Guests: Tom DeLay, Susan Molinari, Rahm Emanuel
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": Tonight, big casino. Tom DeLay bet his career on the Republican Party, did he bet too much? Tonight, the man himself sits right here in front of me and explains it all, why he’s resigning, why he fought for the Republicans all those years. Why he says we should fear the Democrats grabbing control. Let’s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Big show tonight. Last night around 9:30 I got a call on my cell phone from former House majority leader Tom DeLay, saying he would be withdrawing from his re-election campaign in Texas. Today he made the formal announcement.
Congressman DeLay is here, ready to play HARDBALL.
Congressman DeLay. He’s not here yet. We’re going to look at a package on the Tom DeLay resignation.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is the scalp the Democrats have long been sharpening their knives for. And today a Democratic party spokesman called Tom DeLay’s announcement, quote, “Just the latest piece of evidence the Republican party is a party in disarray, out of ideas and out of energy.”
At the White House, President Bush put on a good face.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My own judgment is that our party will continue to succeed because we’re the party of ideas.
SHUSTER: It was Tom DeLay who ramrodded Republicans and corralled votes in the House for the president’s tax cuts, education reform and Medicare prescription drug benefit. Now the president’s most skilled legislative ally is leaving at a time when the White House agenda is limping because of the Iraq war, criticism over Hurricane Katrina and a soaring budget deficit.
DeLay told President Bush of his decision in a phone call Monday to Air Force One. White House officials refused to say if the president tried to talk him out of it. And today, the president would only offer this.
BUSH: My reaction was that it had to have been a very difficult
decision for someone who loved representing his district in the state of
Texas. I wished him all the very best, and I know he’s looking forward to
he’s looking to the future.
SHUSTER: The political future for the White House and Republicans in Congress is dodgy. Tom DeLay personified the GOP’s rise to power and he created new ways for Republicans to hustle money and use Washington lobbyists to strengthen the party’s control of government.
To his critics, he was the main man of the Republican party’s corruption and greed, and with DeLay gone, Democrats may be losing their best case for pitching reform and sweeping change in the midterm elections.
On the other hand, the influence peddling investigation surrounding Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff continues and there are other Republicans trying to stay in office, who may also be facing criminal indictment.
Then, there are the other scandals tainting the Republican party. The Bush administration’s top procurement official, David Safavian, was arrested last fall in the West Wing itself and stands accused of obstructing a criminal investigation.
And a cloud still hangs over Vice President Cheney in the CIA leak case. As his former chief of staff Scooter Libby prepares for a trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Public perceptions of corruption in Washington raise memories of the 1994 midterm tidal wave that swept Democrats out of power in Congress and brought in the GOP. If the Republicans in 2006 lose power, and Democrats gain the subpoena power to call administration witnesses, the impact on President Bush would be huge.
His health care reform proposals would go nowhere, his efforts to make the tax cuts permanent would be stopped and congressional investigations might dog the rest of his term as Democratic led committees probe everything from why body armor didn’t get to the troops in Iraq to why the war was launched in the first place to what Vice President Cheney’s role may have been in the CIA leak case.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
We’re joined right now by Tom DeLay, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives. The guy gave me a call last night to tell me what you were up to.
If you had to point to one reason for your resignation from the House, which apparently you announced today, what would it be?
REP. TOM DELAY ®, TEXAS: The Republican majority.
I’ve worked a long time building that majority, and helping build it, and work on it, and my constituents deserve a Republican to represent the 22nd District and now we’ll have one.
MATTHEWS: Do you think you bet too much on the Republican Party?
DELAY: Bet too much on the Republican Party?
MATTHEWS: Yes. I mean, you’ve given a lot. You raised a lot of money for them.
DELAY: I believe in it. I believe in—it’s the Republican Party that will advance the conservative cause, and that’s why I got into politics in the first place.
Ronald Reagan enticed me as a Republican precinct chairman with only five Republicans in my precinct in 1976.
MATTHEWS: Ken Mehlman, the chairman of your party, said something pretty nice about you tonight and I think you’d have to respond to it:
“The essence of leadership is not just coming up with good ideas, it’s making those good ideas happen. For the past two decades, Tom DeLay has tirelessly and successfully transformed very important ideas into very successful laws. Conservative legislation from welfare reform and a balanced budget, to tax relief, education reform and a ban on partial-birth abortion all bear the signature of Tom DeLay.”
DELAY: Well, that’s very nice to say, but there were a lot of other Republicans that did that too.
MATTHEWS: Why wasn’t the president a little more outward in saying that kind of thing today when he was asked about your retirement?
DELAY: You’ll have to ask him that.
MATTHEWS: He said nothing.
All he said was—I mean, I would be concerned if the president of the United States, whose legislation you put into action, had this to say about me: “I had a talk last night on my way back from the ballgame with Congressman DeLay.”
“He informed me of his decision. My reaction was it had to have been a very difficult decision for someone who loved representing his district in the state of Texas. I wished him all the very best. I know he’s looking forward to...he’s looking to the future.”
He said nothing good about you.
DELAY: That sounds good to me.
MATTHEWS: What’s the good part?
DELAY: I thought he was very gracious when we talked on the phone. I was very proud of what he said. I also talked to the vice president, and he was very gracious.
They know me, both men. I’ve worked with both men for a long time.
MATTHEWS: It just seems like they’re skipping away.
DELAY: No, I think they have a little sadness about me leaving, and at the same time they’re not shocked for the reasons that I gave them, and they know that I can do more outside of the House right now than being locked in a reelection battle in Sugarland, Texas.
MATTHEWS: Let me read you something. I have no idea what you’re going to say to this. These are the best questions, I have no idea what you’re going to say to.
Rick Scarborough (ph). Do you know him? He’s an evangelical minister.
DELAY: He was a minister of the First Baptist Church in (inaudible). A very dear friend of mine. And he and I worked together to create Vision America (ph).
MATTHEWS: He said, “I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is to take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ. God always does his best work right after a crucifixion.”
I mean, he says that you were brought down by your faith.
DELAY: No. I think I’ve been strengthened by my faith. I think that probably was taken out of context. I know Rick (ph). I was with him just—well, Saturday, and talked to him about this decision. He’s a wonderful man, a great friend. And he understands what I’ve been through. And my faith has been strengthened. I have matured as a Christian over these attacks. When you go through these kinds of things your faith is stronger than ever and you rely on the lord more than ever.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe if you were a secular politician who had never expressed his religious faith that you would have been less of a target to the Democrats?
DELAY: No. I think I was a target of the Democrats for many reasons.
We changed the culture of Washington, D.C., not just taking the majority. We changed the culture of this town. We changed the country, we’ve changed the world, having a Republican majority.
The Democrats and the left hate that. Number one, they hate the fact that what they believe in has been rejected by the American people. And secondly, they hate the fact that we are actually doing the things we told the American people we would do.
We’ve spent the last 10 years turning around 40 years of the left’s dominance of Washington, D.C., and the federal government. And they knew as majority leader I was starting to lead us to do the things that conservatives have wanted to do all along. Get rid of the tax code. End abortion as we know it. Hold the judiciary accountable. Fight the war on terror. All of those things are things that they just hate.
I’m not whining. They zeroed in on me and announced publicly that they were going to destroy me personally and destroy my character. And they’ve tried for now 10 years, and they’re still losing.
MATTHEWS: Well, I believe everything you say you believe in. I think most people do, even though who don’t like you (inaudible) you believe in. But there’s a contradiction in what you just said, Congressman.
You said that you were giving up your seat because you were fearful that a loss of a Republican seat, which you believe you can save by giving it to another candidate, was critical. And if you have won your battle for cultural change in Washington, why are the Democrats so close to taking back the House that one seat would make the difference?
DELAY: No, it’s not one seat. Every seat, as you well know, particularly when we have as small a margin as we’ve had to deal with over the last 11 years, every seat is precious. And you have to deal with it that way. And this seat is precious. It’s precious to the Republican majority and it’s precious to my constituents.
My constituents deserve better and they deserve a Republican, not a liberal Democrat representing them.
MATTHEWS: Let me talk to you about the topics you raised and I’m going to just raise them with you.
Here’s your chance to talk to a pretty good national audience tonight.
You were in the news. You’re a news maker tonight.
DELAY: I didn’t notice.
MATTHEWS: You are.
There’s a lot of cameras in this room, in fact, more than usual.
What are the stakes for the voter out there who is thinking about voting, personally, as a switch voter, back and forth voter, trying to decide which party to vote for this November?
I want to ask you, you know that one of the most powerful tools of the Congress is the subpoena power. It’s in the hands of the Reform Committee; it’s in the hands of the Judiciary Committee.
What would happen if Henry Waxman got the subpoena power in the Government Reform Committee? What would happen if John Conyers of Michigan got the subpoena power? Would they go after the president?
DELAY: Sure, they would.
They’ve tried the whole time we’ve been in the majority, just look at what they’ve been doing.
Henry Waxman is constantly calling for investigations, mostly frivolous investigations to make political points.
John Conyers has even called for the impeachment of the president. What do you think he’s going to do if he’s chairman of the Judiciary Committee?
MATTHEWS: You have an inside view, Congressman, of what they will do.
I know their records. I know their philosophies.
But you tell me, the man in the news today, do you believe that the Republicans, if they lose the House, will turn over the subpoena power to people who will try to impeach the president?
John Conyers not too long ago held a mock meeting of all the left and talked about impeaching the president and he’s called for impeaching the president. Do you think when he gets the gavel as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he won’t try to impeach the president? Of course he will.
MATTHEWS: Do you think more modestly they might push for censure along the lines of Russ Feingold in the Senate? Do you think they’re going to push for—which one do you think they’re going for, his head or just a big wound?
DELAY: I think they’ll try to go for his head.
I think some of the more reasonable thinking Democrats will try to pull them down and away from walking off that cliff, but you’ve got to know these people. John Conyers is left of the left.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something I know you care a lot about, and a lot of people watching do, which is abortion.
Even a lot of people who oppose abortion legalization or oppose its de-legalization don’t like it. Do you think if the Democrats get back in they’re going to push for—reverse the ban on partial birth?
If you’re in charge, you’re going to advance your agenda. And they’ll try to reverse everything that we’ve done, not just abortion. I mean, that’s one...
DELAY: ... that’s one of the regrets I have. I wanted before I ended my career to end abortion as we know it. And I’m not going to be able to do that.
I hope to work on it outside the House.
MATTHEWS: OK. That’s an open door. I want you to talk about that door. You mentioned that last night when you gave me the heads up. You said although you’re leaving the House, you’re not leaving the conservative movement. Tell me how you can work outside?
DELAY: Well, one the things that this decision-making process showed me, that I have a lot of friends in the conservative movement, a lot of friends that are leaders of the conservative movement. They value my talents and they listen to me, and I think I can work with them, unify that conservative movement.
One thing that I’ve always been jealous of the Democrats on the left is that they work together. I mean, you have pro-abortionists working for labor policy, you have labor policy—labor unions working for abortion policy. The greenies work for each other—and they work for each other.
We are fractured, and always have been fractured, mainly because we are individualists. But I think I can be a unifying force. I can speak out around the country about the conservative agenda. And I’m looking forward to that. I’m kind of excited about it.
MATTHEWS: Can you do it without being the hammer? I mean, now that you’re a congressman, you can direct funds to people, you can direct legislative responsibilities to people, you can help people get better committee assignments or deny them re-upping.
What can you do on the outside that enforces your will? I’m serious.
DELAY: The moniker “hammer” was given to me by the left—The Washington Post.
MATTHEWS: But you love it.
DELAY: No, I did things differently. And they—because the Democrats operate that way, they assumed I did. I invented what is called grow the vote. And it takes a lot of more - a lot more work...
MATTHEWS: We’ll come back and talk about your procedures, but when I imagine you walking across the floor of the House to somebody you thought you had corralled, and they went the other way, were you smiling like that, when you walked across the floor?
DELAY: I just had to remind them, your word is everything in the House of Representatives and if you break your word, you need to be reminded of that.
MATTHEWS: We’ll be back with Congressman Tom DeLay, who has announced his resignation from the House. He’s going to do it in a couple months.
You’re watching “Hardball,” only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to “Hardball.”
I’m joined by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who announced his withdrawal from his House race, his re-election race in Texas today.
Congressman, you know, I often look at the race of Richard Nixon, because in many ways I have very mixed feelings about him—like a lot of smart people do, because he’s a mixed bag—and I remember thinking: When he got beaten for this presidency by Jack Kennedy, then he got beaten for the governorship of California, if he went to New York he could have lived really well. He could have been an anybody. And he still came back into the fight and he took a licking.
Would you have done it all again?
DELAY: The same way?
DELAY: Absolutely. There’s nothing I’d change.
MATTHEWS: But you’re facing, you know, these prosecutors with two of your former aides, who are out there plea bargaining...
DELAY: There’s nothing there.
MATTHEWS: Scanlon and this guy Rudy and Abramoff—and they’re getting squeezed to give the big enchilada over. Doesn’t that worry you?
DELAY: Not at all—because I haven’t done anything wrong. I had...
MATTHEWS: Well, what are they giving to lighten their sentences, then, if they got nothing? What are they offering up to the prosecutors?
DELAY: I don’t know. But it isn’t me.
I had my lawyers spend all fall investigating me as if they were prosecuting me, and there is nothing there. I haven’t talked to anybody in the Department of Justice. I’ve turned over everything that I have that they may want to use in their investigation. But I haven’t been subpoenaed. My lawyers have been told I’m not a target of the investigation. This is all guilt by association, driven by the left, and...
MATTHEWS: I worked on the Hill years ago, and staffers were loyal to members. Is the loyalty still there?
DELAY: Well, I’m really disappointed in Tony Rudy. As you know, in a leadership office it’s a whirlwind all day long—and I manage my office by trusting the people that I hired and put them in positions of responsibility.
And evidently they mishandled that trust and I’m very disappointed about it.
MATTHEWS: So if you did something wrong, you weren’t involved in it?
DELAY: Exactly right.
MATTHEWS: How about Michael Scanlon?
DELAY: Listen, this has been going on for 10 years. I’m not stupid. I have lawyers check everything that I do, every decision I do, every idea that I’ve had—I have people check it and make sure that we’re within the law and within the House rules.
So you know, being under scrutiny that I’ve been under 10 years, I would be absolutely the stupidest man in Washington, D.C., to do anything illegal.
MATTHEWS: Did you make some mistakes in hiring people, like Mike Scanlon?
DELAY: Yes, I did.
MATTHEWS: What’s the character problem with these people?
DELAY: I don’t know.
MATTHEWS: Do they just want a big-shot job so they can become lobbyists fast?
DELAY: Well, sometimes money overshadows your judgments, particularly the money that they’re talking about. Power sometimes overloads people’s judgment. But in this case I guess money overloaded it.
MATTHEWS: OK. You’re going to wind up over the next couple of years probably advising new members of Congress. You’re going to be advising them what to do when they come here.
DELAY: I hope so.
MATTHEWS: Whether to bring their wives here, whether to leave them at home. Whether to hire their press secretary or leave him at home.
These kind of—these are Newt Gingrich decisions.
DELAY: That’s what I’ve done for 11 years.
MATTHEWS: What would you advise a new member of the House of Representatives to avoid the problems you’ve had, with all these people who are pointing their finger at you?
I mean, you’ve got to—it’s a reality—it’s happening. You’ve got guys out there pointing the finger to save their butts.
DELAY: Well, my advice is know what you believe in, stand up for what you believe in, and be honest and honorable about it.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me ask you about impeachment, because you were the ramrod. You accomplished what the Senate didn’t accomplish. The Senate Republicans couldn’t get their act together one way or the other. You had Arlen Specter who had the Scottish verdict—we don’t know what that is, even now.
You had a House that was committed to the impeachment of Bill Clinton for acts of obstruction of justice and perjury, and you had it figured out. And you got a majority to do it. After all the bad election results in 1998, you still got it done. Are you glad?
DELAY: I’m very glad. The president lied under oath.
MATTHEWS: His wife may be the next president.
DELAY: And there should be consequences for that. And he got his consequences, and it’s impeachment.
MATTHEWS: Do you think his wife should bear some blame for making accusations like it was all a vast right wing conspiracy when her husband was caught lying?
DELAY: I would imagine in the upcoming presidential election, a lot of that will be discussed.
MATTHEWS: Will you discuss it?
DELAY: Certainly I will. I hope I—I mean, I was there, I know the history of it, and I hope I’m part of the next presidential election.
MATTHEWS: You know what blowback is in espionage? It’s when something weird happens, when you were doing one thing and all of a sudden something comes back at you, and you try to deal with it.
Do you think the fact that you were so successful with impeaching Bill Clinton, even though he wasn’t convicted by the Senate, that the Democrats, like people like Conyers, some of the red hots, won’t be coming back and trying to do it in that same spirit, and saying, “You did it to us, we’ll do it to Bush”?
DELAY: I think they’ll do it because they don’t really care about the law, they care about politics and power. What we cared about was the rule of law.
The president of the United States had broken the law, and he should suffer consequences for that.
MATTHEWS: George Bush, in handling the NSA surveillance of data coming in and out of the country through Al Qaida or whatever, was obeying the law?
DELAY: As far as I’m concerned it is. Until somebody’s proven differently, it was obeying the law. It’s not an impeachable offense, that’s for sure, it’s a political thing that the Congress needs to address.
MATTHEWS: You’re a Christian.
MATTHEWS: A true believer.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that in the general judgment, when people are all called before God, that Democrats will be found one thing and Republicans will not?
MATTHEWS: Because the way you talk sounds like there’s a moral difference between Republicans and Democrats in your profession of politics.
DELAY: That’s not for me to judge.
MATTHEWS: But you said Democrats are only interested in this, only interested in that. You discuss them as if they’re morally inferior to you.
DELAY: No. That’s not for me to judge.
DELAY: I have enough time worrying about my own...
MATTHEWS: OK. Do you think that Republicans you’ve met in your career are more moral than Democrats?
DELAY: No, I don’t. There are some strong moral Democrats.
MATTHEWS: Name one.
DELAY: Barney Frank.
MATTHEWS: Barney Frank.
DELAY: I respect him greatly. He’s a true liberal, and he’s unashamedly a liberal. And I respect that.
It’s the people that try to hide who they are that I don’t respect, people that are drunk with power...
MATTHEWS: So you can accept a guy with a lifestyle like Barney Frank and still accept him as a good person?
DELAY: Absolutely. I don’t agree with homosexuality, but I still—
I am commanded to love Barney Frank. I’m not going to judge him.
MATTHEWS: We’ll be right back with Congressman Tom DeLay, who announced he’s going to resign from the Congress.
This is “Hardball,” only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We’re back with former House majority leader Tom DeLay.
Mr. DeLay, let me ask you, when are you going to leave Congress? When are you quitting?
DELAY: That’ll depend on the congressional schedule.
There are some things I’d like to clean up that are important to my district and I want to try to get that done before I...
MATTHEWS: Why are you giving up your seat in the House, which you worked so hard for?
I can understand why you’re not running again because the poll data, but why don’t you stick it out and take the pay right through to January?
DELAY: Mainly because I’m—I can’t be guaranteed that I can win.
MATTHEWS: No. But why don’t you stay in the House all the way through this term?
DELAY: To stay in the House?
Because I need to get out and help with the election and I need to get on with my life.
MATTHEWS: But can’t you do more if you have access to the House floor?
DELAY: Not outside of leadership. That’s been quite evident to me in the last couple of months that, you know, being a rank and file member, I’m not able to accomplish the things that I have been able to accomplish.
And I can accomplish those things outside of Congress, because I enjoy great support of the members and I can speak my mind and I can strategize, and that’s why I call this a victory.
I’m going to get a Republican in the 22nd District, and the Democrats are going to see me at work again, doing the things that I do best.
MATTHEWS: Would you say that’s a factor that every time you’ve been in leadership, you can’t come back to the House and be a regular member, it doesn’t work?
DELAY: It just doesn’t work.
It’s not good for the present leadership. Members use you outside of leadership to gripe about the present leadership. And you’ve got—it just doesn’t work.
MATTHEWS: There’s some people who have come out of the House of Representatives—and I used to work up there, as you know—and they seem to be doing OK, in fact pretty well.
Newt Gingrich has become a presidential candidate potentially, right?
MATTHEWS: He’s out there, so he got through his problems.
Tony Coelho resigned with a problem, you know, the junk bond thing and not wanting investigations of him—he’s doing quite well, is Tony.
Vin Weber left on his own and he’s doing well. Livingston’s out there doing well.
Are they your role models of saying you have a life beyond the House in Washington?
And what are you thinking of when you imagine yourself as a former leader in Washington, trying to influence legislation, influence thinking? Who’s done this well that you think you’d like to do it like that?
DELAY: All of those names have done it well, and they’re still involved in policy and the direction of the country.
I think I can do it differently. I have been a different kind of leader.
Growing that vote that we were talking about earlier was my invention;
ROMP was my invention; STOMP was my invention.
I think I have talents that others don’t have.
MATTHEWS: I’m sorry, we’re running out of time, Congressman. When we were down there interviewing you a couple months ago, when you were still feisty you were going to beat the polling and take on this guy and knock him out, you were pretty proud of this thing you had down there for foster kids.
MATTHEWS: Tell me more about it.
DELAY: Well, my wife and I were foster parents. My wife works a lot with abused and neglected children. This month, by the way, is Abused and Neglected Children Awareness Month. And from that, we saw how awful the present foster care system is; it can’t raise children.
And we came up with a model—mostly my wife came up with a model—in how we can give foster children a safe, permanent home, faith-based, and you can raise children—and making sure that the best interest of the child is paramount.
And we’ve built a subdivision of homes. We have...
MATTHEWS: I was there.
DELAY: We have eight now.
MATTHEWS: Can you run that from up here in Alexandria, Virginia?
DELAY: Sure. My job is to raise the money. And we need to build another 24 homes to complete it. And once we’ve completed the model, and if our model works, we hope to take the model around.
And I hope the next model will be built right here in Washington, D.C.
MATTHEWS: We’ll be right back with Tom DeLay. One more segment with the congressman. You’re watching “Hardball,” only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to “Hardball.”
Congressman DeLay, we only have two minutes. What are you going to do now?
DELAY: Well, I’m going to do my job for this week. Next two weeks is the Easter break, and I’ll go and sit down again and make some new decisions about what I can do in the future, and how I can do it?
I hope I can play a round of golf in the next two weeks, because I haven’t played golf in six months.
MATTHEWS: What’s your handicap?
DELAY: Right now, it’s probably about a 12. My handicap is politics.
MATTHEWS: That’s pretty good.
Let me tell you about handicaps and opportunities. Some former members of Congress have become pretty good commentators, people like Pat Buchanan, they’ve become—former candidates have become pretty good commentator. Newt Gingrich is in this business.
DELAY: Not many Texans.
MATTHEWS: Do you think you have an accent problem?
MATTHEWS: No. You have Kasich working over at Fox and Scarborough is here. What do you think?
DELAY: No, I’m not very articulate. I don’t think I could do your job at all.
MATTHEWS: I don’t want you to do my job.
Do you think that the biggest case for the Republicans this fall in holding the Congress is what the Democrats would do if they got in?
MATTHEWS: What’s the biggest case?
DELAY: The biggest case is what we’ll do for the future of this country. And we’ve got to talk about bold initiatives, that people—we have the credibility, because we’ve shown that we will do it.
We’ve got to talk about getting rid of the tax code. We have to talk about holding the judiciary accountable. We have to talk about winning the war and protecting our borders and all those kinds of things.
And we have to do it in each district, giving each district a choice between the liberal Democrat and the conservative Republican, and do it by building a grassroots election in each district, like we used to do.
MATTHEWS: Are you going to campaign nationwide for the Republican majority?
DELAY: I hope so. I hope I can get involved in specific districts. We’ve shown a model in my primary of what needs to be done, and I hope to take that model and use it in other campaigns.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thanks for coming on today.
DELAY: My pleasure.
MATTHEWS: It’s a big day. Thank you very much, Tom DeLay, who is retiring as a member of the United States Congress.
When we return, reaction to Tom DeLay’s decision to resign Congress.
This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. For more on Tom DeLay’s decision to resign from Congress, we turn to former Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari and HARDBALL political pro Bob Shrum.
Bob Shrum, this does remind me of the decisions made in the past by people like Tony Coelho to get out of the way so that their party doesn’t suffer when they go down.
BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I think the difference with this is that in the midterm elections, we’re going to see a referendum on George Bush and the war on Iraq, which I think is going to hurt the Republicans badly.
And secondly, Tom DeLay is the tip of the iceberg here. He’s the father of the culture of corruption. But his simply getting out of the way is not going to remove this as an issue. Richard Nixon resigned in August of 1974 and Republicans got killed in those ‘74 elections.
You know, I don’t often quote Newt Gingrich, but he says the Republican Party has lost its way and even if I didn’t agree with that way, the truth is they came in 1994 to make change and they stayed to make a killing, which culminated in a criminal enterprise apparently being run in the majority leader’s office.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make that Susan?
SUSAN MOLINARI ®, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: I mean, obviously that’s not the truth and that’s just the kind of political mud slinging that gets people like Tom DeLay to say, “You know what, you can’t have a legitimate argument anymore in this town. You can’t talk about ideas and ideals and the Democrats never want to talk about what their vision is for the future. So you know what, if you’re going to keep going to these ridiculous allegations brought on, you know, by Ronnie Earle and distract from the fact that the Democrats can’t talk about anything, about their vision, about where they want to take us tomorrow, let me get out of the way so people see the Democrat Party for where they really are today.”
That’s why Tom DeLay did this and it’s clearly working.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to you, Bob, on that point. When Tom DeLay was here a few moments ago, he said—now he doesn’t know, but he said that the Democrats, once they get the subpoena power, if they get control of the House of Representatives, with that comes the subpoena power.
He predicted that the House leadership, people like John Conyers of Judiciary Committee, Henry Waxman on government reform—if they have the power of subpoena, they’ll use it. They’ll move for impeachment at least, or censure. They will use it in a very strong handed way. Do you believe that?
SHRUM: I think that’s what Tom DeLay wants. He wants to distract from the issues.
MATTHEWS: Well do you believe that’s what’s going to happen?
SHRUM: No, of course I don’t believe that’s what’s going to happen.
And when I said that on this show last week, I got a letter from an angry Democrat saying we ought to be all out for impeachment. I think that first of all if we succeeded, we’d have Dick Cheney as president and secondly the attempt to do it would do us great damage.
MATTHEWS: So you—if you were advising members of the Congress, if the Democrats do manage to squeak it out by a seat or two, stay of the impeachment band wagon.
SHRUM: Yes, listen, I want to censure the president. I want to censure him in the mid terms. And by the way, Susan, you didn’t respond to any of the things I said.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean you want to censure him?
SHRUM: I want to censure him in the midterms by him losing the House and losing the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Oh, but you mean in lowercase censure, not use the procedure censure.
SHRUM: And you know, Susan says, “Well, these are just mud slinging charges.” They’ve been brought by a federal prosecutor.
MATTHEWS: What charges have been brought?
SHRUM: There was a criminal enterprise being conducted in Mr. DeLay’s office.
MATTHEWS: What charges are you talking about, Bob, and then Susan respond. What charge are you talking about involving DeLay?
SHRUM: That in his office, there was a criminal conspiracy that obviously involved two of his aides and maybe a third and his best defense is that he hasn’t yet been told he’s the target.
MOLINARI: So no federal prosecution, no charges have been brought against Congressman DeLay. I mean, this is a pretty serious—I think a lot of people watch Chris Matthews’ show and HARDBALL. I think people, albeit it with partisanship, the truth.
There have been no charges. No one has even alleged that Tom DeLay is the target of this investigation. But as long as Democrats keep doing this, Tom DeLay can’t be an effective member of Congress. He cannot effectively preach his high ideas and run for re-election in the United States. And I think it’s sad that we’ve gotten to this point.
This is where we are. Tom DeLay took the ultimate act of courage and did what he needed to do to save the seat for the party and help the elections in the midterm, the Republicans in the midterms.
SHRUM: That comes with ill grace from someone who participated in smearing Bill Clinton on a whole set of charges. Look, the federal prosecutor said...
MOLINARI: No one ever said Bill Clinton was charged with something when he wasn’t.
SHRUM: Susan, I let you finish. The federal prosecutors have said people operating at the top level in Tom DeLay’s office were running a criminal conspiracy. He was the father of the K Street project to take over lobbying in Washington. That’s what he’s going to be remembered for. He assassinated his own character and he left the Republican Party in terrible shape going into this election.
MOLINARI: Well he made the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: Bob, do you believe he will be convicted of any charge?
SHRUM: I have no idea, but I do know this. He won’t be campaigning for Republicans in the fall, because they’re not going to want him. He may want to go out there, they’re not going to invite him. He’s going to be the flying Dutchman of American Republicans.
MOLINARI: It’s nice to know that in a day when a colleague announces that he is resigning, that it’s dealt with such grace.
SHRUM: He wasn’t my colleague, Susan, and I all along thought he was one of the worst members of Congress.
MOLINARI: You know, Bob, he’s a political warrior and he stood up for what he believed in. He fought hard for what he believed in and he’s going to continue to fight. He’s not going to go away. You’re just not going to be—he’s not going to be around to kick around during this next election cycle, but what he believes in and as effective a politician he is, he’ll be there.
MATTHEWS: OK, Bob, back off for just a second. I hear all your charges and I think you’ve been reasonably solid on this stuff. And I want to ask you, Susan, why is Tom DeLay the target of so many criminal investigations? Why does he have Mike Scanlon out there being squeezed by prosecutors? Why does he have this guy Rudy out there, another former aide, Tony Rudy, being squeezed by prosecutor? Why is Abramoff, a close associate, the golf playing lobbyist buddy, why are they all now known to be cooperating with prosecutors, if the guy—if they have nothing to offer the prosecutors?
MOLINARI: We don’t know that they’re talking about Tom DeLay. I mean, in fact, I would—you know, I don’t think they are talking about Tom DeLay.
MATTHEWS: But Bob makes the point that part of the pleading by this guy Rudy, maybe not by Scanlon, I’m not sure, is that there was criminal activity in the office.
MOLINARI: But not with Tom DeLay, no one has heard him say concerning Congressman DeLay.
MATTHEWS: Isn’t that close to the bone though, to have a charge involving criminal activity in your office and saying you aren’t part of it? I mean, that’s his defense.
MOLINARI: Is it possible that you can be the minority leader or the majority whip and not know what’s going on sometimes between some of your - - the people who work for you, because you’re out there counting votes or, you know, fighting to balance the budget or reduce taxes?
You know what, I do believe that that’s possible and I know that there’s one reason why Tom DeLay announced that he is leaving the United States Congress, because he’s a friend of mine, because I’ve talked to him almost on a daily basis through this very difficult decision.
And that’s because he wants to save this seat for the Republican Party and get out of the way so the Republicans maintain the majority, because he think that’s what’s good for America, end of story.
MATTHEWS: It’s all about the majority?
MOLINARI: It’s all about the majority, it’s all about the Republican Party, it’s all about saving this seat. There’s no conspiracy here.
MATTHEWS: Bob, can you promise if the Democrats win the majority of House seats this fall, they get to the 218 magic number, that they will not use the subpoena power to go of after the president?
SHRUM: I think they will use the subpoena power and should use it to investigate a whole range of issues. Why did we have energy lobbyists sitting in the White House with the vice president of the United States rewriting environmental regulations? How did we get to a situation now...
MATTHEWS: ... Well, the court already ruled on that one, Bob. I agree with you, but the court already ruled on that and said he was within his rights to do that.
SHRUM: No, no, but Congress has the independent power to investigate that. Congress also has the power to investigate in a serious way, which has never been done, the lies that were told to get us into the Iraq war.
MATTHEWS: OK, well, that’s a subject that may not be judicial.
Anyway, thank you very much Bob Shrum and Susan Molinari.
When we return, Democrats hope Tom DeLay’s legal problems will help their political fortune. So is Tom DeLay’s resignation good or bad for the Democrats? I’ll ask one of their top leaders in the House, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who’s running the races for a Democratic victory this fall.
And for more on Tom DeLay stepping down, check out our Web site, hardball.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
For the Democratic reaction to Tom DeLay’s resignation today, Democratic Congressman, Congressional campaign committee member—by the way, he’s the chairman who gets all the Democrats winning this fall—Rahm Emanuel of Illinois. Thank you, Congressman.
REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel you don’t have Tom DeLay to kick around anymore?
EMANUEL: Look, the whole campaign is about change versus the status quo and the philosophy that Tom DeLay represented is still in play here. Let me ask you a question. If their energy bill was up, do you think big oil would get their interest swayed right here in Congress?
MATTHEWS: Well ...
EMANUEL: You asked me a question. Let me finish it. We have the issue of direct negotiations for pharmaceutical prices. Pharmaceutical companies don’t want that. We can’t get a vote up or down on that legislation. We can’t pass it. Can’t deal with it. Why? Because the pharmaceutical industries have their sway here.
That philosophy pervades, and the American people know this election is whether you want to stay that course, or whether you want to change. And that’s what it’s going to be about. It’s not just about his personality. His philosophy is the operative philosophy of the Republican Party.
That’s why they voted him the majority leader for the last six times and when he got indicted, they said he should still serve as the power leadership, and there’s a vote that exists on that.
MATTHEWS: Are the Democrats free of those kinds of restraints? You don’t have interest groups you have to look out for?
EMANUEL: Sure we have—look, as I say ...
MATTHEWS: Trial layers?
EMANUEL: Right, we have ...
MATTHEWS: You’re not afraid of the trial lawyers?
EMANUEL: But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
MATTHEWS: You’re talking about special interest power over political parties, is what you raised.
MATTHEWS: That’s right. And you’re talking about somebody who is clearly on repeated issues, spoken up for his district and spoken up against what are called, quote, unquote, “powerful interests” in his own party.
EMANUEL: OK, number two is back in May, over a year ago, when I introduced with Senator Feingold and Congressman Marty Meehan comprehensive lobbying reform, the Republican leadership and Tom DeLay specifically said we would never do that. That’s not what we’re going to do, some phony reform like that. Well, here we are.
MATTHEWS: Are you saying that Democrats are cleaner than Republicans?
EMANUEL: And a year later, the majority—and a year later—no, I’m saying we have an institutional problem that require an institutional solution and the Republican Party is trying to figure out everything they can to not pass comprehensive lobbying reform.
MATTHEWS: Of the 435 members of Congress, men and women, are the Democrats cleaner than the Republicans? I’m asking the same question I put to him because these charges you make about the other party sound like moral indictments.
EMANUEL: rMDNM_No, I talk about the type of philosophy they did. And I saw, if you disagree with me about the oil and gas companies, Chris, and you disagree with me about the prescription companies, prescription drug companies and you disagree with me about the HMOs and their influence on the policy and what happens here—the last six years, under this Congress, in fact, those interests have had their voices heard over the voices of the American people. And if you think that want ain’t true, go to the scoreboard and look at the votes.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the president’s remarks last night. Tom DeLay was the ramrod, the hammer that got through most of his legislation and all the president could say last night was the following:
“I had a talk last night”—he said it today—“on my way back from the ball game with Congressman DeLay”—not Tom. “He informed me of his decision.”
Well, that’s a fact he didn’t have to tell us. “My reaction was it had to have been a very difficult decision for someone who loved representing his district in the state of Texas. I wished him all the very best, and I know he’s looked forward to”—pause—“he’s looking to the future.” OK, not one good word for the guy. Why not? It’s his political ramrod?
EMANUEL: Let me ask you this. When Tom DeLay forced the entire United States Congress to come back and deal with Terri Schiavo, the president of the United States flew back from Texas to make sure he could sign that legislation. I’m sure they had a longer conversation then than those few short words.
MATTHEWS: Why is the president disowning him?
EMANUEL: Well, I can only interpret. I’m not the president of the United States, you know, but everything that Tom DeLay did on the legislation we talked about, he didn’t do alone. He did it as that is the governing philosophy of their party.
And the president of the United States relied on him to get his agenda through and Tom DeLay, the president of the United States and the Republican Party have been partners so they’ve got to view it right here. That’s why this election is going to be about whether you want stay the course or change.
EMANUEL: You need 15 seats to win control of the House. I’ve looked at the president’s approval numbers. People in the House, your colleagues have told me—at least one of them in particular has told me that he believes that elections in midterms are really about an up or down vote on the president’s approval.
If the president’s approval number keeps going down—it’s down to 39 in the “Time” magazine poll and it has been down consistently now for a couple of years. Does that pretty much ...
MATTHEWS: Well, the one poll it’s relentlessly downward. Do you think that your party will win the Congressional elections this fall?
EMANUEL: Well, first of all ...
MATTHEWS: Just because of the lay of the land, the president’s approval?
EMANUEL: Right. Let me do one piece of history. Clearly, that’s a big piece of what happens in a midterm election. In 1974 ...
MATTHEWS: The big piece being how people feel about the president.
EMANUEL: Right, or the majority party, yes, but the president of the United States being—symbolizing the majority perspective at that time.
In 1974, the Watergate scandal, there was a reaction to the majority Republican Party ala the White House. 1982, midterm, Ronald Regan recession. You were there. 1986, beginning of the Iran-Contra, social security, Democrats take back the Senate. ‘94 -- I lived through that.
It was a reaction to the Democrats and the mistakes on the health care, et cetera. ‘98, Republican majority in Congress wanted to continue with the investigations. The president of the United States said no we’re going to move on to the country’s business. For the first time in the sixth year of his presidency, the party in power gained seats.
MATTHEWS: So it’s about the party in power. It’s not the president.
EMANUEL: Right. That’s right. Right.
MATTHEWS: So therefore, this seat in Texas that Tom DeLay is not going to contest, are you going to get that seat?
EMANUEL: I feel very strong that ...
MATTHEWS: Nick Lampson can win the seat?
EMANUEL: Nick Lampson, first of all, is the David that slayed Goliath. Second of all, he represented a third of that district when he had Beaumont, and he lived in the other part. And third, he’s raised the resources to wage an effective campaign, and Nick Lampson has done a great job ...
MATTHEWS: I hear the lines that David had slayed Goliath, right?
EMANUEL: That’s right.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who’s leader of the Democrats running for office this time. It’s time for the “ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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