updated 7/13/2004 10:09:09 AM ET 2004-07-13T14:09:09

Guest: Kweisi Mfume, Orrin Hatch, Meryl Gordon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  In today‘s political firefight: I interview Ron Reagan on his upcoming even address to the Democratic convention in support of stem cell research.  Plus: Leaders of the NAACP accuse Republicans of playing the race card, and president Bush fires back, refusing to speak to its convention, describing his relationship with the group‘s current leadership as, “basically non-existent.”

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Los Angeles.

It‘s 112 days until the election and just two weeks until the Democratic national convention in Boston, where Ron Reagan is now scheduled to speak.  The youngest son of the late president Ronald Reagan will address Democratic delegates with the case for stem cell research just two months after the death of his father.

In a moment, we‘ll talk to Ron Reagan, but first, HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has this report on the war of words between Ron Reagan and two conservative columnists.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was Ron Reagan eulogizing his father who has started what has become a political firefight.

RON REAGAN, PRESIDENT REAGAN‘S SON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage.

SHUSTER:  Reagan hesitated to admit he was criticizing President Bush, but days later, during an exclusive interview on NBC with Chris Matthews, he offered this.

REAGAN:  I—well, I said “many politicians.”  If he‘s lumped in in that group, then fine.

SHUSTER:  Reagan also spoke about Iraq and the Republicans who have invoked his father‘s name and legacy to justify the war.

REAGAN:  This is their war.  If they can‘t stand on their own two feet, well, they‘re no Ronald Reagans, that‘s for sure.

SHUSTER:  While the Bush White House was privately infuriated with Reagan, most Republicans, in the wake of national mourning, offered no response.  But a few weeks ago, William F. Buckley, Jr., elder statesman of the conservative movement, wrote privately to Reagan, an atheist, and accused him of quote, “deriding the faith of your parents.”  Buckley, a long-time friend of President Reagan, also claimed to know him better than Reagan‘s son.

Buckley‘s remarks were printed publicly today by conservative columnist Robert Novak.  The column appeared to be a preemptive shot.  The Reagans have urged the Bush administration to open up stem cell research, an issue the president opposes.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Research on embryonic stem cells raises profound ethical questions.

SHUSTER:  Democrats have been planning for weeks to use this as a wedge issue.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have an administration that has been the worst administration on science in the modern history of our country.

SHUSTER:  And now, with Ron Reagan, Jr., speaking at their convention, a wedge issue is what they‘ve got.

(on camera):  The irony is that many moderate Republicans agree with the Reagan family on the issue of stem cell research, and they‘re now even more disappointed the president hasn‘t changed his position to something the Reagans might support.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got Ron Reagan joining us right now.  Ron, are you a wedge?

REAGAN:  I don‘t think so.  I don‘t feel like a wedge.  I‘m aware that some people will say that by speaking at the Democratic national convention, that I‘m being used by the Democrats.  Maybe to some extent, that‘s true.  But then, I‘m using them, too.  The important thing for me is not to make a political statement.  I spoke to Senator Kerry, for instance, and told him in no uncertain terms that I could not campaign for him, given my job here.

MATTHEWS:  Did he ask to you to?

REAGAN:  No, he did not.  No, he did not.

MATTHEWS:  Who asked to you speak at the Democratic convention?

REAGAN:  I was approached by a couple of people from the Democratic National Committee first...

MATTHEWS:  Who?

REAGAN:  Well, a man named Mark Siegle (ph), who‘s an old friend of mine, was one of them.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

REAGAN:  I frankly can‘t remember the first guy I spoke to.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you say yes right away, or did you think about?

REAGAN:  I thought about it first.

MATTHEWS:  And who‘d you call back, him?

REAGAN:  Yes, I did.  And I said...

MATTHEWS:  And did you ever hear from John Kerry?  Did he call to ask you or thank you, or what‘d he say?

REAGAN:  He called to thank me.  We had a very nice chat.  He was on a bus in Wisconsin somewhere.  And he—he further told me—and I thought this was very interesting and I thanked him for it—that his first act as president of the United States, should he be elected, would be to sign an executive order reversing the Bush administration‘s policy on embryonic stem cell research.

Again, I‘m not going to the convention to make a political speech.  I‘m going there to talk about embryonic stem cell research, which of a critical importance to this country and the world.  And the Democrats support it, and the Bush administration doesn‘t.  But that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and maybe this is to—politicians—you‘re not a politician—love to say that‘s a hypothetical question, but I‘m going to ask you one.  If the Republicans offer you the same invitation to speak on stem cell at their convention, would you accept it?

REAGAN:  That‘s a good question.  It‘s a tough one, too, because, of course, their party does not support this.  This...

MATTHEWS:  But Orrin Hatch—you and I were talking to Orrin Hatch right before the show.  In fact, I interviewed him.  We‘ll be showing it right after this.  Orrin Hatch pled to you.  He said, Please don‘t make this a partisan issue.  It will hurt the chances of him, who supports your position, as your mother does...

REAGAN:  Yes, he does.

MATTHEWS:  ... for stem cell research—embryonic stem cell research, to get those Republicans you need to beat the filibuster, to get the 60 senators you need to get this thing rolling.

REAGAN:  The people who‘ve politicized this issue—and I agree that it shouldn‘t be a political issue at all.  The fact that we‘re even having this discussion is amazing to me.  But the people who‘ve politicized it the most are the other side, are the Republicans, who are pandering to their base, who doesn‘t want to see this go through, who doesn‘t want—who don‘t want embryonic stem cell research to be a reality.  They have religious reasons...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

REAGAN:  ... for this.  I respect those.  That‘s fine.  But their religious reasons shouldn‘t impact on the rest of us, who don‘t share those feelings at all, or those beliefs.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, John Kerry just a week ago said that he believed, as do most Roman Catholics, that life begins at conception.  How can he support stem cell research on human life?

REAGAN:  Well, what we‘re talking about now—and I don‘t want to get overly...

MATTHEWS:  No, he says conception.  That means fertilized eggs.  He said that‘s when life begins.  How do you think he explains this?

REAGAN:  Well, you‘d have to ask him how he explains it.  I don‘t speak for John Kerry or anybody else.  I only speak for myself.  But what we‘re talking about when we‘re talking about embryonic stem cell research is not a fetus, is not an embryo that‘s ever going to develop into a human being.  It‘s never in a womb, first of all.  We‘re talking about a collection of cells in a petrie dish somewhere that are all potential.  They‘re undifferentiated cells.  There are no fingers, no toes...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

REAGAN:  ... no spinal cord, no brain, no nothing.  It‘s not a human being yet, but it has potential...

MATTHEWS:  but that‘s also true of a fertilized egg in any conception.

REAGAN:  It is.  But a fertilized egg in a conventional conception that you‘re talking about...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

REAGAN:  ... takes place within the womb, in a mother‘s womb, and will grow into an embryo, a fetus, ultimately a human being and...

MATTHEWS:  And you believe that‘s the moral distinction.

REAGAN:  I believe there‘s a clear distinction.

MATTHEWS:  Did John Kerry ever say to you in your conversations that‘s where he sees a moral distinction?

REAGAN:  I didn‘t question him closely about this.

MATTHEWS:  How much time do you have at the convention?

REAGAN:  I think five to eight minutes, I think they told me.

MATTHEWS:  Primetime, when the broadcast networks are covering, say, from 10:00 to 11:00 Monday and Wednesday and Thursday?

REAGAN:  They said it would be in primetime and...

MATTHEWS:  Meaning it would be on broadcast, as well as cable.

REAGAN:  I suppose so.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect to—do have your thoughts ready?

REAGAN:  Yes.  I haven‘t written the speech yet, but...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your main point?

REAGAN:  My main point is that this is above politics and that this is an almost magical moment in medical history here.  This advance, the potential for this advance anyway, because we are in the early stages of research, would reshape the way we think about our health and medicine in general.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about two cases.

REAGAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Alzheimer‘s.  Your dad died of it.  It took 10 years to die of it.  My mom died.  Takes about 10 years.  What would stem cell do to those kind of victims beforehand?

REAGAN:  Alzheimer‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Could it save them?

REAGAN:  No.  No.  Alzheimer‘s is a disease, ironically, that probably won‘t be amenable to treatment through stem cell therapies.

MATTHEWS:  What diseases will be?

REAGAN:  Parkinson‘s, diabetes, lymphoma, a whole raft of diseases that—Alzheimer‘s...

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s made your family—you and your mother together on this—what has brought you together in this cause that takes you to the Democratic convention?  Stem cell research?

REAGAN:  Well, we both know people who suffer from these other diseases.  Some people have suggested that maybe my mother shouldn‘t support this, since it wouldn‘t do anything for Alzheimer‘s, which, you know, would suggest that she‘s a pretty small person...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

REAGAN:  ... that she, you know, would only be worried about something that affected her directly.  She understands very well the potential for many diseases to be...

MATTHEWS:  Did you run this by Mrs. Reagan, the thought of you going to a Democratic convention and speaking?

REAGAN:  I‘ve spoken to her about it, yes.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s OK with it?

REAGAN:  She‘s OK with it.  She‘s—again, she supports the issue. 

She‘s aware, as I am, that there is a political aspect to this, and we need to be careful about that.

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother that you people who may not—I know you‘re more liberal, certainly, than your dad.  I mean, you‘ve made that clear.  Does it bother that you some of the people at the Democratic convention and watching on television will be giggling about this and saying, God, we stuck it.  We stuck it to the Republicans with this.

REAGAN:  If that‘s what they‘re thinking while I‘m talking about stem cell research, then they‘re pretty small-minded.  This is an issue that transcends politics and should have nothing to do with politics whatsoever.

MATTHEWS:  Just to finish up, before we went on the air, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a pro-life chairman, the pro-life chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee...

REAGAN:  I think we‘re all pro-life, aren‘t we?

MATTHEWS:  In the sense that he opposes abortion rights.

REAGAN:  I know.  I‘m just teasing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK, we—I don‘t like those words, either, especially, but that‘s what we say these days, you‘re pro-life.

REAGAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s also for embryonic stem cell research.  And we were sitting here, and I was listening to your conversation.  He said, and he‘s going to say it again here on this taped piece we‘re going to show next—he says he thinks your appearing at the Democratic convention could cause the politicization of this issue and cause some Republicans, more moderate Republicans on this issue, who normally would support your position, to drop off in fear it‘ll look like an anti-Bush position.

REAGAN:  Well, that would politicize the issue.  They would be politicizing the issue by doing that.  Again, I‘m aware of the danger that some people might think that I‘m being used by the Democrats, but I‘m taking this opportunity to speak about an important issue, important to me, important to my family, and important to all of us.

MATTHEWS:  Why is it so important to William F. Buckley, Jr., who has basically just retired as chairman of that great magazine, “The National Review”—he‘s  a great guy.  Everybody likes him—for some reason, turned his guns on you.  In this letter he sent to you that Bob Novak had in his column today, he‘s chastised you on so many fronts.

REAGAN:  I don‘t know.  I‘ve known Bill since I was a child, really, and I‘ve always admired Bill for his decency and his honesty and his sense of honor, really.  And I don‘t know why he would give a piece of private correspondence to a reporter to be used in an attack piece.  I just don‘t know.  I wrote him back.  I have no intention of releasing that letter to the press, though.  It‘s private correspondence.  It‘s between me and him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we don‘t know how that got leaked out of that—that place...

REAGAN:  No, I don‘t know, either.

MATTHEWS:  But you think it was a private conversation.

REAGAN:  Well, he sent me a letter.  I assume those things are private, but...

MATTHEWS:  OK, thanks for...

REAGAN:  ... maybe not.

MATTHEWS:  Colleague, thanks for coming on the show.  We‘ll see you all through the convention.

We‘re coming back, by the way, with more with Ron Reagan.  And later:

The NAACP is meeting in Philly, and its leadership is out to dump President Bush, who, not surprisingly, doesn‘t want to go there and get hit again.  Anyway, he‘s not going to the convention.  We‘re going to talk to the president of the NAACP, former congressman Kweisi Mfume, about that whole fight between the president and that famous organization.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

               

MATTHEWS:  I‘m back with Ronald Reagan—I should say Ron Reagan, Ronald Prescott Reagan, the son of the former president, who‘s speaking at the Democratic national convention.

Let me ask about something, this dispute over stem cell research, which will be your topic...

REAGAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Of course, the whole question of life and pro-choice and all those arguments are familiar to you.  You know, when Barry Goldwater, the original leader, before your father and Bill Buckley, even, of the conservative movement in this country, got older, he tended to get more liberal in his positions...

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... gay rights, pro-choice position.  What do you think about that sort of division in the conservative tradition you‘re so close to with your father?

REAGAN:  Well, it is interesting—I mean, and Barry Goldwater‘S a good example—that the sort of libertarian wing of the Republican Party I think lends itself really to social liberalism, in a certain sense.

MATTHEWS:  The Cato Institute types, yes.

REAGAN:  Yes.  I mean, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Live and let live.

REAGAN:  Live and let live.  Why are we telling people what to do?  We shouldn‘t be interfering in their private lives, and we shouldn‘t be, you know, separating out certain classes of people and treating them differently from the rest of us, that sort of thing.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the sort of group that would say, if somebody wants to abuse drugs, Just don‘t drive a train or an airplane or a car...

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... and go do it in your house.  Leave me alone.

REAGAN:  Yes, that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  And if you‘re going to have birth control or abortion, do it, keep it to yourself.

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re going to be gay, go be gay.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... freedom in this country.

REAGAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the other strain about, the one you least seem to like?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The churchier crowd.  You tell me what the other crowd‘s like.

REAGAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Because you‘re at war with them right now, in a sense.

REAGAN:  Well, I didn‘t, you know, set out to be at war with them, but I guess—the gay marriage amendment would be an issue that would lend itself to this discussion.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s on the floor this week.

REAGAN:  Yes, it is.  And you know, you hear a lot from that side that you mentioned of gay people imposing their lifestyle on the rest of us.  I don‘t see that.  I don‘t understand why, you know, if Frank and Bob or, you know, Jill and Janet get married, it‘s somehow imposing anything on me and my wife.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I know the answer to that.

REAGAN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  People will say that when you pick up a textbook in grade school, you shouldn‘t have to read about Bob and Bill.  You shouldn‘t have to read about different lifestyles as part of your education.  Your response?

REAGAN:  But kids in school have parents who are Bob and Bill, and Janet and Jill and all that sort of thing.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

REAGAN:  They see it in life.  I mean, the textbook would simply be reflecting reality.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s not promotional, you don‘t think?

REAGAN:  It‘s not promotional, it‘s just recognizing what‘s real in the world.

MATTHEWS:  Why should two people—or rather should—why should people who don‘t believe that two people of the same gender can be in a marriage in any real sense have to have a state that supports it?  Why can‘t they say, Look, I don‘t believe my state—my role as a citizen gives me the right to say my state doesn‘t have to recognize certain things.

REAGAN:  Oh, indeed.  They have a perfect right to speak out.  But again, you‘re imposing your set of values on another set of people and dictating what their behavior and what their rights in a civil society are.  Gay people aren‘t telling straight people what to do, you know?

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But don‘t we make...

REAGAN:  It‘s only the other way.

MATTHEWS:  ... decisions like that all the time?  You have to be 16 to drive car.   You have to be 18 to vote.

REAGAN:  But those laws apply...

MATTHEWS:  You have to be 65 to retire or things—don‘t we always make value judgments as a society?

REAGAN:  We do.  We do, indeed.  But those value judgments apply to people across the board.  The marriage amendment that‘s going to be coming up this week selects a certain group of people and says, We‘re going to carve you out from the rest of us, make you an exception, and say that you can‘t participate in this particular right.  You know, an argument that always comes up, they say, Well, what about polygamists?  What about incest?  Or something like that.  Laws about polygamy and incest apply equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals.  But this marriage amendment selects out this group of people, homosexuals, and says, You can‘t participate as fully in society as the rest of us do.  And that‘s wrong, in my view.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get to the question at hand right now, which is the issue of stem cell research, embryonic stem cell research.  You‘ve taken a strong position.  You did so, basically, on television.  You‘re going to do it at the Democratic convention in two weeks.  John Kerry‘s now come out and said that if he gets the presidency, if he wins this November, this January, one of his first orders of business is that he‘s going to issue an executive order allowing stem cell research.

REAGAN:  That‘s what he told me in a phone conversation that I had with him, and I take him at his word.  And that would be a great thing because the current federal policy regarding stem cell research is senseless.

MATTHEWS:  So one of the issues of this campaign is if you‘re for stem cell research, vote Democrat.  If you‘re against it, vote Republican.

REAGAN:  That would be one way of putting it.  I would just say vote for embryonic stem cell research and see which side is on—on which side.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thanks a lot, Ron Reagan—colleague.  Up next—

MSNBC colleague.

Up next: President Bush says his relationship with the NAACP leadership is, quote, “non-existent.”  When we come back, we‘ll talk to the president of the NAACP, former U.S. congressman from Maryland Kweisi Mfume.  And later, the Senate, the United States Senate, is scheduled to vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage two days from now, on Wednesday.  And Senator Orrin Hatch will be here to tell us why he‘s supporting it.  We just interviewed him before Ron.  We‘ll come back and talk about Ron.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  During President Bush‘s bus tour of battleground Pennsylvania on Friday, he criticized the leaders of the NAACP, saying because of the rhetoric and name calling, he said he described his relationship with the current leadership of the NAACP as quote, “basically non-existent,” close quote.  He also turned down an invitation to speak to the organization‘s convention.

Joining us right now is the president of the NAACP, former U.S.  congressman from Maryland Kweisi Mfume.  Mr. Mfume, let me ask you this.  Do you think the president would be welcome, were he to come to the NAACP convention?

KWEISI MFUME, NAACP PRESIDENT:  Absolutely, Chris.  You know, we would have treated him as did he four years ago, when he was a candidate, and when he had the same apprehension.  And I assured him then that he would be treated with the dignity afforded to anybody holding that office or seeking it.  He came into Baltimore four years ago as a candidate, was received graciously, got many interruptions for applause.  He spoke for about 20 minutes, talked about the failure of the GOP in the past to work closely on the issue of Civil Rights and African-Americans, but said those days were over and the party of Lincoln was about to become the party of Lincoln again.  And that was pretty much the last that we heard of George Bush.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  What about your chairman, Julian Bond, saying that he was—the president, President Bush, is guilty of practicing racial division, accusing the Republican Party of year after year playing the race card?  That doesn‘t sound like an invitation.

MFUME:  No, it doesn‘t sound like an invitation.  Mr. Bond would obviously be better to explain his remarks.  But I think it‘s fair to say that this president, just like the previous one, Mr. Clinton, were compared in this association by our members on their records and were often criticized.  Although Clinton, I must admit, got better as he went on.  But there was a great deal of animosity toward him early on about his refusal to do repatriation of Haitians that were coming over from Haiti, his refusal to embrace the Lani Guinier situation, after that blew up.  So there‘s been criticism, and before that, I‘m sure, much criticism with other presidents.

But you know, at some point in time, you really have to get over the criticism in an election that‘s going to be this close because you can‘t afford slippage.

MATTHEWS:  Well, with President Clinton, you had a couple problems.  First of all, he said when he dumped Lani Guinier for the Civil Rights chief job, he said, I just read her materials, as if he had never read her stuff before.  I don‘t know, did you read that as honest?

MFUME:  Well, you know, I don‘t know.  It‘s been a while back.  I was in the Congress then.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MFUME:  But it occurs to me that, you know, you should have, if you didn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the upcoming Democratic convention.  Just two weeks from today it‘s getting started.  I looked at the list of people speaking, and certainly, Bill Clinton is coming back to speak, as he should, of course.  And Senator Kennedy‘s a great Democrat, of course.  Then you‘ve got the two candidates on Wednesday and Thursday night, Edwards and Kerry.  No people of African-American background.  Does that surprise you?  Or are there some names we haven‘t seen yet?

MFUME:  Well, there‘re probably names you haven‘t seen.  I met two weeks...

MATTHEWS:  Well, who do you know that‘s going to speak at the convention who‘s black?

MFUME:  Well, I‘ve got a request in to the Democrats and a request in to the Republicans, and I‘m hoping, quite frankly, that both will find some time in their agenda for me.  I met last week, or two weeks ago, with Terry McAuliffe and met over lunch with Ed Gillespie, who I‘ve got a great deal of respect for, the RNC, to talk about A, in the case of Ed, at least, trying to get the president here, and if that didn‘t work, then allowing me, again, to put in the request, as I have done, to come before the Republican convention to talk about what the association believes in.  That‘ll probably be as unwelcoming, in some respects, as the president thinks that he would have been treated here.  But I think you‘ve got to go where people disagree with you, so that you might be able to share your views.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there should be a Democratic convention this summer, where in the primetime hours, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, when the networks are covering it, maybe even Tuesday night, when no one who‘s African-American gets up on the stage?

MFUME:  Well, I hope that‘s not the case because if it does, then that would be a damning indictment of this party and would probably turn off a lot of voters.  Again, on a close election, neither side can afford slippage.  And if that is the case, then the Democratic Party will have to explain that‘s the case because where there are persons and individuals who clearly are qualified to address the convention and are not getting the opportunity, that would raise a significant question.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of opportunity, will African-Americans get a big impact or will they deliver a big impact for the Democratic candidate in Florida, where there were so many controversies last time about voting—voting advantages and opportunities, I should say?

MFUME:  It‘s a good question.  I had to write and urge the attorney general of the United States two weeks ago to ask Florida election officials to cease and desist.  Already, they have purged 2,100 persons from their rolls illegally.  And I think they‘re starting to admit that now.  These are persons who had received the right to vote—they were ex-felons—had received the right, again, to vote from Florida, and then all of a sudden were purged.  We‘re doing a lot of work in Florida.  We have been since we first filed suit four years there ago.  We think the turnout is going to be significantly higher across the state, but not just in black precincts, in white precincts, as well, because people have an interest.  And Florida is really a unique entity.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, president of the NAACP Kweisi Mfume.

Up next, Senator Orrin Hatch will be here to tell us why he supports the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, President Bush wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah will be here to tell us why he thinks it is a good idea.  And later, Senator John Kerry leads President Bush in the polls, but not by much.  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman joins us. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Today, the U.S. Senate began debate on a constitutional amendment on marriage which would define marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. 

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Senator, will this measure pass to change the Constitution in the U.S.

Senate? 

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  Well, that‘s—and this is just the first battle. 

I think the American people have to get engaged on this.  But we‘ve had four liberal justices in Massachusetts to three liberal justices in a 4-3 vote impose this on all of America.  It‘s what is called the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.  In other words, every state in the Union, even though 40 states have adopted the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, every one of those states will have to recognize Massachusetts marriages. 

We now have same-gender marriages in 46 states.  So it is something that needs to be debated.  But this is just debate No. 1.  And I think it will take some time to really pass a constitutional amendment. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Governor Romney of Massachusetts letting people come in from out of state, same-sex people coming in to get married up there? 

HATCH:  Oh, I know he tried to stop that, but I don‘t think he has been able to stop it, but there are a number of municipalities‘ mayors who have been willing to do this regardless. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just ask you to restate the charge, because it is a powerful political message.  If the United States Constitution is not changed, by your reading of the Constitution, other states will be forced to accept the decisions of the most liberal states?

HATCH:  Well, there are 40 states that have adopted the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. 

Because of this Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts, under the full faith and credit clause, Article 4 the Constitution, most constitutional authorities—and I think they‘re right—say that that decision will be imposed on every other state in the Union, even though 40 of them have said we don‘t want that to happen in our states. 

So the best way and the only way really to resolve this is not let the courts resolve it.  Let the people resolve it through a constitutional amendment; 38 states would have to ratify a constitutional amendment, assuming we could get it through both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote.  But it really would be a people decision, not a four liberal justice decision in Massachusetts. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems like, from the more traditional approach, this is a pretty losing cause, because you‘re saying, if you don‘t change the Constitution, we‘re going to have states forced to accept same-sex marriage whether the people of those states want to see it or not.

But yet it is going to take a two-thirds vote in the United States Senate, a two-thirds vote in the U.S. House.  Three-quarters of the states have to ratify.  It looks to me like you‘re saying, it‘s coming our way whether we like it or not, same-sex marriage.

HATCH:  Well, I think it is coming our way.

And I believe gays have a right to live any way they want to in the privacy of their own homes, but they should not be able to define traditional marriage and redefine traditional marriage in the way they want it against the wishes of the vast majority of the people; 2-1 in this country are against redefining traditional marriage in the way that the Massachusetts Supreme Court defines it. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think we should do as a country of ours where you have the right to pursue happiness with people who are of the same sex who finds themselves born with an orientation towards homosexuality or the gay lifestyle?  What should they do with their lives? 

HATCH:  Well, I myself have difficulties when a gay partner cannot go into an intensive care unit and care for his or her partner.  I think that‘s not right.  And I think some of the other laws are going to have to be changed. 

We‘ll have to have some civil accommodation of these laws, assuming that the same-gender marriage can be stopped.  But...

MATTHEWS:  How do you discourage—maybe this is off the track.  But, Senator, how do you discourage promiscuity, sexual promiscuity, among gay people if you don‘t encourage bonding of some kind? 

HATCH:  Well, I don‘t know that you‘re going to discourage that anyway.  I‘ve seen gay people say that we have different rules and that we don‘t abide by the same rules as others. 

Now, I also know gay, same-gender couples who abide by their love for each other and their loyalty to each other.  So you can find them just like you can in heterosexual people, I suppose.  But, still...

MATTHEWS:  But what‘s the worst-case scenario if people who are gay are allowed to bond themselves legally in a marriage?  What is the worst thing that could come of this? 

HATCH:  I think the worst thing is to have same-gender marriage imposed on every state in the Union when actually traditional marriage means the raising of children, the bearing of children, and, of course, traditional family life. 

And I believe that, if we move away from that, I think it is going to cause a tremendous sociological set of difficulties in our country, that we‘ll rue the day, if that happens.  On the other hand, I don‘t have any problems with—I don‘t want to see anybody discriminate against gay people.  But we‘ve had 5,000 years of traditional marriage.  Why would we upset that just because gay people want to be able to say they‘re married when they‘re going to be able to live together anyway if they want to? 

They have the right to live the way they want to.  They just shouldn‘t have the right to impose their will on everybody else in America and do away with traditional marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  Lynne Cheney, who is a very conservative writer, the wife of the vice president, Dick Cheney—and she‘s very well known as a conservative commentator—in fact, she supports states rights, as she called them.  By your argument, states rights wouldn‘t work because the states would be compelled to accept the state marriages which are ratified or legalized in Massachusetts or any other liberal state. 

How can she, as educated as this woman is, believe in states rights and still be consistent with your thinking when you say states rights won‘t hold up against this overwhelming push from some liberal states to ratify a gay marriage? 

HATCH:  I‘m not saying that.  I think the states ought to make this decision through the elected representatives of the people, not by a 4-3 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s against—she‘s against a federal ban, a constitutional ban on gay marriage. 

HATCH:  Well, that may be. 

But the fact of the matter is, is that I think 40 states have already made the decision that they want marriage to be only between a man and a woman.  I believe all 50 states would ultimately adopt the Defense of Marriage Act. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HATCH:  And so the way to have the states make the decision is to allow the Defense of Marriage Act to be enacted by all 50 states and not allow one liberal, off-the-wall Supreme Court in Massachusetts to impose this on everybody else. 

I think the only way the people do have a decision is if we have a constitutional amendment.  It‘s the only way you can let the people make their own decisions, rather have this imposed on them. 

MATTHEWS:  On the issue of stem cells, Ron Reagan has been invited by the Democrats to address their convention on the issue of stem cell research.  Would you like to see the Republican National Committee issue a similar invitation to the late president‘s son to make the same case for stem cell because it‘s a position you share? 

HATCH:  Well, I hate to see this politicized.  We got 58 -- 58 senators to sign a letter to the president saying we hope that you‘ll change your mind on embryonic stem cell research and allow this to proceed.  We had over 200 members of the House. 

I want to bring that bill up.  And I believe we‘ll get over 60, which means that we would be filibuster proof.  I believe that if it‘s politicized, though—and it looks to me like the Democrats are hell-bent on politicizing it, then we‘ll probably lose some of those 58, where we would have gotten better than 60 by waiting and doing it right. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HATCH:  Now, if they make a political thing out of this, I personally think they‘re going to set embryonic research back a long time.  And I hate to see young Ron Reagan be used like that. 

I mean, he probably is much more liberal than his father was.  But Nancy Reagan has been fighting so hard for this.  I‘ve been fighting so hard for this.  I know the only way it is going to make it is if we depoliticize it and we debate it on the merits. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HATCH:  If he appears at that convention and they politicize it through the Democratic Party Convention, I think stem cell research is not only dead for the year, but maybe for a long time to come.  I hope he reconsiders.  I don‘t mind if he gets there and doesn‘t agree with our side.  That‘s fine.  He has the right to do that.

But this don‘t politicize this issue.  This is an important issue, one of the most important health care issues in the history of the world.  And we‘re losing some of our greatest scientists because we‘re not—because we‘re not getting this done.  And if we politicize it, we may never get it done. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he should address the convention of the Democratic Party, accept the invitation or shouldn‘t? 

HATCH:  Well, I don‘t think he should address them on stem cell research.  If he wants to address them on his beliefs that may differ from our administration, that‘s his right. 

But I would like to not have embryonic stem cell research politicized.  Unfortunately, that‘s the way it looks like it is going if they‘re going to have him come and speak solely on that.  That‘s a big, big mistake in my eyes.  And I hope Ron will reconsider that.  If he wants to speak otherwise, of course, he has the right to do so.  And he has the right to do it on this, too, but it is a mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  All right, well, great.  Great having you on, Senator Orrin Hatch.

HATCH:  Nice to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Up next, new polls show that John Kerry has a slight lead over President Bush.  So when is that big bounce coming for picking Edwards?  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman will tell us.  He‘s going to joined by Meryl Gordon of “New York”  magazine.”  Both will be here in a minute.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House.  Sign up for our free daily e-mail.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the battle for the White House.  New polls show a tight race between President Bush and Senator Kerry.  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman and “New York” magazine‘s Meryl Gordon when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

A new “Newsweek” poll shows the Kerry-Edwards ticket leading the Bush-Cheney ticket 47-44 percent, with Nader at 3 percent.  With Nader out of the race, Kerry leads Bush by six points, a significant advantage. 

Joining us right now from Washington is Howard Fineman, who wrote this week‘s cover story for “Newsweek,” and Meryl Gordon, “New York” magazine‘s contributing editor. 

Let me ask you, Howard, bottom line, why is it so close? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s so close because John Kerry is only beginning to try to make the sale.  And unless and until he is able to do it, it is going to remain that way down to the wire. 

I think there are a lot of people who have their doubts about President Bush and his leadership.  The polls all show that.  But Kerry has got to make the sale.  John Edwards can help get people in the tent, but it is going to have to be Kerry.  We interviewed Kerry again today for a piece coming up in “Newsweek.”  I saw him this morning in Boston. 

Kerry is really on his game.  He is feeling confident.  But he‘s got to get out there and do it on television, on the road, make people comfortable with him.  They don‘t yet know him and don‘t yet feel comfortable with him. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s said, Meryl, that power abhors a vacuum.  If there is a vacuum out there, people that don‘t quite trust the president as much as they used to, but aren‘t ready to jump on another horse, why doesn‘t Kerry grab those people by the collar and say, I‘m going to be the great president you‘re looking for?  Why doesn‘t he do that? 

MERYL GORDON, “NEW YORK”:  Well, he did seem to be kind of quiet these last few months.  But I think he was kind of watching the events in Iraq unfold.  He was kind of picking his V.P. 

And I‘m glad that Howard says that Kerry is doing much better.  But the last time I was out on the stump, he just doesn‘t grab people.  He is not—he doesn‘t have that magic and that warmth that Edwards now bring to a ticket.  You walk into a room when Edwards is speaking and everybody is on their feet.  So I really think that, even if the bounce wasn‘t that large this week, that ultimately Edwards will prove a big plus for this ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you—I‘ll challenge you on that.  Let me say this.  When I watched “60 Minutes” last night, Kerry does seem more charming, warmer, more buoyant when he‘s in the company of John Edwards.  I think Edwards serves as his fabric softener.  He softens him up a bit.  Do you believe that or not? 

GORDON:  I think you‘re absolutely right.  And I also think the two women are an interesting contrast out there. 

I think that essentially somehow having a foursome just seems to make Kerry seem much more relaxed.  The Nader factor that you mentioned in terms of the polls, I think that is a very serious concern.  And I was out recently with Howard Dean, who is doing everything he possibly can, debating Nader last week, but also really trying to woo those folks back into the party. 

The big thing Nader has going for him, it seems to me, is that he is so anti-the war in Iraq.  He is, take the troops home tomorrow.  So there are a lot of people who are far on the left who would be inclined to go for Nader. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this John and John, Teresa and Elizabeth quartet is going to work, Howard, or does it seem a little bit trivial, these scenes of them sitting around exchanging glances and nudges? 

FINEMAN:  Well, it helped for a few days.  But whether it will last is another question.  First of all, they‘re all splitting up, like billiard balls on the table, to go to different parts of the country. 

Kerry has got to do this on his own.  It can‘t be by prosthesis.  It can‘t be by extension.  He has got to be the guy.  And when we interviewed him today, he was very charming, very on his game, as I say, very personable.  When I saw him in an event this morning, after having after—after he had spent several days with Edwards, it was like that fabric softener, as you say. 

Kerry was terrific this morning, by his standards. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  But whether he sort of forgets the lessons he learned in the company of the charismatic Edwards is a big question.  But he knows somehow...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  ... that this part of politics is about people and connecting as a person, not so much about the issues, which has always been what he had done before. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he starting to bite his lower lip, like Bill Clinton did sort of simulate a smile? 

FINEMAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  A lot of men, by the way, find that offensive. 

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think he‘s doing that.  I don‘t think he‘s doing that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m watching him do it, Howard.  I watched it last night on “60 Minutes.”  I‘m watching this now on the stage.  He‘s walking around biting his lower lip like he‘s pretending to smile. 

(CROSSTALK)

GORDON:  Oh, I sincerely doubt that‘s a conscious... 

MATTHEWS:  Meryl, what do you think?

GORDON:  I don‘t think that‘s a conscious thing.

I think the problem is, if you spend time with these guys, as you know, both of you, they‘re trying to smile 85 different times a day.  And sort of pumping up for the 45th version, sometimes, it isn‘t always there emotionally. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we used to do that at college mixers, Howard.  We would smile until our cheeks hurt.  But these guys find these techniques for—look at him there.  Look at him biting his lower lip.  He has got this new attempt at smile.  Somebody said, if you‘re happy, tell your face. 

FINEMAN:  Chris, he has to come—if Kerry is going to win this thing, he has got to unpack himself in a way that is convincing.  It can‘t just be the proximity of Edwards.  Otherwise, it is just going to come off as phony. 

Kerry is beginning—he‘s trying to get through his skull here that presidential politics is different, especially as you head into the general election.  You have to have some good proposals.  You have to have some basic themes and a vision for where you want to take the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  But it is a personal sale.  And he is not a personal or personable politician by nature.  He is trying to learn that.  He watched Edwards doing it, who has a gift for it.  Kerry has got to learn it on his own.  He knows that.  Whether he can actually do it or not is another question. 

MATTHEWS:  Both of you, I want to come back and both answer this question.  Senator Kerry, in “The New York Times” interview which was reprinted yesterday, for the first time showed something.  He said that there‘s more recruitment of terrorism today because of the war with Iraq.  There‘s more targeting of America because of the war with Iraq. 

It is the closest he‘s come to me to a clear-cut argument with the president about whether we should have gone to war. 

We‘re coming right back with Howard Fineman and Meryl Gordon. 

More HARDBALL when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman and “New York” magazine‘s Meryl Gordon. 

Howard, is Senator Kerry starting to show some real distance between himself and the president on the war with Iraq by saying, if it hadn‘t been for the war, there wouldn‘t be so much recruitment of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and we wouldn‘t be so targeted if we hadn‘t gone to war?

FINEMAN:  I think he is inch by inch stepping into a more confrontational mode.  I think you‘re right.  He is very cautious politically, John Kerry is.  He‘s looking at the numbers.  He knows what the American people and the swing voters are thinking. 

But it is also tied to having to show what a personality he has got and what kind of fighter he is, because he is not going to win this campaign unless he puts some of that caution aside.  And I think he knows that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Meryl the question of the day for us here on HARDBALL.  Ron Reagan is going to speak at the Democratic Convention on the issue of stem cell research.  Will that come across to most viewers as a gimmick by the Democrats trying to put the shiv to the Republicans or will it be heartfelt and people will say, you know, he‘s looking for people that have been through the kind of situation his family has been through? 

GORDON:  I was really impressed by him in the last few weeks.  And he was someone who was always considered a bit of a national joke and a lightweight.  He came across in such a compelling way.  I didn‘t know he had these strong feelings. 

I don‘t think it is going to be a gimmick, because I think if he does as well as he‘s done lately, it will really be—he‘ll be an impressive advocate. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Lynne Cheney coming out and saying she‘s opposed to the constitutional ban at the federal level on gay marriage?  She thinks it should be left up to the states, which is largely a pro-gay rights position I guess today. 

GORDON:  It is the warmest, cuddliest thing she‘s done towards her family that anybody can imagine. 

(LAUGHTER)

GORDON:  This is obviously for her daughter Mary. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GORDON:  It sort of reminds you a little bit about Betty Ford and abortion when she said she was pro-choice. 

But I think, since she‘s been in some ways much more invisible than we all thought when he took office, and since she doesn‘t come across as being terribly—she‘s no earth mother, in the way that people are now describing, shall we say, Elizabeth Edwards or whatever.  So I think that...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s no Oprah. 

(CROSSTALK)

GORDON:  She‘s no Oprah.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We have got two examples now of family situations, Alzheimer‘s with the Reagans, a lesbian daughter with the Cheneys, where family first.  It is kind of interesting, isn‘t it? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, it is.  And that‘s what American people are thinking about.  By the way, I think Lynne Cheney is a lovely person of deep conviction and an appealing person politically.

I think everybody who runs now runs with their entire family, runs for their entire family.  We are in the age of Oprah and “People” magazine.  And everybody wants to know about the entire family because that‘s the way we operate now.  Families make their money that way.  There are two income earners.  Everybody is in the ball game.  Everybody is part of the picture.

MATTHEWS:  My point is, people are crossing ideological lines to support their families. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, that‘s true. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That‘s true.  And I think if George Bush is in the position right now and the Republicans are in the position now of trying to solidify their base, they‘re behind schedule.  That can‘t be all of what this campaign is going to be about.  I don‘t think it is a good sign for the Republicans that they‘re going to be spending this week talking about an issue that, for swing voters out there in states like Ohio and Florida and Pennsylvania, are not the decisive issues.  This is not the decisive issue for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any way that we‘ll have a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage?  Howard first, then Meryl.

GORDON:  I don‘t see it. 

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Meryl?

GORDON:  Yes, I don‘t see it either.

MATTHEWS:  So this is an exercise in positioning. 

FINEMAN:  No, I think they believe it.  I think the conservatives in the Republican Party are very passionate about it.  But that can‘t be heading into the general election what is the centerpiece or a centerpiece of the Republican campaign, because people are concerned about the economy and they‘re concerned about the Iraq—the war in Iraq.  And those two things blot out everything else. 

MATTHEWS:  Will people go out to vote against gay marriage?  Will they go to the polls with that purpose, to stop gay marriage? 

GORDON:  I don‘t see it. 

And I really think that, initially, a few months ago, when they initially started putting this bill forward, it was aimed as an entirely political maneuver.  It was an effort to try to make Kerry and the Democrats look bad.  At this point, given the problems this country has, gay marriage looks like a minor one I think to most people‘s eyes. 

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think that‘s entirely true.  I think in the Bible Belt, I think, with a lot of conservatives, this really matters.  It is nothing short of Armageddon. 

But my point is, if the Republicans and the Bush campaign need to use this issue to motivate the voters to get them to the polls, they‘re spending precious time that they could be using talking to swing voters who are more secular and who don‘t care about that particular issue. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Howard Fineman and Meryl Gordon.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

William F. Buckley is going to join us.  What a great man.

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

END    

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