Guest: Jackie Spinner, Lawrence Eagleburger, John Breaux, Tucker Eskew, Viet Dinh
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In Iraq, as many as 15,000 Marines and Army troops launch a massive ground assault on Fallujah, dubbed Operation Phantom Fury.
And nearly a week after voters give President Bush a second term, the political reconstruction begins. Why the Democrats lost and how the Republicans won. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. U.S. troops and warplanes stormed into the Iraqi city of Fallujah today, trying to wrestle the town away from Iraqi insurgent forces. “Washington Post” reporter Jackie Spinner is near Fallujah and joins us now by phone with the latest.
Jackie, who are we fighting over there? Are we fighting insurgents, or outside terrorists who have come into the country?
JACKIE SPINNER, WASHINGTON POST: Right now, I think that most of the resistance that they‘re facing are what we would call insurgents, Iraqi insurgents. The foreign fighters are believed to be holed up in the southeastern section of the city, an industrial neighborhood that the U.S. warplanes have been hitting fairly continuously over the last several weeks. And the units are moving their way to that neighborhood, but they are not there yet.
MATTHEWS: Do we know if Zarqawi is there?
SPINNER: The U.S. military has no confirmation that he is there. The intelligence officers are pretty frank about that when discussing his possible presence in the city.
MATTHEWS: Is this a Stalingrad-type situation, where the American forces, as the aggressors going into that city, have to fight block by block?
SPINNER: Well, right now, this is the very early stage of the battle. They are going in relatively easy. Their first major obstacle was climbing over these very large dirt berms that the insurgents have put up as a protective wall around the city. I‘m with the Army‘s 1st Infantry Division, and I know that their units found explosive devices hidden in those berms when they crossed into the city. Those are the booby traps that the military commanders have been telling us they expected to find when they went into the city, and they did find them.
MATTHEWS: How are the Iraqi soldiers holding up? The security forces that we‘ve trained these last months? Are they—are they proving themselves fit for battle?
SPINNER: The Iraqi forces are not going to be on the front lines of this battle. I spent several hours with them last night at their training camp just outside the city. They were quite motivated. The defense minister came by and gave them a great rallying cry, which they seemed to respond to. They seemed committed to going in and taking the city back from what they believe are foreign resistance fighters who are here to disrupt their country and destabilize their country. They seem very motivated, although they‘ve complained about minor things like, you know, not having the weapons that they would like—and I say minor, because they are equipped with brand new AK-47‘s. They would like to have the same weapons that the Americans have, and they don‘t have those.
MATTHEWS: You said that they were ready to go fight the foreign resistance forces. Are they being used particularly to fight the outsiders? Or are they being misled into fighting what they think are outsiders but who are in fact Iraqi insurgents, their fellow countrymen?
SPINNER: Well, I don‘t know if they‘re being misled. I think that they believe very fervently that those foreign resistance fighters are in there and are controlling the city. The intelligence officers that I‘ve talked to over the last week say that the thieves and foreign fighters have created a network there, and that network is controlling the resistance in the city.
Do they expect to find Iraqis, Fallujah residents in their fighting? Most certainly. But I think that they do believe that this network is controlled by these foreign terrorists.
MATTHEWS: A great report. Thank you. Take care of yourself. Jackie Spinner is with the forces going into Fallujah right as we speak.
Joining us now is NBC News analyst and retired Army General Barry McCaffrey. General, how tough a fight is this going to be for us?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET). U.S. ARMY: Pretty tough. You know, a huge city. Several miles long, several miles deep. Maybe 3,000 to 10,000 heavily armed insurgents in there. Maybe 50,000 innocent civilians mixed in among them. But we‘re going in with a lot of combat power. Essentially, it is a division-size operation of Marines and Army, supported by Naval air, Apache helicopters, precision strike with artillery weapons. We will achieve our objective, Chris, but this is a very difficult mission.
MATTHEWS: How many areas of Iraq are like this, where they‘re really under the control of the insurgents or the outside terrorists?
MCCAFFREY: Well, it‘s probably hard to know. The figure I‘ve been carrying in my head is around 20 percent of the country is no longer under the control of coalition authorities. You know, obvious places, Ramadi, et cetera.
Now, what is deceptive is, 1st Infantry Division that are bringing the operation into Samarra, the insurgents, alleged to be 200 or 300 of them, went to ground and didn‘t fight, and are now reemerging. So I think our control over elements of the south and the Shia area are still tenuous, as well as an open rebellion in much of the Sunni Muslim part of the country.
MATTHEWS; Let‘s talk about Fallujah itself, this campaign. The danger of killing a lot of civilians, people that just happen to be in the way of the fight, is that there, that danger?
MCCAFFREY: Well, of course, you know, every loss of life is abhorrent. They‘re going to go ahead with the rules of engagement that are fairly restrictive. The people that are still there I think will disproportionately will be the old, the very young, the sick, the ones who don‘t have money to get out of town. They won‘t be carrying weapons. So mostly, the insurgents will be identified by ground and air reconnaissance, and then attacked and destroyed.
We shouldn‘t expect huge numbers of civilian casualties, but you can‘t fight in a city without destroying infrastructure and innocent life.
MATTHEWS: Is the advantage to the defenders in an urban fight?
MCCAFFREY: Oh, sure. No question. Having said that, look, Chris, these guys have got no good options that are trying to hold Fallujah. We‘re going to take the city down in under seven days, in my judgment. These Marines are incredibly ferocious fighters. They‘re backed up by tank mechanized infantry, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 1st Infantry Division. This is a one-sided fight.
The problem is psychologically and politically, how much damage will it do? How quickly can we get it done?
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about two things. What‘s the damage throughout the country to—I‘ve understood from reading the papers this last weekend that the danger we face, in addition to the casualties, which are real, is that we‘re going to have to kill a lot of Sunnis. And the more Sunnis we kill, the more chances they won‘t participate in the upcoming elections.
MCCAFFREY: Well, yeah. Maybe. There‘s clearly a dozen perils from going into Fallujah. But the one unescapable fact is there won‘t be elections, there won‘t be a legitimate government in Iraq unless we, again, dominate the insurrection that‘s going on in Sunni Muslim areas.
These are the Baathists, the former Saddam henchmen. We have got to face up to it. We‘re losing a battalion a month over there. Killed, wounded and injured. You can‘t have this steady erosion of attacks on coalition forces. We‘ve got to do it. We will be able to do it. It will be better once we‘re back in control.
MATTHEWS: What did you learn, General, in Vietnam about our ability to train foreign nationals and get their morale up and their fighting spirit up? Did you think we were successful, for example, before we went into the Iraqi scene, in that theater there, did we succeed or fail? I‘ve seen all the movies. I wasn‘t in Vietnam, as you know, but I‘ve seen movies like “Bright Shining Light” that say we weren‘t successful in training a real fighting force from ARVN, the South Vietnamese government. Do you think we were successful there? And do you think we‘ll be successful here, and what will be the test of that?
MCCAFFREY: Yes. Well, you know, I was a lieutenant assigned to as an adviser to the Vietnamese airborne division. Some of the South Vietnamese forces, the Rangers, airborne Marines, were the best infantry units I ever saw in combat. At the end of the day, they lost because we turned off their ammunition and support and air power.
Now, back to the Iraqi situation, which is much more relevant. We got this brilliant general, Dave Petraeus. A lot of resources, $1 billion going into it. Of course we‘ll succeed. But you know, what is lacking isn‘t just training and technology. It is a legitimate government for which these Iraqis are willing to die. That has got to be constructed. That‘s the Ambassador John Negroponte challenge, and Allawi and the rest of the emergent Iraqi leadership, without which we will never achieve our objective.
MATTHEWS: So that‘s the horse before the cart.
MCCAFFREY: Yes. Well, we, you know, we‘re going to put together an Iraqi army, national guard, police, customs, border patrol. This will happen. What we also have to build is, at least on a regional basis, legitimate government that is believed by the people to be capable of protecting them.
Once we have that, Iraq will be a modest success, and we‘ll be able to start coming out of there.
MATTHEWS: This is the world we live in right now, for the whole country of ours. We‘re all in there. I do accept, which Colin Powell said, if you broke it, you bought it. And we bought that country.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey, reporting on Iraq and the situation there.
Coming up, the latest on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and what his declining health means for the future of the Middle East. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger will be with us when I come back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A group of Palestinian leaders have arrived in France to check on the condition of Yasser Arafat. But his wife accused the delegation of trying to bury her husband alive, and may have barred them from visiting him.
NBC‘s Keith Miller is in Paris. Keith.
KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, we have all the makings of a soap opera. It would be actually humorous if it wasn‘t so serious. We have now Suha, Arafat‘s wife calling the shots from inside the hospital where he remains in intensive care. Over the weekend, she alerted Al Jazeera TV that “they were trying to bury Arafat alive.” And she went on to accuse the Palestinian leadership of a power grab. And finally she had this medical update of her own, saying “Arafat was doing fine and should be home soon.”
All of this in the face of other evidence indicating that Arafat is in critical condition. The French foreign minister went on television here in France over the weekend to say that, quote, “Arafat‘s condition was very complex, complicated, and very serious.”
Meanwhile, the rantings from Suha has inflamed and angered and outraged to some degree the Palestinian leadership. So much that the prime minister, the number two man in the PLO, and the foreign minister, are on their way to Paris now, expected to arrive late tonight or early tomorrow morning to find out exactly what‘s going on. They‘ll have to go to the French Foreign Ministry first, a matter of protocol really, Chris, but also they‘ll need their permission to go into the hospital, because tonight a hospital spokesman came out with a very brief explanation saying that Arafat‘s condition was “stationary.” Then he went on to say, at the family‘s request, they wanted restricted visits.
I have a feeling that that means basically that the Palestinian leadership will not be allowed, at least according to Suha, to enter this hospital to find out exactly what‘s going on with Arafat, and perhaps more importantly at this moment, what‘s going on with Suha.
There are rumors she‘s after the money, if not, perhaps after the power. Nonetheless, these latest turns, dramatic as they are, complicate an already complicated situation. Because, Chris, we don‘t know why Arafat ended up in the hospital in the first place. It seems that his mystery illness remains tonight, just that, a mystery—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thanks, Keith.
Those senior Palestinian leaders have now arrived in Paris.
Lawrence Eagleburger served as secretary of state under the first President Bush. Lawrence, it does seem like general hospital. Some kind of strange daytime soap opera.
What—first, do you believe that Suha, the wife of Yasser Arafat, means it, when she says the Palestinian leaders are going to literally bury her husband alive?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don‘t—I doubt it very much. I suspect what she really is saying here is that they want him to die and get it over with so they can go on from there. I suspect that‘s what she means. But you know, who can predict this silliness?
MATTHEWS: What are the rumors in the Arab street that the Israelis had a hand in this guy‘s condition?
Even Keith Miller‘s report there was a bit murky at the end.
What mystery disease is this, is it a blood illness? Is it cancer?
We don‘t know what it is, do we? Or do we know?
EAGLEBURGER: I was going to say, given everything that just preceded us here talking, it should be fairly clear that nobody knows what‘s going on. I very much doubt that the Israelis have given him some particular disease. They‘ve had more opportunities to do that sort of thing than not. I think it‘s—he‘s running out of gas.
MATTHEWS: And they could have knocked him off any time they wanted to, the Israelis and a lot cleaner than this.
Let me ask but the competition for his successor, the succession. Is it going to be Mahmoud Abbas?
What amazes me is he was the guy whose power was undermined by Yasser Arafat.
Why would he be seen as a credible replacement?
EAGLEBURGER: What‘s going to decide that, I think, is how the members of the Palestinian movement as such see the conditions and who they think would be most successful. I have to tell you, I think while the prime minister, you know, while he may for a while be—seem to be in charge, I think it‘s much more likely, first of all, that this will get bloody before it‘s over in terms of who takes over. And it will probably be unfortunately, a more radical type that will end up being in charge.
MATTHEWS: Well, sometimes the tougher guy is the better negotiator, because the tougher guy can control his people. I saw that working the Peace Corps, the whites preferred dealing with a strong black leader who controlled the negotiating and controlled the country once they gave back their colonial power to him, to the people themselves.
And I was wondering whether in this power struggle, between—certainly involving Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the remnants of the PLO, who‘s going to win?
EAGLEBURGER: Thank you very much. I will tell you right now, the best I can tell you at this stage is, if I had to bet money without trying to name a person, I would bet you that it will end up that the more radical elements within the Palestinian movement, not necessarily the worst—the most, most radical, but they will be certainly leaning in the direction of more radical than moderate. And I think they will probably win. Who that is, I don‘t know. But I will also bet you that it won‘t be settled in a short period of time. I suspect it will take some time and there may well be some deaths before it‘s finally settled.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s catch up on a couple of facts. Suha, this purported wife of—I say purported because she hasn‘t seen him in three years. She apparently has something to do with his financial arrangements. Is that the presumption in the Middle East, that‘s she‘s sitting on a barrel of money in some French bank?
EAGLEBURGER: Whether she is or not, I‘m not sure. But it is certainly around the Middle East and certainly as far as I can tell here in the United States, there‘s a strong assumption that there is a great deal of money in the banks or a—well, banks, probably, that Arafat has had use of and can control. Whether she is able to get at it right now, I‘m not sure. But I wouldn‘t be at all, again, all surprised if what she‘s angling for now is some way of getting at that money.
MATTHEWS: Well, she didn‘t sign a prenup, obviously.
EAGLEBURGER: I guess not. And there it wouldn‘t make any difference anyway.
MATTHEWS: Well, the question is, is there a presumption in the Middle East that Arafat has a ton of money in Paris?
EAGLEBURGER: Oh, sure. I‘m not at all sure that his own Palestinians believe it, but everybody else does. And there‘s just I think, no question he‘s got millions in banks around in Europe and probably in the Mediterranean.
MATTHEWS: Well, I went over there and interviewed him, Mr. Secretary, a couple of years ago. And it is such a strange environment, Ramallah. You go into it, it‘s like a gas station, a bunch of guys walking around in repairman costumes. There‘s no real army. There‘s no real anything, except a fleet of Rolls Royces or Mercedes hiding—hidden in the garage there. You have to check into a motel before you can see him, and you can‘t see him until like midnight.
And then you see him, and you‘re like meeting this guy, looks like Ringo Starr, who‘s got this strange, almost papal quality. He‘s so—so quiet and what‘s the right word, special in the way he talks to you. And if you raise any issue of violence or terrorism, he acts like, I would never think of such a thing. All I want is peace. Is that just a self-deluding masquerade or just a masquerade pure and simple or what is it?
EAGLEBURGER: I think it is a combination. I met with him only once. I can‘t give you any real expertise on it. But I suspect that this is a very complicated gentleman. I suspect he does think he is doing something for his people. But I also think he thinks he is doing something for himself. And if you look it, if you look at it, Chris, he had a real opportunity in the last, remember the last six months or so of the Clinton administration.
MATTHEWS: I remember, tub and everything. And it looked like he had a shot of cutting a deal.
EAGLEBURGER: He had a real shot at it and he couldn‘t do it. And the reason I think he couldn‘t do it was multifold. But for one thing, I‘m not at all sure he was able to bring his people along. But more important than that, I suspect he recognized he couldn‘t run a country if he had one. Certainly the way he‘s run the PLO, the Palestinian...
MATTHEWS: I want to talk to you about a theory that‘s been developed about why he won‘t cut a deal, why Arafat will look at a deal that includes the peace of Jerusalem and means a chance to get back to the shrines of Jerusalem, it means a chance to have a real country in the United Nations with a Palestinian flag and a Palestinian diplomatic reality in the world from which he could launch a long term effort to enlarge that nation.
We‘re going to come back and talk to Lawrence Eagleburger, the former secretary of state about that and later, Senator John Breaux, one of the real charmers of the Democratic party, a real cajun who is leaving the United States Senate but we want to hear what he thinks before he leaves. We‘ll be right back with Johnny Breaux and former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger. Mr. Secretary, one theory about Yasser Arafat is that he would never sign any deal with Israel that prevented the ultimate extinction of that country. In other words he would sign a deal in the short run but he would never agree to something for example that wouldn‘t include the right of return for Palestinians born in Israel proper. Not including the West Bank. Because he doesn‘t want to be known as the guy that sold out the possibility of someday creating a Palestinian state which might include a lot of Jewish people still there. But he certainly doesn‘t want to agree to anything that looks like a long term deal, establishing permanently a Jewish state. That is his deal. He won‘t sign the deal.
EAGLEBURGER: I think what you‘ve just said is correct. You will recall again, and when this time it looked like we might get a deal, that the right of return with one of the issues that never got settled, I think you are correct that he doesn‘t, he wouldn‘t want to sign it for that reason. As I say, I think there are a whole host of reasons. Not least of which is I suspect he recognized if he ever got a state and had to run it, he couldn‘t. That that would come down around his ears. Look. This all right now looks like sort of a semicomedy what‘s going on at the moment. But we should remember that this fellow, over very, very many years has caused the death of very, very many people. And I must tell you, my sorrow over his departure will not be very great.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about that. In other words, it is an objective fact. You seem like an objective public servant. This isn‘t an argument, one of these endless arguments you get in the Middle East where there‘s no such thing as a straight report. Even a medical bulletin is argued over as we‘re seeing these days. But you say it‘s an objective fact in the world community that Arafat was behind terrorism. This isn‘t arguable?
EAGLEBURGER: Not for me it isn‘t. But a lot of people will argue it, I suppose. I just don‘t see how anybody can argue that case. I am not saying, by the way, that the Israelis are without some responsibility for everything that‘s gone on. But what I am saying is that Arafat as such has been a, historically, I think, a bad character and he will be judged as such. And he has been responsible for terrorism. He‘s been responsible for the fact that they have not been able to reach an agreement with the Israelis. He bears a great deal of responsibility for the mess.
MATTHEWS: I think the worst thing he did for my own part is destroy the confidence in the Israeli middle. The moderate, the voter like most of us would be against the hope for peace. He turned them off when they wanted peace. They still do but they‘ve lost heart. Anyway, we‘ll talk to you again. Please come back again, former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger. Up next, what will take the Democratic party to appeal to southern voters? Louisiana Senator John Breaux will be here. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, why can‘t the Democrats win with Southern and rural voters? Senator John Breaux, one of the last Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate, will be here, plus Bush senior adviser Tucker Eskew.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The defeat at the polls last Tuesday has forced the Democratic Party to reevaluate itself and determine a strategy to win back a majority of voters next time around. So what‘s next for the Democratic Party?
Retiring senator—although he‘s not really retiring—John Breaux is a Democrat from Louisiana.
You are known in Washington as a guy that can cut a deal between left and right? Is that still possible? Is the Democratic Party still capable of reconciling its left with its middle?
SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: I think we have to realize, Chris, that no party has a monopoly on the truth.
Both parties every now and then have good ideas. So you bring the best ideas together and create something that both sides can agree to. Yes, if we don‘t do that, we‘ll be a minority party for a long time. But the Republicans also have to be willing to meet in the middle as well.
MATTHEWS: Were you surprised at the power of the churches?
BREAUX: Yes. Running against the Republicans is one thing. Running against the Republicans plus God is something else. That‘s what we were facing.
In many parts of my state of Louisiana, on the economy, on the environment, on education, even on the war, they favored John Kerry. But on these moral issues, on the abortion and stem cell research and gay marriage, my goodness, just...
MATTHEWS: Right. That was a...
BREAUX: It was a trump card that knocked out everything else that we were ahead on.
MATTHEWS: Did you understand John Kerry‘s position on gay marriage by the end of the election?
BREAUX: Well, I think that he was sort of personally, I‘m not for it, but I‘m not going to support a constitutional amendment.
MATTHEWS: Was that something you could have taken to the bank, that statement of his?
BREAUX: No. He got...
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think he had a clear position.
BREAUX: He got hurt on that.
BREAUX: I wish he would have said, look, let the states decide this.
If the states want a ban on it...
BREAUX: Let the states do it. They traditionally take care of marriage laws anyway. Let them do it. I‘ll support whatever they do.
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton, who is quite a political operator—in fact, he could be a political campaign manager—he called up apparently a week or so out and told John Kerry, you have got to campaign against these marriage proposals. You have got to say, we have got to make sure there is no gay marriage in these states or else you‘re going to lose them.
BREAUX: It was good advice.
MATTHEWS: And Kerry said, I am not going to do that.
BREAUX: It was good advice.
And you think about how Clinton did it. Clinton was able to keep the base of the Democratic Party in two elections.
BREAUX: Yet he also talked about balancing the budget and putting more cops on the streets and doing welfare reform. He was able to keep the base, but he also brought in enough of the middle to create a majority.
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s the question.
I look at that map. We looked at that map for months around here and I didn‘t see the Democrats winning in any state with a Southern accent. I don‘t just mean the old Confederacy. I mean West Virginia, Missouri, southern Ohio. Anywhere where people talked a little slower than they do in New York didn‘t like this political party.
BREAUX: Well, I‘ve also said, you don‘t have to be from the South to speak Southern.
BREAUX: You can be from somewhere else, but speak to the values of the South.
MATTHEWS: Well, that hasn‘t been the history, though. The Democrats have not elected a president, except for Jack Kennedy, who was a real war hero and was moderate on civil rights—he wasn‘t a big civil rights guy when he ran in ‘60.
BREAUX: But you can give me an Evan Bayh someone from Indiana. And he can speak Southern.
BREAUX: He can speak to the Southern values. You don‘t have to have a drawl, but you have to have some ideas that are consistent with the moral values of the people in that part of the country.
What do you think—having served in the United States Senate for all these years and the House before that—I knew you back when you were a House member. Knowing all the people in the party, are they still going to get pulled back to their liberal contributors, the people that show up at the fund-raisers, you know, the activists, people—I like them, some of them, but they‘re definitely—Ann Lewis, for example. They‘re always there.
And Hilary Rosen. These are the real activists in the party. And Donna Brazile, though she is pretty practical. But is the party going to once again be prisoner to its activist wing?
BREAUX: Chris, I...
MATTHEWS: And I like these guys like Evan Bayh.
BREAUX: Chris, I saw today Howard Dean saying, just don‘t make the mistake of moving towards the center. My gosh, that‘s how you win elections is in the center. Keep the base.
We‘re going to have to move to the center. There‘s nothing wrong with that. We can keep the base in by having good solid Democratic ideas. But you‘d better know how the expand them. Otherwise, you‘re going to be a party that loses elections. We‘ve lost three in a row now. And I think moving to the center is where the answer is.
Let‘s talk about the issues the president suggests he is going to raise. And I want to ask you if you think they‘re issues that Democrats can join in and positively help shape. For example, Social Security reform, you‘ve been involved in that. A lot of Democrats, like John Kerry, simply say, don‘t touch that third rail. And, by the way, for people that don‘t know about railroads, that was the third rail with the electricity in it, from the old days.
It‘s a third rail issue. We‘re not going to touch it. You guys, I hope you fail. That seems to be the approach of a lot of Democrats.
BREAUX: Chris, this is a perfect example that you‘ve brought up, because, if we don‘t do anything with Social Security, it is going broke.
BREAUX: People who are a baby boom generation today, it not will not be there for them, unless we do something. And the choices aren‘t easy. You can raise more taxes. No one wants to do that. You can cut benefits.
Who wants to do that?
MATTHEWS: Or raise the retirement age.
BREAUX: So, you—no one wants to do that. But you have to do something.
MATTHEWS: Or means-test it.
BREAUX: Means-test it, or consider allowing people to have these private accounts. We want to make sure that people have money when they retire. How we do it isn‘t a matter of social philosophy. It is a matter of what works.
MATTHEWS: But the Democrats, will they accept the fact that they have to be partners in reforming Social Security or will they say, no, we hope he blows it?
BREAUX: Well, I hope that the Republicans also recognize that they have to be partners with the Democrats to get someone that can pass.
BREAUX: And I think that we have to do something. We can‘t just say don‘t do anything, because it‘s going broke if we don‘t do something. And we have to get together to do it. Otherwise, it is not going to happen.
But this is an area where we shouldn‘t let the mechanics overshadow the ultimate goal of having a system that is financially solvent. It‘s not now.
MATTHEWS: How about simplifying taxes so that you don‘t have to hire an accountant? If you‘re a regular guy or a regular woman and you‘re making a regular income, you have to hire an accountant these days, whether it‘s H&R Block or somebody.
BREAUX: Chris, this is a bigger challenge for the president because it‘s hugely complicated. People who make a political football out of it—you‘re going to raise tax on the lower income. You have more tax cuts for the upper income. I think you can simplify it greatly and yet still make it progressive. And that‘s where we should try to reach an agreement on.
MATTHEWS: You think we might substitute a sales tax for an income tax?
BREAUX: I don‘t think it is going to happen any time soon.
MATTHEWS: But you think the Democrats ought to join in this effort?
BREAUX: We ought to be involved. We ought to be at the table.
MATTHEWS: OK. Will you accept an invitation from the president to participate on one of these commissions to try to work it out?
BREAUX: Yes, I would like to. I think that, whatever I can do to help, I think I would be willing to do that.
MATTHEWS: You‘re a great politician.
BREAUX: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Great guy. Thank you, John Breaux, leaving the Senate. And it‘s the Senate‘s loss.
Coming up, Bush senior adviser Tucker Eskew joins us.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, after last week‘s victory, does President Bush have a mandate? Bush senior adviser Tucker Eskew joins us when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Tucker Eskew is a former senior adviser to President Bush‘s successful reelection campaign.
I shouldn‘t call you former if you win.
MATTHEWS: You would be former if you lose.
TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: The campaign is over, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the hottest issue of our times, which is, why did you win?
MATTHEWS: ... hear it from you.
ESKEW: I was asked a one-word answer, why the president would win, and I said vision. And that says a lot, bold, principled, willing to take a tough stand.
The thing I was able to say over and over again that resonated, Chris, is, this was a man who would take a stand and you knew where he was coming from, even if you disagreed with him. And, in the end, I think the American people concluded they couldn‘t really say that about our opponent.
MATTHEWS: That was the best line. I told you before we went on tonight that—from the convention. I think I said at the time when he—
I know I said at the time, when he said very nonchalantly, as an offhand remark, well, you know where I stand.
MATTHEWS: And I thought, that‘s a great line.
ESKEW: You do know. You do know where he stands.
MATTHEWS: And I think that the problem with Kerry is, what did you think Kerry‘s message was, by the way, watching it from the other side?
ESKEW: Well, it changed a good bit.
They struggled with it. It is hard running against an incumbent. I grant them that. They were anti. They rode the news cycle, which was often bad for the president. It was for month after month. They worked very hard to ride that wave. I think that wave just couldn‘t bring them to shore.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s in the country‘s interests for the Democrats and the Republicans to split the difference on some issues?
ESKEW: I think there are times, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: When you go against...
MATTHEWS: ... each other.
ESKEW: But I think if you look at this—and I think behind that question is a sense that that hadn‘t happened. And it did. If you look at No Child Left Behind, the president compromised with Democrats like Ted Kennedy to get it done. He gave in on that.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about, though, can you do a Social Security deal that both parties can live with?
ESKEW: I hope so. The president certainly believes that we can.
MATTHEWS: Can you do a tax deal that both sides can agree with?
ESKEW: Yes. Yes, enough to get a majority.
MATTHEWS: So you don‘t have to hire accountants?
ESKEW: We‘ve done it before. That‘s a tough fight. President Reagan...
MATTHEWS: My feeling is that the average guy—Rostenkowski said this once. The average guy or woman who does their taxes, they‘re honest about it. They sit there and they think of it. Oh, I‘ll be honest about this. Oh, God, I got to be honest about this, got to be honest about this. They think they‘re chumps, because they know, down the streets, there‘s a guy has paid to find loopholes.
ESKEW: Well, and they know what the president said all through this campaign, that the rich can hire a fleet of attorney and accountants to figure it all out. That‘s not fair.
MATTHEWS: Is it possibly going to be a progressive sales tax replacing a progressive income tax?
ESKEW: I think the president has been clear that nothing is off the table. And we‘ll to have to see where it goes.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about an interesting fight. I‘m from Pennsylvania. Arlen Specter has said some things about he doesn‘t think that it would be advisable to take up a man or a woman who is going to go on the court, the Supreme Court, who is going to set their mind toward changing—let‘s take a look at it. I shouldn‘t try to paraphrase.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the senator from Pennsylvania, just reelected.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA: Well, when you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose and overturn Roe vs. Wade, I think that is unlikely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of that?
ESKEW: I think I would take it as a statement of a prediction of vote counts, more than any sort of warning or threat. I think the president...
MATTHEWS: What, does he work for “Hotline” or is he a member of the Senate Republican caucus?
ESKEW: Ask Senator Specter. I think we take him at his word when he says the president‘s nominees will get a full hearing and get reported to the floor.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t see a conflict between his position that it is unworkable to try run a anti-Roe vs. Wade by the Senate?
ESKEW: Well, I think—let me say, the president has made clear there‘s no litmus test for his judges. Competence and a willingness to strictly interpret the Constitution.
MATTHEWS: Well, Arlen Specter has got a litmus test. He just said so.
ESKEW: Perhaps he gave some voice to that. And the president is going to take him at his word. He‘s voted for some of the president‘s choices before. And we would like to see that happen again if and when a Supreme Court nominee comes up.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the issue of abortion rights is now an issue that divides the two parties? Is it a partisan issue? In other words, if you‘re a Republican, you should be pro-life and against abortion. You want to outlaw it. And if you‘re a Democrat, you should be—you are perceived as being for keeping it legal.
ESKEW: Well, first of all, I know the leader of our party is very clear about it and trying to promote a culture of life. And I know that our party, the Republican Party, enjoys some of its most prominent members being on the opposite side of that issue.
MATTHEWS: But would the president like to have Roe vs. Wade overruled?
ESKEW: I don‘t think the president has ever said that. I think he wants to see the Constitution strictly interpreted. And we‘ll let jurisprudence move forward on that.
MATTHEWS: Does he believe Roe v. Wade was strictly interrupted?
ESKEW: I think the president believes that the culture has gone too far toward abortion. We‘ve been able to have legitimate discussions that have some legitimate and real and acceptable restrictions.
MATTHEWS: What surprised you, Carter—I mean, Tucker. What surprised you election night?
ESKEW: Well, just following the exit polls.
MATTHEWS: I was broadcasting all night.
MATTHEWS: And I was too busy to think about what I was hearing.
MATTHEWS: It was so much coming so fast. Were you surprised at Ohio?
ESKEW: I had—when—first of all, Chris, let me say, I had doubts about those exit polls when I heard they were 58 percent female.
ESKEW: I knew they were wrong when they said my home state, South Carolina, was too close to call.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Women voted Republican.
ESKEW: Yes. Women voted Republican. The president had gains among blacks, gains among Latinos, gains among women, gains in the Northeast.
MATTHEWS: What went wrong with all those polls...
MATTHEWS: Why were they wrong?
ESKEW: It sounds like the model is wrong. I‘ll leave it to the Matt Dowds of the world to completely figure that out.
ESKEW: But we figured out shortly after real returns came in that they weren‘t matching those projections.
If you‘re a movie buff, you know that Hitchcock always put a plotline through called the MacGuffin.
ESKEW: It didn‘t really related to the actual outcome, but it sort of drove some intrigue. Those exit polls were a MacGuffin for about eight hours Tuesday afternoon and early evening. They didn‘t really affect the outcome, but they sure affected the narrative all the way through the evening. It was fascinating.
MATTHEWS: Industrial diamonds in “North by”—no, industrial diamonds in “Notorious.”
ESKEW: Uranium ore in “Notorious,” that‘s right. Yes.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right.
Anyway, thank you very much. It was uranium ore. You beat me.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Tucker Eskew, beat me twice this week. Just kidding.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, the future of the Supreme Court. What moves might President Bush make in the coming four years?
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Bush‘s reelection almost certainly means he will have the opportunity to make at least one nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, even though Mr. Bush is trying to avoid sounding eager.
Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, there‘s no vacancy for the Supreme Court. And I will deal with a vacancy when there is one.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Supreme Court heard arguments again today without Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Rehnquist is battling thyroid cancer. And this is the second week in a row he‘s been in seclusion.
The chief justice‘s absence is fueling speculation about possible vacancies, because, while Rehnquist is 80 years old, John Paul Stevens, the most liberal member of the court, is 84. In fact, when you look at the age of all the justices, the only one not yet eligible for retirement benefits is 56-year-old Clarence Thomas. It has been 10 years since the court had a vacancy. And last week, the incoming Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee warned that certain types of replacements will not get confirm.
SPECTER: when you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose and overturn Roe vs. Wade, I think that is unlikely.
SHUSTER: The White House was infuriated by Specter‘s remarks and the senator quickly issued a clarification, saying that there should not be a litmus test.
If William Rehnquist is the first to step down, lawyers close to the White House Counsel‘s Office believe President Bush will try to fill the chief justice‘s slot with either Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. Both have written in opposition to Roe v. Wade. But a Thomas confirmation hearing could be especially brutal.
Thomas has spoken from the bench less than half a dozen times in 13 years. It has been his own sort of protest since the nation was mesmerized by his confirmation hearings and the sensational harassment allegations from Anita Hill.
While the White House waits for news from the Supreme Court, there is now an intense focus on the president‘s Cabinet, especially Attorney General John Ashcroft. The religious conservative that liberals love to hate suffered health problems earlier this year and is said to be exhausted. But Ashcroft supporters say he has been energized by the Republican election wins and wants to stick around.
(on camera): The key in any confirmation battle is the number 60. That‘s the number of senators it takes to stop a Democratic filibuster and bring a nomination to the Senate floor for a vote. And Republicans, despite their election gains, are still five senators short.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thanks, David.
Joining us now is Viet Dinh. He‘s a Georgetown University law professor and former attorney general under John Ashcroft.
Professor, thanks for joining us.
Let me ask you about the possibility of Clarence Thomas coming up for chief justice.
VIET DINH, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR LEGAL POLICY: Well, you know, it is not the normal course in nominations in our history to elevate an associate justice. I think a lot of noise was made when Chief Justice Rehnquist was so elevated. And so, rather than the normal course, one should think that an outsider would be a more normal choice. But...
MATTHEWS: Why is that the pattern, sir?
DINH: Because the court is a fairly collegial place. And there is a sentiment that one of the equals should not be elevated to become chief, that the court would work better with an outsider.
That said, Justice Thomas has gotten along very well with all his colleagues and very well respected by everybody within the court. And he is a very, very collegial person. And so there would not be that type of personal or structural objection raised.
The more substantive one, as the one that Mr. Shuster pointed out, is one of his very clear and very open judicial philosophy. I think the last time around, there was a lot of noise regarding some of his private conduct or alleged private conduct. I think, this time around, if he is nominated, the battle will be clean. And it will be a vision test as to whether we want a restrained jurist or one who would be activist.
And I think, at least in that regard, we can look forward to a clean, if not equally bloody fight.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the story that is floating around that Antonin Scalia, who votes very similarly—or he votes very similarly to Clarence Thomas, that he‘ll leave if he doesn‘t get the top job?
DINH: I think that is not a credible story. I think that each justice will leave on his own accord.
Justice Scalia, of course, has increasingly become more frustrated as the events—dissents from the bench and his writing. I think that some of the actions of other members of the court had left him to be a little bit less than satisfied. But that‘s not neither here nor there. The justice will make his decision to leave or to stay independent of whether or not he is elevated to the chief justiceship.
After all, he did take an oath in order to be a justice for life. And I think he will be faithful to that oath as long as he is personally able and his family circumstances permit him to do so.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s unusual for the president—apparently -
· I was reading reports today floating around that Clarence Thomas will be put up or is being—the White House is considering putting him up. The president is looking at that possibility.
Is there any real down side to trying him? In other words, send him to the Senate and he doesn‘t get the 60 votes to kill the filibuster, but he come off with, say, 50 some votes. There‘s 55 Republicans. Let‘s assume he ends up the mid 50s in his vote. Does that taint the rest of his career as an associate justice, to be rejected for chief?
DINH: No, because I think that, unlike the last time, where there were a lot of spurious personal charges bandied about, really, the objection underlying his nomination initially and his nomination of possible elevation to chief justice is one of ideology.
The people who disagreed with the way he judged, that is, a more restrained approach to interpreting the Constitution, will have an opportunity to attack him in a different forum. Justice Thomas is a very strong jurist, a very strong personality. I do not think that it would taint or affect his judicial decision-making one way or another.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the charges against him by Anita Hill were spurious?
DINH: Well, I was way too young to make that judgment. In any event, that is a...
MATTHEWS: Well, you just made it. I just heard you make it, Professor, so I thought you might stick with that.
DINH: Well, no, I think—here‘s what I would say. I think that everybody recognizes that the real beef against Clarence Thomas last time and this time, putatively, is regarding his conservative judicial philosophy, rather than any of those other charges.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
Do you think it is healthier, healthier for the country, Professor—
I think Chuck Schumer, the senator from New York, has made this point. Why don‘t we just argue the guy‘s philosophy or the woman‘s philosophy and stop using this technique of blasting their personal life or their conduct, when, really, what we have against their appointment and their service is that they‘re disagreeing with us on the philosophy? And why don‘t we just have an honest philosophical argument?
Do you think that would be healthy?
DINH: I think it would be. And as the political process gets more energized, as judges start making policy calls more and more often from the bench, then, of course, the process will become more energizing in order to make those policy calls.
The only difference I would have with Senator Schumer is that he would adopt a litmus test as to specific rulings from the bench. I think that is an illegitimate task for the Senate...
MATTHEWS: Right. I see the difference.
DINH: ... for the Senate to inquire.
I think it is perfectly logical to inquire about philosophy, but not how you would rule in particular cases, how you would overrule particular...
DINH: ... cases.
MATTHEWS: I got you. We know what we‘re talking about, too, Roe vs.
Thank you very much, Professor Viet Dinh of Georgetown.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Our guests include General Norman Schwarzkopf on what American troops are facing as they continue their assault on Fallujah.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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