updated 2/24/2005 10:49:29 AM ET 2005-02-24T15:49:29

Guest: Charlie Jarvis, Charles Rangel, Elizabeth Birch, David Gibbs, Bob Schindler

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube cannot be removed, at least not for another 48 hours, according to a judge‘s ruling.  Tonight, we‘ll talk to her father. 

Plus, the battle over Social Security fires up, as the P.R. crew behind the swift boaters attack the American Association of Retired Persons, saying the group hates the troops and loves gay marriage.

And author Doug Wead tells me he is giving the tapes he secretly recorded back to President Bush.  Will the White House save them for history or burn them? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

A judge has ruled that the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive cannot be removed, at least not for another 48 hours.  The brain-damaged 41-year-old woman has been in a vegetative state for the last 15 years.  And her husband, Michael, has asked the courts to allow her to die, against the wishes of her parents. 

Joining me from the courthouse in Clearwater, Florida, are Terri Schiavo‘s father, Bob Schindler, and his attorney, David Gibbs.

Mr. Schindler, what is your reaction to hearing the court‘s decision tonight? 

BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  Thanks for having me on. 

And, secondly, I want to take issue, that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state.  And there‘s over a dozen medical professionals, including six neurologists, that are on record in sworn affidavits telling the court Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do they describe her state?  How do you describe her?

SCHINDLER:  Well, at least mentally conscious.  She suffered some severe brain damage.  And much like this girl out in Kansas, this Scantlin girl that woke up just recently, Terri woke up in 1992, but has never had any type of therapy to advance her condition. 

Now, I‘m sure the Scantlins are going to do everything in her power to help their daughter, whereas Terri has had nothing in the past 12 years. 

MATTHEWS:  What is her condition?  I know—let me just—help me out as a civilian here.  I don‘t know the medical terminology.  Is she a flat-liner in terms of brain waves or how—how is she being described? 

SCHINDLER:  Well, that‘s what—she‘s been portrayed in so many different negative fashions.  That‘s what is so upsetting with our family. 

With these doctors that have come forward, Terri is like we are.  She is suffering from brain damage.  And it‘s as simple as that.  She‘s healthy.  And with the brain damage, she has to be—she has to learn to eat again.  She‘s talking now.  She can digest food, but she needs swallowing therapy.  She needs speech therapy.  So, she needs help.  But she hasn‘t had any.  So that‘s our frustration.  That‘s been our...

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about what you‘ve—as her father, you‘ve been at her—when you‘re with her alone, are you often able—are you able to get to her alone, I should ask? 

SCHINDLER:  Oh, we can now.  We‘re permitted to see her. 

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re with her...

SCHINDLER:  There were times when we were banned by...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  When you‘re with her, sir—this is very important.  As a father, do you feel her presence? 

SCHINDLER:  She feels my presence. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that, sir? 

SCHINDLER:  And Terri responds—well, she responds.  You ask her a question, she answers them.  But I don‘t know what she is saying.

MATTHEWS:  What has she said to you lately?  Can you figure out what she‘s trying to say? 

SCHINDLER:  Well, no.  That‘s the problem.  We can‘t figure it out. 

And the speech therapist—I taped her and gave that to a speech therapist, a number of speech therapists.  They‘re all saying Terri is talking, but she has to be trained and reeducated on how to form her words.  Same thing with the food.  She is swallowing.  She doesn‘t need any type of suction or things like.  She is not hooked up on any mechanical equipment.

She could be right here with us today and doing this interview.  And we‘ve asked to bring her in the courtroom and show the judge. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SCHINDLER:  Terri is a healthy, healthy young lady that‘s been totally, totally misrepresented.  And they‘re trying to murder her. 

MATTHEWS:  How is she eat—does she eat?  You said that she can eat naturally.  How does that work?

SCHINDLER:  No.  She can. 

Presently, she‘s being fed through a peg tube in her abdomen.  But we‘ve had swallowing therapists that said they could feed her orally, but the amount of time that it would take to do that, it takes a certain period of time for her to be trained how to eat again.  I mean, she‘s lost all these things that come natural to us because of her brain damage.  But she still has the ability to do those things.  But she just needs help.  And they won‘t give her help.  And that‘s what breaks our heart. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go—let me go to your attorney, David Gibbs.

Mr. Gibbs, explain the state of the law in Florida.  Is the normal law that the spouse decides these life-and-death decisions?  Who normally decides these things? 

DAVID GIBBS, ATTORNEY FOR THE SCHINDLERS:  Well, the judge has the discretion who to appoint as the guardian. 

The normal law is a husband.  But we need to realize, Chris, I‘ve been in to see Terri and was blown away with how alive she is.  I mean, she responds to her mom and dad.  She gets upset when music gets turned off.  She followed me all around the room.  She had never met me before, but my voice was deep and loud. 

This young lady, while disabled, is very much alive.  And what we‘re asking the court to do is do the decent thing.  Don‘t starve her to death.  She‘s not on a ventilator.  She‘s not on a heart machine.  She is as alive as you and I are tonight.  And what we‘re facing here is the prospect that the guardian, a husband who now has another woman, multiple children with those...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GIBBS:  With that woman, he has moved on with his life.  He is trying to starve her to death.  And this family is saying, please, please, please, don‘t do that to our daughter. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, let me ask you.  It may be more troubling, but I‘ll it to her father as well.  But let me start with you, David. 

You describe a variety of human responses from Terri to you in the room with you.  And I accept that.  But how come the pictures we always see on television is a very attractive woman almost in a still state?  She can‘t move her head, blinking and looking like she‘s responding to light or something, but nothing of the kind of variety of responses that you‘ve just described. 

GIBBS:  Well, I would encourage you or any other responsible journalist to come in and watch Terri with her family. 

It is completely amazing to me how she responds.  I mean, her mother walks in, she lights up.  She laughs.  She wrinkles up her face at her dad‘s mustache.  She likes music.  She gets upset when it is turned off.  Yes, she is brain-injured.  Yes, she is disabled.  But we should not starve her to death because of her disability. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

GIBBS:  And all this family is saying is, she‘s alive.  Let‘s save her life. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to ask Mr. Schindler.

SCHINDLER:  Let me answer.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

SCHINDLER:  I want to answer that question also. 

We are restricted from taking any type of photograph of Terri or any video films of Terri.  There‘s a court order out.  And if we were permitted to do that, you would see Terri in action.  But, you know, we‘re in defiance of the court if we do that. 

Terri is not permitted out of her room, for fear that people will see her and see how she responds.  So, the reason that you‘re seeing what you see, it‘s going back I think six or seven years ago, there were films taken of her. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.

SCHINDLER:  And we‘ve been restricted from showing anything of her improvement. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your own plans.  If you are able to get custody of your daughter, able to take her back to your home, what would it cost to you keep her treated the way she‘s treated now in the hospital and to give her some therapy to regain some of her faculties?  What would it cost you to do that?

SCHINDLER:  It would not cost us a penny.  We‘ve had volunteers from a medical profession that will take Terri.  There‘s an establishment that will house her.  She‘ll get the full therapy at no cost to us. 

And since this, Terri‘s story has become public, everyone has come forward.  And it hasn‘t cost us a penny.  And our attorneys are pro bono.  The doctors that testified on Terri‘s behalf are all pro bono.  They‘re all volunteers.  Conversely, our adversary paid these experts to testify against Terri.  They‘re paid experts, professional witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about—when you—I have got to get some background here.  And I‘m sorry about asking a tough question.  But when she—when your daughter married Michael, did you approve of the wedding? 

SCHINDLER:  Well, we were up in Philadelphia at the time.  And they were very young.  They were like 20 years old.  And I had suggested that they continue their education.  So, I didn‘t approve of it, but I felt that they were very young.  He was working for McDonald‘s.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCHINDLER:  Not that there‘s anything wrong with that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, did you smell anything—did you smell anything fishy?  Did you have an insight that he wasn‘t a trustworthy spouse for her? 

SCHINDLER:  Well, I think I was like any other father that looks at a guy that is with his daughter.  I don‘t know if you have any children.  And you see...

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve got three.   

SCHINDLER:  ... a boy—yes, well, you know how it feels when you see a guy with your daughter. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, she‘s still 15, sir. 

SCHINDLER:  And I‘m saying that sort of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  My daughter is 15, so I don‘t have to deal with that yet. 

SCHINDLER:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you about during the time that your daughter was in good health, was he the kind of guy that you thought was a good husband then? 

SCHINDLER:  Well, no.  Their relationship was poor.  They were on the brink of getting a divorce.  And Terri had not told her mother or myself, but shared that with her brother, her sister and her girlfriends. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.

SCHINDLER:  That their marriage was on the rocks.  It was a horrible marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, Bob.

Let me ask you, David, you‘ve got 48 hours to get something done here. 

What are you going to try to do to keep her alive? 

GIBBS:  Well, we right now have protection in place.  Today is a great victory.  The Schindlers can go to bed at night and know Terri is alive. 

Judge Greer has a motion to stay.  And what he has promised in the next 48 hours is a ruling.  Interesting, today, there was a surprise move by the government.  The state of Florida intervened through the Department of Children and Families.  And they are wanting to get involved and fully investigate the situation.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

GIBBS:  And they may well put protective order in place.  So, we‘re optimistic that, indeed, good things are happening to save the life of Terri Schiavo. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Bob Schindler, the father.  And good luck to you, sir.

And, David Gibbs, the attorney, thank you for coming on the show. 

We tried to contact, by the way, the attorney for Terri Schiavo‘s husband, Michael, and we hadn‘t heard back by the time we went on the air. 

Coming up, we‘ll debate the Schiavo case. 

Plus, Pope John Paul II calls for gay—calls gay marriage part of a

·         quote—“new ideology of evil.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the culture wars.  It‘s Pat Buchanan vs.  Elizabeth Birch on the Terri Schiavo case, plus the pope‘s assertion that gay marriage is evil—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In a moment, my letter from Doug Wead, the author who secretly taped George W. Bush and played the tape for “The New York Times.” 

But, first, more on the Terri Schiavo case.  Who should decide her fate?

Elizabeth Birch is former head of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian political action group.  And Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with Elizabeth here. 

The law in Florida is fairly clear.  The spouse decides.  Why should we alter that decision here?  Why should we take it away from the husband in this case? 

ELIZABETH BIRCH, GAY RIGHTS ADVOCATE:  For moral reasons. 

Here‘s the problem.  Chris, you know me pretty well.  You know, my father died about two years ago of acute, severe cancer.  And if he had begged me to take him out of the acute, extreme pain, I think I would have done that for him. 

But this case to me doesn‘t rise to the level of pulling the plug.  And I‘ll tell you why.  It is because we don‘t know.  We don‘t have objective, unequivocal evidence of what Terri‘s desire is.  And if you have two parents ready to take care of her, I don‘t think this rises to that level.  I could never take my daughter‘s life unless I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you can put yourself in the position of the husband in this case or the parents, after 15 years of life support, with no sign of personal recognition—certainly, the eyes are fluttering.  And she looks delightfully alive, I must say, in the picture. 

BIRCH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But if it was the same set of circumstances, you would keep her alive? 

BIRCH:  I would.  It‘s not a question of what I would do.  You have to look at each case.  And here, you‘ve got two parents who are saying, step aside, husband.  Step aside, Michael.  We will care for her.  Go on with your life. 

He has a new partner.  He has children. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIRCH:  He should go on with his life.  And regardless of what the law says, he should step aside.  But are there moments when humans are begging to have a partner?

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

BIRCH:  To be taken out of human hell misery?  I say, yes, there are moments like that. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I think you believe in traditional rights of spouses.  Why should we deny this father, this husband the decision here?  The law provides for him to make that very difficult life-and-death decision.

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Because he wants to kill his wife. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  He wants to remove her from life support.  Is that the same as killing? 

BUCHANAN:  It is not life support, Chris.  She is not on life support.  She is not dying.  He wants to remove a feeding tube.  He wants to let her starve to death.  And her parents say let her...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not life support? 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s what do you for an infant.  Hydration and nutrition are not heroic means to keep her alive. 

If she was on dialysis, I would agree with you.  If she was on heart pump or something like that or on a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you say that, under the law in Florida, they should change the law or what? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why should this husband in this particular case be denied the right that he‘s given under the law?  That‘s what I‘m asking.

BUCHANAN:  Well, what I say is—because the husband is making a decision that he wants her to die and her parents, who do have an interest here—you might say the spouse is preeminent—they want to keep her alive. 

I think the proper solution here, he doesn‘t want his wife.  He wants her dead.  And the proper solution is not to have her dead. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know his motives?

BUCHANAN:  But let me him divorce her.  Well, he wants to pull out a feeding tube.  She‘ll die.

MATTHEWS:  He believes—I understand the case to be that he believes she is dead. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, she—well, look...

BIRCH:  But why is it his call? 

MATTHEWS:  Because the law says it is. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  She is not dead.  He knows she is not dead.  He wants her to die and he wants the feeding tube taken out. 

(CROSSTALK)

BIRCH:  Well, here‘s what—when you make absolute rules absolutely, that‘s what gets you in trouble.  You should have to go to a judge and it should be multiple family members, with not disproportionate rights in the judgment of the spouse.  It should be the judgment of the person who is dying.  And they should make that...

MATTHEWS:  How do you—how do you determine that? 

BIRCH:  You‘ve got to sign these documents ahead of time.  Right now, we do not know what Terri‘s desires are.  And she‘s got two parents that love her and want to care for her. 

BUCHANAN:  But, Chris, the point is, she is not dying.  Now, again, if she were dying, you don‘t have to keep heroic—use heroic means to keep alive people who are dying. 

They pulled this tube out for six days.  She was still living.  This is a living woman who is severely brain-damaged. 

MATTHEWS:  Who makes the call?  Who do you think should make the call? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Normally...

BIRCH:  I think the judge. 

BUCHANAN:  I think, normally, I do believe a spouse should make the call.  But, in exceptional circumstances, when he wants her dead and he‘s going to inherit what she‘s got, and her parents want her alive, I think you step in. 

BIRCH:  See, I think it is just like adoption.  It should be based on the best interests of the person. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

When we come back, did Doug Wead betray the White House by releasing those secret tapes?  And, later, it‘s a hot fight over Social Security.  President Bush‘s allies are taking aim at the AARP, the American Association of Retired People.  And Congressman Charlie Rangel says the White House is using scare tactics.  That debate is coming up.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Patrick Buchanan and Elizabeth Birch.

In Pope John Paul II‘s new book, just released, he writes this of gay marriage: “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

Elizabeth.

BIRCH:  It is outrageous. 

I mean, I respect Catholics.  I respect the right of Catholics to have their faith.  But I think this is evil itself to absolutely rip out the heart of loving relationships in our country and around the planet.  I, for one, thank God every day that the pope cannot intervene and dictate the affairs of the United States. 

On this issue, the pope is simply wrong.  There have always been gay people.  There will always be gay people.  The issue is, how does a civilized society treat gay people? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIRCH:  They are after a license, a license, after years and years of paying taxes, to simply have access to the benefits that help shore up their family, their partnerships and to care for their children. 

MATTHEWS:  Patrick Buchanan.

BUCHANAN:  Look, homosexuality is unnatural, immoral and wrong.  It has been that for 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has taught.  So, does the Koran teach and all traditional faiths have taught. 

And what the pope is doing is speaking up for truth.  They said, you know, gee, Pius XII didn‘t speak up enough.  Now the pope speaks up, tells the truth and he is condemned for it.  This pope is speaking courageously.  He speaks of a culture of death, Chris.  Europe is dying.  There has—there is not a single country in Europe that has a birth rate that will enable it to stay alive to the end of this century. 

The pope is speaking up against abortion, which he calls legal extermination, against homosexuality, against euthanasia, against assisted suicide, a culture of death which is killing Western civilization.  He is the most courageous moral spokesman alive. 

BIRCH:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this. 

BIRCH:  Pat Buchanan is for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you accept the fact that—well, I don‘t want to—this is so deep, it‘s hard to get to.  But do you think there are people who are born gay? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know whether it is nature or nurture.  There are people who have this orientation undeniably.  And they may not have any control over it. 

They have control over how they behave, Chris, as you and I do. 

BIRCH:  Look...

BUCHANAN:  We‘re heterosexual.  If we go out and commit adultery, that may be natural, but it‘s wrong. 

BIRCH:  Listen, heterosexuals commit adultery every day. 

BUCHANAN:  And it‘s wrong.

BIRCH:  Pat Buchanan is for the death penalty.  Please explain.  I mean, are we for life? 

BUCHANAN:  Vatican had the death penalty until...

(CROSSTALK)

BIRCH:  Are we for life until some moment when Pat Buchanan or the pope is going to decide, no, the death penalty is correct?  That‘s not the way we make laws in this country.  It is not the way we make public policy. 

(CROSSTALK)

BIRCH:  Gay people live.  You know what, Chris?  The 2000 census shows...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not arguing with the pope.  You‘re arguing whether the pope should be relevant to U.S. lawmaking. 

BIRCH:  Exactly. 

(CROSSTALK)

BIRCH:  And my point is that our country is based on basic equity and fairness. 

BUCHANAN:  It is basic...

BIRCH:  If you have citizens all paying into the same system, no gay person wants to interfere with the church or a temple or a synagogue. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, Pat, you‘re saying it‘s their choice.  It‘s a choice, being gay? 

BUCHANAN:  Our laws—our laws are based on the Constitution of the United States, which authorizes the death penalty. 

I believe it is moral and just to execute someone if he has been guilty and convicted of a capital crime.  It not moral to kill an unborn child.  As for homosexuality...

BIRCH:  Do you believe it should be legal to stone a gay person to death? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t. 

But Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson, who is one who pushed for the Bill of Rights, said that homosexuality should be treated on the same basis as rape. 

BIRCH:  Excuse me.

BUCHANAN:  Now, I don‘t agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re talking about the confluence here of morality and religious belief and the law.  Should we outlaw gay relationships? 

BUCHANAN:  I think that should be left up to the states. 

MATTHEWS:  But states should be allowed to do it? 

BUCHANAN:  I believe states—certainly.  They have done it all through our history.  Why should they not? 

BIRCH:  All right, that‘s not right. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ll...

BIRCH:  When states don‘t act in a conscious manner, the federal government has always stepped in.  And they should step in now.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.

BUCHANAN:  Who decides what is conscious? 

BIRCH:  Me.

BUCHANAN:  Me?  That‘s exactly the problem.  You interpret...

BUCHANAN:  OK, Pat Buchanan wants to outlaw gays at the state level, not at the national level. 

BIRCH:  Right.  We get to be...

MATTHEWS:  Elizabeth Birch wants to fight with the pope. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know where we‘re coming out of this one.

Coming up, we‘re going to find out what the White House is saying today about those secret tapes of President Bush. 

Pat, we all love tapes, don‘t we? 

Plus, the fight over Social Security.  The president‘s allies are using the same ad men, by the way, who launched those successful, tough-minded attack ads against John Kerry‘s Vietnam record during the presidential campaign.  Will it work a second time?  We‘ll see.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Doug Wead, the author of that book “The Raising of a President” and a longtime friend of the Bush family, who released secretly recorded tapes of George W. Bush before he was president, has had a major change of heart. 

Wead e-mailed me yesterday to apologize for canceling his appearance on HARDBALL.  And in the e-mail, he says he has come to realize that personal relationships, his and the president, are more important than history and that—quote—“I am asking my attorney to direct any future proceeds from the book to charity and to find the best way to vet these tapes and get them back to the president, to whom they belong.  History can wait”—close quote.

For reaction, we‘re joined by NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory, who is traveling with the president in Slovakia. 

David, any reaction from the White House on this e-mail to me? 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I‘ve spoken to senior advisers who say what is implicit in that message, in that letter to you, a promise to turn over those tapes, has not yet happened. 

I‘m told that there is an intermediary outside the White House on the president‘s behalf who is trying to get those tapes.  They want to see essentially what Wead has on tape, but that it hasn‘t happened yet.  They‘re not really in a position to be making demands.  It sounds to me like they want to kind of turn the temperature down on this, because he does have these tapes and there‘s some level of concern about it. 

They‘re being very careful about how they‘re talking about it, really limiting what they‘ll say at all about it.  But bottom line is, nothing has been put in their hands yet.  They‘re looking at least to get copies of the tapes.  And, again, that hasn‘t happened yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the tapes, as they‘ve been published in “The New York Times,” talked about the president‘s apparent use of marijuana at some time during his wife and a kind of a nebulous, a nondenial, a strategic nondenial with regard to the use of, if ever, of cocaine. 

The book is also kind of murky on that subject.  Is this the area the president‘s people are worried about, if they are? 

GREGORY:  Well, sure. 

Well, I mean, I think there‘s always some level of concern.  But I think that they‘re reasonably confident that these conversations have been had.  The questions have been asked and answered the way the president answered them, which was really not very completely.  He did not want to do that in 2000 and certainly doesn‘t want to revive it now. 

But, look, any time you‘ve got a situation where there are a number of conversations and they were secretly taped, you don‘t know what you‘ve got.  I think the general feeling is, if you look at what‘s been released thus far, it‘s remarkably similar to what the president was saying publicly about dealing with questions of drug use and with...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  ... and the type.

So, I don‘t think there‘s anything that they feel is too damaging here.  But they know that they—there—there could be some surprises around the corner. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, NBC‘s David Gregory in Slovakia. 

Here at home, the gloves are off on the Social Security fight.  A group that backs the president‘s plan is enlisting the top media talent behind those swift boat ads that torpedoed John Kerry‘s presidential bid in their effort to torpedo the AARP. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s considered one of the most mainstream lobbying groups in American politics.  The AARP welcomes anybody older than 50.  And most of the 36 million members joined for the discount life insurance, cheap hotel rates and financial advice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To help people stay independent and healthy, to help them age with dignity and with purpose. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The AARP does take a stand whenever there‘s a policy issue that affects older Americans.  Two years ago, the organization supported the president‘s prescription drug plan. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But the groups that speak for the elderly did fantastic work on this legislation. 

SHUSTER:  But now the AARP is a conservative target because the group opposes the president‘s plan to privatize Social Security. 

And this week, an ad appeared on Web sites claiming the group hates the military and loves gay marriage.  The effort to trash the membership-based AARP is being sponsored by a donor-based group called the United Seniors Association.  That group, which plans to spend $10 million on television ads, refused to give us their donor list. 

But United Seniors Association shares the same address as a firm called O‘Neill Marketing Company.  And that company spends ad money raised by the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Governors Association. 

The attack on the AARP is also linked to a group that launched this attack last year on John Kerry. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH AD)

AL FRENCH, ENSIGN, 2 BRONZE STARS:  I served with John Kerry

BOB ELDER, LIEUTENANT, BRONZE STAR, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH :  I

served with John Kerry. 

GEORGE ELLIOTT, LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, 2 BRONZE STARS:  John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And the Republican advertising firm that coordinated the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth is also coordinating the ads aimed at the AARP. 

Ironically, the AARP says it does not have a position on gay marriage, though it did oppose a ban in Ohio, because the amendment also banned giving legal recognition to any union, including heterosexuals like elderly widowers. 

As for the military, the AARP says the claim that it doesn‘t support the troops is absurd.  For the moment, though, the AARP does not plan to advertise a response.  Instead, it will stick with ads focused on Social Security. 

(on camera):  Some strategists, however, see a danger.  John Kerry hurt himself by waiting several weeks to respond to the swift boat attacks.  And, already, supporters of the AARP are urging that group to start fighting back. 

The question is, does a vicious and personal battle between lobbying groups help or hurt the debate over Social Security? 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Charlie Jarvis is chief executive of USA Next, a lobbying group that supports President Bush‘s Social Security plan.  U.S.  Congressman Charles Rangel of New York is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee and says the White House is using scare tactics to get Americans to support the president‘s Social Security plan. 

Congressman Rangel, what scare tactics are you talking about, these ads? 

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  No, I‘m not talking about these at all. 

These ads are scurrilous, and the American people are intelligent enough to know that there‘s no connection between what they‘re talking about the president trying to derail and dismantle the Social Security system.  It‘s ads like this and people that put them out that really give politicians a bad name. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me to go Charlie Jarvis.

Do you believe, as the leader of the group that paid for that ad, do you believe that AARP, the American Association of Retired People, Retired Persons, is for gay marriage, is against the troops, as the Web site suggests? 

CHARLIE JARVIS, CHAIRMAN & CEO, USA NEXT:  Well, Chris, the AARP is the planet‘s largest left liberal lobbying organization. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you say that when they were backing the president on prescription drugs? 

JARVIS:  We dragged them kicking and screaming into that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are they left-wing when so many people are members of them?  I didn‘t know they had a point of view politically. 

JARVIS:  They‘ve had a point of view for the last four decades, as a matter of fact, on almost every different issue you can imagine, including, they—they‘re the ones that created the tax on Social Security benefits.  And we found in our surveys that most of their members don‘t know what they‘ve stood for over the years. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the gay marriage issue?  How does that relate to retired people? 

JARVIS:  Well, because they‘re the planet‘s largest left liberal organization, which is literally worshipped, adored and glorified by politicians like Charlie Rangel, who, by the way, he stands up clearly for what he believes in.  He is a self-avowed liberal. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

JARVIS:  AARP—AARP needs to say that straightforwardly, that they are, too.  Let their members know. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought AARP was something simply, when you pass 50, as we‘ve all done, I think, among the three of us, you get a letter that says you‘re in AARP now if you want to be.  I didn‘t know it asked you about your politics. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to...

JARVIS:  It is one of the most depressing papers that anybody gets in America. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s better than a draft notice, but a little—not as nice, maybe, in a way.

Charles Rangel, Mr. ranking member, what do you make of AARP?  Is it a left-wing group? 

RANGEL:  Actually, I can see why some people would hate it, because they do support entitlements.  They do support Medicare.  They do support Social Security.

And since they‘re out there ostensibly to protect the older people, I can see the connection.  But it is really a stretch if they‘re going to connect this up with homosexuality and hating the troops.  But having seen work that they‘ve done on Kerry, I guess there‘s just no bottom as to what they would do. 

But, you know, the president, if you lay down with dogs, you have got to pick up fleas.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who are the dogs, Mr. Rangel? 

RANGEL:  Anybody...

JARVIS:  And who are the fleas?

(LAUGHTER)

RANGEL:  Well, listen, anybody that is concerned about Social Security wants to hear the facts.  If people start talking about same-sex marriages and being against the military and all of these things, anyone would know that they have no substance. 

And I think the president really does himself a disservice, because issues like Social Security and changing the tax system screams for a bipartisan‘s approach.  If they intend to beat up on people by calling them liberals and left-wing and supporting homosexuals, then what they‘re saying is that the president will never be able to get a live Democrat to work with him.  All they‘ve got now, they think, is Pat Moynihan, and he disagreed with them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the heat of this campaign. 

By hiring the firm that did the attack ads, the very effective swift boat ads, are you raising the level of the fire here? 

JARVIS:  Well, they‘re close friends.  I‘ve known them for years. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t they have an office like in the same annex, basically the same floor you guys do?

JARVIS:  No.  No.  They‘re nowhere near us. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not?

JARVIS:  They‘re in another city.  But that was close, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  No, because we‘re trying to figure out the ad company that‘s doing the ads.  And they had—seemed to have the same address as you guys. 

RANGEL:  If I had friends...

JARVIS:  No, different group.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you—we asked, by the way, AARP to come on this show.  We hope they will come on. 

Do you want this fight to be hot? 

JARVIS:  Yes. 

We think that the most important thing you can do—and Charlie Rangel should know this on the House side—is, have an open, honest, dynamic, energetic debate.  We want AARP to tell where they stand on issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you bring in gay marriage in and attacking the troops, if you‘re caring about the issues of seniors? 

JARVIS:  That was a tiny little ad on one Web site. 

MATTHEWS:  Who approved it?  Did you? 

JARVIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you approve it?

JARVIS:  Because I wanted to test to see how long it would take for the liberal blogs in this country to go berserk over a single image. 

MATTHEWS:  To what effect?

JARVIS:  To the effect that, last night, by 5:00, the blogs were telling people to call TV stations and telling them to remove the ad that didn‘t exist on TV. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is O‘Neill Marketing? 

JARVIS:  O‘Neill Marketing is a list company, a list rental company.

MATTHEWS:  And where are they located? 

JARVIS:  They‘re located in Fairfax. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are you located?

JARVIS:  In the building where we are, yes.

MATTHEWS:  How close is their office to your office? 

JARVIS:  Three floors. 

MATTHEWS:  Three floors?

JARVIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And what is your connection? 

JARVIS:  No connection at all now.  When I first came in, 2001, USA, then known as United Seniors Association, did own...

MATTHEWS:  And what is O‘Neill known for, advertising firm? 

JARVIS:  Basically just direct mail list rentals.  That‘s it.  They‘re not an advertising firm. 

RANGEL:  I thought...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Congressman.

RANGEL:  I thought he was going to say they‘re known for mud, but whatever works. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL:  I‘m just glad they‘re not on my side. 

And I don‘t know what liberals ever have done to Charles.  But, you know, we got to take the heat out of this.  Social Security is a very important issue.  And to frighten people, to say that the system is going bankrupt...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

RANGEL:  ... is like saying the United States is going bankrupt. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back with U.S. Congressmen Charles Rangel and Charlie Jarvis in a moment.

And, later, Norah O‘Donnell‘s interview with first lady Laura Bush.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the fight over Social Security, plus Norah O‘Donnell‘s interview with first lady Laura Bush.

HARDBALL returns after this .

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel and Charlie Jarvis of USA Next, one of the lobbying groups that support President Bush‘s plan to revamp Social Security.

Mr. Rangel, Congressman, do you think there‘s an opportunity for a compromise here on this Social Security reform by raising the amount of income that you can be taxed as a worker? 

RANGEL:  Well, the president calls that raising taxes. 

The problem that we have here is that the president promised us a bill.  And you and I know that you cannot go into a complex piece of legislation like this without causing pain and without it being bipartisan. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RANGEL:  And so there are many solutions that should be on the board. 

The president said, hold your fire.  He‘s going to come up with a bill.  So, we don‘t know, except, we know in 1978, when he was running for Congress, he said we have to privatize Social Security or it is going to bust. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

RANGEL:  And privatization has nothing to do with the question of solvency. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Mr. Jarvis, do you expect or do you want the president to come out with a plan that says something about benefit—dealing with the benefit problem in the long term, dealing with the tax problem up front, and deciding what portion, if any, of the payroll tax should be diverted to personal accounts? 

JARVIS:  George Bush is a tax cutter, not a tax raiser. 

And he is going to focus on the personal retirement accounts.  And every single day that Congressman Rangel and other friends of his say to young people in this country, you‘re not going to get a personal retirement account, we‘re robbing compound interest from those young people. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the best part of the argument.  And all the polls show this.  And Mr. Rangel probably agrees.  Younger people do like the idea of this choice thing.  But it doesn‘t solve the long-term problem, does it, of financing Social Security.

JARVIS:  Yes, it can. 

As a matter of fact, every dollar that you put into a personal retirement account is taken off the future liability that we now have, which is up to $11 trillion. 

MATTHEWS:  By reducing benefits. 

JARVIS:  No.

RANGEL:  Yes. 

JARVIS:  By reducing the outward—well, Congressman Rangel says that. 

Here‘s the actual math.  When a person gates dollar in a personal retirement account, that comes off the future liability that is now on the books. 

MATTHEWS:  By reducing benefits.

I mean, Congressman Rangel, respond. 

RANGEL:  He‘s right.  It is reduces benefits. 

As soon as you talk privatization—and I‘ve been taught that if you‘re low income or middle income and you want a safe investment, it was government bonds and not the stock market.  But having said that, if you‘re willing to take the risk, the first thing you should do is to make certain that you have some income in case things go wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much.

RANGEL:  Privatization does not help you at all. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re out of time. 

U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which will decide on this thing, and Charlie Jarvis, who is with the president. 

And when we come back, first lady Laura Bush talks about the Doug Wead tapes—they‘re causing some noise—and whether President Bush felt betrayed by their release to “The New York Times.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Part of President Bush‘s European charm offensive is bringing along his charming wife, first lady Laura Bush. 

NBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell is traveling with the president through Europe and interviewed the first lady. 

Norah joins us from Bratislava, Slovakia—Norah.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  And greetings to you, Chris. 

That‘s right.  We spent the whole day with the first lady in Germany.  And she was unusually candid with us.  It is clear she‘s feeling more comfortable these days with the election over. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  First lady Laura Bush looks different these days.  There is a newfound confidence.  And, of course, there‘s still that same star power that, on this trip to Germany, wowed U.S. troops. 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  I‘m the one that should be applauding you. 

How are you doing? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m doing great. 

L. BUSH:  Are you doing all right?

O‘DONNELL:  She also comforted those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

L. BUSH:  Good.  Well, god bless you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, ma‘am. 

O‘DONNELL:  But it was in a visit with elementary school students where she opened up about herself. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s the most important thing about being the first lady? 

L. BUSH:  Well, the most important thing about being first lady is being married to the president. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  For the first time, she talks to NBC News about Doug Wead, the president‘s confidant who secretly recorded their conversations. 

(on camera):  Do you feel betrayed?  Does the president feel betrayed? 

L. BUSH:  Well, I think it is very odd and awkward, to be perfectly frank, to tape someone while you‘re talking to them on the phone and they don‘t know it, and then to come out with the tapes later.  So, I will have to say, you know, I don‘t know if I would use the word betrayed, but I think it is—it is a little bit awkward, for sure. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Gone is the guarded Laura Bush.  Now she is more self-assured, ready to put her own mark on the White House, making clear things are changing dramatically. 

(on camera):  There have been some stories that there is an East Wing intrigue.

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  A shakeup going on, that Mrs. Bush is cleaning house and getting a whole new staff.  Are you doing that? 

L. BUSH:  There‘s not a lot of promotion possibilities in the East Wing, sadly.  I guess you get promoted to the West Wing. 

O‘DONNELL:  There is a pretty big job opening at the White House. 

L. BUSH:  There is one big job opening at the White House, absolutely, White House chef.  I‘m excited about that, too. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  What are you looking for? 

L. BUSH:  Well, I‘m looking for, obviously, a really great cook.  I mean, that‘s the most important thing, somebody who cooks what people like to eat.  And I think that‘s what everyone wants in a good chef, but, also, somebody who is really interested in showcasing American foods. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The first lady said she wants more barbecue, more spicy foods, on the menu, too, more state dinners.  She hosted just four in their first term, the same number Barbara Bush hosted in her first six months in the White House. 

L. BUSH:  I think we will do more entertaining—we already have—at the White House.  What happened on September 11 and, of course, the war really made us mindful of not having a lot of lavish entertaining at the White House. 

What you did not see is that my husband hosted more working dinners and lunches with heads of state than ever before, well over 100 heads of state. 

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  I know you don‘t consider yourself a clotheshorse.

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  But people raved about your outfit on Inauguration Day. 

Are you becoming more hip?  Are your daughters helping you with this? 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  What gives? 

L. BUSH:  I need some help, I‘m sure.

But, no, I mean, I like clothes.  It‘s fun.  It‘s really fun.  I‘ve really enjoyed getting to know a number of American designers.  I certainly didn‘t know any before. 

O‘DONNELL:  You have rejected the label traditional first lady.  How do you want yourself to be seen? 

L. BUSH:  Well, I just want to be seen as Laura Bush.  I think there‘s

something—I‘m not wild about the term first lady.  I think it‘s kind of

·         it is—something artificial, slightly artificial about the title, a so-called title or whatever it is. 

I want to be known for who I am and what I work on.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think...

L. BUSH:  And that‘s, in fact, what I think most women want to be known for. 

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think you will have a little bit more of a chance to do that, then, in the second term? 

L. BUSH:  I hope so.  I hope so. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Chris, the first lady and the president have been on this

goodwill tour.  This is their last stop here in Slovakia.  And there is

going to be a testy summit likely tomorrow, as the president meets with

Russian President Vladimir Putin, after the president has sharply

criticized him for the past several days for backsliding on the rule of law

·         Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think Laura Bush, the first lady, was so careful not to use a quotable word in responding to you about Doug Wead‘s betrayal? 

O‘DONNELL:  Very interesting response from the first lady.  It is the first time we‘ve even heard from the president or the first lady about how they feel about those secretly recorded conversations. 

She didn‘t use the word betrayed, I think because she didn‘t want to convey the impression that they actually care about this guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  But it is clear the White House is trying to get this story to die quickly and try and get some of those tapes back so there isn‘t any further damage—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell, in Bratislava, Slovakia. 

I‘ll be back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern with more HARDBALL. 

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

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