September 11, 2013
Guests: Rep. Elijah Cummings, Dana Milbank, John Morse, Ben Goldberger, Amy Davidson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Eastern promises.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Mr. President, you`ve got mail. The
American people do not want our country to attack Syria. The Russians may
be able to achieve the goal of getting Syria to give up its chemical
weapons. In any case, the American people do not support committing an act
of war by us.
This leaves two options. Either Vladimir Putin puts it in Russia`s -- sees
it in Russia`s interest to push Syria to forfeit those weapons, or
President Obama goes it alone, launching an attack on Syria and hoping that
the American people will back him up after the fact, to seek forgiveness
where he`d failed to get permission.
Well, both those routes -- going with Russia or hoping they`ll take us --
they`ll take us where we want to go, or going it alone ourselves -- are
precarious, of course, and I vastly prefer the first idea, which is to go
Joining me right now to talk about it is U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings
of Maryland. And David Corn is, of course, Washington bureau chief of
"Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst .
Mr. Cummings, do you think there`s any way in the world that the president
of the United States, having been rebuffed by both houses of Congress, in
effect, over whether to get authorization to attack Syria, would do it
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I think it`s possible. I would not
recommend it. I mean, if it had come to a vote, Chris, and if we had voted
it down, I definitely would not have recommended it.
But you know, in a way, Chris, I think it`s good for him to have that
question mark out there, particularly when we`re trying to negotiate this
Russian/Syria solution. And so I -- you know, again, I wouldn`t recommend
it, but still, I`d love for President Assad to have it in his mind that the
same president that took out Osama bin Laden is serious about what he says,
and that might be some leverage to get this Russian/Syrian deal done.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go to David with that because that`s the big
problem. The Russians say, We`ll do it, but don`t put the gun to the back
of our head. Don`t say we got to do it or you`re going to blow up Syria.
Don`t do that, or else we won`t do it. That`s the problem.
DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well --
MATTHEWS: They say, Pull back on this gunplay and let us have some time
and stop talking about that stuff. That`s what they say.
CORN: Well, they have -- the president has pulled back. He`s called a
time-out in Congress, and so he`s not moving forward with the vote. And
that`s -- you know, they may want him to renounce the use of force, but I
don`t think he has to do that. This is one of those diplomatic dances that
can be finessed on the way to a deal.
But it`s also important to know what is the goal here? The goal here from
the start was to make sure Bashar Assad didn`t use chemical weapons again.
Now, people thought that was -- some people thought it was not going far
enough, it wasn`t regime change. Some people thought we didn`t have any
business there. But if there is an ongoing negotiation -- and it may not
be perfect. It may not lead to a perfect solution. But if Russia`s on the
hook for -- with Assad being restrained, it makes it a lot less likely that
Assad will use chemical weapons again.
CORN: And so, in some ways, Obama gets his goal --
MATTHEWS: Well, I want you to --
CORN: -- achieved.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I heard you say that. And I think there is
progress being made here because we know now that they`ve got the chemical
weapons. We knew that, but now they`re admitting, their people, that they
CUMMINGS: Finally. Finally, they admit it.
MATTHEWS: Finally, we have the president of the United States, certainly,
who`s out there aggressively doing the best he can, given his political
constitution in this country. He can`t do what he feels like.
But then you`ve got the Russian -- I think -- and maybe I`m a liberal
optimist because I hate war. I want your views. You`re an elected
It seems the Russians have an interest here, too. Their interests are they
don`t want weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, floating around
the former Soviet empire up their rear end, all over that part of the
country. They don`t want that there. And they also wanted probably avoid
having an Islamist regime floating around in Damascus. They`d rather have
some kind of stability there.
CUMMINGS: Chris, you`re absolutely right. They`ve got a lot at stake
here, too. And you know -- but Chris, one of the things I want to go back
to for a moment -- you know, it was this president who said, I`m ready to
go. I`m ready to strike. It was his -- I actually think it was a
brilliant move and a move of strength.
And although he came back and asked the Congress to come with him, the
Congress, of course, was very reluctant. I think a lot of members are
But it is his brilliance and his strength that got Russia and Syria to
finally admit that there were weapons there and to say that they wanted to
Now the question is, is how serious are they? And we`ve got to make sure
that -- and if I were the president, I`d be saying to them, Look, I`ve got
some Congress folks who are -- you know, they`re trying to see whether
you`re bluffing. And if you`re bluffing, let me know now and we`ll go
another course. But I really believe you need to get this right and get it
right and get it done quickly because I don`t know what those guys are
going to do.
So as long as the Senate is trying to put together their resolution, I
actually think that gives the president leverage.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think -- I don`t think Putin wants to look like a clown,
either. I think he wants to look like a tough guy who can deliver.
Anyway, as many have -- people have pointed out, the president`s speech
yesterday almost seemed like at some point two speeches in one. First, he
made the strong, impassioned case, as you say, Mr. Cummings, for why we
couldn`t let Assad get away with what he did of using weapons against his
people. Let`s watch that part of the speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When dictators commit
atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those
horrifying pictures fade from memory.
But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now
is what the United States of America and the international community is
prepared to do about it because what happened to those people, to those
children, is not only a violation of international law, it`s also a danger
to our security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But in the end, the president transitioned to the Russian
diplomatic effort I was just mentioning and the need to give that a shot
before doing anything. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the
international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.
The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said
they`d join the chemical weapons convention which prohibits their use.
It`s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement
must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this
initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical winds without
the use of force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, there were some harsh reviews, of course, of the
president last night. John Harris wrote in Politico, "Two weeks of zig-zag
foreign policy by President Barack Obama, marching to war one moment,
clinging desperately to diplomacy the next, culminated Tuesday night
appropriately enough in a zig-zag address to the nation that did little to
clarify what will come next in the Syria crisis but shined a glaring hot
light on the debate in the president`s own mind."
I still think it comes down to this. I want to go back to the congressman
here. Excuse me, David. It seems to me, if you look at -- I set up the
program tonight this way. We go with diplomacy and really hope the
Russians deliver, perhaps through the Security Council or bilaterally. We
-- we -- the president thinks he can go back to the Congress and make a
stronger case at some point and win there, or he can act on his own.
Where do you set your heart and hope, sir, among those three, Russia, the
president doing it alone, or your body, the Congress, doing something?
CUMMINGS: I put my hopes and my prayers on diplomacy and trying to work
with Russia. Let me tell you something, Chris. The reason why so many of
our constituents are against this war is they`re looking at Iraq. And
they`re thinking if we can resolve this issue without a bullet being fired,
and if we are able to not only deter him, Assad, and take those chemical
weapons away from him -- if we can do both of those things and it not cost
us a trillion dollars, like the Iraq war cost us --
CUMMINGS: -- they say, I`ll take it. And if I were the president, I
would be doing everything in my power to make this work, but at the same
time, continuously say to President Assad, Look, don`t play me.
MATTHEWS: Yes (INAUDIBLE)
CUMMINGS: Don`t play me. I`m the same guy that went after Osama bin
MATTHEWS: Yes. Right. And I that`s right, Congressman. And I do think
that the difference in result is clear. How would you like to have no more
weapons in the hands of this guy and the war as murky as ever, or we have
bombed and killed so many people over there in a retaliatory aid (ph), and
the hospitals are packed with people --
CUMMINGS: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: -- that we`ve killed, and then we have to say to the world, We
killed all those kids. We killed all those people because we don`t like
CORN: The Iraq example is telling. You go back and remember, as Bush was
setting up the invasion and was threatening Saddam Hussein with force, the
inspectors got in, started doing their jobs and some people were saying,
See, this is only happening because Bush is talking tough.
But while they were doing their jobs and actually finding not much in terms
of WMD accurately (ph), what did Bush do? He didn`t stick with that. He
still went ahead with the use of force.
MATTHEWS: He said because we haven`t found them is proof they`re there.
CORN: Yes. But this time -- yes, this time around, you know, whether you
like what the president did in being bellicose or not, he did spur a
diplomatic initiative that may, at the end of the day --
MATTHEWS: OK --
CORN: -- work if he gives it time to work.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me repeat my belief. Our war with Iraq was driven by
the neocon ideologues and Dick Cheney and the president going along with
it. It had nothing to do with weapons. They wanted to get even for the
father and that war and everything else. It was just a war of aggression.
Thank you, David Corn and Congressman Cummings.
Coming up: time for President Obama to get his groove back. I`ve got three
ideas for the president to regain the spark in his presidency.
Also, fighting the NRA. Two Colorado Democrats were defeated in recall
votes last night after supporting gun safety laws. Maybe gun safety
advocates need to spend less time protesting and more time showing up to
Plus, New York City dodges the daily double. Anthony Weiner and Eliot
Spitzer both go down to defeat, and the city might be about to elect an
out-and-out liberal as mayor for the first time in decades.
And "Let Me Finish" tonight with this dallying over Syria. Don`t kid
yourself, if Iran goes nuclear, it will be totally different and we will be
far more forceful.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: It took weeks for Mitch McConnell to take sides in the Syria
resolution fight, but no time to try to raise money off of it. McConnell
finally came out yesterday against a military strike. But moments after
President Obama`s speech last night, he sent out a fund-raising letter
along with the claim that McConnell, quote, "does not politicize issues of
McConnell, who may being the only Senate Republican in danger of actually
losing his seat this time, was the last congressional leader to take a
position on Syria. A lot of guts there.
And we`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: To my friends on the right, I ask to you reconcile your commitment
to America`s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so
plainly just. To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your
belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children
writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That`s the president there, and
there`s no question that President Obama is fighting for his political life
right now. He is making a case for himself, as well as his policies. You
saw that last night.
He`s been saddled with explaining an unpopular position on intervention in
Syria while battling heads and hearts and minds on both sides of the aisle.
Let`s put it (INAUDIBLE) left right (ph) and a hard right have both been
And the hole he dug himself into is a deep one, and his team knows it. Ron
Fournier -- this is a tough line -- in "The National Journal" writes that
"a Democratic strategist who works closely with the White House" -- that`s
somebody in the White House, around it -- says, "This has been one of the
most humiliating episodes in presidential history."
But it`s more than just Syria, of course. Take a look at this. Obama`s
approval ratings have slowly but consistently been in a decline this year.
That`s a pretty straight line down there.
So how does the president regain the spark that we`ve all -- well, not
we`ve all -- many of us have liked in his leadership? How does he make his
stand and do that, get a little spark in his thinking? Republicans are
maneuvering to shut down the government -- of course, we know that -- and
destroy the economy by defaulting on our debts. They want a default out
there. Simply put, the stakes couldn`t be higher here at home.
Sam Stein`s with MSNBC contributor, or with the HuffingtonPost, and Dana
Milbank`s a columnist with "The Washington Post."
Dana, you`re here -- I just think -- I just think, for a number of weeks
now -- and I`m an Obama supporter in general, but I am a critic, a
political critic, and I like being critical, too. It seems like, at times,
he`s been reactive. He -- a couple weeks ago, "The New York Times"
editorial said something, the next day he acted.
I mean, instead of that natural, great, sprightly (ph) spontaneity, when
you never knew what he was going to do because he always had a new way of
doing something, he`s become reactive. And it doesn`t look good. It
DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. Well, first of all, I think
if you`re a supporter of the president, you should be critical of him.
You`re not doing him any favors by just sitting silently when he`s screwing
things up. But --
MATTHEWS: You sound like a spouse.
MILBANK: The president -- well, not exactly. But the president right now
-- he`s like -- he`s like a cork bobbing.
MILBANK: He`s not -- there doesn`t seem to be a rudder. There doesn`t
seem to be --
MATTHEWS: I read that in a column today somewhere.
MILBANK: -- very wisely written in "The Washington Post" today.
MILBANK: But he is -- he does not seem to be in control of events --
MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m -- he`s reacting to --
MILBANK: -- buffeted by events, because he`s not being forceful.
Forceful leadership, whether you --
MATTHEWS: Had he -- all right, had he pulled the trigger a couple of weeks
ago, would that have shown who`s -- like -- and almost like in "Gunsmoke"
terms, who the marshal is? Would that have been good or unconstitutional?
MILBANK: Well, no. He clearly had the constitutional right to do it, and
it would have showed forceful leadership. Now, it may have created a worse
disaster. We can`t know the answer to that.
But what we do know from the Bush president, love him or hate him, it was
always forceful leadership. He got stuff done. He got bad stuff done, but
he got stuff done, hammering away for taxes, for war. He lost on Social
Security, but he got a lot of things done because he hammered away
relentlessly, whereas Obama sort of flits and flies from topic to topic and
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s (INAUDIBLE) I want you to pick up on this, Sam.
Here`s (INAUDIBLE) that I`ve been thinking about this segment of the show
tonight, where he might be able to get his spark back, and it has a lot to
do with just taking those Harry Truman-like stands, as you said, Bush, a
little cruder, but made the point. You know where I stand. That`s one way
to get flint and steel (INAUDIBLE) the spark.
First off, say outright, the president could, that there will be no
negotiating over not paying our bills. He will not negotiate his way from
a government deficit or default. There`s not going to be a default. We`re
not going to talk about it, in other words.
Second, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. It`s not a bill,
like Ted Cruz calls it and the right wing call -- it`s a law, and it`s not
going to be defunded, end of story. Third, he needs to do something big on
the economy, like a clear and bold jobs bill, something that the Republican
will say no to. Let them say no from here for the next 20,000 years, but
give them something to say no to!
Anyway, that`s my way of doing it. It`s putting that big, stone-like
statement out there that you got to live with and you got to fight with,
and that creates the spark, that fight. Your thoughts.
SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTONPOST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it`s not just because
I`m on your show, but I do agree with you on this. And I think on the
first two points, the president has now done that. He`s said he`s not
going to negotiate over the debt limit, that he will not defund, obviously,
his signature piece of legislation, "Obama care."
The third point is a critical one, and I think, you know, the White House
would be very wise to take that point, to be proactive aggressively for
something, as opposed to negotiating behind the scenes with Republicans on
And I think the White House has learned this, by and large, from the
mistakes that happened during the first round of debt ceiling negotiations.
But the big problem here is that they`re sort of captives to the political
system, not in control of this. And this has nothing to do with Syria
because prior to Syria, it wasn`t as if immigration reform was on the
doorstep of passing.
MATTHEWS: OK --
STEIN: They still had to deal with the Republican House. So you -- this
is not -- this is not easiest --
MATTHEWS: OK --
STEIN: -- of roads to traverse.
MATTHEWS: Immigration is not going to spark anybody`s happiness for the --
it may be good in the long term. It`s good for Hispanic people, good for
the country, maybe, in terms of our heritage as a country of immigrants.
But I think in terms of the short run -- look at this poll right now,
nation`s priorities right now, the most important issues for Americans
right now. And look at this. It`s like -- it`s like the -- DiBlasio`s
number in New York the other day! Look at the difference here! 41 percent
say the economy, the economy, way ahead of everything else!
And my feeling is what they mean by that is, My husband, my wife need a
job. We`re getting underpaid. We`re getting squeezed. We want some
security here. And we want a little better life to look forward to. You
got to come through with -- you`re a Democrat.
MILBANK: Right. And I don`t think that means coming out with some, you
know, small tax incentives for job creation. He -- the president can use
this budget --
MATTHEWS: This Mini-Me stuff has got to stop!
MILBANK: The president can use this budget fight in a big way if --
MATTHEWS: OK, you`re both political analysts. Why doesn`t he go big? Why
doesn`t he say, during the Civil War, Lincoln built the railroad system,
while we were fighting for our life as a country, the union. All -- you
know, we built the Empire State Building in the depths of the Great
Depression, built it in a year or so! Why can`t we build anymore? Donald
Trump is building!
MILBANK: He`s done big things. But the president is a very subtle and
nuanced thinker. But, to a lot of people, that just comes out as sort of
muddled thinking. They`re not following all the twists and turns here.
In a sense, he needs to dumb it down, turn it into a bumper sticker, the
way President Clinton said.
MATTHEWS: Well, doesn`t he also need to be that kind of old-style -- Sam,
we`re all sophisticated here. But I think the old-style Hubert Humphrey --
maybe Ed Schultz, my partner, is like this too.
Get it done. Building something. Don`t have nuance and another seminar on
the damn thing. Come out with something where people can get their hands
around it and say, you know what? I have been riding down the roads of New
York. They`re roads, by the way. They`re not streets anymore.
They`re beat up. There are potholes. You bounce around in a cab like your
head`s going to split off. And we could fix that. We could fix a lot of
things. We can fix the bridges. We could do stuff like a fast train from
here to New York, instead of this stagecoach, this buckboard we take called
Amtrak. Not bad. I like it, but it`s a buckboard.
Why don`t we do it? Everybody knows we need it. And how about all the
things below safety code that could be fixed?
STEIN: Well, there`s a couple problems here.
One is they do approve of these ideas, but they sabotage themselves -- this
is the administration I`m talking about -- by buying so heavy into the
austerity argument in 2011 that now they can`t pass any spending measure
without an accompanying spending cut or a tax hike. And nothing will get
done if that`s the case, if that is the paradigm.
And secondly we live in the age of sequestration. Even if you don`t do
anything, sequestration will happen. And that is also sabotaging the
administration, because the default line for Republicans is doing nothing.
And if you do nothing, you have major cuts to institutions like the NIH, so
you can`t have big picture items with that hanging over your head.
MATTHEWS: Here`s the kind of spark the president is clearly capable of,
and watch it. Here he was. Look at this. It`s about leadership. And
this is the president last month -- not 100 years ago -- offering a
forceful defense of the Affordable Care Act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the really
interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have
made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their
Holy Grail, their number one priority.
That`s hard to understand as an agenda that is going to strengthen our
The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30
million people from getting health care is a bad idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Get out there, like that. It was a little bit laid-back. But
he made his point. These guys are jug heads. Their only goal is to
sabotage my program.
MILBANK: Make the populist argument, make it very hard. Be a bit
MILBANK: That`s how things work around here.
MATTHEWS: Harry Truman.
MILBANK: He talks about bending the cost curve and Republicans beat him
with death panels. You have got to fight back. Fight fire with fire.
MATTHEWS: You would argue that bending the cost curve doesn`t keep you
awake at night.
MATTHEWS: It doesn`t excite you.
MATTHEWS: You mean, Sam, you don`t wake up in the morning hoping that you
will be able to bend the cost curve that day? It`s not like a Friday night
date, is it?
STEIN: Talk of CBO numbers puts you to sleep. Bending the cost curve --
and death panels keeps you awake.
MATTHEWS: I agree. And you know what? We know how good he was when he
ran for president. We know how sharp he got in those second and third
We know this guy can deliver, and I just think he`s become reactive. And
maybe he needs to beef up that staff of his again.
MATTHEWS: He had a first-rate staff coming in with, by the way.
But we know how smart the people like Axelrod were around him. He had
amazing staff people. And Plouffe is still there. But I think a lot of
times in second terms presidents promote the deputies. They lose the first
string. And the deputies are never going to be first string. They might
be a little better than they were, but the magic of the people that put you
in the presidency is very hard to replicate.
Anyway, Dana Milbank, thank you. And, Sam, we will get you back here as
soon as we can. Sam Stein, you`re great.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much.
And, Dana, a great column, by the way. And you quoted from it tonight. I
think that`s great. I like doing that.
Up next, Anthony Weiner`s graceful exit, don`t you think? Let`s hope it`s
his last. This is not exactly Jimmy Durante.
Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, and time for the "Sideshow."
Senator Ted Cruz took to the pulpit today to make a speech on foreign
policy, saying that his stand against military action against Syria doesn`t
mean the U.S. should do nothing. But as the crisis over Syria continues to
unfold with unexpected twists and turns, it`s worth noting that Cruz
initially said that the debate over Syria took the focus off real issues
And you might remember that Cruz`s colleague Representative -- Republican
Representative Joe Wilson went even further last week when he accused the
administration of using the crisis in Syria for political purposes. He
asked this about the timing of a proposed strike -- quote -- "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?
Hmm. Well, the premise that a president can actually control the timing of
a developing international crisis is of course absurd. But we have seen
this kind of conspiracy argument in our American politics before. When
running against President Johnson back in 1964, Republican candidate Barry
Goldwater famously made the explosive charge that the Kennedy
administration had secretly timed the Cuban Missile Crisis for maximum
political effect in the midterm elections of 1962.
Well, we have got that clip. We dug it up. It hasn`t been seen in half a
century, but here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1964)
BARRY GOLDWATER, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What about the missile
crisis? Where did it lead? What did it prove?
It proved that despite weeks and months of warning about the missiles, an
administration totally political in its goals and instincts could and would
wait until the perilous last moment to take action, take action at a time
that would have maximum domestic political impact.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Truly dishonest argument there.
Anyway, if you`re going to make a wild charge like that, at least try to
show some evidence to back it up, which Goldwater didn`t do.
Finally, Anthony Weiner`s last stand. New York held its primaries
yesterday, and the results weren`t -- weren`t pretty exactly for Anthony
Weiner. He finished in fifth place with about 5 percent of the vote. But
Weiner, who carried on despite the sexting scandal that ensnared his
campaign, couldn`t avoid a few final controversies -- controversies during
his concession rally last night.
There was an unexpected party crasher, his former sexting partner Sydney
Leathers, who attempted to gain entry to the event. Weiner himself had to
flee through an adjacent McDonald`s to avoid a confrontation with her. And
then the third was his unrepentant goodbye to the press, who he -- here`s
the phrase -- flipped off before making his getaway. There it is.
Charming. Not a very graceful way to leave the scene.
Up next, can gun safety advocates beat the NRA at its own game?
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
BETTY NGUYEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everybody. I`m Betty Nguyen.
Here`s what happening.
President Obama marked the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks
with a service project, packing 500 lunches for people with life-
More than 350 economists signed a letter to the president asking him to
nominate Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen as the next chair of the
And shares of Apple plunged 5 percent a day after the company unveiled two
new iPhones due to concerns with their cheaper model that it`s not low
enough -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A recall vote out in Colorado that saw two Democratic state senators ousted
because of their support for stricter gun laws has put a local issue on the
national map and on the front lines of the gun debate, don`t you think? It
also sent a message to all elected official, particularly those facing a
bruising 2014 contest, that pushing for gun control laws could be political
Joining me right now is John Morse. He`s president of the Colorado State
Senate, who was defeated in yesterday`s roll call vote -- recall vote,
rather. And Ben Goldberger is the nation editor for "TIME" magazine.
First of all, Senator, thank you for joining us. What happened to you?
Did you see it coming? Would you do it all over again?
JOHN MORSE (D), COLORADO STATE SENATOR: I would absolutely do it all over
I mean, what we did was the right thing to do. We had very sensible,
commonsense gun legislation. You got to reload after cranking out 15
rounds. You have got to get a background check. You got to pay for the
background check yourself. You want a concealed weapons permit, you got to
get that training in person, not on the Internet.
And we took some existing federal law and made it state law concerning
domestic violence, so judges have jurisdiction over that. None of that
comes anywhere close to the Second Amendment.
Well, let me ask you another question about getting beaten in a recall.
I`m very much against recalls unless they have to do with malfeasance. I
don`t think there should be reelections just because somebody on the right
or the left decide they want to have a reelection.
Is this in fact fair? Can you judge it fairly and say should you have been
kicked out of office from the leadership in the Senate out there in Denver
because you voted in a way that some people didn`t like the way you wanted,
when in fact you`re supposed to be the representative? You`re allowed to
make judgments. There`s nothing wrong with any judgment if it`s a judgment
that is done legally. That`s your job as a legislator to think and to
How can that be malfeasance, to decide? That`s what you`re paid to do,
elected to do.
MORSE: It is what I`m elected to do. There`s no question.
MATTHEWS: To think. How can you be recalled?
MORSE: Well, the law says you can recall somebody for any reason
So I agree with you 100 percent, and I don`t think it`s right, and I don`t
think Colorado is going to want to do politics the way now it may have to
with general elections in even number of years and recalls the following
MORSE: It`s not smart governance by any stretch of the imagination, but it
is what it is.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Ben on this whole question.
This is certainly a precedent-setting thing. Now, I don`t want to say that
everybody`s scared to death of the NRA, but they might be.
BEN GOLDBERGER, "TIME": Well, it is strong sort of shot across the bow.
It`s a reminder that the NRA no longer has a great deal of clout as
lobbyists on Capitol Hill, but they still have the ability to organize
nationally and locally.
MATTHEWS: Well, who says they don`t have clout here in Washington? I have
noticed they were pretty good at shutting down anything.
GOLDBERGER: Oh, no, no, they very much do have clout. Their clout is not
limited to Washington.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Right.
And what does it say to people who are incumbent moderate Republicans or
Let me ask the senator that.
What do you think, are you afraid this might do?
MORSE: And, see, I think if you look at this from a distance, it looks
like exactly what you have said, the NRA has some power in local races.
But if you lift the hood just a skosh, you see they only got 9,100 votes
turned out. They actually didn`t do a very good job of this at all. What
they were able to do was to suppress the vote overall. And, truthfully, we
weren`t able to get 9,101 votes out, which was incredibly frustrating.
But they got less than 11 percent of the vote in this case, even though
people are mad as the dickens. But the truth is 80 percent of the people
approve with what we did. And so they got half of those 20 percent.
MATTHEWS: Well, they got their vote. How did they suppress your vote?
MORSE: Well, we didn`t have any mail-in ballots.
And the clerk in the area set the voting time such that it was very
difficult for working people to vote. They had 11 hours total to vote that
wasn`t between 8:00 and 5:00 Monday through Friday. And so they had
Thursday, Friday, Monday, and then Election Day on Tuesday, and Tuesday the
polls were open from 7:00 to 7:00.
But on those other days, they were open to 8:00 to 5:00 and they were open
on Saturday from 8:00 to 5:00. So, they got those hours and they got the
hours from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. But 70 percent of
Coloradans vote by mail-in ballot. And in this case, they got the mail-in
ballot squashed, so that nobody got to use a mail-in ballot.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is a national story, Ben, because this is what the
Republican Party -- not to be partisan here, but this has to do with the
right to vote, where the Republican Party has made an effort, because they
don`t get minority votes and they don`t get a lot of older people to vote
They`re out conscientiously, and not just going for -- against any kind of
gun safety measure, but against people voting if they don`t like their
GOLDBERGER: Well, although the Supreme Court ruled that in fact there
isn`t any sort of minority suppression anymore. That`s a problem that`s
resolved itself. And so --
MATTHEWS: You`re laughing.
GOLDBERGER: -- it isn`t in fact happening.
MATTHEWS: You`re laughing.
GOLDBERGER: No, this is -- I don`t know if this is actually an issue, a
larger issue of vote suppression.
It`s about gun control and changing demographics in the state. The senator
can speak to this far better than I can, but there seemed to be a strong
sense of resentment around the sort of perceived government overreach and
And as Colorado becomes increasingly Democratic, there have been a raft of
cosmopolitan transplants coming into the cities. And it`s sort of
experienced a leftward shift. This was a strong pushback.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been of course out front on this,
vocal and generous on this gun safety issue as an advocate, he gave
$350,000 to an organization fighting the recall effort on behalf of the
Colorado Senators Morse and Giron.
And an NRA spokesman put blame for the state senators` ouster at
Bloomberg`s feet, saying -- quote -- "One thing is clear from the Morse
defeat. Mike Bloomberg is political poison."
Is that your view, Senator?
MORSE: Absolutely not.
I personally knocked on probably 2,000 doors, had hundreds of
conversations, and not once did the mayor`s name come up.
MORSE: So I don`t think it had anything to do with anything. I think
that`s just hyperbole on the other side trying to spin it that way, because
the truth is, the NRA was involved funding this from the very beginning,
and the Koch brothers were involved. So there were plenty of billionaires
from the very start.
And the mayor didn`t show up until about 35 days to go for the election.
MATTHEWS: Hey. Thank you. I know you feel good about being the right guy
on this thing. And congratulations for showing guts. You`ll probably get
the John F. Kennedy Award up at Harvard for this one, as well as other
awards, morally speaking.
Thank you, Senator John Morse, and Ben Goldberg.
Up next, New York might be about to elect its first real liberal mayor in
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: A new study says we`re now in a new gilded age with wealth in
the U.S. as concentrated now as it was before the Great Depression. Not
good news here. The study found that the top 1 percent of earners took
more than one fifth of the income made by Americans altogether. And the
top 10 percent took more than half the income of all Americans put
together. The reason: a bull market, rising housing prices and growing
corporate profits for the wealthy. High unemployment and stagnant wages
for everyone else.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the first poll came out after my dad announced
his mayoral candidacy, he didn`t even have 10 percent of the vote. Many
people, friends and enemies, said that he didn`t stand a chance. But here
we are today. So, without any further ado, the man with the plan, Bill de
CROWD: Bill de Blasio! Bill de Blasio! Bill de Blasio!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Something else.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Bill de Blasio with his family. That was Democrat Bill de Blasio,
who won over 40 percent of the vote, capturing far more than any of his
opponents to the Democratic primary to become New York`s best -- well, next
mayor, maybe best mayor.
But think about this, what if the results last reflected the polls that
once had former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner leading the pack of mayoral
candidates back in June, not a hundred years ago? He had 25 percent to his
closest rival. Or what if the results reflected the polls that showed
former Governor Eliot Spitzer in a commanding 19-point lead for city
comptroller as this one did in August, much more recently?
Well, New York would be the laughingstock of the nation if that daily
double would come up. Instead, New York has avoided the embarrassment,
rejected the daily double Weiner and Spitzer, and instead chose a left turn
you might say in terms of liberalism in the form of Bill de Blasio.
Although Democrats now outnumber Republicans 6-1 in New York, New York has
not elected a Democrat, at least a formal Democrat, since Dave Dinkins back
in `89. De Blasio represents, of course, a clean break from the Bloomberg
era and last night, New York Democrats said that they are ready to try
something else from Bloomberg.
Joining me to analyze the politics here of the Big Apple are Amy Davidson
of "New Yorker" magazine, and Steve Kornacki, host of MSNBC`s "UP." Isn`t
that a movie? With Steve Kornacki.
I want to go with Amy, start with you. And you`ve been a great guest
Tell me. You know what I like -- I like campaigns that matter. I like
campaigns that end differently that they begun. Everybody`s not asleep.
They`re not sleep-walking. They pay attention. They pick up the tabs.
They watch the debates. They get a sense of who the best guy is or best
And they really do make a spontaneous, exciting, dynamic decision to go in
a certain direction, and they don`t vote for the jokes, for example, just
out of weirdness.
Go ahead. Your thoughts.
AMY DAVIDSON, THE NEW YORKER: Oh, absolutely. Also, in the polls that you
mentioned, when Weiner was ahead, the person in second place was Christine
Quinn who ended up in third.
MATTHEWS: Yes. How`d that happen?
DAVIDSON: Well, there`s an idea originally that the choices between this
big personality, Anthony Weiner, and this continuation of Bloomberg`s New
York, Christine Quinn, who was a city council member. And in a way, it
could be that the Weiner scandal shook things up enough that people
listened to the whole range of candidates and really were -- a lot of
people in New York were really taken by de Blasio and by his idea about he
gave a speech about New York being two cities, and the tale of two cities,
that was divided and there was time to kind of find a new balance there.
Christine Quinn, in a way, who has a lot of liberal credentials, kind of
missed that moment and missed how safe New Yorkers felt 12 years after
9/11, thinking about their liberal roots, and so, basically a liberal city,
and going back to them and acting on them. It`s not a scared city. And
that left a lot of room. But it is a city with too much pride for Anthony
Weiner, I think.
MATTHEWS: I think so. And I`m glad to see that.
Steve Kornacki, Amy just described the New Yorkers that I know. They tend
to be liberal on social issues, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, of course, very
liberal about that. And yet, they have a concern about safety, because
they walk the streets, they take the subways, they live outside. They live
exposed. They need police to do their job and to create a certain
They seem to be now to be tilting toward the liberal feeling rather than
(INAUDIBLE) attitude, reflected by Rudy, I thought reflected by Rudy that
part. But apparently, you got to be a little raw, annoying on them in
terms of stop and frisk. That was going too far.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Yes, I think -- look, the fact that it`s been
12 years of Michael Bloomberg. I mean, 12 years of anybody, you know,
whether in politics, whether it`s just in the relationship, you`re going to
get tired of that person after a certain amount of whether.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
KORNACKI: Ed Koch, after 12 years, went for the fourth term, couldn`t get
out of the Democratic primary. You know, I think the Bloomberg situation
might be something we`re five or 10 or 15 years now. We looked back, maybe
he`s assessed -- he probably will be assessed differently than maybe he is
being assessed right now.
But the mood of this city right now is, yes, we`ve had enough of you, we
want to move on. And I think, you look at -- look, there`s going to be a
competitive general election here. The Republicans have nominated Joe
Lhota, you know, who has a history to Giuliani administration. He`s in
uphill climb for him because if you look at all the environmental factors
right now in this race, you have to look at that and say, boy, if de Blasio
can`t win in this climate this year after 12 years of Bloomberg, can a
Democrat ever win in this city?
And this is 6-1 Democratic city. So, those are the odds that Lhota is up
against right now.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think a lot of people away from New York and away
from Boston, for example, a city I also know, they make this cartoon notion
of what the city is all about. New Yorkers, I think certainly as a visitor
to New York City on a regular basis, I love the freedom that city, they
have because of crime being way down, and the young women going to college,
my sons and daughter lives there. The freedom to go out at night, stay out
at night, go to a nice restaurant at midnight, to come out on the subway,
that freedom to live in New York is a wonderful thing.
Can a liberal maintain that if they loosen up on things like -- well, this
is the biggest question in the world, isn`t it -- can you maintain the
atmosphere of safety, even if you liberalize some things?
DAVIDSON: Well, I think there was a point where some New Yorkers were not
feeling safe. You know, young black and Hispanics in New York, including
Bill de Blasio`s son, his wife is black, his son is Dante, made a very
powerful commercial where they talked about, ending this era, where
somebody like him, this bright kid couldn`t walk down the street and enjoy
the city in the same way.
I don`t ink that people are angry at Bloomberg or personally rejecting him
on the whole, but they just want a moment where a little balance is pulled
back, and they felt --
MATTHEWS: Who was the last liberal mayor of New York by your account?
Last true blue liberal in terms of police review boards and all that stuff.
I`m thinking Lindsey, but what do you think?
DAVIDSON: I think there is something to be said for that in terms of an
effective one. You know, New Yorkers have a lot of tolerance for big
personalities in mayors, not for the sort of the creepiness they got from
Anthony Weiner, but sometimes it is a little too much. Sometimes, very
liberal New Yorkers are willing -- you know, they`re willing to say it is
time for somebody like Rudy Giuliani, somebody like Mayor Bloomberg, who
again was elected right after 9/11 and was given that chance.
And I think, you know, there is a poll that even the Democratic primary
voters basically thought that Bloomberg had done a decent job.
MATTHEWS: I didn`t like Bloomberg on the smoking thing, because I think
people have a right to smoke if they want. But the more I think about it,
the more experience has thought me this, Steve, that if you force people to
go out in the cold or the winter to smoke a cigarette, it probably declines
to smoke as much. And the fact that it helps inside to stay healthy and
So, in the end, I think it was a brilliant move and I think it`s one of
those cases where OK, the nanny state, whatever you want to call it, but a
lot of people are going to live longer and healthier because of Bloomberg
in New York City. That`s a fact.
KORNACKI: I have thought about that a number times in restaurants, in
bars, in the work place, saying imagine 10 years ago, it`s unfathomable to
be now and I think to a lot of New Yorkers, the idea that it could be a
smoke-infested environment in there. But it was 10 years ago.
But just getting back to that idea of, you say the last liberal mayor, I
guess my nominee for that would be David Dinkins, and it was the political
demise of David Dinkins that 1993 that ushered in this era for the
generation in New York City of non-Democratic groups.
But I think the point is this --
MATTHEWS: You know why he went down. It was Crown Heights. He took the
side of the guys that killed Yankel Rosenbaum. You shouldn`t be the
undecided or even handed when it comes to murder, I`m sorry.
KORNACKI: But I think the bigger point is think of the climate of 1993,
think of what the murder rate, what the crime rate, what the violent crime
rate in the city was in 1993. And the message from Joe Lhota`s campaign is
going to be, remember 1993? Do you remember what it was like? Do you want
to go back to that?
And my question would be --
MATTHEWS: So, do you think the race is coming up? Do you think it`s a
race coming in November --
KORNACKI: Well, no, the reason I`m skeptical -- look, shameless plug,
we`re going to have Lhota on our show weekend. But the reason I`m
skeptical because how many people really do 1993 in the city? Whether
that`s a valid argument or not --
DAVIDSON: Well, I remember --
MATTHEWS: Amy, real fast. Amy, you got to finish it up here fast.
DAVIDSON: Well, you know, one thing with Lhota, keep in mind that
Republicans in New York are not that conservative. You know, Lhota is pro-
gay marriage, everything like that. But yes, there are neighborhoods that
people who lived here in 1993, where people -- we`re open in a different
way than they were and we don`t want to lose that. But I think what de
Blasio might also know that.
The biggest question about de Blasio is how effective he really is going to
be. The rhetoric is very appealing, but is he going to be able to get some
of the things done?
MATTHEWS: Yes, there`s such a thing as executive ability. Executive
ability. We don`t know until they get there.
Thank you, Steve Kornacki, and Amy Davidson.
And we`ll be right back. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.
Politics, I`ve discovered, is phenomenal. Each event comes on different
terms. You can`t predict the way it`s going to play no matter how many
similar events came before it.
And one of these months, the American people may well have to face the
possibility of Iran building a nuclear weapon. Iran will do it. They may
well admit it. In any case, we will know when it happens. It will stare
us in the face, we will have to do something or not do something.
And don`t kid yourself, we will do something. We will attack. We will do
with the full force of the U.S. Congress. We will do it because the
position of a nuclear weapon by people poised to use it, people openly
hostile to us and our allies and not just Israel, will not sit with the
American people. They are prepared for the decision and prepared to take
So, the smart move for Iran, the smart move for those in this country and
elsewhere, who want to prevent a crisis, should be to do anything they can
to keep Iran from the brink. Because this time, the brink is not going to
be the end of it. When the time comes, it will be a go, with or without
the U.S. Congress.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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