updated 3/29/2005 2:12:44 PM ET 2005-03-29T19:12:44

Guest: John Green, Eugene Robinson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chris Smith, Patrick Mahoney, Tom McCawley

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, the debate over Terri Schiavo has returned to Washington, protesters outside the White House and on Capitol Hill urging the government to do more, while, in Florida today, a final plea for life from Terri Schiavo‘s father. 

I‘m David Gregory live at the White House tonight.  Let‘s play

HARDBALL. 

Hi, everybody.  I‘m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight. 

We‘re going to get more on the Schiavo case in just a couple of minutes.  But there‘s another major story that we‘ve been following all day, a massive coast—a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. 

But, first, however, we‘re going to Schiavo—more on the Schiavo case.  We‘re going to go to Lisa Daniels, who is down in Pinellas Park, Florida.  She‘s got the very latest. 

Lisa, are you with us there? 

LISA DANIELS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, David.  This is the most important thing that happened. 

Bob Schindler, Terri‘s dad came out here, spoke to reporters and broke

his silence.  He hadn‘t been talking to reporters for 48 hours.  But he

wanted to get across the message that Terri is very much alive, she is

desperate to live and she is fighting for her life.  The reason this is

significant, David, is because over the weekend, David Gibbs, the family‘s

attorney, said this statement.  This was a controversial statement—quote

·         “Terri has passed the point of no return.”

Well, our sources say, when the family heard that, they were livid.  They say that is absolutely not true.  And what they wanted to get across is to lawmakers to do something, they say anything, to save Terri‘s life.  Now, David, it was also very interesting to hear two very different descriptions coming from the two camps. 

We heard Terri‘s father, Bob Schindler, and his sister, Suzanne, describe Terri like this, that she‘s doing OK, she is responsive, but that her eyes are sunken, her skin is sallow, her lips are dry.  They say she is not doing very well at all.  And yesterday we heard from Terri‘s brother, Bobby, who said, please, let us show you the videotape.  Let us show you how badly she is doing. 

Well, compare that to George Felos‘ description, George Felos, of course, being Michael Schiavo‘s attorney.  He said that this afternoon when he went to visit Terri, that she looked like she was resting comfortably, that she looked like she wasn‘t in pain.  And he also clarified that the supposed morphine drip that we have heard reports coming out of, that is absolutely not true.  She was only given morphine on two separate occasions and, at that, they were very low doses. 

So David, the bottom line is, two varied descriptions coming from both camps. 

GREGORY:  Lisa, I see behind you that the protests continue tonight and the debate is still pretty fierce.  There‘s also so much rancor still between the Schindler and the Schiavo families, particularly between Michael Schiavo, over what will happen when Terri Schiavo dies, whether she will be cremated, as Michael Schiavo wants to have happen, or whether there will be a burial, as her family wants.  What is the latest on that? 

DANIELS:  Well, George Felos, Michael Schiavo‘s attorney, did clarify that.  There were rumors that Michael Schiavo was not going to let her body have an autopsy.  Well, George Felos said that is nonsense.  Michael Schiavo has every intention of having the autopsy done first and then have her body cremated, flown back to the Philadelphia suburbs, where he and Terri first met and where she grew up. 

Now, of course, the Schindlers are saying, we want her to be buried.  We are Roman Catholics.  The burial is very important to us.  And she should be buried right here in Florida, where she spent a great deal of her life to be close to us, the Schindlers. 

GREGORY:  Lisa Daniels, down in Pinellas Park, Florida, thanks very much, as the protests continue. 

DANIELS:  Sorry.

GREGORY:  Let me reset the table a little bit here.

We had some technical difficulties off the top.  I started to talk about this other massive story, an earthquake off the western coast of Indonesia, with major casualties.  It is believed tonight almost 300 people dead. 

We have reconnected with Tom McCawley, who is a reporter on the scene in Jakarta, via his cell phone. 

Tom, are you there now? 

TOM MCCAWLEY, “CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”:  I am, yes.  I can hear you.

GREGORY:  Tom, tell us the very latest, first of all, on the extent of the damage and the death toll as we know it tonight. 

MCCAWLEY:  Well, now that dawn has come, helicopters have been able to survey the damage at the scene.  And the death toll is believed to be in the hundreds.  When I last checked about an hour ago, that wasn‘t confirmed. 

We have at least 300 houses and about 50 confirmed dead, although the number of dead is believed to be much higher.  And these casualties are concentrated on an island chain which was close to the epicenter of the quake.  In many ways, this is a test of the readiness of the entire island, particularly of the coastal communities, to deal with earthquakes and tsunamis. 

And, I mean, although it is a great tragedy, there is some positive points to emerge from this.  And that is that the communities are likely to remember the tsunami and remember the dangers of earthquakes, for earthquakes many decades to come.  And I think that‘s the main lesson from the night‘s—from the night‘s disaster. 

GREGORY:  Tom, there was, for a good portion of the day, fears about tsunamis returning.  And there were some warnings along the coastal areas.  Take us through that.  How severe a threat was that? 

MCCAWLEY:  Well, this was an 8.5, or believed to be an 8.5 strength quake, which is, according to one geophysicist, much, much smaller and perhaps a tenth of the magnitude of the 9.0 quake.  I‘m not quite sure of the technicalities.

And there was reported to be a small tsunami passing through the Indian Ocean, much, much smaller than the December 26 tsunami, which, of course, was devastating.  But the real test is, is how the communities responded.  And it a very encouraging sign that many communities simply moved away from the water, ran from the water quickly when the earthquake happened. 

And in communities like those coastal and fishing villages in Sri Lanka and Thailand and Indonesia, formal high-tech early warning systems for tsunamis of the kind you have in Hawaii and the Eastern Pacific may not mean that much.  In fact, a much more simple system.

GREGORY:  Right. 

MCCAWLEY:  A local practice, a local custom to simply run away is probably more effective. 

GREGORY:  Tom, just very quickly now, how much worse might the death toll get with first light there and they begin to survey the damage? 

MCCAWLEY:  Well, last time, in December, it increased exponentially several days. 

The first day, it was thought to be hundreds, the second day, thousands.  By the end of the second or third week, it was in the tens of thousands, with the death count of ending up at about, around the 200,000 mark.  Now, given that they‘re in the hundreds today, it is just really impossible to tell at the moment.

The population of both islands...

GREGORY:  Right. 

MCCAWLEY:  I believe is in the tens of thousands.  But it is not likely to hit near the whole population.  My guesstimate at the moment and officials are predicting it will end up in the hundreds. 

GREGORY:  All right, Tom McCawley with “The Christian Science Monitor” on the scene for us in Jakarta, thanks very much. 

We‘re going to return now to the debate over Terri Schiavo, which, as I mentioned at the outset, has returned to Washington, protests outside here at the White House and on Capitol Hill. 

Our Capitol Hill producer Mike Viqueira was there all day and monitored some of the activity. 

Mike Viqueira, who came and what were they after? 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, David, many of these people support the Schindler family.  In other words, those who want that feeding tube reinserted, many of them belong to national right for life organizations.  And Mr.—Reverend Pat Mahoney, someone we‘ve seen quite often outside the hospice, was here leading the group.

What they want to know is, basically, is Congress accountable?  You will recall a few days ago, it was 10 days ago that Congress, the House committee, had subpoenaed Terri Schiavo herself.  They subpoenaed the equipment that she relied on to sustain her.  They subpoenaed people in the hospice and everybody who had anything to do with this.  They wanted to go down there and hold a hearing at Terri Schiavo‘s bedside. 

Now, the committee put that aside, that initiative aside, when the law was passed late last Sunday night that they thought would alleviate the problem, that they thought would push it into federal court.  Well, of course, that didn‘t happen.  Now, these people came to Capitol Hill today.  They wanted to speak to Speaker Hastert, Majority Speaker DeLay and others to find out why they did not follow through with those subpoenas. 

They think that, if that hearing were held, they think Terri Schiavo could have signaled to them somehow that she wanted to live on and that the congressman there at her bedside could somehow intervene and have that feeding tube reinserted—David.

GREGORY:  Mike, did anybody on the Hill take them seriously on that point? 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, you know, the speaker is not here.  The majority leader is not here.  It is the problem that we have all along here.  It‘s a two-week Easter recess.  It was remarkable that they came back that Sunday, that Palm Sunday, to pass that legislation. 

The likelihood that they will come back now, very, very remote.  They spoke with some senior staffers.  They spoke with people on the committee that issued the subpoenas.  They were told that they tried their best.  The committee put out a statement later today saying, there‘s really nothing more we can do—David. 

GREGORY:  The issue, of course, is what Congress has already done.  And you‘ve got protesters.  You‘ve got the family, who think, ultimately, they could put more pressure on.  Even for those who are sympathetic to the cause, like Congressman DeLay and others, there‘s really not more that can be done, at least not for Terri Schiavo. 

VIQUEIRA:  Right.  And they‘re caught up in the politics of this.  As we‘ve alluded to many times before on this show and elsewhere, many Americans feel that Congress overstepped its bounds. 

Now, Congress did, of course, pass the law last Sunday.  The fact that the politics are not playing well for them right now and the fact that they‘re away on vacation and the fact that they‘ve been rebuffed so many times in state and federal courts...

GREGORY:  Right. 

VIQUEIRA:  ... it just looks like it was a bridge too far for Congress.

GREGORY:  Right. 

VIQUEIRA:  And they‘re not likely to revisit this—David. 

GREGORY:  All right, Mike Viqueira on Capitol Hill tonight, thanks very much. 

As Mike was just talking about, the Reverend Pat Mahoney, who is a family friend of the Schindlers, representing them in some ways here on Capitol Hill, joins us tonight.  He did meet with congressional aides today. 

Reverend Mahoney, thanks for being with us now. 

PATRICK MAHONEY, SCHINDLER FAMILY SPIRITUAL ADVISER:  Thank you, David.

GREGORY:  I think a lot of people who saw you on the Hill today, saw you outside the White House, are wondering whether you‘re trying to make a real statement here, trying to get something done for real, or whether this is more of a political statement at this point. 

MAHONEY:  Well, it is definitely not a political statement, David.

Remember, our commitment when we went to Pinellas Park three weeks ago

·         and I‘m based here in Washington, D.C.—was to be Terri‘s voice. 

David, we‘re at day 11 and Terri is still fighting.  And so we felt we must make that same commitment.  There was much confusion about these subpoenas, and many questions were answered today.  But the biggest one was, why did Congress issue these subpoenas and then cancel them March 25 meeting?

GREGORY:  But, Reverend Mahoney, everybody understands that one of the reasons they were issuing them was simply to get some kind of injunctive relief, to get a judge to stay the issue, to reinsert the tube. 

MAHONEY:  Well, I...

GREGORY:  Nobody really expected that she was going to signal to Congress in the form of a hearing.  Doesn‘t that kind of lower the debate in some ways? 

MAHONEY:  No, I don‘t think so at all, David.  And that was one of our hopes.

I think it would be important for Congress to see Terri.  She was subpoenaed by Congress.  I think it would be part of this national conversation and debate that‘s going all across the country on this issue if Congress had been down there, bipartisan, Democrat and Republicans, and actually saw Terri face to face.  In fact, David, I would think that would be one of the most critical things that could have happened in this entire debate, and should have happened. 

GREGORY:  All right, Reverend Mahoney, we‘re going to continue this. 

We have to take a break. 

We‘re going to continue our discussion when we come back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, more with Reverend Pat Mahoney when we come back.  And, later, a look at what Tom DeLay did when he was faced with choosing to end life support for his father—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back live at the White House tonight on HARDBALL, where the debate is fierce over Terri Schiavo.

And we‘re joined again by the Reverend Pat Mahoney, who is here to lobby both the president and members of Congress on Capitol Hill to intervene one final time.

But, Reverend, in many ways, the debate has moved beyond Terri Schiavo, who, by all accounts, is in the final stages of her life, tragically.  However you feel about that, you have now taken on a larger debate.  Who in the end make these decisions over life and death, do you think? 

MAHONEY:  Well, David, that‘s an excellent question.  As people look now to the next chapter in this incredible drama, I think two things. 

No. 1, we have maintained all along, all the way back to Nancy Cruzan, that food and water should never be considered extraordinary medical care.  And, No. 2, the removal of a feeding tube, we are seeing this clear and convincing evidence, it should be in writing.  Here‘s our goal.  Here‘s what we‘re working toward.  We want to see that food and water removed from extraordinary medical care, and an incremental step toward getting there to protect people like Terri and thousands like her is that no feeding tube should ever be removed unless there is clear and written evidence. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  But, Reverend, who decides? 

MAHONEY:  You should have...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  The courts are clear.  Wait a second.  This—for most families around the country, this is an intensely personal choice.  And it is made all the time in these tragic circumstances.  There is a debate within a family here. 

But, in other words, what gives you the right to pronounce that you should be the arbiter or Congress should be the arbiter between two families who disagree about this, when the courts have spoken clearly? 

MAHONEY:  Well, wait a minute, David.  I completely disagree with you on that. 

There is a strong sense here that Terri‘s civil rights were being violated.  I mean, clearly, Congress had a right to act when African-Americans were being denied access into universities or to voting booths.  We have the same kind of civil rights violation here.  David, if we are right in this, and many people believe that we are, a woman is being starved to death. 

If that doesn‘t give entree for Congress to enter the picture—and, remember, you talk about a private decision between families.  Whose family, Michael Schiavo or the Schindlers?  So Congress is siding with the family.  It just happens to be with the Schindlers and not the husband.  And since when does a husband have property rights over his wife anyhow? 

GREGORY:  It‘s not a question of property rights.  Again, what has been litigated in court is a conversation that goes on between a—two spouses in this case that takes—that holds sway, that he becomes the legal guardian. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I mean, it seems to me and it seems a lot of critics that you‘re making a pronouncement or making new rules in a case that is, by its nature, extraordinary. 

MAHONEY:  Well, no.  We‘re definitely not making new—and let‘s talk about the guardian. 

Michael has been in a 10-year relationship with another woman, twice as long as he was with Terri before the accident happened.  He has two children.  Our point is simple.  And it really is quite simple.  Michael, you have gone on with your life.  It was seven years before you got this epiphany that Terri wanted her feeding tube removed.  Go on with your life.  Love the woman you‘re with.  Take care of your children.  And let the Schindlers have their daughter and sister back. 

That‘s really how simple it is.  And we are fighting for the civil rights.  By the way, all the groups down there, this is not a partisan issue.  Reverend Jesse Jackson, reinsert the feeding tube.  Reverend Al Sharpton, not dead yet, groups that are committed to those struggling with disabilities nowhere near connected to evangelicals or the Christian right.  This is something that will help those struggling with debilitating diseases and end-of-life issues, issues that need to be discussed, issues that must be discussed. 

And I think this national conversation, David, that you and I are having is one of the positive byproducts from a very tragic situation. 

GREGORY:  I‘ve got just about 15 seconds left, Reverend.

Do you really believe that Congress will take a step to clarify the issue in a way that would satisfy you? 

MAHONEY:  I think they could.  Will they?  I‘ve been on Capitol Hill working for 12 years.  I don‘t know.  But we can only hope and pray they will. 

GREGORY:  All right, Reverend Pat Mahoney, thanks very much for your views. 

MAHONEY:  Thank you, David. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight. 

Over the last few weeks, Terri Schiavo‘s parents have received enormous help from several members of Congress, including the controversy House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.  It now turns out that DeLay has faced a similar life-and-death decision in his own family. 

Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It was a week ago during an extraordinary Sunday night session. 

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  If we do not act, she will die of thirst. 

SHUSTER:  When Tom DeLay led the fight and rounded up the votes to try and put Terri Schiavo back on life support. 

DELAY:  However helpless, Mr. Speaker, she is alive.  She is still one of us.  And this cannot stand. 

SHUSTER:  A few days earlier, he referred to her starvation in even stronger language. 

DELAY:  That act of barbarism can be and must be prevented. 

SHUSTER:  But 16 years ago, Tom DeLay faced a similar crisis involving his own family.  DeLay‘s father was testing a backyard tram when the tram jumped the tracks, throwing him head first into a tree. 

KARL BRODDICK, NEIGHBOR:  He was banged up real bad, his head especially. 

SHUSTER:  DeLay‘s father, 65 years old, was taken to a nearby medical center. 

WALTER ROCHE JR., “THE LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  The message was from the doctors was that, even if he were to survive, he would be in a vegetative state. 

SHUSTER:  Within days, the congressman‘s father‘s organs began to fail and the DeLay family decided not to connect him to a dialysis machine.  His bedside chart said, do not resuscitate. 

Maxine DeLay, the congressman‘s now 81-year-old mother, said: “Tom knew, we all knew his father wouldn‘t have wanted to live that way.  Tom went along.”  DeLay‘s mother called comparisons with the Schiavo case interesting.  “The Los Angeles Times,” which broke the story, found it interesting as well. 

ROCHE:  Both had suffered irreversible brain damage and that both had expressed a desire that, if they were in an irreversible condition, that extraordinary means would not be taken to keep them alive. 

SHUSTER:  DeLay is refusing to be interviewed about his father‘s case, but a spokesperson says the situations are different because Schiavo only needed a feeding tube, whereas DeLay‘s father needed a ventilator and other machines. 

Still, the charge of hypocrisy is just the latest bad headline for Tom DeLay, following a string of ethical questions that critics believe prompted DeLay to take a leading role on Schiavo in the first place.  Last year, three of DeLay‘s Texas associates were indicted on charges of illegal fund-raising.  The House Ethics Committee admonished DeLay for three different incidents, including one where he invited energy lobbyists to a fund-raiser just before the energy bill was brought to the House floor.

And now some Democrats are calling for a new investigation into whether Republican lobbyists seeking to influence legislation provided DeLay and his family with foreign travel. 

(on camera):  Tom DeLay has called these stories the work of liberal newspapers out to destroy him.  But there‘s no dispute that, when it comes to life-ending decisions, the Tom DeLay the nation saw the last few weeks is different from the one who weighed in on his own father. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  David Shuster, thanks very much. 

And still ahead, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Congressman Chris Smith on the role Congress played in the Schiavo case. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Congress, Christian conservatives and the political winners and losers in the battle over Terri Schiavo‘s right to life. 

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk. 

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight.

It has been one week since Congress first stepped into the Terri Schiavo case by passing legislation that gave federal courts the power to review cases like this.  The Schindler family‘s representative is back in Washington today urging Congress to get involved yet again. 

With us now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey. 

Welcome to both of you. 

Congressman Smith, I want to begin with you. 

Congress wants to get back involved.  Why? 

REP. CHRIS SMITH ®, NEW JERSEY:  Well, in this case we‘re seeing unfolding in Florida the violation of a basic human right, the right to live.  It is a gross violation of a disabled woman‘s human rights to be told that she can no longer be given food and nourishment, water.  You know, water should never be seen as a weapon.  In this case, it is a weapon that will lead to her demise eventually. 

It is very clear that this is—this case is riddled with red flags.  You have a guardian ad litem who says, pull the plug, another one who says, you shouldn‘t do it.  You have a lot of—of testimony, including the most recent by Dr. Cheshire, that makes it very clear that this woman—he has changed his mind on the case. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SMITH:  He‘s a neurologist.  And he has changed his mind and says that she ought to be given more testing, the tube ought to be reinserted. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

SMITH:  So you have got noted neurologists making that point. 

GREGORY:  Congressman, you represent the people of your district. 

SMITH:  Yes, I sure do.

GREGORY:  A recent poll found that four out of five people described as evangelicals and conservatives disapprove of congressional intervention.  Where‘s your mandate to get back involved here? 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  I think we have a constitutional mandate. 

And when someone who is so vulnerable, so at risk, in this case a disabled woman. 

GREGORY:  Well, but wait a minute.  But you don‘t have a constitutional mandate.  The judiciary takes care of that.  And the judiciary has spoken.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  We take an oath.  And we—the 14th Amendment, I believe, is being abridged here, the due process, the right to life, and equal protection under the law.  That‘s being compromised here. 

This woman has not had her own legal counsel.  She has not been able -

·         her husband since 1994 has been trying to—to no longer give her the nourishment, the kind of rehabilitation services that she needs.  That‘s when he did a change of heart, back in 1994.  And...

GREGORY:  Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, does Congress have a reason, a place to get back involved here? 

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  Congress has absolutely no business in getting involved in the middle of this personal family tragedy.  And we would be only adding insult to injury if we take it that much further and start to try to expand our involvement into thousands of family—family disputes and tragedies. 

We have got to make sure that we allow the processes for end-of-life decisions that have been set up in each individual state, from as unique to Oregon to Texas and to Florida, to—to—to go through the normal process with a court review when there is a dispute and not jam ourselves in between family members on every personal tragic decision. 

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  And we also have to stop the hyperbole and the politicizing of this case, which is exactly what people like Congressman Smith have been doing. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  No, no, no, excuse me.  What you‘ve been doing, Congressman Smith—Congressman Smith, I didn‘t talk over you.  I did not talk over you. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Hold on a second.  Let—let—let—let the congresswoman finish.

Go ahead.

SMITH:  Sure.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  What people like Congressman Smith have been doing is politicizing this issue.  They have been exaggerating and saying things like doctors have said that she‘s not in a persistent vegetative state. 

The only physicians that have said she‘s not in a persistent vegetative state are those that have only examined her via videotape. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  That‘s factually incorrect.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, it is not factually incorrect.

GREGORY:  I don‘t want to relitigate all that.  I don‘t want to relitigate all of this.

Congressman Smith, I want to ask you a very pointed question.  What good can Congress do now for people who are in such a state in the future?  Isn‘t that what this is about? 

SMITH:  Well, the language of the original bill that we passed said, if there‘s a conflict among the loved ones, say, there‘s a conflict with the guardian and the mother and dad, as we have in this case, that would be a recourse, provided there‘s no living will. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David, that legislation...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  Let me finish.  That passed the House.  That‘s pending over on the Senate side.  Then, when the Senate objected to that, a more narrow version, the one that just was attributable or applicable to Terri Schiavo, that‘s when that one became the bill that went down to President Bush.  We have an overriding...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  That legislation...

SMITH:  We have an overriding reason to be involved when disabled persons are put at risk.  You know, a person could be coerced...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Excuse me. 

SMITH:  ... who is a disabled person.  We‘re not interjecting ourselves into a private family matter.  Our legislation said very clearly, there had to be a conflict. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  That said...

SMITH:  If everybody is on board, then there is no legislation...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  What that legislation said, David, is that...

SMITH:  I have it right here. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  What that legislation said is that an interested party could actually insert itself.  And it was defined so vaguely that it doesn‘t have to be a family member that could be a part of the dispute.  It could be just about anybody.  That legislation is so broad that you would have an incredible amount of federal intrusion into personal family matters far deeper than this legislation that we passed last Sunday. 

GREGORY:  Congresswoman, but let me ask—let me press you on this point. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Sure. 

GREGORY:  What is wrong, when you have a messy situation, and certainly this happens all the time, but it is not as messy as this, where there is such a conflict—why not go out of—why shouldn‘t society go out of its way to make it very difficult, make the decision about life or death very difficult for anybody involved? 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David, these kinds of decisions go on every single day.  And when there is a family dispute, the courts in Florida, the courts in Texas—listen, President Bush, when he was governor of Texas, signed a 1999 law that even allows a hospital to withdraw life support, over the objections of a family member.  And he felt...

SMITH:  That‘s incorrect.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, it is not.  No, it is not.  And I would like to finish now.  Excuse me. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Wait a second.  Let the congresswoman finish. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Excuse me.

That bill allows—that law in Florida does allow a hospital, after they go to an ethics committee, with a 10-day review, just like they did for the 6-month old boy that was withdrawn from life support, over his mother‘s objections just last week because she could not find another facility to take him.  That‘s exactly what it says. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  No, the Texas—it has to be corrected, for Bush‘s sake.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Every state—every state has a process when there is a dispute to allow the courts, which are an objective body.  The Congress is not an objective body.  We‘re a political body.  And we‘re a partisan body.

GREGORY:  Congressman, I want to go back...

SMITH:  David.

GREGORY:  Congressman, I want to go back to where I began here, instead of getting into the fine points of the bills that are really conjecture at this point. 

Poll after poll is clear.  The public is not on the side of Congress getting involved here.  So, where‘s the mandate here to get involved?  Where‘s the will of the people to get involved? 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  A vulnerable handicapped person who is being starved to death as we speak...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  That is just gross hyperbole.  That‘s just unbelievable exaggeration. 

SMITH:  Is having her life taken away from her.  And there is a neurologist now.  And there are others, too, like Dr. Hammesfahr, who are in complete contrarian position to what Judge Greer has found.  And this doctor who has gone in and spent 90 minutes with her, reviewed all of the available medical testimony, has concluded that...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  He didn‘t examine her, Congressman Smith.

SMITH:  He has changed his mind.

GREGORY:  Congressman, you don‘t have trust in the judiciary? 

SMITH:  I have some trust, but I verify, just like people don‘t trust Congress necessarily.

GREGORY:  So, you don‘t trust the federal or the state judiciary in this case? 

SMITH:  No. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  I think there needs to be an ongoing process of trying to get it right.  And that means appeals may be necessary. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David...

SMITH:  And where, in state court, they may have gotten it wrong, there needs to be...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  ... the ability to go to a higher court.

GREGORY:  Congresswoman, 10 seconds.  Final thought. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  We have a real problem in this country when the direction we‘re moving in is that, every time Congress disagrees with a state court decision, that we‘re going to file legislation and shove ourselves in the middle of family disputes.  It is going way too far. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  We have to make sure that we have objective processes to decide these things. 

GREGORY:  We‘re going to leave it right there.  Thanks to both of you, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Thank you. 

GREGORY:  And Congressman Chris Smith.

Up next, the conservative movement rallies to fight for Terri Schiavo‘s right to life.  But will the issue hurt the moral majority?  We‘ll talk about the politics of all this in just a moment.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, Terri Schiavo‘s supporters are back in Washington trying to get Congress to act.  The debate about Congress‘ role when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

While the legal battle over Terri Schiavo may be coming to a close now, the political fallout is just beginning.  Will the debate have an impact on next year‘s midterm elections and even the presidential debate in 2008? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY (voice-over):  The political fight over Terri Schiavo will likely extend well past her death.  The events of the past two weeks indicate the question of who decides when a life should end is no longer just an issue for families and the courts, but for Congress and even the White House.  It is a new political landscape even some Republicans don‘t like. 

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS ®, CONNECTICUT:  I think we reach too far.  I think it is scaring some, and rightfully so, that Congress doesn‘t quite know where to stop. 

GREGORY:  Though few Democrats opposed Congress‘ intervention in the Schiavo case, party strategists think Americans will penalize Republicans, not Democrats, for what many see as conservative trying to roll over the course. 

Democratic consultant Steve McMahon. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  The public entrusted the Republicans run the government.  The Republicans apparently think they own the government. 

GREGORY (on camera):  For Republicans and Democrats alike, where you stood on the Schiavo case may become an important political test by next year‘s congressional midterm elections and perhaps for the presidential race in 2008. 

(voice-over):  Recent polls reflect the public‘s unease.  A “TIME” magazine survey over the weekend found that 75 percent disagreed with the idea that Congress was right to intervene.  Professor John Green specializes in the role of religion in politics. 

JOHN GREEN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF AKRON:  Most Americans, whether they‘re Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives, think that these things ought to be resolved by the family members. 

GREGORY:  Green argues that Republicans face the biggest challenge.  Social conservatives may reward Republicans who tried to keep Schiavo alive.  Swing voters, however, may be turned off. 

GREEN:  There is the real danger, though, that, if the Republican Party angers a large number of Americans, that it will reduce the party‘s appeal.  So they‘ll still have a coalition.  It just won‘t be as broad a one as they would like. 

GREGORY:  But many Republicans argue it is a risk worth taking to do the right thing. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist with “The Washington Post.”  And John Leo is a columnist with “U.S. News & World Report.”

John, let me begin with you.  Are Republicans going to win with this issue or are they going to be hurt by it? 

JOHN LEO, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  Well, I think the base of social conservatives will be energized by this.  They‘ll pay some price among libertarians or people who think that the Republicans have disrespected their own principle of federalism. 

We just don‘t know.  I just think they had to get in on the ground floor of what is going to be a 20-year debate over who lives and who dies.  I think they could not duck that one. 

GREGORY:  Eugene, you look at the preponderance of public opinion on this, and it is not good. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  No.  It‘s...

GREGORY:  Earlier in the program, I cited a poll by those who identify themselves as social conservatives, evangelicals.  There‘s not really uniform opinion even on the right about getting involved in this. 

ROBINSON:  No, there really isn‘t.  And it seems to me what the Republican Party is doing is reopening a question that most people thought was settled, that there is essentially a right to die.  And, really, this case was about what Terri Schiavo wanted and what she would have wanted. 

And I think there‘s agreement among Democrats and Republicans that a person‘s wishes should be respected. 

GREGORY:  See, John, here‘s the thing that strikes me about this, is that, as much as people want to turn this into purely a moral and religious debate about who decides the end of life, there‘s something else that‘s going on here for social conservatives. 

It‘s, No. 1, a pro-life agenda item.  But, No. 2, this is sort of war on the judiciary.  I mean, there has been no dispute within the judiciary about whether this is the right thing to do.  And a lot of people feel like conservatives don‘t like the outcome, so it‘s war on Judge Greer.  It is even war on some of the more conservative nominees who have been involved in the court of appeals here. 

LEO:  Well, the judiciary did not follow the mandate from Congress, or the strong request that they look at this de novo.  They didn‘t look at it new.  They gave a lot of rather contemptuous rebuke to Congress.  So, I think that will play against the vote in favor of the judiciary. 

But, look, I think the central issue here is the Netherlands.  In the Netherlands, when the doctors got legal ability to off people who may or may not have given their consent, it turned out that thousands of people were dying who hadn‘t given their consent.  Now they want to do the same thing with babies.  And one of the categories—some are unbearable pain and no brain stem.  You can understand that. 

But one of the categories is a poor—a poor prognosis for the

future.  Well, good lord, I mean, you could off all kind of people,

including spina bifida cases.  And those with spina bifida are writing in all the time saying, why do you people want to kill me?  I‘m having a pretty good life so far. 

GREGORY:  You know, Eugene...

ROBINSON:  I don‘t see how you could see this, really, as anything like the Netherlands, though.  It seems to me that what this is, is really a giant step back from where this country had gotten to, not some sort of attempt to go to the Netherlands, where euthanasia is a completely sort of discussion. 

GREGORY:  But, Eugene, if the real question here is about Terri

Schiavo‘s intent, the courts have agreed with Michael Schiavo.  But there‘s

·         certainly, most Americans are sympathetic to the idea that there‘s just a lot of pain on both sides of this debate. 

So, when we see something like this, what‘s wrong with society, with the government getting back involved and saying, you know, let‘s make sure that life-and-death decisions can be as cut and dried as possible and get away from this kind of disagreement?

ROBINSON:  Well, look, that‘s a—that‘s that‘s a very good question.  And that‘s—I guess it is at the heart of the case.  But, remember, courts did exactly that.  They looked at this case.  They tried to ascertain as best they could what her wishes were.  And this is where they came out.

And so I—I don‘t know.  You know, it‘s a tragedy.  And one‘s heart has to go out to the family.  I would have difficulty letting go in that circumstance.  But the courts looked at the case.  And that‘s what they—that‘s what they decided. 

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re going to come right back.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Hold on one second, John.  I got to take a break. 

LEO:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  We are going to come back with John Leo and Eugene Robinson and the political implications of the Schiavo case in just a minute. 

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

Come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back with Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post” and John Leo of “U.S. News & World Report.”

Eugene, where have the Democrats been on this issue?  It is not just social conservatives, but it is Democrats, some of whom have come out to oppose this.  But, primarily, they have been silent partners, oftentimes seeming like reluctant partners in this, but partners nonetheless, in Congress‘ involvement. 

ROBINSON:  Well, I think what is a good thing for the Democrats to say or do?  I think, politically, probably the smartest thing for them to do is to—is basically to keep quiet, except those who have very, very strong convictions on one side or the other of the issue. 

And, after all, it is not a popular position to come out and say, well, this person should be put to death.  And that‘s the way it would be twisted, I think, by opponents.

GREGORY:  Well, but—but if there‘s such strong feelings about Congress getting involved in this case and whether conservatives are being hypocritical about this in terms of standing up for states‘ rights sometimes and, in this case, getting involved in state courts and in other areas, you know, how could Democrats politically get away with being silent on this one?  Are they just afraid after the ‘04 election? 

ROBINSON:  No, I think—I think Democrats did say that. 

I think Democrats, or at least some Democrats, did.  Barney Frank and others did say that it was—that it was wrong for the Republicans to push federal involvement. 

GREGORY:  But they didn‘t block any legislation.

ROBINSON:  Well, no, they didn‘t.  No, they didn‘t.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  And they could have.  They‘re willing to block—they‘re willing to block Social Security on private accounts, but not willing to block it here. 

I mean, what I‘m getting at here, isn‘t there a blowback for Democrats here politically for not standing up, where a lot of their—you know, a lot of their supporters are going to think they should have? 

ROBINSON:  Well, maybe. 

But I—you know, I think, if you look at the polling numbers we‘ve seen so far, I think the potential damage for the Republicans is much greater than any blowback for the Democrats.  I think that perhaps there are some people who believe that they should have—should have—should have been more kind of proactive.  But, you know, politically, I think they did pretty much what they should have done. 

GREGORY:  John, I wonder if we‘re looking at this a little bit the wrong way.  Is there some consensus here?  When the president talks about a culture of life, is there a certain rallying around a culture of life politically in this country now?  You have got evidence of this.  You know, Senator Brownback is working with Senator Kennedy on curbing some abortions in the country, that you have conservatives and liberals in Congress getting together on some of these issues in a way that we haven‘t seen before? 

LEO:  Well, I think so. 

I was very surprised, David, to hear you talk as if Congress shouldn‘t get involved because the polls don‘t tell them to.  Well, the wet finger to the wind is only one way to practice politics.  The other is to perceive the issue coming over the horizon, even when the public is confused.  I started to talk about consent before.  I don‘t think we should put anybody to death unless we‘re very clear there‘s no doubt about the consent.  And that is not the case here. 

The vested interests of the husband, the fact that he didn‘t even recall that she wanted to die until eight years after she was stricken, after the malpractice suit had been won.  He suddenly recalled this.  And that money was supposed to go mostly to her.  Instead, it went to him and his lawyers and he withheld basic medical and dental care.  He wouldn‘t even let her get antibiotics for a urinary infection. 

So, I think, out of these conditions, to take his word, as the court so gullibly did, as the final word on consent is a bit much.  I know I wouldn‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Here‘s what—here‘s what strikes me about that comment, to take his word.  Here are conservatives who have stood up...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Wait a minute.  Who stood against—who stood against gay marriage because they wanted to protect the sanctity of marriage.  And, in this case, they apparently don‘t believe in the sanctity of marriage, at least maybe not in this marriage, because they don‘t trust Terri Schiavo.  I mean, isn‘t that hypocritical? 

ROBINSON:  And not only that, not only that, but they apparently believe that the 535 members of Congress are better finders of fact than a court of law, which in our system is a finder of fact. 

GREGORY:  John, final comment. 

LEO:  I just think that the consent issue is not clear. 

If you have a husband with a vested interest, it is time for the courts to look very carefully at that and to erase all doubt.  The courts didn‘t do that.  And I think, under those circumstances, it is very chancy to pull the plug. 

GREGORY:  But, John, I just want to pick up on this point about individuals who want to interfere in this particular marriage because somehow there‘s a determination made that this husband is not credible.  I mean, how does that square with the views about the sanctity of marriage and opposition to gay marriage?  Don‘t you see a contradiction there? 

LEO:  The Violence Against Women Act gets the federal government involved if a husband slaps his wife.  Obviously, you have to take into account the motives and behavior of the husband before you would say consent has been given. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  All right.  But the Violence Against Women Act, we have the courts to deal with that.  We have the courts to deal with this particular case.  There‘s been no dispute.  I mean, this smacks of certain people not liking the outcome and, therefore, wanting to change the game and the rules of the game. 

ROBINSON:  That‘s what it sounds like to me.  And you know, this is a

·         this is a decision that so many families have to make.  I just can‘t imagine that it is going to—it is going to resound politically into the culture of life.  I really...

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ve...

ROBINSON:  I really can‘t.

GREGORY:  We‘ve got to leave it there.   Thanks to John Leo and Eugene Robinson for joining me.

I‘m going to be back tomorrow night with a close adviser to the president, Dan Bartlett, and author Camille Paglia.

I‘m David Gregory for HARDBALL.

Keith Olbermann is up next.

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