updated 4/1/2005 9:17:20 AM ET 2005-04-01T14:17:20

Guest: Brad Blakeman, Steve McMahon, John Fund, Dana Milbank, Marie Cocco, Rick Santorum, Robert Wexler, Mark Foley, Frank Pavone

               

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, two major stories.  Terri Schiavo has died at 41.  More on her final moments of life and the debate that her case has created morally, politically, and legally.  And the pope, his health once again worsening tonight. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

Hi again, everybody.  I‘m David Gregory, live tonight from the White House, in for Chris Matthews this week.  As, again, I say, two major stories that we are following tonight.  Terri Schiavo at the age of 41 has died.  She has, of course, been at the center of this epic struggle and a larger debate about life and death in this country, both politically and morally.  We‘ll get more on her case.

But also, the pope, his health once again taking a turn for the worse. 

We are joined now by MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing, who is in Rome, who is going to bring us up to date on his condition—Chris.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thanks very much, David.

This clearly is a serious situation, great concern at the Vatican tonight.  The pope has a urinary tract infection, that confirmed by Vatican officials.  And he is being treated by antibiotics.  Now, in normal cases, this would not necessarily be serious, but we are dealing with a pope who is seriously weakened, two hospitalizations since February 1. 

He has had both a breathing tube inserted and a feeding tube just on Wednesday.  And when we‘ve seen him the last couple times in his papal apartment, when he‘s come to the window, he couldn‘t speak and you could see that he was very frustrated that he was who is very frail. 

So, a situation that might be fine for someone else, could be treated

fairly routinely with antibiotics, becomes a great concern with this pope -

·         David. 

GREGORY:  And, Chris, infection has been the big concern over the past week.  What are some of the decisions about whether he goes back to the hospital or he remains where he is?  What are some of the factors at play? 

JANSING:  Well, clearly, he is surrounded by his medical team.  He has his chief doctor, who is there.  He has actually among the Polish nuns who carry for him, one of them is an M.D.  Both are very close to the pope.

The situation has changed a little bit over the months, though, because they‘ve brought in certain kinds of equipment, so that they could deal with what they consider to be more routine medical concerns.  If this is indeed no more than we‘ve been hearing, if this is an infection that could be treated, for example, with intravenous I.V., that is something that they‘re perfectly well equipped within the papal apartment to take care of. 

And, also, there is always a risk with moving someone who is not well, who is in a state where an infection could be exacerbated by exposure to the elements.  So, obviously, they prefer not to take him to Gemelli, even though there is a papal apartment there that is just for him.  They have a lot of equipment, complete staff, at the papal apartments right now, where the pope is.  And they think that they can deal with at least this type of medical problem—David.

GREGORY:  Chris Jansing in Rome for us tonight. 

And keep it here on MSNBC.  We will give you all continuing coverage and give you more on the pope as news warrants. 

The other major story, of course, we‘re following, as I mentioned at the outset, is Terri Schiavo , who tragically passed away today, at long last to many people who were worried about her suffering and, of course, just a tragic end point to this struggle on the part of her family, who believed that she was showing signs of life and wanted to keep her so near and dear to them.

Earlier, I spoke with Father Frank Pavone, who has been an adviser to the Schindler family, spent time with them today during their final moments with their daughter.  And I began by asking him about those final moments. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FATHER FRANK PAVONE, SCHINDLER FAMILY SUPPORTER:  The day started pretty early.  In fact, we didn‘t get much sleep last night.  I was in with Terri from about 7:00 to 7:30 and then again from 10:30 to 12:00, midnight, last night. 

Then we went in again early this morning at about 7:30 for about an hour and 20 minutes.  During these visits with Terri, she was obviously very weak.  The time was spent in prayer with Bobby and with Suzanne, her sister.  And we spent—we alternated between saying prayers, speaking to Terri and just having a time of silence being in her presence. 

Then, of course, after the news that she had died, the family and I...

GREGORY:  How did they find out?  How did they find out, by the way, Father? 

PAVONE:  Well, what happened was, we were told at about 10 minutes to 9:00 that the hospice had to do an assessment of Terri‘s condition and that we had to leave the room.  We came over across the street and then were expecting to go back about 10:00. 

But then, of course, in that intervening period, we got the news that she had died.  Her parents were not yet here, by the way.  They were on their way. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  They were not able to be with her when she died. 

PAVONE:  Right. 

GREGORY:  And that was whose decision?  Was that Michael‘s decision? 

PAVONE:  Well, what happened was, when we were asked to leave the room because of that assessment, we were told also that Michael Schiavo was about to make his own visit.  And, therefore, we didn‘t know when we would get back in.  So that happened to be 10 minutes before she actually died.  And so, even if his parents were here at that moment, they would not have been allowed in the room at that time. 

GREGORY:  Father, there has been so much vitriol, so much acrimony between the Schiavo and Schindler families.  Is it now time for that to end?  Is there any healing that‘s possible? 

PAVONE:  There‘s two things going on here at the same time.  First, you have the animosity between the two families, which, of course, is longstanding.  And, of course, in those matters, there is always, always a need to plead for reconciliation.  I have reached out to Michael publicly and asked for that process to begin.  So has the family. 

But there‘s another clash going on.  And that is a clash of philosophies.  That is a clash of world views.  And those world views are irreconcilable, because they are very simply, either all people are equal, no matter what their condition is, or some people are disposable. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right, let me talk about the families, though.  I want to talk about the families a little bit, because HARDBALL has...

PAVONE:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  ... an exclusive statement from Michael Schiavo‘s brother, Brian Schiavo, who said the following.  I want to put it up on the screen and have you react to it.

And this was a question about the potential for reconciliation.  And Brian Schiavo says: “No, they have done nothing but twist the truth and solicited help from the pro-lifers.  The Schindlers twisted the truth and drug my brother through the mud.  There is not a possibility of reconciliation.  I feel bad for the Schindlers.  We are not heartless people.  But this is not about the Schiavos, Schindlers, Congress, Jeb Bush or the Florida Senate.  It‘s about Terri Schiavo to make sure her wishes were carried through.  Her family was not denied access.  Bobby Schindler and that priest, who is a beautiful person, should be ashamed of themselves.  Bobby was asked to leave the room in order to do an assessment.  There is no money involved in this.  That is total B.S.”

This is a direct quote.  “Brother Paul,” again, a direct quote here, his words, “is a fruit loop.  And Tom DeLay is an irrational individual.  He didn‘t care if Terri lived or died.  This was about votes.”

I mean, this is what this has come down to.  Father, your reaction.

PAVONE:  Well, first of all, there were certain times, of course,

where the family could not have access to the room.  And they understand

that there are very good reasons for that.  You know, he has obviously a

lot of bitterness here.  And each of these things, in order for

reconciliation to take place, has to be dealt with carefully, calmly, one

by one. 

There‘s one fact in all this that is undeniable.  And that is that Terri died today because we didn‘t feed her.  We didn‘t give her water.  And if they are going to try to deny that that is an act of killing, let them try.  But there‘s just no way around that.  And that is the fundamental problem here.  That‘s why there‘s protests here.  That‘s why this place is surrounded by police.  That‘s why it is one of the top stories in all the news reports. 

This is an act of killing, killing the vulnerable, throwing away the disabled.  That‘s—that goes way beyond matters of a family dispute or people fabricating the truth, as he said. 

GREGORY:  How is it so cut and dried for you as a moral matter, as an article of faith, when you have two people who clearly loved each other, two families who had such a difficult time together, and a man in Michael Schiavo who stood by her side for so many years and now is reduced to you describing him as essentially a murder and taking her life? 

PAVONE:  He did take her life. 

Now, there are obviously interpersonal and psychological and emotional complexities.  Relationships, family matters can be very complex, as we all know.  This is not to minimize any of that.  The legal complexities are very intense.  The medical complexities are very intense. 

But, still the undeniable fact here that we don‘t need experts to figure out is that this woman wasn‘t fed for two weeks.  She neither fed—and, in fact, I was sitting in her room for hours with a jug of water next to her.  It was a flower vase.  And if I had dipped my fingers in that water and put a few drops on her tongue, I would have been escorted out there by an officer of the law. 

This is just inhumane.  It doesn‘t make sense.  Granted all the other complexities, there is a very basic truth here.  And America has to see now that we‘re at a crossroads.  Are we going to dispose of the disabled, like Terri, or are we going to treat everyone with equal dignity? 

GREGORY:  Father Pavone, in just 20 seconds left, where does it go from here?  Where does this debate go from here? 

PAVONE:  Priests For Life is going to join with many other organizations, beginning with the churches, activating and mobilizing the hundred of thousand of church across America to teach and to debate about these issues, end-of-life issues and how we treat the disabled.  It is going to be a major topic in American life for months and years to come. 

GREGORY:  Father Frank Pavone, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

PAVONE:  You‘re most welcome. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  And we‘re back live at the White House. 

We are monitoring two big stories tonight.  More on the Schiavo case and the political debate.  Also going to be tracking the very latest on the pope‘s condition from the Vatican.  We‘ll keep you up to date on that. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, what are the long-term political implications from the Terri Schiavo case on Congress and the White House?  I‘ll ask two Florida congressmen when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on HARDBALL tonight live from the White House talking about the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, which is not just a human tragedy, but it has also sparked a debate about politics in this country and where it goes from here, what will really be the result of this debate politically.

Congress, of course, got involved in this case and will that debate continue even beyond Terri Schiavo‘s death? 

To talk about that, two members of Congress who were instrumental in the debate and the ultimate bill to get involved in the Schiavo case.  Joining me now, Congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat of Florida, and Congressman Mark Foley, a Republican of Florida. 

Congressman Foley, let me begin with you. 

Do you think that Congress‘ intervention amounted to false hope for the Schindler family and others who wanted to keep Terri Schiavo alive? 

REP. MARK FOLEY ®, FLORIDA:  Well, it was a difficult call, but the leaders decided to bring us back to Washington to see if we could give this family one last opportunity to present their case. 

Clearly, some argue that it was false hope.  But we at least allowed the federal court system to review the documentation provided by the state courts and see if there was any glimmer of hope to continue Terri‘s life.  We failed at that.  The courts ruled.  They did so expeditiously.  So, the system did work in the end of the day. 

GREGORY:  You really believe that it did work?  Because that would put you at odds with many other Republicans, who think that, in effect, the judiciary, the federal judiciary, thumbed its nose at the will of Congress. 

FOLEY:  I respect the judiciary.  I think those people who are calling the judges murderers and things have gone to the extreme. 

This was a heart-wrenching case.  Nobody is satisfied with the outcome.  This hurts me and it hurt Robert Wexler.  We‘re talking about a human life, so we should stop playing politics with it and try and get back to the basic business of governance. 

While I may not agree with every case the judges rule on, in this particular one, 19 judges ruled, so you can‘t sit there and assume that there‘s some technical error made by one person.  This was clearly vetted.  It was a difficult case.  It was contentious, no question.  But, at the end of the day, we still have to have finality.

GREGORY:  Right. 

FOLEY:  And the rule of law must have prevail. 

GREGORY:  Congressman Wexler, why was it a bad idea, in your view, for Congress to get involved in here?  What‘s so wrong with federal review of cases as important as these? 

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA:  This is a tragic case. 

And what is to me most tragic is that Congress substituted its judgment for the reasoned judgment of the Florida‘s courts.  Let‘s be very frank about this.  If the Florida courts had ruled in favor of Mrs.  Schiavo‘s parents, the Congress never would have come in and stripped the Florida court of their jurisdiction.  The precedent the Congress set was that if a state court system, even if it operates with all the due process required, comes up with a result the Congress doesn‘t like, it will strip that state of jurisdiction and give it to the federal court. 

That violates every American principle of an independent judiciary that we have clung to for over 200 years. 

GREGORY:  But, Congressman Wexler, this was an extraordinary case.  You had a dispute within the family.  And there are many conservatives in this country who believe strongly that, in this kind of case, what is wrong with doing everything possible to preserve a life when there is any doubt whatsoever in a case like this? 

WEXLER:  Well, we should always do everything to preserve life.  But there are thousands of people in the same exact position that Terri Schiavo is in today. 

And the Florida courts held by a standard of clear and convincing evidence that Terri Schiavo‘s wishes were that she should not remain in a persistent vegetative state.  Congress came in and substituted its judgment.  And then, ultimately, the federal courts said, no, Congress, you should have never even engaged in this process in the first place, because what you‘ve done is unconstitutional.  This is a very frightening precedent if you take it to further extremes.

GREGORY:  Right.  

WEXLER:  Which is what Tom DeLay suggested today. 

GREGORY:  Congressman Foley, do you think that you‘re actually setting the stage here for debate about the judiciary, about the Supreme Court even that will resolve around the culture of life?  Social conservatives are mobilized in this country in a way that is profound as a result of this case.  The right-to-life debate is energized in a way that it hasn‘t been in a long time.  What is going to happen? 

FOLEY:  Oh, no question.  This is going to energize a lot of factions, if you will, debating the judiciary.  But we have debated this before. 

When the 11th Circuit came out with the decision on one nation under God in the pledge, that activated Congress.  When we‘ve had other debates on these issues, Congress intervenes and steps in.  I would suggest to you, this debate is not over.  But I would also emphasize that, if Scott Peterson is allowed to have a federal appeal on his death row sentence, then I think Terri Schiavo at least should have been given the opportunity to her family, her parents, those who gave her birth, to at least make certain that a fresh set of eyes reviewed the file. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  But, Congressman Foley, everybody uses the Scott Peterson example.  The notion that she did not receive due process is based on what?  What error was made in the many years of litigation between these two families? 

FOLEY:  Well, I guess the bottom line was there was no clear written directive by Terri.  It was supposition that the husband said Terri told him this personally.  That is now speculative. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  But that is the law of the land, is not, Congressman Wexler? 

WEXLER:  It is.

GREGORY:  I think it is a good point.  Anybody in this position, these are difficult discussions.  And this is a difficult issue.  And there wasn‘t any written intent.  And who knows what she would have thought based on a decision she made in her 20s.  But, nevertheless, it is the law of the land. 

WEXLER:  It is.  And the courts in our system are the arbiters of the facts, particularly when there are contested facts.  Congress is not set up to do that. 

We didn‘t take any testimony.  We did not hear from medical professionals.  We didn‘t hear from the family.  We didn‘t hear from any of the affected parties.  But, yet, we issued a judgment and we undermined the judicial system of Florida.  It‘s a very, very dangerous precedent.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Congressmen, we‘re going to—we‘re going to have to leave it there.  I‘m sorry to interrupt you.  We‘re going to have to leave it there.

I‘m going to ask Congressman Wexler and Congressman Mark Foley, both joining us tonight. 

When we come back, more on the debate in Congress, my conversation with Senator Rick Santorum.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on NBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

GREGORY:  Back live at the White House on HARDBALL.  I‘m David Gregory.

Monitoring two big stories tonight, watching the latest from the Vatican on the pope‘s health.  He has taken another turn for the worse with an infection.  We‘ll bring you all the latest as it becomes available and as news warrants.

And, of course, still discussing the Terri Schiavo case and some of the political fallout. 

Earlier today, I spoke with Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a proponent of congressional intervention into the Schiavo case.  And I asked him whether this was the same Senator Santorum who didn‘t want the government interfering with states‘ rights. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  We believe, when a state takes the life, which is the greatest right that a state can take, that we should make sure that all possible appeals have been exhausted, all possible angles have been looked at to make sure that we aren‘t denying someone their federal rights.  This is clearly consistent with what conservative government is all about.  And that is protecting individual rights. 

GREGORY:  Do you think that a new law can accomplish what could not be accomplished in this case, which is getting inside a family dispute that turned so ugly and so rancorous, and reach a different conclusion? 

SANTORUM:  Well, I don‘t think this is about getting inside family disputes.  This is getting another look at a court decision.  When the family dispute occurs, it goes to...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  ... into the courts if there wasn‘t a family dispute, because things don‘t usually turn out this way. 

SANTORUM:  Well, what I‘m suggesting is, when the families can‘t make this decision, they then have to turn to the government.  And the government then makes the decision for them.  And the state takes action. 

When a state takes action, irrespective of what is the genesis of that action, when the state takes an action to deprive someone of life, I think it is incumbent upon the federal government and the federal courts to take a look at that deprivation of the most basic of all rights, to make sure federal constitutional rights and statutes have been protected in the case. 

GREGORY:  Why didn‘t Congress go farther in this particular case?  Would you have been in favor of doing more than just getting a law that asked for new review? 

SANTORUM:  No.  I think that is the appropriate remedy here. 

I know others suggested that we should require that the feeding tube be inserted and that it never be removed.  And, I mean, there were all sorts of suggestions out there as to how we would deal with this.  But, look, we—the best way to handle these cases, it‘s not by any means a perfect way, but the best way is to do what was done originally, which is to go to court and to make a decision and then have that decision reviewed, if in fact it is determined that that individual can be deprived of life, have that decision reviewed by a federal court.  That to me is the appropriate standard of review. 

GREGORY:  Senator, Senator, do you—do you believe you have a right to die?  Do you believe you have a right to decide under what circumstances you would want to live or die, you personally? 

SANTORUM:  Well, me, personally, no, I don‘t.  That‘s a personal decision.  I understand from the standpoint of our law here in this country, the answer is yes, that we can have living wills that say, you know, you can discontinue treatment. 

My feeling is and what I‘m dictated by is my own personal beliefs and faith is that that is not an option for me.  That‘s an option for my—for God. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANTORUM:  My conversation with Senator Santorum from earlier today. 

We‘re back at the White House.  You‘ve been looking at that pictures from down in Florida.  A memorial service organized by supporters of the Schindler family is almost ready to begin.  We‘re monitoring that on such a difficult night for supporters of Terri Schiavo and the Schindler family, as she has died today.  And that memorial service organized by Randall Terry of the group Operation Rescue, who became a spokesman for the Schindler family as well. 

So, we‘ll keep our eye on that, while, at the same time, coming back here on HARDBALL to debate more of the political impact of Congress‘ intervention and this Terri Schiavo going forward, the kind of impact it might have on the politics in the years ahead. 

We‘re back on HARDBALL after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back live on HARDBALL from the White House tonight, monitoring two big stories tonight, the latest on the pope‘s help.  It took a turn for the worse again today.  We will go back to the Vatican as news warrants. 

Meantime, the Terri Schiavo case and the latest on what remains a busy day in Florida. 

We are watching a family memorial service organized by supporters of Terri Schiavo, not clear which family members, if any, may be there tonight. 

Mark Potter with NBC News is also down in Florida. 

Mark, as we watch this setup for the scene, some friends, some supporters there, what do you know and what do we expect from this service tonight? 

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, we know it is an ecumenical service in nearby—near this area in Pinellas Park.  It is open to the community.  It is being health at the Praise Cathedral Renewal Center. 

And we have just been told that Terri Schiavo‘s father, Bob Schindler, will likely attend, probably no other members of the family.  But we hear that Bob Schindler Sr. will be there shortly.  I just saw him a moment ago.  And we think that he is en route in that area. 

I want to tell you also, David, that most of the protesters that we saw here for days outside the hospice have now filtered away now that this bitter and very public fight has now culminated in Terri Schiavo‘s death. 

We had an interesting juxtaposition of events at the same time here today, this afternoon.  There were bitter statements being made.  At the same time, there were very gentle memorial services.  And then late this afternoon, an interesting development.  Terri Schiavo‘s brother and sister came back here to the microphones.  And they made a very conciliatory statement, thanking their supporters, thanking their media—thanking the media, and also asking for forgiveness for anything that they may have done in fighting to save their sister‘s life that may have violated the tenets of their religious beliefs. 

Meanwhile, a little more news on the situation with the medical examine who now has Terri Schiavo‘s body and who will conduct an autopsy.  He has said that he expects to release the body by sometime tomorrow.  And the plan is for her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, who was with her at her bedside when Terri Schiavo passed away shortly after 9:00 this morning, he will think—he will cremate the body and inter the ashes at his family plot in Pennsylvania, a decision that is strongly opposed by the parents. 

But Michael Schiavo, the guardian, is supported by the courts in his decision—David, back to you.

GREGORY:  Mark Potter joining us tonight from the outside the hospice, actually, in Pinellas Park, while we look at these pictures from a memorial service for Terri Schiavo, organized by supporters of the Schindler family.  We watch that proceed and we‘ll keep our eye on that. 

Meantime, we discuss the Terri Schiavo case.  And while her life ends, the debate continues.  And, in many ways, she has become the face of a political movement in this country, the right-to-life movement, more energized, no doubt, by her story. 

And joining me now to talk about that, three well-respected journalists.  John Fund with “The Wall Street Journal” is with us tonight, as well as Marie Cocco with “The Washington Post” writers syndicate, and Dana Milbank, also with “The Washington Post.”

John Fund, has Terri Schiavo become the new face of the right-to-life movement in this country?  And what does that mean?  What will that mean? 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Well, I think we‘re 20 months to the next election.  So, I think the political impact electorally is going to be limited. 

I would hope that Terri Schiavo does not become some kind of a symbol that is, you know, dragged through these debate over and over again.  I hope that she rests in peace.  Having said that, I think that you would be a fool not to say that, if the Bush administration has a Supreme Court nomination to make this summer, Terri Schiavo isn‘t going to be front and center.  I think she has raised passions.  I think she has taught a lot of the American people how powerful judges are and how sometimes their power can even be unaccountable. 

So, I think that is going to be front and center of the Supreme Court debate we‘re going to be having this summer.  And it is going to be an all-out culture war. 

GREGORY:  You know, it‘s interesting.  Dana Milbank, you and I have covered this White House for the past, going on five years, before you moved on to write your column now.  But the president talks about a culture of life and has talked about that for many years.  But never has it had as much political residence as it is likely to have now, with Terri Schiavo kind of the centerpiece of that. 

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Oh, he is out there and solidified that from the very first night there, where he flew back to the White House. 

There have been a lot of complaints, even from some conservatives, like John Danforth, that they‘ve let out the perception that the religious conservatives have really taken over the party.  And John was saying, it would be a shame if Schiavo gets brought into this judicial debate.  It is happening already.  In fact, people are already making the argument that this proves why we need these president‘s judicial nominees. 

Now, that‘s actually not technically the case, because many conservatives on the bench were siding against Congress and the White House, and this including Judge Pryor, who Bush want to have confirmed now. 

GREGORY:  Marie Cocco, there‘s talk of judicial tyranny in this case, which is a political charge that we‘re no doubt going to hear in the midterm elections, particularly as there‘s a discussion about the nuclear option in Congress to get the president‘s judicial nominees through and certainly when we talk about a Supreme Court nominee. 

MARIE COCCO, “NEWSDAY”:  Well, who are they saying is the tyrant?  Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist?  This is a conservative Supreme Court that had the opportunity, I believe, five times to review this case.  Justice Rehnquist, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, none of them have said a word publicly that indicates they disagree with the federal courts keeping their hand out of this. 

So I‘m not exactly sure.  This is not the Warren court we‘re talking about.  We‘re talking about a Supreme Court that has a conservative bent, that‘s dominated by Republican nominees and which, in fact, helped put this president in office with the famous decision in Bush v. Gore in 2000. 

GREGORY:  John Fund, is there difficulty for both parties in all of this, if you look at the public Polling and the public sentiment that this is very much a private matter and that they shouldn‘t have gotten involved? 

FUND:  Oh, I think if you look at the behavior of both local parties, you can say that in spades. 

The Republicans, as soon as they passed the Schiavo law, which I think was often misinterpreted as trying to intervene and determining the outcome, when, actually, it just asked for the federal courts to give it a fresh look, they immediately stepped back from this as if they were touching a hot stove.

The Democrats, on the other hand, half the Democrats didn‘t even show up for the vote. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FUND:  Of the Democrats who did show up for the vote, half voted for Terri Schiavo. 

GREGORY:  And very reluctantly so.  And they certainly didn‘t want to talk a lot about it.  They were happy to get—let the conservatives get the spotlight on this, both the good and the bad. 

COCCO:  I think the maxim among most Democrats in this one is, when your opponents are shooting themselves in the foot, you don‘t jump in and take the gun out of their hand. 

The Democrats have no political—had no political benefit at all in getting directly involved in this case in any way.  The Republicans, at least in terms of public opinion in a broad sense, have done some damage to themselves.

But I think that, electorally, in individual races, the advantage of this still goes to the Republican Party because of the intensity we‘ve seen among the core supporter, among social conservatives. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re going to come—we‘re going to come right back.  We‘ll get more on our discussion with my three guests when we come back talking about the Terri Schiavo case and the political fallout.

Meantime, we‘re also keeping our eye on a memorial service that is beginning or about to begin in Florida, organized by supporters of the Schindler family.  You see the poignant images of Terri Schiavo, as they mark her loss today at the age of 41, the center of such a passionate battle that, in the end, is the tragic story of the loss of a woman‘s life.

We‘ll be back on HARDBALL right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, more with our panel and the political debate over the Terri Schiavo case and the right to die—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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GREGORY:  Back live on HARDBALL.  You‘re looking at a live picture from Florida, a memorial service organized by supporters of the Schindler family. 

As you can see, This is a service about to begin, as Randall Terry, who has become a spokesman for the Schindler family and, of course, head of Operation Rescue as well, the center of the right-to-life debate and the anti-abortion debate. 

We were expecting that some family members from the Schindler family may be there, Bob Schindler.  And we‘ll continue to monitor that, as that memorial service begins now down in Florida. 

Meantime, we‘re back with our guests, John Fund of “The Wall Street Journal” and Marie Cocco and Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post.” 

John Fund, you know, I think everybody has got to be struck by the confluence of events here, especially the political debate over the culture of life.  Here, you have the Terri Schiavo case and her death and the turn of events as we look back. 

And there is Bob Schindler, who has just arrived at this memorial service after such a long and difficult day for him and his family.  This is the memorial service in Florida.  You can see that he is just arriving.  From my vantage point, it is the only member of the Schiavo family that I can see. 

But, John Fund, I‘ll bring you into this.

Terri Schiavo has died.  The pope‘s health has taken a turn for the worse.  He, of course, the Vatican, has made statements in favor of Terri Schiavo and opposed to the turn of events there.  I mean, as a culture-of-life debate, it doesn‘t get any more attention than this, does it? 

FUND:  Well, I think, obviously, out of this tragedy, we should look at least to the fact that 44 percent of Americans, according to a poll out tonight, have had private discussions within their family about what to do in these kinds of wrenching circumstances, whether or not you should have a living will. 

So, a lot of the conversations that Terri Schiavo may or may not have had are taking place at kitchen tables all over America tonight.  That‘s a good thing, because, regardless of where you come down on this issue, we want people‘s wishes to be respected as much as we can and much as obviously the dictates of their conscience will allow. 

GREGORY:  You know, Dana Milbank, I can‘t recall a time where political discourse has been dominated by such simple questions as, how do we define life?  What makes a life worth living?  When should you protect life?  Who should decide life or death at the end of a life like this?  I mean, these—this is what politics in its purest form is really about. 

MILBANK:  Yes.  And, in that sense, David, it has been a very good debate for the country. 

If you look at the particulars in here, it wasn‘t that significant in that these cases are so rare, only one in several thousand people in Terri Schiavo‘s condition have this sort of a dispute among family members.  Maybe one a year winds up in court at all.  And virtually none of them get to this level.  So, the particular facts of the issue weren‘t that important.  But it did get people talking. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MILBANK:  I know my wife and I did our own living will in the middle of all this thing.  But it definitely got people thinking. 

It is hard to tell yet about whether it affects the culture wars in terms of abortion.

GREGORY:  Right. 

MILBANK:  In terms of euthanasia.  But it certainly has people thinking about things and their own mortality.  And that can only be helpful. 

GREGORY:  Marie Cocco, as a political observer, do you think that social conservatives, particularly, in the Republican Party overplayed this case, overplayed their argument?  Or if you are a prominent member of Congress, Tom DeLay, or particularly Senator Bill Frist, who may want to run for president, you are a conservative in Congress, by siding with Terri Schiavo, was there a wrong move here? 

COCCO:  No.  I don‘t think, if you‘re a conservative Republican, there was a wrong move here. 

I think that there‘s a larger question in the public mind, which is something Dana just got to.  Who decides?

GREGORY:  Marie, can I interrupt?

COCCO:  Does the public want the Congress to decide these personal, private, tragic episodes? 

GREGORY:  Marie, I‘m going to interrupt you for just a minute.  I apologize. 

We‘re going to go live to this memorial service.  We‘re hearing from Reverend Mike Thomas, the senior pastor at the Praise Cathedral Renewal Center in Florida, as this memorial service for Terri Schiavo gets under way. 

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REV. MIKE THOMAS, SENIOR PASTOR, PRAISE CATHEDRAL RENEWAL CENTER:  And

we thank you for everything you‘ve done.  And now, God, we focus on you as we lift up the cross, because the Bible says, if you be lifted up, then we‘re lifted up.  And we find rest for our souls. 

Now, we gave you praise.  May every song sung, every word spoken, may everything that is done bring glory and honor to you.  In Christ‘s name, we pray.  And everybody says.

CROWD:  Amen. 

THOMAS:  Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, Pastor Mike.

What we‘re going to do now, we‘re changing things up just a little bit.  We‘re going to have Randy Terry come and sing a song that he wrote.  And then Mr. Schindler, Mr. Bob Schindler, is going to say a few words.  Then he‘s going to have to leave.  He is just tired and exhausted.  And we‘re just honored to have him here. 

But, Randall, if you will... 

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GREGORY:  We‘re watching a memorial service in Pinellas Park, Florida. 

You see Randall Terry there, one of the spokesmen for the Schindler family.  These are supporters of the Schindler family holding a memorial service for Terri Schiavo tonight, who has passed away. 

We‘re talking about the Schiavo case, the political debate that has been surrounding this case now for weeks. 

And I‘m joined here in Washington with—by two guests, who will talk more about it with me, Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist, and Brad Blakeman, a former deputy assistant to President Bush, both joining me here from HARDBALL headquarters. 

Steve McMahon, let me begin with you.  I want to sort of switch gears from a lot of the discussion tonight, which is reflexively sort of who wins and who loses between Democrats and Republicans. 

I ask you and I wonder whether or not the Schiavo case has brought the left and right together on some matters in a way that‘s not being talked about a lot. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I do think that there‘s been an aspect of that. 

I mean, you saw a lot of Democrat, for instance, joined the Republicans in the House in that vote.  And you‘ve seen a lot of Democrats stay pretty quiet. 

I think it is difficult for a Democrat, in particular one who opposes the death penalty and the state taking of a life, to not have a great deal of sympathy, not want to step in and do something in a case like this.  It is also difficult, of course, for somebody who believes in state rights and that states ultimately should interpret their laws, to not believe that the state of Florida and the 19 judges who ruled on this didn‘t rule correctly. 

GREGORY:  But, Steve, where were Democrats on this?  It seems to me, even those who voted against it didn‘t go out of their way to be public about it and stand up for what some who have dissented thought was an egregious abuse of power. 

MCMAHON:  Well, I think there were a lot of Democrats who did stand up and be—and were counted. 

I‘m again, I think it is difficult any time there‘s a human life involved to not be on the side of protecting that human life to the degree possible.  It‘s also difficult, however, if you believe in states‘ rights and if you think that the state of Florida is the proper venue to determine how its laws are going to be applied with appropriate federal review which occurred in this case. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MCMAHON:  Basically, what happened here was, the Republicans decided that they didn‘t like the result.  And the Republicans decided that they were going to overturn or try to overturn the result. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Steve, let me interrupt you for...

MCMAHON:  OK.

GREGORY:  I‘m sorry to do this.

MCMAHON:  That‘s OK.

GREGORY:  But we‘re kind of going back and forth between our discussion and this memorial service.  You see Bob Schindler is taking the microphone there at this memorial service for his daughter Terri Schiavo. 

Let‘s go ahead and listen to Bob Schindler.

(APPLAUSE)

BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  Thank you. 

You‘ve given our family so much support.  And you‘ve got us through some real tough times.  And we‘re so appreciative of it.  And we will never forget you all.  And I just thank you, so, so much.  And Terri thanks you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will not forget, sir.

SCHINDLER:  OK.  Thank you. 

(APPLAUSE)

GREGORY:  Bob Schindler, Terri Schiavo‘s father, attending this memorial service organized by some supporters of the family.  His remarks were brief.  He was obviously overcome.  It has been such a long and emotional day for him, thanking supporters of the family who have been so public in their support, as has he, in his lobbying and pleading to get both the government involved, anybody involved who could have intervened in this case and had Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube reinserted. 

And now she‘s finally died. 

We‘re back with Steve McMahon and Brad Blakeman talking about this case and where it really goes from here.

Brad Blakeman, I mean, what is next as this debate moves forward?  There is going to be a moral debate.  Certainly, there‘s going to be very private conversations in families across the country about how to handle a similar circumstance.  But, for our leaders in this country, they‘re going to be talking about where the debate should go next and whether there‘s new law or a new turn that this takes.  What is it? 

BRAD BLAKEMAN, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Well, I think each state has to turn inward and examine their laws. 

Certainly, it should be up to the states to look at their laws and protect life.  And I think what is going to happen here, as in Florida, is a guardian should not have the ability for life-and-death decisions absent a writing, the same way a will is executed, with informed consent.  And I think that this really needs to be looked at. 

It‘s also—every cloud has a silver lining, David.  Millions of Americans have examined their own personal situations and have entered living wills or health care proxies.  So, this debate has been very healthy for America.  And I think it is up to the states now to look at their own laws. 

GREGORY:  Well, what about the federal government?  What about the president, who made, went out of his way to get involved in this case?  Did he just make a statement in the middle of the Schiavo case or does he do something now concrete to keep moving this debate forward? 

BLAKEMAN:  Well, I think the president can use the bully pulpit and the Republican Party can and our elected representatives, because we all stand for something. 

And our party stands for erring on the side of life and giving people the power to make decisions, life-and-death decisions for themselves, and not have others do it for them. 

GREGORY:  All right, Brad Blakeman and Steve McMahon, thanks to both of you in our HARDBALL studios tonight. 

As I mentioned at the outset, the other major story that we‘re following tonight is the pope‘s health. 

And we‘re joined now by NBC News‘ Chris Jansing, who is in Rome tonight with the very latest on this turn for the worse in the pope‘s condition—Chris. 

JANSING:  Well, David, the pope is in the papal apartment being attended to by his medical team. 

The Vatican confirming several hours ago that he does have a urinary tract infection, that he has a high fever and that he is being treated with antibiotics.  Now, typically, this would not be cause for great concern.  But we‘re talking about an 84-year-old pope who has Parkinson‘s disease and who has been significantly weakened over the last couple of months, two hospitalizations.  He had a breathing tube put in.

And also just two days ago, on Wednesday, the Vatican confirming he had a feeding tube put in.  So, this is someone who is very frail.  We saw him on Wednesday looking frail and unable to speak.  In a case like this, an infection can be very serious, so a cause for great concern here at the Vatican tonight, David. 

GREGORY:  All right, Chris Jansing, thanks very much. 

And, of course, MSNBC will bring you any new details on the pope‘s health as news warrants. 

Tomorrow night, on HARDBALL, we will switch gears and talk about the very important WMD report that came out today, the president‘s commission about prewar intelligence on Iraq and what went wrong.  I‘ll speak to the co-chairmen of that commission.  That‘s tomorrow night on HARDBALL. 

Up next, it‘s Keith Olbermann and the “COUNTDOWN,” two major stories, the pope and Terri Schiavo, as this memorial service continues.  We‘ll cover them both.

I‘m David Gregory for HARDBALL.  Good night, everyone.

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