Guest: Craig Crawford, William Colby, David Dreier, David Gibbs, Terry Kobe
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight on HARDBALL, a special report: the political battle over the life signs of Terri Schiavo. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews, and this is a HARDBALL special.
The U.S. House of Representatives is about to begin debate on a bill to bring federal intervention into the Terri Schiavo case. The bill would allow Terri Schiavo‘s parents to file suit in federal court to replace the feeding tube inserted into their daughter for the last 15 years. The House will debate for three hours tonight, and a vote has been scheduled for just after midnight, East Coast time.
Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube was removed on Friday and since then, Republicans on Capitol Hill have been working on a way to reinstall it. Earlier this afternoon, President Bush arrived back in Washington as he cut short a trip to his Texas ranch.
If this bill passes, the White House says the president will sign it, likely early this morning. They‘re going to wake him up to sign it, in fact, once it‘s cleared the House.
MNBC‘s Pat Buchanan is here with me, along with congressional—actually, “Congressional Quarterly” magazine‘s Craig Crawford and attorney William Colby, who‘s a lawyer in a somewhat similar case. He‘s the author of “The Long Good-Bye.”
We begin, however, with NBC‘s Mike Viqueira, who‘s up there on Capitol Hill—Mike.
MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: ... for House Republicans and people who want to have that feeding tube reinserted back into Terri Schiavo. The effort began Thursday, and it seemed as though the Congress was going to fail in their effort to unilaterally do this.
Remember, they tried to issue some subpoenas from both the House and Senate committees. One committee actually wanted to go down to the hospice and take testimony. Another committee wanted Terri Schiavo to come all the way to Congress and on Monday the 28th to hold a hearing.
A lot of that seems now to have been a ploy so—to buy time to do the legislation that they‘re talking about doing tonight at midnight.
I should point out, now Republicans and Democrats in the House finally came to a deal this afternoon, after they had tried to bring the bill up on the floor at 1 p.m. under unanimous consent. Some South Florida Republicans—South Florida Democrats and some Democrats from Oregon, you know, with their assisted suicide law, objected. They huddled behind closed doors with Steny Hoyer and Tom DeLay. They finally worked it out.
They‘ve allowed three hours of debate to give this a full debate on the House floor tonight. Then at 12:01 into the next legislative day, they will put it on the floor and it is expected to pass.
MATTHEWS: Mike, is this a partisan issue?
VIQUEIRA: Well, actually, we‘ve seen a lot of bipartisanship, I have to tell you, Chris. No one on the Senate side objected when they brought this to the floor. On the House side, we just had a handful of Democrats.
It‘s interesting to know that the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, is on travel in the Middle East. She put out a statement, excoriating the deal. Said it was a constitutionally questionable, the legality of it is questionable.
Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 in the House, known more—as more of a moderate, has worked hand in glove with Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay called Steny Hoyer a champ today, which was kind of unusual, a departure from the usual atmosphere around here.
Now, we might see it as a partisan issue outside the capital, but today it‘s certainly been bipartisan, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re watching some procedural discussion here. The United States Congress will begin debate in a few minutes. We‘re going to carry that debate live here on MSNBC.
Pat Buchanan, what‘s this about? Is this the—part of the culture war, of a life?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: This is an argument from those who believe in what might be called the quality of life versus those who believe in the sanctity of life, that it‘s God-given and we have no right to end life. And those who believe in, quote, “quality of life,” who say certain life gets to a point where it‘s not worth living.
This is—Chris, this is one of the great debates in Western civilization right now. In Europe, they‘re doing involuntary euthanasias. They‘re doing it to—to children of a couple of days old and a few weeks old if they‘re very ill or they‘re retarded. Old folks are being put to death in these retirement homes. And given the aging of America‘s population, this is an historic decision, in my judgment.
This is very much like—frankly, during—the German doctors were actually put on trial for crimes against humanity after World War II for having put to death people who were retarded and severely ill.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go. Excuse me, Pat. We‘ve got to get to the House.
Jim Sensenbrenner is speaking on the floor now.
REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER ®, WISCONSIN: ... directive to deprive Terri Schiavo of her right to life. Terri Schiavo, a person whose humanity is as undeniable as her emotional responses to her family‘s tender care giving, has committed no crime and has done nothing wrong. Yet, the Florida courts have brought Terri and the nation to an ugly crossroads, by commanding medical professionals sworn to protect life to end Terri‘s life.
This Congress must reinforce the law‘s commitment to justice and compassion for all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable. On March 16, the House passed legislation to avert the tragedy now unfolding in Florida. The House bill, HR1332, the Protection of Incapacitated Persons Act of 2005, passed the House by a voice vote.
Earlier today, I introduced HR1452, for the relief of the parents of Teresa Marie Schiavo. The Senate-passed legislation now before us is identical to that bill.
Mr. Speaker, while our federalist structure reserves broad authority to the states. America‘s federal courts have played an historic role in defending the constitutional rights of all Americans, including the disadvantaged, disabled and dispossessed. Among the God-given rights protected by the Constitution, no right is more sacred than the right to life.
The legislation we will consider today will ensure that Terri Schiavo‘s constitutional right to life will be given the federal court review that her situation demands. Unlike legislation passed by the Senate the day after House passage of HR1332, the legislation received from the Senate today is not a private bill.
Also of critical importance, S686 does not contain the provision that might have authorized the federal court to deny desperately needed nutritional support to Terri Schiavo during the pendency of her claim.
Unlike earlier Senate legislation, S686 also contains a bicameral and bipartisan commission—commitment to Congress will examine the legal rights of incapacitated individuals who are unable to make decisions concerning the provision or withdrawal of life sustaining treatment. Broad consideration of this issue is necessary to ensure that similarly situated individuals are accorded the equal protection under law that is both a fundamental constitutional right and an indispensable ingredient of justice.
It is important to note that this legislation does not create a new
cause of action. Rather, it merely provides the noble federal court review
· excuse me, of alleged violations of Terri Schiavo‘s rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Furthermore, Senate 686 makes it clear that nothing in this act should be construed to create substantive rights not otherwise secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States or of several states.
In addition, the legislation does not reopen or direct the reopening of a final judgment. It merely ensures that opportunity for the review of any violation of Terri Schiavo‘s federal and constitutional rights in a federal court.
As a result, the legislation is clearly consistent with both the separation of powers envisioned by our founders and the weight of judicial precedent on point. As the Supreme Court held in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, quote, “While legislature is usually act through laws of general applicability, that is by no means their only legitimate mode of action,” unquote.
Finally, S686 presents no problems regarding retrospective applications. As the Supreme Court held in Landgraff v. USI Film Products, quote, “A statute does not operate retrospectively merely because it is applied in a case arising from conduct antedating the statute‘s enactment,” unquote. “Rather, the court must ask whether the new provision attaches new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment.”
S686 does not attach any new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment. It merely changes the tribunal to hear the case by providing federal court jurisdiction to review alleged violations of Terri Schiavo‘s federal and constitutional rights.
Mr. Speaker, the measure of a nation‘s commitment to the sanctity of life is reflected in its laws and to the extent those laws honor and defend its most vulnerable citizens. When a person‘s intentions regarding whether to receive life saving treatment are unclear, the responsibility of a compassionate nation is to affirm that person‘s right to life.
In our deeds and in our public actions, we must build a culture of life that welcomes and protects all human life. The compassionate traditions and highest values of our country command us to action.
We must work diligently, not only—to not only help Terri Schiavo continue her own fight for life but to join the fight of all those who have lost the capacity to fight on their own. As millions of Americans observe the beginning of Holy Week this Palm Sunday, we are reminded that every life has purpose and none is without meaning. The battle to defend the preciousness of every life in a culture that respects and defends life is not only Terri‘s fight, but it is America‘s fight.
I commend the other body for passing this legislation without objection and urge my colleagues across the aisle to join us in this fight by passing S686 to affirm the sanctity of life and to permit Terri to continue hers.
At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would like unanimous consent to insert into the record a subsequent—supplemental...
MATTHEWS: That‘s Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. He‘s chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Obviously, he has the duty tonight to floor manage this measure, which will bring the Terri Schiavo case up to the level of a federal case. It will bring it into the federal courts, allow her father and mother to bring a case before the federal courts, which would allow them to continue her feeding, or actually to reinsert her feeding tube.
Let‘s go right now -- we‘re going to have three hours of debate tonight. You saw the inkling of what it‘s going to be for the next half and a half. This is the—the case for federal intervention. You heard the talking points, basically, from the chairman, as will be repeated for the next hour and a half.
What a lot of us are curious about is what people on the other side are going to say. Starting around 10:30, there‘s going to be 90 minutes reserved for the opposition. What are mostly Democratic members going to say. Here comes Bob Wexler, who‘s going to give us a taste of that right now.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: ... is not new. In fact, for 15 years, Mrs. Schiavo has remained in a persistent vegetative state. For seven years, the courts in the state of Florida have heard, ad nauseum, arguments of both sides.
There‘s this perception, possibly, that only one judge has been involved in this case. In fact, 19 judges in the state of Florida have participated in various legal proceedings regarding Terri Schiavo.
The state of Florida, throughout our court system, has acted deliberatively, with justice and with due care. The state of Florida, through our judicial system, has taken testimony from everyone in the family, from everyone who knew Mrs. Schiavo that was capable of giving it. The courts in Florida have received expert testimony from many of the most prominent neurosurgeons and neurologists throughout the entire country.
The court system and the 19 judges in Florida have been unanimous:
unanimous in stating that the evidence provided by a standard of clear and convincing evidence, that it is Mrs. Schiavo‘s wish that she not be required to continue in a persistent vegetative state.
So I would respectfully suggest for those of those that take exception to the proposed action by the chairman of the judiciary committee and by this Congress, that we stand in the shoes of Terri Schiavo. We stand in her shoes, because what we are simply arguing is that the will of Terri Schiavo, as found by the legal system of Florida, which is the law of the land, as of now, that her will be respected and that her will be carried out.
With all due respect to the proposed remedy, in effect, if this bill were to pass, what this Congress is designating is that the court system of Florida will lose its long history of jurisdiction of this matter and others like it, and the jurisdiction of the federal court will be substituted.
The majority would argue that this is a principled position. And while I wouldn‘t dare suggest otherwise, I would ask the question, if the Florida courts had found in favor of Terri Schiavo‘s parents, would we be here this evening? I suspect not.
So it is fair to conclude, therefore, that the reason we are here this evening is that the majority is unhappy, objects to the decision, rightfully reached, by the courts of the state of Florida. And as a result, the majority wishes to undermine over 200 years of jurisprudence and a long history in this country for respect for our judicial independence, as well as the state court systems and the jurisdictions assigned to it.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would simply suggest this one thing. This is heart-wrenching for all Americans. Each American, I believe, tonight and today, has been searching his or her soul, wondering how they would react if, God forbid, they were in this position.
But the issue before this Congress is not an emotional one. It‘s simply one that respects the rule of law: the rule of law in the state of Florida, the rule of law which has involved the participation of 19 judges, all unanimous in their view. Not a single medical piece of evidence has been provided by anybody who has diagnosed or, in person, witnessed Mrs. Schiavo that has said anything other than she persists in a vegetative state.
And yet this Congress seeks to replace and substitute our judgment, even though not a single one of us, as far as I am—as I understand has ever diagnosed Mrs. Schiavo, nor do we have the medical expertise to do so. And yet we are willing tonight to replace our judgment with the judgment of the most prominent doctors in our country and a court system which has labored extensively to reach a just result.
Mr. Speaker, at this time I will conclude my remarks and yield back to Mr. Sensenbrenner.
MATTHEWS: That was Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, giving a rather—let‘s face it, an emphatic argument, according to everything we‘ve watching during the debate for weeks, that he‘s actually taken the opposite position, saying this woman is in a vegetative state. She should not be—continue to be hooked up to a feeding system.
Let me go right now to someone who‘s been through a case like this before, attorney William Colby. He‘s the author of “The Long Good-Bye.”
Mr. Colby, this isn‘t about point of view and everybody wants to make it about point of view and values. Everybody seems to enjoy that and even relish that kind of a debate. There‘s two absolutely different opinions to that woman‘s medical condition right now.
One of them says she‘s in a vegetative state, reflecting what he said. That‘s Robert Wexler. The assessment made by—the prognosis made by those physicians down there and recognized in the courts.
The other gentleman was Jim Sensenbrenner, a fairly respected, I must say, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who thinks that the feeding tubes ought to be reinstated. He said that there are emotional responses coming from this woman, Terri Schiavo. The other one says she‘s a vegetable. Vegetables don‘t have emotions. Which is the truth?
WILLIAM COLBY, AUTHOR, “THE LONG GOOD-BYE”: Well, it‘s a hard question for any of us to answer.
MATTHEWS: But there are two answers, sir. There‘s one answer, she‘s a vegetable without emotions, simply a body receiving fluids, receiving nutrition to keep her alive with no brain waves, no emotions. The other is a person who says she emotionally responds to people when they look at her. She does seem to have a smile on her face. Her eyes do seem to light up in those pictures.
And I have to tell you, it‘s a sad condition for journalism, but they‘re the only damn pictures we get to see on television, four or five year old pictures. Are those pictures, to you, evidence of an animate emotion, an animate intelligence?
COLBY: That‘s part of the cruelty of the persistent vegetative state. And understand, putting this into some kind of context, this state wasn‘t even named in the medical literature until 1972. It‘s fairly new. It‘s a product of our modern medical technology, where we can save someone at an accident site or after a heart attack. But they‘ve gone too significant a time without oxygen to save the upper part of their brain.
So some part of the brain stem of the vegetative statement survives.
MATTHEWS: What level—let‘s ask you this. Let‘s try to use some parallels, because the term right to life has been used tonight. And I‘m all for that discussion. It is an extremely vital discussion in our society today, especially given the culture wars. Let‘s talk about it.
Does this woman, at the age of 41, in her condition, enjoy the level
of intellectual activity, brain waves, if you will—I‘m a civilian here -
· that an unborn child has at, say, six or seven months? Is she that alive? Or is she dead?
COLBY: Well, she‘s certainly not dead, and she‘s certainly not brain dead. But in the vegetative state, the medical diagnosis is that the upper thinking part of her brain is gone.
COLBY: She has no consciousness...
MATTHEWS: How bad can it—how bad—you know, women say, “My baby just kicked me.” So let‘s in human parlance here say once a baby is kicking the mother, is that baby, say six or seven or eight months, is that baby operating mentally at a higher level than this woman is right now?
COLBY: Joe Cusan (ph) always said when he got into this debate with people—his daughter, Nancy Cusan (ph), her case is the only one of these cases that‘s gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.
He always said, “I don‘t understand why people are having this debate,
because for my daughter, she was here and now she can‘t communicate. Her
brain‘s gone. Yes, at times, primitively, in her—in her brainstem she -
· she might appear to smile. She might grimace. She might groan. But she‘s not there. Nancy‘s not there. There‘s no consciousness.”
And all you can take is the best medical evidence you can find...
MATTHEWS: OK. That‘s what I‘m getting to.
COLBY: ... which is what the courts tried to—which is what the courts tried to do in Florida.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Colby, we are getting somewhere here. When Congressman Sensenbrenner stated as a fact that this woman exhibited emotional responses, was he telling the truth or not? The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on the House floor just a half hour ago?
COLBY: What supports...
MATTHEWS: Is that the truth, she has emotional responses, or not?
COLBY: You and I don‘t know, but the courts in Florida—it‘s not like judges seek these cases out. Every judge I‘ve ever spoken to who‘s had a right to die case has—I‘m sure would say, “I‘d rather you people figure these out yourselves.”
But we bring them to the courts. They take in the best evidence they can. They hear testimony over several days. Doctors from both sides. They look at hours of video testimony, not minutes. They look at the medical records. They look at CAT scans. They look at EEG‘s. They look at imaging studies, and they make the best decision they can.
And this—these judges, after looking at this for an extended period of time, conclude that Terri Schiavo‘s in a vegetative state.
MATTHEWS: So she doesn‘t have—so what the congressman just said, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who‘s floor managing this bill to keep this woman alive, to reinsert the feeding tubes, is not telling the truth?
COLBY: I don‘t know if he‘s telling the truth or not, but he‘s certainly contrary to what the Florida courts have said.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to our friend—thank you. Stay in there, Mr. Colby. You‘re going to be staying with us, thank God, tonight for the whole hour. We‘re going to have a lot to talk to you about.
Let‘s go to an old friend of this show, Congressman David Dreier of California. He joins us now from the Capitol.
Congressman, you heard that debate. I‘m trying to find a fact here. Is this woman a vegetable? That was the argument used by Mr. Wexler. Or is she a person capable of emotional responses? Which is it to you?
REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA: Chris, let me just first say that as a libertarian Republican, I‘ve been uncomfortable with the whole notion of injecting the federal government into what I—I‘m a states‘ rights Republican.
DREIER: But I‘ve got to the point where I‘m strongly supportive of this because of the fact that I think that these parents—now, you were just talking about the parents, the father in another case—these parents want to have an opportunity to care for their child. The Schindlers believe that—and they have reported this—that when they walk into the room, their daughter opens her eyes and smiles. They believe that she is knowing that they‘re there.
Now, a number of doctors have used the term minimally conscious.
DREIER: That‘s the term that some doctors are using, as opposed to this term, persistent vegetative state, which is what a number of other people have continued to use.
So, you know, and I think Mr. Colby is absolutely right. We‘re not in a position to pass judgment on that. And no one in the Congress is trying to pass judgment on it. What we‘re trying to say is that, with the action that we‘re going to be taking in two and a half hours, we‘re going to allow a federal court to do what it is the Schindlers want to do.
DREIER: Why? Because...
MATTHEWS: Why are you backing the Schindlers‘ case here?
DREIER: The reason is that we have seen a husband who obviously has chosen to move on. He‘s moved on in that he has a common law wife and two other children. And...
MATTHEWS: But you‘re taking—you‘re taking—you‘re saying you‘re not taking sides here. You‘re taking the sides of the parents who you trust and believe in, and you don‘t like the sort of the situation of the husband, who registered honest judgment here.
DREIER: Chris, I‘m not passing judgment on that. All I‘m saying is that this is the request that the parents, who don‘t want the financial burden to be shouldered by anyone other than themselves.
DREIER: The parents want to have the opportunity to care for their child. And it‘s obvious that the husband has moved on with his life. I don‘t fault him for that. Chris, I don‘t fault him for that decision that he‘s made after 15 years of her being in this state. But we do have two people who very much want to have a chance...
DREIER: ... to care for their daughter...
DREIER: ... who they believe responds to them.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this on a matter of fact, David. I respect your judgment and your politics here, but let me ask you this. If you believed that this woman was in a vegetative state, and you believed that the parents are wrong in claiming some sort of emotional connection from her to them, what would you be doing in this case?
MATTHEWS: If you didn‘t believe them?
DREIER: You know what? I will tell you something. It‘s not a question of believing them or not believing them. All—again, all we‘re saying is that they should have an opportunity to be heard in federal court.
DREIER: We look at—we—why? Because we look at our constitutional responsibility. Thomas Jefferson on March 6 of 1801 said “a wise and frugal government shall restrain men from injuring one another.”
Going back to 1972, when feed—when water and food was, you know, able to go in artificially in, this is not a ventilator. It‘s not as if this woman is terminally ill. And there are reports that if she were to have therapy, that she would be able...
MATTHEWS: That‘s the main point. You made a good point.
DREIER: ... recovery.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, that‘s a point that the public doesn‘t know.
This woman does not require...
MATTHEWS: Any special oxygen—oxygenizing effort.
DREIER: Right. And Chris...
MATTHEWS: She‘s breathing on her own.
DREIER: And Chris, they‘re saying that, with therapy, she could actually eat. Now, I don‘t know this, but people are saying that with therapy, she could actually eat and drink water without having to go through a tube.
DREIER: Meaning that she could function. And who are we to determine what that quality of life is? You were just asking that question of Mr. Colby. I don‘t know, and I don‘t want to be in a position to make that determination, about what someone else‘s quality of life is.
MATTHEWS: Right. OK.
DREIER: And again, I‘m a libertarian states rights Republican, but I think that to me it‘s very clear that at least an opportunity to be heard in federal court is a fair one.
MATTHEWS: OK. What I‘m trying to do is fact check today. Jim Sensenbrenner said that this woman is exhibiting emotional responses. I‘m going to keep checking whether that‘s true or not, because I think that‘s a big part of this case.
Thank you for coming on, U.S. Congressman David Dreier...
MATTHEWS: ... chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Coming up, we‘re going to talk to the lawyer for Terri Schiavo‘s parents. He‘s ready to file suit in a Tampa courthouse the minute Congress passes this bill and the president signs it, which we expect to be sometime in the early morning, like 1 or 2 a.m. And the president gets woken up to sign the bill.
You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage, only on MSNBC.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage as the House of Representatives debates a bill aimed to keep Terri Schiavo alive today. We‘re joined now by David Gibbs, the attorney for Terri Schiavo‘s parents, who‘s out there fighting to reinstate that feeding tube.
Mr. Gibbs, if the Congress acts today and if the president signs early
· in the early hours of tomorrow morning, 1 or 2 in the morning, how fast can you get to court with this matter?
DAVID GIBBS, ATTORNEY FOR SCHINDLERS: We are already, Chris, before the 11th Circuit of Appeals. We‘ve been in contact with them. They are telling us out of Atlanta we can expect a ruling within an hour. We‘ll also be simultaneously, in the middle district of Florida, the trial court here, filing with them. We would anticipate hearing from one of the two courts about an hour after the bill is signed.
There‘s already preparations made to have Terri transported to a nearby hospital. Our goal is that food and water would be restored around 3 a.m.
MATTHEWS: Who are the judges that would hear this case?
GIBBS: At this point, it would be assigned to a judge in the middle district. That‘s where the congressional act would authorize. If it‘s assigned to the judge that has the current habeas, it would be Judge Moody. And if it‘s assigned as a new case, it would be randomly by computer selection. All the judges have graciously agreed. They‘ve looked at the sacrifice of the president, adjusting his schedule, the Congress working all weekend. And the federal courts are working to accommodate them.
MATTHEWS: What kind of judge is Judge Moody? Is he a liberal,
conservative, strict constructionist? Is he a states rights guy or is he a
· what is he? What kind of a judge do you think you‘ll get from him?
GIBBS: He is a conservative. He‘s extremely fair minded, and what he‘ll make sure is there‘s a fair trial. We have extreme confidence in all the federal judges. The due process rights of Terri will be protected and indeed, that they will not rule that she should be starved to death.
MATTHEWS: How long a trial would you expect? I should ask how quick will justice come here? Do you expect a fairly expeditious hearing by the federal court of this case that‘s gone on so long at the state level?
GIBBS: Federal judges generally have complete control over their case management. They will lay out a schedule. I would anticipate that they would put it in an orderly process and it would take about a year. But that will be purely within the construction for federal judge.
MATTHEWS: Is this a case where you bring—you bring it to the federal level, because—so a person‘s civil rights in this case have been called the right to life. It‘s been jeopardized by the failure of the state court.
What is the argument that brings this to the federal level?
GIBBS: Well, the same argument that brought racism to the federal level, the same argument...
Absolutely. This is cherished role that Congress and the government have always to make sure that our federal Constitution is equally protected of all people, in particular this innocent, disabled woman, who I would like to note, is very much alive.
I was in to see her today. I told her that we were hopeful that she would be getting food and water tonight. She is getting weak, but she smiled. She‘s responsive. And for all of the congressman that have never seen her, I can tell you, she‘s extremely alive.
MATTHEWS: We heard two different accounts of her condition. I want you to tell me which one you believe is accurate. I know you‘re an attorney for the family, but here it is.
Jim Sensenbrenner, he‘s chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He‘s managing this bill on the floor as Republican from Wisconsin. You know, I‘ve sided with him on a number of issues on this program. I think he‘s a sharp guy.
He says that Terri Schiavo has exhibited emotional responses to visitors such as her parents, especially her parents. She‘s emotionally active, emotionally alive.
Robert Wexler, who‘s opposing this motion, opposing this case going to the federal court, said that she is in a vegetative state.
I don‘t want to be comical here, but vegetables don‘t have emotions. Where is Terri Schiavo in terms of her humanity, her lively—her vitality?
GIBBS: Chris, she is as alive as you and I. I have been in there. I have personally watched her. I‘ve watched her tease at her father. I‘ve watched her pucker up. I‘ve watched her try to talk. I‘ve watched her try to say, “I love you,” to her mother.
Before the husband denied her therapy, there was even times where she was beginning to walk and speak words. And what we have right here is a lady, while very much disabled, she‘s very much alive. I would agree with Representative Sensenbrenner that, indeed, Terri Schiavo is a life worth protecting under our Constitution.
MATTHEWS: How can you, then, explain the judge‘s decision that after
· she did exhibit that response, apparent response, whether emotional or automatic, to that balloon passing her. Her eyes seemed to follow those visitors. But in subsequent tests, she did not respond to those visual influences? How do you explain that? That‘s how the court found.
GIBBS: Well, there‘s only one judge. We need to note that he was the finder of back. And there was conflicting evidence. There were conflicting doctors. And this one judge that made this determination, has never looked at Terri.
There was a guardian ad litum appointed early in the case, and the judge dismissed the guardian as being too pro-Terri and wanting to save for life. He proceeded forward, then, on very weak evidence. And that‘s why the federal government has had to step in.
Have any congressmen, who were supporting your position, trying to bring this to a federal level? Have any of them come down to Florida to they‘ve been take a look at Ms. Schiavo?
GIBBS: Many, many of them have offered, but they‘ve been denied that. Michael Schiavo and his lawyers will not allow it. But we did provide the United States Congress the 33 sworn medical statements from neurologists and other doctors across the nation, that all testified that Terri Schiavo was far beyond a vegetable. She was...
MATTHEWS: Did those doctors—did those doctors get to examine her?
GIBBS: Some of them, yes.
MATTHEWS: What good is the testimony of people like Bill Frist, looking at a video of four years ago and determining someone‘s health? What value is that? That‘s hard for me to figure out.
GIBBS: That‘s—well, it‘s incredibly valuable, and I‘ll tell you why. Senator Bill Frist is a medical doctor. He is trained in medicine. He‘s treated patients. And when he sees videos or sees reports, again, he would have had the benefit of all of these affidavits and things that we‘ve submitted. He‘s looked at her records.
And when he makes the valuation that, indeed, Terri‘s life worth living. I think it is, indeed, one that should be listened to.
MATTHEWS: So he‘s benefiting from those tapes from four years ago, as well as we are.
GIBBS: Yes, and I would say this. That Terri is far more alive in person. I think honestly, that‘s why the guardian and the lawyer don‘t want her on television.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a good question. I agree with you—Mr. Gibbs, I would like to see her right now. Wish we could take the camera right into her hospital room, it wouldn‘t bother her. It would enlighten us.
Thank you. Please stay—thank you for coming on tonight. It‘s a tough case. David Gibbs, attorney for Terri Schiavo‘s parents.
We‘re back now with Pat Buchanan, Craig Crawford and William Colby. Let me go right now to—we‘ve got Robert Wexler joining us right now, the congressman who just spoke on the floor. Congressman Wexler...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D-FL), : Hi, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What is it? Is this woman a vegetable or is she one capable of emotional responses? There‘s a gap as wide of the Grand Canyon between those two legalities.
WEXLER: Yes, there is a gap. And I‘m not a physician and nor are any of my colleagues in the Congress qualified to make that decision. All we can do is look at the court record. And for those physicians that have examined Terri and have given their opinions, medical expert opinions in court, the view, as I understand it, is unanimous.
And that is that she is in a persistent vegetative state, that her cognitive abilities are nonexistent and that those actions that some people have seen on these videos reflect reflexive actions by the body.
But the important matter here, in my view, is respecting the wishes of Mrs. Schiavo. And the court found, based on a clear and convincing standard—and this was reviewed, not by one judge, but 19 judges in the state of Florida. And all of them have agreed that the evidence points to the clear—clear establishment that Terri Schiavo did not wish to go on in a vegetative persistent state.
MATTHEWS: Did she leave a living will?
MATTHEWS: Well, how do we know her wishes?
WEXLER: All of this was taken in terms of testimony in the court.
MATTHEWS: But not from her.
WEXLER: That‘s correct.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do we trust anyone‘s third party, or second party, testimony about something so important? I mean, did somebody swear that she said it to them? Or how do you determine this thing?
WEXLER: Yes, yes. I mean, we do this thousands of times...
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that hearsay evidence?
WEXLER: We do this thousands of times a day in courts all across the country. And then the trier of fact must give weight to each testimony and determine once is the boast.
What do you think is the motive here of the members of the Senate and the House who are participating in this federal intervention . I‘m looking at a “Washington Post” report that came out today that said that there was a memo distributed by the leaders of the Senate, Senate Republicans, telling their members that, quote, “This is an important mileage (ph) of the Schiavo case, and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.
It suggests that there‘s political pay dirt here. Do you think that‘s what the Republican leadership in both houses are digging first, or do you believe they‘re morally fitted to what they see as a right to live episode here?
WEXLER: I‘m not going to impugn my colleagues‘ motives that I different with. But that memo is extremely troubling. Why is it that there‘s a memo, talking about the political ramifications of this case.
And I think it even pinpoints or highlights the Democratic senator from Florida, Senator Nelson. That‘s very troubling.
MATTHEWS: It suggests that—it suggests that the Senate leadership, it says, according to “The Washington Post,” the Senate leadership distributed this memo, and it particularly targets the vulnerability of your Democratic senator down there, Bill Nelson, for defeat because he hasn‘t taken a proactive position in support of the Schiavo appeal at the federal level.
WEXLER: Well, again, I can‘t read people‘s minds, but I do also have a different view as to where the public sense is. I think there is a significant majority of Americans that are extremely uncomfortable with the Congress of the United States interjecting itself and substituting its judgment for the reasoned judgments of courts that have handled this for seven years.
MATTHEWS: But the big question, Congressman, and you‘re a political figure. You know this—in reality, it‘s not the numbers. It‘s the passion. And the people who opposed this intervention probably are much less interested, much less passionate than those like Pat Buchanan who endorse it.
WEXLER: Well, that remains to be seen. I‘m very passionate, quite frankly, and there are some other Democrats who are very passionate and in opposition to what Congress is trying to do. And I‘ve heard from many people who are.
MATTHEWS: How come—how come nobody showed up to the Senate the other day when they voted by unanimous vote, apparently of about three or four members? Where were the opposition Democrats? Are the opposition Democrats on the floor right now? Will you be joined by a strong posse in opposition to this measure?
WEXLER: There is significant numbers of Democrats that are her this evening to speak in opposition to the congressional bill here in the House.
WEXLER: As for the Senate, you‘ll have to—you‘ll have to speak to them.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much for joining us, Robert Wexler of Florida.
WEXLER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on.
Let‘s go to the floor and listen to Barney Frank. He‘s just finished up. He did speak. Let‘s go to the panel. I want to give Craig Crawford a chance. Let‘s talk—step back. I‘m trying to get to the clinical facts. Somebody calls her a vegetable, somebody else says she‘s exhibiting emotional responses.
I think most people watching right now will judge the case, based upon those facts. If the woman is truly—I hate to use these terms, but we‘ve seen in medicine, you know, flatliner. There‘s nothing going on mentally. She‘s not even an unborn child. She‘s just not one of us anymore. She‘s sort of passed on, except for the breathing, which is automatic, like fingernails growing.
Or is, in fact, she someone, as Pat says, who‘s truly handicapped, in terms of her cognition, in terms of her mental activity or vitality. But she‘s a person who has feeling towards her parents? A human being.
These are two different things, two different realities. And nobody seems to want to close that gap and say, “Well, why don‘t we have a common measure to agree on this?”
CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”: The medical science debate is one debate. The other part of this is there is such a thing as a right to die in this country. The U.S. Supreme Court found that right. It‘s in the Cuzan case that Mr. Colby handled.
What they said in that case is, in the due process clause, you have a right to that if there is clear and convincing evidence that that‘s what you intended. That if you were in this medical state...
MATTHEWS: ... found out.
CRAWFORD: And what Congressman Wexler—Wexler point to is that the courts, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on both sides, they made it clues, and there was clear and convincing evidence this is what she wants.
That is—part of this is not being talked about.
MATTHEWS: ... if it‘s decided that she wanted to die in this case?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: What you have is the husband wants her dead. He says she wants to die.
MATTHEWS: She wanted to, is that relevant to you?
BUCHANAN: You cannot...
CRAWFORD: ... what she wanted.
BUCHANAN: A federal judge cannot order a woman put to death who has committed no crime simply because she‘s severely mentally handicapped. That is what is driving...
MATTHEWS: That‘s not the case.
BUCHANAN: That is exactly the case.
CRAWFORD: He right if there—if there is evidence, that‘s what she has.
BUCHANAN: Look. She‘s got a right to life, and she‘s got a right not to be put to death by cruel and unusual punishment.
MATTHEWS: Does she have a right to have a stand about whether—under what conditions she should be...
BUCHANAN: Why are you all so anxious to see this woman dead?
MATTHEWS: I‘m not asking—I‘m trying to get the facts here, Pat.
Do you think it‘s relevant? I‘m asking for a fact here. Do you believe—
does Pat Buchanan think it‘s relevant that a woman rendered a judgment on
· you want to answer the question now?
BUCHANAN: I will. She had said, “I want to die” and her parents said she wanted to die, and if they‘d said that, and the husband said, “I want to die,” we wouldn‘t be here, because you couldn‘t intervene.
MATTHEWS: How do you trust her parents in this regard?
BUCHANAN: How do you trust her husband, who‘s got a vested interest?
MATTHEWS: Because he‘s...
BUCHANAN: He‘s got a vested interest if she dies...
MATTHEWS: What is this vested interest?
BUCHANAN: A medical malpractice suit. She gets all the money.
CRAWFORD: If she had signed—if she had signed a proper living will, and the court enforced that and allowed this to happen, you‘d agree with that. I mean, you...
BUCHANAN: Why are you opting for death rather than life?
MATTHEWS: I‘m trying to get the facts here, Pat. Do you think her wish are relevant, her wishes are relevant?
BUCHANAN: They‘re in dispute.
MATTHEWS: I want to get some facts here. I want to end this discussion on a point. There‘s a great discrepancy in the assessment as to this woman‘s vitality. Some people say she‘s a vegetable. Some say she‘s capable of emotional responses. Vegetables don‘t have emotional responses. I‘m still trying to get to that fact.
When we come back, the latest from Florida, where protestors continue to hold vigil outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice. This is a HARDBALL special report on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage. NBC‘s Mark Potter is in Pinellas Park, Florida, outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice.
Mark, do those people protesting out there believe that Terri Schiavo is capable of that phrase used by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, emotional responses?
MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely they believe that, and that‘s why they‘re here in the rain. And they‘ve been here for days. They fully believe that she is alive, and they believe that she is a life worth saving. And they‘re here fighting for that.
Some of them left for Tallahassee, by the way, to urge for legislation there. There—they see this legislation in Congress as the most important but, hedging their bets, some have gone off to Tallahassee to urge the Florida lawmakers to also get involved.
Chris, if I were to describe for you the two words that would best say what‘s been happening here today, they would be “anticipation” and “preparation.” Anticipation on the part of the parties involved, the parents on one side, the husband on the other. The parents very worried today, watching all this, concern that—whether this past.
Of course, they‘ve been fighting for years to keep their daughter alive. On the other side, the husband, Michael Schiavo, is concerned that the Congress will act. He sees this as a federal government intrusion into what he says is a private family matter. So both sides here are watching all this happening right now very, very closely.
In the meantime, the lawyers on both sides, as you have heard earlier, are preparing their cases. And that gets us to the word “preparation.” All around this town tonight and even a little bit in Atlanta, people are standing by. Judges, doctors, ambulance drivers, policed officers, clerks, all waiting for the president to sign.
So for the people involved in this, this has been a very long day.
POTTER (voice-over): Terri Schiavo‘s father, Bob Schindler, spent part of the afternoon visiting and thanking supporters and praying for his daughter‘s life.
BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER, TERRI SCHIAVO: I pray for your will to be done here, Lord God. You know what your will is, Lord. We just pray for your will to be done, God.
POTTER: Pam Ellis supports the husband, Michael Schiavo, and his wife‘s right to die. She opposes congressional intervention.
PAM ELLIS, PROTESTOR: Back off. Florida‘s judicial system has already made its rulings. Back away. This is one isolated family incident.
POTTER: The parents had hoped for a quick deal in Congress. But when word came that some Democrats were objecting, Schiavo‘s mother, Mary Schindler, made a public plea.
MARY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S MOTHER: I‘m pleading with the moms and the dads to call their congressmen and help them pass this bill for Terri. It‘s very, very important.
POTTER: Michael Schiavo, who says his wife would never want to live on life support, made his own plea for legislators to mind their own business.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S HUSBAND. Pick up the phone and call their senator, their state representatives, and tell them to stay out of people‘s personal lives and leave Terri Schiavo alone, and leave me alone.
POTTER: The parents‘ attorney, David Gibbs, was busy preparing a federal lawsuit and a request for the feeding tube to be reattached, which he‘ll deliver to a Tampa court just as soon as Congress acts.
DAVID GIBBS, SCHINDLERS‘ ATTORNEY: I hope that by early morning on Monday, Bob and Mary Schindler can look at their daughter, whom they love, and know that her life is once again saved, because she‘s being fed, not starved to death.
POTTER: Now the lawyer for the husband is also preparing his briefs
and says that he believes that the courts will find this law unconstitution
· unconstitutional, if indeed it is passed.
Now Chris, at the outset, you asked me about the people behind me. The one thing they‘re watching for tonight is the site of that ambulance coming around the corner and going into this hospice facility, because to them that means that the procedures are underway to begin to resume reattaching that tube.
I was here when that happened three years ago. A cry went up from the crowd, a cheer. And they are expecting to see that again tonight.
Chris, back to you.
MATTHEWS: And thank you very much, Mark Potter of NBC. He‘s down there in Florida. We‘ll be back.
We‘re back right now with our panel. I want to start with a lawyer that we know. Will Colby, you‘ve been through a case like this before. What is the normal standard in deciding whether a person no longer can be given or should be given life support?
WILLIAM COLBY, AUTHOR, “THE LONG GOOD-BYE”: You heard Mr. Gibbs, and you‘d expect him to be an advocate. And I want to say, Chris, I‘m not here as an advocate. But you‘re looking for facts.
MATTHEWS: I‘m looking for a norm.
COLBY: And as you look at Florida, there has been more due process in this case than any right to die case, including Cruzan that‘s gone before. But think about this, just this example.
My father in Florida, seven years ago in a hospital, his children, my mom, all gathered together. We had to make the decision to turn off a respirator after heart surgery went bad. Was that a life affirming decision that we made? Were we somehow devaluing his life, because we did not think that that respirator could serve as a bridge to recovery?
That‘s the question that‘s going on all the time. The idea of letting nature take its course is gone in this technological world. Four hundred and sixty people died today in Florida, in institutions, virtually all as a result of some decision. Not starting antibiotics, turning off respirators, stopping dialysis, removing a feeding tube.
And as we Baby Boomers age, those questions are just going to come more and more. And the idea of saying these decisions are anti-life, not life affirming, I just think is missing the point.
Technology has brought us to the edge of making hard, hard decisions about what‘s the purpose of a feeding tube. What is a feeding tube? Is it the—is it the basic nurturing I do with my four children, to try and make them live and grow? Is it an FDA-regulated device to serve as a bridge to recovery? I‘m not advocating either way, but we need—we need to talk about it.
MATTHEWS: William Colby, thank you for joining us tonight. And let me go to Pat and to Craig. The power of our medium (ph) right now, Pat.
If this woman was lying in that bed like this, dead, stone cold, eyes
closed, I don‘t think we‘d be having this debate. The fact that here eyes
· let‘s talk about it honestly here. Forget the parts we‘re taking on argument.
Is it the power here, Craig, of that woman—she seems to be responding.
CRAWFORD: I think a lot of people would look at that under the best interpretation and say, “I wanted want to go on that way.”
MATTHEWS: No, but isn‘t she look—doesn‘t she look to you like she‘s responding to company? I‘m asking you: does she look like she‘s responding to human company or not?
CRAWFORD: She looks—she looks like she‘s organically responding, but not mentally.
BUCHANAN: This is exactly right. People look at that picture. They say, here is a vulnerable human being whose parents love her and they‘re coming in there every day and it‘s a wonderful thing. And she‘s alive. Please God, don‘t let them kill her.
This is the emotion and passion behind this. I understand why the husband is doing—I don‘t like what he‘s doing.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t know his motives. It‘s very hard to read his motives, unless you know something I don‘t know, because we can‘t figure it out.
BUCHANAN: ... and he wants his wife dead? I mean, I...
MATTHEWS: You keep suggesting something that...
CRAWFORD: He says these were her wishes. And that‘s the issue in this case. It‘s a right to die case, not a right to life case.
BUCHANAN: He—he wants her dead, and...
MATTHEWS: Why do you keep using this loaded language? The fact is, he‘s been keeping her alive for 15 years.
BUCHANAN: But he wants her dead, doesn‘t he?
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s just loaded language.
BUCHANAN: Well, what do you think? That‘s the truth.
CRAWFORD: And so did—and so did she.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to be back at 11 p.m. tonight. You‘ll get more of this debate as we get closer to that deadline of midnight when the president will be given a bill to sign, which he will sign sometime early this morning. That means in the dark. And then we‘re actually going to have action by the federal courts here.
And at 12:01 Eastern, that‘s when you‘re going to be seeing it here live. We‘ll be with you live tonight. Stay with us tonight from 11 to 12.
Coming up right now, Tim Russert‘s “MEET THE PRESS.”
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