updated 7/1/2004 3:12:10 PM ET 2004-07-01T19:12:10

Guests: Michael Weisskopf, David Zucchino

ANDREA MITCHELL, GUEST HOST:  The “dirty dozen,” Saddam Hussein and 11 of his men, are now in Iraq‘s legal custody.  Will this be the trial of the century?  And will his countrymen show mercy?  A new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll has the president‘s disapproval at record highs, and the numbers show it‘s all about Iraq.  And who is John Kerry?  The candidate runs a new ad to fill in the gaps.  And look who he‘s trying to compare himself to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL:  ... a combat veteran who has been praised by former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Presidents Reagan and Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  And two war correspondents who‘ve seen enemy fire are here to talk about how we‘re covering Iraq.

I‘m Andrea Mitchell, and this is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Andrea Mitchell, in for Chris Matthews.

The new Iraqi government assumed legal custody of Saddam Hussein today.  And tomorrow, the former Iraqi dictator is expected to be arraigned on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in an Iraqi court.  But while Iraqis begin the process of pursuing justice against Saddam and other members of his fallen regime, a new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll tonight shows that 51 percent of Americans think the threat of terrorism against the U.S. has increased since the start of the war in Iraq.

Has war with Iraq made us less safe?  Retired Army general Barry McCaffrey is an MSNBC military analyst.  General, welcome.  Good to see you.  You‘re out there in California.  Thanks for joining us tonight.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes, beautiful San Jose.  Yes.  Thanks, Andrea.

MITCHELL:  Well, let‘s talk about those poll numbers.  Have we been made less safe?  Obviously, Iraqi is on the minds of most people in this poll, and they think that the attack on Baghdad, the invasion of Iraq has only made America more vulnerable to terrorism.

MCCAFFREY:  I don‘t agree.  I think there‘s a legitimate differing viewpoint, but it seem to me taking down the sanctuary in Afghanistan and then eliminating Saddam‘s regime, in the end of the day, made us immeasurably safer than had we not done this.  There are clearly huge problems in Iraq and Afghanistan today.  Those are the problems we have to focus on.

MITCHELL:  Well, the poll is also showing us that many Americans believe that the reasons we went into war were exaggerated: 53 percent of Americans think that the president exaggerated information to make the case for war with Iraq, 47 percent think he deliberately misled the public to go to war.  Is that the reason why so many people are turning against this war?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I don‘t for a minute believe that any of the senior officials in our government deliberately misled American people.  There‘s no question in my mind, though, that the absence of weapons of mass destruction was a huge blow to our credibility in the international community, and to some extent, with the American people.  However, the upshot of it was, in terms of acting directly against these sanctuary states and the impact on other nations, the Libyans, the Cubans, Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, has been beneficial.  So on balance, it was a good thing to do, and I‘m glad we took action we did.

MITCHELL:  As you pointed out, it was only after the invasion of Iraq that Libya began to disclose its nuclear program, and we just had normalization of relations only yesterday.  So there have been some positive effects.  But the American people seem to be focused on a lot of the bad news.  And we can talk about whether it‘s our fault for only covering the bad or whether there is so much violence.  What about the hostage taking and the vulnerability of our soldiers, the terrible beheadings?  Isn‘t this what‘s beginning to really drill in on American perceptions about the war?

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  No question.  Look, we‘ve had 7,000 casualties in Iraq—killed, wounded and badly injured.  And there‘s more to come.  We‘re in for a very critical six months to a year.  I think the situation‘s going to get more dangerous and tricky, not less.  This is the fight for who will rule Iraq in the coming decade.  And so clearly, the struggle is going to be all out.  And we went into this operation with what most of us believe was inadequate military power.  Now we got to live with the consequences of that initial mistake.

MITCHELL:  Let me follow up on that because now we‘re seeing the involuntary call-up of 5,600 former reservists.  This is an unusual situation.  We haven‘t seen this since the first Gulf war.  Does this really indicate bad planning?  Was this one of the effects of the Pentagon not listening to General Shinseki and other advisers who were saying we needed more troops in there initially?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think it‘s worse than bad planning, Andrea, to be blunt.  I think Secretary Rumsfeld has dug in his heels.  He took an ideological position that the old way of doing things, Army and Marine units, was outmoded and that technology and wars unlike we‘ve ever seen would make these other ways of fighting outmoded.

It‘s complete nonsense.  The Army is undermanned by 80,000 or more troops.  The Marines are undermanned by about 25,000 troops.  The country simply has to grapple with this.  The Congress has to act.  We are moving into a period of enormous peril.  We will break the United States Army in the coming two or three years.

MITCHELL:  Well, how do we fix this?  I mean, are we talking about a draft?  There‘s no support for that.

MCCAFFREY:  I don‘t—yes.  No, I don‘t think there‘s any real political validity to a draft at all.  I don‘t think the leadership of the armed forces would want to support it, either.  I think if we up the manpower totals and use the appropriate inducements, in terms of enlistment bonuses, and we add to the manpower in the recruiting command, we can achieve these numbers.  Young American will step forward and fight to defend this country.

MITCHELL:  Let me follow up on something you said just a minute ago, which is that it‘s only going to become more dangerous in Iraq.  The conventional wisdom is that with the handover, and with us trying to put an Iraqi face on the situation there, that the hated Americans, the occupiers, if you want to take their perspective, will take a back seat and that it‘ll be safer as Iraq takes control of its future.  You‘re not buying into that.

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think there‘s some good news here.  I think having an Iraqi face on things is the right move.  It was premature.  There‘s no security and stability in Iraq.  Economic reconstruction is stalling because of that.  We do have a brilliant new ambassador there, John Negroponte.  We‘ve got probably the best general in the Army, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus, now charged with building Iraqi security institutions.  So we‘re moving in the right direction.  But you would assume it will take us a year to five years before this Iraqi government will have the security situation that they can handle it on their own.  Right now, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps are all that stands between Iraq and civil war.

MITCHELL:  You‘re saying that it was premature.  So was the timing of the handover dictated by political considerations, such as our own election timetable?

MCCAFFREY:  I think so.  I think last June, there was an assumption that if you got rid of the ball in 30 June, that by the election, it would be behind us.  I think their thinking was that you could stabilize athe situation before 30 June.  That turned out to be not the case.  We were stuck with an announced public position that the transfer would occur, and so appropriately, they had to go ahead with it.  But today, that interim government does not have a national police force, a border patrol, a national guard, an army that can maintain internal order.  Fallujah is an island, a sanctuary of insurgent activity, and more will follow.

MITCHELL:  And do we have rules of engagement so that if the American military, which still is responsible for security the country, decides, for instance, that we have to go into Fallujah, can we order Iraqi security forces in, or can Allawi and the other government leaders say, No, thanks, we‘re not going in there?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think we‘ve deliberately accepted a position of enormous political ambiguity, out of which we think diplomatic leverage will be enhanced.  That may well be the case.  But in the short run, the next year, it is highly unlikely that Allawi and his police force will be able to enter insurgent strongholds and take them on directly.  It‘s not happen.  Therefore, it seems to me, the question is, Do we have the political latitude to act unilaterally?  Not likely.  We look like we‘re in a very difficult situation, to many of us.

MITCHELL:  Well, thank you very much, general Barry McCaffrey.  And I know—you know, we all know that you know what you‘re talking about, being a teacher and instructor at West Point and up on all this stuff.  Thanks for being with us.

MCCAFFREY:  Thank you.

MITCHELL:  And coming up: Is the press telling the whole story about Iraq?  We‘ll be joined by two journalists who were embedded with U.S.  troops during the war.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Testifying before Congress last week, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz suggested that the media‘s negative coverage of the war in Iraq was partly to blame for growing opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - JUNE 22, 2004)

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors.  And rumors are plentiful.  Our own media have some responsibility to try to present a balanced picture, instead of always gravitating for the sensational.  And the violent is admittedly sensational.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  The next day on HARDBALL, Wolfowitz sought to clarify his remarks, but still would not back down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - HARDBALL, JUNE 23, 2004)

WOLFOWITZ:  I said the media picture seems to be unbalanced, and I‘m not the only one who‘s saying it.  I met sergeants up in northern Iraq who were dealing with one of the hard-core areas of Iraq, and they say, It‘s not what we see in the international media.  The story isn‘t being described accurately.  And I don‘t know if I‘m allowed to use the word “balanced” on this network, but I think balance is an important part of presenting the picture properly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  But only 24 hours later, Wolfowitz, under pressure, issued a formal written apology which read, in part, “Just let me say to each of you who have worked so hard and taken such risks to cover this story, I extend a heartfelt apology and hope you will accept it.  I understand well the enormous dangers that you face and want to restate my admiration for your professionalism, dedication, and yes, courage.”

So is the press getting the story right?  Joining us now are two journalists who covered the war in Iraq, “Time” magazine‘s Michael Weisskopf and “The LA Times‘s” David Zucchino, who wrote a book about his experience titled,”Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad.”  Welcome to you both.

MITCHELL:  First to you, Michael.  You came under fire.  You were wounded.  What is your response to the deputy secretary?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Well, Secretary Wolfowitz, I guess, forgot where he spent Christmas night, which was visiting me very graciously in Walter Reed Hospital, where I was recovering from the loss of a hand, having thrown a hand grenade out of a Humvee.  And reporters take risks on a daily basis.  I understand his frustration, but it perhaps is more with the policy gone awry than with the coverage of it.

MITCHELL:  And David Zucchino.  you were embedded with the 3rd ID.  There were a lot of casualties, military and journalistic—Of course, our own David Bloom with a different division of the—a different brigade of the 3rd ID.  But how do you respond when Secretary Wolfowitz says that the reason why Americans are responding negatively to Iraq now is that the reporters are not getting outside of the safe zones of Baghdad to cover the good stories?  First of all, what are the safe zones, even in Baghdad?  And second of all, where are the good stories?  Or is it because the journalists are not trying hard enough to find them?

DAVID ZUCCHINO, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  Well, there are no safe zones in Baghdad or in Iraq, as you know.  And I appreciate Mr. Wolfowitz‘s apology.  That took courage.  But it takes courage for reporters to get out to places like Fallujah and Ramadi, and back during the invasion, to actually ride in tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and get out and tell the story.  And Mr. Wolfowitz comes to Iraq, when he does, he‘s protected by security people and the armed forces.  He rides in Blackhawk helicopters and is escorted by Apache gunships.  The reporters are out on their own, and they take incredible risks.  And as you know, a lot of reporters have died.  So I think a lot of people were very offended by that.

MITCHELL:  Well, Michael, you‘ve suffered, as have so many people in the military.  Is there a better story here that we are not—not showing?  Is this part of the way America is responding to Iraq?

WEISSKOPF:  Well, Andrea, Baghdad and larger Iraq is an unfolding, dynamic story.  And there are every day good things happening—children immunized.  Schools rebuilt and wired for computers and a market economy taking place.  At the same time, those often take a second seat to loss of life and wounded.  And let‘s take Americans out of the picture for a minute, and relatively few of us have gotten hurt, both in uniform and out.  BUt think of Iraqis alone who are dying at the rate of 100 a day, as they did last week.  And that is a different way to measure this war, in blood and life, rather than in buildings built.

But even by the secretary‘s own measure of progress, a lot has not been achieved which his administration set out to do.  Tiny number of the hundreds of construction projects, or thousands of construction projects, for instance, have gotten off the ground.

MITCHELL:  In fact, “The New York Times” was reporting statistics today which said that 140 have been started out of 2,300.  David Zucchino, are we expecting the military to do the wrong mission here?  Are they not trained or able to do reconstruction and to do that kind of work on the ground?  Even though, I guess, General Petraeus showed us in Mosul in the north that when you are committed to it in a safer zone, it is possible.  But is it really not the core mission for which they‘re trained?

ZUCCHINO:  No, our military is the finest military in the world, but that‘s not what they‘re trained to do.  They are not trained to be peacekeepers and stabilizers and to go out and rebuild roads and highways.  That‘s not what they do.  What they do is attack and kill the enemy, which is what they did 15 months ago, when they had a very clear mission.  Now they don‘t have a clear mission, and it‘s very confusing.  I‘ve been talking to soldiers recently about their mission now, and they‘re unclear about what they‘re supposed to be doing.  They are trained to fight and close and kill the enemy, and that‘s obviously not what they‘re being asked to do now.

MITCHELL:  You write very dramatically in this terrific book, ‘Thunder Run,” David, about the assault on Baghdad.  It‘s not as we saw it in real time on television, is it.  There was a much grittier story on the ground.

ZUCCHINO:  No, not at all.  I think the impression that came from those three days of combat was that the Iraqis rolled over, that there wasn‘t much of a fight and the American forces just rolled into the city.  And it was anything but that.  There was just some fierce, savage fighting.  There were thousands of, you know, Iraqis and Jordanians and Syrians who stood and fought from a series of bunkers and ditches.  They inflicted casualties.  They caused a lot of problems for the armored columns.

And this was never reported.  It wasn‘t any conspiracy, it was just that that period was so chaotic and the embedded reporters were spread out among different units, and nobody really had the big picture, myself included.  I was embedded, but I only saw what I saw while I was with a particular unit.  And it just takes time for that kind of story to come to life.  But again, it really was not an easy victory at all.

MITCHELL:  Michael, we‘re going to see Saddam Hussein in a court of law tomorrow.  What is going to happen with this trial?  Are they going to be able to put him on trial?  And will they find some way to bring him to justice?

WEISSKOPF:  It will be a real test of the Iraqi legal system, Andrea.  And to the extent that our lawyers in the background—and there is a whole team of them investigating for a long time—it will be a test of our ability to transfer that to the Iraqis.

MITCHELL:  And do you think that they‘re ready with any kind of ability to question witnesses, to actually prosecute him?  Don‘t they have to develop this system first, before they can bring him to trial?

WEISSKOPF:  Well, they‘ll graft on our system, to some extent.  And politically, this will be an extraordinary moment, an opportunity for a tyrant to be in the dock, and will no doubt have a unifying effect on Iraqi society, albeit temporarily.

MITCHELL:  So it‘s—it‘s more of a symbolic step, at this stage, than...

WEISSKOPF:  Yes, but a vital kind of cleansing moment for a society that‘s riven now by lots of forces, historical and otherwise.

MITCHELL:  Stay right there.  More with Michael Weisskopf and David Zucchini on whether November‘s presidential election will be a referendum on Iraq.  And later: Is Capitol Hill turning out to be an all-out war zone between the two parties?  Congress members from both sides of the aisle will be here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  We‘re back with “The Los Angeles Times‘s” David Zucchino and “Time” magazine‘s Michael Weisskopf.

Michael, you spent some time in Walter Reed.  What can you share with us about the people there, the kind of rehabilitation you had when you lost your hand?

WEISSKOPF:  Well, every presidential candidate, Andrea, should spend an afternoon in Walter Reed and get a sense of the human wreckage of this war or any war.  And it‘s a first-rate medical facility.  As far as my own experiences go, I think I‘ll probably save those for a book I‘m writing on the subject.

MITCHELL:  Well, which we will read with great interest.  But you‘ve talked a bit about the accident and the experience of that.  Would you go back to Baghdad?

WEISSKOPF:  I would certainly go back to Baghdad.  It‘s a very compelling place.  I think I‘d stay out of Humvees for a while.  That‘s where I was injured.  The American military, of course, is a target, and anyone who ventures forth with the American military does it at great risk.  But there‘s a lot more to Iraq and there‘s a lot more unfolding.  It‘s a place where large questions are unanswered, and where you can kind of draw, as a writer, with a large brush.

MITCHELL:  We should point out, you were decorated, in a rare instance, for your valor in having grabbed the grenade and then tossed it out.  You saved the lives of those with you.

WEISSKOPF:  Well, there were six of us in the Humvee, two of them in the cab and four of us in an open-air part of the Humvee, somewhat like a pick-up truck, yes.  And we all got out alive, some with injuries, including me, of course.

MITCHELL:  David Zucchino, you saw other instances—not the same, of course, as what Michael went through, but you were with the soldiers as they went into Baghdad.  Do you think that this country, with this new interim government, can come together, or like Barry McCaffrey, with whom we spoke just a few minutes ago, are we facing the possibility of civil war there?

ZUCCHINO:  I think that‘s a real possibility.  As everyone know, security is the real issue, rMDNM_and this new interim government right away is going to have to provide security.  And obviously, the people in the insurgency are trying to do just the opposite.  They‘re trying to destabilize the situation.  They‘ve done a very good job of it.  They‘ve been very smart and almost clinical in the way they have attacked not only U.S. forces but people working for the U.S. and then Iraqis in a position of power.  And they‘ve gone after the electrical system.  They realize that what people want is normalcy and security, things like electricity and water and telephone service, and they‘re going after those very facilities and those services and undercutting them.  And I think we‘re going to see more of this, not less, even with, you know, the Iraqis taking more responsibility for their own governance.

MITCHELL:  And these the very facilities that we‘ve been trying to get

·         trying to have our American forces help reestablish.

ZUCCHINO:  Right.  And there was criticism earlier in the show about the press not covering that.  Well, the press has been covering that.  My paper, “The Los Angeles Times,” has done many stories about attempts to reestablish electricity and build schools and hospitals, and that sort of thing.  And other members of the media have, as well.

But there is a larger, overriding story, and that‘s the security story.  And until that is resolved, the situation will stay just as bad as it is.

MITCHELL:  All right, thank you very much, David Zucchino and Michael Weisskopf here in Washington.

And up next: Has partisanship reached a new high on Capitol Hill? 

Congress members Dana Rohrabacher and Loretta Sanchez will be joining me.  And later: new poll numbers in the battle for the White House.  We‘ll hear from both campaigns.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, partisan warfare on Capitol Hill.  Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez will be here.  Plus, top advisers from the Bush and Kerry campaign on the latest poll numbers on the race and John Kerry‘s hunt for a running mate for Kerry. 

But, first, the latest headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Earlier this month, President Ronald Reagan‘s death brought a temporary truce to the bitter partisan warfare in Washington.  Whatever happened to those days when Reagan and his Democratic adversary, the late House Speaker Tip O‘Neill, would furiously battle each other over policy, but, at the end of the day, these two old political warriors would sit down with each other and after 6:00 lift a beer and swap jokes?

Now it seems as though congressional leaders barely speak to their opposites across the aisle. 

Well, joining us to discuss the partisan rancor is Republican

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. 

Both are from California. 

So let me ask both of you, do you ever have beers after 6:00? 

(CROSSTALK)

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, I don‘t drink. 

(CROSSTALK)

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER ®, CALIFORNIA:  I don‘t think that‘s an accurate presentation.  I think I get along very well with a lot of my Democratic colleagues, including Loretta. 

We know where we disagree.  And I don‘t think the news people actually see us when we‘re getting along.  And they only see—and there‘s bitter politics going on.  And I think it‘s—by the way, let me just say that during the Reagan years, we faced a lot of people whining and back-biting the president when he tried to confront Gorbachev and the menace.

Well, we have that same sort of thing going on right now.  And I don‘t like it.  But I like the people who are on the other side of the aisle. 

MITCHELL:  Well, Congressman Rohrabacher, you were in the Reagan White House.  I remember you were one of the speechwriters.  But I have got to tell you that what we‘re seeing right now in Congress is a lot meaner than what we saw back then.  Maybe time sort of dims the memories, but it seemed awfully fierce—it seems awfully fierce now. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  The Congress, when it was under the Democratic control, tried to put Ollie North in prison.  They tried to take Ronald Reagan and kick him out of office in the Iran-Contra affair, which turned out to be very little in the long run. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Some people might disagree with that. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  They played hardball.

MITCHELL:  There are some Republicans who would disagree with you on that, sir. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  Listen, they played hardball back then. 

MITCHELL:  There‘s nothing wrong with playing hardball. 

ROHRABACHER:  And they‘re playing hardball now.

MITCHELL:  We love playing hardball. 

Congresswoman Sanchez, do you want to chime in here? 

SANCHEZ:  Well, let me just say that there are a lot of us who do get along with each other. 

ROHRABACHER:  Sure.

SANCHEZ:  For example, Dana and I, we don‘t agree on a lot of things.  On some things, we do, like the Vietnam issue, for example.  We try to work where we can. 

But I have to admit that there is a real animosity among members sometimes, some of the leadership.  I‘m not talking about the top leadership.  I‘m talking about some of the chairmen.  I have to tell you that, lately, it‘s been sort of humorous to sit on the Democratic side and see all the negativity going on, on Dana‘s side, because they are at each other‘s throats between the ultraconservatives.

Nobody seem to be right enough of right over on that side.  And they‘re attacking each other.  So while we hear that, off the Senate side, there are people saying the F-word and everything, the fact of the matter is that there‘s just a lot of personal attacks going on.  Sometimes it‘s not even party to party. 

ROHRABACHER:  I don‘t—listen, I was in the White House for seven years during the Reagan years.  I‘ve been here 16 years now.  I have not seen a level of partisanship any different.  The Democrats always will claim they‘re trying to be bipartisan on foreign policy and then always try to undercut the president when he‘s making tough foreign policy decisions. 

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  Well, Dana, I would tend to disagree with you. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  But, on a personal level, I‘m getting along just fine with my Democratic—I have a lot of friends on the other side.  And I never swear at them. 

MITCHELL:  Well, let me see if I can stir something up, then, because there‘s entirely too much comity here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  Let‘s talk about immigration, for instance. 

Congresswoman Sanchez, only yesterday, the nominee presumptive of your party, John Kerry, proposed his own amnesty immigration, amnesty reform measure to La Raza in Phoenix.  And there is a proposal on the other side from George Bush. 

Congressman Rohrabacher, what do you think even of the Republican proposal?  Does that go too far as far as you‘re concerned? 

ROHRABACHER:  Well, as far as I‘m concerned, people who are here in this country legally should be sent back to their native country where they come from.  And to try to give them any services at all or try to normalize the relationship that we have with them, in other words, normalize their status, means nothing more than that we‘ll have millions and millions more coming into this country. 

It is destroying our education system in California.  It is destroying our health care system in California.  Our criminal justice system is going under, with over 40 percent of the people in our jails being illegal immigrants. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  I don‘t think your governor agrees with you.  I don‘t think your Republican governor agrees with you. Does he? 

ROHRABACHER:  I haven‘t heard Governor Schwarzenegger talking about it.  But I know I have some disagreements with my own president.  And I know, of course, I got a big disagreement with the Democrats who would give Social Security, would give all the other government benefits, everything that we‘re saving for our own people, away to people who come here illegally. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Congresswoman Sanchez, John Kerry tried yesterday to reach out to Hispanic and also to African-American voters in the Democratic base.  He was in Chicago with Jesse Jackson at Rainbow/PUSH.  But there were people in the audience who felt that he was an underwhelming speaker, too long-winded, didn‘t have the zeal of a Bill Clinton, let‘s say, to that kind of audience. 

Is he going to have problems with Hispanics and with African-Americans and other minority voters? 

SANCHEZ:  Absolutely not.  I think he‘s going to do great with Hispanics.  He‘s going to do great with African-American voters.  He‘s going to do well in other immigrant communities, because, when you look it, the fact of the matter is that John Kerry has worked over and over on the themes, on the ideas that really help these immigrant and low-income communities, the middle class, for example. 

And I hear he is a great closer.  So I‘m really looking forward to the

next four months of the elections to see John Kerry really in action.  But

I‘ve got to say that

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Sorry.  Go ahead, ma‘am.

SANCHEZ:  Go ahead. 

I‘ve got to say that, on this immigration issue, I think that he‘s just reflecting what is really going to in so many states now.  We‘ve got people here, they are working hard.  Their children are born in the United States.  And we‘re trying to give them status in this country so they can continue to work hard, continue to make the American dream happen, because, after all, this is a country of immigrants. 

Unless you are a Native-American, you came here from someplace else.  I believe that one of the ways we could solve some of this out-of-status situation that we see with so many people is if we would put the resources just in trying to get people who are in line in the right way, trying to get their paperwork done, if we could ensure that we could get that done on time for them. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  No one disagrees with that.  No one disagrees with that. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  No one disagrees with what Loretta said.

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  Loretta and I totally agree on, we have got to make sure that those legal immigrants are treated fairly and we have got to make sure the process works. 

The major question that divides us is what to do with those millions of people who come in illegally.  And it‘s my contention that the Mexican-American community, as well as all other immigrant communities, do not like illegal immigrants, because those illegals are taking those same resources that should go to our own citizens or to legal immigrants. 

MITCHELL:  Let me move on for just a second, because I want to ask Congresswoman Sanchez who she would like John Kerry to pick for vice president, because apparently we‘re getting very close to a decision-making.

SANCHEZ:  Well, I think it would be wonderful to see him pick an African-American or a Latino or a woman. 

But the fact of the matter is, when we look and we wonder, what makes somebody pick a vice president?  I think, when we see the forerunners, we probably see General Clark, who has got incredible stature as far as international cooperation, having led NATO, for example, obviously four-star.  He stuck to something.  He excelled in that.  When we look at John Edwards, who of course came from nothing and made millions in his life. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Have you offered any opinion to John Kerry?  Have you offered any advice as to whom he should choose? 

SANCHEZ:  Well, I think the last two, the two I just mentioned, are really great guys that would be a benefit to the ticket.  And I‘m hoping that he will probably choose one of those. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  I think he should choose Loretta Sanchez. 

MITCHELL:  Well, Dana Rohrabacher...

SANCHEZ:  Well, Dana, thank you. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you both very much. 

And, Congressman Rohrabacher, good luck with those triplets.  I hope they‘re easier to handle than some of your Democratic colleagues. 

ROHRABACHER:  Well, they‘re whining, anyway. 

MITCHELL:  Congressman Rohrabacher and his newborns and Congresswoman Sanchez, thank you very much. 

And up next, with partisanship on the rise, the battle for the White House is turning into an all-out war.  We‘ll be joined by two top advisers from the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  Coming up, two top advisers from the Bush and Kerry campaigns on why the battle for the White House has become so mean.

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

I‘m joined by Terry Holt, who is the national spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Steve Elmendorf, the deputy campaign manager for the Kerry campaign. 

Welcome, both. 

STEVE ELMENDORF, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, KERRY CAMPAIGN:  Good to be here. 

MITCHELL:  We‘ve got new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” numbers.  A new poll tonight found that 49 percent of voters disapprove of how President Bush is doing his job.  That‘s the lowest in this poll‘s memory during this election cycle. 

Terry, why are Americans so negative on the president? 

TERRY HOLT, BUSH CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  Well, I think that what we‘ve seen over the last month and contrary to what this poll says is that there‘s been a shift. 

The economy is taking hold.  We‘ve had a transfer of power in Iraq.  People are continuing to be anxious about what‘s going on.  But, certainly, the news is getting better.  And what‘s fascinating is that John Kerry doesn‘t seem to be taking advantage of this.  The polls are still dead even.  And, in fact, over the course of the last few weeks, we‘ve had polls where the president has gained on Kerry on the ballot tests and on his handling of the economy and Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Well, true, they are bouncing up and down a bit.  But the other fact is true also, Steve, that John Kerry is still undefined.  You still don‘t have a sense of who John Kerry is.  In fact, there‘s a new biographical ad out today.  People don‘t seem to know what he stands for. 

ELMENDORF:  Well, it‘s early in the campaign.  There‘s four and a half

·         it may not be early for all of us who do this for a living, but there‘s four and a half months to go. 

And we look at these poll and we see real signs of trouble for George Bush.  A majority of Americans disapprove of the job he‘s doing.  And they‘re very open to John Kerry‘s message.  And the more they learn about John Kerry, the better we‘re doing. 

MITCHELL:  Well, let me pick up on that, because the poll numbers are also not great on his handling of foreign policy and the war.  The latest polls show that 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the way he‘s handling foreign policy.  And also, 47 percent disapprove of his handling of the war on terrorism. 

Now, his handling of the war on terrorism was supposed to be a touch-point for his campaign.  You‘re having your convention in New York City close to the anniversary of 9/11.  Why are people beginning to turn against him on the very points of leadership, commander in chief, that I think we would have thought would have been his strengths. 

HOLT:  Well, I think Steve is right.  There‘s 124 days left before the election.  There‘s a lot that can happen. 

And I think people are still looking at the trouble and all we‘ve been through in the last three and a half years and they feel anxious about it.  But the president still has strong leadership attributes.  They still consider him someone who is a determined leader.  And, ultimately, when you get down to Election Day, you want somebody steady and firm and determined and not somebody who is prone to flip-flops—I‘m sorry, Steve—or doesn‘t really know what his heart tells him on core issues that are before the American voter. 

MITCHELL:  Steve, how does John Kerry fill in the gaps?  What kind of vice presidential choice does he have to make? 

ELMENDORF:  Well, I think there are going to be two obviously major events which are going to help fill in the gaps.  Again, there‘s four and a half months to the election.

He‘s going to pick a vice president at some point between now and the convention.  And we would all like to know when.  I would like to know when, but we don‘t know yet. 

MITCHELL:  I suspect you do know when.

ELMENDORF:  And we‘re going to have a convention.  And the convention is going to introduce John Kerry in a much deeper way to the American public.  And I think both those events, when we poll after that, I think you‘ll see he‘s doing even better. 

MITCHELL:  Conventions are not watched avidly as they used to be. 

Let‘s face it.  It is not the big event. 

(CROSSTALK)

ELMENDORF:  Because they‘re not covered as avidly as they...

MITCHELL:  Well, because, frankly, it‘s a predetermined conclusion.  We don‘t have nominees being chosen on the floor of conventions.  We don‘t have big platform fights any longer.

And while those of us who are junkies love them—that‘s our national reunion—you may not get the kind of attention you want.  So what do you have to do with the vice presidential choice to get the kind of attention you want? 

ELMENDORF:  Well, we think we‘ll get a lot of attention.  The public does tune in for the nominee‘s acceptance speech and for the vice presidential nominee‘s acceptance speech. 

And those are really the pivotal moments.  So we think we‘ll get a lot of attention out of that.  We also—at some point, again, in July, we‘ll unveil a vice president and that will say something about what John Kerry believe he‘s looking for.  And we‘ll get a lot of coverage out of that.  I wish could I tell you what it was right now, but.... 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  It‘s striking to me that, over the course of the last five or six weeks, Kerry‘s campaign has spent millions and millions on these positive spots and fully one-third of the electorate in one poll that was out just earlier this week has no idea who he is or what he stands for. 

I think that should be troubling to them.  At least with the president, you know what you‘re getting.  And, as he said just last week in Europe:  I got to do my job.  My job is to protect the American people.  At least they know that about the president.  They still have a big question mark over John Kerry. 

MITCHELL:  Well, let me try to help you with understanding who John Kerry is.  Here‘s the latest ad that they‘ve unveiled today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He‘s a husband and father, a pilot, a hunter, a hockey player, tough prosecutor, advocate for kids, 19 years Senate Foreign Relations Committee, author of a strategy to win the war on terror, a combat veteran who has been praised by former chairmen of the Joint Chief of Staff under both Presidents Reagan and Clinton.  Stronger at home, respected in the world.  John Kerry for president. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John Kerry and I approved this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  OK.  We get it.  We saw the brass.  We saw the Joint Chiefs.  We heard Clinton.  We heard Reagan. 

Is that the message, Steve? 

ELMENDORF:  Well, I think the difference between us and the Bush campaign is, we run positive ads talking about our record, talking about our candidate, and what he wants to do for his country.  The Bush campaign has run $83 million worth of negative ads attacking John Kerry. 

HOLT:  Not true, Steve.

ELMENDORF:  They have had very little to say positive about George Bush or his record because they don‘t have much to say. 

HOLT:  Not true.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  And, in fact, our last ad was an economic spot, talking about the jobs that have been created and the way that we‘re making progress on the economy.  So that‘s not true.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Terry, but let me show you something that is still up on your Web site today.

HOLT:  Well, let me say, I was struck by this. 

He wrote a book about terror.  But in nowhere in that book, in several hundred pages, does he mention al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.  What kind of a book about terror is that, when the core enemy in our war on terror isn‘t even mentioned in that book? 

MITCHELL:  Well, if you guys are so positive, let me show you what is still up on your Web site even after it was pointed out to you.  This is on the Bush-Cheney Web site, an advertisement on the Web. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein‘s torture prison? 

DEAN:  I want my country back. 

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. 

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI:  This president is a miserable failure. 

GORE:  He betrayed this country!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  How, in a generation, did we get from the politics of Ronald Reagan, Tip O‘Neill and all of those sort of healthy adversaries in that—those decades, to this, to Adolf Hitler? 

HOLT:  I am not sure I know. 

But in this political season, with MoveOn.org and the scream speech, and Al Gore comparing Republican activists to brownshirts, I don‘t know where they‘re coming from.  But this politics of rage, this Web video is designed to tell the American people, to tell our supporters, reject this kind of thing.  John Kerry should reject this. 

(CROSSTALK)

ELMENDORF:  ... take it off your Web site. 

HOLT:  That was an ad run by MoveOn.org, the one that refers to Hitler, that compares President Bush, the president of the United States to Hitler.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  That was an ad competition that they sponsored.  It wasn‘t an ad run by the Kerry campaign. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  But, in fact, they only took it off their Web site after the Bush campaign pointed it out.  It is an example of the tone and tenor, this politics of rage that has been all over the place in the Democratic left.  John Kerry‘s Democratic Party at this time is tonally out of touch with the mainstream of America. 

MITCHELL:  Steve, I‘ve got to give you time to respond.

ELMENDORF:  I couldn‘t disagree more. 

If you look at the ad that you showed that we have up, which is very similar to a lot of the other ads we have up, it is a positive, optimistic vision of what John Kerry wants to do for this country.  And what the Republicans have up on their Web site is what you just saw, Adolf Hitler. 

HOLT:  But John Kerry compared the president of the United States to Saddam Hussein.  And that‘s shameful.  And people should reject that kind of rhetoric. 

MITCHELL:  Well, we‘re going to pick that up right there, more with Steve Elmendorf and Terry Holt from the campaigns in a moment and when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  We‘re back with more from Terry Holt of the Bush campaign and Steve Elmendorf of the Kerry campaign. 

Steve, you mentioned that John Kerry is going to pick somebody who is qualified to be president.  He‘s got his criteria for vice president.  So, experience, ready to jump in if, God forbid, that were necessary.  That sounds like Dick Gephardt, the guy you used to work for.

(LAUGHTER)

ELMENDORF:  I‘m sure he would make a great vice president.  But there‘s a whole bunch of other people who I‘m sure Senator Kerry is talking who would also make good vice presidents.

Senator Kerry said he wanted to conduct this process in private, discretely, not in the press.  And even those of us who work on the campaign, I don‘t know who he‘s talked to. 

MITCHELL:  It‘s widely known that he was resentful when he was in the same group of candidates last time around for vice presidency with John Edwards, who was in the Senate for a couple of years, had never been lieutenant governor, had not been in Washington very long, had just been a trial lawyer. 

So how, by his own definitions, would John Edwards be qualified to immediately step into the role of commander in chief? 

ELMENDORF:  Well, again, he is going to conduct a process that‘s private.  He‘s going to make this decision himself.  He‘s going to talk to the contenders.  I could not even tell you if John Edwards is a contender.  I don‘t know who he has interviewed.  He‘s really doing this in a very discrete way. 

John Edwards was a great candidate for president.  I think we saw through the end of the primary season, he did extremely well.  He is very popular and he would make a good vice president, in my view.

MITCHELL:  And the fact that John Kerry is already scheduled to be in Saint Louis, Missouri, in Dick Gephardt‘s home turf next week, when we think these decisions are going to be announced, that‘s completely coincidental?

ELMENDORF:  Missouri is a battleground state and he‘ll be there a lot between now and November 2. 

MITCHELL:  And, Terry, your nominee for vice president, Dick Cheney, unless there‘s some change between now and August, got booed at Yankee Stadium.  What do you do what do when your candidate gets booed at Yankee Stadium?

HOLT:  The Orioles get booed at Yankee Stadium. 

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  Well, they‘re the Orioles.  They deserve to be booed right now.

HOLT:  The Boston Red Sox, John Kerry‘s favorite team.

The vice president is an articulate spokesperson for this campaign.  He knows the policy issues.  He‘s raised the bar of what the vice presidency is.  A lot of people used to say the vice presidency was ceremonial.  I think part of the seriousness with which they‘re taking this process, the Kerry campaign, is because Vice President Cheney and President Bush really raised the bar on the substance that the vice president can have in the administration. 

MITCHELL:  Has he become a lightning rod, though?  Is he stirring concern among some Republican? 

HOLT:  He‘s a tough guy.  He knows the issues.  And he‘s popular with people because he knows what those issues are and how to articulate with them.  Lightning rod or no lightning rod, he knows how to do his job. 

MITCHELL:  All right.  Well, Steve...

ELMENDORF:  Maybe they should keep Dick Cheney. 

HOLT:  Don‘t worry. 

MITCHELL:  Steve, we‘ll have you back to talk about who your choice is, who the choice of John Kerry is.

And, Terry, you, too, to talk about who the choice of John Kerry is. 

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  Thank you very much, both of you.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We‘ll talk about John Kerry‘s hunt for a running mate with former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. 

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.

END   

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