updated 6/30/2005 9:10:52 AM ET 2005-06-30T13:10:52

Guest: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Stephen Hayes, Peter Gadiel, Kristen Breitweiser, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jon Corzine

PETE WILLIAMS, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, huge fireballs shoot to the sky in a dramatic fire at a St. Louis industrial plant.  Plus, President Bush meets with the prime minister of Iraq and rejects any timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.  The president will speak to the nation in a prime-time televised address next week.  With the polls showing that Americans are losing confidence, can the president make his case to stay the course in this war? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Pete Williams, filling in again tonight for Chris Matthews. 

We‘ll get to the stock and trade of HARDBALL, politics, in a moment.  But, first, we want to begin with a dramatic fire at a St. Louis industrial plant that looked like an inferno earlier today, these explosions happening at a plant that process highly combustible protein—propane, rather, and other flammable gases.  Fireballs shot more than 150 into the air, 150 feet into the air, one after another. 

Now, a spokesman for the company, which is called Praxair Distribution, says all the employees at the plant were safely evacuated.  But there is no word yet on what touched this all off and caused the blaze. 

Kelly Jackson is a news anchor at NBC station KSDK in St. Louis. 

Kelly, let me begin at the beginning with you.  What time did this start and tell us where in St. Louis this is located.

KELLY JACKSON, KSDK ANCHOR:  Good evening, Pete.

It started about 3:30 central time here in St. Louis.  It happened at an area of south St. Louis.  And, up until now, an hour and a half later, the fire is contained.  However, because of the nature of the fire, there are still some secondary fires. 

It is contained, but they are still—the work is far from over.  It truly amazing that no one at this point has been reported injured.  As you mentioned, the employees of Praxair—there are about 70 employees—they were all evacuated.  No injuries as of yet. 

WILLIAMS:  Now, we‘re looking at this video.  And this is how it unfolded, isn‘t it, one explosion after the other.  And I guess that‘s what?  These little tanks of gas located near each other.  And it would sort of work its way from one to the other?

JACKSON:  Right.  Right. 

It was absolutely amazing.  About every 10 seconds, you would hear a pop.  The heat was so intense.  Now, this company, Praxair, they distribute several kinds of gases, including oxygen, nitrogen, argon, specialty gases such as carbon dioxide, helium and hydrogen. 

And they distribute them to companies worldwide.  They have about 27,000 employees worldwide.  But, at the same time, there were 70 employees at this plant in St. Louis.  It takes up about a city block.  And one after the other, an hour and a half—some of the problems that the firefighters were up against, it‘s very hot here in St. Louis today.  It‘s 95 degrees.  The wind and the just nature of what was burning.  So, they kind of had to hold just back for a while. 

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON:  So they wouldn‘t get injured.

WILLIAMS:  We see some pictures of them pouring flames to try to put this fire out. 

But, at the beginning, when it was just going from one to the other, they really couldn‘t get close, right?

JACKSON:  No, they could not and because—we literally saw some of the canisters being flown into other directions and—which was causing some secondary fires.  A lot next to this company, some of the cars were caught on fire.  That‘s why they had to evacuate about a five-block radius, some other companies and residents who live in that area. 

WILLIAMS:  What was the emergency response like, Kelly, as far as you know?  All the cities have been sort of on edge since 9/11 and working hard to improve their—their reaction to something like this.  Was it a pretty quick reaction that got people out of the area? 

JACKSON:  Yes.  From what I understand, it was—they worked very quickly in this situation.  In fact, about 15 minutes into it, they had emergency crews from all over the area.  They had at least 100 emergency workers assisting.  And they had Salvation Army on hand evacuating people immediately, because they didn‘t know just how bad it was going to be, because it went on for so long. 

WILLIAMS:  Now, Praxair, as you say, handles propane and other flammable chemicals that, of course, are dangerous to handle.  Has there been any problem as far as you know in this plant before? 

JACKSON:  No.  As far as I know, they‘ve never had a problem like this. 

One of the other concerns, now that they do have this fire contained, they‘re concerned about the air quality, since it is so hot here.  They‘re concerned that, because of the wind and the chemicals involved, they hope it is not going to be a danger to anyone in that area. 

WILLIAMS:  And, in fact...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS:  I think the mayor was saying that they were actually monitoring the air quality, weren‘t they?

JACKSON:  Yes.  Yes. 

WILLIAMS:  To make sure that there was nothing dangerous in the air. 

And so far none? 

JACKSON:  Absolutely.  So far, so far, from what we know, there‘s been no damage to anyone. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS:  And, Kelly, in the few seconds we have left, is there any indication of what caused this? 

JACKSON:  As far as I know, we don‘t know what caused it.  And I think it will be a while before they know what actually caused this. 

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Thank you for all your help, Kelly Jackson of NBC station KSDK in St. Louis.  Thanks for keeping us up to date. 

JACKSON:  You‘re welcome. 

WILLIAMS:  Now we turn to Iraq, with poll numbers showing support for the war dropping.  Today, President Bush reinforced his support in Iraq in a news conference with the Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I told this to the prime minister.  We are there to complete a mission.  And it is an important mission.  A democratic Iraq is in the interests of the United States of America and it‘s in the interests of laying the foundation for peace.  And if that‘s the mission, then why would you—would you say to the enemy, you know, here‘s the timetable, just go ahead and wait us out?  It doesn‘t make any sense to have a timetable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And the fallout continues over remarks made by presidential

adviser Karl Rove, who said that, after 9/11, liberals wanted to—quote -

·         “offer therapy and understanding for our attackers”—end quote. 

The White House says it stands by those comments, but Democrats, including New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine, want Mr. Rove to retract those comments. 

Senator Corzine joins us now from Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he is at a hotel on the boardwalk, where Democrats are gathering statewide. 

Senator, let me ask, first of all, about timetables in Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS:  Just to make clear your position, do you agree with the president that we shouldn‘t have a timetable for withdrawing troops? 

SEN. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY:  On that particular point, I agree with the president. 

I think to lay down a military timetable is to put the troops in harm‘s way, to really undermine the long-term process, because, as the president argued, the enemy would be able to just wait out that timetable.  That said, we do need a timetable on the political process.  It needs to be encouraged, to be followed, the one that‘s already laid down, writing a constitution by August and having a vote by the end of the year to bring in a new government. 

And I don‘t see the kind of attention to making sure that that timetable is adhered to taking place.  And the political process is the only exit strategy we have on the table right now, because we have poorly planned.  We haven‘t sent enough troops, actually haven‘t armed our troops well enough.  There‘s lots and lots of problems. 

But the one thing that we can hang our hat on is this political direction that‘s taking place that ultimately will provide, I believe, an exit strategy. 

WILLIAMS:  What is the—what is the reason, then, you think some of your Democratic colleagues, Carl Levin, Russ Feingold, for example, who have called for a timetable on troop withdrawal, why do you think they‘ve done that if you think that‘s the wrong thing to do? 

CORZINE:  Well, I think there are a number of Americans—and the polls reflect this—have grown very, very frustrated with the description that the president and the administration have made with regard to what‘s going on in Iraq and then finding out the reality is entirely different on the ground. 

Just today, we find another six American troops killed in Iraq.  This is a process that, starting with mission accomplished when the president was on the air—Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, or the rosy interpretation of how things were going to unfold after the turnover of the government last June, the idea that Vice President Cheney says the insurgents are in the throes of defeat, it is just this constant misrepresentation of the facts on the ground that I think has built frustration in the American people and among my colleagues. 

WILLIAMS:  So, what more do you want the administration to do on what you call the political timetable?  Do you want them to lean harder on Iraq to make sure it‘s following all the steps that are needed to get the constitution in place, get the government moving? 

CORZINE:  It‘s not only lean on the government, but make sure that government brings in true broad-based participation in Iraqi society, which means that there needs to be outreach not only to a limit level of Sunni leadership, but broad-based participation Sunni population.  And that is going to take actions on the ground. 

We‘ve had a horrible record in getting forward with the reconstruction elements, particularly in Sunni areas.  And it is—it is extremely important that we begin to actually execute the policies that we talk about all the time more effectively.  You know, it is dangerous on the ground in Iraq. 

I was there six weeks ago.  You thought you would have to be in a war bunker the whole time that you were there, from the time you got off the airplane to the time you went into the Green Zone to the time that you went back to the airport.  They wouldn‘t let anyone sleep in Iraq overnight because it is so dangerous.  I think we have to do something about reconstruction and security on the ground if we want the people to actually be participating in this political process in a real way. 

WILLIAMS:  What—what about Mr. Rove‘s comments did you find offensive? 

CORZINE:  I find it completely offensive for those of us particularly who live in and around metropolitan New York; 700 New Jerseyans, 10 people from my hometown died in the World Trade Center, a lot of my friends, because I came out of the financial services industry. 

There was not a single Democrat, not a single liberal, conservative, Republican Democrat in the United States Senate that didn‘t believe we should respond with force and—and expeditious manner of going after the killers.  And we still feel that way.  And I think that there‘s a lot of frustration that we actually haven‘t been able to track down Osama bin Laden and a lot of the leadership.

And the fact is that to think that it was people calling for therapy and understanding is just completely outside the context of trying to drive to a unified America at a time when we‘re at war with terrorists. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, Senator, you come from a state where politics is pretty much of a contact sport.  There‘s been a lot of calling for apologies lately.  Howard Dean should apologize.  Senator Durbin should apologize.  Now Karl Rove should apologize. 

Where‘s the room for political rhetoric, with people just disagreeing? 

CORZINE:  There is not political rhetoric when you are talking about accusing a broad segment many of our population of not feeling that we had to have a forceful military response to 9/11. 

We were attacked.  Americans were killed.  And whether you‘re a liberal, progressive, moderate, conservative, there was unity in America.  And what Mr. Rove is trying to do is take that unity, divide it, and make sure that it is for covering up some of the failures that this administration is having with regard to its political and military policies at this moment in time. 

They have been on a failed course in Iraq since they got there.  And the way to get, I guess, the American people off of their failures, is to try to divide us about what happened after 9/11, where we were absolutely unified and stood together. 

WILLIAMS:  All right.  Senator Corzine, thanks so much for being with us—Senator Jon Corzine joining us from New Jersey at a meeting of state Democrats. 

Thank you, sir. 

CORZINE:  Thank you. 

WILLIAMS:  When we return, Republican reaction from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, previewing President Bush‘s speech to the troops and the nation.  Can he make the case that America needs to stay the course in Iraq?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bush will speak to the troops and the nation Tuesday night.

And earlier, I asked Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas what the president needs to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  I think he needs to remind us that the war on terror is going to take time and patience, but it is absolutely necessary, that he is trying to keep the terrorists where they are, so they can‘t come to America to kill innocent peel ever again. 

And I think that he will make that case.  And it is a tough one.  Obviously, it just hurts him, it hurts all of us, to see the insurgents continue to kill innocent people in Iraq.  But it means that we must be even stronger than ever. 

WILLIAMS:  What does it mean, Senator, that—what does it tell us that the White House is concerned about the way things are going, that they feel the president needs to speak to the nation? 

HUTCHISON:  I think the president has, from time to time, stepped up to the place to talk about progress and what is going on.  We‘ve had an election that worked since the last time the president talked to our country. 

But he knows that the continuing killing by insurgents is wearing on people.  And that‘s the role of the president.  And he understands the role of a leader better than anyone I know. 

WILLIAMS:  Senator, the Iraqi prime minister said something today when he was with the president at the White House.  He said he reminded the president about the Marshall Plan for Europe and said, suggested maybe there ought to be a Marshall Plan for Iraq.  What about that? 

HUTCHISON:  Well, Pete, I have to say that I don‘t know what $80 billion that we‘re pouring into Iraq single-handedly in America is if it isn‘t the same type of support that the Marshall Plan gave to Germany after World War II.  That‘s exactly what we are doing. 

We are rebuilding the oil fields.  We are providing security.  We are training their military and their police force.  We are standing there with them and helping to build their economy in every way possible.  I don‘t know what more we can possibly do. 

WILLIAMS:  Is it a little surprising that the Iraqi prime minister would say, you‘re not doing enough? 

HUTCHISON:  You know, I would say that perhaps he should be talking to other countries in the world. 

America has stepped up to the plate and we have remained true to our word, with both the lives of our military and the treasure of our country.  So, I would look around the world and see what contributions other countries have made toward helping rebuild Iraq. 

WILLIAMS:  Senator, there‘s been some criticism from Democrats—we heard it just from your colleague Senator Corzine—about the remarks by Karl Rove this week.  What did you think of them? 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I was surprised that people are jumping so hard on Karl Rove.  He was talking about liberals and he was talking to a conservative party meeting. 

And he was talking about the differences between conservatives and liberals.  He was in New York, where there was a decided act of absolute firmness that the president did in response to Iraq.  And he was saying that liberals, many liberals, said we should go into the courts and get indictments.  And “The Village Voice” even said we should react with love, not war, to 9/11. 

And there‘s a stark contrast with the—what President Bush did.  And that is, act decisively, saying, this is a war on terror.  It not going into the courts.  It is going into the battlefields to keep terrorists out of our country in the future. 

WILLIAMS:  I asked this question to him.  Let me ask it to you. 

It seems to the cottage industry this summer in Washington is asking people to apologize.  Your party asked Howard Dean to apologize.  There‘s been calls for Richard Durbin to apologize about Gitmo.  Now calls for Karl Rove to apologize.  Are you all very sensitive now? 

(LAUGHTER)

HUTCHISON:  Well, I think that‘s a valid question, Pete, honestly. 

We certainly did call on Senator Durbin to apologize.  And he did.  But it seems now like there‘s kind of a—oh, an apology movement to talk to Karl Rove about differentiating between liberals and conservatives.  Karl didn‘t even say Democrat.  He said liberals.  And...

WILLIAMS:  He was talking about all those Republican liberals, right? 

HUTCHISON:  Well, no, he was talking about people like Al Sharpton, who said, you reap what you sow.  America has been reaped what it has sown. 

Well, I don‘t think America can be said to have sown bad seeds in the Muslim world.  We were standing up against the atrocities to Muslims done by the Serbs.  It was Americans who were standing on the side of Muslims.  So, I don‘t exactly know what he was talking about.  What was George Soros talking about when he said we should go into the halls of justice, not to the battlefield, after 9/11? 

That‘s MoveOn.org, MoveOn.peace.  That‘s what they were saying.  So, I think Karl Rove was saying that in a political context, and I think that calling on him to apologize is really not—it is just a little over the top. 

WILLIAMS:  All right. 

From Dallas, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison—Senator, thanks so much. 

HUTCHISON:  Thank you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  When we return, two family members who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks react to what they call the politicization of 9/11. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Since last fall, Chris has been bringing you the stories and challenges of veterans wounded in Iraq.  Some of the challenges have been financial.

And, earlier this year, two wounded veterans set out on a mission to change that. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has their story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Nineteen months ago, former Staff Sergeant Heath Calhoun was in Iraq when his truck was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. 

STAFF SGT. HEATH CALHOUN, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  The explosion blew up and out and actually amputated both legs, originally below the knee.  And when I made it to the hospital, they had to amputate a little higher and actually took both legs above the knees. 

SHUSTER:  Nearly two years ago, former Staff Sergeant Ryan Kelly was hit by a roadside bomb. 

RYAN KELLY, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  And a piece of shrapnel about the size of like a small TV remote control nearly completely severed my right leg below the knee. 

SHUSTER:  Kelly and Calhoun both had challenging recoveries physically and financially, because like so many other wounded soldiers, when they arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they stopped getting combat pay, but had to wait months, until they left the military, to begin receive veterans‘ disability benefits. 

In the meantime, for their families:

KELLY:  The travel expenses and so forth are pretty taxing.  And they start to add up quick.  And...

CALHOUN:  The military would pay for my wife to fly up, but they also would not pay for my mother and father and my wife‘s mother and father to support my 21-year-old wife when she had to see her husband missing his legs for the first time. 

SHUSTER:  And because of the hardships, including the loss of his wife‘s income when she was in Washington, Heath Calhoun he left Walter Reed before his rehabilitation was completed. 

Ryan Kelly also saw the financial squeeze and came up with an idea, a new insurance plan to help wounded troops.  A few months ago, Calhoun and Kelly began lobbying Congress. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How are you? 

(CROSSTALK)

KELLY:  Ryan Kelly.  Nice to meet you, sir. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ryan?

SHUSTER:  For two weeks, the disabled veterans met with lawmakers and congressional staff. 

CALHOUN:  She has to leave work, as my wife did, to come tell me we‘re still paying for child care. 

SHUSTER:  The group got support from Democratic Senator Barak Obama, but what they needed was a powerful Republican with the clout to push the measure through Congress.  Finally, there was a breakthrough, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. 

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  I respect the mission you‘re currently on, because I think it is an appropriate one. 

SHUSTER:  One week later, Craig announced he would bring to the Senate floor a measure providing seriously wounded veterans with up to $100,000 to cover emergency expenses. 

CRAIG:  It was their idea that led to the culmination of my amendment. 

SHUSTER:  And within weeks, the amendment passed Congress and was signed into law by President Bush. 

Now it means that, while soldiers seriously wounded in Iraq will have to face an emotional and physical rehabilitation, they won‘t confront a financial one. 

KELLY:  You know, if it works out well, then hopefully they leave the service and they‘re not in debt and they‘re ahead on bills.  And at least they‘re not set up for failure. 

SHUSTER:  But Ryan Kelly and Heath Calhoun are not done yet.  Now they‘re in the middle of a bicycle ride across the country to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a cause that helps veterans pay for a variety of counseling and travel to disabled veteran ski trips. 

CALHOUN:  It takes a lot of getting used to, to get past your own stereotypes over what being disabled is.  And all you really learn is that, at some point, that everybody has some sort of thing that disables them.  And you just have to get past your own and get back into life, get outside and enjoy life. 

SHUSTER:  And, indeed, these two veterans are enjoying life.  But they are also making a difference one step at a time. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  David Shuster, thank you. 

Be sure to tune in on Sunday for MSNBC‘s “Coming Home.”  Lester Holt takes an in-depth look at the challenges soldiers face when they return from combat. 

In a moment, should Karl Rove apologize for his remarks about the response to 9/11? 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Pete Williams, in for Chris Matthews. 

It‘s no secret the September 11 attacks played a huge role in the last presidential election, and they still do to this day.  But have political figures gone too far in using 9/11 for political gain? 

Kristen Breitweiser lost her husband and Peter Gadiel lost his son in the September 11 attacks.  Both of them join us now. 

Thank you both very much. 

Ms. Breitweiser, you‘ve been fairly outspoken about remarks by Karl Rove.  What did you think was wrong with them? 

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW:  Frankly, I‘m sick and tired of people using 9/11 for political gain.  I‘m sick of the rhetoric.  What I would like is a sound, comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, so that I know that this country is safer than it was on the day that my husband was killed. 

Unfortunately, all I hear is a lot of rhetoric going back and forth and very little evidence that we‘re actually any safer today and that worldwide terrorist incidents have actually decreased as a result of our intervention in Iraq. 

WILLIAMS:  You were quite involved in the people who got the 9/11 Commission going.  You think there‘s not much evidence that we are safer today than we were on 9/11? 

BREITWEISER:  I think certainly not.  The State Department put out statistics that worldwide incidents of terrorism have actually tripled in the last year. 

If you look at the way Iraq is going, certainly there are—it‘s a hotbed for terrorists.  They‘re all flocking there.  And I think that is something people need to realize, is that, you know, even though the war is in Iraq, it is our American soldiers getting killed over there.  They‘re still American citizens getting killed by terrorists. 

And Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11.  Afghanistan had something to do with 9/11, as did Osama bin Laden.  But yet, we have not caught bin Laden and we left Afghanistan.  And now Afghanistan is suffering from drug proliferation and unrest of its own.  And I don‘t see any proof that our terrorism strategies and policies right now are actually working. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Gadiel, how about you?  Is 9/11 -- should 9/11 be—itself be off-limits to political discussion? 

PETER GADIEL, 9/11 FAMILIES FOR A SECURE AMERICA:  I wish it were.  But I think, in the last four years, we‘ve seen that it is going to be exploited by everybody on every side of the issue and from every part of the political spectrum.  Mr. Rove‘s statement is just typical for what we‘ve seen in the last four years.  It‘s nothing unusual. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, what about Ms. Breitweiser‘s comments that 9/11 has nothing to do with Iraq?  The president says and his administration says, if you can start getting democracy in the Middle East, you will start to chew away at the base that terrorists use.  Do you agree? 

GADIEL:  I wish I had an answer to that.  And I—I‘m—you know, I‘m as confused as I think most people are as to whether Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 or not.  I really don‘t have the answer to that. 

I am—I‘m just—I‘m just frustrated.  I will share Ms.

Breitweiser‘s frustration about where we are today, though. 

WILLIAMS:  Really?  You also don‘t think that we‘re that much safer than we were on September 11? 

GADIEL:  No.  No, I don‘t.  I‘ve talked...

WILLIAMS:  Even with all the homeland security arrangements and...

GADIEL:  No. 

I‘ve talked to too many people who are on the ground, the agents who are involved in Border Patrol and internal enforcement of immigration law and FBI agents and TSA agents.  And I think, largely, it is a matter of show and nothing else. 

WILLIAMS:  Ms. Breitweiser, do you think—do you think one party or the other is more a problem here in using 9/11 for political gain?  Or are both doing it? 

BREITWEISER:  Look, I don‘t even know for sure, because I don‘t spend my time doing that.

What I can tell you is that we have had an enormous opportunity in the last three-and-a-half years to learn from 9/11 and to fix the failures and to make the nation safer.  And Peter is correct.  We have done far too little, compared to what we could have done in the last three-and-a-half years. 

And the bottom line is, we have a Republican-held Congress and a Republican administration.  There are no excuses for these things not being taken care of, whether it‘s immigration, securing ports, making mass transportation safe, securing loose nukes, securing nuclear power plants, becoming less dependent on foreign oil.  All these things have not occurred in the last three-and-a-half years.  And it is inexcusable. 

We will have another attack.  And I don‘t know what our officials are going to say to the American people when Americans are killed on the homeland soil.  What are they going to say?  What are they going to shout?  I mean, we haven‘t successfully prosecuted one terrorist link to 9/11.  In three-and-a-half years, we haven‘t held one person accountable for 9/11.

We can‘t even capture Osama bin Laden.  So, I don‘t know what that is saying.  And the saddest part is that, after 9/11, the entire world was united against terrorists.  And now we find that the entire world hates America.  We‘ve alienated ourselves.  And recruitment for al Qaeda is through the roof.  And we‘re out there alone.  And that is not making us any safer. 

That‘s my understanding of 9/11.  I want to know that we‘re safer. 

And we are not. 

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Gadiel, what would be the litmus test for you?  What would be indicators that we are safer?  You know, the new homeland security secretary, Mike Chertoff, says we‘ll never be able to completely eliminate any possibility for a terror attack.  Surely that‘s not the test, is it? 

GADIEL:  Well, I would like to see some improvement in our border security. 

Right now, we have basically free entry for any terrorist who wants to get into this country.  And the president refuses to enforce immigration law to prevent that from happening.  I disagree with Ms. Breitweiser.  The whole world was not united behind us on—immediately after 9/11.  I do remember the Osama T-shirts that showed up in Mexico City and the Philippines.

And I don‘t think the entire world is united against us now.  I mean, it is a much more gray situation than that.  But I—if you talk to people, agents, the actual agents who are operating in the field, you really come away with a feeling of despair, that there‘s any             competence at mid-level administration or above. 

WILLIAMS:  Let me just both ask you briefly. 

Ms. Breitweiser, I know you were very involved, as I say earlier, with the families who pushed to have the 9/11 Commission.  What—how—what are you both doing now to follow up on these energies?  Do you follow what the commission is doing?  Are you organized?  What do you do? 

BREITWEISER:  Clearly, I work with September 11 advocates.  It‘s the other Jersey girls that fought for the creation of the commission.  We put out press releases.  And we, you know, keep an eye on what the commission is doing. 

Most recently, we‘ve been lobbying for the release of the CIA inspector general‘s report.  That‘s currently being held up.  We would certainly like that to have that released to the American public in a declassified version, so that we can have a full understanding of 9/11, as Mr. Rove has. 

And, obviously, we would like the release of the 28 pages of the joint inquiry of Congress.  And, finally, we would like to make sure that the FBI‘s computer system that we‘ve spent millions of dollars on is actually working and being used, because, after all, if we can‘t give the FBI the computer system that it needs to thwart terrorist attacks, we are no safer than we were on 9/11.  So...

WILLIAMS:  And Mr. Gadiel?

GADIEL:  I‘ve been working primarily on securing borders, something that the president is clearly opposed to.  And we can‘t really have a real war on terror, despite Mr. Rove‘s claims, unless we are going to secure our borders.

And he sends border patrol agents to secure the borders of Iraq, but not ours.  And I find his statement the other day just ridiculous.  He‘s in no position to criticize anybody until we have a real war on terror.  And that means keeping terrorists out, fighting terrorist travel.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Peter Gadiel, Kristen Breitweiser, thank you both very much...

BREITWEISER:  Thank you. 

WILLIAMS:  ... for your time. 

When we return, “The Weekly Standard” Stephen Hayes and Katrina Vanden Heuvel from “The Nation” on whether President Bush is right to stay the course in Iraq.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, did Karl Rove‘s comments about liberals and 9/11 cross the line?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Pete Williams, sitting in for Chris Matthews. 

More now from President Bush‘s news conference today with the prime minister of Iraq.  The president was asked about polls showing a dwindling public approval of the mission in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  They figure, if they can shake our will and affect public opinion, then politicians will give up on the mission.  I‘m not giving up on the mission.  We‘re doing the right thing, which is to set the foundation for peace and freedom. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the editor of “The Nation” magazine.  Stephen Hayes is a senior writer with “The Weekly Standard” magazine. 

Mr. Hayes, let me start with you. 

If you were writing the president‘s speech, instead of editing your magazine, what would you have him say Tuesday? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Well, I think the president needs to actually get back to sort of the basics on Iraq.  He needs to tell people why we‘re there.  He needs to remind people that Saddam Hussein was a threat.  He needs to explain the threat.  He needs to be specific about the threat. 

You know, I think he has spent a lot of time in recent months talking about elections, talking about democracy in the Middle East, talking about freedom for the Iraqi people, all which is important.  In fact, there were some of us who wish that he would have done that a bit more before the war, even though he talked about it a little—a little bit. 

But I think he needs to get back and—we went to war because Saddam Hussein was a threat.  He needs to talk about why Saddam Hussein was a threat and remind the American people of the case they made when they went to war. 

WILLIAMS:  Katrina, is it a sign the White House is worried, that‘s he‘s doing the speech? 

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”:  Absolutely.

But, Pete, you know, to go back to what you asked Stephen about one might say for this president, the problem is that I think the American people more and more realize that they haven‘t gotten the truth from this administration.  And even Republican senators, even generals, are coming forward to say there is a disconnect between reality and the truth. 

Now, if I were drafting President Bush‘s speech—and let me fantasize for a moment—I would have the president level with the American people about a failed policy that has diverted this country from the real fight against terrorism.  There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.  No weapons of mass destruction have been found.  What we need now, he would tell the American people, is to find a way to really bring freedom and democracy to Iraq is to withdraw, to find an exit strategy from a failed U.S. occupation that is fueling the insurgency and to find international assistance for the Iraqis, but to withdraw and to listen, by the way, to the 82, one-third of the Iraqi parliament, who last week sent a letter to the United States.

These were Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis, asking the United States to withdraw, so they could find their own sovereignty in a country that needs international assistance, not more military occupation by United States. 

WILLIAMS:  Stephen?

HAYES:  I‘m glad we‘re living in Katrina‘s pipe dream and not reality there. 

Look, the president needs to talk about why Iraq is part of the global war on terrorism.  I mean, I think what—the problem that the Bush administration has faced in recent months is that people like Katrina, people like Howard Dean, take to the airwaves.  They give speeches.  They give interviews to newspaper reporters and say, oh, Saddam Hussein was not a threat.  This was nothing we had to worry about.  And we haven‘t found stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, so, therefore, there was no reason to have gone to war. 

That‘s flat preposterous on its face.  There are any number of reasons that we should have gone to war.  The Bush administration made the case, citing several of them.  David Kay, the person who came back and told us that he did not find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, said that he thought Saddam Hussein was in fact more dangerous than even we had suggested at the beginning of the war.  Those are the kind of specifics that they need to know.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I don‘t know where your—Stephen, I have never seen that.  David Kay came back and said, we were all wrong. 

No, we were not all wrong.  There were people who were saying that if you go...

HAYES:  Well, if you haven‘t seen that, then you weren‘t paying attention. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  If you go into Iraq, you will make Iraq a breeding ground, a breeding ground for terrorism. 

What we have seen in these last months, Stephen, is an administration that recklessly, incompetently misled a nation, which now understands, according to polls, that it was misled, which violates the essential trust in a democracy, misleading a nation into war.  We now have over 1,700 American women who have died in this war.  And that to me is a tragedy, in addition to the treasury, the looting of our treasury for this war to serve the needs of people who, according to the Downing Street memos—yes, let us talk about those, because I believe Karl Rove the other night, in sliming and defaming good Americans, was trying to divert attention from a nation which is also waking up to learn from a mainstream media which is finally covering memos which show that this administration fixed the facts and the intelligence. 

HAYES:  The memo...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS:  Katrina, Katrina, we‘ll—let‘s come back on Karl Rove in

just a

moment.  Come back with us, because we‘re going to talk about that and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, who comes to the aid of embattled presidential adviser Karl Rove. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  HARDBALL continues with Katrina Vanden Heuvel of “The Nation” and Stephen Hayes of “The Weekly Standard.”

Stephen, what about—what was Karl Rove‘s message this week? 

HAYES:  I think Karl Rove rightly pointed out that, after 9/11, many liberals decided that the best pursuit of the war on terror—some of them questioned whether it was a war on terror—was through, if we were going to fight a war at all, was through the courts, was through international institutions. 

And they were generally reluctant to use the U.S. military, to use the strength of the U.S. military.  Katrina says he slandered many loyal Americans.  I don‘t see how that‘s the case. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, who were these—I mean, I thought the country was pretty well united behind—the Afghanistan war vote, what was it, 98-0, I think.  Who were these people resisting the use of military force? 

HAYES:  Well, I think there were plenty of people resisting the use of military force, including the leaders of MoveOn.org.  You had people in Katrina‘s own magazine that were making the case for, I would say diplomacy, negotiations, rather than hard war.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Subversive.  Subversive, Stephen.

HAYES:  Subversive?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I mean, let us talk—let us talk about the great leaders of this great nation going back, Republican and Democratic, a bipartisan tradition of understanding.  You do not wage unnecessary preemptive war. 

You wage war when your country is under imminent threat or attack.  And you use diplomacy as a complement to military action.  You don‘t hyper-militarize a policy which isn‘t, by the way, going to meet the real challenges of the 21st century.

I would simply add that I think Karl Rove has gone beyond the limits in capitalizing on the painful suffering of families who have suffered in 9/11.  And, instead of shameful attack dog politics, we need a real honest debate in this country about how this nation is going to become more secure and not have Karl Rove wage his tactics of division in a nation that, as you said, Pete, was once united. 

HAYES:  Well, Pete, let me—Pete, let me—let me...

WILLIAMS:  All right. 

Well, thank you.  Thank both very much, Stephen Hayes and Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Thank you. 

WILLIAMS:  Chris will be back Monday with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the Reverend Billy Graham‘s rally in New York City coming up on the weekend.  And Tuesday, a special edition of HARDBALL live from the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for the HARDBALL Church Tour, an in-depth look at religion in America. 

Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”

END

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