updated 12/20/2004 1:53:01 PM ET 2004-12-20T18:53:01

Guest: Wesley Clark, Bill Kurtis, Josh Horton, Taunacy Horton, Jon Meacham, Al Sharpton

'CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Another prominent Republican says Donald Rumsfeld should be replaced.  Will President Bush stand by his defense secretary.

Plus, what to expect from the second Bush administration. 

Let play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi joined the chorus of Republicans who are criticizing the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and said he wants the defense secretary to be replaced by next year.  Speaking to a chamber of commerce in Mississippi, Senator Lott said, “I‘m not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld.  I don‘t think he listens enough to his uniformed officers.  I‘d like to see a change in that slot in the next year or so.  I‘m not calling for his resignation, but I think we do need a change at some point.”

Senator Lott‘s comments came on the heels of criticism by Senator John McCain, Bill Kristol and Norman Schwarzkopf.  But despite the growing number of critics, the White House gave Secretary Rumsfeld a vote of confidence today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job leading our efforts at the Department of Defense to win the war on terrorism and to help bring about a free and peaceful Iraq.  And the president is focused on working closely with him on those matters. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Retired General Wesley Clark is the former supreme allied commander of NATO.  He‘s also a former democratic presidential candidate.  General, what do you think the president should do here? 

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET) FRM. DEMOCRATIC PRES. CANDIDATE:  Well, I think the president will not replace Secretary Rumsfeld.  But I think Secretary Rumsfeld did cross the line when he was actually kind of disparaging to the troops.  He wasn‘t respectful to the troops. 

And one of the things you learn as a senior leader, you have to respect the men and women on the front lines doing the job.  You have got to respect them, not only love them, not only order them to risk their lives, but you have to respect their views. 

And I don‘t think that respect came through in what he says.  And in the behind the scenes work, I don‘t think that respect is there inside the Pentagon with the chain of command.  At least that‘s the feedback I continue to get. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the wide variety of attackers, though?  It is not just people who have question the war.  Certainly not just Democrats, but he‘s being hit by not just moderate Republicans like Susan Collins but being hit by Hagel, of course, who is sort of a centrist.  He is being hit by General Schwarzkopf, who is an analyst for MSNBC and a great military hero, maybe the greatest in many ways.  And he‘s also being hit by the ideologue behind—or the ultimate ideologue, you could say,  Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. who has been pushing the war since day one. 

Do you think people are trying to separate themselves a bit from what looks to be a problem come next January in the elections? 

CLARK:  I think people are celebrating themselves.  But I think people have different motives in this.  I think, for one thing, I think Secretary Rumsfeld did cross the line in his question and answer session with the troops and the comments afterwards.  It wasn‘t just that he didn‘t know what was going on, he didn‘t seem to think it was important and he didn‘t seem to respect the concerns of the troops, and he seemed to kind of bristle at the criticism.  And those are things that, whether you‘re a Democrat or Republican, it doesn‘t matter, I mean, your constituents don‘t like it. 

Look, the National Guard and Reserve especially, their families are out there in the states.  And their husbands and some of their wives and their fathers and their children are over here serving in Iraq.  And they‘re unhappy about it.  And when somebody doesn‘t respect the loved ones for the sacrifices they‘re making, and try to prevent those sacrifices, I mean that‘s not a partisan issue, that‘s just plain bad leadership.  And that‘s what they saw. 

But I think, you know, a guy like Bill Kristol, what he sees is that Secretary Rumsfeld‘s plan is not unfolding the way that the neocons thought it should unfold in the Middle East.  This was supposed to be like a scaffold.  You know, you just go in there and carve out Saddam Hussein, boom, the people are liberated.  And they‘re all democratic.  And then the Syrians jump on board and say, hey, by golly, come and save us too.  And then the Iranians and the Lebanese. 

It hasn‘t worked that way, because what the neocons didn‘t understand is, that you don‘t get the kind of Democratic reform you want in the Middle East at the barrel of a gun.  And they‘re holding Rumsfeld responsible for that.  But really, it‘s a flawed conception. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s interesting.  You‘re the first person I‘ve heard say that, general.  Because a lot of people look at it much more narrowly and they say the reason we‘re getting criticism of the general is there aren‘t enough troops there.  He said he had enough troops, when really in reality, it was the conception that justified the low troop level.  Is that your point?  That you did not need a lot of troops, because you weren‘t going to face much of an insurgency. 

CLARK:  There are two points there, Chris.  One is the point of the neocons, which is not military at all.  It is the point of the operation and the fact that you could sort of go in there and lance the boil of Saddam Hussein, get him out of there and everything would turn out OK.  And it hasn‘t. 

But, you know, there also are a lot of comments and criticism from the retired generals, because they know.  And most of us knew at the outset that we did not have enough troops on the ground to do the full job of post conflict recovery that was required.  And I think the people on active duty knew it, too.  And they tried to tell Rumsfeld this during the planning process. 

And of course, when you‘re arguing against the secretary of defense, and he keeps whittling on you and whacking you, it is real hard to hold your ground.  And he just carved down the size of the force, from the 400,000, 500,000 of Desert Storm down to what actually went in there, which was like 90,000 troops, as far as I can tell, actually at the cutting edge of the force on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  Look into your crystal ball, and I mean that seriously, you sense of vision about what‘s going to happen.  We‘re having an election at the end of January in Iraq.  The majority group are the Shia.  They‘re led by the spiritual leader, the Cleric Sistani.  They have a candidate, apparently, named Hakim.  Do you sense that they‘re going to turn that country into an Islamic style republic since they have the upper hand, these are the fundamentalist Shia. 

CLARK:  No.  Not right away.  But what they‘ll do is make sure that they have got enough power to be able to set in motion a process that will take it in that direction.  But the key thing for them in the election is to make sure they get legitimacy.  So, there will be a few Sunnis who participate.  And the United States will be wanting to work with the Shia to claim that the election is legitimate.. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we give them leave?  Can we do that old George Jaykin (oh), thing during Vietnam War, declare victory and leave at the point we have a government over there? 

CLARK:  Well, I think that‘s a possibility except for two things.  Number one, we don‘t know the level of resistance is going to be from the Sunnis.  We cannot walk out and leave a civil war. 

And secondly, don‘t forget that Iran is developing nuclear capabilities.  How far along they are?  We don‘t know.  Where the sites are?  We don‘t know.  But we do know this, we would take the military option, I think, if there were one available. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, General Wesley Clark. 

Coming up, the story of a brave marine who decided to ship off to Iraq even though his wife was about to give birth to quintuplets. 

And tonight, at 9:00 Eastern, a special edition of HARDBALL: A Soldier‘s Journey Home.  With some of the incredibly brave men and women injured in Iraq and Afghanistan who are now putting their lives back together at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Marine Sergeant Josh Horton learned just two weeks before he was deployed to Iraq, that his wife was expecting quintuplets.  Because of that odd situation, he could have stayed in the United States.  But the couple decided together that he would go.  In early October, Josh was severely wounded by mortar fire out in Iraq.  Days later, his wife gave birth prematurely to five babies.  Here they are in their new home in Oswego, Illinois.  Thank you, sergeant, thank you for joining us.  Just tell me now, where are you right now?  Tell everybody what room we‘re in and everything. 

TAUNACY HORTON, MOTHER OF QUINTUPLETS:  We‘re in the little girls‘ room right now.  For the baby girls.  This is their room. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, give me names of the babies. 

T. HORTON:  The little girls‘ names, I‘ll start in order of how they were born.  Conner (ph) was born first.  And then Porter (ph) and Locklynn (ph), the two boys are born, and then Adison (ph) and then Kaitlin (ph) was born very last.  Let me ask you, Sergeant Horton, you had a choice.  Like all married people, you try to make it together.  In this case, you did.  Whether to head out knowing your wife was not only pregnant but about to be delivering five babies.  Why did you decide to go and leave her behind and risk your life? 

SGT. JOSH HORTON, U.S. MARINES:  The marines I was with, I trained with for two years.  We had specifically trained for this mission for several months before we deployed.  And I was the squad leader.  And I had 10 guys I was responsible for.  And it would have been really rough to leave them I don‘t want to say leaderless, because they‘re marines and they can take care of themselves.  In effect, that‘s what I would have done.  Not only that, if I didn‘t go, somebody else would have to go in my place. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you feel about that decision?  You backed it up, right? 

T. HORTON:  Absolutely.  I mean, everyone who knows Josh knows our family.  We so love this country and everything that it is about and it was a hard decision.  It really was.  With everything coming up.  But everybody that knows Josh that‘s what he is about.  He needed to go.  That was what he believed in. 

MATTHEWS:  Here we are in late December.  The ending of the year, the Christmas season.  Everything is around us right now.  I want you, Sergeant, to give us a sense, for us civilians out here and those who root for you guys and women, what was it like to get hit?  What was the situation? 

J. HORTON:  My squad was on the roof of a three-story building just south of the Euphrates River.  We were watching for—we had been taking mortar fire from palm groves in the area for about three days previous.  My squad was specifically by the roof watching for enemy snipers that would have been shooting at patrols in the area.  And also, looking for those mortars.  Those mortars started coming in.  That was what we were looking for.  I was trying to call on our artillery to silence the enemy mortars at the time.  And one of the mortars fell short of its intended target and hit the top of our building.  That was kind of strange.  I could the round come in.  I was knocked from my feet.  Suddenly I had all my marines around me, making sure I was OK.  They flew me out by helicopter. 

MATTHEWS:  Where was the mortar fire coming from? 

J. HORTON:  It was coming from one of the palm groves to our northwest.  Northwest of my position. 

MATTHEWS:  How far away? 

J. HORTON:  About 500 or 600 meters. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that beyond your range?  You couldn‘t hit them with anything?  You were trying to get someone else to hit them, right? 

J. HORTON:  Right.  We could have engaged them with small arms machine gun, rifle fire.  But at 500 or 600 yards, it is pretty far out there.  We wanted the big guns to take care of business. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that what it is like for a lot of troops?  You‘re not so much engaged in a fire fight as you‘re engaged in a situation where you‘re driving around and someone can hit with you a garage door opener and blow up an IED underneath you or they can hit you with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from a long distance.  You‘re never really in a line of sight with your enemy, are you? 

J. HORTON:  There were times when we were in the city that we were but a lot of times, that‘s exactly right.  The major threat came from the IEDs and the explosions on the side of the road.  That was one of the big problems. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you feel about the war?  How do you feel how it is going?  Do you feel like we‘re gaining ground or there‘s more and more insurgents or terrorists every day?  What does it feel like?  Everybody has a sense of how it is going. 

J. HORTON:  Just from my place, with me and my guys, my squad and my platoon, we were taking care of business.  The enemy would engage us and we would engage them right back.  And the fight would end one way or the other at that point and nine times out of 10, the marines would come through unscathed.  I thought we were doing a real good job over there.  The citizens, the Iraqi citizens we came in contact with on the street, they loved us and they thought we were taking care of business as well.  It was good times over there. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about home here.  What has been the reaction to your delivery of all those babies, all that new life around you, and of course your husband is back home.  I guess that‘s a good thing.  What has been the reaction of the community there in Oswego? 

T. HORTON:  My goodness.  There‘s not even words.  It is overwhelming.  We‘ve just seen in our small community, you know, people come together we‘ve never even met who for a long time, as soon as he left, he was helping me and my two children here.  We‘re just such a small part of this all.  We‘re just one family out of hundreds of thousands of military families that are, believe the same as we do and are doing the same as we do.  Not necessarily having five babies, but we‘ve just seen people helping other people.  We‘re just grateful for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Sergeant, what‘s your reaction when you came home to all this? 

J. HORTON:  It is great.  It is fantastic.  I knew that the community had been rallying around us.  I talked to people from church or I talk to Taunacy over the phone from either California or overseas, and I knew we were getting help but I didn‘t realize how much help until I came home to see this.  It‘s been unbelievable, incredible.  I wish I had time to sit down and thank everybody personally.  But there are too many people.  Unbelievable. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re doing it right now.  I think a lot of people who don‘t know your town but know the feelings you have.  I guess they‘re very proud of those communities out there.  It is like “A Wonderful Life.”  It is like the movie anyway.  I know there‘s always tragedy in these situations.  You‘ve faced it yourself.  Congratulations on being Americans, you‘ve been great. 

Thank you, Josh.  Thank you, Taunacy.

The community has set up a fund to help the Horton family defray costs.  If you would like to help out, the address is Horton Family, c/o Harris Bank, P.O. Box 6201, Carol Stream, IL 60197-6201.

Up next, “Newsweek‘s” John Meacham, NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan and the Reverend Al Sharpton on what is ahead in the new year and what to expect from President Bush‘s second term.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re taking a look forward to what the big stories of 2005 are going to be.  Jon Meacham is the managing editor of “Newsweek” magazine and the author of the book, “Franklin and Winston.”  Andrea Mitchell is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and the Reverend Al Sharpton is a former Democratic presidential candidate.  I want you to start, Jon.  What‘s the big political story of 2005 going to be? 

JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK” MANAGING EDITOR:  I think it will be whether Bush tries to move right on Supreme Court appointments, on judicial appointments, on social policy, and whether he will feel that the evangelical turnout was significant enough for him that he needs to pay them off and I think the second thing obviously is the Iraqi elections and the course of how things go there.  We‘re looking at—that‘s the big bet.  If it goes well, Bush will look very good.  If it goes badly, the last couple of years will be new questions about what we‘ve been doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Any differences, Pat?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I would say I think it‘s a given that the president will appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court.  He‘ll be in real trouble otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean a real red meat conservative.  No doubt about it.

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s someone like a fourth circuit judge, something like that, someone who has a paper trail as a judge but who has not ruled on Roe v. Wade yet.  I do think the key issue will be will he escalate in Iraq or will he withdraw from Iraq or will he do both, as Richard Nixon did in Vietnam?  I think we are coming to the crunch point, and I think he will have to make that decision by escalate—I mean, is he going to look hard at Syria and Iran or is he going to pour in more troops into Iraq?  Or is he going to turn around after this election and see if he can effect the American withdrawal.  That‘s the key question of 2005.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea Mitchell, do you agree with those two topics?  The president‘s decision on the court and Iraq? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  And Social Security.  I do believe that he is going to look for a way to declare victory and begin to withdraw to stand down.  Depending on the outcome of the election.  I think the Iraqi election is really the biggest story of the coming year.  And we shouldn‘t overlook the Palestinian election.  And whether that opens the way for the resumption of negotiations, there could be movement toward Middle East peace. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the Reverend Al Sharpton.  You were involved in the presidential campaign in a big way.  Let me ask you, do you think these decisions are the ones to watch, the question about the Supreme Court selections, the questions about the future of the war, about Social Security, and the Mideast vote in the Palestinian territories? 

REV. AL SHARPTON, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I agree with all of that.  I think they will be the huge stories.  I would only add that I think that it in the Supreme Court nominations, part of the story will be what resistance, if any, begins to be mobilized or be seen, and what kind of fight will we see from the Democrats in terms of trying to effect some of the federal court nominations and that will compound the story.  I think with the Iraqi elections will certainly decide whether he escalates goals in other countries like Iran or Syria, or whether he withdraws.

So I think I agree with all of what has been said that those will be the stories to watch and those will define, will come down to a Bush legacy over the next three or four years.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk foreign policy and focus on that intently for a couple of minutes.  Andrea, you‘re the expert.  Let me ask you this, this decision—what is the president‘s decision about Iraq?  The people over there will pick probably a Shiite-dominated government.  What is the president‘s decision after that about? 

After the 30th of January? 

MITCHELL:  It depends on how this works out in terms of who is actually leading, whether it is Al-Hakeem (ph), the leading Shia political force right now and what kind of constitution they draw.  Other people watching this very closely, as you know from your interview, are people like King Abdullah of neighboring Jordan.  Very concerned about the shape of this new government and whether or not it is this new national assembly that ends up writing the new constitution or a subgroup that can be better manipulated by Iraq‘s neighbors.  What influence Iran will have, a warning from the president only this week. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go—let‘s take a middle course between the worst case scenario and a rosy scenario.  Let‘s assume the Shiite coalition wins over there with some Sunni and Kurd participation that they draw up a constitution which could be ready the way it has a few Sharia aspects to it, some Islamism in it but a lot of freedom in it, a lot of American-sounding U.S. constitution-sounding phrases.  If that happens, that middle course is followed, Andrea, how long do we stay after that? 

MITCHELL:  There may be a move by these new leaders to try to set some kind of a mandate.  I think we‘re still there for five years.  But whether we‘re there in such significant strength.  But then the other option is that this new government splits apart.  That the Kurds don‘t accept the outcome of this election or it moves too far towards Iran.  And then you can have civil war.  We could be in deeper than ever. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that how you see it, Jon?

MEACHAM:  I think that‘s exactly...

MATTHEWS:  The choice being they have an election, they have a constitution but the constitution fight which we had here, leads to a division of the country. 

MEACHAM:  It parallels American history.  I think Andrea is right.  Remember, this country is only 80 years old.  And the idea of Iraqi nationalism is a very tricky concept.  There‘s a lot of tribal feeling, but is there really a nationalist feeling among these three tribes that the British put together?

MATTHEWS:  If they choose to break up, what role or right does the United States have to disagree with them?  Who are we to say what a country is?  Do we have a right to say that?  Because they say they‘re not a country.  We say you are?

BUCHANAN:  I think the real resistance will come from the Sunnis who are the big losers.  The Kurds have a quasi independent state.  The Shias are going to be dominant.  The Sunnis who were in the saddle are no longer there.  There‘s a real danger of real resistance on their part.  There‘s something that hasn‘t been added in here.  The American people did not vote for a war of indefinite duration, Americans getting killed for five years.  I do not believe they will support it.  I think after these elections, the president has a brief interval where he‘ll have to make a decision as to whether he pours more troops in, where he‘ll get them.  If he does, I think he‘ll meet resistance or whether he‘ll turn around and head out. 

SHARPTON:  I think that will be the problem.  I think that if in fact you have a divided Iraq and you go into civil war, I think then it becomes very, very difficult for President Bush and it becomes difficult for the Republicans, if we‘re still there in 2008.  The real question is can they pull it together after an election?  What will be on the ground, the reality of all sides, including the Kurds and the Sunnis coming together?  If not, it becomes a serious danger zone politically for George Bush and the Republican party. 

MITCHELL:  I think, guys, that there is beginning to see a lessening of American support.  You now have proposals to spend $20 billion more to rebuild the National Guard which is really decimated.  Barry McCaffrey said that last week.  The army and the National Guard are both in big trouble and only have about another year before the National Guard is out of numbers. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s anything to this building an Iraqi army?  Do you really believe there‘s any reason to believe that we can construct an army that is nationalistic, that will defend that country against its internal and external foes? 

MITCHELL:  No.  You have the General Patrias (ph) who was the best we‘ve got going trying to rebuild that army, trying to rebuild security forces and even he has not been able to succeed.  That is the big setback that they‘re not really acknowledging. 

BUCHANAN:  The number one problem, I‘ll tell you what.  The Iraqis fought like demons against the Iranians, losing 20, 30, hundreds of thousands of people defending their country.  Have you ever seen them yet go into battle, take the initiative?  They have not done it for good reason.  They don‘t see this necessarily as their war the way they saw the Iran war when they were fighting for their country. 

MATTHEWS:  The other question is, will a Sunni, an army which includes Sunnis ever go to war with a Sunni revolt. 

BUCHANAN:  Look what happened in Mosul. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to hear to the president of the United States tell us why one American soldier should take one bullet on the Shia side against Sunnis in a civil war.  I don‘t understand our American interest in that fight.  Because you can‘t create a country in war that way.  I‘ve been skeptical from the beginning.  Up next, how will President Bush‘s new cabinet shape foreign and domestic policy?  What‘s Condoleezza Rice going to be like running her own department and not sitting in the president‘s office?  We‘ll be right back with that hot one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome back to this HARDBALL special edition, paying tribute to our injured fighting men and women. 

Now a tour Fisher House, a real house for recovering soldiers and their families. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KENNETH FISHER, FISHER HOUSE FOUNDATION, CEO:  The idea behind Fisher House is to give families injured or sick, service member and women, an affordable place to stay.  The core of Fisher House is these houses.  We essentially put the houses up and then we gift them to whatever branch of the military they serve. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the longest stay?  what sort of tenure do people have? 

FISHER:  Typically it was about two weeks.  But given our actions right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, it‘s really as long as they need to be here.  Nobody is ever kicked out of here. 

CONNIE HALFAKER, DAUGHTER WOUNDED IN IRAQ:  The Fisher House Foundation has been a most remarkable gift to us.  And not just us.  To all the families.  The fisher houses are kind of like a bed and breakfast, more of a family situation. 

FISHER:  This is an eight-room house that was opened in 1997.  There are 32 that are in operation right now.  We are building the largest one we‘ve ever built down in Houston, Texas, which is going to be a 21-room house. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got the key. 

FISHER:  Yes.  We found the key. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great. 

FISHER:  This is the living room.  This is typical of the smaller eight-room house.  As you can see, there is a very comfortable seating area here.  This is really for the families to get together.  As you can see, we have the Christmas Tree up.  That was decorated by the families.  So there‘s a real sense of family.  That‘s what these houses are promoting. 

ROBIN GLENN, HUSBAND WOUNDED IN AFGHANISTAN:  The Fisher House has been great.  Since we‘ve been able to get in here, everyone has a private bedroom and their bathroom.  There‘s a communicate kitchen.  There‘s washers and dryers to use.  There‘s a community living room, family room, a community dining room.  Not only does it give as you place to sleep and rest our head at night and just comfortably be together, there‘s a support system that is created here. 

FISHER:  This is where the families get together and have their meals.  The families will sit together.  They‘ll eat together.  It is all part of the support network.  It is a very stressful time for all these families that have basically been thrown into this similar circumstances, which is a need for an affordable place to stay and a loved one who is sick or injured.  So, that‘s the beauty part of the foundation. 

MATTHEWS:  Look at this.  How long have you been here? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  About three weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My son had complications at birth.  And he had four surgeries done in Germany.  And then we came here to follow up on his liver enzyme levels. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  How‘s it look?  Is everything all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, everything seems to be working out fine. 

MATTHEWS:  It looks more and more like a bed and breakfast, Ken. 

FISHER:  You know what, it‘s got that feel.  But again, with the sense of family here, it really is a home. 

Chris, this is a typical bedroom here in Fisher House II.  This is set up for, you know,  a family that may have children with them.  We have a desk over there where they can do some work or write some letters home and then television here and some draws, a bathroom here.  Every room has its own bathroom.  This is all part of being comfortable during these stressful time. 

MATTHEWS:  So this has been pretty amazing.  You know, when I was coming in here, Ken, I just saw this plaque over here. 

What does that mean to you?  The family heir to this whole operation? 

FISHER:  Well, this quote is on every house that we build.  It‘s dedicated to our greatest national treasure, our military servicemen and women, and their loved ones.  This is our legacy now.  And this house really is dedicated to servicemen and women that we have come in many cases to take for granted. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to teach your kids to keep up this legacy? 

FISHER:  Do you know what, Chris?  I hope when my kids get older, they never have to build a house, because there‘s never a need for one.  But That May not be realistic.  And I would be thrilled to have my children carry on that legacy. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the personal story of a West Point grad.  A young woman wounded in Iraq. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with the panel, “Newsweek”‘s Jon Meacham, Andrea Mitchell,  Pat Buchanan, and the Reverend Al Sharpton. 

Andrea, will Condoleezza Rice, when she is confirmed, as we expect, to be the next secretary of state, stand alone in the president‘s counsel or will she continue to be the president‘s confidante? 

MITCHELL:  I think she will continue to have that access to the Oval Office. 

And don‘t forget that the national security adviser will be her close associate and deputy, Steve Hadley.  So, no one is going to keep Condi Rice away from the president.  I think she will have her own unique ability to get through to him and that will make her very different from Colin Powell, who has had his difficulties communicating with the White House.

MATTHEWS:  Jon Meacham, you know her.  Will she become a principal or retain the aspect and the manner of an assistant, a staffer? 

MEACHAM:  I think you never know about these people until they get the jobs.  My bet is that she will become a formidable figure in her own right.  I think she‘ll be a terrific ambassador to the world. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will she say to the president, Mr. President, that‘s not the view of the State Department?

MEACHAM:  She will say that.  Now, whether she then supports the building or whether she has a third way, I think is a key thing. 

(LAUGHTER)

MEACHAM:  But what is so fascinating is, I would argue that she has the capacity to be secretary of state at the most consequential time in our foreign policy since Acheson and Marshall were pulling this together.  This ties back to what we were saying.

MATTHEWS:  You trying to get an interview with her or what? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Just kidding.

MEACHAM:  Potential.  Potential.  Because the world—we‘re building

·         the reason we can insist that Iraq is one nation is President Bush has sworn he will keep us safe. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Right.  Yes. 

MEACHAM:  If he creates two or three little Afghanistans in the middle of Iraq, that is serious, serious trouble.  What he has done is, he is making a big, big bet on a transformative change in the Middle East and a new kind of global order in a way even beyond what his father tried to do.

MATTHEWS:  Will she be chief of foreign policy?  Or will Rumsfeld remain as chief of foreign policy or the vice president? 

MEACHAM:  This week, I would bet on Dr. Rice. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BUCHANAN:  I think George Bush is going to be chief of foreign policy.  I think he has made up his mind he‘s going to run the show in the second term.  There is going to be none of this deputy president Cheney and Mr.  Rumsfeld running it.  That‘s why he‘s moved all his people over there.

Condi Rice is going to be George Bush‘s lady at the Department of State, his person sent over there to run that.  And when she comes back, she‘s going to talk to the president and say what they ought to do to try to force...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s it. 

BUCHANAN:  Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the duo. 

BUCHANAN:  He will hear from the State Department.  It will be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, I want your view on this, because Pat has just suggested something that is very well received in certain quarters.  That is, the vice president will stop being co-president.  The president will free himself from that alliance and form a new one, in fact, the ultimate alliance with Condoleezza Rice. 

SHARPTON:  Well, it is very possible.  I think that—I agree with Andrea.  I think she will continue to have access I think as her person—as the national securities adviser.

It also, for the first time, gives her an opportunity to show her heading a department and defining herself.  I have disagreed with Bush‘s policies and Dr. Rice‘s policies, but I don‘t think you can sneeze at the fact that she has made a tremendous achievement as the first black woman in history to be a State Department head. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHARPTON:  I think some of the jokes on both sides have been really very condescending and sexist.  And she has fourth in line for succession to be president.  I mean, so I think this is a big deal, even though I disagree with her on policy.  I respect the fact she has achieved it and I would hope that she makes something of it that defines her and not just continue...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Chris, can I make one quick point? 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re all in a positive mood, in a festive mood of Pollyanna, led by the Reverend Al Sharpton just then.  I want to ask...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  And I‘m not trying to get an interview with her either. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, you might get one anyway. 

Well, let me ask you, Andrea, we have got to move on to Rumsfeld.  Is Rumsfeld really in trouble or is he just going through a bad patch here? 

MITCHELL:  I think it is a bad patch.  I think he has got a fundamentally good relationship with the president, who was, of course, really upset about Abu Ghraib, but, two days later, went to Rumsfeld‘s house for dinner.  So, there is a very close connection.  He was signalling his support for him.  And he‘s been consistently supportive, despite what has just now happened.

MATTHEWS:  How about the vice president?  Is the vice president still allied with Rumsfeld?

MITCHELL:  Yes.  And I think that I would not diminish the vice president‘s role.

Condoleezza Rice has a very important role, as I just was pointing out.  And I agree with everything that‘s been said.  I think she has got real management challenges over at the State Department.  But I think that the vice president still is premier in that organization. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think Rumsfeld has got two constituents.  He has got Vice President Dick Cheney.  He‘s got President Bush. 

However, I noticed when Specialist Thomas Wilson spoke up and talked right back to Rumsfeld, the president of the United States took the side of Specialist Wilson.  Good question, Mr. Wilson, asked and you ought to have that answered. 

I think Rumsfeld is an isolated figure in this city.  And his lines to the vice president and president are critical.  And, quite frankly, I think he is in more trouble than people think when Schwarzkopf, on your show, and John McCain are mentioning that, and others.  I think Rumsfeld—I think there‘s a little blood in the water. 

MATTHEWS:  I do, too.

I also want to come back and have a second more with you between now and eternity.  I want to know why you think the vice president is getting demoted. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, coming up, how will the 2008 presidential race start to shape up?  The panel will answer that and much more when HARDBALL returns.

And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, President Bush‘s agenda on domestic and social issues.  How will the Supreme Court change in the next four years?  And is Roe v. Wade in jeopardy? 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with my political panel, Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan, Al Sharpton and Jon Meacham of “Newsweek,” whose book “Franklin and Winston” is now in paperback.  It‘s number what?

MEACHAM:  Six.

MATTHEWS:  No. 6, wow.

Let me go now to the inaugural address, because that‘s coming up. 

Andrea, I‘m an old speechwriter.  I wrote speeches for Jimmy Carter.  Those were the words of professionals.  Pat wrote for—who did you write for? 

BUCHANAN:  Nixon and Reagan. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Nixon and Reagan.

Let me ask you, Andrea, as a person who has never written for a president, what is he going to talk about? 

MITCHELL:  Oh, he‘s going to talk about this new American—new democracy spreading around the world and talk about the forces, the troops.  I think this is going to be very, very focused on the military and on the sacrifices of our military. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  I would think the president...

MATTHEWS:  If you were writing it, what would you do? 

BUCHANAN:  I think he has got to address the Bush doctrine issue and the situation.  What exactly is American foreign policy?  I agree with Andrea.  The whole democracy project and world democratic revolution, but is he going to use force to advance this or this an idea that‘s going to advance? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to threaten other countries like Syria this week or Iran again? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:   I would like to see if you get some axis of evil rhetoric in there.  I don‘t believe you will.  But that is the real thing I‘m looking for. 

MEACHAM:  I think what links foreign and domestic is this idea of the ownership society, plus the Bush doctrine.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, domestic philosophy.

MEACHAM:  This idea that, if God has implanted in all of us the desire for freedom and democracy...

MATTHEWS:  Got you.  I like it.

MEACHAM:  ... that, in fact, this spreads not just abroad, but at home.  And he does seem to be very focused in a way that—George Bush tends to do this.  He tends to focus on things.  We talk about other things.  Then we realize he was a step ahead of us. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think he can win the argument over Social Security even if he doesn‘t win the bill. 

MEACHAM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Unlike Hillary Clinton, who lost both the argument and the bill. 

Let me go to the Reverend Al Sharpton.

What do you think will be the themes?  You‘re probably the greatest orator of this year‘s campaigning.  You‘re even a better speech giver than the president, I think, although you may want to be more humble about that. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SHARPTON:  But I—the difference is—the difference is, no one wrote the speech that I made.  They wrote the one I didn‘t make. 

MATTHEWS:  You want credit for not only delivery, but  authorship.

SHARPTON:  Ad-libbing.  Ad-libbing. 

But, anyway, I think that it will be interesting if the president discusses values.  With the whole issue of values, of morality in politics that drove a lot of his vote and drove the Christian right, I think he almost has to deal with the domestic question of values in America, defining what they are, defining morality. 

And it will be very interesting.  I agree with the panel.  He has to deal with the whole democracy project on an international and global process, how we‘re going to conduct foreign policy.  But will he try to define how we will deal with the question of values and families and politics and religion at home...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend, I haven‘t asked you this.  I haven‘t asked you this before because I haven‘t had a chance to ask you about it.  But one of the biggest grossing films of this year was “The Passion of the Christ.”  It was incredibly—as you know, incredibly raw and graphic and some would say over the top.  What did you think of it? 

SHARPTON:  I thought that it was very graphic.  I don‘t know that I would think it was over the top. 

And, as a minister, I would say, 2,000 years later, Jesus is still the hottest box office in Hollywood. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the issue that is culturally related to all this.  That‘s abortion rights.  The Supreme Court, we have a couple of people on the Supreme Court—by the way, the average age of the Supreme Court is very close to the average age on “60 Minutes” of those guys.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It is getting precariously close.  Just kidding. 

Of course, maybe I want to end up there, because it is a great place some day, you know?  Who knows.

Let me ask you all this.  The Supreme Court, will the president go for it, Andrea?  Will he pick someone who will cause a fire, who may get defeated?  Or will he pick a safer one? 

MITCHELL:  I think he‘s going to pick a real hard-line conservative.  And I‘m not so sure it is going to cause a fire, because look at what Harry Reid said about being willing to accept Antonin Scalia as chief justice because he is bright and writes very well-ordered opinions. 

That was an amazing statement by the new Democratic leader.  And that indicates that there‘s at least division in the Democratic ranks about how much to challenge this president.  How does the Democratic Party redefine itself on values and move to the center, as it needs to do and as they acknowledge they have to do, if they‘re going to pick a fight over cultural issues on the very first big nomination?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, I think what...

MATTHEWS:  Especially since it may well be a substitute for a sitting conservative. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  It won‘t change the 6-3 balance in favor or Roe v. Wade. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.  If it is William Rehnquist and you nominate a conservative to replace him, it is no change in the court.  I agree with Andrea.  He has got to go with a conservative.  If he didn‘t, it would be suicidal for..

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But does go he with a red meat guy who...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... that screams anti-Roe v. Wade?

BUCHANAN:  No, no, no.  Listen, he‘s got to put on someone who there‘s a real possibility he will overturn Roe v. Wade.  If he doesn‘t, he will cut his throat with his base. 

MITCHELL:  But, Pat, can I suggest something?

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MITCHELL:  If I were Karl Rove, if I were Karl Rove I were really smart, what he ought to do is elevate Sandra Day O‘Connor to be chief justice and then he would get a pass for a real hard-line conservative, a younger person. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Democrats would recognize that he was giving them a break by putting on a pro-Roe v. Wade woman? 

BUCHANAN:  Conservatives would be—the conservatives would be disgusted.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you Reverend Sharpton, who is a Democrat here. 

Reverend Sharpton, do you think the Democrats would be smart to be judicious in deciding who to fight or just fight everyone?  I mean, I thought—I thought Harry Reid really took a personal shot at Clarence Thomas the other day, maybe because I went to the same college as Clarence.  But I thought that was a very vicious shot, to say that he was an embarrassment.  I would argue that he is predictably conservative.  But to call a guy an embarrassment I thought was a personal shot.  What did you think?

SHARPTON:  Well, I think that what he was—he was making an evaluation of some of his written decisions and other things. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he did not name what decision.  He didn‘t name—it seemed pretty general to me.

SHARPTON:  I absolutely disagree with Clarence Thomas on most issues, but I don‘t know that I would have gone that far. 

But I think that I‘m very happy that Andrea is not in the White House, because I think what she said is probably the shrewdest thing they could do, by elevating Sandra Day O‘Connor and then slipping a real right-winger in.  That‘s why I said earlier, the issues that we‘re going to see in ‘05 is not only what he does, but the resistance to what he does, because I‘m not too sure that there is going to be the resistance on Capitol Hill, unless there‘s a real mobilization that will put pressure on Democrats to resist it.  I don‘t see that coming.  And that‘s not good.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  If Sandra Day O‘Connor steps down, say, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg steps down, and the president goes, say, for Fourth Circuit conservatives up there, you will have the war that you really—it would be unbelievable.  It would make the Bork fight look like a tea party. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because that means he‘s going for—he‘s doing what you say, get rid of Roe v. Wade, get rid of a woman‘s right to choose.

BUCHANAN:  It he goes for the majority, but if he replaces Rehnquist with a Rehnquist conservative, I don‘t see the Democrats fighting that, as long as a distinguished judge...

(CROSSTALK)

MEACHAM:  I just think there‘s not a consensus in the country to overturn Roe v. Wade.  And the conservatives—the only place the conservatives are going to go—and perhaps Mr. Buchanan is announcing a 2008 bid.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You outlaw—you take away a woman‘s right to choose in this country, the Republican Party loses its entire gains in the last 20 years. 

MEACHAM:  There‘s no majority.  There‘s no governing majority. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jon Meacham.  It‘s a good fight for both.  Andrea Mitchell, the Reverend Al Sharpton.  Merry Christmas to everybody, to Pat Buchanan.

When we come back, we‘ll be joined by investigative journalist Bill Kurtis, author of “The Death Penalty on Trial.”

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Veteran broadcast journalist and documentarian Bill Kurtis hosts “Cold Case Files” and “Investigative Reports” on the A&E Network.  Formerly a supporter of capital punishment, Bill reexamines his views and explains why he‘s changed his mind on them in his new book, “The Death Penalty on Trial:

Crisis in American Justice.” 

Bill, tell us, first of all, I have got to hit you with the news.  You know how the business work.  You have got to hit the hot topic now.  What did you think of the penalty phase of the Scott Peterson case? 

BILL KURTIS, AUTHOR, “THE DEATH PENALTY ON TRIAL”:  It worries me because all the jurors didn‘t cite any direct evidence.  They said, well, it was everything together, but I didn‘t like the way he looked or his body language.  He didn‘t look remorseful.  I didn‘t like him. 

They had to have hate to be able to render a judgment of death in that.  It‘s scary, especially since Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School says that there is reversible error in three-quarters of all of Californians‘ capital cases.  I haven‘t heard that before, but that‘s pretty scary. 

MATTHEWS:  Reversible error, explain that to the layman. 

KURTIS:  Well, 68 percent.  That means that it can be reversed on appeal. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

KURTIS:  So, everybody says, well, they will appeal this.  Well, yes.  On what grounds?  Well, you have the jurors and any number of things within the body of that trial. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But what about actual guilt?  How many cases where people are on death row have actual innocence, where they didn‘t do it, or is that too simplistic a question? 

KURTIS:  In California?

Well, we know that we have exonerated 117, maybe 118, if you count the last week, since 1976.  And they‘re coming almost every week.  It‘s this flood.  Something is happening out there.  And I think that people are reacting to all the headlines of the wrongfully convicted.  This morning, the Kansas Supreme Court declared its capital statute unconstitutional.  New York did the same in April. 

California has created by the Senate out there a committee to look at its criminal code with regard to all the particular parts of the death penalty cases out there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, Bill, here‘s...

KURTIS:  Things are happening around. 

MATTHEWS:  My concern—I raised it with you before we went on the air, because I think it‘s where I stand.  I don‘t know where other people watching stand.  Everybody is all over the place.

But my concern is we have capital punishment on the books in huge states like California and only rarely, I mean rarely, invoke capital punishment.  And it is usually a nobody, a person who has had a terrible upbringing, may be mentally deficient, maybe be physically kind of odd looking, physically—or strange in their background.  It is never a middle-class person who seems to have it made.  It‘s always—like the preppie killer or this guy.

It‘s always some guy who seems like a loser in the worst kind of way.  So we figure, oh, we‘ll just fry this guy.  Doesn‘t it seem—that‘s the way it seems to me.

KURTIS:  We call them throwaway people. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KURTIS:  Well, it is. 

Of course, Mark Geragos, one of the big defense attorneys, is the exception to that rule, but you‘re right.  We know that it is unfairly applied in states around the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KURTIS:  That the minorities and poor bear the brunt of the death sentences.  We know that it is not a deterrent.  Most of the Supreme Court justices say that.  There is no credible statistic that shows that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I give you an example, Bill, yes, that guy who was prosecuting the O.J. case.  I forget who was innocent or guilty.  We all have our theories about it.  We all watched it for a year or two.

He decided not to go for the death penalty because he thought he could never get it in principle, because the guy was so celebrated and so popular, that O.J. was just—if you tried to go for the death penalty, you wouldn‘t get anything.  And I thought that was a great statement of how unfair our system is, because you say, well, he would never get it, so why try it, where, if it was a nobody, they would have gone for it. 

(CROSSTALK)

KURTIS:  There is some great language in the opinions, especially in 1972, Furman v. Georgia, which declared the death penalty unconstitutional, later reinstated by every justice that was sitting then.  One of them was Thurgood Marshall, but specifically Potter Stewart, who said it seems to be applied like lightning strikes, at random.  You can be hit or not hit depending on where you are and how much money you have. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Bill, what‘s it like to go to prison without any hope of parole?  Has anybody ever studied what it‘s like to go inside some big federal maximum security prison knowing you‘re going to face 30 or 40 years and die inside?  What is that like? 

KURTIS:  Well, they‘re asking to be executed, so we know that it‘s not very good.  It‘s about 23 ½ hours in a lockdown situation in a single room isolated.  That half-hour, you can go out to the exercise.  This varies in different states.  You get a shower three times a week. 

People have the wrong idea about penal systems and sentence of life without parole.  It‘s not a posh jail that everybody thinks it is.  You may have a TV set, but you‘re alone to think of your crime for the rest of your life.  I would prefer execution to facing that. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Boy, I‘m glad you said it, Bill.  I haven‘t heard it so well said. 

Thank you very much, a great guy.  Bill Kurtis, thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The name of the book is “The Death Penalty on Trial.” 

Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, and, on Tuesday, a special interview with Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president. 

And coming up in one hour at 9:00 Eastern, a special edition of HARDBALL tonight, “A Soldier‘s Journey Home.”  Join me as I meet some of the brave men and women who have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  What a great place. 

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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