updated 7/16/2004 9:17:40 AM ET 2004-07-16T13:17:40

Guest:Charles Rangel, Joe Biden, Kit Bond, J.C. Watts, Tucker Eskew, Michael Meehan

ANDREA MITCHELL, GUEST HOST:  Tonight: The new government in Iraq launches a campaign against insurgents.  Plus, Vice President Dick Cheney says he is staying on the ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If I thought that were appropriate, I certainly would.  But he‘s made it very clear that he wants me to run again.  The way I got here in the first place was he persuaded me four years ago that I was the man he wanted in that post, not just as a candidate, but as somebody to be a part of the governing team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  And John Kerry slams President Bush before the NAACP.

This is HARDBALL.

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

Iraq‘s prime minister, Iyad Allawi, announced today the creation of a new security force to combat the continued insurgent attacks in the country.  We begin with Senator Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Welcome, Senator.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  Good to be with you, Andrea.

MITCHELL:  You recently returned from Iraq.  Well, do you think that this new anti-terror campaign will work?

BIDEN:  Well, I think it will work, given time, and I think it will work, given resources.  But Allawi doesn‘t have a lot of either.  And we gave—we turned over sovereignty, but not much capacity.  By capacity I mean forces, trained Iraqi police, trained Iraqi army personnel.  And it‘s going to take time.

MITCHELL:  He doesn‘t have time, as you‘re pointing out.  What are we doing now, tangibly, to train those Iraqi police?  Haven‘t they had a lot of setbacks?  The people we‘re training are being targeted for being people who are working with the new government and with the United States.

BIDEN:  Well, that‘s to be expected.  We know, as we try and move toward the first elections here in January of next year in Iraq, there‘s going to be a spike in the violence.  That‘s why there‘s probably a need for increased security from the outside.  That‘s why I‘m very worried that four more nations have announced that they‘re going to leave the coalition.

But our training program—we have to level with the American people and with the Iraqis, as well, this is going to take some time because we‘ve made so many serious fundamental mistakes so far that it takes a while to turn this around.  And the biggest thing we can do right now, Andrea, is change the training program.  I visited the training facility in Jordan.  Our own people said it was inadequate.  We have to put more money, more time and more effort into it.

Secondly, the bad news is, we‘re going to probably need a spike in U.S. forces between now and January, as well.  And thirdly, and maybe most importantly, we authorized that—We fought bitterly over that $18-some billion dollars for Iraq, and we‘ve only spent about $450 million of it.  And when I met with our military commanders on the ground in Baghdad, they said that‘s the single most significant thing that could happen is get those contracts out, get the sewage cleaned up, the garbage cleaned up, get people employed doing that.  That, to them, is the greatest source of their discontent.

And so we‘ve not managed it very well.  Hopefully, we understand that, we‘re beginning to change the way we do this.  And God willing, with a little bit brighter approach to this, we have a shot of allowing Allawi to be able to succeed.  But it‘s going to be tough.

MITCHELL:  Well, let me break this down.  You said, first of all, that we may need some more forces.  How many?  And what do you think the administration ought to be doing?  Because they certainly are not talking that way.

BIDEN:  Well, I predict you‘re going to hear our commanders say publicly what some are saying privately over there, that they‘re going to need a surge of forces between now and January, probably in the order of 25,000 or 30,000.  By surge, I mean they‘re going to—those troops coming home will be overlapped with those troops that are going, so that you bump up the number temporarily as we approach the elections.

I think you‘re going to see a really wholesale change in the training program, in terms of how we vet police who are going into training and how we train them and how we follow up with them.  There‘s a desperate need for us to use our good offices, and with cooperation with Allawi, the prime minister, to get the Europeans to train now, train in country under NATO auspices, Iraqi army personnel.  And this can be done, but it‘s going to be painful.  It‘s going to take time.

And most importantly, the president of the United States has to stop trying to paint this rosy picture.  I just came from a briefing with the national security adviser, who is not wildly optimistic but a lot more optimistic about the state of play on the ground than anyone I talked to in Iraq.

MITCHELL:  Well, what...

BIDEN:  ... including our generals.

MITCHELL:  What did she tell you?  What did Condoleezza Rice tell you?

BIDEN:  Well, it was a secret briefing.  I can‘t tell what you she told me.  I can tell you her characterization was she‘s much more optimistic about the prospects of Allawi succeeding and, in my view, downplayed the kind of additional commitment we‘re going to have to make in order for this to work.

Also, there was the sense that there was this growing international support for this effort.  Thus far, what I‘ve seen, if you look to “The Washington Post” front page today, a major article about countries that are pulling out of Iraq and those who say when their time is up in ‘05, they‘re going to get out of Iraq.  And we have to change that mindset.

Look, it‘s a little bit like, as you‘ve heard me tell you personally, that bad joke about the center fielder who makes four errors in the first two innings and the coach puts him out and puts in Andrea.  And Andrea makes an error right the first time the ball is hit into center field.  And the coach says, What‘s the matter, Andrea?  And you say, George messed up center field so badly, no one can play it.  Well, that‘s what many of our friends think.  They think that the thing has been messed up so badly, it‘s irredeemable.  And we have to demonstrate...

MITCHELL:  Well, the other question is—Senator, are the terrorists winning?  Because you‘ve got some of these coalition members—and they‘re not big players, but they are symbolically important.  You‘ve got them backing down once the terrorists take hostages.  How can we, you know, face this kind of situation if our coalition partners are going to bail out the minute they start losing hostages?

BIDEN:  Well, a lot of them aren‘t bailing out, No. 1.  The ones who are bailing out have a very small number of people, 400, 350, 160.  And so it is—it is—it is, I guess, from the standpoint of appearances, very, very bad.  But in terms of substantive impact on the ground, it is not much.

And I do think Allawi is demonstrating he has—he‘s a strong leader and that he is willing to take chances.  I was very impressed when I met with him in his office in Baghdad.  This is a guy who understands how daunting his task is, and he understands how much in jeopardy his life is, but he‘s willing to keep moving.  And there is...

MITCHELL:  Well, let me—let me...

BIDEN:  ... some evidence the Iraqi people want him to succeed.  So that‘s why we‘ve got to pour in the money now, in term of those contracts.  We got to get the training up and running, and we got to demonstrate movement.

MITCHELL:  Let me talk to you briefly, before we go to a break, about how we got here in the first place and the CIA.  Now, we are hearing from the new acting CIA director that, Well, the senators didn‘t read the National Intelligence Estimate, the report to them back in October of 2002.  If they‘d read the whole thing, they would have seen all the caveats.  They just read the cover page, which didn‘t have any of those caveats.

Well, do you think it‘s partly Congress‘s own fault in oversight?  And why is the administration having such a tough time replacing George Tenet?

BIDEN:  Well...

MITCHELL:  Why is it so hard to find someone willing to take this on?

BIDEN:  I think it‘s hard for someone to take it on now because it‘s in such a shambles and it is being attacked by the administration.  I mean, it‘s made very significant mistakes, but I think, also, this is a convenient way for the administration to be able to move out from under responsibility.  They‘re basically saying, Oh, golly, we didn‘t know.

Let me give you a specific example because you interviewed me about this at the time, the so-called aluminum tubes.  Remember?

MITCHELL:  I sure do.

BIDEN:  Those a aluminum tubes that—and I remember saying to you in an interview that, in fact, the intelligence community was divided on whether those aluminum tubes were meant for a gas centrifuge systems—translated: nuclear, to produce nuclear fuel—I mean, nuclear material, fissile material.  And at the time, the administration, in open hearings with me, as well as in closed hearings, Was saying, No, no, no.  This is for nuclear—a gas centrifuge system and it‘s evidence...

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  They were...

BIDEN:  ... that they‘re...

MITCHELL:  ... categorical about it.

BIDEN:  They were categorical.  So the truth of the matter is, I and others read the report.  Were pointing out to the public, pointing out to the press that there was a division within the intelligence community.  And it was the administration, from Vice President Cheney to Secretary Rumsfeld to the major spokespersons in this administration, saying, No, no, no, no.

So it‘s a bit of a cop-out now, and unfortunately, CIA‘s getting caught in the crossfire.  Beyond the mistakes they made—and they made many—beyond the mistakes they made, the fact of the matter is, the administration would—I remember being on—on with Chris Matthews, as a matter of fact, on HARDBALL, and my saying that, Well, isn‘t—he said—someone said, Isn‘t the president—are you saying the president of the United States is lying about these tubes?  I says, No, the president of the United States...

MITCHELL:  That sound like something Chris might have asked.

BIDEN:  Yes.  I said, No, the president of the United States is discounting a significant minority of the community that is saying these aren‘t for the purposes that the president is saying.  He‘s just choosing the information he wants to go with and not talking about—did you ever the president of the United States stand up and say, With regard to the gas centrifuge or with regard to these other things, there is a debate within the community, but I believe?  That‘s not how they said it.

MITCHELL:  OK...

BIDEN:  They said it to the Congress.  They said it to the public. 

This is it.

MITCHELL:  Well, stand by just a second.  We‘ll be right back.

More with Senator Joe Biden when we return.  And later, Congressman Charlie Rangel and former congressman J.C. Watts on the battle between Bush and Kerry for the African-American vote.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  We‘re back with Senator Joe Biden.

Senator, there‘s a lot of talk about President—Vice President Cheney being a drag on the Republican ticket.  Is he a drag on the ticket?

BIDEN:  Is that a Freudian slip?

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN:  I don‘t know if he‘s a drag on the ticket, but I do believe in my encounters with the president and the vice president, that what I heard you broadcast earlier, that the president wants him there not just on the ticket, he wants him there to govern.  I think that he—the president relies heavily upon Vice President Cheney.  I think Vice President Cheney has an overwhelmingly powerful influence on policy.  And therefore, I expect the president will probably keep the Vice President Cheney on the ticket because he depends on him so much.

MITCHELL:  Well, is it a good thing or a bad thing that he depends on him so much?

BIDEN:  Well, since I disagree with Vice President Cheney and his view, particularly on foreign policy, I think it‘s a bad thing.  But that‘s the president‘s choice.  I mean, I‘m not—I mean, the president has a right to choose those around him whose views he most values.  I think the valued—the views of Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary (sic) Cheney on foreign policy have been absolutely disastrous.  I think they have led...

MITCHELL:  But when you look at the—when you look at their resumes

·         Vice President Cheney, former secretary of defense, member of Congress, you know, has been vice president now—how is he going to hold up in a debate against John Edwards?  Is John Edwards...

BIDEN:  Oh, I think he‘ll...

MITCHELL:  ... going to go head to head on foreign policy issues with Dick Cheney?

BIDEN:  Well, I think, first of all, even though John Edwards is—everybody keeps pointing out, is a one-term senator, the fact of the matter is, pretty smart guy.  Been on the intelligence committee, is boning up, doing his homework.  Granted, his expertise is more on domestic issues than it is in foreign policy, but I have no doubt he‘ll be able to hold up.  I also have no doubt that Vice President Cheney is a very formidable debater, a very bright guy.  I think he‘s very wrong, but he is very bright.  And I think he starts off with a—from a premise that is faulty about unilateral use of power and that‘s the way to secure peace, et cetera.  But I think he‘s a very strong person.  I think he‘s a patriotic American.  I think he is—but I think he‘s wrong.

MITCHELL:  You know, we were talking earlier about the CIA and their efforts—the administration‘s efforts to find a replacement for George Tenet.  Where do you come down on this?  Senator Rockefeller has pretty much nixed any member of the House, such as Porter Goss, from being considered or getting confirmed as CIA director because he says that a sitting politician should not take that job.  Do you agree with that?

BIDEN:  Oh, I—I—it would depend on the politician.  I have no litmus test for any governmental appointment, other than the fact that they‘re patriotic Americans.  I mean, I don‘t have any—I don‘t have any litmus test.  I haven‘t thought through that issue.  I do think that if you give—if you make the CIA director and you change the tenure, like we do the FBI director, you have a tendency to have a little more independence.

But I think the reason why we‘re not likely to get someone in the run-up to this election is, although I don‘t know what the president will do, but if he sends someone up, this is going to open up a public and open hearing about what needs to be done to correct what‘s wrong in the CIA.  And that, in turn, is going to open up all the debate about whether or not the administration, in a public sense used, abused, was misled, et cetera.  And I‘m not sure that that is going to be a very profitable undertaking with the few legislative days that Republican leader Frist has said we have left.

So you know this place—and I‘m not being solicitous—as well as I do, Andrea.  There‘s not a lot of days left to go through this process.  And I think that it‘s going to be difficult to find someone that would be able to go through quickly and without rehashing, on the eve of an election, all the mistakes the administration made.

MITCHELL:  Senator, let me just ask you quickly—the polling seems to show (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that despite all of the problems in Iraq, people still seem to trust George Bush in handling the war on terror and foreign policy more than John Kerry.  Why is John Kerry having such trouble penetrating, getting his message across?  Is it too muddled a message?  Is he too ambiguous in explaining his decision on Iraq?

BIDEN:  No, it‘s just too early.  If you think back, Andrea, you and I have been around and we remember the Carter-Reagan election, with the hostage crisis in Iran, with inflation at 21 percent, et cetera.  At this time, the same period in the Carter-Reagan election, Reagan was losing to Carter.  And the reason for that is there‘s a tendency, at this point, to focus only on the incumbent.  And right now, the American people are doing what they always do with an incumbent president, in my view—and this is a little above my pay grade, but I think what they‘re doing is they‘re deciding whether they want to renew the contract.  And you look at 43 percent of the American people, only 43 percent say, We‘d like to renew the contract, 57 say, No we don‘t want to renew the contract.  And that is a devastating number for an incumbent president.

Now what they‘re going to do, after the Democratic convention, they‘re now going to turn that white-hot light of their scrutiny upon John Kerry and John Edwards, beginning in September.  And that‘s when you‘re really going to see whether or not the American people think the guy they want to trade in, which is the president, based on the polling data, they say they want to trade him in—they‘re going to take a look and say, But is there a new guy I‘m willing to pick up?  And that‘s when you‘re going to see a sharper focus on what John Kerry‘s views are.  Up to now, we‘ve really been talking about Ron—excuse me, Freudian slip, Ronald Reagan—George Bush and his mistakes or George Bush and his successes, as opposed to anything John Kerry‘s saying.

MITCHELL:  OK...

BIDEN:  And I think it‘s just the nature of the process.

MITCHELL:  Thank you very much, Senator Joe Biden.  Always good to see you.

And up next, the Republican point of view.  Senator Kit Bond on those disputes over pre-war intelligence.  And later, the battle for the African-American vote with Congressman Charlie Rangel and former congressman J.C.  Watts.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Republican senator Kit Bond sits on the Intelligence Committee.  Senator Bond, two major reports have now come out—one here, one in Great Britain—undercutting the pre-war intelligence.  How did we get it so wrong?

SEN. KIT BOND (R-MS), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  I think both intelligence agencies in the United States and in Great Britain were not really set up to deal with terrorism.  We had been focusing on the major danger, which we thought was the Soviet Union.  And...

MITCHELL:  Big missiles that you could see with satellites.

BOND:  Bit missiles.  That‘s when overhead surveillance and wiretaps can give you a lot of information.  Unfortunately, in the United States in the ‘90s, we cut our intelligence budget significantly, and we made the very unwise, I think naive, decision that we shouldn‘t hire any unsavory characters to collect human intelligence.  So we didn‘t have it.

MITCHELL:  Well, one of the shocking things in this report, in the report that came out last week, was that after the U.N. inspectors left, we did not have a single American spy.  We relied on Jordanians or whatever else we relied on.  We didn‘t have a single American spy on the ground in Iraq.  How‘s that possible?

BOND:  Well, that was a terrible oversight.  That was—that came from the ‘70s and ‘90s, when we said we shouldn‘t deal with unsavory characters.  And one of the distressing things that we heard from the CIA people, who said, Well, it was very difficult to get people into that country.  Well, that‘s the whole idea.  Intelligence is a difficult effort.  And we need to—we need to use the best available sources, and it turns out that the best available sources would be Iraqi sources.  And we did have some Iraqi intelligence, and now, with the Iraqis taking over, we‘re getting more intelligence.  But they‘re the one who are going to have the best idea of what‘s going on inside their country.

MITCHELL:  Senator Rockefeller, who sits with you on the committee, has said that he does not think that any sitting politician, member of Congress, should replace George Tenet, that it should be an outside, non-political figure.  Do you agree with him?  Because that would rule out Porter Goss and...

BOND:  Well, I think—I think that was...

MITCHELL:  ... the chairman of the House...

BOND:  I think that was a shot at Representative Goss.  I think...

MITCHELL:  Does that kill Goss‘ possibility?

BOND:  ... he‘s a fine—I think he‘s—I think Porter Goss is a fine man, but I would prefer that President Bush make the appointment.  Our job on the Intelligence Committee is to confirm or fail to confirm a nominee.  And I‘ll be most interested to see who they send up.

MITCHELL:  Well, do you think they‘re close to finding someone?  So far, it seems...

BOND:  Well, we hope.

MITCHELL:  ... they‘re having a hard time finding someone willing to take this job.

BOND:  I have not been involved in the process, but I really think that intelligence is such a critical element in our entire war on terrorism that we need to move as quickly as possible.  I would hope that they are trying to do that.

MITCHELL:  Now briefly, we just heard Joe Biden say that he thinks that more American troops -- 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 troops—are going to be needed in Iraq between now and January.  Do you agree that we need to increase our strength there?

BOND:  Well, I have a great respect for Joe Biden, but there‘s a guy named General Abizaid who has been over there and who‘s running the operation, and he says we need fewer, not more.  And in a situation like that, I kind of think that the commanding general on the ground has a better idea of what...

MITCHELL:  Things haven‘t gone so well up to now, though.  We‘ve had a lot of problems.

BOND:  But you know why—you know why he‘s saying it?  As I understand it, it‘s because we need—he thinks we need not a larger but a smaller footprint.  And there are some in Iraq who think that having fewer American forces, as we can bring in Iraqi forces to do the security and defense work, will be better off.  And you know, this second-guessing the general in charge from Washington is usually not a great idea.

MITCHELL:  And I know you have a personal interest in this because young Sam Bond is now heading to Quantico, or already at Quantico?

BOND:  He‘s finishing up his basic school and getting ready to go into ground intelligence and infantry officer school.

MITCHELL:  Well, congratulations to you.

BOND:  Thank you.

MITCHELL:  Thank you so much, Senator Bond.

And up next, a look at both campaigns‘ efforts to court African-American voters with Congressman Charlie Rangel and former congressman J.C.  Watts.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

This half hour on HARDBALL, the battle for the African-American vote.  Senator John Kerry speaks to the NAACP after President Bush turns down their invitation.  Congressman Charles Rangel and former Congressman J.C.  Watts will be here.  First the latest headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I know something about scheduling and conflicts and hostile environments.  But you know what? 

When you‘re president of the United States, you can pretty much say where you want to be and when.  And when you‘re president, you need to talk to all of the people and that is exactly what I intend to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  That was John Kerry taking a shot at President Bush during his address to the NAACP convention today.  President Bush refused to speak to the NAACP because of its leader‘s past criticism of the president.  Today president announced he would in fact address the National Urban League next week.  And As Education secretary, Rod Paige, a lifelong NAACP member, criticized the leaders of that group for doing a disservice he said to the organization, quote, “With their hateful and untruthful rhetoric about Republicans and President Bush.” 

Charles Rangel is a Democratic congressman from New York and J.C. 

Watts is former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. 

Welcome, good to see both of you again.  First to you, Congressman Rangel, why should the president go to the NAACP, given what Julian Bond, the leader of that organization has said? 

He said things like they, the administration, believe in the politics of fear.  We believe in the politics of hope.  Now they want to write bigotry back into the constitution.  They want to make one group of American outsiders for our common heritage.  I me, tough stuff against the president. 

Why should he then put himself in front of that group? 

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  Well, first of all, I think that the president and/or his party has made a conscious decision not to go after the black vote thinking that this could enhance his support coming from the more conservative white community.  I truly think that‘s unfortunate because African-Americans lose when one party or the other decides that it‘s not really going to go after that vote. 

And doesn‘t leave any community in the position to be competing.  But the truth of the matter is, what the president is doing on the national level, some of us on the local level, we do face hostility from the so-called leaders of different organizations.  But the courage of one‘s convictions means that you walk into the lion‘s den and with the truth on your side, and some kind of record, you win over that crowd and you really have done a job.  The president has chosen not to do that, and that‘s unfortunate. 

MITCHELL:  I mean, we‘ve known each other a long time.  He is going to the Urban League next week. 

Doesn‘t that show that he is willing to reach out to the African-Americans? 

RANGEL:  No, no.  A lot of this stuff is imagery.  It is on television, all set up.  This is why they have the national conventions.  And so I wouldn‘t care what organizations, whether it was black or white, Jew or gentile, you have a national forum.  Not for the people that are attending the convention, but for those who are watching it and for those who have respect for the organization. 

And so you go to the Urban League, you‘re not going to be remembered for doing the right thing.  You‘re going to be remembered because you didn‘t have the guts and the courage to stand before an audience, that its leaders have been critical of you because you didn‘t think that you had the power, the inclination or the information to overwhelm that crowd who happened to be black but basically, are Americans. 

MITCHELL:  Well, J.C. Watts, what about this, Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP was on this program on Monday and he said that in fact, he should be going to the NAACP because the president would receive a friendly—at least a decent welcome from them.  They would not dis him to his face. 

J.C. WATTS, FORMER OKLAHOMA CONGRESSMAN:  Well, Andrea, I have great respect for Kweisi Mfume.  I served with him.  I‘ve been in forums with him from time to time, and I have great respect for him and Charles Rangel as well.  I think and considering the NAACP, it‘s a darned if you do and darned if you don‘t for President Bush.  If he would have gone, he would have gotten hammered.  He didn‘t go, so he is getting hammered.  So, that is a no-win situation for President Bush. 

I agree with Charlie Rangel in this sense.  I think Charlie is right on when he says that the black community loses when both parties are not vying for that vote.  Now, I disagree with Charles when he says that Republicans or President Bush hadn‘t done that.  President Bush, you don‘t necessarily totally speak to the black community when you go to the Urban League or when you go to the NAACP Convention. 

I think you‘re speaking to the black community when you direct Minority Business Development Agency, Ron Langston, to go and grow minority businesses and to create new minority businesses, when you direct your HUD Secretary to create housing opportunities—affordable housing for the black community.  When you direct the secretary of education, Rod Paige, to take note of the what the historical black colleges and universities are doing and assist them in their efforts to grow the black community.  Vernon Jordan said it best. 

He said if we didn‘t have a stroke of black colleges and universities, we would have to create them.  That‘s how critical they are.  And this president has been very committed to HBCU‘s and so has Secretary Paige.  So, those are the types of thing that I hope people will take not of and not take note of whether or not he showed up at the NAACP convention or if he did show up.  When in fact, again it‘s a darned if you do and darned if you don‘t when it comes to President Bush and showing up at the NAACP convention. 

MITCHELL:  Congressman, is J.C. Watts right? 

Is the substance of his policies more important than just whether he shows up someplace? 

And do you agree with what he has just that about the policies themselves? 

RANGEL:  Well, I agree with him that the Urban League and the NAACP doesn‘t represent what African-Americans think or how they‘re going to vote.  But the truth of the matter is that you can talk all you want about silent and subjective policies.  The question is, if I was to tell J.C. who is my friend and I—it was an honor to serve with him, that not one black Republican member of Congress supports the president. 

MITCHELL:  They‘re all Democrat, come on.  

RANGEL:  No, no.  It means they that they don‘t have one black Republican on our side.  They probably got half a dozen black Republicans some place in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and so you need people that the party shows not just by talk, but by people who truly believe that they can make a future in it.  Now, you take J.C. Watts when he was there, he was a member of the leadership. 

Close friend of the president, and a very great member from Oklahoma.  But when J.C. Watts decided not to run for re-election, that ended the Republican black caucus forever.  And this has more imagery.  I am telling you, I have more self-esteem than I really need, at least my wife constantly reminds me of that.  But I almost enjoy going into what may an hostile or a unfriendly environment, if I believe that I‘ve done the best I could, and continue to believe that I‘m going to serve these constituents, notwithstanding the fact that the president or the leadership, they don‘t want me. 

If I give them record and to tell them in my heart, I‘m elected to server you.  This is what I‘m doing.  This is what I‘ve done.  If I can‘t walk out there with that crowd saying, give the guy a break, then I‘m telling you that I am not the public servant that represents all of the interests.  The president should come in, notwithstanding critical remarks that are made.  And I think that J.C. would have to agree, that people, black and white, are respectable and if the president gave a great speech, they would be on their feet applauding him. 

MITCHELL:  Hey, J.C. Watts, can I just switch gears for just a second and give you a chance to ask you about something? 

Charlie Rangel was arrested outside the Sudanese embassy here for protesting against what they‘ve been doing.  But do you think the administration is doing enough, is the U.N. doing enough to protect the Black Muslims who are being brutalize asked killed in Sudan? 

WATTS:  Well, Andrea, I think, before I address that.  Let me say what Charlie talked about prior to going to that issue.  I chose—I was the only African-American in the Republican conference.  And I choose move on.  And when I retire, I said I was leaving public office but was not leaving public service.  And I‘ve been involve with President Bush in continuing the relationship with me and Secretary Paige with those historical black colleges and universities.  I‘ve been involved with Ron Langston, over at Minority Business Development and continuing to grow and nourish and encourage minority business development. 

MITCHELL:  We still don‘t have any African-Americans in Congress.

RANGEL:  You‘re a good man, J.C.  You‘re a good man. 

WATTS:  But Charlie and Andrea, you have no African-Americans in the United States Senate on the Democrat side or the Republican side.  So that‘s just as important. 

RANGEL:  You‘re a good man, J.C.  We‘ve got 39 members. 

MITCHELL:  I love you both but we are just about out of time. 

WATTS:  In the United States—in the U.S. Senate we‘ve had just as many Republicans that‘s black as we have Democrats that‘s been black. 

MITCHELL:  We‘re going to follow up and talk about Sudan at another

time.  Thank you both so much for coming on.  Charlie Rangel, J.C. Watts

And next, more on winning the Africa-American vote with 2 top strategists from the Bush and Kerry campaign.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re joined now by the Michael Meehan, senior advisor to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.  And Tucker Eskew, an advisor to the Bush-Cheney campaign. 

Tucker, first to you.  President Bush has decided not to go to the NAACP.  Why not?  Why not go and show that he, if anything, is bigger than his critics. 

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH-CHENEY ADVISOR:  He has decided to go to the urban league.  He does go all over meeting with African-American leaders, even with different political affiliations.  They mayor of Philadelphia...

MITCHELL:  How many does he meet with are critics?

ESKEW:  He does meet with critics.  You know, John Street, the mayor of Philadelphia and he worked very closely together.  They have very different political views on some issue.  The president has a record on housing, on education, and on issues of concern to the African-American community.  He is proud to take into that community.  And is doing that very aggressively in this campaign. 

MITCHELL:  Well, Michael Meehan, he is going to the Urban League.  So, is this really overblown?  Why did John Kerry slam him so hard today when he spoke to the NAACP in Philadelphia? 

MICHAEL MEEHAN, KERRY-EDWARDS ADVISOR:  Well, when John Kerry is president, he‘ll be president for all of the people.  He will go and talk to—take the hard questions and the easy ones, too.  This is the first president since Herbert Hoover who hasn‘t gone to the NAACP.  And it‘s unfortunate.  The president should have gone and taken the invitation at some point during his term.  John Kerry did.  John Kerry will take the tough questions no matter who is asking them. 

MITCHELL:  Well let‘s talk for a second about running mates.  Now, Dick Cheney made it very clear today in an interview with C-Span that he is going to remain on the ticket.  That no matter what happens, he is not going to use whatever possible excuse if the polling starts going further south.  Is that the final word on Dick Cheney? 

ESKEW:  It will be the final word as long as this campaign runs,  because the media is fascination and some others with this question seems to have no end. 

The president, if you know him, is standing by somebody who he chose to help lead the country.  Not on a political basis.  You know, Michael is speaking for a candidate who could step into the job on day 1 and then he said, John Edwards would need on the job training. 

He took a poll, found out that John Edwards was popular and chose and put him on the ticket.  That‘s not the way George W. Bush makes decisions.  He‘s going to stand by this man, 30 years of great service to our country, big time, he‘s standing on the ticket.

MITCHELL:  Now, Michael Meehan, are you glad to see that Dick Cheney is staying on the ticket? 

MEEHAN:  Yes, we actually are.  I mean given the trouble with Halliburton and the no bid contracts.  And the money that he‘s raised.  That Dick Cheney has held secret meetings with the energy task force where they fought it all the way to the Supreme Court to protect having big oil and big energy in there.  We‘re happy he‘s staying on the ticket.  So, I guess Tucker and I agree. 

MITCHELL:  What with the fact that John Edwards is now going to have to debate someone who has one of the most experienced records on foreign policy? 

MEEHAN:  Well, John Edwards, when he come into the White House will have four more years experience from his time on the Senate Intelligence Committee than President Bush George Bush does.  He‘ll be eight years older than when President Kennedy became president.  So, we‘re very confident that John Edwards could step in and be president if for some reason John Kerry couldn‘t be. 

MITCHELL:  You mean four more years than President Bush did when he was Candidate Bush? 

MEEHAN:  Yes, that‘s correct, when he was Governor Bush.

ESKEW:  A lot of Democrats, Andrea, can‘t get over the year 2000.  They‘re still reliving it over and over again.  The fact of the matter is, Governor Bush, at the time, had a lot more executive experience, and really had been accountable for an economy, an education system. 

John Kerry, on the other hand, let‘s forget about the No. 2‘s on the ticket, really hasn‘t accomplished much in the Senate.  Has 19 years and no legislation of any significance to show for it.  Not much leadership record.  And, of course, this campaign is sort of giving life to that.  Flip flopping on a number issues over and over again. 

MITCHELL:  I guess everybody here is on message day.  But when we come back, we‘ll talk more about the campaign and about one of the battleground states.  Stay with us.

This is HARDBALL in MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MITCHELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for our weekly look at America‘s battleground states.  Nevada went to Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.  But in 2000, President Bush won the Silver State handily and is of course hoping to hang on this time.  MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing has more. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Drive 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas across a barren expanse of the Mojave Desert and you come across fertile ground for the presidential election.  Yucca Mountain. 

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA:  Yucca Mountain will make the difference in Nevada.

JANSING:  The federal government has already spent $4 billion here boring a five-mile tunnel into volcanic rock hoping this will be approved as the storage place for the nation‘s nuclear waste. 

JEAN KLEIN, GEOLOGIST:  People are scared, people are angry.  Many people feel as though it is being shoved down our throats. 

JANSING:  Even the state‘s Republican senator and Republican governor opposed President Bush‘s decision to approve Yucca. 

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  The people that he has put in place at the Department of Energy I think have sold him a bill of goods. 

JANSING:  One in four Nevadans cite Yucca Mountain in their top two most important issues of the campaign, concerned in part that it will keep tourists away from the cash cow of Nevada, Vegas. 

Las Vegas, an economy so strong, a service employee at a better hotel can earn $60,000 or $70,000 a year.  More than enough, given that there are no state taxes, to buy a home.  A new house is built every 20 minutes in Clarke County for a population influx.  6,000 new residents each month who generally have no local political allegiance.  John Kerry needs to win big in Vegas, conventional wisdom by at least 7 percent because rural Nevada is like a whole other state:  the Wild West. 

The Reno Rodeo, one of the largest in the world. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I get the impression that most of the cowboys are bush people. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it really goes with that independent thinking of being a cowboy. 

JANSING:  Land use issues are big for ranchers in a state where 87 percent of the land is owned by the federal government. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know how we made this valley so beautiful without all these regulators. 

JANSING:  So who are the swing voters? 

One in three new Nevadans are retirees.  Healthcare is a huge issue for them and one in five Nevadans is Hispanic, a group more difficult to track in Nevada than other states. 

PETER PADILLA, HISPANIC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE:  A big part of them are relatively new arrivals into the state.  They‘re relatively new immigrants.  So they‘re still dependent on the language and on the culture. 

JANSING:  So Spanish language ads are part of an advertising barrage.  In metro Reno, population less than 500,000, $1.2 million spent on 6,500 ads in six months.  A lot of attention being paid to a state with just five electoral votes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The truth of the matter is that we could be the swing state.  That this election could be so close as it was last time. 

JANSING:  Last time, George Bush won Nevada on late returns.  Very late. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If Gore had won...

GOV. KENNY GUINN ®, NEVADA:  If Gore would have won, he had 266 electoral votes at that time.  He would have received the four from Nevada and there would not have been any recount or consideration for what happened in Florida.  It would have been over with. 

JANSING:  Betting is that November 2 will be another late night in Nevada.  Chris Jansing, NBC News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MITCHELL:  I learned something there.  We‘re back with Tucker Eskew with the Bush campaign and Michael Meehan of the Kerry campaign.  I thought it was much more lopsided.  According to Chris‘ reporting, it was close on late returns. 

Tucker, how is George Bush doing now?  Is Yucca Mountain going to become a really bad issue for you?

ESKEW:  The president is doing well in Nevada.  It‘s going to be hard fought.  It was last time as Chris pointed out in her report.  What she may have missed though is that when the president campaigned in Nevada, he said there would be a decision about Yucca Mountain made on the basis of sound science.  The proof is there.  That‘s what the president has done.  We‘ve moved forward on that.  He speaks to Nevadans with the heart of a westerner.  He speaks to Hispanic Americans from the heart and in their native tongue.  The president does a great job of talking to seniors about the advances we‘ve made in providing prescription drugs to seniors.  So I think you put the pieces together and we‘re going to carry Nevada and fight hard to do so.

MITCHELL:  Michael Meehan, what is the Kerry campaign strategy?  Are you going to try to take advantage of this tough issue of Yucca Mountain or go with your own instincts about what needs to be done scientifically?

MEEHAN:  Tucker‘s suffering a little bit of religious history.  George Bush and Dick Cheney came into Nevada in 2000 and promised that they wouldn‘t site it there and in the first few months in the White House, they totally flipped and changed what they promised a few months earlier. 

MITCHELL:  Where would you put it if not there?  I mean, doesn‘t it have to go someplace? 

MEEHAN:  Well, your reporting bit showed that a quarter of the people say that this is a big issue for them and George Bush promised them one thing and absolutely flipped. 

ESKEW:  He never promised to make a decision based on polls and you seem focused on that, Michael.  The president is focused on the science. 

MEEHAN:  No polls.  He said that he wouldn‘t site it there and then did he.  He totally flipped.  That has nothing to do with polls.  That‘s a problem that George Bush is going to have in Nevada. 

Your other point about healthcare is a very good one.  A third of the people who would get some of the prescription drug benefits so far will be rolled off in two years, we just learned this week for the prescription drugs that Tucker just talked about.  And health insurance has increased 49 percent under the Bush years.  That‘s another big ticket issue for people in Nevada.  So if they want change, they want healthcare that they can afford, they‘re going to vote for John Kerry and we think we have a very good chance in Nevada of picking that state up this time.

MITCHELL:  Is Kerry going to go out there soon?  We‘re going to see him campaigning out in Nevada?

MEEHAN:  Yes, he will.  Yes, we‘ve been out there this spring and we‘ll be back there again. 

MITCHELL:  Tucker, what about the issue of the Hispanic vote?  You‘re spending a lot of money yet we‘re still not seeing any kind of movement there among minority voters.

ESKEW:  You look at where Republicans have traditionally come down in winning that vote and this president is head and shoulders above that.  I think we‘ve made great strides in speaking to the heartland which includes Hispanic Americans.  We‘re making great inroads in Florida with the changing Hispanic population.  So now I feel very good about the president‘s chances with that.  Once again, he has a record of accomplishment.  An opponent who is long on talk. 

MITCHELL:  All right.  Thank you very much.  Tucker Eskew and Michael Meehan.  And Chris Matthews will be back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.

END   

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