updated 5/24/2005 10:49:28 AM ET 2005-05-24T14:49:28

Guest: Lindsey Graham, Mark Pryor, Mike Allen, Susan Collins, John McCain

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, high drama as Senator McCain leads a big bipartisan deal to avoid a nuclear clash over the judicial filibuster.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  I‘m here with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the leaders of the dramatic events tonight. 

Senator, what happened tonight in the United States Senate? 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:   Well, the closer we got to the vote of pulling the nuclear trigger, the more we thought about the consequences.  And the consequences were unknown. 

I was a yes vote.  I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time.  I think it‘s unconstitutional.  But sometimes in life, you can do things that you don‘t have to do.  I didn‘t have to change my vote, but I decided to, because senators of good faith on both sides approached me saying, “There‘s a better way.” 

What we do tonight—what we‘ve done tonight is a chance to start over.  We got a chance to learn from our mistakes on both sides of the aisle.  The White House has a chance to learn from their mistakes.  And we can move forward, hopefully, with a traditional process in place, rather than blowing up the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Instead of blowing up the Senate, what‘s the deal? 

GRAHAM:  The deal is that five nominees who have been filibustered will get an up-or-down vote and some will be confirmed and some won‘t.  The dirty little secret is that there have been some of these nominees that will not get Republican votes.  But we got so wrapped around the axle, we could never get to that bottom line.

So five people who have been treated pretty poorly are going to be treated better.  And we making a commitment, the 14 of us, to go forward, trying to avoid filibusters. 

Our Democratic friends have retained the right to filibuster under extraordinary circumstances.  The Republicans have retained the right to change the rules and vote the constitutional/nuclear option if we need to. 

It‘s a chance to start over.  How many times in life do you get to start over?  It‘s a do-over.  We get a chance to have a cease-fire, calm down, chill out, get back to doing business about important things.  And hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we can walk back from the ledge. 

Kids are dying as I speak in Iraq.  Social Security is falling apart.  The reason I changed where I was at to where I am now is I think the Senate could do better if we started over. 

MATTHEWS:  If I were President Bush, I‘d say, “I have got seven nominees up there on the Hill.  Two of them are dead now.  You‘re only going to consider five.  I also am not sure you‘re going to actually vote on my Supreme Court nominees down the road because Democrats might say ‘extraordinary circumstances.‘  So I could get hurt here.” 

GRAHAM:  Well, President Bush‘s nominees, most of them are going to go through.  There will be at least one in the group that probably will fail in a bipartisan fashion.  But every president faces that.

President Bush, I think, has submitted very good people.  And now and then, we‘ll disagree.  What‘s happened to President Bush has been historically bad.  It will happen to the next Democratic president.  You will have a minority of senators blocking your agenda when it comes to judges without up-or-down votes.

To the president, I think that‘s going to stop.  But when you send a Supreme Court nominee over, talk to us first.  I believe he will.  And if we all talk, we can do better. 

But if there‘s a filibuster in the future, Lindsey Graham has the right to change the rules if he believes that filibuster is bad for the country.  I don‘t think we‘re going down that road again because the Senate has looked terrible in the eyes of the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, you‘ve noticed the polling on this, right? 

GRAHAM:  Yes, let me tell you.  If you have got a kid in Iraq, the last thing you want to hear about is a bunch of adults in the Senate arguing like third-graders.  The Senate will either learn from this and live up to the traditions of the Senate or we‘ll sink into the swamp.

I hope, if we start over and have a change to reengage, we can do better with the president, he can do better with us, and we can treat our judicial nominees better, because if you institutionalize a filibuster, if every nominee is subject to having their life treated like these people have been treated, good men and women will not want to be judges.  And that‘d be a great loss for this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the president.  We know that Chief Justice Rehnquist is in bad shape. 

GRAHAM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s undergoing a lot of medical help right now, and he may have to resign at some point. 

GRAHAM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  When the president gets to fill that chief justiceship right now, are you confident that the Democrats will not foot drag with the filibuster? 

GRAHAM:  I‘m confident that Democrats expect a conservative to be nominated by this president.  And if Hillary Clinton or someone like her ever gets to be president, and I‘m in the Senate, I would expect her to have somebody more philosophical in line with her than me. 

My job at that point in time is determine, are they qualified, are they ethically and intellectually qualified, and give them a vote.  I believe, when the Supreme Court opening comes, if it does, if the president would sit down with the leaders of the Senate, we can pick a conservative that the country can be proud of. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me run by you what a lot of people think might happen, at least I think might happen.  President may have to fill the chief justiceship by the end of the year. 

GRAHAM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Antonin Scalia‘s an associate justice of the Supreme Court, an extreme intellectual.  A lot of who disagree with him respect him.  If the president were to put him up for chief justice and put up his attorney general, Gonzales, for associate justice to replace him, would that be in line with the “not extraordinary” definition you guys have put together, and therefore would avoid a filibuster? 

GRAHAM:  The 14 of us asked, “What would Chris Matthews ask you?” 

(LAUGHTER)

GRAHAM:  And he would ask you about all kind of hypotheticals from Gonzales to Brown... 

MATTHEWS:  But these are pretty good hypotheticals. 

GRAHAM:  Well, these are very good.  We expected Chris Matthews to do this.  And here‘s what we‘ve said.  We‘re not going prejudge anybody.  We‘re going to talk to each other.  And if a Democrat believes they have to filibuster in the future, they will call a group together.  We‘ll talk about it. 

Then each Republican will decide, based on what‘s best for the country, is that an extraordinary circumstance?  All we‘ve done tonight is to give the Senate a chance to start over, to give the president a chance to start over.  And if we‘re smart, and if we‘ve been listening to the American people, and we haven‘t gone totally brain dead, we‘ll figure out this is not helping anybody. 

MATTHEWS:  You weren‘t kidding about—you deciding whether Chris Matthews would ask or not? 

GRAHAM:  We were not kidding.  You were one of the examples we used. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m glad to know that you were betting—you accounted your decision based what I might ask you.  Let‘s go through this from a number of points of view. 

Bill Frist, as you know, very deliberate, contentious leader of your country. 

GRAHAM:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  He thought through a lot of options as he put together what he called a nuclear option, the constitutional option.  Is he going to be frustrated by this decision by your bipartisan group to avoid this vote? 

GRAHAM:  I think, number one, he‘ll be grateful for the fact that we‘re going to get votes on people that have been treated pretty poorly.  So that‘s good for him. 

MATTHEWS:  For the judgeship nominees? 

GRAHAM:  For the judges.  The bottom line is, from Senator Frist‘s perspective, is that he understood pulling the nuclear trigger would have consequences.  And I think we all appreciate the opportunity to start over.  So does he.  And the idea that the future is unknown is a reality.  But now you‘ve got a bipartisan opportunity to kind of reshape the Senate to make a better future. 

Without Senator Frist insisting on a vote tomorrow morning, there would have been no deal.  He went a year-and-a-half talking, and begging, and pleading, and he finally had to bring this to closure.  And without a vote tomorrow—and you‘ve been around this town longer than I have—nobody would have been in that room.  In that regard, Senator Frist has done a great service for the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  So he sobered everybody up? 

GRAHAM:  He sobered everybody up by saying, “We have got to knock this off.  You‘re going to destroy the judiciary.”  Who in the world would submit their name if they‘re going to be treated like this...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

GRAHAM:  ... on any side of the aisle?  And how can the Senate continue to operate this way where you‘ve got money being poured into ads against all of us?  We just can‘t function this way. 

And he said, “Either we‘re going to reach a deal, or we‘re going to have a vote.”  And I‘m glad we got a deal.  There will be some people very mad at me until they understand that the best thing for the Senate, for this country, is to be able to do business.  Social Security is now possible.  If we blow up the Senate, it was not possible. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I want to talk to you about now.  We talked about Senator Frist, the Republican.  The Democratic leader, Harry Reid, has been very tough. 

GRAHAM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s putting it lightly.  Is he now going to put away his plans for bitter retreat or bitter retaliation?  Is he going to accept this deal? 

GRAHAM:  If Harry is as smart as think he is, he‘ll understand that the filibuster was hurting everybody who touched it.  It weakened the Senate.  It weakened the judiciary.  It hurt the president.  And it put us all in bad standing with the American people. 

There‘s going to be a lot of talking tonight.  There‘s going to be a lot of spinning.  But the truth is, most senators are going to bed tonight saying, “Thank god.” 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the interest groups—I like to call them pressure groups.  It‘s an old-time word, and I love it. 

Let‘s talk about the pressure groups on the right and on the left. 

James Dobson, Focus on the Family...

GRAHAM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... you have got that group and other groups like it.

GRAHAM:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  You have got Ralph Neas and People for the American Way.  These are people who know how to get letters written.  A senator gets up tomorrow morning, you‘ll have 5,000 e-mails blasting you for this deal. 

GRAHAM:  That would be a reduction.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in your case, probably from the right.

In the cases of the Democrats who have joined with you, probably from the left, saying, “You‘ve sold out our people.  A woman‘s right to choose is now in jeopardy.”  In your case, “We‘ll never have a conservative Supreme Court.”  And you‘re a conservative. 

GRAHAM:  Well, I‘ve been getting pounded, because I was a yes vote.  Most of the people in that room wanted to preserve the filibuster for the future.  I don‘t want to preserve it for the future because I think it will destroy the judiciary.  I‘m a conservative, not a centrist. 

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t want to preserve it for the judicial fights? 

GRAHAM:  Yes, for the reason—I wanted to get back to the traditional way of doing business.  If you don‘t like them, vote against them, because we‘re going to destroy the quality of people that come through the Senate to be judges. 

But I‘ve been pounded.  I‘ve gotten thousands of phone calls.  People don‘t understand what I‘m doing because they expect me not to do this because I am a conservative. 

And here‘s what I‘m telling my friends on the right.  The Senate, in terms of confirming judges, is very important to the quality of people you will get to want to offer themselves to be a judge. 

The Supreme Court nominees of the future, I expect to be conservative.  I do believe there are Democrats you can work with to put a conservative nominee in place.  But if we blew up the Senate, your hopes and dreams for an energy bill, to deal with Social Security, other conservative issues, are lost.  And kids are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The last thing we want to do as a nation is to distract the Senate from doing the big things that have been neglected. 

To my conservative friends, I think nominees are going to be better treated in the future.  The Supreme Court fight may come, but it‘s going to come on better grounds than the current environment led to.  And we‘ve got a chance to start over. 

I chose to do something I didn‘t have to do because I thought it was best for us all. 

MATTHEWS:  So instead of not knowing what the future is, you now think that the United States is going to have a better shot—let‘s go through your party‘s agenda. 

GRAHAM:  Yes, sure.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you have a better shot at getting John Bolton approved now for U.N. ambassador?

(CROSSTALK)  

GRAHAM:  I think he‘s going to be the ambassador of the U.N.  And before, if we blew up the Senate...

MATTHEWS:  Maybe one or two objections on your part at the most? 

GRAHAM:  That‘s exactly right. 

MATTHEWS:  Social Security, do you think the president‘s plans for some kind of personal accounts has a better shot now? 

GRAHAM:  It has a shot versus no shot.  And watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

GRAHAM:  Just keep watching. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think this bipartisan approach may have legs? 

GRAHAM:  I think this bipartisan approach will be embraced by the American people, will eventually be understood by the conservative and liberal world, and we‘re creating an environment for problem solving.  And if we had pulled the trigger, the environment would have been to break everything apart. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the leaders of this group, which is about 14 and it seems to be growing—it‘s almost like a movement—will the leadership continue to believe John McCain—and I know you backed him in the presidential back the first time around in 2000, now you‘re loyal to the president—and you‘ve got Ben Nelson, a conservative, relatively conservative Democrat from Nebraska—are these going to be the leaders, these centrists—well, John McCain‘s not a centrist; he‘s a maverick. 

GRAHAM:  I think what happened tonight in the Senate, that we all have a chance to reengage each other, and that the leadership model for the future will be less partisan than it has been in the past, because now we have got a chance to start and learn from our mistakes.  If you‘re a Republican, and you want to keep control of this body, you can‘t have 60 percent of the American people thinking you can‘t run the place. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, well done.  Any way, thank you very much, Senator Lindsey Graham.  Thank you for coming on short notice. 

GRAHAM:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell is going to be with us.  This is a special edition of HARDBALL, live from the Reagan building, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It‘s an historic night here in Washington where moderate senators from both parties got together to make a deal.  In a moment, we‘re going to hear from Mark Pryor, the senator from Arkansas.  He‘s a Democrat. 

I‘m back right now with MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell and NBC News‘s Chip Reid.  They‘re both at the Russell Rotunda. 

Let‘s go right now to Norah first.  Norah, this is a big development here at the last minute.  Why do you think it took right up to the last minute to cut this deal? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Probably because politicians are a lot like journalists.  A deadline helps.  And that‘s certainly the way that Congress works all the time, with this clock ticking, and time running out.  Many of these senators who had expressed a great deal of concern that the Senate was veering off into a direction that it should not be, that they were able to get together—quite frankly, it only took them about an hour tonight to reach this deal.

I was told that Senator Ben Nelson just had someone outside typing on his computer making the revisions.  And then they all came together on this agreement.  And Senator John McCain announcing the Senate has won, the country has won, averting this showdown in the Senate.  It‘s a very big deal. 

At the same time, it‘s important to point out that all of these senators talked about that this agreement in many ways is built on trust and personal relationships.  And even Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican from Ohio, in the press conference tonight, said that they do reserve the right, that if anyone breaks this agreement, that sometime in the future, there could still be the constitutional option exercised. 

MATTHEWS:  Chip, let‘s talk about the two different views here.  Certainly the Democrats wanted the right to kill nominations for judgeships without having a majority to do so.  They wanted to be able to use their minority status to kill judge nominations.  On the other hand, the Republicans wanted up-or-down votes.  They wanted a clear-cut yes or no.  Why did both sides agree to find something vague in the middle here? 

CHIP REID, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they agreed because they just desperately wanted some kind of agreement here.  These 14 really, really, really did not want to go to this nuclear option.  They wanted to be able to move ahead with the business of the Senate. 

But I think it has been pointed out that it really could turn out to be a very tenuous agreement at some point down the road.  Because there‘s a very key clause in this, Chris, where it says, “We encourage the executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.” 

So the big question here, is George Bush really going to talk to the Democrats before he sends up a nomination?  Is he going to send up somebody they can live with?  If he doesn‘t, and the Democrats decide to filibuster, it‘s hard to imagine the Republicans would stand by and allow the Democrats to block a Democratic nominee. 

So we could very well be back in this same position down the road, if George Bush does come back with a real red-meat, right-wing conservative, when there is a Supreme Court opening. 

MATTHEWS:  The Democrats haven‘t really determined here that, unless the president seeks their advice before sending up a nomination, that that‘s an extraordinary circumstance.  That‘s the normal circumstance. 

REID:  Yes...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it, Chip? 

REID:  Well, yes, well, who‘s to say what an extraordinary circumstance is?  They go out of their way in the document, again, to say it‘s up to each person to determine.  But if the Democrats determine a conservative Supreme Court nominee as an extraordinary circumstance, I don‘t think you‘re going to have to get the Republicans agreeing to that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much. 

We‘re going to go right now to Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of—I haven‘t seen much of you, sir.  You‘re a new face on the block here. 

SEN. MARK PRYOR ®, ARKANSAS:  Yes, been here a couple of years. 

MATTHEWS:  But this is your emergence here.  What was it like to be in the middle of this room, this scrum, as you put together this deal? 

PRYOR:  It was great.  Actually, I have been working on this for a couple of months.  Senator Ben Nelson, John McCain, many, many others came together several weeks ago.  And we started working through this.  And I‘ve pretty much been there every step of the way.  But I‘ve got to give all the credit to my colleagues. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the meeting like, of these Democrats and Republicans?  Is it organized Robert‘s Rules?

PRYOR:  No.  Heck, no.  It‘s just informal.  We sit down, we talk about issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Where‘d you meet? 

PRYOR:  We met in different offices, met in my office once, met in Senator McCain‘s office a number of times, Ben Nelson‘s office, just wherever we...

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Secret meetings? 

PRYOR:  I wouldn‘t say secret. 

MATTHEWS:  Was the leadership represented with spies in the room? 

PRYOR:  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Was there somebody running back the route on everything that was said at those meetings?

PRYOR:  I don‘t think so, but I do think that both parties understood that senators don‘t like surprises, especially our leaders.  So I think that everybody was kind of touching base with leaders from time to time. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it a difficult thing for you as a Democrat to go to a meeting like that when Harry Reid is out there saying, “Let‘s stick together.  Let‘s fight this thing”? 

PRYOR:  No.  I think it‘s the right thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  But did Harry Reid agree with you it was the right thing to do?  He didn‘t encourage you to go to this meeting, did you?

PRYOR:  You‘ll have to ask Harry Reid and Bill Frist whether they agreed with what we did.  But I think it was the right thing to do.  It was right for the country. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t this a defeat of the leaders?  I mean, you had Harry Reid working in league with the People for the American Way, the most pro-choice, most fanatical liberal groups in the country, who are pestering all members like yourself with this absolutism. 

On the other side, you have people like James Dobson, the same kind of right-wing, if you will, absolutism from the conservative church groups, demanding 100-percent loyalty, “We have to have pro-life judges.  We have to have a guy who‘s going to vote against abortion and vote against gay marriage.”  How did you guys escape the noose of these pressure groups? 

PRYOR:  Well, maybe you can call this deal the “Revenge of the Moderates.”  It was time for us in the middle to come together, although not all of us were moderates... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about your contributors, all your liberal contributors?  They come along and say, “I‘m not giving to you, Senator Pryor, anymore, because I thought you were a pro-choice man.  Now you‘re buckling to these other people, these church people.” 

PRYOR:  I can‘t speak for everybody else.  But my donors know who I am, my supporters certainly in Arkansas.  And that‘s the main thing here, is the folks in Arkansas—I think all 50 states—send their senators to Washington to try to work through difficult issues.  I don‘t think there‘s a more difficult, more contentious issue than this one in the last several years. 

MATTHEWS:  I asked someone on my show a couple of weeks ago on HARDBALL—an intellectual, I forget who it was, some historian—is there a center?  And the answer was, “Probably not.”  But tonight, it looks like there is a center. 

PRYOR:  I think there is a center.  And I think there are people that love the institution, understand how important the United States Senate is to American history and American government.  And I think what you saw tonight is, that won out, that won out over petty partisanship. 

And I think it‘s a win-win.  I think it‘s a win for Democrats and for Republicans.  More importantly, I think it‘s a win for America. 

MATTHEWS:  You were the youngest one there.  What was it like to sit with the grandees, like Bobby Byrd, who‘s been around since the ‘50s, and John Warner, who‘s like (INAUDIBLE) central casting?  

PRYOR:  Well, it was great.  It was fantastic.  And fortunately, I have a great relationship with all of them.  But it was very, very good.  And I‘m going to tell you, when Senator Byrd sits down and starts talking about the Constitution and the role of the Senate, it is a history lesson.  And we got a lot of lectures doing this.  It was great.

MATTHEWS:  Is this a good night for the country? 

PRYOR:  I think it‘s a very good night for the country.  I think it‘s very, very good.  And I think people all around the country will be glad we did this. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it a bad night for partisanship? 

PRYOR:  I hope it‘s a bad night for partisanship, because we have too much of that in Washington.  And people, I know in Arkansas, and all over the country, are sick of it.  They want to see us work together. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Anyway, we‘ll be right back.  Thank you.  Stick around.  This is a big night for us, too.

Thank you, Mark Pryor.  A new kid on the block.  He‘s only been here two years.  This is a special edition of HARDBALL, live from the Reagan building in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m back with Senator Mark Pryor Arkansas. 

I want to talk to you about the excitement of this decision.  You know, I grew up with the romance of the Senate, like a lot of people.  You did, obviously.  That‘s why you‘re a senator.  The idea that these are a club of great men and women who get together, and they deliberate, and they think big.  And although they‘re not wearing togas like old senators from the Roman times, they‘re thinking big.

PRYOR:  Right

MATTHEWS:  Did the Senate rise to that image in these last several hours? 

PRYOR:  I think the Senate has risen to that image.  And I think that, hopefully, this will pave the way for more and more senators to think big, and not just think about partisanship, or the next election, or the base.  You know, we always talk about the base, the left or right base.  Hopefully, this will pave the way for more senators to think big and put some of that stuff aside and get some good things done for this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are the people in your office that keep reminding you what the base wants done?  I mean, are there people—who are the enablers on Capitol Hill who constantly get meetings for Ralph Neas in all these senator‘s offices, who constantly bring in these lefties, in your party‘s case, or these rightists in the other party, constantly reminding these senators that they owe something to these groups?

PRYOR:  My office may be a little bit different, because my dad was in the Senate for 18 years, and I kind of grew up around it.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Great man, by the way. 

PRYOR:  Thank you, thank you.  It was John Paul Hammerschmidt and I, you know, Congressman Hammerschmidt. 

But anyway, my office may be a little bit different, because when I ran, I told everybody I would meet with anybody, and that basically the folks that I‘m responsible to are the people of Arkansas.  And I‘ve seen this game before.  I know how this works, and all of that.

So I think people in Arkansas have maybe a little different expectation for me than maybe some other senators have. 

MATTHEWS:  So you have a little more freedom being from a moderate state? 

PRYOR:  Yes, I think Arkansas is a great state for representing the Senate.  We‘re conservative in a lot of ways, but we‘re also progressive in a lot of ways.  And it‘s a great...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Looking down the road, are you going to bed tonight with your head on the pillow saying, “I think the moderates and the centrists can put together a new kind of Senate”? 

PRYOR:  I hope so.  I hope that we can sort of stake out the common sense, take the best ideas from the Democrats, best ideas from the Republicans, and try to put those to work for the country.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘d be good for everybody.

PRYOR:  I hope so. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you.  It‘s great to meet you.

PRYOR:  Thank you.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. 

When we come back, we‘ll be back with MSNBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell.  She‘ll be here with her take.  And Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the people who had been very much a part of this fight.  You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s an historic night here in Washington, where moderate senators and some conservatives and liberals, got together to make a deal. 

I‘m back with MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell. 

Norah, let‘s put our heads together here for a few minutes and think about the power of the decision made tonight.  How does it take the Senate off the course it was headed towards tomorrow? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, traditionally, many of these senators got together because they were concerned that the Senate would end up being more like the House of Representatives.

If you got rid of the filibuster, then it would just take a simple majority, 51 votes, in order to get something done.  And the Senate said, wait a minute.  We‘re the body that‘s supposed to be more deliberative.  We should take more time.  And that‘s why you had this very motley crew of 14 senators who got together, people like John Warner, who‘s been around the Senate for a long time, as well as Bob Byrd, who is very liberal, together with people like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, a conservative, and other moderates, in order to craft this deal. 

It‘s enormously significant.  And I think there‘ll be two stories that will play themselves out over the next couple days.  One, what are the implications for the 2008 presidential race, given that this agreement was crafted by none other than Senator John McCain and it means a loss for Senator Bill Frist, who is also considering a run for the presidency in 2008?

And, two, what does this mean about the tone in Washington or the tone in the U.S. Senate?  Does it mean that compromise can move forward?  Does it mean the president‘s agenda on Social Security and other issues does have some hope for the future, now that there are a group of senators who say they want to work together for the better of the country and for the better of the Senate?

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a lot to chew on. 

Let‘s start with something you said which I think is pretty profound.  And I want you to expand on it.  The idea of the filibuster sounds to a lot of people like just a lot of hot air.  But you point out that it‘s so critical to the way Senate does business, because, without the filibuster, the right of every man and woman in the Senate to say stop right here, I want to say something, you don‘t have this principle of unanimous consent in the way they do business.  And it does become like a time-limited time clock of sort of mechanistic House—like the House of Representatives. 

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly.

Despite the fact that we all groan about gridlock in Washington and perhaps the inability of Congress to get stuff done on important issues, we have to remember that the filibuster in many ways protects minority rights and traditionally has protected minority rights.  In some cases, it‘s also been used against minorities as well.

But, at the same time, it‘s a slower, more deliberative body, the Senate.  And that is what makes our government unique and interesting and what we all learned about in history classes.  But, again, that‘s why it forces compromise.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  The way the Senate works forces the two parties to work together.  It‘s not like the House, where you can have people on opposite sides.  So, that‘s what I think is significant about this, is that, in fact, there is compromise still available to many of these senators.  But they think that there‘s a higher issue at stake here, civility in the tone. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to you look at something just as important.  That‘s presidential politics here.  Bill Frist, as everyone knows, is only going to serve for two terms.  He‘s leaving the Senate.  He‘s sort of term-limited himself.  He‘s going to run for the presidency.  Does this hurt him?  And does this help John McCain by showing that a maverick can also be a peacemaker, a broker of power? 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s right.  Senate Majority Leader Frist has said he will retire in 2006.  So, he will no longer be the leader.  And he‘ll turn his attention towards running to president. 

This will inevitably be seen as a loss for Frist and a win for McCain.  Frist had in many ways been the darling of conservatives who believe the Democrats had been acting in an unprecedented way, denying the president‘s judicial nominees an up-or-down vote.  There were a lot of people involved in this fight.  And it remains to be seen how unhappy they‘ll how unhappy they‘ll be with Frist. 

We‘ve heard these groups say that this compromise is ridiculous, terrible.  They don‘t like it, because not all of the president‘s judges under this deal will get an up-or-down vote.  So, again, it‘s important to remember the deal is still tenuous.  And we‘ve still heard that from those in this group of 14 and those outside this group, saying this will have to be, in Frist‘s words, closely monitored to see what happens. 

I have to tell you, Chris, in talking to senators all week about what would happen, one said to me, if this compromise is reached, in many ways, it may just put off the inevitable, which is, in the future, perhaps, the use of a constitutional option if they get into a big, big fight over a future Supreme Court nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  They‘re asking to be treated with respect.  The question is, will they act with respect for the institution? 

Let me go right now—thank you, Norah, for all that.

And let‘s go right now to Washington, “The Washington Post”‘s Mike Allen. 

Mike, here is the toughest question, perhaps.  The president, as he‘s looking at this, is he satisfied tonight that we believe that he‘s going to get an up-or-down vote on Supreme Court nominations as they come down the track? 

MIKE ALLEN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, Chris, what you and Norah have been emphasizing is the short-term nature of this.  Earlier, Chip Reid was talking to you about the tenuousness of this agreement. 

And the Republican leaders are emphasizing to us tonight this doesn‘t preclude use of the nuclear option in the future.  And so, what you saw tonight was a lot of congratulations among rank-and-file senators, some of these negotiators.  But one of the most dramatic scenes in the Capitol tonight wasn‘t in the negotiating room.  It was in the rooms where these two parties, the negotiators, took it to their leaders. 

Here, these 14 senators had done something that the leaders couldn‘t do and it‘s not clear that they wanted to do.  And we don‘t know exactly what happened in those rooms yet.  But talking to the senators, they made it clear the leaders didn‘t immediately embrace it.  And the way they described these sessions showed the degree to which Senator Frist, Leader Reid were bystanders in this. 

We‘re told Leader Frist asked how this would work, what the conditions were.  And they—it was delivered to them basically as a fait accompli, the same thing with the White House.  And that‘s why you saw the statements from both the leaders and the White House talking about a first step here. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m wondering what—let‘s start with Bill Frist, Dr.

Frist, who is the Republican leader and controls 55 votes out of the 100.

Is he, in his mind‘s heart, now saying, maybe I‘m hoping this deal will come apart; I think the wheels will come off when lefties in the Democratic Party start saying extraordinary circumstances over the first nominee for the Supreme Court the president sends up? 

ALLEN:  Well, I‘m not going to read Reid or Frist‘s mind. 

But I can tell you what the other senators are saying.  And that is, the negotiators said—several of the Republican negotiators said to me that they felt like that they were doing Leader Frist a favor.  But they said he doesn‘t necessarily feel that way.  And that is what gave us the idea that there was sort of a chilly reception to this. 

But what both sides agree on is, this bought them some time.  Chris, you‘ve been listening to the rhetoric in the chamber.  And there have been such dramatic scenes in there over the last couple of days.  I‘ve been going in, sitting, just watching these senators talk.  And I know, Chris, you‘ll appreciate the institution as well today.  You saw—you were talking earlier about Senator Byrd, how long he‘s been there—walking in with a cane today with his script and talking how this was a constitutional crisis. 

At one point, Senator Byrd was referring to this as the turnip truck option, because he said anyone who fell off a turnip truck could come up with something like this.  So, I think what you‘re going to see in the next couple days is some real recriminations against these leaders, how this got to this point.  Did it need to get to this point?  And Senator Snowe said to me tonight that she always knew that this would happen at the 11th hour.  It certainly did. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there reason for any kind of optimism that this centrist

force—it‘s almost proving Yeats, the poet, wrong—the center will hold

·         is there a centrist force in the U.S. Senate now? 

ALLEN:  Well, Chris, that‘s very interesting.  And this is one of the reasons that there‘s not exactly a warm embrace of this by the leaders. 

There‘s a strong feeling in the leadership of both parties that several of theses senators, at least, maybe all of them, were out for themselves and for their image—and you Norah referred to this a little earlier—and not for the institution, as the rhetoric says.  And that‘s why there‘s a little—they‘re definitely suspicion about the motives of these senators.  And I think that that‘s why there‘s some reluctance about their product, as they refer to deals up here. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Michael Allen of “The Washington Post.” 

I guess he‘s talking right there about the possibility that these centrists are beloved by the press and the media generally.  In fact, they‘re not loved by politicians. 

And Norah O‘Donnell was great tonight here for all her analysis. 

Here were—here are the seven Republicans and the seven Democrats who brokered the deal?  Who are these 14 senators and what does this deal mean?  We‘re going to get to that in a moment. 

And, later, an exclusive interview with Senator John McCain, the man at the center of this deal. 

This is a special edition of HARDBALL, live from the Reagan Building in Washington. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, an exclusive interview with the man who helped broker the deal, maybe was the key man, Senator John McCain of Arizona.  Once again, the maverick wins—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Joining me now is HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

David, who are these 14 magicians who cut the deal tonight? 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, it‘s mostly younger senators and centrists. 

But keep an eye on the list, on the Republican side, John Warner, veteran Republican, who had said just a couple weeks ago that, while his ancestors bombed the Capitol, shelled the Capitol, he didn‘t want to be part of destroying it this time, and then, on the Democratic side, Bobby Byrd.

With those two sort of veterans of the Senate, that gave cover to the more moderate centrist senators to really stick it tonight, Chris, to the base.  If you look at the judges that the Democrats now have to stomach, including William Pryor, 43 years old, who says Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion, is an abomination, Democrats can‘t stand Pryor.  And that is driving the liberal groups tonight crazy, that Pryor is one of the three that now the Democrats have to give up on.

Likewise, on the Republican side, Republican interest groups are going crazy over the fact that their effort to remodel the 9th Circuit with William Myers, who is an attorney for the Interior Department, that‘s now gone, because Myers is essentially off the table.  So, both sides, the Democrats, Republicans, giving up some stuff that is just driving the base crazy.  And you have two senior Republicans—two senior senators, Bobby Byrd and John Warner, who are essentially providing cover, Chris, for the moderates. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what can the lefties and the righties do about the centrists?  It seems to me that 14 centrists control the balance of power here.

SHUSTER:  Right, Chris.  There‘s not much they can do right now. 

And, in fact, John Warner may be the most powerful Republican.  I mean, a lot of people are talking about John McCain, but this deal wouldn‘t have come together had it not been for John Warner saying to Frist a couple weeks ago, look, I‘m not going to go along with this and you better come up with a deal, because, in the end, I am not going to be there to provide cover for you to give you that vote to go with the nuclear option. 

Likewise, Bobby Byrd had made it clear to the Democrats in his caucus that they needed to come up with some agreement, even if it meant infuriating the base, like they are doing tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  With this nomination of Judge Pryor going forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Shuster, for that explanation.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, she helped broker this historic deal tonight. 

Senator Collins, thank you very much. 

We just talked about what the two party bases are up to.  Are you feeling the heat for being one of the deal-makers? 

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE:  Well, I am feeling very happy tonight that 14 of us were able to come together and forge what I think is a very fair and reasonable compromise that avoids some real crisis for the Senate as an institution. 

It‘s also going to allow us to now confirm some judges who‘ve been held up in the past and also to move on with the work of the people of this nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re going to hear from two different groups, it seems to me, Senator.  You‘re going to be hearing from the conservative Christian groups.  You‘re going to be hearing from the pro-choice militants.  Don‘t they want a clear-cut victory here for either side? 

COLLINS:  You know, the clear-cut victory tonight was for the American people and for preserving the traditions of the Senate.  I think there are not losers tonight.  I think that there are only winners. 

I realize some people on the extreme left and the extreme right are unhappy that this crisis has been averted, but I think we acted in the best interests of the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the leadership, under Bill Frist, Senator Frist from Tennessee, and the president, are going to go out and punish people like you for probably, from their point of view, stealing defeat from the jaws of victory? 

COLLINS:  Well, but...

MATTHEWS:  Because they had the numbers, didn‘t they?  Didn‘t they have the votes they needed to kill the filibuster in judicial nominations going into tomorrow? 

COLLINS:  It‘s hard to predict how the vote would have come out. 

From what the leaders on both sides said and given the intense lobbying, I think it was too close to call.  There were several of us who had not announced our position.  We wanted a compromise.  And we achieved one.  I think that the president and Senator Frist can be very happy about this agreement, because it sets as the general rule that there will not be filibusters of judicial nominees. 

The only case in which a filibuster could occur is if there were extraordinary circumstances.  I think that‘s a high threshold.  So, in the end, I think the president and the majority leader are getting what they sought in the vast majority of cases.  And that is a straight up-and-down vote. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  It‘s great having you on, Senator Susan Collins of Maine. 

COLLINS:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, my exclusive interview tonight with one of the masters behind this compromise, Senator John McCain of Arizona.  He‘s coming up in just a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

There are 14 senators who played the big role in putting together this deal tonight to avoid the big showdown tomorrow in the U.S. Senate.  Seven of the members are Democrats and seven are Republicans.  You‘re looking at the faces right now. 

Earlier, I talked to one of the leaders, if not the leader, of this whole deal-making operation, Senator John McCain of Arizona. 

I asked him how he put together this extraordinary bipartisan deal-making. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  We, I think, pulled back from the precipice.  I think we have an agreement that‘s good for the Senate and good for the country.

And this will reduce the filibusters to almost—to—except under -

·         quote—“extraordinary circumstances,” will allow the nominations, three pending, Owen, Brown, and Pryor, to go through, because of their commitment.  And we Republicans have committed that we wouldn‘t vote for the nuclear option. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the president get an up-or-down vote on all his nominees, including Supreme Court nominee, to come down the road? 

MCCAIN:  This is a continuing commitment by all of us.  And, obviously, the Democrats, each individual senator has the right to—if it‘s an extraordinary circumstance. 

But what it has done, this agreement is based on trust, respect and reverence, and, if not reverence, certainly concern for the institution of the Senate.  I think you‘re going to see—you may see filibusters in the future, but I think you‘re going to see them dramatically reduced and only in—quote—“extraordinary circumstances.”

MATTHEWS:  Have the Democrats learned their lesson, that it‘s better to only use this thing occasionally in extraordinary circumstances? 

MCCAIN:  I think so.  I think the Democrats realized they abused the process with the filibustering last year.  And that‘s why we were able to make this agreement. 

MATTHEWS:  What won the day here?

MCCAIN:  And, by the way, I want to thank Dr. Frist and Senator Reid, who worked very hard on this.  And our agreement was only possible because of their hard work. 

MATTHEWS:  So, here we are the night before the nuclear option.  Will there be a vote tomorrow along with...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  Yes.  There will be a vote tomorrow on cloture on I believe it‘s Patricia (sic) Owen.  And that cloture vote will pass, because the Democrats, seven Democrats have committed to doing so. 

MATTHEWS:  So, there will be an end to debate? 

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  There will be a final passage on that one. 

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And how about the other appellate nominees? 

MCCAIN:  Those are not mentioned.  But there will be—also, Brown and Pryor are also specifically called for in the agreement. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they will all be—they are going to be—all be confirmed as judges? 

MCCAIN:  They will not be filibustered.  Now, if there‘s over 50 votes against their nomination, then I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Somewhere down on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president of the United States is thinking tonight, have I won or have I lost?  What would you say? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think the president won or lost.  I think the institution of the Senate won, because there would have been bitter partisanship for the foreseeable future if we would have passed that. 

We also would have changed the rules of the Senate by 51 votes, which we‘ve never done before.  We‘ve got to—look, I‘m sure you saw a poll today; 58 percent of the American people think we act like spoiled children. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  We can do better for the American people than what we‘ve been doing now.  And we‘ve got to stop being tied to the dictates of the extremists. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens when Senator Frist, Dr. Frist, for the Republican leadership says, you seven Republicans basically cut a deal based on good faith; you believe the Democrats will only filibuster in extraordinary circumstances; you guys are suckers? 

MCCAIN:  Well, I happen to know...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘ll say that? 

MCCAIN:  I happen to know these seven Democrat senators very well. 

And I know that I can take them at their word. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

MCCAIN:  And that‘s the way the Senate functions.  The Senate functions on trust and respect.  Otherwise, we would be shut down every single day. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  And I‘m not trusting all 45 of them, OK? 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I see.  That‘s the point. 

MCCAIN:  I‘m not trusting all 45. 

I‘m only trusting seven, because of the numbers that it takes to invoke cloture, which takes 60 votes, 55 Republicans and five or six Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about the pressure groups outside the Senate on the left.  It‘s easier for you to address the left, because you‘re on the right. 

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  People like Ralph Neas of People For the American Way, they‘re going to come out and say every nominee the president puts forward, because it‘s a Bush nominee, is an extraordinarily bad case.

MCCAIN:  Sure.  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  People on the left, perhaps Chuck Schumer of New York, perhaps Barbara Boxer and others, will jump and say yes, will agree with him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What happens to your—will your seven hold firm and say, no, these are reasonable conservative appointments; we‘re going to give them an up-or-down vote? 

MCCAIN:  I‘ll bet you we had 50 hours of discussions.  And I‘m convinced, from working with these people and knowing them, that they knew what they were getting into here. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow on HARDBALL, the winners and losers in this big deal and more on the deal-makers. 

Right now, it‘s time for Joe Scarborough and “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.” 

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

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