GOVERNOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
first of all, I think it`s a little bit too soon to say which way it cuts.
I agree with Malika. Not only has it been a disastrous week, but it`s been
much worse than Palin because it came on much faster.
But the reason it came on much faster, Michael, is because the Romney
campaign was absolutely unprepared to answer the seminal question, which
they should have known they were going to get -- OK, Governor, you said
during the primaries that you endorsed the Ryan budget and the Ryan
Medicare plan. Do you still believe that?
And of course, you see Governor Romney backtracking, but he hasn`t
been able to explain where he disagrees with the Ryan budget. Now,
recently, he says he`s for it 100 percent, but you know, two days ago he
said there were some disagreements, that it was his budget that was going
It`s a mess. All we`re talking about is Medicare instead of the
economy. All we`re talking about is how the Romney campaign screwed up
again. It`s brutal. And the stuff on stimulus -- so unprepared --
SMERCONISH: You know what? I`m going to get to both of those in just
SMERCONISH: Let me -- let me show you, if I may, some data. What
kind of bounce did Mitt Romney get from naming Paul Ryan to the ticket?
Well, actually, a pretty small one compared to past candidates. Now, "The
New York Times`s" Nate Silver looked at the post-announcement polls and
found that Ryan netted the Romney campaign about a point.
Looking at past tickets going back to 1984, the average was actually
closer to 6 points. So the net-net, Governor, of this so far, whether it`s
the Medicare conversation, whether it`s the stimulus now response, seems to
be, you know, nothing there that`s discernible.
RENDELL: Right. Although I think Paul Ryan will give a very good
speech at the convention because he`s a good spinner, and he doesn`t
necessarily hew to the truth, so I think he`s going to give a very
effective speech at the convention. That may change a bit.
But it`s been a disaster because the one thing the Romney campaign
wanted to do was keep this on the economy. And again, the lack of
preparation -- how about Congressman Ryan -- Michael, if he had read by
book, "Nation of Wusses," number one out of my top 10 list of politicians`
wussiness is when you don`t vote for something and then try to use it or
take credit for it. And I cited Congressman Ryan writing this letter to
the Department of Energy.
SMERCONISH: Relative to --
RENDELL: How could he --
SMERCONISH: Relative to stimulus funds.
RENDELL: -- not have known that. Right. How could he have not
SMERCONISH: Governor --
RENDELL: It`s just shocking.
SMERCONISH: -- I`m not so sure that Medicare thus far has been a
net negative. I mean, it seems to me that that White House is a bit on the
defensive. They`ve got this new campaign commercial, as a matter of fact,
that I want you to show and dissect.
SMERCONISH: Today President Obama released this ad defending his
record on Medicare. See if it seems defensive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now Mitt Romney`s attacking the president on
Medicare? The non-partisan AARP says "Obama care" cracks down on Medicare
fraud, waste and abuse and strengthens guaranteed benefits. And the Ryan
plan? AARP says it would undermine Medicare and could lead to higher costs
for seniors. And experts say Ryan`s voucher plan could raise future
retirees` costs more than $6,000. Get the facts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And the ad came days -- after days of attacks from Romney
and Ryan that President Obama has robbed Medicare of hundreds of billions
of dollars. Here was Romney yesterday illustrating that point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to
bring as much clarity as possible, so I prepared a small chart here. My
plan presents no change. The plan stays the same. No adjustments, no
changes, no savings. The president`s plan cuts Medicare -- excuse me --
well, let`s see, I got to -- there we go -- by $716 billion. Cut.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Nia-Malika, it`s an awfully complicated issue. Who wins,
or who`s winning thus far?
HENDERSON: Well, I actually think the Republicans are winning this
fight, which in some ways -- I mean, let`s face it, these ads that they put
out -- and a lot of political ads are really propaganda, and I think in
this way, they have very much won this war. You have Democrats going on
the defensive on, of all things, Medicare, something that they have been
the champions of and something that people more readily identify Democrats
with than Republicans.
You saw Republicans lose a race in upstate New York over this issue,
but they have since been able to reframe it and frame Obama as someone who
is stealing from Medicare. In actuality, it`s sort of slowing the cost of
growth and saving money in Medicare Advantage.
But you see there that Republicans have been very, very smart in
getting out on the offensive there around Ryan`s plan, and in some ways,
being able to separate Mitt Romney from Paul Ryan. Who knows if it`ll be
effective down the line, if they`re going to be able to keep this going.
But so far, so good.
We`ll see Ryan, obviously, in Florida. I think he`s going to be with
his mom there, and you know, coming across as somebody who, of course --
why would he want a cut in Medicare as we know it? He`ll be there, and you
know -- you know, making that argument. So I think so far, I would give
the victory to Republicans over this week on Medicare.
SMERCONISH: And Governor, the other issue that you`ve made reference
to, "The Boston Globe" and other outlets reported this week that Paul Ryan
tried to steer stimulus money to companies in his home state. Ryan had
called the stimulus a wasteful spending spree. And on Wednesday, he was
asked about that discrepancy. Here`s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A report came out again today in the AP. It was a
repeat of that "Wall Street Journal" article from a couple of years ago,
where you had asked for stimulus money for your district. Is that
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don`t --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that report accurate?
RYAN: -- asked for stimulus. I don`t -- I don`t recall. I haven`t
seen this report, so I really can`t comment on it. I opposed the stimulus
because it doesn`t work. It didn`t work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And today, the congressman released a statement conceding
that he was wrong and he wrote, "After having these letters called to my
attention, I checked into them, and they were treated as constituent
service requests in the same way matters involving Social Security or
veterans affairs are handled. This is why I didn`t recall the letters
earlier. But they should have been handled differently, and I take full
responsibility for that."
Governor, I understand you called him out in your book about wusses.
Apart from, you know, denying it and being held accountable because it was
wrong, what`s wrong with an elected official who opposes a program, doesn`t
get his way, and then on behalf of his constituents, tries to bring home
all the bacon that he can?
RENDELL: Nothing. What`s wrong with what happened here, Michael, is
that he lied about it. Let me tell you, it`s not constituent services when
you write the secretary of energy and ask them for money for a program. He
signed that letter himself. I guarantee you, he reviewed it.
I would never send a letter to the secretary of energy of the United
States as governor without reading it and signing it and proving (ph) it
myself. So that`s number one.
He looks like a fraud, and this is the guy who was supposed to be this
new, honest young gun. He looks like a phony.
There is nothing wrong. His defense should have been, Look, guys, I
was against stimulus, but it passed, and if states were going to get money
for economic development projects, I wanted Wisconsin to get its fair
share. That would have been a perfect answer.
Michael, quickly, on what Malika said -- I agree --
SMERCONISH: On Medicare.
RENDELL: -- (INAUDIBLE) short-term -- yes, I agree, in the short
term, the Republicans have done OK. But number one, Democrats haven`t been
forceful enough. Number one, Congressman Ryan kept the same $718 billion
cut in Medicare in the Ryan budget. We should hang that around his neck.
And number two, the difference from what the president wants to do --
when the president cuts Medicare, he`s cutting it on the provider side.
Most of those cuts were cuts to what the drug companies could make by
supplying drugs to Medicare. When the Republicans make cuts to Medicare,
they`re cutting it on the beneficiary side. We should drive that point
home, and I believe we will as time goes on.
SMERCONISH: Governor Rendell, Nia-Malika Henderson, thanks so much
for being back on HARDBALL.
HENDERSON: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Coming up: Mitt Romney says that he`s paid at least 13
percent in taxes in each of the past five (SIC) years, and he isn`t
planning to release any more of his returns. Romney made far more money
and paid a lower tax rate than most Americans, and the fight over his tax
returns not going away.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: New poll numbers from two key battleground states. Let`s
check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."
First in Wisconsin, Paul Ryan`s home state, and a new CNN poll taken
since Ryan was put on the ticket finds President Obama ahead by 4, 49 to
45. And to my home state of Pennsylvania, a new Franklin and Marshall poll
gives the president a 5-point lead, 47 to 42.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces -
- 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of
six Americans in poverty -- the fascination with taxes I paid I find to be
very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face. But I did go
back and look at my taxes, and over the past 10 years, I never paid less
than 13 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In that alleged effort to be
candid, Mitt Romney opened up the issue of his tax returns anew. The Obama
campaign pounced. A campaign spokeswoman replied, "We`ve a simple message
for him. Prove it."
But today, campaign manager Jim Messina sent a mass e-mail addressed
to his counterpart at the Romney campaign with this deal. Quote, "If the
governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will
not criticize him for not releasing more."
Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades wasted no time in replying.
Quote, "Hey, Jim, thanks for the note. It is clear that President Obama
wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney`s tax returns instead
of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work,
fixing the economy and reining in spending."
Will the Obama campaign ever let Romney shake the tax return story?
And do Romney`s taxes matter? Joan Walsh is editor-at-large for Salon.com
and an MSNBC political analyst and author of the new book, "What`s the
Matter With White People?" Eamon Javers is CNBC`s Washington
Eamon, let me begin with you. Is this getting traction? Do the
American people care about the fact that Romney is releasing only two
years` worth of tax returns?
EAMON JAVERS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think if you frame it
in terms of documents and details, the American voters don`t necessarily
care about that stuff. It`s kind of complicated and confusing.
But what they do care about, kind of in the gut, is this sense that
somebody`s getting away with something that you`re not getting away with.
And so if Romney is paying a lower tax rate than other Americans, those
folks are going to resent that and they`re going to want to see exactly how
SMERCONISH: OK, this is your strong suit. Is he, in fact, paying
less a tax rate than most Americans? The semantics of this become awfully
JAVERS: Yes, I mean, what we`re talking about here is the federal
effective tax rate. That`s after you take all your deductions and
everything else. He`s saying over the past 10 years, he paid 13 percent.
Most Americans -- so your median income in this country in 2011 was about
$75,000 a year. Those folks paid less, about 5.6 percent in an effective
rate, although they also paid payroll taxes on top of that. So most
Americans are paying a lower rate than Mitt Romney paid.
But the problem for Mitt Romney is that there are a lot of high --
income people who earn a lot of money in salary who are paying much higher
tax rates than he paid because they`re getting their money in salary, not
in earnings from investments, which are taxed at a much lower rate. So
those folks are the folks who will look at a 13 percent rate and say, Boy,
I wish I could get to that.
SMERCONISH: But Joan Walsh, do we fault Mitt Romney for whatever the
rate that he`s paying, so long as he`s paying it lawfully, legally,
morally, ethically? In other words, if we have a beef with this scenario,
over the rate that he`s paying, isn`t our consternation better directed at
the tax code and those who are responsible for drawing it?
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, I think --
I think you make a good point, Michael. He`s probably doing things
legally. We haven`t seen anything to indicate that he wasn`t, but we don`t
entirely know. And the extent to which he`s using these offshore accounts
could contribute to this lower tax rate. There are lots of things that he
could be doing that, if the American people knew about them -- they`re not
illegal, but they would make you a little bit squeamish.
And I do have to say, you know, the last poll I saw said that about 63
percent of American voters want see more tax returns. And finally, every
time he opens his mouth to talk about this, he sounds more and more
entitled. I mean, calling those 60 percent of Americans who would like to
see more taxes small-minded? And Ann Romney`s tantrum last night -- I mean
SMERCONISH: Well, you know, I`m glad you brought it up. I want to
show it because --
WALSH: Go ahead.
SMERCONISH: -- last night on NBC`s "ROCK CENTER," Ann Romney made
clear that she and Mitt will not release more tax returns. Here`s what she
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S WIFE: The more we release, the more we get
attacked, the more we get questioned, the more we get pushed. And so we
have done what`s legally required, and there`s going to be no more --
there`s going to be no more tax releases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Is she not correct as far as she took the argument? The
more they release, the more they will be subject to this kind of scrutiny?
WALSH: Well, sure. To the extent that the more we talk about
anybody`s policy plans or backgrounds, they may get more scrutiny. They
may -- you know, it`s -- it`s possible they would get less. It`s possible.
It`s possible that --
JAVERS: No, well -- I`m sorry.
WALSH: -- that -- it`s possible that we would see things, and it
would be just the same stuff that we saw in the other two years and we
would all move on. I doubt it because if that were the case, then I think
they would have made these records available to us sooner. There`s got to
be something a little bit more off-putting than what we`ve seen so far.
SMERCONISH: Eamon, how do you see that issue?
JAVERS: Yes, I think that hits it on the head. You can infer here
that what`s going on is that the Romney campaign has made a clear political
calculation that the heat that they`re taking for not releasing these
returns right now is less than the heat they would take for whatever is in
the returns that they think would be embarrassing.
And part of the reason is because there are two kind of rich people in
this country. There are people -- rich people who work for a living and
earn a high salary. And there are rich people whose money works for them.
And that`s the camp that the Romneys are in. And so their taxes are
very, very low. And we have seen the Swiss bank account and the Ann Romney
JOAN WALSH: Right.
JAVERS: And we have seen other offshore details.
That`s just in the stuff that they have disclosed. So, clearly, they
know what`s in the rest of the documents and they feel that whatever it is
would be worse. and Ann Romney said almost exactly that last night. We`re
going to continue to get hit and we`re going to continue to questioned if
we put these things out. So we`re not putting them out.
SMERCONISH: Eamon, I think probably part of their thinking might be
politically speaking that Harry Reid overplayed his hand in the way that he
handled this scenario and at least within their base, within their
constituency, that the net-net of it has been just fine.
JAVERS: Sure. Well, within a lot of people. Harry Reid came out and
said he had a secret source who he wouldn`t identify who said that Mitt
Romney hadn`t paid any taxes without any basis or proof for that.
That`s a very tough allegation to lay at the feet of a presidential
candidate, especially when you`re not willing to back it up with any
documents, proofs, names, sources, anything. So I think that the Romney
camp was pretty happy when they saw that because although it inflamed the
issue, it really gave them a villain to go after in the person of Harry
And I have been on the campaign trail all week with Paul Ryan across
the country and every time he mentioned Harry Reid, man, there were boos
from those pro-GOP crowds. They do not like that guy and that gave them a
real foil politically and that can help sometimes.
SMERCONISH: Joan, I guess that raises the question of how it`s
playing with independents, because I think to each of the respective bases,
the Harry Reid issue has emboldened Democrats --
JOAN WALSH: Right.
SMERCONISH: -- saying, hell yeah, where are there? And from the
GOP side of the aisle, and I know because I get the phone calls, that name
doesn`t carry much sway.
JOAN WALSH: Well, the last poll I saw, independents cared about this,
But the last thing I want to say is I feel like listening -- every
time I hear that sound bite of Mitt Romney saying, well, I went back and
looked at 10 years and I checked myself. I think that makes the issue even
more tangible because it`s like, hey, buddy, if they`re there, they`re over
there. They`re in a file. You just looked at them. Why don`t you just
turn them over to other people?
I think it`s going to get reporters even more avid to get more
information. Maybe they won`t find Harry Reid`s source, the mystery man,
but you know -- we all know reporters are out there looking for any kind of
sourcing they can find.
And his sort of waving in a certain way, waving the 10 years that only
he can look at I think made the issue much more vivid to people. And I
don`t think it`s going away.
SMERCONISH: On that, we can all agree.
Final word. Go ahead, Eamon.
JAVERS: Yes. I was just going to say, as a reporter who`s done some
investigative reporting in his career, I will tell you, it`s very hard for
a reporter to get ahold of personal income tax information. It can be a
felony for government officials to release it.
It`s going to be very, very difficult. I think the Romney camp is
actually pretty secure, if they don`t want to release it, in thinking that
it`s not going to come out, it`s not going to leak. They`d have to have a
rogue agent inside their own finance team. And I doubt that they do.
SMERCONISH: Thank you both. Thank you, Joan Walsh. Thank you, Eamon
Javers. Appreciate you being here.
JOAN WALSH: Thanks, Michael.
JAVERS: You bet.
SMERCONISH: Up next: How do you think U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh
responded when someone called him a loose cannon?
That`s next in the "Sideshow."
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Mitt Romney says
he wants to cut funding for PBS. When he heard that, Oscar the Grouch was
like, seriously, I already live in a garbage can. How much worse could my
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FALLON: I`m sorry. You got to be kidding, which explains why today
"Sesame Street" was brought to you by the leaders O and Bama.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."
Think it`s a bad sign if you`re in the midst of a heated congressional
race and you find yourself addressing concerns that you`re too much of a --
quote -- "loose cannon"? This might ring a bell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: The government sets the rules. Don`t
blame banks and don`t blame the marketplace for the mess we`re in right
now. I am tired of hearing that crap. You know what? It just pisses me
off. Too many people don`t listen. I need more coffee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: A signature episode from Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh.
Walsh and his Democratic challenger, Tammy Duckworth, fielded questions
from reporters earlier this week. The congressman was asked straight up
whether he`s too much of a loose cannon to stay in Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE WALSH: Am I too much of a loose cannon?
Look, I went there because I`m scared to death that this country has
precious little time to turn this thing around. And that causes me to be
I said -- and Tammy wants to jump on this -- all Joe Walsh does is
stream from the mountaintop. I consider that to be part of my job. Am I
too much of a loose cannon? No. I think people appreciate any Republican
or Democrat who finally talks straight to people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Ask yourself, when was the last time you cast a ballot
for someone and thought, you know, that guy will really scream from the
Next: Rage Against the Machine unleashes some rage against Paul Ryan.
You may have heard that Romney`s running mate is a big fan of Rage Against
the Machine, the heavy metal band that sings about corporate greed and
blasts wealthy oil companies.
If you think that`s an odd pick for a guy in favor of tax cuts for the
wealthy, you`re not alone. Tom Morello, lead guitarist for Rage Against
the Machine, could do without Paul Ryan in his fan club.
The musician penned an op-ed for "Rolling Stone" that reads, in part -
- quote -- "Paul Ryan`s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing,
because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging
against for two decades. I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta rage in
him: a rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against
workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the
environment. Basically, the only thing he`s not raging against is the
privileged elite he`s groveling in front of for campaign contributions."
Ouch. Morello`s response to Ryan`s reasoning that he likes the sound
of the songs, not the lyrics -- quote -- "I don`t care for Paul Ryan`s
sound or his lyrics."
Finally, every baseball stadium has got its traditions. You have got
the sausage race at Miller Park in Wisconsin, the playing of "Sweet
Caroline" during the eighth inning at Fenway. If you`re at Nationals Park
in D.C., it`s the racing presidents.
The four larger-than-life mascots, George Washington, Thomas
Jefferson, Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, hit the field during the fourth
inning. If things go as most people expect, tomorrow will be the 500th
straight loss for Teddy Roosevelt.
And the losses haven`t been graceful either. He`s been tripped, he`s
been attacked. Well, he`s gotten distracted by Popsicles. The one time
that he crossed the finish line before the others, Teddy was disqualified
for shoving someone dressed like a cap.
So, what if the 500th time turns out to be a charm? And "The
Washington Post" as they put it recently: "Victory won`t change Teddy.
After all, he couldn`t possibly have a bigger head."
Up next, a group of ex-Navy SEALs is trying to deny President Obama
from taking credit for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Is this what
swift-boating looks like in 2010?
And if you want to follow me on Twitter, you just need to figure out
how to spell Smerconish.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
JACKIE DEANGELIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Jackie DeAngelis with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."
The Dow, the S&P posting gains for a sixth week in a row, the Dow
adding 25 points, the S&P 500 tacking on 2.5, and the Nasdaq up 14. Apple
shares hitting an all-time high on anticipation about ITV rumors and the
iPad Mini of course has gone into production, but Facebook shares tumbling
4 percent a day after insiders could start selling their stock. It`s now
the worst performing stock in the past three months.
And that`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A new organization, Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, or OPSEC
for short, is going after the president for one of the biggest achievements
of the Obama administration, the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.
The anonymously funded group with Tea Party and GOP ties has a mission
to go after all politicians who leak classified information for political
purpose. But in their new documentary, they charge the president with
taking sole credit of the raid and harming national security interests.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn`t. This administration didn`t capture
or kill or eliminate bin Laden or anybody else. There`s a whole lot of
folks in the military and the intelligence community been working on this
for a very long time.
BEN SMITH, FORMER NAVY SEAL: Mr. President, you did not kill Osama
bin Laden. America did. The work that the American military has done
killed Osama bin Laden. You did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Democrats are already calling this a swift boat campaign
reminiscent of the attacks on John Kerry eight years ago. And they plan on
fighting back against what is expected to become a TV ad campaign this
Gabriel Gomez is a former Navy SEAL who is a member of the OPSEC
group. And Jon Soltz is president of Vote Vets.
Gentlemen, thank you both for your service to our country.
Mr. Gomez, I want to start with you, if I might.
Doesn`t the president deserve credit for issuing a very difficult
order? This was far from a certain mission. And in the process, we
invaded the sovereignty of Pakistan. Do you give him credit for that?
GABRIEL GOMEZ, FORMER U.S. NAVY SEAL: Absolutely.
We have always been to the conclusion that the president deserves full
credit for giving the green light on the operation. It was obviously a
very difficult decision to make. A lot of his advisers were against it,
and you have to give them absolutely 100 percent credit for making the
calls to send the unit in to go get Osama bin Laden.
SMERCONISH: And it was something for which he was strenuously
criticized during the campaign. He was called naive and worse when during
the course of the campaign -- and I know it because he said it to me on at
least three occasions -- that he was willing to take that shot even if were
in Pakistan. And his political opponents, including Democrats at the time,
they thought that was mistaken.
GOMEZ: Yes, we agree. And we have never said that he should not have
full credit for giving the green light on the operation.
SMERCONISH: So, your criticism then is that this whole mission has
become politicized because of the leak of the information. Isn`t that 20-
some-minute video that I watched the other night itself politicizing this
GOMEZ: No, I mean, if you look at the whole video, we go through a
lot of the points.
We give the president a lot of credit, but I think one of the points
that we try to highlight through the video is that if you look at some of
the prior wartime presidents, if you look at Lincoln, you look at
Eisenhower, they only gave credit to the troops, and that`s what we were
trying to highlight in the video.
The only time that these presidents, Lincoln and Eisenhower and other
wartime presidents, ever used the word "I" was when they said "I thank you"
to the troops. So the point of the video really is to just highlight the
difference between the current administration and how they viewed giving
credit, as opposed to other wartime presidents that have given credit in a
SMERCONISH: Well, I`m glad you brought that up because there`s
something that got left on the cutting room floor.
You and your organization say the president is trying to take credit
for the accomplishments of the military. But listen closely to what the
president said in his address to the nation the very night it was announced
that bin Laden had been killed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last 10 years,
thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our
counterterrorism professionals, we have made great strides in that effort.
We have disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland
defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had
given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe,
we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda
terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And, sir, it`s not just that he said it that night. It`s
that I have heard it say it time and time again, words like "thanks to the
tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism
So, respectfully, where is the beef where regard to the president of
the United States?
GOMEZ: I think if you watched his whole presentation the night that
Osama bin Laden was killed, when he came out, I think that you would come
to the conclusion, just like we did and I think most -- a lot of Americans
came to the same conclusion -- is that he focused I think a majority of the
comments on himself, as opposed to the troops.
We`re not saying that he didn`t thank the troops, that he didn`t give
credit to the troops. But what we`re saying is that a big majority of the
presentation was focused on him and his administration. That`s the point
we were trying to make.
SMERCONISH: Mr. Gomez, it`s an uncomfortable position for me to be in
disagreement with a Navy SEAL.
Here`s the transcript, sir. I know the statement very, very well.
And I think that`s a mischaracterization.
Mr. Soltz, what I am leaving off the table? I feel like I`m doing
your work for you.
JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG: No, I`m laughing so much. You
I`m wondering if Mr. Gomez is going to shoot another video where he
sits there and says we give the president full credit for killing Osama bin
Laden, like he just said. In communications training 101, you don`t come
on and support a video like that and say the comments that he just said,
which is the president basically did a great job in killing Osama bin
And I think the reason that is, is what you have is a lot of
conservative -- right-wing neoconservative activists behind this entity.
And so you have got some Navy SEAL guys that are out here -- basically,
what he`s saying is directly different on TV than what that video says.
The president clearly says in the video thanked the troops, the
president clearly ordered on operation to kill Osama bin Laden, that was
very difficult to make, and let`s talk about the war that I fought in,
let`s talk about Iraq -- a war that started because of faulty leak in
intelligence, a war that caused the vice president`s chief of staff to go
to federal prison for leaking the identities of a CIA officer and you know,
these are the hard core facts. Where are they?
Let`s talk about the issues that affect veterans right now. You have
a president who opened the V.A. to thousands of veterans to come into the
system from Desert Storm era and from Vietnam era in regards to Agent
Orange. You have a Republican, like Mitt Romney, who said, who`s running
for president, I would not have moved heaven an earth to kill Osama bin
Laden, who wants an endless in Afghanistan that takes all of our tax
So, what they`re trying to do is hurt a president who killed Osama
bin Laden, ended the Iraq war and has done, you know, has a budget right
now that`s given $11 billion more to v --
SMERCONISH: I want to say something else. I have no tolerance for those
who leak classified information and leak national security in the process.
And I think it needs to be said that Eric Holder is pursuing investigations
and prosecutions in that regard.
Mr. Gomez, it strikes me, this was the biggest news event in the 10
years since September 11th. There was an insatiable appetite on the part
of the media to get to the root of this. And part of me believes me that
regardless of what the president`s predisposition might have been, and I
see that he overstepped his bounds, the media were going to shake a story
out of what happened in Pakistan. Where am I wrong?
GOMEZ: Well, I`d like to go back to a couple of things that Jon said
there. First, this organization, OPSEC, is not just a group of Navy SEALs.
This organization is a group of former --
SOLTZ: He`s d they have a general in the organization who believes
Osama bin Lden wasn`t born --
SMERCONISH: Let him finish.
SOLTZ: But, no, they actually believe -- there`s a birther in this
video that believed that the president of the United States wasn`t born in
America. I mean, this is fringe.
SMERCONISH: Go ahead, Mr. Gomez, thank you.
SOLTZ: Like 9/11, you know --
GOMEZ: I haven`t interrupted Jon when he spoke --
SMERCONISH: You haven`t. Go ahead.
GOMEZ: So, I like to just continue on what I would say. This group
has a large number of former Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Special
Operations personnel, a large number of intelligence personnel. It`s very
eclectic group. You can`t bucket just one group into a certain political
party. I mean, I would argue that Jon`s group, the Vet Votes isn`t just
one political party.
SOLTZ: It`s Vote Vets. We have 220,000 members, which is probably a
lot more --
SMERCONISH: Come on, let him finish. Go ahead.
GOMEZ: My point is I`m sure his group isn`t bucket to one political
party. So, ours has an eclectic group. We`ve got Democrats, we`ve got
Republicans, we`ve got independents.
I myself, you can fact check this. It`s all public record. I
donated to Obama`s campaign in `08 in the primaries. I voted for
Republicans and Democrats.
It`s just like a lot of people in our group here. Just like people
that you service in the Army, Jon. The same thing that my SEAL teams and
the squadron when I used to fly. People have different backgrounds,
different demographics, there are different political persuasions. You
can`t just bucket a group of people.
SOLTZ: I`m not bucketing, I serve with people of all political
persuasions, and I respect everyone`s opinion. But there`s difference
expressing opinion and there`s difference between lying. And what you guys
have done in this video is you`ve lied. OK?
There`s been no evidence that`s come forth so far that`s been leaked,
at all. Zero. OK?
You`re basically saying the president didn`t say thank you when he
did on TV, and there`s a big difference between telling the truth and us
having a civil disagreement on policies on whether or not you support the
Ryan budget that cuts veterans by 13 percent that Mitt Romney wants or
whether you support the president`s budget, or whether or not you want to a
timeline in Afghanistan or endless war like Mitt Romney.
There`s a huge difference and you promoting a video that directly
lies about the record of the president of the United States.
SMERCONISH: I wish I had more time. I don`t. Thank you both for
your service to our country. Gabriel Gomez --
SOLTZ: Thank you.
GOMEZ: This was a nonpartisan issue.
SMERCONISH: And John Soltz.
GOMEZ: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Up next, why is Paul Ryan now running away from Ayn
Rand, the writer who so deeply influenced his political beliefs?
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: This week, the biggest action in the presidential race
has been in four states -- Virginia, Colorado, Iowa and Florida. Here are
the top five cities where the campaigns and their allies have spent the
most this week on television ads.
At number five, Charlotte, site of next month`s Democratic
convention. Number four is Denver. Number three, Des Moines. Number two
takes us back to Colorado. This time, Colorado Springs, and the top city
for campaign ad spending this week, Roanoke, Virginia.
We`ll be right back.
SMERCONISH: We`re back.
For year, there`s been a powerful group of conservatives who have
been devotees of free market thinker Ayn Rand. The group includes former
Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, Congressman Ron Paul and his Senator Rand
Paul, Barry Goldwater, Justice Clarence Thomas and Jack Kemp. In fact,
Clarence Thomas goes so far as to invite new clerks to his home every
summer for a screening of "The Fountain Head".
Perhaps the most high profile, Ayn Rand devotee right now is Paul
Ryan, who has long embraced Rand`s free market philosophy. But now that
some of Rand`s other socially liberal ideas are proving to be an
embarrassment for a politician who needs support of evangelical Christians,
Paul Ryan is running away from his muse.
Joining me now is "The National Review`s" Robert Costa, and Ron
Reagan, MSNBC political analyst and author of "My Father at 100."
Robert, isn`t the answer here that atheism is poison? She was an
atheist and consequently, now, he wants nothing to do with her.
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL REVIEW: Michael, I have spoken with Paul Ryan
at length about his past history with Rand. And he told me that he read
Rand during college. He read "Atlas Shrugged," and he was inspired by the
story of John Galt. But that does not make him an objectivist. He is a
Roman Catholic. He believes in Thomas Aquinas, he told me, more than Rand,
of all people. And that he was inspired by Rand because she believes in
the free market.
And that`s where he really identified with her back when he was in
college and still today.
But that doesn`t mean he believes fully in everything she ever said
or she ever wrote.
SMERCONISH: All right. But I don`t think it was only back in
college. I mean, when Paul Ryan spoke to a group of Rand devotees just in
2005, he credited the Russian American thinker for inspiring him to get
into politics. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: The reason I got involved in public
service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would
be Ayn Rand. And the fight that we were in here, and make no mistake about
it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Ron Reagan, what`s your analysis of this issue? Is it
as I put forth, that it`s all about her lack of faith?
RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I`m not certain. To the
long list of things we can blame Paul Ryan for, let`s add to that list,
forcing us to rehash the tortured banalities of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand is
largely an adolescent fascination. I remember reading "The Fountain Head"
when I was about 14 years old and being struck by just the tedious egotism
of its protagonist and wanting nothing more to do with it.
It`s a little disturbing that a man aspiring to the vice presidency
seems to be in a protracted adolescence where he idolizes somebody who
basically a sociopath, Ayn Rand. Now, of course, here atheism, as you
said, does give him a lot of problems.
She was adamantly and militantly pro choice. She would not agree
that our rights for instance are God-given. She would think that we make
them for ourselves. That poses some problems for Paul Ryan, I suppose.
SMERCONISH: Robert, I must confess. I went through the same phase.
SMERCONISH: I know you did too.
COSTA: Michael, I`ve read "Atlas Shrugged". We`ve all read Rand.
But, look, when I spoke to Paul Ryan one on one about this, when he told me
about the core of why he was attracted to Rand was not because of her pro-
choice views, her atheism.
It`s because of the way she championed entrepreneurs. That`s what
he`s trying to take into politics, into a speech he`s given now in the
trail, to be pro-market, pro-business. And that`s really at the core when
he talks about his inspiration. It`s that theme. Not the other elements
of Rand that you have to pay attention to.
SMERCONISH: Right. But I guess, Ron Reagan, the issue is that he
never explained it as such until the eyes of the nation were on him as a
potential vice president.
REAGAN: He used to foist this book apparently "Atlas Shrugged" on
his interns in Congress, forcing them all to read this. I mean, Ayn Rand
believed that government had no function except the military, police, and
the judiciary. That everything else was out of bounds. So Paul Ryan sees
her as an inspiration is actually a bit chilling.
COSTA: Not so much, Mr. Reagan. I respectfully disagree, in the
sense that when Ryan talks about Rand, he also talks about Rand in the same
context he talks about Milton Friedman, free market leaders. And that`s
really what he`s getting at.
To say anything beyond that, all you look at the Paul Ryan`s
political career. This guy is not just a new face on the national scene.
He was elected to the House in 1998.
And if you look at his record and you tell me it`s a Randian record,
I would disagree. It`s a real Republican record, conservative Republican
record. And it`s one perhaps inspired by elements of Rand, period.
REAGAN: No one is crazy enough to have a Randian record. Yes,
you`re right about that.
COSTA: Ron Paul perhaps.
SMERCONISH: Ron, I have 15 seconds left. Was your dad an Ayn Rand
REAGAN: No, he was not. No, he was not. I never saw him with
"Atlas Shrugged" or "The Fountain Head" in his hand. And when I read "The
Fountain Head," he didn`t appear to have read it. So --
SMERCONISH: All right. Thank you both. Thank you, Robert Costa.
Thank you, Ron Reagan.
COSTA: Thank you, Michael.
REAGAN: You bet.
SMERCONISH: When we return, let me finish with the legal battle over
that tough voter photo ID law in my home state of Pennsylvania, and how
this state can still hold a fair election in November.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this. The lead editorial of
today`s "Washington Post" said that among the new Republican backed voter
ID laws, Pennsylvania is, quote, "the one with the most demonstrable
Nevertheless, earlier this week, a state appellate court upheld the
law which would require a photo ID for voting. Polls suggested voters
approved voter ID measures and they sound reasonable except when you
understand that many Pennsylvanians, perhaps close to a million of them,
don`t have the requisite form of photo ID to vote.
Who are they? Many urban, poor minorities who constitute the
president`s core constituency. One estimate holds that 18 percent of
Philadelphians lacked principal forms of ID. Democrats in the city, they
enjoy a 6-1 registration edge.
Now, Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court acknowledged that
the law might have a bipartisan favor. But he refused to stop it. Judge
Simpson describes the requirement to show state approved identification to
vote as a, quote, "minor change to the state election code." But it`s
actually a major change.
So, what happens next? This case now heads to the state Supreme
Court which currently consists of six rather than the customary seven
members. That`s because one justice was suspended after being criminally
charged, leaving the court with three Republicans and three Democrats. At
the helm is the Supreme Justice Ron Castille. Castille is a Republican.
He`s also a war hero who left a leg in Vietnam who has never felt compelled
to tow a party line. That independence has spanned his career.
And just eight months ago, it was Castille who distinguished himself
in an otherwise partisan ruling when the state Supreme Court threw out a
redistricted state legislative map which was designed to benefit the GOP.
And they did it by a 4-3 vote. Many eyes are now shifting to Justice
Castille to see whether he will stand in the way of this becoming
Pennsylvania`s partisan equivalent of Bush v. Gore.
In the health care debate, Chief Justice John Roberts did not want a
repeat of that decision on his watch, choosing instead to underscore that
we are a government of law and not men.
Similar thinking might motivate Justice Castille, where the
commonwealth entered into a stipulation acknowledging that there`s a not a
single known case of the voter impersonation the new law seeks to preclude
and whereby the state estimate, nearly 1 million voters lack the primary
form of acceptable photo ID. It would seem only a partisan opinion could
sustain the new law. That`s a legacy I doubt Ron Castille will embrace.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us. "POLITICS
NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
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