updated 8/18/2005 10:35:40 AM ET 2005-08-18T14:35:40

Guest: Nicolle Devenish, Pat Buchanan, John Breaux, Bill Richardson, Mitch Geiger, Howard Fineman

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC GUEST HOST:  Tonight, the White House communications director on the war in Iraq, rising gas prices and the John Roberts nomination.  Plus a fight for America‘s borders.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell sitting in tonight for Chris Matthews.  The governors of two southwestern states have declared states of emergency saying they‘re not getting enough help from the federal government to protect their borders.  We‘ll get to that fight a little later in the show.

But first at this hour, left leaning groups will be holding 1,500 vigils across the country.  Including one outside President Bush‘s Texas ranch and one outside the White House in an effort to show solidarity with Cindy Sheehan.  Sheehan‘s son Casey was killed in combat in Iraq and she‘s camped out in Crawford, Texas, demanding to meet with President Bush.  I spoke today with White House communications director Nicolle Devenish, and I asked her whether the president is concerned that Cindy Sheehan‘s cause has grown into a national movement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICOLLE DEVENISH, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Well, look.  The president certainly understands Miss Sheehan‘s pain and he grieves with many families who have lost loved ones in the war on terror and in Iraq.  And I think we heard from the president himself last week that when you look at what Miss Sheehan and some of her other antiwar demonstrators are proposing, it is exactly the wrong way to keep us safe here at home.

O‘DONNELL:  What would be the down side to the president meeting with her?  He has met with her once before a year ago.  Why not invite her in, pray with her or send First Lady Laura Bush to meet with her?

DEVENISH:  Well, the president prays for the men and women of the military in their families all time.  And the president, as you said, did meet with Cindy Sheehan.  So the president welcomes the opportunity to meet with the families of those fighting in the war against terror and the moments that he spends with those who have lost loved ones are quite sacred to this president and to Mrs. Bush when she participates in them as well.  So I think the question of why won‘t he meet with her has been answered by the fact that he has met with her.

O‘DONNELL:  The president plans to stay in Crawford for another three weeks to finish his vacation.  And Cindy Sheehan said she is not leaving until she meets with the president.  What will happen to Crawford?  And you are the president‘s communications director.  How do you deal with something like this when there is now this growing group of people in Crawford, hundreds, and now across the country.  The media following her so closely.

DEVENISH:  Well, you know from covering this White House, Norah, that one of the rights we celebrate in America and one of the things we are fighting to share with the people of Iraq is the right to free speech.  So I think that‘s what we see.  This is democracy in action.

But I think our responsibility and certainly what I do is make sure that we are talking about why we‘re at war and about where this started.  And I think we are now one month away from a very important and sad anniversary for our country.  In one month, we will mark the four-year anniversary of the attacks of 9/11.  And it was that day and that morning that we came to understand this war against terror was not a choice between going to Iraq or not going to Iraq.  It was a choice between engaging enemies of America and enemies of freedom here on the homeland or fighting them in Iraq and places like Afghanistan.

O‘DONNELL:  What you‘re talking about is reminding the American people why we are at war, fighting the global war on terror.  But let me ask you about some of the recent poll number.  CNN, “USA Today” Gallup Poll shows 54 percent of Americans say the U.S. made a mistake by sending troops to Iraq.  Is the White House, the president going to launch a new effort in the fall to help better explain to the American people why we‘re at war in Iraq and when U.S. troops are coming home?

DEVENISH:  Well, it won‘t an new effort.  But it will be part of a sustained effort.  And certainly we look forward to some opportunities we have this month.  The president has based all of his travel out of Texas this month.  He‘s actually had meetings with his foreign policy team and his defense team and his State Department team and next week, he heads out to Idaho and Utah.  And he‘ll give some important speeches.

He‘s going to talk to some Guard units and really help articulate something that I think every American feels, this incredible gratitude to the men and women who are on the front line and allowing us to go about their daily lives while they fight in this war against terror.

O‘DONNELL:  August was one of the deadliest months on record for National Guard and reserve troops.  Americans want to know what is the strategy in Iraq?  There was an interesting story in the “Washington Post” on Sunday which said U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad say the Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations for us in Iraq.  Why are we lowering expectations?

DEVENISH:  Well, we‘re not.  That‘s not consistent with critics on the other side who say that our goals are ambitious.  And they certainly are ambitious.  But what we are doing in Iraq is laying a foundation for peace for generations to come.  And again, I think that as a country, we will all have an opportunity on the four-year anniversary of what will be a sad anniversary for all of us.  The four-year anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 to remember why we‘re there.  And .

O‘DONNELL:  Nicolle, let me ask you, however, though.  Because a senior administration official was quoted in the “Washington Post” as saying, what we expected to achieve in Iraq was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground.  This from an official who was involved in policy since the ‘03 invasion.  Was that official off the reservation?  Not speaking in tune with the rest of the White House?

DEVENISH:  Well, the president doesn‘t take his cues on how to conduct the war on terror from blind quotes.  He takes his cues from commanders in the field.  And he‘ll continue to do so.  And it‘s not consistent with what he hears from commanders in the field.  And I think he‘ll continue to take his cues and make decisions about the war based on the advice and recommendations of our generals and commanders on the ground in Iraq.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s turn to the president‘s record here at home.  Many Americans feeling the pain at the pump as it is called.  High gas prices, AAA reporting for the very first time, the national average is now $2.50 a gallon.  It‘s over $3 a gallon in places like California where I know you are from.  What can the president do to help Americans who really feel the pinch?

DEVENISH:  Well, Norah, there‘s some good news and bad news.  And the bad news is that as a country, we haven‘t had a national energy policy for decades.  And I guess a little bit of good news, we signed an energy bill that will put us on a path as a country to lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy.  And that might not make people feel much better and we certainly empathize with families that are having to fill up more than usual during the summer holiday months.

But we are on a path to lessening our dependence of foreign sources of energy.  We also have to keep in mind that despite the high prices, our economy remains very strong.  We continue to add jobs and when the economists were down at the ranch this month, they assured the president that all the fundamentals and all the foundations for our economy is very strong.

O‘DONNELL:  Democrat Illinois Governor Rob Blajojevich is calling on the president to tap into our strategic petroleum reserve.  Has the president ruled that out?

DEVENISH:  There are all sorts of good reasons, national security reasons not to do that.  And that‘s not something that we‘ve proposed.  But I think that people need to understand that we are, as a government, we are taking some good steps to making sure that we get put on the path toward reducing our dependence.  And therein really does lie the answer.  So I think as a country, we need conserve more and become better conservers of energy.  But I think people can be a little comforted by the fact that our economy remains very strong.

O‘DONNELL:  Finally, let me ask you what appears to be sort of a strange story out there today.  And this has to do with the president‘s choice to succeed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor.  This involves John Roberts.  The Reagan Library said that some of John Roberts‘ records on affirmative action that he wrote during the time he was at the Reagan White House have disappeared from the Reagan Library and the “Washington Post” says that they disappeared after being viewed by White House lawyers.  Where are these records?

DEVENISH:  I don‘t know.  And I think that‘s why the announcement came out of the Reagan Library.  They had custody of the documents.  We went in and read them.  But I am heartened if this one missing file is all that the Democrats are talking about in light of the thousands and thousands and reams and reams of documents that have come out.  And the Roberts nomination is really something to sit up and take note of.  There are certain moments in politics, they are few and far between, you know that, that transcend the politics as usual.  I think the president‘s nomination of this very capable man with an obvious level of integrity and reverence for the law has really transcended the way politics as usual usually operates in this town.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Nicolle Devenish who is the president‘s communications director from the White House.  Nicole, thank you very much.

DEVENISH:  Thanks, Norah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  From the White House to the western White House.  Is Cindy Sheehan‘s protest overplayed?  And has she become a puppet of the left?  Coming up, we‘ll ask Pat Buchanan and former Senator John Breaux.

And later with an increase in smuggling and violence along the Mexican border, the governors of New Mexico and Arizona say the federal government is letting them down.

I‘m Norah O‘Donnell and you‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell filling in for Chris Matthews.  Today is day 11 of Cindy Sheehan‘s vigil outsize President Bush‘s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

CINDY SHEEHAN, SON CASEY KILLED IN IRAQ (video clip):  People look at me and say, she‘s evidence that one person can make a difference.  But I‘m not one person.  I‘m millions of people.  And I‘m speaking for the people who have had skin in the game and the ones who don‘t want their children to go to war.

O‘DONNELL:  At today‘s press conference in Iraq veteran also voiced his support for Cindy‘s cause.

AIDAN DELGADO, IRAQ WAR VETERAN (video clip):  From my perspective as an Iraq veteran, I want to thank everybody for supporting the troops.  Because never in my life have I felt so supported than being in the peace movement and hearing these vigils and these the real people supporting the troops in a meaningful way.  More so than anyone sticking a yellow ribbon bumper sticker on their car.

O‘DONNELL:  At this hour, 1,500 vigils across the country will be held by leftwing supporters to honor Cindy Sheehan and support her.  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and John Breaux is a former Louisiana senator.  Pat, let me ask you first.  Do you think that Cindy Sheehan and what she‘s doing represents some sort of tipping point in the debate over the Iraq War?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I do.  I think the anti-war movement had a leader in Howard Dean and the wheels came off his campaign in Iowa.  But that was a huge movement.  I think it is much larger now because something like 60 percent of the country do not believe the president is doing a good job in leading in the war.  And I think she has given a voice and a face and a certain moral authority and authenticity to this giant protest movement.

And Norah, I‘m telling you, I believe that some Democratic candidate, or some democratic senator or governor is going to try to step forward the way McGovern did and Gene McCarthy did to give political leadership to this movement.

JONES:  Senator Breaux, at the same time she acknowledges that what start off as a grassroots movement has turned into a monster at this point.  She is a grieving mother.  But at the same time, has she become a tool of the left?

JOHN BREAUX, (D) FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  I think she was much more effective, Norah, when she was standing out at that fence line by herself as a mother who had lost a son, who had served very honorably in Iraq and saying, look, I just want to talk with the president about what is happening in Iraq.  I lost a son.  I deserve a meeting with the president to talk to him about it.  I think now that it has gotten larger.  It has almost gotten out of control.  And I think she is probably less effective than she was when she was by herself.  I think the president made a mistake by not speaking to her in the very beginning.  He may not have this extensive problem he has today.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s talk about that.  How could the White House or the president have defused this?  He did meet with her a year ago when he met with other military families.  Is he supposed to invite anybody that come down to Crawford into his ranch and say I‘ll talk to you?

BICHANAN:  The communications people should have said, look, you can see the potential of this growing very large.  You‘ve got a bored White House press corps in the middle of August.  Here‘s a woman who has authenticity, as the senator said.  And there was a certain purity to what she was doing in those early days.  I think that has been somewhat diluted.  You see the operatives down there.  The moveon.org and all that.  It politicizes and corrupts it.

O‘DONNELL:  Now Michael Moore on his Website has a link to Cindy Sheehan‘s comments.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think a link is a problem.  But if I were her, I would not have Michael Moore down there.

BREAUX:  I think the point you make about whether she‘s effective or not, I think she was much more effective.  She‘s just not any person who wants to see the president.  This is a mother who lost a son honorably fighting for his country.  And I think if they have hindsight, they would have said maybe we should have asked her to come in and sit down for 10 minutes and talk with the president.  They wouldn‘t have this problem.

O‘DONNELL:  But you know, the president has still three more weeks of vacation down in Crawford.  And Cindy Sheehan says, I‘m not going anywhere until I meet with the president.  I want him to pray with me.  What is going to happen in tiny Crawford, Texas, and should the White House consider sending perhaps Laura Bush out to meet with her?

BUCHANAN:  I would think about that.  But I don‘t know if I would do it.  I‘ll tell you what I think is going to happen.  Look, the media have a great story here.  We‘re covering it again tonight.  You have a face and a voice and a person who I say has real authenticity.  And they‘re going to keep covering it.  The more the media covers it, the more people will come down there.  The more people who come down, the more media attention you‘re going to get.  I think this is going to last for three weeks until the president leaves Crawford.

O‘DONNELL:  But doesn‘t that hurt whatever her cause may be?  Since she‘s been talking to the media, she has espouse asked talked about her U.S. policy toward Israel.  She now says she is not going to pay taxes to the United States of America.  I mean, senator, what does this tell us about her?

BREAUX:  I think the whole protest has changed.  What started as an individual saying I want to talk to the president has now become much larger into a certain extent, outside of her control.  And it is getting into other areas.  There have been statements made, that I think quite frankly, outside the bounds of a legitimate protest.  And getting, calling the president, we‘re the killers in this war.  And I think that‘s probably over the boundaries.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, now where does it place the Democratic Party?  Your party when someone like Cindy Sheehan who espouses and says we should pull out all of our troops immediately is essentially the voice of opposition.

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s where that will go.  I think - I agree.  I think some of her language has been over the top about the president of the United States personally and elsewhere.  But this thing has taken on now a life of its own.  And because she is speaking out and saying get out.  Bring the troops home now.  And there clearly is a tremendous constituency for this.  So leaders in the Democratic Party - There is .

O‘DONNELL:  There is a constituency to cut and run .

BUCHANAN:  There is a constituency to bring the troops home in this country which is close to half the country.  I think you‘re going to get a Democratic leader who breaks with Hillary Clinton and Biden and the other potential leaders and who is that Gene McCarthy candidate who took on Lyndon Johnson.  That is coming as sure as we‘re sitting here.

BREAUX:  I don‘t think it is something you‘ll see a lot of people in the Senate, for instance, jumping out to support cut and run.

O‘DONNELL:  We haven‘t seen any Democratic senators go down and embrace Cindy Sheehan.

BREAUX:  We had one person in the senate who said I believe we should set a time line on ultimate withdrawal.  But I don‘t think you‘ll see a bunch of senators saying, stand up and let get out right now.  They don‘t know what the answer is but cut and run I don‘t think is the answer.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  We will be right back with John Breaux and Pat Buchanan.  And don‘t forget Hardblogger, HARDBALL‘s blog site.  It‘s the online place for politics.  You check out the hottest political stories.  Just go to our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com.

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O‘DONNELL:  We‘re back with political analyst Pat Buchanan and former Senator John Breaux.  Tonight Supreme Court nominee John Roberts has received a well qualified rating from the ABA.  That‘s the political equivalent of an a plus.  At the same time, Democrats are making a lot of hey out of fact that Roberts‘ writings on affirmative firm during the Reagan years when he was serving in the White House have suddenly disappeared.  And are no longer at the Reagan Library.  Pat, is this going to be a problem for him?

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a tragedy that all the documents are missing.  Look, let me say this.  They are not going to be able to take John Roberts down.  He is Mr. Roberts.  When he gets up there at the senate hearing and someone says he‘s an extremist, people will look at this mild mannered Hogan and Hartson (ph) conservative and say, I don‘t believe it.  They just can‘t do it.  This is an extremely well-qualified, bright man, a very - he‘s a conservative man.  He is a Reaganite, in the mainstream of the Reagan movement.  I think he is home-free, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, the Democrats, your party had been pretty quiet in their opposition to Roberts.  A lot of the interest group, pressure groups have put a lot of pressure on the senators.  Do you think your party should come out full bore against this guy?

BREAUX:  I don‘t think they ought to say very much before they had the first minutes of hearings.  We haven‘t had one hour of hearings yet.  They have an obligation to have some in-depth hearing.  This is not a six-month appointment.  It is a lifetime appointment.  So we have to know the caliber of the person they‘re going to give that appointment to.  Let‘s see what the hearings have to say.  But I think the significant thing is that 14 senators, seven Democrats and seven Republicans, have said they will not filibuster a nomination unless it is extraordinary circumstances.  I don‘t think at this time they‘re going to find extraordinary circumstances to justify a filibuster.

O‘DONNELL:  Can you sell missing documents to the American people?  Or has it got to be about his issues, his position on abortion, civil rights, women‘s rights, equal pay, etc.

BREAUX:  Well, if they don‘t have the documents, they‘ll certainly question him extensively about those issues and what going to say are going to be a determining factor.

O‘DONNELL:  Pat?

BUCHANAN:  I think the Democrats—there‘s a real danger if Schumer and some of the democrats go out and they‘re being pushed by NARAL and others to go out and really start taking this man down.  I think there‘s a real danger that they themselves could paint themselves outside of the mainstream for the reason if Roberts is such a conservative person in his demeanor and his presence, and people will look at it and say look.  The people who are extremists here are those guys yelling in front of the TV camera.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you Pat Buchanan and John Breaux.  Thank you very much for coming in.  Up next, violence and drug smuggling are on the rise along the Mexican border.  But is the federal government doing enough to keep in it check?  Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico says no.  And he‘s coming to make his case.  Plus we‘ll hear from a member of the Minutemen.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute. 

I‘m Milissa Rehberger and here‘s what‘s happening.

NBC News has learn that NASA will announce tomorrow the shuttle program will return to space no earlier than next March.  NASA suspended all future flights after insulating foam came off shuttle Discovery‘s external fuel tank during last month‘s launch.  It was the same problem that doomed the shuttle Columbia.

A thumbs up for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, the American Bar Association gave him a unanimous well qualified rating.  The highest such rating from that group of lawyers.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin Robert‘s confirmation hearings early next month.

And in the West Bank, a fourth Palestinian has died from a shooting rampage there.  It happened at a security check point where an Israeli settler took a guard‘s gun at knife point.  The settler then opened fire and shot the Palestinian worker.  The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the shooting was an act of Jewish terror aimed at disrupting the Gaza pullout.

And that‘s what‘s happening.  Now let‘s go back to HARDBALL.

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in for Chris Matthews.  New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has declared a state of emergency due to increasing violence on the U.S. Mexico border of his state.  The move frees up state funding to increase security along the 180 mile border and gives the governor the power to call in the National Guard.

Governor Richardson joins me now.  Governor, welcome.

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NM:  Thank you, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  How severe is the problem of illegal immigration.

RICHARDSON:  It is very serious.  It is an issue politicians don‘t want to touch.  The Congress is talking about a lot of, in my judgment, irrelevant matters, compared to what people want them to deal with, which is health care, jobs and certainly, immigration.  In my situation, I declared a state of emergency out of desperation.  We weren‘t getting any federal assistance.  The Congress is refusing to deal with immigration.  And I had criminal activity relating to illegal immigration, drugs coming in, murders, kidnappings, mutilation of cattle.  And we don‘t have any people, any law enforcement to take care of this. 

And so the additional funds that I‘ve requested will deal with some of the law enforcement needs to patrol our very small 180-mile border with Mexico. 

O‘DONNELL:  One, you‘re talking about spending an additional $1.7 million on security improvements.  Two, you‘ve also mentioned the possibility of bulldozing a small town in Mexico, a border town that you say is holding a lot of these people who are involved in the alien smuggling, the drug smuggling.  Are you going to be able to bulldoze a town in Mexico, and what has been the response of the Mexican government? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, the Mexican government, since my statement, besides showing irritation, they are actively trying to find ways to work with the state of New Mexico and resolve some of our problems.  They‘re actively considering this.  What this is, Norah, it‘s a small abandoned town that you can virtually see from the New Mexico border.  And this is a town that everybody agrees, law enforcement, Border Patrol, residents on both sides, is a staging area of illegal drugs and illegal aliens. 

What they do is they park themselves in these abandoned houses, wait until it is dark, move in one maneuver and law enforcement goes towards them and then they come in when—because of the shortage of law enforcement on the New Mexico side, they either bring an equal amount of drugs as illegal aliens. 

They also mutilate and kill some of the cattle.  So what you have is some very shady operators.  When you have illegal activity, whether it is exportation of illegal aliens, many times those sordid character that organized this also get into drugs, they get into theft.  They get into destruction of property. 

O‘DONNELL:  You say the federal government is not doing enough so you‘re taking the matter into your own hands, doing something by declaring a state of emergency.  What about the Minutemen who have been trying to help in states like New Mexico and Arizona?  Why don‘t you want their help? 

RICHARDSON:  I want trained law enforcement people to do the work.  Many of the Minutemen are very well-intentioned.  They‘re patriots.  But I worry that because they‘re not trained, because they don‘t have the skills and equipment to deal with illegal aliens and illegal drugs, as law enforcement does, as Border Patrol, that we‘re going to have some unfortunate incidents. 

So this is why I took this action, to get my local sheriffs, my local law enforcement in New Mexico to be able to hire trained personnel that know how the deal with illegal aliens and illegal drugs and kidnappings and mutilation of animals.  That‘s why I did it, Norah. 

But the main message here is the federal government, the Congress, they‘re not touching this issue because it is too hot.  And what you have is four states, four big states on the border saying—two of the four saying, hey, we‘re taking matters into our own hands because you‘re not helping us. 

O‘DONNELL:  And we had trouble finding anybody today who disagrees with the action that you are taking to stop this illegal immigration.  But let me ask you, because the chairman of the Republican Party in New Mexico said that your action reeks of politics.  He said that you‘re trying to perhaps get ready for the Democratic race in 2008, and that you may be trying to position yourself in the center.  Is there politics involved in this move?  Are you trying to run to the right of Republicans? 

RICHARDSON:  No, no.  In fact, we are a state that is very immigrant-friendly.  We have scholarships for undocumented workers, driver‘s licenses, because we see it as a safety issue.  I want to track where the undocumented workers are.  I want them to fit into society.  I want them driving with insurance and they have to have insurance instead of without insurance. 

So I‘m trying to be practical.  But everybody agrees on the need for border security.  It involves our national security, protecting us against terrorism, drugs, and illegal traffic; an illegal act, an illegal entrance into the United States in these buses where these men and women trying to find a better life are exploited is not right.  And this is why I took these actions.  It‘s not politics. 

RICHARDSON:  All right.  Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico who has been joined now by the Democratic governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, who has taken similar action to close America‘s borders. 

Thank you very much, Governor. 

RICHARDSON:  Thank you, Norah. 

O‘DONNELL:  And joining us now is Mitch Geiger, the director of operations for the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in Arizona. 

Welcome, Mitch.  What do you make of Governor Richardson‘s decision to declare this state of emergency in New Mexico? 

MITCH GEIGER, MINUTEMEN CIVIL DEFENSE CORPS:  Well, my first, off the top of my head kind of impression is, it is about time.  It has been a long time coming for anyone to take some serious notice of the issue of the lack of security on our borders. 

O‘DONNELL:  You did enough.  They‘re talking about spending $1.7 million in New Mexico, in Arizona.  The Democratic governor there, Janet Napolitano, has pledged $1.5 million.  Is that going to be enough to stop the millions of illegal immigrants coming through the borders? 

GEIGER:  Well, you know, I don‘t have a lot of experience in budgeting, but off the top of my head, I‘m going to have to say, no, that‘s probably not enough.  But it is a good first step.  And it certainly sets the proper tone for dealing with this issue. 

O‘DONNELL:  The federal government has—Governor Richardson said the federal government has not done enough, that‘s why the state is stepping in.  But Governor Richardson said he doesn‘t want your help, the Minutemen‘s help.  Why is that? 

GEIGER:  Well, it‘s hard to speak for Governor Richardson, but I would assume it is probably because the Minutemen have been a misunderstood group, I guess. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, explain it.  What are you trying to do in the Southwest? 

GEIGER:  Well, the Minutemen have a very simple mission.  Our mission is to observe criminal activity, report that criminal activity to law enforcement, and direct law enforcement to that criminal activity.  In a nutshell, we‘re here to support law enforcement because they‘re understaffed and underfunded. 

So for someone to say that they don‘t want our help or don‘t want us there is kind of like saying, well, we don‘t want a Coast Guard auxiliary, or we don‘t want... 

O‘DONNELL:  But Governor Richardson just said on this program that he wants trained officers.  And President Bush has said in the past that he is worried about vigilantes on the border.  Are you vigilantes and do you take offense at Governor Richardson‘s statements that you‘re not trained to do the job of stopping illegal immigrants? 

GEIGER:  No to both questions.  We‘re certainly not vigilantes, at least by the modern definition.  We‘re vigilant in what we‘re doing, absolutely.  But I don‘t take offense to him not wanting us there.  I would rather have trained law enforcement professionals on the border and stay home and barbecue with my family on the weekends.  But we all have to do what we can do to stop this problem before we‘re looking at another 9/11. 

O‘DONNELL:  And why have you taken the matter into your own hands? 

How big is the problem and how porous are our borders? 

GEIGER:  Well, you know, I don‘t get a lot into the politics of things and follow statistics.  I can only speak from experience and my time spent on the border.  And since April, I‘ve probably spent a total of three months there.  The problem is massive.  Hundreds of people come through any given area daily.  And law enforcement, especially Border Patrol, is just simply not equipped to deal with the mass populous that‘s coming across the border. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Mitch Geiger, who is with the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.  Mitch, thank you very much. 

GEIGER:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  When we return, President George W. Bush and President S Harry Truman.  We‘ll look at the parallels between two wartime presidents who faced tough challenges from critics at home. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The president‘s approval ratings continue to drop despite job growth and a stronger economy.  Mr. Bush has been hurt by problems in Iraq and discontent here at home.  And yet with the ambitious agenda Mr. Bush is pursuing, historians are pointing to similarities with the president in office 60 years ago. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As he continues his vacation, the president‘s approval rating now stands at 42 percent.  It‘s the lowest of his administration and lower than previous two-term presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.  But when it comes to comparisons, some historians are finding parallels with the challenges faced by the nation‘s 33rd president, Harry Truman. 

From the beginning, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman‘s presidency was dominated by issues of foreign policy. 

HARRY S TRUMAN, 33RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We will strengthen freedom-loving nations against the dangers of aggression. 

SHUSTER:  There was the conclusion of the war in Europe, the conference at Potsdam when the Allied leaders decided how to handle a defeated Germany, the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan.  And yet three years later, in 1948.

TRUMAN:  I must have your help.  You must get in and push and win this election. 

SHUSTER:  The incumbent Truman only held on to the presidency by 4 percentage points.  Last fall, President Bush won by 3.  Following his leadership on 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, and the occupation of Iraq. 

Like President Bush‘s critics, Harry Truman‘s, throughout his presidency, considered him not up to the job.  Truman was a folksy man who popularized simple phrases like “the buck stops here.” 

TRUMAN:  It makes no difference what they say about you if it isn‘t so. 

SHUSTER:  President Bush is a folksy man who sees the world in black and white. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because freedom is on the march. 

SHUSTER:  President Bush has spent his political capital and much of the nation‘s money on trying to change the Muslim world.  President Truman spent heavily on Germany and Japan‘s post-war reconstruction. 

While President Bush‘s approval rating is down, Harry Truman‘s at a similar point in his presidency was even lower and eventually dropped to 23 percent.  The Truman administration was rocked by allegations that the State Department was riddled with communists. 

President bush has taken a hit over allegations about Karl Rove. 

BUSH:  If somebody did leak classified information, I would like to know it and we‘ll take the appropriate action. 

And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation. 

SHUSTER:  President Bush is losing support because of the war in Iraq. 

President Truman lost much of his support over the war in Korea.  Domestically, Truman failed to get Congress to pass one of his top priorities, universal health care.  President Bush so far has failed to move Congress on Social Security reform. 

In 1952, Harry Truman‘s disapproval rating was so high, over 65 percent, he decided not to seek re-election.  Now, however, historians regard Harry Truman as one of America‘s best presidents.  His vision turned around America‘s enemies and his policy of containing Soviet expansionism was a model for the rest of the Cold War. 

(on camera):  President Bush sees Iraq as part of his effort to stop and contain terrorism.  The question is, will history show George W. Bush as a treasured president like Harry Truman, or as somebody regarded far less? 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Howard Fineman is Newsweek magazine‘s chief political correspondent and an MSNBC political analyst.  And Christopher Hitchens is a writer for Vanity Fair magazine and slate.com. 

Thank you very much, both of you, for joining us.  Howard, do you think the White House sees historical parallels between Bush and Truman? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I know George Bush thinks of himself in those terms.  Before he was even president, I interviewed him.  I asked who would he like to model himself after?  And Winston Churchill and Harry Truman were the two names. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why? 

FINEMAN:  Well, he thought that they were simple, direct, and big-thinking people with big answers to big problems.  Little did he know when I interviewed him just how big the problems were going to be, namely the war on terrorism. 

O‘DONNELL:  Historically, how illustrative are the comparisons between those two presidents? 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, VANITY FAIR:  I‘m rather amazed at what Howard just said, that Bush said this before he was elected because ran against Gore and Lieberman very explicitly against nation-building, against the use of American forces for humanitarian purposes, against liberalism and soggy such ideas and for lifting the sanctions on Iraq and Libya, especially seconded in this by Mr. Cheney who doesn‘t seem to... 

O‘DONNELL:  And now

HITCHENS:  Who doesn‘t seem to be, I must say, at all like Vice President Henry Wallace, not really at all.  So I‘ve heard Bush people since then make this comparison.  But it does surprise me that he would have made it himself because he ran as the Republican isolationist. 

O‘DONNELL:  And will be judged in many ways by his foreign policy record, for Bush it is now Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.  He has staked his presidency, his reputation, his legacy on what happens in Iraq. 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think at the time when I interviewed him about this, I remember it very well down in—outside the governor‘s mansion in Austin.  I think he was thinking of himself as an underestimated person.  Little did he know how big the challenges were going to be.  But in terms of thinking big, being handed a war he didn‘t expect, taking decisive military action that he never expected he would have to do, I think there are some comparisons.  There are some ways that they differ. 

Harry Truman was a self-educated man, deeply self-educated, always reading, always educating himself.  And he also—when he said, the buck stops here, he meant it.  There have been some times in this administration where the buck didn‘t appear at all, let alone stop at the president‘s desk. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m sure also the president did not anticipate that while he was spending a five-week vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, that he would be witnessing a mom, Cindy Sheehan, who has been camped outside his ranch now, demanding a meeting with the president, saying she won‘t leave until that happens. 

Christopher, do you think that this represents—or she represents some sort of tipping point in public opinion in America? 

HITCHENS:  Certainly not.  She has, just today, lied about a statement that she made several times before to the effect that her son was killed in a war run by a secret Jewish cabal within the administration.  She now says she didn‘t make that statement.  She did make that statement.  So as well as being an hysterical paranoid ideologist, or at least being manipulated by people who are, turned this into camp fruitbag and nutbag, she has decided not to have the courage or maybe the cowardice of her conviction.  She now says she didn‘t make a statement that she definitely did. 

FINEMAN:  I think, Christopher.

HITCHENS:  And she is also inviting a terrific riposte.  What if we were to say, very well, the conduct of this war will depend on an opinion poll which we‘ll take of relatives of the fallen in Iraq, only they can decide, only they have the authority.  She would lose. 

Do I favor such a thing?  No.  I‘m pro-war but I would be totally against that.  It would be handing our policy over to an.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, what about her.

HITCHENS:  . minority which she has allowed our profession, disgracefully, to be used as a megaphone for a fraud. 

O‘DONNELL:  What about her statement?  She is a private citizen to some degree.  And yet she has made these comment about U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine.  And she says she is no longer going to pay taxes in the United States.  Is she fair game, like a politician is, now that she makes these statements?  

HITCHENS:  Certainly. 

FINEMAN:  And I would agree with Christopher on that.  I think he should be honest in his feelings about these... 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  He always hides his feelings.  But I don‘t think that she personally is a tipping point.  But I do think that things are changing under George Bush‘s feet.  Now you made the Harry Truman comparison, a lot of Democrats I know, including Jack Valenti, used to work for Lyndon Johnson, makes the Lyndon Johnson comparison in the sense that the Johnson presidency a generation ago lost control of the war in Vietnam because they lost control of public opinion. 

And whatever Christopher may say about Cindy Sheehan, the fact remains that if you look at the polls, the American people are turning very skeptical about the war and George Bush‘s handling of it.  There‘s just no two ways about that. 

HITCHENS:  Well, there are very good reasons for doubt and for dismay, no serious person doesn‘t have them, but there are two other matters here.  First there is the dignity of the office.  You don‘t get to see the president by behaving like this.  There are a lot of people waiting in line patiently who have also had sacrifices in Iraq.  She has already had a meeting.  She has given two discrepant accounts of it, both of them hysterical.  I don‘t know what her mood swing is today.  She now thinks she‘s owed another meeting.  I don‘t think so. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  It‘s undignified and she has become the prisoner of a paranoid political (INAUDIBLE) which go from her endorsers Michael Moore to her latest endorser, David Duke, all of whom are saying, yes, it‘s true, there‘s a secret Israeli cabal that runs the show, that her son was killed in effect for nothing.  Now this is insulting and undignified and ungraceful. 

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re going to talk more about Cindy Sheehan.  And coming up, we‘re also going to talk about how the Democrats waved the white flag in opposing the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.   We‘ll be right back with more from Christopher Hitchens and Howard Fineman. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  And we‘re back with Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman and Vanity Fair‘s Christopher Hitchens. 

Cindy Sheehan, does she help or hurt the president?  And I ask that because she may hurt the president, some people think, because it focuses a lot of attention on the opposition to the Iraq war.  But does she help him in some sense because she is calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops, a cut and run policy, and that puts the Democratic Party in a difficult spot? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  You don‘t have to have Christopher‘s view of Cindy Sheehan to agree with many Democrats who want to stay as far away from her as possible.  There are these vigils that moveon.org are running, you‘re not going to see any Democratic elected officials at them, or very few.  There are 1,500 of them.  You won‘t see a dozen Democrats at them because they don‘t want to run as the anti-war party. 

As a matter of fact, as they gear up for the midterm elections, they want to run on everything but the war on the theory that it is George Bush‘s problem to handle and anything that they say can be interpreted as questioning the war and they don‘t want to do that.  They want to let the voters do it.  They don‘t want to do it themselves. 

HITCHENS:  Howard is always the model of judiciousness and objectivity, but let‘s just say another thing about this.  This is supposed to be a pseudo humanitarian campaign.  It‘s all about death, the loss of people and so on.  Suppose her advice is taken.  The president says, you know, this bleeding heart woman with her mad political friends has persuaded me that we should announce tomorrow that we‘re pulling out. 

Well, the number of American who would be killed when that was announced in Iraq is beyond count.  If the al Qaeda forces there, the Zarqawi forces heard this, they want to say it is because of our work, they would start really blitzing and shooting them as they were leaving.  And we would leave Iraq.

O‘DONNELL:  But you agree.

HITCHENS:  It would become another Afghanistan—it would become another Taliban-ized country which would—how does anyone with any respect for human life demand that this be allowed to happen? 

O‘DONNELL:  You think there is going to be a huge backlash against Cindy Sheehan. 

HITCHENS:  Well, I think there should be.  I think our profession should stop acting as her megaphone.  Until I published her real political opinions in Slate yesterday, she had to answer no more questions than, how does it feel?  OK?  I object.  I shouldn‘t have had to do that. 

I said, this woman is mouthing the most sinister piffle from Michael Moore and David Duke.  She should be held responsible for what she thinks.  When she was asked about it finally by Anderson Cooper yesterday, she said, I didn‘t say it.  She‘s also a liar. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK. 

HITCHENS:  And she should strike her tent and go home and the president should ignore her and so should everybody else.  It should be over by the end of the week. 

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s also another hot political topic coming up for the president.  He has got to push for and campaign for his choice to succeed Supreme Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor.  And that is John Roberts.  The news today is that his records and what he wrote on affirmative action while he was in the Reagan White House have suddenly vanished from the Reagan Library.  Is this going to be a big problem, Howard, for the White House? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think the Democrats are focusing on it right now, because they‘re getting a lot of heat from their grassroots.  A lot of the same people who want to make Cindy Sheehan a hero want to make John Roberts Satan personified.  They‘re unhappy that the Democrats on the Hill seem to be waving Roberts through.  They want action.  They want opposition.  And they‘re focusing on the process because they‘re not sure they can get Roberts on the subject. 

So I will say, though, a big issue that‘s not being focused on a lot are his writings on equal pay for women.  Now that may—this is one of these things where theoretically he was right on the constitutionality, but politically, it is very dangerous.  I‘m telling you right now, it the biggest potential obstacle he faces, not abortion. 

HITCHENS:  Look, the Democrats are still gun-shy on the main question, which is this, professor Jonathan Turley, who is a very good writer about and professor of law at George Washington University in this fair city, had a meeting with Senator Durbin, a fellow—a co-religionist of Judge Roberts, where Durbin said, you know, I asked the guy in my office, what if there was a conflict between the law and the requirements of the law and the teachings of your church?  I think Durbin did this to get it out of the way.  Roberts.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, that is going to be a huge question.

HITCHENS:  Roberts, after a long pause, said—no, it‘s not going to make—no, it‘s not going to be huge question because the Democrats don‘t want to be anti-faith.  But he gave the wrong answer.  He said, after a long pause, I would recuse myself.  That means he‘s not fit to be judge on any court at all. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Well, we will.

HITCHENS:  He displays (ph) that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, we will hear more at the confirmation hearings coming up in September.  Thank you very much, Christopher Hitchens and Howard Fineman.  Join us tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now it‘s time for COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN, and whether military intelligence knew the 9/11 hijackers were in this country back in 2000 -- Keith.  

END

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