Guests: Duncan Hunter, Marty Meehan, Bill Frist, Al Sharpton, Ed Rogers, Tom Ridge, Joseph Casus, John Jodka, Carolyn Jodka
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Scoundrel time. Patriotism has been called the last refuge of a scoundrel. Is this why Republican political leaders are forcing members to vote on whether the debatable decision to invade Iraq is central to the post 9-11 war on terrorism?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Political warfare erupted in the House today as members passionately debated the war in Iraq. At the epicenter, a non-binding resolution that would tie the war in Iraq to the fight against terrorism. The president argues they‘re one and the same. His critics charge the Republicans are just playing a political game of dare, trying to get Democrats to oppose the war on terrorism.
So is it truth or dare? In a moment, we‘ll talk to two leaders of the fight in the House, and later, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist weighs in.
Plus, reports that FEMA wasted over a billion dollars of your tax money on such outrageous things as sex change operations and Girls Gone Wild videos. What‘s going on with that agency? We‘re going to talk to former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
And we‘ll talk to the parents of a Marine being held in solitary confinement. But is he really being used as a political pawn?
First, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on the House‘s dramatic debate today over the war in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House will be in order.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than five months before the congressional elections, House Republicans today dared Democrats to vote against a resolution that connects the debatable decision three years ago to go to war in Iraq with the undeniable need to confront terrorism.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT ® SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When our freedom is challenged, Americans do not run.
REP. TOM COLE ® OKLAHOMA: What‘s at stake if Iraq is the war on terror, is whether or not we will be successful. That is the central battlefield of this particular moment.
SHUSTER: But the battle in the House is pure politics. And with Republicans refusing to allow alternative resolutions or amendments focused strictly on Iraq, Democrats hit back hard.
REP. TOM LANTOS (D) CALIFORNIA: The Republican leadership has turned what could have been a serious debate into a charade.
REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D) MASSACHUSETTS: The Republican-led Congress is failing to address the war in Iraq in the serious manner it deserves, and has instead chosen to create this sham of a debate.
REP. RON KIND (D) WISCONSIN: But instead of offering a real policy discussion, the Republican majority today offers a political document, just before the fall elections.
SHUSTER: The resolution says the United States will, quote, “prevail in the global war on terror and complete the mission to create a sovereign free, secure and united Iraq.” Nobody wants to lose the war on terror, but by attaching the concept of a global victory to the more controversial issue of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for the long haul, Republicans were able to ask—
REP. CHARLIE NORWOOD ® GEORGIA: Do we have the will to win? Many, not all, of the other side the aisle lack the will to win. The American people needs to know precisely who they are.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D) TEXAS: Administration and aptness is falsely attached to a resolution honoring our troops. Well, you know, Americans are increasingly realizing there‘s a better way to honor our troops than sending more of them off to be killed.
SHUSTER: Regardless of the process in the House, much of the focus was centered on the Iraq policies of the Bush administration. Most Republicans defended continuing the occupation.
REP. PHIL CINGREY ® GEORGIA: There‘s only one option, Mr. Speaker, and that is to stand by the Iraqis until their government, police, military, can ensure the security of their own nation. Then, and only then, will be the appropriate time to disengage.
SHUSTER: Many Democrats attacked the changing reasons for the war.
REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D) OREGON: First, it was weapons of mass destruction, then it was about 9-11, then it was about building democracy.
SHUSTER: And accused Republicans of propaganda.
DEFAZIO: They mentioned al Zarqawi. The Pentagon wanted to take out al Zarqawi, they had him in their sights before the war in Iraq, and the Bush White House and Dick Cheney wouldn‘t let them because it would hurt recruitment for the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq, where al Qaeda did not exist.
SHUSTER: The emotional debate on the House floor came just as the Pentagon announced the death of more U.S. troops in Iraq, bringing the total killed to 2,500. The sectarian tensions between Iraqis also continued today, and one incident was particularly horrifying. Near the town of Baqubah, 10 Iraqi workers were killed when gunmen stopped a minibus, forced the Iraqis off and shot them all execution-style.
These are working people, this man wailed. This just isn‘t fair.
Back in Washington, the debate in the House went through the afternoon, with arguments over whether Iraq is worth the U.S. cost and whether the debate is undermining U.S. troops.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ® CALIFORNIA: Let‘s give the First Marine Division that‘s out there in that tough province—in the al Anbar province out in Fallujah the same support we gave them when they were fighting Guadalcanal.
REP. JOHN LARSON (D) CONNECTICUT: Why don‘t you criticize General Batiste, General Zinni, General Van Riper. All of these generals—are they all wrong, too, for speaking truth to power?
SHUSTER (on camera): Against all of this, of course, are the coming November elections, and by linking Iraq to the universally-supported war on terror, Republicans may be putting Democrats in a no-win situation. A yea vote on the resolution ties Democrats to Bush Iraq policies down the line. A vote against the resolution makes the Democrats vulnerable to Republican charges that the Democrats are on the side of terrorists.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David.
Republican Duncan Hunter is the chairman the House Armed Services Committee. He‘s from California. And Marty Meehan‘s a member of the committee, that same committee, and a top Democrat on the Terrorism Subcommittee.
Gentlemen, starting with the chairman, Mr. Hunter: Congressman, why do you tie together the war on terrorism, which everybody supports, with the war in Iraq, which is so controversial?
HUNTER: Well, I think you can‘t separate them, and I think that‘s what we did earlier, when we had the—the Marines were blown up in Beirut. We took no action, when the Cole was blown up, we took no action, when the North African embassies were blown up, we threw a few ceremonial cruise missiles at a drugstore. And finally, after 9-11, we took action, and the facts are that, if we can build Iraq into a—not an enemy, but a friend of the United States, with a modicum of freedom, that won‘t be a springboard for terrorism over the next 10, 20, 30 years—that‘s an enormous advantage to future generations of Americans. You can‘t put that on a bumper strip, Chris, but there‘s a lot at stake in Iraq. And clearly Mr. Zarqawi thought that Iraq was a centerpiece for terrorism, and he said, before we took him out, that he intended to bring terrorism to the gates of Washington and London.
So clearly, the al Qaeda in Iraq feel that certainly Iraq is the centerpiece of this war against terror.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Meehan, your response?
REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Al Qaeda wasn‘t even in Iraq before we invaded Iraq.
HUNTER: Zarqawi was.
MEEHAN: The war against terror does not give us an excuse, Chris, so that we can go in and invade any country we want, we can say they have weapons of mass destruction, and then have the evidence show that they didn‘t have weapons of mass destruction.
The fact is, the war against terror has been hurt by our invasion of Iraq. The recruitment of al Qaeda has been sky rocketing. They‘ve been able to recruit all over the world as a result of it. And to merge the two as if they‘re the same thing is just wrong. The 9-11 Commission was pretty clear, that 9-11 did not happen because of Saddam Hussein, nor did it have anything to do with why we invaded Iraq. And I think, to have a debate today, and merge the two issues is wrong.
Secondly, if you‘re going of to a debate, you should at least give other options, so that members can vote for policy that they believe is the right policy.
MATTHEWS: Did we go to Iraq because of the war on terrorism, or because we had an outstanding grief with them—grievance—because they had broken the rules established after the first Gulf War? What was the main reason for the attack by the coalition forces on Iraq, Mr. Hunter?
HUNTER: Well, Chris, before we took that attack, before we moved into Iraq, I held several special briefings and invited everybody in the House of Representatives, Democrat and Republican, to come hear closed briefings from the CIA, from the DIA, from our intelligence agencies, with no people from the White House present, to listen themselves to raw evidence about what Saddam Hussein was and what he had. Now, that was to make sure that people went in with an educated vote. So what Marty is skipping over is the fact that Congress took a vote to move into Iraq, to allow the president to take this action.
This wasn‘t a precipitous action by the administration with a resistive Congress. This was a vote that was done, including—which involved many members of the Democrat party and Republican party. The fact is, we‘re there, the fact is we‘ve just taken down Mr. Zarqawi, who was a very important part of al Qaeda. The fact is that we‘re standing up the Iraqi military, and we have a free government which is in place—fragile but free—and we‘ve got an opportunity to turn this key country, in a very key part of the world, into a friend, not an enemy and to have a location there and have a strategic position there in terms of having an ally, which will be very important for future generations.
This is an important part of the war against terror, and I think this is a key difference between Republicans and Democrats. After 9-11, Republicans understood that unless we change the world, the world is going to change us. The Democrats are more content to watch the border, sit back, and perhaps absorb that next shot.
MEEHAN: That‘s just ridiculous. Number one, we should redouble our efforts in Afghanistan. Not only have we been unable to capture Osama bin Laden, but the fact is that the Taliban is reconstituting, and al Qaeda. The attacks against our troops are getting tougher and tougher. General McCaffrey testified—or, was before members of Congress saying that our military is stretched to the limit.
We‘re losing a battalion a month if you look at the injuries and the deaths, and all Democrats want to do is have a debate. All Democrats want to do is have some oversight and to bring up a vote that‘s three and a half years old and say that say somehow that excuses this misguided policy is just not correct.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Hunter, Mr. Chairman, let me as you about these two NBC polls we just got in, how you think this vote fits into that. A majority of people, 53 percent, think now that attacking Iraq was a mistake by the United States. Fifty four percent, one point more, believes that they‘re going to vote for a Democrat or Republican who says we should get out of there within a year. How can the Congress vote affirmatively in the opposite direction of public opinion at this point on both issues?
HUNTER: Well, first, Chris, I think if you look at these votes or these polls and the wording of the polls and the subtlety of the wording, I haven‘t seen those polls, but it can be very, very telling. You have polls that are up, polls that are down and I know this sounds funny with a few months to go before this election, but I think we have to look at this operation in a bipartisan way and in a non-political way. I don‘t care where the polls are.
MATTHEWS: So this is not a political vote?
HUNTER: For me it‘s not.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t believe this is an attempt to mouse trap the Democrats and force them to say heads I win, tails you lose?
MATTHEWS: Mr. Meehan has to decide whether to vote in support of the president‘s policies across the board and say the president has been right about everything or he‘s branded as a traitor.
HUNTER: Chris, let‘s look at what this is. The Democrat party asked the Republican leadership for a long debate on Iraq. They asked, my understanding is they asked that of Mr. Boehner a number of times, he finally committed and said OK. We‘re going to have a long debate on Iraq. The way you do that is by bringing up a resolution, bring up the question and you have the debate. We‘re having the debate right now. We‘re having hours and hours of debate. I think that‘s excellent. It‘s done at the request of the Democrats.
MEEHAN: But what are we debating? But what are we debating. We‘re debating a document that basically the PR, the political people, the spin people got together to come up with and said let‘s not vote on Iraq up or down. Let‘s not give the Democrats an option to vote on, for example whether or not this should be oversight of the billions of dollars that have been wasted and actually there is corruption.
Let‘s not have a debate about the six or seven generals who say we really need a strategy that brings Americans in the background and puts Iraqis up front. Instead, they put this political document together, ignoring, painting a rosy picture in Iraq, where in Baghdad, there‘s still only 3.9 hours of electricity. Attacks against our troops have been higher this year, every month, than any other period of time in Iraq. Things are getting worse in Iraq and the American people want to debate about good policy.
MATTHEWS: I‘m going to ask you both ...
HUNTER: We‘re having that debate on the House floor right now. Everything that you‘ve just said is being said by your fellow Democrats on the House floor, so you‘re having the debate.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you gentlemen both to look forward not back for a second here. A lot of Americans are worried about Iran and what we‘re going to do over there, if anything. Does the president have to come to Congress for approval in advance if he‘s planning to attack Iran‘s nuclear potential? Congressman Hunter?
HUNTER: I think absent an absolute emergency, he‘s got to have a heavy consultation with Congress.
MATTHEWS: Consultation or does he need congressional approval like he did with Iraq?
HUNTER: Not if you have an emergency.
MATTHEWS: No, no, let‘s just talk reality. If he sees a nuclear threat from over there, because they‘re building something, can he go ahead as commander-in-chief and just attack and let you fellows deal with it in the morning, can he do that?
HUNTER: If it‘s not time urgent, he should consult under the War Power Act. If it‘s time urgent ...
MATTHEWS: ... should he get approval ...
HUNTER: ... He can do it without approval.
MATTHEWS: Does he need prior approval like he thought he needed with Iraq?
HUNTER: Up to a certain period of time, under the War Powers Act, he doesn‘t have to, but if it‘s not time urgent, he certainly will.
MATTHEWS: Are you going to be up or down on this, should the president come to Congress before he goes to Iran?
MEEHAN: He absolutely should and not only that, Chris, he won‘t be given the leeway he was with the Iraq resolution. The Iraq resolution was not a war resolution. It was a resolution that said A: that we were going to give the inspectors more time, B: that we were going to use the resolution to get the rest of the U.N. Security Council behind us, and C: only as a last resort would he use, this is a new situation.
MATTHEWS: Many people believe that it was a blank check. And he filled it out and you guys gave him a blank, not you, but the majority, a lot of Democrats gave the president, because they were intimidated and afraid to look like they weren‘t playing ball with the president on this issue. They gave him a big blank check and he filled it out and it said war on it. That was his call.
HUNTER: Chris, I had full briefings with all agencies available for all members, Republican and Democrat. We had hundreds of them come to these things, so they would make an educated vote, and if in fact, in Iran, a nuclear system was being moved into Iran, we would expect the president to act immediately.
MATTHEWS: Without approval by Congress?
HUNTER: If it‘s something that‘s a matter of hours or minutes, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Congressman Duncan Hunter and Congressman Marty Meehan.
Coming up, will a louder debate on the war send conservatives to the polls, will it get them to vote in November? We‘ll ask Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
And later, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge plays HARDBALL. You‘re watching it on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re joined right now by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Senator Frist, over in the other body tonight and tomorrow they‘re going to be debating and voting on this resolution, which basically says that you should support the president on the issue of the whole war on terrorism and also on Iraq. One big question, are you for him or against him. Is that a fair test of national sentiment?
SEN. BILL FRIST ®, TENNESSEE: You know, I think it is. In both the debate in the House, which I‘ve not been following very much, but the debate this afternoon in the Senate, where we actually had the amendment, the Kerry amendment, come to the floor, voted upon, and the vote was 93-6 about cutting and running in Iraq.
I think it does help the American people crystallize where they are, by looking where their representatives are. So the cut and run amendment came to the floor of the Senate about two hours ago and in terms of tabling it, overwhelmingly 93-6 is the support of staying the course there and supporting that democracy until they can take over their own security.
MATTHEWS: But you look at polls, the majority of the American people believe going to Iraq was a mistake at this point.
FRIST: I think what we‘ve seen in the last two weeks, with taking out Zarqawi, the elimination of Zarqawi, with the fact that we do have that unity government now up and running, and just a week ago it was not, with a prime minister who stepped forward about three weeks ago, on top of those three free elections over the last year and a half, do show a very positive, constructive movement.
So by having the debate on the floor in the House, both all through today and tomorrow, by doing a parallel debate on the floor of the Senate, coupled with the president who spoke very directly to the American people in his press conference yesterday, talked in a bicameral, that is House and Senate, and bipartisan way to our body yesterday at the White House, does show movement and better understanding of what this war is about and the long-term implications of what would happen if we did cut and run.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe the United States can support sustaining 100,000 American troops plus in that part of the world, that that can continue through the next presidency, that we will stick to that policy of trying to create a government over there?
FRIST: Well, with the progress that has been made, Chris—and, again, I think there is some understanding now that wasn‘t around a month ago, with the progress that has been made in terms of the government, which you mentioned, with the progress that is being made in standing up the security forces, both the police as well as the military, the American people understand that we do have to finish what has been started.
And that‘s why these cut and run amendments put forth by Senator Kerry is very useful, because then people begin to say what would happen if we did leave, if we deserted that government, that free, that Democratic, government right now. The instability, the chaos, the fomenting of terrorism there, but also affecting the safety and security of the impact of terrorism right here in the United States.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you explain the latest “Wall Street Journal” poll that just came out? It was announced this morning, basically, that says that 54 percent of the American people are more likely to vote—and these are voters being polled—for a candidate who wants us out of that country of Iraq within the next 12 months.
That‘s after the Zarqawi killing, the bombing, after the president‘s trip to Iraq. After all the fireworks and good news of the last week or two, they still believe that they would rather see a candidate for Congress or Senate who wants to get us out in a year. Why are they still saying that?
FRIST: And that‘s exactly why this debate, all day today, tomorrow, will go into next week and the one on the floor is so important, where legislators can debate before the American people two strategies, and there really are two strategies.
It is this withdrawal by a date certain like what was in the Kerry amendment today or it is persisting, continue to invest, and we did that with a supplemental bill that we passed in the United States Senate yesterday, to fight this war on terrorism and put in whatever it takes.
And the polls, you know—the polls I guess are important, it‘s important to talk about, but what really is important to have a very specific goal, a safe Democratic Iraq, that is a friend in the region, who is an ally of the United States, and that is the goal we will continue to work for.
I think over time—I‘m not sure if it will be next week or next month or six months from now or over the elections, but over time, the American people will understand and will follow. We‘ve got to do a better job messaging it, talking it, explaining it.
MATTHEWS: Let me switch to another country where we might find ourselves in war. That‘s Iran and, of course, everybody worries about their nuclear program there. Since it‘s an ongoing program, the president is watching its progress over there and he‘s working the diplomatic route now, thanks to the help of Condoleezza Rice. He‘s working diplomatically to try to stop them from building a weapon.
If he fails or he sees himself failing in that mission, does he have the right as the authority, as commander-in-chief, to attack those nuclear facilities in Iran if he can? Or does he have to get approval in advance of this act of war from the U.S. Congress?
FRIST: Well, to answer the last part of your question, the president would. Again, I don‘t want to even jump to where you tried to take me there, but would come to the United States Congress. I think what is important is to push diplomacy as far as it can possibly go.
At this juncture, I am fairly optimistic. Nobody really knows what is going to happen, but by clearly working in a multilateral, cooperative way with a number of parties at the table, that will put the maximal amount of pressure on Iran to denounce what is their goal or what we strongly believe is their goal, and that is a uranium enrichment program that would be fed into weapons and nuclear weapons.
And that is the goal. I believe we can be successful. Obviously, all options, including military options, do have to remain on the table.
MATTHEWS: But does Congress have to approve that in advance as an act of war?
FRIST: Well, again, I don‘t want to even be talking about war at this juncture. We‘re a long way, but the discussion would be ongoing between the United States Congress and the president throughout this process.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Tennessee.
Up next, will the president‘s push on Iraq move conservatives to the polls in November? Will this get them voting? Former presidential candidate Al Sharpton and former George H. Walker Bush advisor Ed Rogers are going to be here to talk about that and probably argue about it.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Is the White House P.R. offensive working and will House Republicans push on the war in Iraq help them in November?
Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist and a former advisor to the first President Bush, and the Reverend Al Sharpton is president of the National Action Network and a former Democratic presidential candidate.
Reverend Sharpton, thanks for joining us tonight from New York. What do you make of the president‘s last couple weeks? Do you want to give him some gold stars?
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I think that if I gave him a gold star, it would be for effort. I think that his effort is misdirected. If I were advising the president, the last thing I‘d be trying to push back on the front burner is Iraq.
I think that no matter what he does, that Iraq is a complete political liability to him, to House Republicans. I‘m beginning to think that Karl Rove is becoming stale. I mean, these little trips to Iraq we‘ve seen before.
We saw him when he went on holidays. It‘s like the magician can‘t pull a rabbit out of his hat, so they‘re just redoing what they‘ve already done. It‘s bad when you start imitating yourself in politics.
MATTHEWS: Ed Rogers?
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Hey.
MATTHEWS: The president went over there with that phony turkey a couple of years ago, that was a popular trip and now he‘s done it again. Does it have the same whiz that it had the first time?
ROGERS: Well, it was important and, yes, it had a lot of effect. It had—it was a big adrenaline moment, it was good for momentum, it good for morale, so yes, it‘s good that the president did it.
And then the P.R. offensive, such as there is of it, it‘s better for the president to redouble efforts, to talk about the stakes, talk about the consequences, talk about what‘s involved if Iraq, rather than hide from it.
It‘s a big part of what matters politically right now. It‘s a big part of his legacy, so to get out there and talk about it is infinitely better politically, than to try to hide from it.
MATTHEWS: Was it smart for the president or good for this country that he went up there to Camp David so that he could sneak out the back door basically and get to Iraq without being noticed. Was that the kind of thing we want from a president? I‘m asking.
ROGERS: It was a net plus. It‘s kind of awkward that he does have to do something that‘s somewhat deceptive for security reasons, but it‘s a big net plus that he went and it‘s too bad he had to do it that way, but he did.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Sharpton, or Reverend Sharpton, would you be—if a Democrat or somebody you agreed more frequently with than the president had pulled a whiz number like that, a sort of swashbuckling trip around the world in the middle of the night, would you not be saying, cool guy, interesting move? It shows the drama of this man‘s leadership.
SHARPTON: It shows drama, but you must remember, with all of the questions around Iraq, and all of the premise that was given to the country that now most people don‘t believe, I don‘t know if you want to have that kind of image and that kind of added drama that raises why you did something around this particular issue. Again, we can disagree, Ed and I, on whether it‘s a net plus or a net loss. I think it‘s a net loss. I think it only makes people remember why they don‘t trust the situation in Iraq in the first place and at some levels, he begins to look like he‘s desperately trying to undo something that has been a very bad part of his administration.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go back and talk about Iraq and the vote on the House this week. It‘s coming up tomorrow. The house Democrats are being forced to say they‘d buy the whole thing or be branded as people who are traitors. We‘ll be right back with Ed Rogers and the Reverend Al Sharpton. And later former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge comes here to talk about terrorism, FEMA and decision 2006 which is coming up fast. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Republican strategist Ed Rogers and the Reverend Al Sharpton. I have to comment and ask you guys for comment on the stock market this week. The week is ending with a very good bit of news, back to 11,000. Is that going to help the Republicans this fall?
ROGERS: A healthy stock market helps the Republicans for sure. It‘s a barometer, increases the wealth effect. A stock market above 11,000 is good for Bush, good for the Republicans. Below 11,000 is a bad.
MATTHEWS: Do you accept that Reverend?
SHARPTON: I think he‘s right there. I think it helps the Republicans. I don‘t think that it helps them to the degree that it will turn around what I think is a building momentum against them, but it certainly doesn‘t hurt them. I think it‘s helpful.
MATTHEWS: In that moment of candor, I now ask you to address a fellow New Yorker of recent vintage, Hillary Clinton. She spoke to a big group of Democrats the other day and got booed down, although she tried to overcome it. What is her situation with people who oppose the war like yourself, Reverend?
SHARPTON: I think that she‘s got a very sensitive problem. I think the fact that Hillary Clinton voted for the war, at sometimes appeared to be moving to the right, and sometimes to be even befriending the president, has to remember and I think the other day reminded her, you have to win primaries before you go in the general election. There‘s one problem with having an Oval Office strategy or Rose Garden strategy before you get to the Rose Garden. And that is the fawns in the primary and I think they can stick you.
MATTHEWS: You had that before. You‘ve said that before, Reverend.
You didn‘t just say that now.
SHARPTON: No, I saved it for you, Chris. I saved it for you.
MATTHEWS: Ed Rogers, is it not a smart strategy for Hillary Clinton, or is it a smart strategy for her, to stay so close to the president, who she‘s ready to dethrone if she‘s going to run for president?
ROGERS: Well, I don‘t know if I would characterize her position as close to the president. Having said that, I‘m worried about her getting booed in front of Democratic activists, because I am for her becoming the Democratic nominee. I am a Republican that underestimates Hillary Clinton. We know what a winning Democrat nominee looks like. It looks like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. It doesn‘t look like a liberal northeast senator named Hillary Clinton and so I want her to be the nominee, my second choice is John Kerry.
MATTHEWS: You‘re now admitting that Bill Clinton is a man in the middle?
ROGERS: He‘s what a winning Democrat nominee can look like, and we learned that the hard way.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, do you buy the fact that the Democrats only prayer they have, if you will, of being elected president is to run to the center if not the right?
SHARPTON: But it‘s according to what you define as center and in some cases, I think what some define as center I would define as right. I think that you‘ve also got to look at the primary schedule. If it stays the way it is and you‘ve got New Hampshire, Iowa, we have Vilsack is there and if John Kerry is there and the battle goes south and you have a southerner, Hillary has got to worry about a primary schedule and how her politics impacts there.
I think the Republicans are cheering her on for whatever reasons, but it would be as stupid as me telling some of the guys that are playing for Miami to listen to Dallas. I mean, come on. You can‘t have the opposing coach choose who ought to be our guy.
MATTHEWS: It sounds like you‘ve scoped it out a bit, Reverend. Are you going back on the trail?
SHARPTON: I‘m playing HARDBALL, that‘s all.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re looking at this thing very carefully. Let me ask you, who are you afraid of?
ROGERS: OK I‘m going to tell you.
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking Ed Rogers, he‘s a Republican. Who are the Republicans, he talks to, afraid of facing in 2008?
ROGERS: What does a winning Democrat nominee look like? It looks like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Who looks most like that? Mark Warner, easy to decide.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, do you think Mark Warner would win the general election?
SHARPTON: I think the problem is getting past the primaries. You‘ve got to remember, when I ran last time, Howard Dean was the ultimate victor, every cover of every magazine, everybody began measuring him up. They started ordering the Dean against Bush buttons. He faltered in the primaries, and I would think anyone serious needs to have a primary strategy about a general election.
ROGERS: It‘s interesting.
MATTHEWS: Well, the problem with you, Reverend Sharpton, is when you get in that debating mode, you make all the Democratic candidates for president look dull as hell, dull as dishwater. That‘s your problem.
SHARPTON: They ought at the do HARDBALL more so they get more practice.
MATTHEWS: You‘re just shining me up with that.
Anyway, thank you Ed Rogers, and thank you to Reverend Al Sharpton up in New York.
Up next, will Iraq be Republicans‘ next strength or worst problem come November? Pennsylvania‘s own Tom Ridge plays HARDBALL when we come back.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This week, President Bush faced the harsh reality of events in Iraq, the corruption, the killings, the violence, but he also carefully and deliberately linked the war in Iraq to the larger war on terrorism. Today the House stepped into the action, fighting over what this war in Iraq really means.
And here at home, FEMA faces fire over hundreds of millions of dollars in squandered money.
Here to hash through it is the former secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. So how come some guy pays for a sex change operation with money from Katrina or whatever?
TOM RIDGE, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You‘re not going to ask me to explain that, Chris. I won‘t go there, but I‘m going to say it‘s not a good story.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you get ...
RIDGE: Look, it‘s an awful story, it‘s unacceptable.
MATTHEWS: How about the porn movies?
RIDGE: Well, listen, the bottom line is simply this. We accept the fact that there‘s massive fraud, that the system failed everybody, primarily the taxpayer. But let‘s put it in perspective, 2.5 million applications after a natural disaster that‘s almost Biblical in nature.
You have a diaspora. You have hundreds of thousands of people leaving their homes, particularly in Louisiana, they‘re all over the world. The media is crying help these people, Congress is crying help these people. They put out credit cards. Did they validate who these people were, did they authenticate addresses? No. There‘s going to be leakage, it‘s wrong, there‘s no good explanation for it.
The only thing we can hope for is it will never repeat itself. And I‘m quite confident with the new leadership that Secretary Chertoff‘s put in there as they reengineer that process—remember, hundreds of thousands of people are roaming around the country, and the media and Congress is saying they need the help, here‘s buckets of money and they handed out the credit cards.
I‘ll bet you that banks—maybe they ought to apply the same standards to commercial banks who just send out credit cards and don‘t validate background checks either and the rest of us end up paying 18 percent and 20 percent because.
MATTHEWS: I‘m now going to ask you a political question, because you‘re in such a good mood, governor. You know, there was a disaster down in Katrina, and it‘s an ongoing disaster. A lot of people are living in trailers, they‘re displaced. They‘re poor already. Now they‘re more poor.
But you know, you look across the United States, and you get in a car and you drive across the northern part of the United States, you go through Pennsylvania, a lot of places, Ohio—places like Spencerville, Ohio. You go through Michigan City, down in Indiana, city after city, state after state, rocked by foreign trade, by people who have lost their jobs, who have nothing in the town but a Blockbuster and maybe a diner.
That‘s all they‘ve got left. How come when there‘s a fast disaster, tons of money gets poured out in buckets but when you have a slow-moving disaster, like the deindustrialization of a good part of the United States, and all the job losses, nothing from the federal government. Well, how can we explain that?
RIDGE: Well, it‘s difficult to explain, particularly if you are one who lost your job because of the globalization of the marketplace. And the fact of the matter is ...
MATTHEWS: Well, look at Buffalo. Go right across to Detroit. Everywhere where people make things, instead of talk about things like in this city, everywhere you make things in the United States, you‘re in big trouble. And yet we don‘t seem to act aggressively to address the real economic problems of this country, but we‘re great at the humanitarian stuff.
RIDGE: We‘re very good at the humanitarian stuff even though you have leakage like you did with FEMA. I think one the problems, we have not accepted the reality of the global marketplace, we have not accepted the reality that there‘s certain basic institutions in both the federal and the state government that need to be reformed, not the least of which is education.
It‘s a different kind of economy. We need knowledge-based workers. We probably need more aggressive and targeted retraining programs. That‘s just not as high visibility or high priority. We go back to some of those institutions, Chris, we‘re still doing things in education the way we did 20 and 30 or 40 years ago. I think a big part of it is ...
MATTHEWS: You think education is the problem why people that call to get a machine or appliance fixed, an electronic device fixed, and they get somebody in Lahore or Bollywood or somewhere over there in India and they‘re the person fixing it on the phone because what? They speak English, we speak English. Why is the business going over there?
RIDGE: Well, part of the reason the business is going over there, a lot of those people in those foreign countries answering those phones have very sophisticated degrees. They are prepared to answer very difficult, technical questions.
And the bottom line is we can‘t put the genie back in the bottle with regard to the global marketplace. We have to accept it as a reality and have some—you know, it‘s that vision thing.
If that‘s how the world is going to operate, if we‘re going to compete against 1.3 billion Chinese and a billion people from India in the global marketplace, what do we do, to your point, with our institutions to get America‘s kids and our workers prepared to compete and win? We don‘t even think about that.
MATTHEWS: I didn‘t expect—the only reason I‘m bringing this up, when I hear the bucketfuls of money language you mentioned going down to the South, because they had the horrible weather down there, I just think it‘s a little uneven, that‘s all, a little inconsistent.
Let me ask you about the president‘s politics right now. He‘s basically putting all the chips on this thing. I can win this war in Iraq politically. Do you think he can? Do you think that can become a political winner for the president, going to war in Iraq and facing now 2,500 casualties? You were in combat.
RIDGE: Yes, I think the consistency of the president‘s commitment to Iraq is beginning to pay off, and if you just give me a quick second to answer, there‘s three dimensions.
Remember when people said, they‘re not interested in democracy, they‘re not interested in elections? And the first one, the marginal turnout, second one, more turnout, third vote, massive turnout.
Remember when they said, you‘ll never have a coalition government? They‘re not interested in Democratic institutions. We have slowly evolved a coalition government. Sunni, Kurds and Shia are never going to agree. Now you have a unity government and you have a complete cabinet.
Remember when we were worried there were no domestic troops, there
were no domestic police force? Well, it‘s slowly evolving and now you got
RIDGE: Well, we‘re making progress and the president has said we will stay there. And as the national security adviser for Iraq said, he believes, given the progress—it‘s his assessment, not the president‘s, given the progress we‘ve made, he can see the possibility of a troop reduction this year, and a more substantial reduction next year.
MATTHEWS: Politically, how long can the president hold on with over 100,000 troops in that country? How long can he sustain this policy.
RIDGE: Let me tell you one thing: the president said during the 2000 campaign—and he‘s lived up to it in my eyes—“I don‘t govern by polls,” and he‘s not going to be governed by any poll that goes up or down. He is committed to seeing it through as best he can. He ultimately said it very correctly the other day—
MATTHEWS: Are you running for president?
RIDGE: No, sir. Thanks for the offer.
MATTHEWS: I think you might be. Anyway, thank you. Governor Tom Ridge—this guy‘s a—he talks faster than I do.
Coming up, did U.S. troops kill an unarmed man in Iraq? The parents of one of the accused Marines will talk about the charges and why they think their son is in trouble.
You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the Navy continues it‘s investigation into the alleged April 2006 killing of an apparently unarmed Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania, seven Marines and one Navy corpsman are in the brig awaiting charges at Camp Pendleton out in California. One of those Marines is John Jodka III. His parents say he is in solitary confinement right now and is being used as a political pawn because of the criticism the Marine Corps took for being slow to investigate a different incident, that one in Haditha, where 24 Iraqis, including women and children, were allegedly killed by Marines.
John and Carolyn Jodka join us this evening, with their attorney, Joseph Casus, who‘s a former JAG prosecutor himself.
Good evening to all of you. Let me start with the attorney, Mr.
Casus. What is the argument that you and your clients are making here?
JOSEPH CASUS, ATTORNEY: Thanks, Chris. Not much of an argument at this point. We still don‘t even have charges in this case. Right now we are just urging the American public not to jump to conclusions and to remember the presumption of innocence that this country affords every citizen, including military members.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Jodka, let me ask you the question first: Why do you believe your son is in shackles apparently every time he leaves his cell. He is in solitary. Why is he being treated like this by the U.S. Marines?
JOHN JODKA, FATHER OF JAILED MARINE: The reason given is that he is potentially a flight risk, and interestingly enough, on his name badge which he wears, it has an acronym PVD, for potentially violent and dangerous. This is the reason given.
However, according to our legal counsel, and the legal counsel for all of the others, this was an unprecedented level of restraint for pre-trial confinement. And it‘s not a matter of thinking that he‘s in solitary or in shackles; when I visit him, he is.
MATTHEWS: Well. let me go to that point with Mr. Casus. Look. I‘m looking at a document here I know you are familiar with this. This is a press release that came out of Camp Fallujah over in Iraq where there was a directive that all of these eight service people be put in maximum level of restraint. What is that about? Why would a press release be put out like this?
CASUS: Well, obviously there is going to be some serious allegations that we have all heard about in the media. I am not sure whether that press release came out of Camp Fallujah or out of Camp Pendleton, California. I got to tell you, it‘s a shame that the Marine Corps is starting to resort to semantics with regard to the level of punishment and confinement of these Marines that they‘re facing right now.
For all intents and purposes, it is solitary confinement. I was just there yesterday with my co-counsel for two hours with our client. He is still in shackles and he is still in solitary confinement.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Mrs. Jodka, what do you think about this case? Do you think is being unfairly used? Do you think it‘s just a terrible situation for your family?
CAROLYN JODKA, MOTHER OF JAILED MARINE: Well, it obviously is a terrible situation for our family, and I hope that my son will not be used for political gain. But because of the opinions that have come out, I do fear that.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you—back to you, the attorney—let me ask Mr. Casus again—you‘re being very hesitant here. I thought your turn was, that in order to show active prosecution of soldiers or service people who do things wrong—who obviously kill people that shouldn‘t be killed, innocent civilians—that in order to show their toughness on the Haditha case, which is totally separate from this, they are being especially tough on Mr. Jodka—PFC Jodka?
CASUS: Well, that‘s a totally different question. I am not being hesitant at all, Chris. I‘m very willing to answer that question. They are being especially more stringent on these Marines, and the prime example is that they put them in solitary confinement, which is completely unprecedented. They could be with the general brig population. If they are concerned about flight or risk of flight, I don‘t understand how they are going to fly the cooperate from the rest of the general brig population.
It seems to us, because of that rush to judgment, that this could be a political—these Marines are caught in a political quagmire. They‘re caught—
MATTHEWS: Why would the military put out a press release announcing how a person who hasn‘t been charged yet—in this case, PFC Jodka—about how they‘re putting him under maximum restraint? Why would a micromanaging decision like that, which is of only interest to his guards in prison, why would they make that a public statement?
CASUS: That‘s a very good question, and it is a micromanagement decision. That is a brig-level decision, made by a warrant officer, perhaps, at the brig, to determine what type of restraint to keep these Marines in. This is not a judge decision.
MATTHEWS: Here is another statement. We did contact the Marines at Camp Pendleton today, and here is a part of a statement they released on the pre-trial—which it is—confinement of John Jodka and the seven others. Quote, “Due to the preliminary findings of the ongoing investigation into the Hamdania incident, the decision was made that the eight service members in pre-trial confinement be given the maximum level of restraint. These individuals are not being held in solitary confinement. Consequentially, when service members leave their cells, they are fully restrained with handcuffs which are attached to a belt and leg cuffs are also used. As a safety precaution, they are at all times escorted by a correctional specialist.
Apparently, even—Mrs. Jodka—even when you go to talk to your son, there is a Marine standing there listening.
C. JODKA: Absolutely right. My son is shackled at the hands and at the feet. And there is a Marine standing behind him. I cannot have a private conversation with my son.
MATTHEWS: This is about the killing of a civilian, apparently, in Iraq. All eight are being treated the same, is that right, Mr Casus?
CASUS: That‘s an alleged killing, and that‘s an alleged civilian. Those are things yet to be determined. And with regard to whether they are not being held in solitary confinement, again, the military is playing semantics now. I challenge the Marine Corps to allow the media to go into their cells to take a look. And look—
MATTHEWS: I have to go. John and Carolyn Jodka, thanks for joining us—Joseph Casus.
Right now, it‘s time for the ABRAMS REPORT.
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