August 29, 2014
Guest: Michael O`Hanlon, Trish Regan, Clarence Page
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Killers at the gate?
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
"Let Me Start" with this gruesome killing of 150 Syrian soldiers. The
killers of ISIL had those soldiers stripped down to their underwear, then
trooped them through the desert barefoot, then executed the lot of them.
These are soldiers, mind you, men enlisted into the country`s army,
taunted, then executed by the terrorist force now controlling much of Syria
and Iraq, a group that beheads and ceremoniously crucifies those who fall
into its hands.
Its barbarity serves both its terrorist aims and the blood lust of its
members, including an increasing number of recruits who join ISIS for the
hatred it embodies, the opportunity to kill which it offers.
And today, the prime minister of Britain said that it`s taking its
killing spree westward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This is not some foreign
conflict thousands of miles from home that we can hope to ignore. The
ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is
a threat to our own security here in the UK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Evan Kohlmann`s an NBC terrorism analysts and Michael
O`Hanlon`s director of research at the Brookings Institution.
As I mentioned yesterday, ISIS released a propaganda video showing
what appears to be the massacre of well over 100 Syrian soldiers. There
they are. The men are humiliated first, stripped down to their underwear
and forced to march in the desert while being taunted by the ISIS fighters.
Later in the video, bloody bodies are seen piled up in the desert.
Well, today, there was another horrific video -- you see it right now
-- released by ISIS showing captured Kurdish soldiers in orange jumpsuits,
and one of the soldiers is later beheaded. You see -- well, you see the
set-up to that.
Let me go to Evan Kohlmann. Now, this is what we are up against. Is
it regional, or does it have a global reach?
EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: It has a global reach.
KOHLMANN: I mean, look, in this latest video, where they beheaded
this Kurd, there was actually a message issued directly to Barack Obama
saying, We`re coming for you. We`re going to kill your soldiers, et
cetera. This has been the consistent message. I mean, it`s difficult to
understand that people don`t see what a threat that ISIS represents because
ISIS has been very open about this for a long period of time.
Two years ago, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi openly threatened that he would
launch terrorist attacks inside the U.S. homeland. So look, we can choose
not to believe him, but as far as ISIS is concerned, the U.S.`s adversary,
it`s looking to carry out terrorist attacks in European and Western
countries, including the U.S. And it believes it can do that if it
recruits a sufficient number of Western operatives -- in other words,
individuals who speak English, who are carrying British and American
And if you look at the numbers, 500 to 600 British nationals in Syria
or have traveled to Syria, 900 French nationals have potentially traveled
to Syria, 100 American nationals. These are numbers that dwarf anything
we`ve ever seen before in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in any other conflict that
al Qaeda or a jihadi group that has threatened the U.S. has established a
base. We`ve never seen these kind of numbers before.
MATTHEWS: Michael, an open invitation to war. If ISIS, the state of
Islam, pulls a number (ph) in the United States involving the deaths or a
dozen people or 10 dozen or whatever, by -- and doing it in name, as they
clearly intend to do, don`t they invite us, in fact, make it irresistible
for our armed forces to go in there under the president`s direction and
kill tens of thousands of them? Don`t they know that`s coming?
MICHAEL O`HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, Chris...
MATTHEWS: And it`s easy to do it morally and easy to do it
politically because once they strike us, there ain`t going to be any more
debating in our country about what to do with this band of killers.
O`HANLON: I think that`s right, and...
MATTHEWS: So we`ll kill them!
O`HANLON: And so you could read that either way. You could say that
there is a chance they`ll show restraint if we show restraint. But I agree
with Evan. I think that they are already a big threat, that the weight of
evidence suggests they`re coming for us already. And they`re certainly
coming for our regional allies. If there was any doubt about that, their
attempted march into Kurdistan a few weeks ago showed they`re not just
trying to unify the Levant, the -- you know, Arabs, the Sunni Arabs of the
region immediately contiguous to where they already are. They`re trying to
And the whole notion of a caliphate is to rule wherever Muslims have
been in power before. That`s going to mean that`s Jordan`s going to be in
their crosshairs, if they get a chance, other parts of Iraq, certainly
Saudi Arabia, if they ever had the chance.
This is a very ambitious group. I`m not suggesting they`re going to
be successful, but it`s up to us, I think, to help...
MATTHEWS: OK, you`re...
O`HANLON: ... our regional allies make sure they aren`t.
MATTHEWS: Well, the good news about that is they`re -- if they`re
going to do that, then those countries know they`re going to do that. Are
they going to do something to them first? Will we be able to recruit --
implicitly, at least, recruit a coalition against them, other neighbors?
O`HANLON: I think that...
O`HANLON: ... we will. I think we will. I think the Kurds are
already on our side. We saw that in the Mosul dam. The Jordanians have to
worry first and foremost about hunkering down, taking care of their own
territory. And of course, there are all the refugees that have spilled
onto their territory from Syria already. So I`m not sure they can help us
out a lot. But certainly, Kurds.
And I think ultimately, the Iraqi army has to be our number one ally
here. They`ve got to get ready to do their own surge, Chris. I`m not
proposing -- even though I supported the surge seven years ago, I`m not
supporting that we should ever contemplate that kind of a notion now
ourselves. But we have to help them empower themselves, reconstitute their
own forces to go on the offensive and do their own surge, ultimately, in
the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Evan, do we have the firepower among those various factions
-- the Kurds, the Jordanians, the Iraqi -- the army itself -- do we have
enough firepower in there to overwhelm ISIS, even if ISIS enjoys this sort
of morale advantage in the sense that they want to kill and kill and kill,
whereas the other countries are simply trying to defend their lives?
KOHLMANN: The only way we can really defeat ISIS is by convincing
Sunni Iraqis and Sunni Syrians that they do not have a common cause with
this group. We have to convince Sunni insurgent groups and Syrian rebel
groups to start actively fighting against ISIS and disparage ISIS and get
rid of ISIS.
The problem is, is that we`ve been talking about that now for over a
year. We`ve been talking about trying to empower the Iraqi army, trying to
empower the Sunni community. None of this is working. Whatever we`re
doing, it`s not working. At a certain point, we`re going to have to
consider what happens if we can`t do this. Do we go it alone? Do we not
do anything at all? And I think the problem is, is that right now, we`re
waffling. We`re not doing anything, and...
MATTHEWS: Well, what was the president doing yesterday in that press
conference? He seemed to be -- to be muting the talk that he was going to
announce an attack. A lot of us thought he was going to announce an attack
last -- yesterday afternoon. So what was he trying to do besides say to
Dempsey and the rest, Cool it, I`m not going to the -- we`re not fighting
for the homeland yet, cool it.
But when he said, I don`t have a strategy, do you mean he doesn`t have
a way of getting these countries to do what we`d like them to do in
KOHLMANN: Yes, look, politically speaking, I understand that
attacking Syria is not exactly the number one most popular thing in the
American public. And I understand the whole idea of trying to rassle (sic)
together a regional or international coalition to take action here is not
going to be easy, especially when you have countries like Saudi Arabia and
Qatar that are actually providing money and weapons to groups like Jabhat
al Nusra, which is al Qaeda`s official branch in Syria. How do you
organize all those forces together?
I -- look, I appreciate this is not easy for the president. And
appreciate that, philosophically, he`s opposed to trying to get back into
the quagmire of Iraq. But I think we do have to ask at a certain point --
it`s been a year. We talked about launching air strikes in Syria a year
ago. We still don`t have a strategy? We still don`t know what to do about
ISIS? At a certain point...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but be careful...
KOHLMANN: ... we may have to take action on our own.
MATTHEWS: ... you`re conflating it -- you`re conflating here, Evan.
You`re talking about air strikes. Those air strikes we talked about a year
ago in Syria were aimed at Assad.
KOHLMANN: Well, we -- not all of them. We were also talking about
back then, as well, about potentially targeting Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda
in Syria, with the understanding that Assad was only part of the problem.
Jabhat al Nusra carrying out suicide bombings against civilian areas was
another part of the problem.
So again, I just -- I don`t accept the idea that we don`t have a
strategy. I don`t even think that`s realistic. I think we do have part of
a strategy. The problem is, is the strategy right now is limited to
military options. And I think the president appears to be very reticent to
use military options right now in Syria in the absence of some other method
-- political means of pushing Sunnis towards fighting alongside us or
pushing regional actors to stop supporting Jabhat al Nusra.
I just don`t know if we`re going to be able to achieve that. And the
question is, what do we do if we can`t? Do we just sit here on our hands
and do nothing? I don`t think that`s an answer.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, there`s the question I want to get back to
Michael with. Maybe you know the answer. What was the president`s
hesitancy about yesterday? He called a press conference many of us thought
was going to be announcing air strikes within Syria. And then he
announced, Look, we`re getting the cart before the horse here, used some
other metaphors, to say, basically, we`re ahead on our skis. He uses all
these metaphors. But clearly, he was trying to pull back somebody, whether
it`s Dempsey or Chuck Hagel or -- somebody in the administration was
talking about us attacking, and he didn`t want to attack.
What was going on inside, do you think?
O`HANLON: It`s a great question. And by the way, I think he should
have given himself a wee bit more credit for his Iraq strategy. Maybe Evan
and I have a slight disagreement here, but I think the last few months of
Iraq strategy have been moving in the right direction because we now have a
body as the prime minister designate. You need a political consensus and a
government of national unity to get the Iraqi army to obey their commander-
in-chief. So that part I`m happy with so far.
I think we`ll have to use more military tools in Iraq than we`ve been
willing to acknowledge yet. But nonetheless, the political strategy piece
On Syria and what the president said yesterday -- getting to your
question -- you know, if the president is just trying to rein in Hagel and
Dempsey, doing it on live national TV`s a pretty funny way to do it,
especially when they work for him.
O`HANLON: It doesn`t make him look very good to, you know, go public
with internal debates. So I tend to think of it -- I like to want to
believe it as sort of a moment of brutal honesty, recognizing that his
Syria policy so far hasn`t worked and he`s in need of a new one.
O`HANLON: That`s what I want to hope. But that`s the best
interpretation I can give to it.
MATTHEWS: I think that`s a very lenient interpretation. I want to
ask both of you a simple question, starting with Evan. If we told the
Iraqi government that`s now constituted -- I know it`s Shia-dominated --
take all the air force efforts -- all the air force equipment you`ve got
right now, put every fighter plane or bomber plane in the air and hit ISIS
everywhere you can right now -- we`ll give you all the gas and spare parts
you need, we`ll back you up, we`ll replace your equipment if you use planes
-- lose planes, but we want you to go on the attack -- Evan first and then
Michael -- would it have success? Evan?
KOHLMANN: Actually, it might have the reverse of success. There`s
every reason to believe the Iraqi air force would bomb the wrong people.
They have very little intelligence, and frankly, they`re sectarian. They
might end up bombing Sunni insurgent factions that have nothing to do with
ISIS, that we need to actually go against ISIS. I don`t have any faith in
the Iraqi military whatsoever.
It`s a good thing that al Maliki is gone, but we haven`t seen any
turnaround in the Iraqi military. They`re still losing ground, even with
our air strikes.
MATTHEWS: So 11 years has given us kaput, nothing.
KOHLMANN: In my...
MATTHEWS: Eleven years!
KOHLMANN: ... view, it`s given us very, very little, if you...
MATTHEWS: OK, Michael, your...
KOHLMANN: ... see what`s going on right now.
MATTHEWS: Michael, your assessment. Could Iraq, if we gave them
everything -- if we backed them up like lend-lease in World War II, with
everything we had, could they knock out or give a knock-down punch, at
least, to ISIS?
O`HANLON: Not without their army performing well on the ground. We
had more air power in Iraq in the surge and the period before the surge
than the Iraqis are ever going to have in the foreseeable future, and we
couldn`t do it with air power and drones.
They`re certainly not going to be able to, partly for the reasons that
Evan mentions, but also because this is inherently an undoable proposition
from the air, especially in the cities that ISIS already controls. The
only way to root them out in places where they are already rooted in is to
use ground forces, to go in and do a search, to police neighborhoods, to
get intelligence sources from people that you then protect, to raid depots,
to go after leadership targets that may be transitory.
You`ve got to do that with an army that believes in the mission. And
right now, I agree with Evan the Iraqi army may not. They have not in
recent months. We`re going to have to hope that Abadi can rebuild their
confidence and their support. It`s going to take quite a bit of doing.
MATTHEWS: I guess this explains why the president said he doesn`t
have a strategy yet. And I think you`ve been very -- well, both you guys
have been pretty lenient on him.
Thank you so much, Evan Kohlmann.
KOHLMANN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Michael O`Hanlon. We`ll find out Monday where
Up next: The president`s making it clear we`re not on the verge of a
new war in Syria. Critics are knocking his wording yesterday, but his
intent was to dial back some of that rhetoric coming from the people in his
own administration. That`s the way I read it.
Plus, that smelly Burger King deal this week, to move its headquarters
over the border in order to enjoy a much lower tax base up in Canada. Is
this just the tip of the iceberg? And other big businesses are doing the
same darn thing. Can Washington do anything about it? These guys are
leaving the country to sell here and not pay taxes here.
Also, a veteran producer on the "Tonight" show with Jay Leno gives us
an insider`s account of Leno`s 22-year late night reign inside, everything
from Hugh Grant`s apology for you know what to interviewing me.
And finally, there was something about the president`s press
conference yesterday that got some people talking. It`s not what he said,
it`s what he showed up in. And that`s in the "Sideshow," where it belongs.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Senator Rand Paul took yet another shot at Hillary Clinton
today at the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity summit. He said
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: There will be a discussion over the
next four years whether or not Hillary Clinton is fit to lead this country.
Is Hillary Clinton fit to be commander-in-chief?
PAUL: If she wants to be commander-in-chief and she cannot protect
our embassies, I don`t think that she should or should be. It precludes
her from ever being considered as commander-in-chief!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: If you don`t have a brain, just keep saying "Benghazi."
Anyway, Senator Paul certainly sounds like a man running for president.
That was feeding time at the zoo, otherwise known as the Koch brothers
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As our strategy
develops, we will continue to consult with Congress. But I don`t want to
put the cart before the horse. We don`t have a strategy yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Those words from President Obama
yesterday certainly ignited the herd. But the president`s message
yesterday was clear, to dial back some of the hawkish-sounding language
that had been coming from people in his own administration, comments like
this one from General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: This is an organization
that has an apocalyptic end of days strategic vision, and which will
eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated
without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria,
the answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what`s
essentially, at this point, a nonexistent border.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Or Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel`s comments on the
threat we face from the terrorist group, the Islamic State. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: They are an imminent threat to every
interest we have, whether it`s in Iraq or anywhere else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Or this tweet from Secretary of State John Kerry, "ISIL
must be destroyed, will be crushed."
Well, with language like that bouncing around, many people thought the
president had called yesterday`s press conference to announce bombing
strikes in Syria. I did. And today, White House press secretary Josh
Earnest put President Obama`s comments about not having a strategy into
what he said was the context. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was talking
specifically about military options for countering ISIS in Syria. The
president hasn`t yet laid out his specific plan for military action in
Syria. And the reason for that is simply that the Pentagon is still
developing that plan and he`s still reviewing them. And it would be
putting the cart before the horse to talk about what sort of congressional
authorization would be required for a plan that hasn`t even been put in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is the Washington bureau chief
for "Mother Jones" magazine, David Corn, and "The Washington Post"
columnist, the great Eugene Robinson. Both are MSNBC political analysts.
Gene, I`ve been reading you and I`m trying to figure out -- I thought
the president was pushing back against his own people. I think we`re
looking at the old Bay of Pigs or the Cuban missile crisis, when you got
Lemay in the background...
EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... saying, We got to hit them. And Obama`s saying, Well,
wait a minute. You don`t just hit them because they`re going to be there
when we leave. There`s all kinds of problems. You just don`t get rid of
somebody because you don`t like them in the Middle East.
ROBINSON: Yes, I mean, it kind of sounded like that because, you
know, Dempsey, Hagel, Kerry -- their hair has been on fire, right? I mean,
they`ve been saying this is an imminent existential threat that we`ve got
to deal with. And we`ve got to crush them and destroy them, and that means
going into Syria.
So, one did expect the president to say, OK, the outlines of here is
what we`re going to do or -- or something. But he said, we don`t have a
strategy yet. So...
MATTHEWS: What did you make of that admission? I mean, all the...
MATTHEWS: The people out there -- I`m not going to describe what...
ROBINSON: Well, look, I started getting...
MATTHEWS: Let`s say the herd, the pack, the herd went after him.
ROBINSON: Well, look -- well, I got phone calls after that, saying,
what the president meant to say was...
MATTHEWS: From the White House.
ROBINSON: They realized that it -- exactly, from the White House.
They realized it didn`t sound -- it sounded like...
MATTHEWS: So, they knew they had to carve it a little.
MATTHEWS: But isn`t it better -- I will make this point at the end of
the show in my own little way, where I get to do the...
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: So, I can agree with you now.
MATTHEWS: No. You can disagree with me now.
I think sometimes presidents, whether it`s Eisenhower back in `54,
when we kept us out of Indochina, certainly kept from using a nuclear
weapon over there, like Nixon wanted to do, and Kennedy back in `61 with
the Cuban -- with the Bay of Pigs, say, wait a minute, I`m not getting
dragged into something here, because I don`t know how to get out of it once
I get into it.
CORN: Well, I think what happened yesterday -- I mean, people
obsessed about the use of the word strategy.
What he really meant to say, we don`t have a specific plan yet about
what to do in Syria, so I`m not going to talk to Congress about it as of
this moment. But...
MATTHEWS: But does he have the pieces of a plan?
CORN: Well, listen, the president is really deliberative.
When I wrote my book about him, and covered the Libya operation, he
spent weeks -- while everybody else was running around saying we have got
to do something now, bomb, bomb, bomb, he spent weeks going back to the
Pentagon a couple of different times for plans that sometimes were even
more aggressive and robust than what he had before him, because he wanted
to though, A, can we do this, B, will it actually have a positive impact
and not have more costs than benefits?
MATTHEWS: He wants to know how we come out.
CORN: Yes. So, while everybody is out there saying what they are
saying -- I don`t think he disagrees with their appraisals of the
situation. But I think maybe what he wants to do is say, just listen,
let`s take a deep breath. ISIS will not be taken care of with one attack,
or within one week or within a couple of months. It`s a long-term game.
This guy is always playing the long game.
MATTHEWS: Yes, OK.
MATTHEWS: Last week, when the president -- and the country was red
hot, when we saw James Foley, who is a very appealing guy, he`s a reporter,
a good guy, obviously, and he gets beheaded in front of the world
And he could have then gone with a cri de guerre. He could have gone
right to the ramparts to the American people and say, let`s hit them with
everything we had, right?
ROBINSON: Right. Well, yes.
MATTHEWS: He didn`t do -- back to the golf game and all that stuff.
But here`s the question. Did he do that deliberatively? He said, I know I
can strike with all the heat right now, but I don`t want to, because I want
to think about this?
ROBINSON: Well, I think, clearly, he didn`t want to just go strike
And I think David is right that he is nothing if not deliberative. He
wants to know the ramifications of everything he decides to do or decides
not to do, right, because not doing stuff has consequences. That`s why my
biggest question after hearing the speech and digesting it is, why isn`t he
talking to Congress now?
MATTHEWS: To what effect?
ROBINSON: Even though he doesn`t have a full plan.
MATTHEWS: If he goes in and tells Boehner, I don`t have a plan, what
will Boehner say to him?
ROBINSON: Well, he already went to Congress and asked for authority
MATTHEWS: And they said no.
ROBINSON: Airstrikes in Syria. They said no.
MATTHEWS: I want to follow your thinking here.
MATTHEWS: Explain to everybody watching, including me, what`s the
advantage in consultation now in an extremely partisan -- let Gene follow
CORN: OK. Go ahead.
ROBINSON: Well, look, just in this specific situation, Congress has
said no once. They didn`t give him the authorization.
MATTHEWS: No, to attack Assad.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Well, right.
If he does airstrikes in Syria, that becomes -- it becomes the
question as to whether or not the country is behind this. And I think...
MATTHEWS: You think the first necessary condition is the country has
to get behind him acting.
CORN: He needs to have Congress on the hook for this.
If we`re going to expand the theater of operations beyond Iraq, and he
can do that either with a resolution or...
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. One of the things, he says I will do it
myself if you don`t do it.
CORN: Well, he can still say that at the end of the day. He can
still decide to act. But he should have John Boehner, Mitch McConnell
coming in now and saying, guys, what do you think? I`m developing a plan.
What do you want to do? And make this is a..
MATTHEWS: Do they know what he knows? Do they know what he knows?
MATTHEWS: When you sit down and Boehner and those guys, do they know
what he knows?
CORN: But they can`t take the same potshots. And if he wants to
build any sort of political support in a highly divided, polarized
In an ideal world tomorrow morning, when we wake up and we hear that
Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi government have all joined together
in a massive Arab attack on these -- this cancer called ISIS and we will
help them, how do you get that to happen?
CORN: We did it in Libya.
MATTHEWS: We did it back in the first Gulf War.
ROBINSON: We did it with some other people.
MATTHEWS: But if we don`t do it, then a bunch of white guys coming
from the West or Westerners, saying, we killed your bad problem. And it
builds up again.
ROBINSON: That`s definitely one of the things you think about.
But I think the president calls in Harry Reid, and calls in John
Boehner and the relevant committee chairmen on both sides and says -- sits
them down in the Roosevelt Room and says, look, half of you hate me.
ROBINSON: The other half aren`t so sure.
ROBINSON: But we have a situation here. We have big decisions to
make. What we do or don`t do has consequences.
ROBINSON: Here is how I see it. I want to hear how you see it. I
don`t want to hear speeches. I want to hear your views.
MATTHEWS: You know why? For the reason you said. Hook them.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Get them involved.
ROBINSON: It`s their job.
MATTHEWS: They think their job is to get elected to the Senate in
ROBINSON: But this is their job.
CORN: Yes, this is more important than that.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Gene Robinson. You`re ahead of me here. And
thank you, David Corn.
I`m just thinking about how he puts the whole thing together somewhere
down the line that actually doesn`t involve us fighting another Arab war
with us killing Arabs on international television while other Arabs watch
us do it. I don`t think that`s a winning strategy.
Up next, President Obama`s summer suit causes Twitter to twitter. Is
khaki the new black?
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time now for the "Sideshow."
While President Obama`s press conference yesterday might not have left
much of an impression by way of foreign policy strategy, but one thing did
stand out to the viewers of that Q&A session, his khaki suit.
Twitter erupted with commentary on the president`s wardrobe choice,
recording over 4,000 tweets during the course of the presser itself. Some
were so distracted from the topics, they weighed in on the president`s
Alex Fitzpatrick of "TIME" tweeted, "Not sure tan suits him."
Jared Keller of Mic News called it "The audacity of taupe."
And Philip Klein of "The Washington Examiner" said, "This is what
happens when Obama bypasses Congress to purchase a suit."
And Boston reporter Garrett Quinn added this: "Imagine if Obama wore a
tan suit after Labor Day. That would be grounds for impeachment."
Needless to say, the Internet`s reaction or in this case overreaction
was much ado about nothing. President Reagan after all wore tan suits all
the time. So, what`s the big deal?
Next up, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia landed himself in an
embarrassing situation on Tuesday while speaking at the University of
Georgia. Four students stood up to ask the governor about a board of
regents policy which prohibits illegal immigrants from attending certain
schools in the state. But the governor made the mistake of assuming that
the students addressing him themselves were in the country illegally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: There is a fundamental problem that
can only be solved at the congressional level. And that is to deal with
the issue of children. Now, I presume you fit the category of children who
were brought here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I -- I don`t.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m not an illegal immigrant. I`m not...
DEAL: Oh, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know why you thought that I was
undocumented. Is it because I look Hispanic?
DEAL: You made the statement. You stood up. So, I apologize. I
apologize if I insulted you. I did not intend to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Up next, the stink coming from hamburger kings, actually Burger King`s
corporate flip to Canada. They found a way to get out of paying taxes, I
have told you. But you and I still have to.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.
At a fund-raising event in New York, President Obama addressed
Russia`s latest involvement in Ukraine, saying Russia is choosing to look
backward instead of forward. Meanwhile, at an emergency meeting on the
matter, NATO`s secretary-general said Russian troops are taking part in
direct military operations inside Ukraine.
Joan Rivers is still hospitalized in New York. Her daughter says her
condition remains serious.
And the growing Ebola outbreak in Western Africa has spread to another
country, this time Senegal. A student who slipped over the border from
Guinea is now in isolation at a hospital -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
When Burger King, home of the American Whopper, executed a merger this
week, a corporate maneuver unfamiliar to most Americans was suddenly
getting a lot of attention. The reason? Burger King was merging with a
Canadian company and moving its corporate headquarters to Canada, a move
that lets Burger King pay far fewer taxes here in the United States.
Well, today in her column, Trish Regan characterized these tax moves
like this -- quote -- "There is a new reason corporations are merging. And
it`s more akin to a mail order bride arrangement. In these loveless
transactions, American companies are buying foreign counterparts to get a
new passport and enjoy the lower corporate rates that come along with it."
Well, something about this burger deal just doesn`t smell right to me
or to many Americans, I would argue.
Joining me right now is Trish Regan, the author of that piece in "USA
Today." She`s a columnist there and anchor of "Street Smart" on Bloomberg
TV. And of course we have "Chicago Tribune" columnist everyman with me,
Clarence Page to give you the everyman`s view, which is mine.
MATTHEWS: Trish, you`re an expert. Beautifully written column,
almost to the point where I think you know a lot more about this than I do.
So, spring it out here, my friend.
What is it about this deal that doesn`t smell? Because most Americans
have to pay taxes because they live here. If Burger King is going to have
a billion outlets here and sell a zillion hamburgers here in what most
people think is an American-to-American transaction, shouldn`t they have to
pay American taxes? Just a thought.
TRISH REGAN, BLOOMBERG TV: The problem, Chris, is that we have the
most in the way of taxes of any country in the world, I mean, 35 percent.
And so Burger King is looking at this and they`re saying to
themselves, hmm, if we are headquartered in Canada, we could pay 27
percent. Think of the savings we will have if we go there.
And you are seeing a lot of companies do this. In fact, we have seen
about 21 companies do this since 2012, which is a huge uptick, because I`ll
tell you, Chris, over the last three decades, 51 in total have done this.
To see 21 just in the last couple of years, that is pretty significant.
They are doing this because every other country around the world is
offering a better deal for them compared to what we are charging in taxes.
MATTHEWS: Can I give the progressive response? We pay for the
highways, the national defense. We pay for transportation and
communications systems, every bit of infrastructure that benefits every
time we stop along the road to buy a burger from Burger King.
They have a lot of benefits from us. They don`t seek to want to pay a
penny for them. Your thoughts, Clarence. That`s my Jeremiah there.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": I hope I can be as
brief as you.
The thing is about this deal is, this is a good issue, these
inversions, good discussion. The funny thing out about the Burger King
deal is it may not be an inversion. They are actually denying it.
MATTHEWS: Of course they would.
PAGE: They don`t pay the 35 percent tax now. They are paying 27
percent. And they will probably gain 1 percent or 2 percent by the
MATTHEWS: Well, why are they moving their corporate headquarters to
PAGE: Other reasons, including the fact that Canada has got laws in
regard to overseas ownership and make it easier for them to move their
headquarters technically, even though the personnel are not going to move
in any appreciable sense.
But the inversion issue is a good one. I think this one is getting a
lot of attention because everybody knows Burger King`s name. They don`t
know Pfizer as well or other more obscure companies.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, when John Profumo got caught in a scandal in
Britain back in my day, Trish, he denied it, of course. And the girl in
the case said, of course he would.
Of course they are going to deny they`re doing this for tax reasons,
REGAN: Yes. You`re absolutely right.
MATTHEWS: Of course they`re going to say -- but you do the analysis,
you do the analysis.
REGAN: But it is for tax reasons. It is for tax reasons.
Look, they are going to save money, and there is a lot of pressure for
companies to be as profitable as they possibly can. What we might think
about doing though, Chris, is reforming our own tax code, so we are not
driving American companies away, because at the end of the day we are all
losing out on that tax revenue.
REGAN: When you go around the world and you see that every other
country has a better tax structure for corporations, you have to start to
say, what is it that we are doing that`s not really favorable for our
MATTHEWS: So the solution, according to Trish, I think certainly
according to Krauthammer today, who I occasionally agree with...
MATTHEWS: ... lower the rates for corporations to operate here, so
they won`t go overseas, by filling up loopholes.
PAGE: And close the loopholes.
MATTHEWS: So, the Democrats don`t like the loopholes and the
Republicans want the lower rates. Why can`t they get anything done?
PAGE: Yes, also President Obama agrees with Krauthammer too.
MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t the president goose Congress into doing this?
Why doesn`t he embarrass them into doing it, so they can stop the
hamburgers -- companies from running away with the profits?
PAGE: Well, I think it goes back to the Tea Party, Chris.
You have got Republicans and Democrats on both sides, you`re right,
who want this. But you have got Tea Party folks in particular who say, we
are not going to give the corporate people a break without giving the
little guy a break.
MATTHEWS: They won`t even touch corporate taxes.
PAGE: They don`t want to compromise, in other words.
MATTHEWS: So, they don`t want anything. The good -- the enemy --
what is, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Unless they get a complete
tax over -- is that it, Trish? Unless they get everything the way they
want it, they are not going to agree to fix the corporate thing you
REGAN: Well, you know, Chris, this is a government that can`t seem to
get anything done.
And when it comes to tax reform, this is complicated stuff. There is
a lot of loopholes in there. And there`s a lot of incentives for people
around the country, politicians around the country to keep those loopholes
So, it`s politically really difficult. It`s also a difficult sell,
right, because when you`re out there talking about tax inversions, I mean,
people`s eyes kind of glaze over.
MATTHEWS: Not with me, they don`t.
REGAN: So, from a political standpoint.
MATTHEWS: If I can handle it, the viewers can handle it. I`m not
that complicated. I said last night that you can`t get a decent hamburger
outside this country unless it`s made by an American company.
And I have been to Canada, across Niagara Falls. Right across, you
can walk across. It`s the stinkiest hamburger ever. I don`t know what was
in it. It was something like hamburger helper, that would have tasted OK.
Some kind of meat that as you`re eating it you`re saying, I`m going to get
PAGE: Blame Canada, blame Canada
MATTHEWS: It`s one thing we have a monopoly on -- how to make a good
REGAN: This is going to ratchet it up. This is going to ratchet it
up, because this is a deal that`s about donuts and hamburgers. And Burger
King is really seen as American. So, the idea that an American company is
now going to Canada where they`re going to get a more favorable tax rate --
I think this really pushes the issue much more to center stage.
MATTHEWS: Quickly, 10 seconds. What`s the synergism between donuts
and hamburgers? You`re not going to see both in the same store.
REGAN: You know, you might see some of that. You wonder, like some
of the fast food places on the highway, where you see a number of different
donuts, hamburgers, pizza.
MATTHEWS: I know in the corner of the room, I know.
REGAN: You can get people for breakfast, and for lunch and dinner,
MATTHEWS: Dance with the one that brung you. Burgers stick with
burgers, donuts stick with donuts.
Anyway, thank you, Trish Regan. That`s my corporate brilliance.
Thank you much. Great. Have a nice weekend, Trish, and Clarence, too.
REGAN: You, too, Chris.
PAGE: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next, we stayed up late with Jay Leno for 22 years.
Now, we`re going to talk to one of the producers who worked the night shift
-- well, the late shift with him. This guy knows what happened to "Tonight
Show". It`s fascinating stuff. I saw some of it myself.
We`ll be right back with the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Mitt Romney may be considering another run for the White
House. If he does, the latest polling in Iowa has him at the top of the
pack. According to a "USA Today"/Suffolk University poll of Iowa voters,
Romney would be the first choice -- 35 percent of the vote he`s got right
now. At a distant second, Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa Republican
caucus in 2008. He, Huckabee, is followed by Governor Chris Christie and
Rick Santorum, both tied down at 6.
We`ll be right back. Look at that -- 35 percent for Romney.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
When Jay Leno stepped down from hosting "The Tonight Show" in
February, he ended a 23-year career in late night television. He spent
almost two decades at number one, beginning with his now legendary
interview with Hugh Grant, just after the actor had been busted with a
prostitute on Hollywood`s Sunset Boulevard.
Leno asked this unforgettable question vaulting "The Tonight Show" to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, TV HOST: Let me start with question number one.
LENO: What the hell were you thinking?
HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: Yes. Yes. Well, it`s not easy. You know in life
pretty much what`s a good thing to do and what`s a bad thing. And I did a
bad thing. There you have it.
LENO: OK. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a new book out by Leno`s long-time producer,
a friend of mine, Dave Berg, it`s called behind the curtain, an insider`s
view of Jay Leno`s tonight show. I had the honor myself of joining Jay
Leno on "The Tonight Show" 29 times. I was one of the news guest, they
call me. And that not did the show. Anyway, a kind of booking that Leno
producer Dave Berg was known for bringing to the tonight show, personally.
And I often it mixed up with other celebrities on the couch back in
2010. I was there with comedian Chelsea Handler, just after the disastrous
BP oil spill in the Gulf.
Look at what unfolded when I was talking about Dick Cheney`s energy
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Cheney was head of Halliburton. When he got to be vice
president, when he was signed for vice president, the oil company gave him
a $34 million signing bonus to become vice president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s what they gave, a cash check with 34 million
bucks, to become vice president. Think they had an interest in this guy?
So, at the time he`s vice president of the United States, he began
holding secret meetings with the oil company. Press wasn`t allowed in, BP,
private meetings with BP, all along the way, and an interesting little deal
there going on. It`s a joke. They do not regulate the oil industry.
CHELSEA CHANDLER, COMEDIAN: Can you talk faster?
MATTHEWS: The oil industry is --
MATTHEWS: You know, my dear, you`re beautiful. But if you
concentrate, you can keep up.
LENO: Oh, yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you. I should have done that five
years ago! Thank you, Chris.
CHANDLER: I gave him that line backstage, by the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is the author of "Behind the
Curtain", Dave Berg.
Thank you for giving me that moment there. You know, if I had known
she was a big deal I wouldn`t have been such a wise guy. But she was
Tell me about working with Jay. And what I was struck by Jay was that
he`s the same guy backstage, beforehand, before the show, during the show,
after the show. Not to knock on the other guys but he was what you got.
He was what you saw. The guy we`re looking at.
DAVE BERG, "BEHIND THE CURTAIN" AUTHOR: You`re absolutely right. I
don`t know if I can add to that. He was once asked by a reporter if you
could be any engine in your garage that you want -- and he has an extensive
garage -- what would it be. And he said, I would be a steam engine,
because the steam engine goes the same. Not too fast, not too slow.
And that`s how Jay was, whether we were in the crisis or things were
going well. He was the same guy.
MATTHEWS: What was your favorite, what was your biggest get, as we
say? The one that you were proudest of getting on Leno that you personally
did the job and brought him in or her in?
BERG: I would have to say that`s an easy answer. It would be Barack
Obama as the first sitting president ever to appear on a late night show.
That was on his 59th day in office in 2009. And up and until that time, it
was considered un-presidential for a president to appear on a late night
show. But I had worked on the booking for about five years, going back to
the Democratic Convention in 2004.
MATTHEWS: Who was the biggest pain in the butt? Who was the worst to
deal with that you really said, I can`t believe this celebrity is such a
BERG: Well, I won`t call the celebrity a jerk, because he happened to
be a dear friend of mine and he still is, but probably the most difficult
guy to work with was Dennis Rodman, because Dennis, as sweet a guy as he
was, he was perennially late. And I used to send a memo to his house, he
lived only 50 miles away in Orange County, and he was late all the time and
I figured, I can`t afford to get a heart attack at this age.
So, I started sending a limo and, then a helicopter to a nearby
airport. He got in the limo late and he got in the helicopter late and he
continued being late.
MATTHEWS: Who surprised you the most? Who was different -- I mean,
we met people all the time -- you and I meet people who are different on
television than are in life. Who was the most different?
BERG: Yes, I would have to say other than Chris Matthews that the
most surprising guest was John F. Kennedy Jr. It took me six years to book
him, by the way, because he didn`t want to come on the show because he
didn`t think he was good enough. He did not think he was "Tonight Show"
material. And I think that`s just humility beyond belief.
MATTHEWS: And you had him on with Seinfeld.
BERG: Absolutely. Once again, once he found out that Seinfeld was
going to be on the show, he almost dropped out, just a few days before.
Because he figured after Seinfeld, who would want to hear anything he had
MATTHEWS: Well, I got to thank you for all the times I was on that
show, 29 times. I don`t know if it was near the record --
BERG: It was number one for the news guy.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much.
Anyway, you also wrote about late -- the late Robin Williams, who was
a master of improv. When the lights went out -- accidentally one time
during one of his appearances on the show, Williams turned a technical
glitch into comedic brilliance.
Let`s take a look. This is magic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENO: It`s really a fun film. How`s it going to look -- the power is
ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: It`s the comet again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There we.
LENO: That`s our power outage.
WILLIAMS: The mother ship came.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: How do you count for that? You can`t book that. That`s
Robin Williams acting like, what was it, third -- "Close Encounters of the
Third Kind", or "E.T.", whatever it was, he`s going back to the mother ship
because the lights flick off. How do you know somebody is going to do that
stuff? Is that "Star Trek"?
MATTHEWS: What do you think of him as a guest?
BERG: I think that Robin Williams was such a gracious, wonderful
person who was always on at the show, always positive and always putting on
a show. It didn`t matter where. It might have been backstage, during the
commercial breaks. He would go into these high energy blues songs. He
would join the band and be dancing all over the stage and come back after
the commercial break and totally out of breath, he was always on. Always
entertaining, but always in a positive way.
MATTHEWS: Jimmy Carter wanted to know where the little boy`s room
BERG: Yes. And it was sort of -- it was strange for me because it
was the first time I had ever booked a -- you know, a former president. I
was very nervous about it. And as you know, he can be a little gruff
Anyway, I went in the dressing room with him, and he said, where`s the
little boy`s room? He goes -- I said, well, it`s right over there, Mr.
President. I`ll just step out.
He said, no, no, you can stay here. I thought, I don`t know how
appropriate this is. Listening -- should I be listening to presidential
tinkle? It sounded the same.
MATTHEWS: To your astonishment, how normal it all was.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Your book`s called -- well, it`s called
"Behind the Curtain," right?
BERG: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: An insider`s guide to an insider`s view of "The Tonight
Show." I`m telling you, this is a great book.
I always thought somebody would write a book, David, about the
greenroom -- greenroom is where you go to wait to go on the shows and the
stuff that goes on, the nervousness, they used to drink a lot. Now they
don`t drink too much. They talk about stuff, they`re on green mile before
they`re about to be executed, some people. You`re always there with them.
It`s great stuff. I read a lot of good stuff in the book. I think
people ought to buy this book just for sheer beach reading while there`s
still some beach out there.
David Berg, you`re a good guy. Thanks for having me on all those
times. We`ll be right back.
BERG: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish this Friday by defending President Obama.
I start with a bit of relevant history here. Think of the Bay of
Pigs, the time in the spring of 1961 when President Kennedy refused to OK
air cover for the invasion of Cuba. Had he done so, the United States
would have found itself in an all-out war with Fidel Castro -- at the
height of his popularity. We would have found ourselves tucked into a war
against a people defending itself against a superpower. The Cubans loyal
to Castro would have been David, we would have been Goliath.
I`m not saying we would have lost that war, but we would have paid
dearly for a victory. It would have been bloody block by block and field
by field and we would have been the aggressor -- to the world watching, the
Worse yet, we would have engaged in battle face to face with the
Soviet military there in Cuba. And who knows how that might have
escalated, since both countries had huge nuclear arsenals pointed at each
other. It`s very possible we would have taken our two countries and the
world to the abyss we managed avoid two years later in the missile crisis.
Like Kennedy before him, and President Eisenhower before that, when
he, Ike did, refused to two into Indochina in 1954, this commander-in-chief
saw those around him pushing for war and called a halt. There is no doubt
the Islamic State now nestled in Syria is evil personified. There`s also
no doubt that getting rid of it is not something the U.S. military can do,
certainly not by itself. And if it tries, it will have to do it by itself
because no other country or force, not the Iraqi government, not the Saudis
or Egypt or Jordan will jump in on our side. They will watch us do the
dirty work and hope we get it done well.
The only way to rid the Mideast of ISIS for the moderate Sunnis to do
the job. It is a homegrown ideology and it has to be defeated in its home.
Why? Because we will be coming in and when we do, ISIS will blossom again,
and when we leave again, they`ll do the same, just as the Taliban did when
we left Afghanistan. We leave, they stay.
The only way to kill ISIS is for those who stay to do it. Find a
strategy to encourage that to happen is something the president says we
don`t have yet. But it is worth waiting for, don`t you think?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Have a great Labor Day weekend and
thanks for being with us tonight.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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