September 3, 2013
Guests: Peter Beinart, Rep. Charlie Rangel, Rep. Jim Moran, Simon Marks, Fiona Hill
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Obama`s third election.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in New York.
"Let Me Start" with this. I can`t think of another U.S. president who has
done anything like this. President Obama is now asking a hostile U.S.
House of Representatives to back an act of war against Syria. He`s asking
Democrats to back an act of war their voters oppose, asking Republicans to
back both an act of war and a president their voters oppose.
My questions tonight -- why should a Congress overrule the beliefs of the
American people and back an active war that people clearly do not support?
Why should Republicans associate themselves with a president they do not
wish even to be seen with?
And why should Pelosi`s Democrats make up with their votes the votes Obama
can`t get from Republicans? Won`t that be making this and what comes of it
a Democratic war?
Isn`t the safer political vote in both parties now to vote against this act
of war, especially when we don`t know what it will lead to? Most vitally,
why did President Obama call what is basically a no-confidence vote on his
administration? Does he believe that his party cannot possibly let him
lose? Does he believe that the Republican rank and file is not willing to
destroy his presidency, using whatever weapon they are handed?
Howard Fineman is editorial director for the HuffingtonPost and Peter
Beinart is a contributor to the DailyBeast and editor of the blog OpenZion.
Two new polls out just today show just how big of a challenge the president
has convincing Americans about the need to take military action in Syria.
In a Pew poll, nearly half of Americans opposed air strikes, just 29
percent favored them. Meanwhile, in a "Washington Post"/ABC poll, nearly
60 percent oppose missile strikes, while just 36 percent supported them.
And the opposition is bipartisan. Take a look. A majority of Democrats,
54 percent, oppose military action. The number is almost exactly the same
among Republicans, 55 percent oppose. The numbers among independents even
starker here. Two thirds of them, by 1 to 1, they oppose any strike
I want to start with Howard Fineman with my big question here. Why should
the United States Congress in its individual votes come up with 60 senators
and 218 House members -- why would there be enough votes to do either in
either body, supporting a war that nobody in this country seems
overwhelmingly enthusiastic about?
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, I`m not sure I have a good answer for that, Chris. I spoke yesterday
to senator -- to a couple senators who were on their way back from recess,
Democrats. And I said, What do you think? And they said, Well, we`re
really not excited about this. We want to know more details. I was
impressed by how reluctant they were as the default mechanism, number one.
I would say also that the hearings today, the first day of hearings, the
open hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were confusing and
did not really help make the case because what the president is trying to
do, I think, in the face of obvious public opposition is to so tailor this
request for congressional support as to make it narrow enough to gain
But if the goal, the long-stated goal of the administration has still been
to see Assad go, some people are saying, Well, if that`s the goal, why
aren`t we doing something more? So even people who might otherwise be
MATTHEWS: I agree.
FINEMAN: -- to support this, if you follow, they`re saying, Well, why
should we support this piddling maneuver when your stated goal is to get
rid of Assad? So I thought there was a measure of confusion --
FINEMAN: -- in the hearing -- in the hearing today with Secretary Kerry
and Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey that did not help the
administration`s case one bit.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to -- let me go to John -- to Beinart on that
one. Peter, the question is, if they had to narrow this mission so much
that they have to proscribe any kind of further action on the ground, any
kind of boots on the ground, any kind of further follow-up, it gets
narrowed down to what Pat Leahy wants in the Judiciary Committee, just
something so narrow, one strike only, then we come home.
I`ve never heard the American people supporting one strike only. Either
you`re a hawk or a dove. Is anybody, like, in the very middle, not a hawk
or a dove, they just like to strike once and come home? I don`t know that
PETER BEINART, DAILYBEAST: I think --
MATTHEWS: I don`t know who that passionate person is.
BEINART: No, you`re making a really good point. You know, this goes back
to Vietnam. You remember the polling in Vietnam always found that people
either wanted to go in and win or get out.
This kind of intermediary position is very unsatisfying, and I think it`s -
- Howard`s right, it`s also somewhat incoherent. On the one hand, we say
we`re only doing this to punish him for chemical weapons and we`re not
trying to change the course of the war. Well, then why are we arming the
Syrian rebels, and it seems like, actually, going further and arming them
even more now. We`re trying to have it both ways, it seems.
MATTHEWS: Aren`t we -- look, here`s my problem. And this is a serious
moral problem, too. If we bomb, use Cruise missiles against Damascus,
people are going to die that night. They`re going to die and there`ll be
hospital scenes the next day of people in the hospitals with legs missing
and arms missing. That will happen. If this president pushes the button
with the backing of Congress, people will die.
Will this mysterious signal get delivered? Will a signal go to Assad that
he will never again use chemical weapons, and the Iranians, I guess, will
never go nuclear with their weaponization program? I mean, we don`t know
that. In other words, the only thing we really know is we`ll be killing
poor people, committing an act of war with this notion that somehow it`s
smoke signals. We`re using Western Union.
What we`re doing is killing people and calling it a message. Howard?
FINEMAN: Well, I`ve got to say, Chris, that based on what I saw today of
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the only message we`re
sending to the world is one of confusion.
FINEMAN: Again. As we said before, our stated policy goal is that we want
Assad out. We would prefer to have it either by diplomatic means or have
the opposition, which we refused to arm or help until recently, do it.
It`s just utterly confusing.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to Secretary of State John Kerry, who today --
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
Martin Dempsey -- they faced some heat from senators as they laid out the
administration case for action in Syria.
Secretary Kerry said a strike would degrade Assad`s ability to use chemical
weapons. He told the senators that Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah were
watching what we do closely. But he said the president was not asking the
U.S. to, quote, "go to war." And he said this was not another Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are especially sensitive, Chuck and I,
to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty
intelligence. And that is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and
rescrubbed the evidence. We have declassified unprecedented amounts of
information, and we ask the American people and the rest of the world to
judge that information. We know what happened.
For all the lawyers, for all the former prosecutors, for all those who have
sat on a jury, I can tell you that we know these things beyond the
reasonable doubt that is the standard by which we send people to jail for
the rest of their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Peter Beinart. Do you believe if we attack Syria,
hoping to send a signal not to use nuclear (sic) weapons again, that this
will be the last act of war we commit against them?
BEINART: We can`t know that. As you were saying earlier, the
International Crisis Group said that if Assad felt like his regime was in
peril of falling, he might use chemical weapons again if it was the only
thing that could keep him in power. And we have -- as Howard said, our
goal is to topple Assad. So we can`t guarantee --
MATTHEWS: And by the way, Kasie Hunt (ph) reporting today for NBC that
Kerry made the point today, he can`t even say there won`t be boots on the
ground in the future, United States boots on the ground.
FINEMAN: Well, he -- yes. He -- he -- Senator Kerry said that two or
three different ways and shapes and forms, which didn`t help his case,
either, because it`s clear that Senator Kerry and the president want to
preserve their options --
FINEMAN: -- and don`t want, to use the phrase, "degrade" presidential
authority here. So that`s another element of confusion here. They`re
going to the Congress for a specific, narrow authorization, while they also
want to preserve the president`s broad war-making powers.
MATTHEWS: OK --
FINEMAN: That adds another tension to this whole discussion.
MATTHEWS: I want to cut to the chase here about politics. It`s what I
cover. And I want to get to Peter on this because, Peter, you`ve been
impressing me over the years, the way you`ve had nuanced thinking about
things. But let`s go to the politics of this thing.
It seems to me that Republicans, members of the House, not the leadership
who have to be establishment, but down the line, people from the South,
people from the far West, or actually, the middle -- the Rocky Mountains,
the more conservative areas of the country -- all they`re going to do if
they support this military action is get themselves an opponent in the next
It seems to me the safest vote for them is to say, You Democrats, you put
together 218 in the House and the 60 in the Senate. We`ll just sit back
and watch. This is going to be your idea to do this. And Nancy Pelosi
will then have to scramble and scrounge around for votes because the
Republicans won`t come out (ph) with them.
Isn`t the safest move for the Republicans is to give the absolute minimum
number of votes to the president and force the Democrats to come up with
their maximum number of votes? That to me, Howard and Peter -- Peter first
-- is the politics of this thing and why it`s disastrous for the president
because he`s basically saying to the Republicans, If you want a free ride
on this, I`ll cover for you with Nancy Pelosi`s Democrats. Your thoughts,
BEINART: I think you`re absolutely right. Look, there`s a split in both
parties, and it`s a split between elite and mass. The further you get away
from Washington and from the foreign policy elite, the more skeptical
MATTHEWS: Right. I agree.
BEINART: And so while some people running for president on the Republican
side may well support it, you saw that Mitch McConnell, who`s going to face
the Republican primary voters who don`t like him that much, the Tea Party
types in Kentucky, hasn`t said he`s for it. And I think you`re exactly
right. I just don`t know if the Democrats, who are also facing resistance
from their activist base, will go along and save the president`s bacon.
MATTHEWS: That`s my question, Howard. Saving his bacon is a rough way to
put it, but it`s fair. If the House Republicans, rank and file below the
top people like Cantor and Mr. Boehner, the speaker -- if they say, No, no,
you don`t need my vote, I`m not giving you my vote, and they get Nancy to
cook up some more Democrats. They`re saving their president -- what
Does Pelosi have to come up with, like, a two thirds vote for the Democrats
to win this thing?
FINEMAN: Well --
MATTHEWS: That`s the frightening thing she`s in a box for now, it seems to
FINEMAN: Well, it`s --
MATTHEWS: A huge supermajority she`s got to come up with.
FINEMAN: I wouldn`t say necessarily frightening, but I would say
historically very ironic and unstable, Chris, because you`re basically
asking the Democrats to be the war party here --
MATTHEWS: Yes! Yes!
FINEMAN: -- after their nightmarish experience of going along with
George W. Bush in Iraq. And sort of the shadow of Hillary Clinton is kind
of behind here, too. Don`t (ph) remember, to a certain degree, she and the
establishment Democratic Party lost the presidency in 2008 to Barack Obama
because of her decision to vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution.
That kind of folk memory is there with a lot of Democrats --
MATTHEWS: I agree.
FINEMAN: -- you know, traditional Democrats, who will say to themselves,
Wait a minute, why are we doing this? And furthermore, why are we doing
this for a president, President Obama, who got to power because of his very
skepticism of this kind of thing? It`s a facile and maybe --
MATTHEWS: I`m with you!
FINEMAN: -- in certain respects --
FINEMAN: -- unfair comparison but, you know -- yes.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s so well said, Howard. And your chance, Peter.
This to me is the number among our viewers, I`ll bet they`re 50-50 on this.
They may 60-40 against it, but they`re not gung-ho for this war because
they don`t like war in the Middle East because they know it -- it always
ends up, just like it`s built on sand over there, quicksand.
You go in. You say you`re just going to bomb a couple factories or a
couple missile sites or whatever, or airfields. And then what happens is
they retaliate, then we retaliate. And then it might become a regional war
because if they`re smart on the other side, they may take a couple shots at
Israel or Jordan or somewhere else. They may want to bring in what they
call the "Zionist entity" so they can be the good guys on the Arab side.
Your thoughts, what this could lead to if we do attack.
BEINART: Right. War is always unpredictable. You know, the Iraq war was
also supposed to be short and over quickly.
I think there are two contexts here that have really changed in American
politics. The first is the dramatic decline in trust by the American
people of their leaders on questions of war and peace as a result of Iraq
The second is, remember, we`re in a situation of fiscal sequester, where
core functions of government at home are being cut to the bone.
MATTHEWS: OK --
BEINART: And this is the context in which people are asking for this. It
makes it much harder for president to win. And adding that, I think there
are a lot of people who wonder how much his own heart is in this.
MATTHEWS: My question to you --
BEINART: Senator Kerry has been much, much more passionate --
MATTHEWS: I understand that.
BEINART: -- on this question than he has.
MATTHEWS: Howard, my friend, and my long-time colleague, my question to
you. If this thing goes down in the House of Representatives in the next
week or so, it doesn`t get 218, what will be the emotional reaction of
Republicans and then Democrats? Will there, in fact, be cheering? I think
there will be if they defeat the president on what is, in effect, in the
British system a no-confidence vote, they bring him down on this as
FINEMAN: Well, especially among the Tea Party types, Chris, because not
only will they have what they regard as a substantive victory, but they`ll
have a political and emotional one.
With the Tea Party types, just the very words Barack Obama make their blood
boil. So they`ll be happy for any defeat, almost any defeat he would -- he
And I think it`s not over. I think it could be -- it could be close. But
we`ve laid out here, I think, all the reasons why this is very, very
difficult. And by the way, when John Kerry says that it was a courageous
decision of the president to go to the Congress, the translation of that
was he doesn`t think it was wise decision.
MATTHEWS: Now, my big concern is it`s going to make one party carry the
war load when it doesn`t believe in it.
MATTHEWS: Peter, last word. Why would a party want to carry the load of a
war it doesn`t believe in?
BEINART: Look, I think --
MATTHEWS: I`m talking about the Democrats.
BEINART: I think this is a principled decision by President Obama. I
think he thinks it`s good for American democracy to give Congress this
BEINART: But I think it`s also a very, very risky decision --
MATTHEWS: OK --
BEINART: -- maybe the most risky he`s taken.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s his third election. I think this is a tough one.
Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Peter Beinart.
Coming up: Don`t be surprised if President Obama needs Democrats, lots of
Democrats, as I said, to win a majority in Congress because he ain`t going
to get many Republicans. We`re going to talk to two Democrats who
represent the split in the Democratic Party. One is for the strike in
Syria, one against it.
Also, the Republicans -- will they vote their beliefs? Meaning, are they
for the war? If they are, will they vote for it, or their hatreds of
Obama? What`s going to drive them? Will they vote against taking action
in Syria simply to destroy the president they despise?
And then there`s Vladimir Putin. He`s actually talking about lobbying
members of Congress to oppose a strike -- yet another irritant in our
contentious relationship with our old pals, the Russians.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with what could really happen if we attack Syria.
Boy, this is going to be something we`re not going to think about enough,
what could happen.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, the situation in Syria is not just a political and
military crisis, it`s a growing human tragedy, as well. Catch this. The
U.N. reports that the number of Syrians forced to seek shelter outside the
country since the war began in March of 2011 has just passed the two
million person mark. And that was today, two million people displaced.
Almost all the refugees have gone to neighboring countries -- Lebanon,
Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. And the pictures you`re at now are from a
refugee camp right in Jordan, which has got about a million of the people
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would not be going to
Congress if I wasn`t serious about consultations and believing that by
shaping the authorization to make sure we accomplish the mission, we will
be more effective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, President Obama
earlier today, moments before addressing members of Congress in a closed-
door meeting on Syria.
While Congress has spent much of its time battling the president`s agenda,
they now face the ultimate decision of involving the United States in an
actual war. Not surprisingly, there are divisions, infighting and
political landmines everywhere you turn.
While the president has typically enjoyed a unified caucus of Democrats to
support his agenda, he faces a daunting challenge to convince members of
his own party that military action is our only option. According to a whip
list put together by "The Washington Post," only 9 Democrats -- 9 out of
435 -- openly support the president`s push for military involvement in
Syria. More than 30 are against it, or leaning that way. Many remain
undecided, of course.
Well, Representative Charles Rangel of New York -- he`s a Democrat, of
course -- has called Obama`s handling of the situation embarrassing. In a
statement, he said, "Military engagement should be our last resort. If we
must go to war, every American should compelled to stop and think twice
about whether it is worth sending our brothers and sisters and sons and
daughters to fight."
He`ll be facing off right now with Democrats like Jim Moran from Virginia,
who sees intervention right now in Syria as a necessity. In a statement
from Jim Moran, he says, "President Obama was absolutely right in setting a
red line against the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar al Assad.
The United States has the only true ability to prevent the use and
proliferation of such weapons."
Well, Congressmen Charlie Rangel and Jim Moran both join us, both members
of Congress with very different views. I want to go to Mr. Rangel. Mr.
Rangel, if this goes down, if the president of the United States suffers
what the British would call a no-confidence vote on a matter of war and
peace, isn`t he basically finished as commander-in-chief? How does he walk
away from a defeat if your side wins this debate?
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: If we have the international community
saying this is the right thing, this guy is an international tyrant and a
danger to the whole world, even though I don`t see a direct danger to our
national security, it would it seem to me that for the first time I can
remember, Putin from Russia may have the right solution, and that is to go
and diplomatically try to find out what we could do to intervene without
going to war.
MATTHEWS: But that`s not answering the political challenge to the
president of the United States, who you have always supported. If Obama
goes down on this, if he is defeated on a matter of urgent national
security, as he sees it, is he still credible as president, as commander in
RANGEL: Credibility, I hope it doesn`t fall, because the president said
that he has drawn a red line. If you think or if anyone thinks that
drawing a red line means that a president can commit the United States to
war without the support of the Congress, that just happens to be wrong.
From a constitutional professor, I would say that would be more
embarrassing than anything else. But drawing red lines, there is no place
for that if you`re talking about bringing our country into a wartime
MATTHEWS: OK, Mr. Rangel has offered a principled position here, Mr.
Moran. What is yours? Because his position is basically the president was
wrong to draw this line in the first place. He shouldn`t be asking
Congress to back it up. What is your view?
REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: Well, Charlie knows I love him, and we
But, boy, I think you`re wrong on this one, Charlie. This is about much
more than Assad and Syria. This is about the kind of world we leave to our
children and grandchildren. Can we really allow the use of chemical
weapons to become the new norm of war fighting?
It`s not just the president that laid down the red line. The Congress
passed the Syria Accountability Act half a dozen years ago and specifically
cited the use of chemical weapons and told Assad not to use them. We are
the only country that can stop this. And if we have the ability, we also
have the responsibility to stop it.
RANGEL: Jim, I tell you how much I love you.
First of all, let`s make it abundantly clear that no Congress has ever
voted to go to war because of what we think about chemical weapons being
used against innocent people.
MORAN: We`re not going to war, Charlie.
RANGEL: But let me say -- let -- listen, listen.
MORAN: Well, you spoke, and now I`m going to speak.
RANGEL: Jim, there is no such thing as a half-war or make-believe war.
War is war. And I`m not going to discuss that.
RANGEL: What I am willing to discuss that you are right.
MORAN: But you`re wrong.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let Mr. Rangel speak for a second here.
MORAN: All right.
RANGEL: That`s a limited war.
Having said that, I mean, a limited war is Iraq and Iran and then 6,500
people killed. Having said all of that, it is a serious international
problem. We shouldn`t let gangsters and monsters like this go free. But
we also should talk about why we have a United Nations, a Security Council,
why we have the Arab League, why we have NATO, why we have Great Britain.
We are not the only -- if we`re the only people, Jim, that see this as an
international problem, I think we ought to take another look and see
whether or not war is the answer to it.
MATTHEWS: Is there any way, Mr. Moran, of limiting this to one strike? I
have never heard the American people passionate about one strike against
another country, an act of war, but only one. For example, you have
people, respected Republicans like McCain and Lindsey Graham out there
getting the president sort of tied in today with the idea, well, we will
support you, they said on Sunday, but this means you got to help us with
the rebels too.
In other words, it`s like Chinese handcuffs. The president says, I will do
this. Next thing, he is committing himself to helping the rebels more than
he is. Isn`t he being dragged into war by the hawks, by supporting them?
MORAN: Both Presidents Reagan and Clinton used strategic strikes. They
knew that they had the ability and they used it in a timely and
Israel has done it several times, Syria, Iraq, Hezbollah, et cetera. And
it`s not about going to war. It`s about responding. As I`m saying, this
is not just about Syria and Assad. This is about saying we will not allow
the use of weapons of mass destruction to become the new norm. And we`re
the only ones that can enforce that. And we should enforce that.
You know, if we have the largest military in the world, which we do,
greater than the sum total of every other nation, the rest of the world
looks to us --
RANGEL: Jim --
MATTHEWS: Twenty seconds for Mr. Rangel, 20 seconds.
RANGEL: One thing that you`re missing, Jim, that we`re not only the nation
that have got men and women in the armed forces.
True, our elite population does not enlist for -- to join as a volunteer
army. But we`re not the only country that got young people. And I don`t
see any reason that I can explain to my constituents that their boys and
their husbands and their brothers and their sisters should be going off to
fight this monster for a civil war and have that as a priority to
homelessness, joblessness, and all the other serious problems we face. I
can`t sell that.
MATTHEWS: This debate, Mr. Moran and Mr. Rangel, is exactly what is
happening in the Democratic Party right now, 46 percent for going into
action against Syria on this issue, just striking at their bases, and 46
Your debate was just saw is exactly essentially what is going on, on the
progressive side of things.
MORAN: But, Chris, sometimes, you just have -- and Charlie knows this --
sometimes, you just have to do the right thing. And he has done that many
There was 80 percent support for the Iraq war when I opposed it, because I
felt just as strongly it was the wrong thing to do. And this is a residual
effect of the Iraq war. This is a very much about the Iraq war.
RANGEL: No president --
MORAN: The British would have been with us if we hadn`t made that mistake.
MATTHEWS: We will have you back, you gentlemen, back on again.
RANGEL: No president since Franklin Roosevelt has abided by the
Constitution. And just because the Congress caves in each and every time
doesn`t mean that caving in again is the right thing to do, Jim.
MORAN: Oh, Charlie, this is --
RANGEL: The Congress has to approve.
MATTHEWS: OK. We have to go right now.
RANGEL: It`s only the Constitution. If you say, oh, it`s only the
Constitution, I understand your position, but going to war, 6,500 people.
MATTHEWS: This is the debate America is having right now, especially on
the progressive side.
Thank you, U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, U.S. Congressman
Jim Moran of Virginia.
When we come back: Republicans have a golden opportunity to do what they
like to do best, humiliate President Obama. Will they vote their beliefs
on this issue of war and peace or their hatreds of Obama? You guess. I`m
already thinking about it.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
By seeking congressional input in the military action in Syria, President
Obama is engaging a faction of the Republican Party, particularly House
Republicans, that have shown absolute contempt for his legislative goals
and for him personally. They appear to relish humiliating him at any time
Well, today, following a meeting today with the president, House Speaker
John Boehner got behind the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is something that the
United States as a country needs to do. I`m going to support the
president`s call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support
this call for action.
We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we`re not
going to tolerate this type of behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there is a man who doesn`t hate Obama every hour of the
day, obviously, because in that moment he supported him.
Anyway, hours later, Boehner`s own spokesman put out a statement creating
some distance between the speaker and the president -- quote -- "The
speaker offered his support for the president`s call to action and
encourages all members of Congress to do the same thing. Now it is the
president`s responsibility to make his case to the American people and
their elected representatives. Everyone understands that it is an uphill
battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to
provide answers to members` questions and to take the lead on any whipping
effort," in other words, get the vote out.
In other words, Boehner`s message to Obama is, while you might have my
support, you`re on your own getting other Republicans.
Will Republicans let their votes be -- their votes on Syria be -- on Syria
dominated by their beliefs or by their contempt for the president? You
guess. We will soon see which is stronger.
Michael Steele is former chair of the Republican National Committee, and
Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post." He`s a
great columnist. Both are MSNBC contributors.
Michael, it just seems to me that Boehner, his impulse was to help the
president, but on reflection with his staff, in consultation perhaps with
some hard-right staffers, he comes back with, yes, I`m for it myself, but
you better get out there and beat the bushes for votes. And don`t count on
too many Republicans because you have got a hard sell.
That seemed to be the difference. It`s like one of those old Soviet
messages during the Cuban Missile Crisis. You get the nice talk from
Khrushchev, and then the hard-liners get in there. It just seems a
different tone in a matter of minutes.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don`t think it was matter
of minutes. And I think it was actually part of a very well-orchestrated
effort on the one hand to get out in front and say after the meeting with
the president, that as speaker of the House, you know, I support the
president`s effort here, and then make it very clear that, yes, the
president is going to have to work the members, because we have all been in
this room before. We know what that dance is like.
So, I think -- I think Boehner was basically --
MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he say I lead the --
STEELE: -- doing the one-two step.
MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he pull a Vandenberg and say this is a bipartisan
effort, or a Everett Dirksen and say, look --
STEELE: Because it`s not. Chris, it`s not. You just did a segment -- you
just did a segment with two Democrat congressmen, and it was very clear
that this is not, you know, that kind of an effort where -- you know,
anyone can get out and say he is bipartisan in terms of helping the
president move that forward.
The president is going to have to build this thing piece by piece. And I
think Boehner just very clearly said, Mr. President, you will have to work
your members, and you`re going have to work my members.
MATTHEWS: I think the president stepped into a pothole here, Jonathan.
And I`m not -- I haven`t taken a position yet on this. It`s very tricky,
because I`m not going to make up my mind for a couple of days.
But let me tell you this. It`s because I see the arguments of Charlie`s
and I heard the argument of Jim Moran`s. And I like them both, and I think
they`re both thinking from different perspectives today. They might take
different perspectives other days.
Here is my political concern. The president is basically saying to
Boehner, I will take whatever scraps I can get from your table, but I`m
going make up the difference with Democratic votes. How in the world are
the Democrats, who are in the minority in the House of Representatives,
going to make up a majority vote without voting like 2-1 for an act of war
they really don`t want?
This is the terrible situation he is in.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, sure.
MATTHEWS: -- forcing Democrats, like hauling them up to the well,
getting them, twisting their arms and saying vote for this thing because I
want you to.
CAPEHART: Look, Chris, this is going to be a very important --
CAPEHART: A very -- it`s a terrible situation that the president is in,
that the country is in.
MATTHEWS: No, he put himself in this. He asked for --
CAPEHART: Right. No, no, I understand that.
But, I mean, I think it`s now -- what I got from the Boehner spokesperson`s
later statement after the speaker spoke was that, Mr. President, you`re
going to have to work hard.
I think I`m actually agreeing with Michael here that the president is going
to have to work very hard the Democratic members of the House. As the
previous segment showed, there is a lot of disagreement among Democrats.
But here is something that is not so out of the ordinary.
MATTHEWS: Do you think a majority of the Republican -- oh, Jon, I`m not
going to let you get past that. Are you implying that the majority of
Republican House members will vote for this act of war?
CAPEHART: Oh, no, no, no, no.
MATTHEWS: In other words, the Democrats --
CAPEHART: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I`m not saying that at all.
CAPEHART: I`m not saying that at all, Chris.
I`m saying that the president is going to have to work Democratic members
of Congress, Democratic members of the House to get this through. Speaker
Boehner is going to have to work as hard as he can and as much as they will
listen to him his members of the House caucus to try to get a majority of
votes through to make the resolution pass, because for the resolution not
to pass would not only be an embarrassment to President Obama, which is
probably what a lot of those folks in the House and some in the Senate
would love to have happen.
It would be an embarrassment for the office of the president and an
embarrassment for the United States.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Michael, what do you think will be the reaction
of the backbenchers on the Republican side of the House if this vote goes
down? I say they`re cheering in the cloakroom, cheering.
STEELE: They may be cheering in the cloakroom from the standpoint that you
think they have personalized this whole thing.
But I think you discount that there`s a legitimate concern -- and a lot of
Republicans, despite what some may believe, did learn from the Bush years,
did learn from the march to war that was undertaken at this time, who were
very hesitant, but did the right thing and fell in line that aren`t
necessarily inclined to do that this time, Chris.
So I think that there may be some cheering from the standpoint, less of the
personal, you know, slap in the face to the president, and more of sort of
an appreciation that the process this time will have worked, unlike it did
the last time.
MATTHEWS: Let me think of three reasons why the Republicans don`t have to
vote for the president, despite all the grand reasons, Jonathan, you and I
know about and Michael knows about, the grand national reasons.
They can say, as Inhofe, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said the other day or
other the weekend, we don`t have the -- we don`t have the materiel, we
don`t have the forces, we don`t have the equipment in the area to do this
job because of sequestration. They can say they don`t trust Obama
personally not to carry out the war further because they don`t like the way
he has handled it so far, the context of this thing.
They can do -- they can make all kinds of arguments about ideology,
whatever. It seems to me they have a pretty free hand at being original.
You can go back to your district and say, well, I would have voted for
this, except that I didn`t like the language of the bill, whereas Democrats
can`t go home.
They`re going to have to say, look, I screwed the president. I screwed our
MATTHEWS: First Jonathan on this, because I think the Republicans are
going to have an easy time getting out of these handcuffs, whereas
Democrats are going to have a harder time, which is so unfair, because they
don`t really believe in this war.
CAPEHART: Right. No, I understand that. And I completely get that,
But this is where the salesmanship operation of the White House, this sort
of flood-the-zone plan that they`re doing now --
MATTHEWS: How good has that been?
CAPEHART: Well, it`s only been day one.
MATTHEWS: No, how good has he been at dealing with Congress since he got
CAPEHART: Well, I mean, up until this point, not very -- not very good.
MATTHEWS: You know?
CAPEHART: He hasn`t been doing very well in that regard. But that`s why
this is extreme -- what they`re doing now is extremely important.
For this vote to pass, the president has to make his case and make his case
convincingly to enough members of Congress so that it passes, because if it
doesn`t, it will be devastating for his credibility, for the office`s
credibility, and for the nation`s credibility on the world stage. There is
no way around that.
STEELE: Hey, Chris, I wanted to pick up on a point you just made about the
Republicans, the three steps, the third point that you made about them
going back to their districts.
STEELE: What you don`t realize is that what they`re hearing back in their
districts is, we don`t want this.
STEELE: So there is -- there is no inclination from the base --
MATTHEWS: My point.
STEELE: -- to push this.
MATTHEWS: My point.
STEELE: And you saw this played out in the Senate hearings.
MATTHEWS: That`s my point, Michael. Why should they vote for a president
that they don`t like for a war they don`t like and their people don`t like?
STEELE: Yes, but wait a minute, Chris. But that`s consistent with the
left as well.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you.
STEELE: Their people don`t like it either. Why is it a different standard
because the base of the GOP doesn`t want this done either?
MATTHEWS: It`s worse for them because they hate it worse, because the
Democrats hate --
MATTHEWS: Michael, I will take you and double down on what you`re saying.
STEELE: -- worse than we do? Come on.
MATTHEWS: I`m doubling down on what you`re saying. I`m agreeing with you,
and saying it`s more harder still.
STEELE: I know. I just don`t like your reason.
MATTHEWS: Don`t be afraid to associate with my remarks. Thank you very
much, Michael Steele.
MATTHEWS: And thank you, Jonathan Capehart.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: We will be right back with the "Sideshow."
And this is HARDBALL, place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow".
Questions about whether to intervene in Syria have ignited another debate,
one over geography.
Nick Kristof of "The New York Times" summed it up in a tweet on Saturday.
"Now, members of Congress will have to consult maps and figure out where
And "Politico" also reported that half of Americans can`t find Syria on a
map. That may be so, and they said the same thing about Vietnam in the
`60s. But these days, thanks to the Internet, it`s not hard to find out.
Just look at the Web traffic to Syria`s Wikipedia page since the beginning
of the month. It has spiked significantly. People are trying to learn.
You could see the looming prospect of war concentrates the mind, to rip off
a Sam Johnson quote.
Well, there is now a game to test your geographic mettle. It`s called
"Where`s Damascus?" And it challenges you to pinpoint it on a blank map of
the world. Over 100,000 people have played with varying degrees of success
and some were as far off as Italy and China. But many were within the
ballpark. Syria is on the Mediterranean and shares a board were five other
Middle Eastern countries -- Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.
Up next, the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming -- actually to
lobby Congress on a Syria issue.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Republicans have been warning that if Democrats win the House
back next year, Nancy Pelosi will become speaker again. Well, maybe not.
"The National Journal" interviewed Pelosi. Here is how it reported part of
"National Journal": Do you wish for a chance for the speaker position
again? Pelosi: No. That`s not my thing. I did that.
"National Journal" says Pelosi`s office contested the working of the
question and asked for a correction, but the magazine says its audio file
backs up what it reported.
We`ll be right back.
What it reported. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Syrian government
forces are advancing. In some areas, they have surrounded the rebels. To
think at such a time they would give a Trump card to those calling for
intervention is utter nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
That was Russian President Vladimir Putin calling claims that Syria has
used chemical weapons on its people nonsense.
Well, throughout the bloody civil war in Syria, U.S. relations with Syria
have been strained due to Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al
Assad. And now there is this: Putin is proposing sending a delegation of
Russian lawmakers to lobby the U.S. Congress to oppose a military strike on
The back and forth between the U.S. and Russia has greatly increased
tensions between two countries that had worked hard for years to become
global partners after the dark ages of the Cold War.
Joining me right to discuss this are Simon Marks, president and chief
correspondent at "Feature Story News", and Fiona Hill, a Russian expert
with the Brookings Institution.
Simon, start with this question. It seems to me that neither side in the
world ever fully understands the sensitivities of the other. What makes
Putin loyal to Assad and very sensitive to the fact we may be helping to
SIMON MARKS, FEATURE STORY NEWS: Well, I think there is a couple different
issues at play here, Chris. I mean, first of all, there is a business
relationship between the Russians and the Syrians that goes back decades
and is now reasonably lucrative for Russia. So, to some extent, he is
simply protecting his pocketbook. But he is also seeing Bashar al-Assad as
he saw Edward Snowden, the fugitive whistleblower, as a pawn in a new great
game for global power and influence.
And Bashar al-Assad is useful to him because it allows the Syrian president
-- allows the Russian president to confront the United States and Barack
Obama over this issue of Syria.
MATTHEWS: So you think he`s just a mischievous little SOB? You don`t
think there`s geopolitics behind this, in other words, alliances that have
to be honored, old relationships with the Assad family has to be loyal to?
You think it`s all petty?
MARKS: I don`t think it`s all petty. I think there are clearly old
relationships between Bashar al Assad`s family, his father, for example,
and senior figures in the old Soviet Union. But Vladimir Putin would drop
Bashar al Assad if he thought it was in his interests.
MARKS: He simply doesn`t believe it`s in his geopolitical --
MATTHEWS: Ms. Hill, I`m always assuming larger ambitions for people than
just pettiness. What do you think? What do you know as an expert about
Russia`s intentions? Because it could well splatter all over the globe, if
we go after Assad, do him real damage. It seems to me that Mr. Vladimir
Putin is a man of tremendous pride and he will have to react some way
negatively toward us.
FIONA HILL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I think what Putin is most
worried about is the splattering a little bit closer to home. It`s the
blowback over what we could see from an implosion in Syria, where we`re
already imploding in Syria, but specific blowback for Russia, itself. And
beyond some of the issues that Simon has alluded to, some of the more
micro-level interests in Syria, itself, there are several things that Putin
doesn`t like about the possible scenario of U.S. intervention.
The first is he doesn`t like regime change. He`s been pretty much opposed
to this, because he always fears what goes around somewhere else could come
back at home and that there might be some people out there who would like
to see him gone from Russia. He doesn`t like the U.S. interventions just
He hasn`t exactly seen a great deal from his perspective of positive things
come out of those. You may recall that he grudgingly behind the scenes
seemed to acquiesce in the intervention in Libya, and then spent time
complaining and trying to (INAUDIBLE) while President Dmitry Medvedev`s had
a bad (ph) decision to let the U.S. go along with this.
But there`s also some population interplay between Syria and Russia and
Putin has the Sochi Olympics coming up fast in 2014 as we get into the New
Year, the Winter Olympics in the southern part of Russia and there are
populations of peoples from that region who are expelled from the Russian
empire into the Ottoman empire into what is now Syria, 150 years ago and
there`s been lots of threats from terrorist groups and individuals in Syria
to bring back terrorist attacks to the --
MATTHEWS: Yes, yes. I love this.
HILL: -- Sochi Olympics.
MATTHEWS: Fiona, I want to go back to Simon and have you ratify that.
From the time of the efforts of the Jewish people to get out of Russia, the
old Soviet Union, we would hear about the nationalities issue. The fear
was that the Jewish people were allowed to leave to go to the Holy Land or
go to Israel or to the United States or somewhere in the West, then
everybody would want out. This sense of everything coming apart, the
biggest Russian fear as they led their empire was they didn`t belong
together. That their people to the south who didn`t have any love for
Russians, white or otherwise.
And here we go -- is this, again, the situation that there`s this sense of
hold on to the way things were, don`t let anything change, keep Assad in
power because this thing could implode all over our old empire as well?
MARKS: Well, look, I think it`s not just that sense, although that plays
into it. But it`s also the desire of Vladimir Putin to be seen as a
regional leader, to be seen as a figure of influence in his own backyard.
I mean, there are those who think that actually he would quite like to put
back together some semblance of the old Soviet Union. You can`t put the
whole thing back together.
But this is a man who wants to be seen as a regional geopolitical power
broker and he defines the region broadly.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this, Fiona, on a lower level. Is it possible
that Putin is simply acting like Charles de Gaulle did back in the `60s and
late `50s? He didn`t hate the United States. He`d probably secretly like
it, more than he`d never admit. But he wanted to make life difficult,
because that was the Gaullest strategy -- be difficult.
Is there a part that doesn`t want to be friendly to Obama, simply as that?
HILL: Absolutely. I mean, this plays extremely well at home. The whole
story about sending out delegations of the Russian doom and the Russian
parliament to meet with members of Congress, this is just a piece political
theater. It plays well for the domestic audience who really enjoy rankling
the United States. This is Putin`s --
MATTHEWS: You know what they have now? Enough money to pay for the plane
trips. That`s what big press they got they can afford, the rubles.
Thank you so much, Simon Marks. Thank you for joining us the Brookings
Institution, Ms. Fiona Hill. Thank you.
When we return, let me finish with what could very well happen in the
United States makes this move on Syria, if it gets the call from the
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.
And now, for just a minute, just think, let`s all think what could happen
if we do attack Syria. Doesn`t Syria then make a move on Israel? It`s
already said pretty much that saying a U.S. attack would lead to a wider
regional war. Is there any doubt what that means?
What does Hezbollah do? They are the decisive ally Syria has right now.
What stops Hezbollah from firing away with its tens of thousands of
conventional rockets? Please tell me.
What do you think Russia will do once we committed an act of War against
its prime ally in the Middle East? That being Syria. Will Putin sit there
like a puppy and take the humiliation? Will he or will he act in ways he
knows and we will know that hurts precisely what we`re attempting to do in
I`m betting he does something. He`s not factually the kind of person who
sits and thinks and pouts. He acts.
Finally, Iran. What will Iran do when we attack another Shia-led country,
its number one and actually only friend in the region? Do we believe the
people of Iran, the secular more modern part of the society as much as the
more traditional and religious will think that the United States is
behaving like an imperialist? I do. I know that Putin will think this
And when the pictures from the hospitals hit television sets all throughout
the Arab and Islamic world, throughout the globe, really, does anyone think
the United States will not be rallied against, hated once again as we are
each time we decide to strike in an Islamic country? And does anyone sane
on this planet not think the pictures from the hospitals are not coming
within hours of our attack on Syria?
All this is something to think about as we watch Obama challenge a Congress
that doesn`t like him to do something it doesn`t want to do. This, my
friends, is a tough one, don`t you think?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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