September 9, 2013
Guests: Sen. Joe Manchin, John Brabender, Cynthia Tucker, Rep. Cedric Richmond, Jonathan Allen
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trouble.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. This is a strange time for America. We
have a significant number of citizens who hate the elected president of
this country. Hate -- it`s not too serious a word for those who say he
purposely let Americans die in Libya, who purposely used the tax collection
agency of this country to punish his political rivals, who purposely gave
guns to the drug runners, who many of them believe is an illegal president
who failed to meet even the minimal test of natural-born citizenship.
Add to this faction those who generally but not always come from the other
side politically, those who have had it with Mideast wars, who watch the
endless conflict in that region between Sunni and Shi`ite and say the only
difference in whether we get involved again is how many people we will
kill, how many Americans we will lose in the fighting and how much more the
people over there will hate us once the smoke clears.
It is, as I said, a strange, horrible situation, where there is nothing
positive that the American people wish to do, only an overwhelming desire
not to do worse. No wonder two thirds of the U.S. Congress right now are
hiding under their desks, waiting for something to happen, something to be
said or done or not done so they don`t have to make the decision that now
stands before them, to vote for a president they don`t trust or an act of
war they have long since realized does not lead even arguably to any kind
We are at a fork in the road the American people quite simply wish we were
not on in the first place.
David Corn is with "Mother Jones" and Howard Fineman is with the
HuffingtonPost. I`ve got to ask you, gentlemen, if you agree with me.
DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, which
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s start with the bottom line. Two thirds of the
Congress is hiding under their desks because they hate this choice. They
hate either siding with the yahoos who hate the president -- they don`t
want to be with them.
CORN: A lot --
MATTHEWS: They don`t want to be with the hawks.
CORN: A lot --
MATTHEWS: They`re not happy.
CORN: A lot of those people are people who want to support the president,
Democrats, who want to be -- they don`t want to see him diminished at home
and abroad by losing a vote, and yet they look at folks back home. They
check their own gut. And they don`t want to do this again.
The president has this really complicated job here. He says this is an
absolute, important thing we must do immediately. But it has to be limited
and narrow and tailored. So there`s a big reason to do it, but as John
Kerry said, it`s an unbelievably small action. In a lot of ways --
MATTHEWS: He says it`s about the Holocaust, then he says, Let me shoot my
CORN: It doesn`t --
MATTHEWS: It doesn`t seem --
CORN: It`s nuanced --
MATTHEWS: By the way, if you had a vote, how would you vote?
CORN: I would -- I wouldn`t vote --
MATTHEWS: Yea or nay?
CORN: No, no, no. I wouldn`t vote until I saw the intelligence indicating
CORN: -- that they know what they`re doing.
MATTHEWS: The vote on cloture`s Wednesday.
CORN: Listen, how many guys have gotten a hearing --
MATTHEWS: So you`re like everybody else. I agree with you.
CORN: I want more information before I vote yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Hey, Howard, boy, I got two of the three here. The two
thirds of America has already spoken on this panel, which is nobody wants
to vote right now. Your views. I think it`s a terrible situation. You
got to go with the haters or the hawks.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, I go -- I try to see it through the eyes of the senators that I`ve
spoken to --
MATTHEWS: OK, good.
FINEMAN: -- who have had private briefings. Vice President Joe Biden
has taken people down to the Situation Room, literately in the Situation
FINEMAN: Yes -- done everything but turned down the lights to "Dr.
Strangelove" level --
MATTHEWS: No fighting in the war room!
FINEMAN: -- and given them the hard sell.
FINEMAN: And the senators, the Democratic senators that I`ve spoken to,
are very, very skeptical and wary. They`re not buying it. They are just -
MATTHEWS: Will they vote to vote on Wednesday?
FINEMAN: They`re just not buying it because of the unknowable, unintended
consequences of an act of war, which General Dempsey says this is. And the
problem that these Democrats have, whether they`re up for reelection or
not, is that overwhelmingly, their own constituents, both Democrats and
Republicans and independents, are highly skeptical of this.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s follow that out.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s well said because you`ve got reporting to go by.
It seems to me that everybody`s talking about day four. My answer to this
is, we know what day one is. When we attack, you know, thunder and
lightning, we`ll watch -- it`ll be on television. We`ll watch all the
bombs go off. And then day two is the hospital scene we know for sure.
One thing Assad will do is make sure every one of his victims will be --
MATTHEWS: -- all be in the hospital scenes. Every worldwide -- Al
Jazeera -- every camera in the world will be in there --
CORN: We`ll have a whole --
MATTHEWS: -- and we`ll be watching that for two or three days. And then
the interesting part. What`s Hezbollah do in terms of the Israeli
situation in southern Lebanon? Do they attack across with the rockets,
their 50,000, 60,000 rockets? Does something happen in Iran? Does
something happen in the sort of Shi`ite community that we`re not ready for?
CORN: What happens with the opposition, the al Qaeda-linked opposition?
Are they able to exploit this to their own advantage? I mean, there are so
many possible unintended consequences. Now, maybe the president has some
decent intelligence, but if he`s not convincing Democratic senators, it`s
really a hard sell to make.
FINEMAN: The other thing, Chris, is this is -- I can`t say anything but
this looks like military-diplomatic amateur hour --
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to that!
MATTHEWS: All afternoon today, we`ve been getting crossed signals. The
latest are that this whole Russian thing, where the secretary of state,
John Kerry, said, Well, maybe if the Russians or somebody decides to pull
the weapons out, they get rid of their weapons (INAUDIBLE) maybe we`ll
change our policy. And then he put out late today at 4:20, Well, that was
all just rhetoric. I didn`t mean that. We`re going to have to go and have
this vote on the floor of the Senate.
FINEMAN: Well --
MATTHEWS: Nothing`s changed.
FINEMAN: I interviewed Kerry last week, and I`m tempted to say -- he`s
saying this was just a rhetorical statement.
FINEMAN: My question is, what isn`t a rhetorical statement? The way it
comes off to too many people is that the administration is speaking at its
potential supporters and not really honestly to its potential supporters.
In this case, you have a situation where the secretary of state is
basically, until he recanted this thing --
MATTHEWS: Late today, yes.
FINEMAN: -- undercutting --
MATTHEWS: Why is he -- why is he messing around with this thing?
CORN: You know why? I know why!
FINEMAN: Let me just finish this one point. He`s undercutting -- he
undercut for a day --
FINEMAN: -- the urgency --
FINEMAN: -- of the vote that the president wants.
MATTHEWS: And he gave those who were waffling about this the chance to
say, Well, we`ll wait -- let`s wait it out.
CORN: Well, the reason why is because it`s not a clear-cut issue. You`re
-- any time you go to war -- and this is what Bush did. He made it black
or white. We invade or it`s --
MATTHEWS: OK --
MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton said something very strong today. And it very
much gets (ph) us to what her position was for the Iraq war. We`re going
to show it right now. Basically, was, Whatever we do, it`s got to be
underwritten by the willingness to use strength and force. In other words,
we need this vote in the Senate. And here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is very important to note that
this discussion that has taken hold today about potential international
control over Syria`s stockpiles only could take place in the context of a
credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the
Syrian government, as well as those supporting Syria, like Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FINEMAN: That was a brilliant --
MATTHEWS: Powerful statement.
FINEMAN: No, that was a brilliant way for Hillary Clinton to in theory
support the idea of military strength and a military strike without in the
whole rest of her statement actually supporting a military strike!
MATTHEWS: Which is what she did back with the Iraq war.
FINEMAN: No, she --
MATTHEWS: She basically said, I give the authority to do it so you can get
some stuff done. Of course --
FINEMAN: -- having supported it.
FINEMAN: Here she`s called for -- elsewhere in that statement, she called
for strong international action.
FINEMAN: She did not in so many words --
MATTHEWS: OK, so here we have --
FINEMAN: -- call for military action.
MATTHEWS: In other words, a whole day-and-a-half --
MATTHEWS: -- you said, the 24 hours, I`m talking about -- maybe the
Russians will save our bacon. Maybe the Russians will make sure that
Bashar Assad gives up his chemical weapons.
MATTHEWS: All that was wiped off the table because of two things. One,
Kerry says, I only meant it rhetorically, and now she said we`re not even
going to get that deal unless we have the firepower, unless the president
gets the approval to use the firepower this Wednesday.
CORN: From the very beginning, when the president said there was a red
line, without, I think, really realizing what he would do and what Congress
would do if they crossed the red line, they`ve been at cross-purposes.
This morning, Samantha Power says the president doesn`t want to get
involved in this. He just wants to have this little strike.
But as you know, from looking at the resolution in the Senate, it also
calls for supporting the opposition --
CORN: -- which they`re doing already. So we are involved --
MATTHEWS: By the way, did the Sunday shows --
CORN: -- in a limited way.
MATTHEWS: -- all take a powder on that this weekend? Nobody talked
about section five in the resolution.
FINEMAN: I`ve been spending all day working on that. And the fact is,
there`s a -- there`s a -- there`s a loophole in there big enough to drive a
whole fleet of humvees through, where it says --
MATTHEWS: All kinds of weapons.
FINEMAN: All kinds of weapons. It also says that we will not introduce
American -- American troops on the ground for combat operations.
CORN: But for training, for advice, other things.
MATTHEWS: How about for grabbing the control of the chemical weapons?
FINEMAN: Sure. Well, that`s what -- that`s clearly what --
MATTHEWS: Yes, anyway, the administration --
MATTHEWS: -- and its backers have characterized the actions of Assad`s
government as monstrous, and some have even alluded to the Holocaust, as I
said, to explain its barbarity and the need for us to take military action.
But listen to how John Kerry has tried to play down the size and scope of
any potential military strike. Here he`s talking about going after Hitler
with a fly swatter. Here`s Kerry today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Very limited, very targeted, very short-
term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons, without
assuming responsibility for Syria`s civil war. That is exactly what we`re
talking about doing -- unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: There are four kinds of Americans. These are always a bad way
to do it, but there`s four kinds. There`s the hard right that hates this
guy, President Obama. There`s the hard left that hates war. So you`re
really talking about getting a majority or a supermajority somewhere in the
middle, center left, center right.
Now, the problem is that Kerry and the president can`t decide whether they
need the center right more than the center left. So they`re leaning over
to the McCain side, saying we`re going to go (ph) all this extra stuff
helping the rebels. Then they have to lean back and say, But we`re only
doing this one strike.
Can you get the center left and the center right to agree? You`re laughing
FINEMAN: We`re hammering Kerry here. But the fact is, he`s been handed a
MATTHEWS: Yes! He`s a servant!
FINEMAN: -- impossible mission.
MATTHEWS: Well, what -- how do you get McCain to agree with Pat Leahy?
FINEMAN: Well, you get McCain to -- you get McCain by putting the language
in the resolution --
FINEMAN: No, then saying -- and then going on TV and saying --
MATTHEWS: -- Henry Kissinger could do this! He could go to the Middle
East and sell the Arabs one thing, the Israelis another thing!
FINEMAN: But the problem is, he was doing it in private. This is all in
CORN: This is still about winning the American public, getting it from one
third for it and maybe --
MATTHEWS: But they`re losing! They`re in the process of losing.
CORN: They`re in the process of doing it because they have to sell it big,
but then say, We`re doing it small. And that just doesn`t compute!
MATTHEWS: Would you like me to repeat what I said? You lose the 20
percent at one end, on the left --
CORN: Right --
MATTHEWS: -- you lose the 20 percent on the right, the haters and the
racists and all that --
CORN: But people --
MATTHEWS: -- possible 60 percent. And you know what? In the Senate,
you have to get 60.
MATTHEWS: You`ve got an inside straight here. You got to get them all!
CORN: Right. But as it turns out --
MATTHEWS: And they`re not getting them.
CORN: -- it may not be 20/20. It may be 30/30 on the two ends. Then
what happens to your math?
MATTHEWS: This is what Kathy does to me at home.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Howard Fineman. I think we`re agreed on
this Goetterdaemmerung situation. This is what "Life of Riley" used to
say, "a revoltin` development." David Corn, Howard Fineman.
Coming up: Are there other alternatives to President Obama`s plan?
Democratic senator Joe Manchin would like to support his president, but he
wants more time for diplomacy and to make Assad give up his chemical
weapons. He joins us next.
Plus, the ugly reality of the Obama hatred out there. Just listen for
those happy Republican buzzwords -- Benghazi, IRS, Fast and Furious. These
guys see President Obama as a bigger enemy than Assad, maybe.
And this president and this White House have ignored his allies in Congress
for nearly five years now. Now those Democrats may be the only ones left
who can save him.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this road we`re on and which the American
people wish we were not on, the road to Syria.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: As part of his push to gain support for a potential military
strike on Syria, the president sat down with NBC`s Savannah Guthrie late
today. Let`s watch part of that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Your chief of staff called these strikes
"limited and consequential," which in a way seemed almost a contradiction
in terms to me. Today Secretary of State Kerry said the strikes would be
"unbelievably small." What does that mean? I mean, are we talking a
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.
GUTHRIE: -- a knockout blow, a punch in the gut?
The U.S. does not do pinpricks. Our military`s the greatest the world has
ever known, and when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a
country like Syria that does not have a tremendous military capability.
They have a tremendous military capability relative to civilians. They
have a significant military capability relative to children who are being
gassed. But they don`t have a military that matches up with ours in any
kind of way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There`s no denying what happened on
August 21st. Around 2:30 in the morning, while most of Damascus was still
asleep, Assad`s forces loaded warheads filled with deadly chemicals onto
rockets and launched them into suburbs controlled or contested by
opposition forces. They unleashed hellish chaos and terror on a massive
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, Susan Rice,
who`s the national security adviser to the president, making the case for
military action toward Syria.
After introducing and fighting hard for a compromise bill to expand
background checks on gun sales last April, we know that here, Senator Joe
Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, is forging an alternative to the
current resolution before Congress on military action in Syria. He`s
joined right now by freshman Democrat from North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp on
The two Senate moderates are floating a draft resolution that gives
diplomacy one last chance. Manchin and Heitkamp`s proposal gives Syrian
president Bashar al Assad 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons
ban or face the threat of all elements of U.S. military power. It requires
President Obama to provide Congress a diplomatic plan to end the violence
in Syria and compels him to building more international support before
Both Manchin and Heitkamp have announced their intentions to vote no on the
current resolution to authorize the president to use military force.
Senator Joe Manchin joins us right now. Senator, Manchin, thank you. The
problem -- let me just go through where you stand. Do you deny there`s any
question or do you believe there`s any question about whether Saddam
Hussein (sic) used chemical weapons and he ordered the action?
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: You mean President Assad, Chris.
MANCHIN: And first of all, his regime -- I don`t deny that the evidence
they put forth shows that his regime used weapons, chemical weapons on
I don`t -- to take it any further than that -- Assad is saying today with
an interview that we saw this morning that he didn`t do it or didn`t know
about it or didn`t order it.
Now, with all that being said, all we`re saying is let diplomacy try before
we have an imminent strike, which we know will not secure the weapons,
Chris. It`s not going to go in there and send boots on the ground to make
sure that we`ve secured them. We could accidentally hit one of these
weapons and cause more collateral damage, which just enrages the Muslim
communities and countries against us even more.
So I don`t see an imminent threat to the United States of America. I think
diplomacy -- more diplomacy should be used.
MATTHEWS: You know, on Wednesday, when you have to vote for cloture to
decide whether you -- this measure even comes up for a vote, how will you
MANCHIN: Chris, if it`s a procedure vote, which we will have first, to get
on the bill -- and I`ve been assured that our resolution, our amendment
will be able to be voted upon -- I want to move on the bill and have a
vital debate on this, have a very meaningful debate. I think we should be
on the bill to be able to talk about it and have an open process where
amendments are allowed to be offered.
Then after that, will come cloture on that to close the debate, and I will
vote opposing that if we have not got a better alternative than what we
have in front of us now.
MATTHEWS: So vote against final passage, or even having a final vote on
the Obama resolution if you can`t get yours approved.
MANCHIN: Well, or something that`s more moderate. I`m hoping between now
and Wednesday, calmer heads will prevail. I really do. Russia has put out
a proposal today which is very much mirror (ph) to what Senator Heitkamp
and I have been working on and talking to many other senators, which says,
Listen, this person should -- this country, Syria, should be part of the
chemical weapons convention. That way, we will be able to not only secure
the weapons, destroy the weapons and prevent any more ever being made.
MATTHEWS: But Secretary Kerry said that his comment along those lines was
rhetorical. He said it late this afternoon. And he said that he doesn`t
take seriously the Russian counter -- the Russian proposal in this regard.
He doesn`t take this serious at all. And you do.
MANCHIN: Let me just say this. I`m not involved directly with the
diplomatic talks that have been going on. But if someone comes out in an
international -- international situation and says -- game player as this
and says that we believe this should be done and we`re going to make sure
that we do everything we can to bring Syria in -- Syria says they haven`t
What would make you believe that Syria would use it now with the whole
world on them and knowing the international community could turn against
them? What would you think that Russia would have to gain? I don`t know.
It doesn`t make sense to me what they would have to gain. But they have
more to lose if their don`t fulfill their commitment and try to help bring
MATTHEWS: But the president -- but the president drew a red line, and
there`s rumors -- or a belief, in fact, that this isn`t the first time --
in August wasn`t the first time that Bashar al-Assad using chemical
And now you`re saying that somehow -- well, here`s the problem. First --
two problems. Colin Powell, who we all respect, calls him a pathological
liar. He said that a couple days ago. And he doesn`t trust Bashar Assad
to say anything.
On "Charlie Rose" the other night, in the interview that`s going to be on
tonight in full, he basically says, I don`t know anything about any of use
of nuclear weapons -- or chemical weapons. He just denies the whole thing.
MATTHEWS: He says it never happened. How can you make a deal with a guy
that`s basically a bare-faced liar?
MANCHIN: We`re not trying to make a deal with him, Chris. We`re just
saying sign up. Sign the --
MATTHEWS: Well, what would that mean?
MANCHIN: Well, basically, it means that you have to join in the chemical
MANCHIN: And that organization is going to have basically oversight.
MANCHIN: If they`re a part of it and we`re a part of it, and we say that
they haven`t lived by it, then we can bring the international community
along with us.
We have nobody now, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let`s do the math. Let`s do the math on your proposal. I`m
taking it seriously now.
Nineteen days now, as of now, since the Bashar Assad regime used chemical
MATTHEWS: It will take another couple weeks to get this thing squared away
and pass both houses if you prevail and get a conference report out of both
houses. That`s another two weeks, then another 45 days on top of that.
You`re talking the United States going to war 77 weeks after the event
occurred. I mean, that`s an incredible delay. I have never heard of a
country saying, I`m going to war with you 77 weeks from now.
MANCHIN: Chris, we haven`t -- first of all, I don`t believe we should go
to war at any time over there.
If money or military might was going to change that part of the world, we`d
have done it by now -- $1.6 trillion, 12 years of war, we haven`t changed
it. But with that being said, it`s been -- even the administration have
told us in all the secured briefings we have had, Chris, that it wasn`t a
time element. We can take out these strategic points that they want to hit
at any time.
So, if not basically strategic or a timely manner, then what makes the
difference of the rush, if you can have diplomatic relationships building
and try to get more of the international community joining us? Right now,
as I have said before, we`re going it alone.
During that 45 period of time, Chris, also you`re going to have a U.N.
meeting. They have a meeting scheduled, 68 meeting that they --
MATTHEWS: Well, it looks to me like you`re voting no this week and you`re
hoping to come up with a third alternative. But it looks to me like if
people like you`re against the president, I don`t know how he gets the
MANCHIN: I would say it`s a hard reach right now for 60, I really do
You have 40-some who have said they`re undecided. Trust me, I know that
more are. They decided just haven`t declared where they are.
MANCHIN: So, it`s going to be hard a lift.
Chris, this does not elevate itself to imminent danger of the United States
of America. And we have seen from the last past 12 years, that part of the
world, we cannot make a difference. Unless the Arab League and Arab
nations, if they start moving and start doing something, then it would be
our support. And I have said this.
MATTHEWS: Yes. They`re not doing it.
MANCHIN: Hey, Chris, a superpower does not mean just because you have
super might and super military, you better have super negotiating power,
super diplomacy, super humanitarian aid. An awful lot goes with that.
MATTHEWS: We know where you stand.
Thank you very much, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
MANCHIN: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, the story that has attracted 12 times more Web traffic
than Syria. This is not good for the country, by the way.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Secretary of State John
Kerry said that Arab countries have offered to pay the entire cost of
unseating Syria`s president -- president if we take the lead militarily.
They will pay for the whole thing.
See, this is how global politics works. We invade Syria to get money from
Saudi Arabia that they got from us from putting their oil in our Japanese
cars so we can pay back China all the money we owe them. Do you follow me?
You follow? You see how that works?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to the "Sideshow."
That was of course Jay Leno taking on the geopolitics of the Syria
situation this past Friday. Well, "The Tonight show" funnyman went on to
reveal how decisions were really made at last week`s G20 summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENO: I always wondered how the leaders decide what action they`re going
to take. I saw something today that explained it. Take a look. Now, here
-- OK, here`s the president getting ready to go into the room. See the big
table? You see how it looks?
LENO: See, they spin that, they spin that. OK, Syria. Blame Israel!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Next up, are more Americans outraged that Miley Cyrus is twerking than they
are about Syria? Well, maybe. "New York" magazine reported today that
Miley Cyrus attracted 12 times more attention than Syria following her VMA
performance citing results from an expansive survey of Web traffic to over
100,000 online publishers.
And while she didn`t mention Miley Cyrus, Sandra Day O`Connor recently
lamented about how uniformed Americans really are. In a speech in Boise,
Idaho, the former Supreme Court justice said -- quote -- "The more I read
and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers
from an alarming degree of public ignorance."
And she pointed out that -- quote -- "Less than one-third of eighth graders
can identify the historic -- historical purpose of the Declaration of
Independence." And, as she puts it, it`s right there in the name.
For her part, O`Connor has sought to inform the American public with a Web
site she founded for educators called iCivics.org, which features games
intended to teach students about American government.
And, finally, Rush Limbaugh is at it again. This time, he`s using the
racially charged phrase shuck and jive, a 19th century term, to describe
Obama`s Syria policy. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When it comes to Syria, have you ever
heard Obama talk about regime change as an objective? You have not. Have
you? You have not. And they`re reinforcing that today.
No. In fact, you know, this operation -- Bush had Shock and Awe. We`re
looking at shuck and jive here. That`s what I`m going to name this. The
Obama operation in Syria, operation shuck and jive, because that`s what
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Get the message? Hmm.
Up next, what do Benghazi, the IRS, and Fast and Furious have to do with
Syria? Nothing. Nada. But don`t tell the Republicans that. You`re
watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I`m Milissa Rehberger.
President Obama sat down with six TV networks, including NBC, to discuss
Syria. He said he`s open to a deal to transfer control of Syria`s chemical
weapons, but remains skeptical about it.
George Zimmerman`s wife will not press charges against her estranged
husband after a fight between the two. Shellie Zimmerman called 911
claiming he punched her father and threatened them with a gun.
More than $40 million has been raised to finished a 9/11 Flight 93 memorial
in Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: One of the problems with all of this focus on
Syria is it`s missing the ball from what we should be focused on, which is
the grave threat from radical Islamic terrorism.
Just this week is the one-year anniversary of the attack on Benghazi. When
it happened, the president promised to hunt down the wrongdoers. And yet,
a few months later, the issue has disappeared. You don`t hear the
president mention Benghazi. Now it`s a phony scandal. We ought to be
defending U.S. national security and going after radical Islamic
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Anyway, he`s got that same hand job as our friend Pat Buchanan.
You know, it`s always that thing.
Anyway, back to HARDBALL.
Benghazi, the word`s become a rallying cry, as you saw there, among
Republicans, a buzzword that epitomizes their distress, even hatred for
President Obama. As you saw in that clip there, Republicans like Cruz of
Texas don`t need much of a reason to bring it up. An issue with the
explosiveness of intervention in Syria is more than enough dry powder for
the party to light the fuse.
And they`re even going so far as to say that Syria discussions are
distracting from the more important Benghazi witch-hunt. But it doesn`t
just stop with Benghazi. The debate over the Syria resolution has given
some Republicans a megaphone to resurrect their favorite scandal-mongering
At last week`s hearings on the Hill, Congressman Joe Wilson -- remember, he
was the one "You lie" -- Republican from South Carolina, accused the
president of delaying action on Syria. This was his reasoning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president`s red line, why was
there no call for military response in April? Was it delayed to divert
attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals, the failure of
Obamacare enforcement, the tragedy of the White House-drafted
sequestration, or the upcoming debt limit vote?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he`s got the list there. Later in that same hearing,
Wilson`s colleague Jeff Duncan, who is also from South Carolina, picked up
where Wilson left off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The administration has a serious
credibility issue with the American people due to the unanswered questions
surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi almost a year ago.
When you factor in the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the AP and
James Rosen issues, Fast and Furious, and NSA spying programs, bottom line
is that there`s a need for accountable and trust-building from the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you got the list there.
Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator and professor at the
University of Georgia. And John Brabender is a Republican strategist.
Cynthia, it seems like those two members from South Carolina did have the
same list of items to bring up. And my question is, what does this do? Is
this just like -- I don`t know what -- is this waving the red cape at a
bullfight? You just bring this stuff and wave it and it drives the other
side crazy? Or is it supposed to illicit -- what is it supposed to illicit
in the conversation about whether we go to war in Syria or not, which is
important enough not to change the subject from?
It seems like, when you`re talking war and peace, you sort of stick to that
topic, at least for an hour or two.
CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: Come on, Chris. The IRS must have
something to do with this. Fast and Furious must have something to do with
this. If not, the Republicans will just make it up.
Look, they`re heartbroken that they have not been able to unearth credible
evidence of any real scandal with which they could impeach the president.
They were persuaded that they could defeat Obama, and he wouldn`t be
reelected. When that failed, they thought, well, at the very least by his
second term there will be scandals over which we can impeach him. And
these so-called scandals have just withered away.
There have been investigations of Benghazi, and they uncovered evidence of
flawed security, weaknesses in security, but nothing that suggest any
cover-up from the White House. The IRS so-called scandal has just
completely evaporated, because it`s now clear that the IRS targeted not
just conservative groups, but also liberal groups.
Well, the hard-core Republicans are heartbroken over this, Chris.
TUCKER: They don`t want those so-called scandals to go away.
MATTHEWS: You know, it does remind me politically -- and you can --
obviously, you can say what you want, John Brabender, but it reminds me of
JOHN BRABENDER, FORMER SENIOR SANTORUM CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I appreciate
that, by the way.
MATTHEWS: No, because it`s -- I don`t know where it`s going to go from
MATTHEWS: I think, for example, some people are gun -- people like my
brother, one of my brothers -- you say Ruby Ridge, it evokes a certain
emotional reaction. You don`t have to talk anymore about the subject.
It`s done. We know what that means. You bring up Waco, it brings up
It`s almost like all you have to do is bring up these things. Just bring
them up. There`s no more discussion. We know he`s wrong about Benghazi.
We know he`s wrong about IRS, so you just say it. And what does it do,
stop the conversation? What`s it supposed to do when we`re debating about
whether we go to war -- take an act of war against Syria?
I don`t see its intellectual content. Your thoughts.
BRABENDER: Well, I think there is an intellectual content if they`re
trying to say this president shows no consistency in how he deals with
different events or any long-term policy that is relative to foreign
affairs or fighting these type of problems.
Where the problem becomes --
MATTHEWS: What`s IRS got to do with foreign affairs?
BRABENDER: Well, that`s what I was going to say to you.
The problem becomes when these are used simply to draw attention or they`re
used as fund-raising ploys and so forth.
MATTHEWS: Syria has also given the GOP a chance to bring up their latest
effort at delegitimatizing the president. It`s called impeachment.
Here`s John McCain, a worthwhile person to listen to, on conservative radio
last Thursday -- that`s not a year ago -- acknowledging the impeachment
threat to Obama. Now, he does it in the squirreliest way. Here he is.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No one wants American boots on the ground,
nor will there be American boots on the ground, because there would be an
impeachment of the president if they did that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It`s a strange use of it. He did it to make the case for the
Anyway, Representative Bill Flores, a Republican from Texas, took it a step
further I would say in the other direction. He told a town hall last week
-- again last week that the House already has the votes to impeach the
president. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BILL FLORES (R), TEXAS: I look at the president, I think he has -- I
think he has violated the Constitution. I think he`s violated the law. I
think he`s abused his power.
But at the end of the day, you have to decide -- OK, the House decides to
impeach. And I think, if the House had an impeachment vote, it would
probably impeach the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What does that mean?
BRABENDER: I don`t know. And I find it problematic for this reason.
We can`t do everything about just talking --
MATTHEWS: Whose head count is that, by the way? How many votes for
impeachment right now?
BRABENDER: Oh, none.
BRABENDER: I mean, the truth of the matter is those are the type of things
some in our party say that in a sense will keep us from getting some of the
votes that we need because we look like that`s all we want to talk about.
And I think that`s extremely problematic.
MATTHEWS: What`s Obama`s original sin? They hated him from the beginning.
What was it?
BRABENDER: Being liberal. I mean, that is the liberal problem is that --
MATTHEWS: So any liberal president should be impeached?
BRABENDER: And, frankly, his biggest sin as far as --
MATTHEWS: How about believing in the Constitution?
BRABENDER: I`m not saying to have an impeachment. His biggest sin is
doing exactly what he said he was going to do -- take over the government
and things --
MATTHEWS: Would these people vote to outlaw liberalism if they could?
BRABENDER: Oh, absolutely.
BRABENDER: Would you outlaw conservatives if you could? You would vote
MATTHEWS: Of course not. Of course not.
BRABENDER: Would you -- would you --
MATTHEWS: In fact, I think a lot of conservative things make sense.
BRABENDER: Which conservative things you think make sense?
MATTHEWS: I think enforcing the law. That`s a good thing.
BRABENDER: So, liberals don`t believe in enforcing the law? That`s a
conservative thing only.
MATTHEWS: Don`t force me into corners here. I think on the issue of
immigration, I`ve always taken a conservative position on immigration.
OK. Let`s go back to Cynthia because you know I`ve been taking a pretty
conservative position on that. I want enforcement of the law as well as
legalization of all these people. I`ve been pretty tough on that.
Anyway, Cynthia, now they boxed me into saying I`m a conservative on some
issues and I`m not going to hold candles on capital punishment either, when
a guy killed some people in some 7-Eleven at night after they pled for
their lives. You ever see me do that? So, don`t put me in some box. I`m
much more of the --
MATTHEWS: No, I am. Go ahead.
CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: Health care reform was a
conservative idea just a few years ago. And now they`re completely against
that. It was a Heritage Foundation idea, to require people to get their
own health insurance. That was a Republican idea.
But the moment Obama signs onto it, it is absolutely out of the question.
If a bunch of conservatives in the House of Representatives got together
today and decided we`re going to full-out endorse motherhood and apple pie
and tomorrow, Obama said, I`m for it too, they said never mind. We`re
against motherhood and apple pie. It`s a bad idea.
MATTHEWS: Why does hate sell more than love? I mean, I`m around, I listen
to people, I watch television and I hear more hate of Obama than I hear
love of Obama from the other side. Why is the love of Obama side so
puristic they don`t think he`s been good enough? Whereas the right wingers
say he`s plenty bad enough, he`s so far left. And yet the left says he`s
not left enough. Why is there`s such asymmetry here, Cynthia, and
TUCKER: There always is, Chris. There always is. If you look at the vote
to authorize the war in Iraq a few years ago which many, many liberals were
horrified by, still 84 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to
give Bush the authority to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
Do you think 84 Republicans are going to vote with President Obama for a
much more limited campaign in Syria? No, they`re not. They enforce,
they`re absolute dogmatic about --
MATTHEWS: You`re so right. Ten of those 80-some Republicans are now
supporting this effort.
BRABENDER: So, evidently, Obama taking this to Congress meant only if
they`re going to vote with him. I mean, what we`re saying is why aren`t we
having more Republicans vote with what they disagree with just because --
MATTHEWS: That`s common sense. He went with the idea they were going to
vote with him, for him.
BRABENDER: Are you saying that these 84 Democrats --
MATTHEWS: They`re entitled to vote the way they vote.
BRABENDER: Exactly. And so are these Republicans --
MATTHEWS: I think there are inconsistencies between the hawks in Iraq and
the doves that they`ve become on Syria. It could have something to do with
a Democratic president.
Thank you, John Brabender.
BRABENDER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: It was the same at the end of the Vietnam War, where all the
Democrats who supported Johnson, the minute Nixon got in there, they`re all
Cynthia, thank you. Welcome back. We missed you.
Cynthia Tucker from down South where it`s still hot.
Up next, don`t just call when you need something. That`s what President
Obama is doing with Congress right now. Don`t make the first call a
request when you`re calling up somebody.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Super Tuesday is usually associated with huge primary dates.
But tomorrow is kind of an off-year super Tuesday as well. There are the
New York City mayoral primaries. Two recall races involving Democratic
state senators out in Colorado. Jeb Bush is giving Hillary Clinton an
award in Philly. And, of course, there`s President Obama`s address to the
country tomorrow night.
MSNBC will provide live coverage of the president`s speech which begins at
9:00 Eastern tomorrow night.
And we`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think it`s going to be very difficult
for him to get votes. I think this goes back not just to the issue itself
but you can`t begin to build a relationship with Congress for the first
time when you need their support on something like this. I mean, look a
week and a half ago, my office actually reached out to the White House and
said, hey, we supported the strike on Syria. We`re going to help round out
support of you need it. I haven`t heard back from the White House yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That comment from Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger who
actually supports the president on this, sums up the president`s biggest
challenge in Syria, where an administration and a president not known for
personal outreach to lawmakers up on Capitol Hill. Can Obama make a big
ask on Syria now?
I have a whole chapter in a book I wrote years ago about this thing.
"Don`t call just when you need something."
Common sense. In a nutshell, here`s how it works in politics like in life.
The first call should be how to get to know somebody. How are you doing?
How are the kids? That kind of conversation.
Second call maybe a small favor. You test the waters a little bit. It`s
not until maybe the third time you deal with somebody that you ask to save
your bacon. That`s what Obama is trying to do on the first call asking
Jonathan Allen is "Politico`s" White House bureau chief. And we`re going
to have him alone for a minute here.
You know, Roy Blunt who`s a smart guy. You know, he really knows politics
in Washington. He`s not a right winger at all, from Missouri.
He said -- here`s what he said about the president at the lunch with the
GOP. It`s pretty late in the administration to start making friendships.
Boy, that isn`t a great statement.
Your thoughts -- well, your view about this as a guy who understands the
Hill and how it works.
JONATHAN ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: Well, the amazing thing about what Blunt
said isn`t just that it applies to Republicans, but it also applies to a
lot of Democrats in the House. President Obama`s much more comfortable in
the Senate, much more comfortable with the Senate Democratic caucus, when
he makes calls, it tends to be to those guys, when he has dinners that are
bipartisan, tends to brings Republicans from the Senate in.
MATTHEWS: Why, because they dress better?
ALLEN: I think because he knows them a little bit. I think it`s a
confidence issue. He spent a few years in the Senate. That`s -- you know,
he was never a creature of the house, nor was Vice President Joe Biden.
You don`t have anybody in the administration like Rahm Emanuel who really
knows the House side, a Leon Panetta who knows the House side, Rob Portman
in the Bush administration, or even Rumsfeld and Cheney in the Bush
administration were kind of people --
MATTHEWS: Come on. You know, Jonathan, you`re being squeamish here.
Isn`t it a question of elitism? Doesn`t he think he`s better than the
ALLEN: Oh, come on.
MATTHEWS: You don`t think that`s true?
ALLEN: Do I think he`s better --
MATTHEWS: He`s president of the United States --
ALLEN: Well, look, I mean, he`s the president of the United States. He`s
certainly in a more elevated role than they are, but I will say this -- I
don`t think he`s wanted to spend, for whatever reason, not wanting to spend
a lot of time with members of the House of Representatives. He doesn`t
have much time for the sort of basic parochial politics that follow in the
And you make a good point, which is now he`s asking for something, if not
transactional, certainly asking for a favor from these guys who he doesn`t
have relationships with. It`s a hard thing to do that.
And all these members are hearing in their district from people who don`t
want them to go into Syria. All the political pressure on them is to not
MATTHEWS: I know.
ALLEN: So, they`ve got to have a reason to do that and he hasn`t given
them that. Look, personal relations probably don`t matter on turning
someone around who hates you on policy or doesn`t agree with you on a
particular policy. But if the margins, you`re talking about an average --
ALLEN: -- Kinzinger says he wants to round up votes for you, you`ve got to
reach out to a guy like that.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post", the
great Bob Woodward, shared this little anecdotes, illustrating the lack of
outreach from the White House to Congress. Let`s listen to him. This was
on "Face the Nation" yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: A couple of months ago, I was talking
to the chairman of one of the Senate committees, a big Obama supporter,
progressive Democrat. And I was saying, you know, "Where`s the contacts?"
And this is an important senator, and he just pounded his fist and he said,
"I don`t know how you can say that! In the last five years, the president
has called me twice."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Congressman Richmond, thank you for joining us.
I want to bring in Cedric Richmond right now from Louisiana.
Sir, thank you for coming to the show tonight.
What do you think about this? You apparently just got a briefing with the
Black Caucus. Is there movement toward the president`s position or not?
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Well, I think there`s willingness to
listen, and today we met with not only Susan Rice, but the president who
laid out his case for why he thought action was need, why he came to
Congress and the risk that it would be to the country, not on the short
term, but the long term, if we didn`t have action.
And I think there were some very poignant questions and some, of course,
very different views of our options. And I think that everyone in the room
prefers diplomacy first, and that was the goal just to assess where we were
and to get his thoughts on what we needed to do.
MATTHEWS: Well, diplomacy means say no to the president this week. I
mean, he wants an act of war. He wants to attack Syria and punish them for
using chemical weapons.
Is the caucus, are you certainly -- let me ask about you, are you for an
attack on Syria to punish them?
RICHMOND: Well, I`m only for an attack on Syria as a last resort, and I am
not sure that we`re there yet. But first it has to get through the Senate,
which I`m not sure that anyone`s confident that it would.
Another question is -- the other question is, why the rush? This is their
twelfth attack using chemical weapons, so through attacks one through 11,
we haven`t used force, then I don`t think there`s a rush to do it in the
next day and the week, that we can take our time, try to build allies, wait
for the U.N. inspectors to come back with proof that it was actually the
Assad regime that used it, which I`m pretty sure that it was, but we don`t
have to rush into this.
And I think part of the president coming to Congress shows that there
wasn`t a need to rush and that he`s trying to think it through.
So, the unfortunate part about this, Chris, is that this is all going to
boil down to trust, whether the people out there who oppose it trust their
congressperson to make the right decision, whether we trust that the
president has all the facts --
MATTHEWS: I agree.
RICHMOND: -- has all the plans, and that he only intends to do limited
strikes and get us out of there. All of it`s a question of trust and part
of it`s a question of just how it will play out and what Syria does.
Now, the other thing that I`m probably confident in is the fact that I
don`t think Syria has the capacity to respond to anything that we did, but
that doesn`t mean we have to do it right now.
So, I would say there were more questions in there from members than
members having answers or opinions.
MATTHEWS: That`s good. Glad you came on, Congressman. Thank you.
Let me go back to Jonathan Allen about the analysis.
You know, it seems to me the hard left and the hard right always are spoken
for. So, this president, as I said earlier in the show, is trying to build
a coalition of the center-left and center-right. The problem is the center
left and the center right don`t agree.
As the congressman just said there, he wants a very limited action taken
here if he`s going to support this thing. And yet, you have people like
John McCain who say no, this is just the beginning. We`re going to go in
for a dime, we`re going in for a dollar, we`re going to help the rebels.
How can you have both sides when they disagree -- centrally disagree over
the middle, some more hawkish than the others -- how do you get them to
agree on the same resolution?
ALLEN: I think it`s the problem that the White House is having with its
messaging on what this strike`s going to be. You heard Secretary of State
John Kerry today talk about it being unbelievably small, and then
immediately, John McCain says that`s unbelievably unhelpful.
MATTHEWS: Yes, we`ve got to go.
Thank you. That`s what the problem is, you just nailed it. Thank you.
Just reported the problem.
Thank you, Congressman Richmond, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Jonathan
Allen of "Politico."
When we return, let me finish with this road to Damascus on which many
American people very much wish we were not on.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.
As I said at the beginning tonight, this is a road on which the American
people wish very much we were not on. We don`t want to side with the
haters. We want Obama to lose this vote on Syria. We don`t want to vote
with the hawks, like McCain, who have pushed Obama to this deeper
involvement in that country`s civil war.
Tomorrow night, we will know more. I am not sure we will know enough more
to make this decision any easier than it looks right now.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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