Guests: Paul Hackett, Van Taylor, Lou Barletta, Alan Schlesinger, Michael Smerconish, Steve McMahon
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: You know a Republican is in a political state of mind when he starts talking about the Democrat Party, Democrat Party. Those are fighting words meant to tick off the Democrats, stir up Republicans. Two weeks before Labor Day, the country‘s top Republican wants a tussle. He wants to fight any Democrat who takes on his Iraq policy. You talking to me? I‘m never leaving Iraq. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL. At his press conference Monday, President Bush drew a partisan line in the sand on the war in Iraq, saying that withdrawing troops would be a disaster with this dire warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you think it‘s bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Today the president‘s headlining a fundraiser for the Minnesota Republican Party and House candidate Michele Bachmann. Tomorrow night he will be doing the same for Virginia Senator George Allen. Both of these events are being held behind closed doors in private homes, which fuels the story that Republican candidates need the president to raise money, but they don‘t want to be seen with him in public. We do politics tonight with HARDBALLers Smerconish and McMahon.
Plus, President Bush says he won‘t support him but Senator McCain said he will, just not campaign for him. He is talking about a real gamble of a fellow who‘s making the race, Alan Schlesinger up in Connecticut, the third guy running for senator up there. In a moment, the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger is going to be here.
But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with this report on the politics of Iraq.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, in Iraq, there were fresh reminders the violence is everywhere. A mortar attack hit a market, a roadside bombs struck a police patrol. The bodies of eight fruit traders were found with throats slit. All together, sectarian violence and death surfaced in nearly a dozen Iraqi cities.
On Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims in Baghdad walked to a Shiite shrine, Sunni gunmen opened fire, killing 22 and injuring more than 300. But the fact that the death toll was not in the thousands prompted Iraqi and U.S. officials to call it a success.
GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN FOR FORCE IN IRAQ: This was a tremendous demonstration of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and the leadership of the government of Iraq.
SHUSTER: Such as the state of affairs in Baghdad that Iraqi security forces are praised when 100 Iraqi civilians are getting killed each day instead of 1,000. Indeed the Bush administration‘s P.R. strategy from Baghdad to Washington now relies on pointing out the violence, which is now at the highest level since the war began, could be even worse.
BUSH: If you think it‘s bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself.
SHUSTER: Focusing on the even more horrific things that might happen is a new Bush administration tactic. On Iraq, the administration may have nothing to lose, given that the president‘s latest approval rating on the war is down to a record low 36 percent. But the president‘s approval rating on fighting terror is up to 55 percent. Why? Pollsters say it‘s because of the fresh specter of terrorism from that London terror plot two weeks ago.
PAUL STEPHENSON, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, SCOTLAND YARD: They have planned by terrorist to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder.
SHUSTER: The U.S. government had little to do with stopping the plot, but the Bush administration still got credit because thousands of people who could have lost their lives did not. A key challenge for the administration though was the issue of credibility. Only 44 percent of voters consider President Bush honest and trustworthy. And only 42 percent say he inspires confidence.
Early in the Iraq war, the president stood before a banner that said “mission accomplished.” Yesterday, he said...
BUSH: And you don‘t succeed by leaving before the mission is complete.
SHUSTER: Before the war began, Vice President Cheney helped sell the war with predictions like this.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
SHUSTER: Now, three and a half years later, and as the violence is getting worse, the debate is back over why the U.S. is in Iraq in the first place.
BUSH: Imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.
SHUSTER: The problem is that none of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis.
BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attack on the World Trade Center.
BUSH: Nothing except for its part of—and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.
SHUSTER: But before the war, President Bush himself suggested Iraq was involved.
BUSH: The war on terror, you can‘t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.
We have learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high level contacts that go back a decade. He is a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda.
SHUSTER (on camera): Now, of course, Iraq is producing what the war was supposed to diminish, violence and hatred in the heart of the Middle East. Still, credibility problems or not, President Bush is on the offense when he argues Iraq could be even worse. The question is does that approach really help the president‘s congressional supporters or does it hurt them badly? I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you David Shuster.
Is President Bush smart to argue that withdrawing from Iraq now could make the situation worse? I‘m joined now by two Iraq war veterans who fall on opposite sides of the issue. Paul Hackett has been a vocal critic of the war and was heavily recruited by Democrats to run for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, only to be pressured out of the race. He‘s now a board member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American political action committee.
And Van Taylor is the only Republican among a handful of Iraq war veterans running for Congress. He‘s trying to unseat eight-term incumbent, Congressman Chet Edwards in the district that‘s home to President Bush‘s Crawford ranch.
Let me start with you, Mr. Taylor. Thank you very much for joining us. Do you think we are right to be in Iraq?
VAN TAYLOR (R-TX), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We need to stay in Iraq until we get the job done there. We have got to defeat al Qaeda terrorists that are trying to take over the country of Iraq and use it as a launching pad to conduct terrorist attacks in the region and possibly even on the United States.
MATTHEWS: And where did al Qaeda come from?
TAYLOR: Al Qaeda is an amorphous organization.
MATTHEWS: No no, the people that are fighting it that you say are threatening us in Iraq, where did they come from?
TAYLOR: Al Qaeda made a conscious, tactical decision to do battle with the United States in Iraq and we have responded and fought them there. We need to fight them there because if we don‘t fight them there, rMD+IN_rMD+BO_rMDNM_we are going to fight them here at home.
MATTHEWS: So they came in since we went in?
TAYLOR: There is no question. I mean, they made a decision in the summer of 2003 to come into Iraq and launch an attack against the United States forces.
MATTHEWS: So there wouldn‘t have been an al Qaeda component of the size there is -- there wouldn‘t have been that threat if we hadn‘t gone in in the first place.
TAYLOR: Well al Qaeda could choose to do battle with us somewhere else, possibly in Europe or even in the United States. So clearly fighting in Iraq meant that they didn‘t fight us somewhere else.
MATTHEWS: So the people that are killing 3,000 people a month in Iraq are al Qaeda, you are saying? All the deaths we are seeing on television is caused by al Qaeda? That‘s against all the reporting we are getting. That‘s why I‘m raising this sir. I don‘t get any reporting saying those people are being getting killed by al Qaeda -- 3,000, 100 people a day are getting in that war between the Shia and the Sunni and I just wonder why you keep bringing in al Qaeda, which is by every estimate of every military man, is an isolated five percent maybe of the action over there.
TAYLOR: We need to be in Iraq because of al Qaeda and we cannot leave Iraq until al Qaeda is eradicated from that country.
MATTHEWS: Well those are talking points. Where do they fit into the fact that 3,000 a month are being killed over there? Who is killing those people that we are watching on television every night. Is that al Qaeda doing that?
TAYLOR: Al Qaeda is trying to foment a civil war in Iraq and we need to stop them from doing that. We need to make sure that Iraq is a stable democracy.
MATTHEWS: OK, what percentage being killed over there are being killed by al Qaeda, as you say? Every day on the headlines? Who is doing all the killing?
TAYLOR: You are asking two different questions.
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m asking one question, sir. What is the role of al Qaeda? You brought it up. What‘s the role of al Qaeda in Iraq? I‘m just asking.
TAYLOR: Al Qaeda is trying to foment an insurgency in Iraq. We have got to secure our country against terrorists and they are attacking us right now, U.S. forces are risking their lives fighting al Qaeda terrorists that seek to destroy our country and our way of life. We have got to do whatever it takes to finish the job in Iraq and make sure that we give a secure country to our children.
MATTHEWS: OK, same set of questions to you, Mr. Hackett. First of all, the first question is should we be in Iraq?
PAUL HACKETT, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: No the war is over. Every single military goal that can be accomplished with the U.S. military has been accomplished. We are a nation builder.
MATTHEWS: OK, what are we watching on television? Same question I did to Mr. Taylor. What are we watching on television every night and picking up newspapers and seeing the blood on the newspapers of 3,000 people a month getting killed over there?
HACKETT: What we are seeing, Chris, is chaos, pandemonium, civil war. This is not something that‘s going to happen in the future if we leave because we are going to leave. It‘s something that is happening every single day in Iraq because this administration has mismanaged this war, has mismanaged the military, has redirected the military, has ignored the advice of the military leaders and has made America the laughing stock of the world.
They have depleted our prestige. They have depleted our strength as a country. And, frankly, Mr. Taylor is an apologist for this failed mission, lack of policy, lack of strategy, lack of goal-oriented mission accomplishment. There is no goal. There is no strategy, there is no plan. This administration is floundering on the world stage and you and I are paying the price for it.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask Mr. Taylor to take all the time he needs to give you an answer to that.
TAYLOR: We need to send people to Washington that understand the war on terror. There was a time in our country ...
HACKETT: Look the war on terror, terror is a strategy. It‘s not a philosophy.
TAYLOR: ... with many members of had Congress have served better—
Paul, I‘m going to finish this. You‘ve interrupted me in the past. You are not going to interrupt me here.
MATTHEWS: Let him finish, please.
TAYLOR: OK, we have got to win the war on terror. Al Qaeda is a vicious terrorist organization. They are seeking to destroy our way of life. They have come to this country. They have attacked us. They are attacking U.S. forces in Iraq. They have attacked U.S. forces around the world. They‘ve got to be dealt with. You cannot put your head in the sand. You cannot walk away.
HACKETT: So what‘s the strategy?
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you the question. Mr. Taylor, the president of the United States held a press conference yesterday and he was asked what role did Iraq play on the al Qaeda attack on us on 9/11? He said nothing, no role. You say something different it sounds like.
TAYLOR: Today, in Iraq al Qaeda ...
MATTHEWS: No, he said they had nothing—he said—no, he said they had nothing—do you agree with that, with the president that they had nothing to do with the attack of 9/11?
TAYLOR: They had no direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you mean no direct? Answer the question.
The president said no connection. What connection do you draw?
TAYLOR: As far as I know, I do not believe they have any direct involvement with the attack on 9/11. I agree with the president.
MATTHEWS: So why did we attack Iraq then? Why did we attack Iraq then?
TAYLOR: Regardless of why we may have started fighting, and I served as a marine ...
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking the question, why did we attack Iraq? Why did we go into Iraq?
TAYLOR: That‘s not the question that we need answered.
MATTHEWS: It‘s mine.
TAYLOR: It‘s what do we do now?
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with me asking the question? We are in a war.
Pearl Harbor started World War II.
TAYLOR: That‘s a question you can ask ...
MATTHEWS: What start it? Why did we go into Iraq?
TAYLOR: That is a question you can ask historians, but today we need to send people to Washington who understand the war on terror. There is not a single member of the United States Congress that has served in the war on terror, and there are only two dozen combat veterans. I will be the very first. We need to send people like me in Washington.
HACKETT: Chris, if I may interject—if I may interject, Chris, Van obviously doesn‘t understand the war on terror. Where is Osama bin Laden? Where is the 6‘2” white robe-dressed, left-handed Arab who is walking around in Pakistan or Afghanistan? That was the war against those who attacked us on our soil.
War on terror? I mean, that‘s a ridiculous soundbite. Terror, as you know, Van, is a military strategy. It‘s not a philosophy. You are not going to defeat a strategy. You are going to defeat a philosophy. And if you want to defeat it, you have to address what compels those people to sacrifice their lives and kill innocent women and children.
MATTHEWS: Well, give us that answer. Full answer now, take all your time. We have 90 seconds, please, go ahead, Mr. Taylor.
TAYLOR: We need to grind down this insurgency, we need to destroy al Qaeda, wherever they may be.
TAYLOR: We need to support our troops. We need to support our troops, and if you take, for instance, the incumbent I‘m running against here in Texas, he actually did not support our troops. He took thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to help crooked insurance agents rip off thousands of ...
HACKETT: You have taken thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from Dick Cheney, from Exxon oil, the $5 million worth of stock that you inherited. Come on, Van. Be honest. Really talk about the war.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about—you guys are getting personal here. Look, I just want to ask you Mr. Taylor, because you got a chance to respond and you got a little time here. It seems to me like 60 percent of the people in Iraq are Shia. We are learning all this as we go along, and even the fighting men are learning this, and women.
Sixty percent are Shia, about 20 some percent are Sunni. The Sunni insurgents don‘t like being ruled by the 60 percent. They‘ve been fighting, as we call them, insurgents. The majority include people like militia people—al-Sadr and people like that—who are pretty dangerous characters who are also fighting back and forth. Where does al Qaeda fit into this?
TAYLOR: Al Qaeda is there in Iraq today seeking to kill Americans. And we—look, I would rather put my body armor back on and kiss my two children and my wife in central Texas goodbye and go fight in Iraq rather than have to fight al Qaeda in the United States. They choose to do battle with us in Iraq. We need though them fight them there.
HACKETT: That is a false choice and it‘s silly and ridiculous to even imply that. Al Qaeda represents a small faction of the people who are fighting there. They came there because we are there. We rocked the boat there. At this point, this administration has no strategy to fix the problem.
HACKETT: I can I tell you this. We can paint all the schools we want to paint. It‘s not going to fix the problem. Sorry, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Hackett—Mr. Hackett ...
HACKETT: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: ...you are very passionate and vigilant on this issue. It‘s too bad you are not the candidate up there. It looks like the candidate is way ahead in the polls. Is this bugging you that the Sherrod Brown has got the nomination and not you?
HACKETT: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Send money to Sherrod Brown. He is a hell of a guy, and we hope he is our next senator from Ohio.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you gentlemen. Thank you for joining us, Van Taylor.
HACKETT: Thank you, Chris.
TAYLOR: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you down in Texas, you are racing against the incumbent Chet Edwards, right? And Paul Hackett, you are not running for the Senate, OK?
HACKETT: Absolutely not. I‘m running Hackett Law Offices. If you need a good lawyer, call me.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, sir. Coming up ...
TAYLOR: And if you want to support a Iraq veteran running for Congress vantaylor.com.
MATTHEWS: I think we heard that. Thank you, sir, for joining us.
President Bush says Connecticut Republicans told him not to support their own Senate candidate, Alan Schlesinger. He will be here right in this chair. Does his party want Joe Lieberman to get reelected? Is he the real Republican candidate, Lieberman?
You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: You know, it‘s an interesting debate we are having in America about how we ought to handle Iraq. There is a lot of people—good, decent people saying we are drawing out. They are absolutely wrong. It would be a huge mistake for this country.
If you think problems are tough now, imagine what it would be like if the United States leaves before this government has a chance to defend herself, govern herself, and listen—and answer to the will of the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It‘s a three-way race up in Connecticut right now for the U.S. Senate. Joe Lieberman running as an independent now, having lost the Democratic primary, he leads the pack right now in the numbers, followed by Democratic nominee, the guy who beat him, Ned Lamont. And in third place, Republican Alan Schlesinger who joins me right now.
So Lamont is a dove and Lieberman is a hawk. What are you?
ALAN SCHLESINGER ®, CT CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: Oh, I‘m a hawk but I‘m a reasonable, rational hawk. I think you have got to make this very clear that right now, as we speak, Joe Lieberman has spit on the president on a daily basis. If you are in Washington, you are not seeing this.
MATTHEWS: But the president has been kissing him.
SCHLESINGER: Right now he is—oh, the more he spits, the more that he kisses. I don‘t understand that. I guess a kiss is not just a kiss. And I have to tell you something. I have to tell you that this Sunday, he actually—Lieberman, actually asked for Rumsfeld to resign.
MATTHEWS: And you say Rumsfeld is doing a good job?
SCHLESINGER: Absolutely. And I will tell you something else, that as we speak today, he has adopted Kerry‘s position. Lieberman has moved into the Kerry position totally.
MATTHEWS: Which is?
SCHLESINGER: Which is I agreed with going into Iraq and ever since then, I was against everything the president did. That‘s Joe Lieberman‘s position.
MATTHEWS: I think actually to be honest to Kerry, he has done a 180 on this. He said he was wrong to vote for the thing.
Let‘s take a look at what the president said about you, sir, in yesterday‘s press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Would you campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman, who is a Republican candidate, may support you, but he supports you too, on Iraq?
BUSH: I‘m going to stay out of Connecticut.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), you were born there.
BUSH: And by the way, I‘m staying out of Connecticut because, you know, that‘s what the party suggested, the Republican party of Connecticut And, plus, there‘s a better place to spend our money, time, and resources.
Right. I would listen to them very carefully. I‘m a thoughtful guy. I listen to people. I‘m open-minded. I‘m all the things that you know I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the president towel snapping about you, having a little chuckle over the fact that he‘s not coming into your state? And secondly, do you believe him when he says that your party has told him not to come in in the state?
SCHLESINGER: No, it‘s just not true. As a matter of fact, the Republicans are supporting me. There‘s been some pundits...
MATTHEWS: Has your party chair told the president not to come in and campaign for you?
SCHLESINGER: That‘s absolutely false.
MATTHEWS: Well, where did he get that little line from?
SCHLESINGER: I think from Mr. Mehlman. I think Mr. Mehlman has been saying that. And, you know, I can‘t speak for what the people in Washington are doing. I‘m just a guy in Connecticut, trying to help people.
MATTHEWS: Why aren‘t they backing the party in a state like Connecticut?
SCHLESINGER: Well, you know...
MATTHEWS: Why isn‘t the president backing his own party?
SCHLESINGER: There is some delusion down here near the Potomac about the fact that if they can spin this right, they can make the Democrats look very, very liberal in Connecticut and across the country. And that, hopefully, in their minds, will be rejected by some logic of going with Lieberman.
MATTHEWS: So if Lamont wins in November, they‘ve won the argument—the Democratic party has tilted left. If Lieberman beats the national party, supposedly, then he‘s proven that the party was out of kilter.
SCHLESINGER: Right. They want the Lieberman scenario to say, look, even in a blue state, Connecticut rejected the liberal wackos and went with the other liberal wacko, who‘s more...
MATTHEWS: And you‘re the sacrificial lamb?
SCHLESINGER: And basically...
MATTHEWS: They‘re offering you up.
SCHLESINGER: I am the sacrificial lamb, and they want to just ignore me. And I‘ll tell you what, they‘re just not paying attention to Connecticut. And Connecticut hasn‘t even focused on the race yet.
MATTHEWS: We talked about—earlier off the phone—on the phone—and you said that you thought you could get enough coattail from the governor. She‘s very popular, Rell. And you think she might be able to bring you in in a three-way?
SCHLESINGER: Well, what I‘m saying is that if I can get my numbers into the 20‘s, which we believe we can once we get our conservative base back, then I believe with that, the help from Rell, who is very popular right now, we will win this election.
MATTHEWS: Is that a good bet?
SCHLESINGER: You couldn‘t resist, could you, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re known as the—you‘re known for a guy who puts a few bets down.
SCHLESINGER: Well, I‘m telling you, I have been getting so many calls and e-mails from everyone, saying, we‘re all in with Allen.
MATTHEWS: Good. Let me ask you about the following people, if you‘ve talked to them. Elizabeth Dole was chairman of the Senate campaign committee for Republicans. Her job is to get Republicans elected, not conservative Democrats or hawkish Democrats, but Republicans elected. Has she talked to you?
SCHLESINGER: Look, I can save you a lot of time.
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking you!
SCHLESINGER: Well, I can save you a lot of time. The Washington folks aren‘t talking to me. They basically are taking their orders from the White House.
MATTHEWS: Have you heard from Karl Rove?
SCHLESINGER: No, absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: Really? Absolutely not. He‘s the party—he‘s your top kick in political campaigning.
SCHLESINGER: As I said, it doesn‘t fit in with their scenario.
SCHLESINGER: And there‘s the irony. Here‘s the irony, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Who designed this scenario to screw you? Who designed this thing?
SCHLESINGER: They‘re not trying to screw me. That‘s the whole point. They‘ve designed a scenario that they think will work to help Bush and to help the Republicans nationwide by saying, listen, the liberal wing of the Democratic party has gone nuts. They‘ve gone with this guy Lamont, and now the Connecticut voters have rejected that by going with Lieberman. The problem is, Lieberman is just one step—a half a step to the right of Lamont.
MATTHEWS: ... of the war.
SCHLESINGER: The last time—it‘s only the war. That‘s right. And even now, as I said, he‘s basically adopted Kerry‘s old position.
MATTHEWS: Where‘s the big—let me ask you this. Why did the Republicans hold a primary in Connecticut if the winner—if winning it didn‘t matter?
SCHLESINGER: That‘s a very good question.
MATTHEWS: Why did they bother to let win that thing if it wasn‘t going to mean anything?
SCHLESINGER: Unanimously. I got nominated unanimously! And let me tell you, the rank-and-file of the Republican party has been great. And they‘re there. And I want you to know with this—the recent polling was right after the primary. My numbers have been between 10 and 15 percent.
MATTHEWS: Can you rig—let me ask the big question in politics—can you get a three-way debate on television?
SCHLESINGER: Oh, absolutely. We‘ve already been asked.
MATTHEWS: And you‘re going to be it?
SCHLESINGER: Oh, of course. I‘m the Republican candidate.
MATTHEWS: What are you going to say—so what are you going to say against Lieberman?
SCHLESINGER: I‘m going to say listen, Joe, let‘s be honest about Social Security, let‘s be honest about Medicare. This is the guy who talked about the lockbox with Al Gore, which he knew at the time there‘s nothing in that lockbox but an IOU from Al Gore and Bill (sic) Lieberman.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I saw them in the bathtub together on “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.” Remember that, with the...
MATTHEWS: ... the Russian handshake.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. We gave you a good shot on that, right? You‘re treated with respect.
MATTHEWS: Only one reference to gambling.
SCHLESINGER: Only one. You couldn‘t resist.
MATTHEWS: I haven‘t even mentioned the Whomp ‘Em card yet.
SCHLESINGER: Oh, here he goes.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. Alan Schlesinger, a Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Connecticut.
Up next, a Pennsylvania mayor says he wants to make his town, quote, “the toughest place on illegal immigrants in America.” Sounds tough. We‘ll ask him what he has in mind. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Now to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a city of about 30,000 people, 80 miles north of Philadelphia. Last month, the city declared war on illegal immigrants. They voted to fine landlords for renting to illegal immigrants, deny business permits to those who hire them and to make English the city‘s official language.
Leading that charge is Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us. Why you, why now, why Hazleton?
MAYOR LOU BARLETTA, HAZLETON, PA: Well, Chris, Hazleton is a small city in the United States, as many others, and the greatest asset we have here is the quality of life that we enjoy. I cannot sit back and watch that quality of life being destroyed and waiting for someone else to do it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you had a big crime up there. Tell us about that, and what role that sparked in your movement there.
BARLETTA: That was the straw that broke the camel‘s back. It was on May 10th. Twenty-nine-year old Derek Kishline (ph) was shot between the eyes by two individuals. Four were arrested in connection to that homicide. All four were illegal aliens. That very same day, a 14-year-old was arrested for shooting a gun in a crowded playground, a playground that was filled with Hispanic children. He was also an illegal alien.
The following week, we had a drug bust in downtown Hazleton. We closed two businesses. There were more illegal aliens involved in the drug bust. And the following week, if that wasn‘t enough, we had gang-related graffiti spray-painted on the playgrounds and homes surrounding that playground, and some of it threatening the lives of our police officers.
And I‘ve had enough. They‘re draining the resources. Illegal immigration is draining the resources of this city, limited resources that I should be using on the hard-working legal citizens of Hazleton.
MATTHEWS: Where are the gangs from?
BARLETTA: Well, many are from New York. And it‘s concerning to me because, again, this is a city that boasts that children can play on the playgrounds without fear of gangs, guns and drugs. And, Chris, the day I signed this bill to into law, we arrested four more individuals on that very same playground for selling crack cocaine. One of the individuals was an illegal alien. And it took our detectives five hours to identify who he was. He had five different Social Security cards.
That‘s money and time that I should be spending on the legal taxpayers, and it‘s simply draining beyond what we can handle.
MATTHEWS: How many people do you estimate live in Hazleton, I guess 30,000 people live there all together. How many there are there illegally, in this country illegally, you estimate.
BARLETTA: Well, you know, I estimate anywhere from 15 to 20 million illegals in the country. Our population has exploded from 23,000 to approximately 30 to 31,000 today with a Latino population of about 10 to 11,000. And by going by what the—some of the businesses, Latino businesses claim, in downtown, that their business has fallen off by 50 percent. I would have to believe that the 50 percent that left were illegals.
MATTHEWS: And so your belief is that this is life or death. Your city is in danger of just losing itself to crime is the way you make it sound.
BARLETTA: I do believe that. Again, you know, that‘s the reason people live in cities such as Hazleton, it‘s where senior citizens can sit on the porch without fear and parents can allow their children to go down to the playground and play and that‘s not the case any longer.
I have had senior citizens tell me that they become prisoners in their own homes. And, Chris, I cannot, as the mayor of this city, sit back and tell the people here in this city that somebody else is going to fix this problem. They are expecting me to do something about it and that‘s what we are going to do.
MATTHEWS: When are you up for reelection, sir?
BARLETTA: Next year, I‘m in the third year of second term.
MATTHEWS: Do people support you in this movement?
BARLETTA: They have, not only here in the city but we have had about 98 percent of positive remarks from people from around the country. So apparently this is not a that just affects the city of Hazleton. We have literally received support from every state in the country.
MATTHEWS: You have gotten any support from the federal government in enforcing the laws?
BARLETTA: Well, when we call ICE, they respond. But that‘s—it‘s after the fact, Chris. Mainly it‘s after somebody has already committed a crime. And, again, in a small city, in America, that has limited resources to provide public services.
MATTHEWS: No what I meant to say has the federal government shown any interest in catching people in your town, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, for being in this country illegally? are they capturing these people and taking them out if they are not supposed to be in the country?
BARLETTA: They do after they have committed a crime and we have apprehended them. The federal government will come here and take them away.
MATTHEWS: OK. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much. Mayor Barletta in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Up next, the Clintons are everywhere. Are they warming up for a 2008 White House bid? I think so. You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It‘s a Clinton media blitz this week. Hillary is in the focus of “Time” magazine‘s cover story. Look at that. “Newsweek” readers also never fear, here is an essay on their Web site talking about the joys of law school from Hillary. Meanwhile, Bill, the husband writes in today‘s “New York Times” to brag about how he worked with Republicans 10 years ago for welfare reform. What are they up to?
Let‘s take a look at our guests here. We‘ve got Ann Kornblut, from the “New York Times.” And we‘ve got Ana Marie Cox. Thank you very much for joining us, Ana, from “Time” magazine. First of all, the “New York times.” What do you make of this? What‘s the blitz about? It isn‘t it a little early, two weeks before Labor Day?
ANN KORNBLUT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well no, it‘s never too early. It‘s a former president, it‘s the former first lady, it‘s Hillary Clinton, it‘s the Clintons. No, of course it‘s not too early. If anything, what I think is amazing is given their celebrity status, how they have been able to manage the media. Bill Clinton went on a trip to Africa.
MATTHEWS: Not the front page of your newspaper? You guys ran a big expose about Mr. Clinton still causing something of a social problem in that family and you guys put it on the front page.
KORNBLUT: I think my point is what‘s amazing is that they are able to
they are not just politicians, they are celebrities and they have been able to harness some of this in the way that they want.
The “Time” magazine cover has beautiful photographs of her. She didn‘t even sit for an interview for this story. By and large her advisers came away feeling like it was positive. So, if anything, I think what you are see something their ability to handle the media, don‘t you think?
MATTHEWS: You know well Ana, let me ask you about that cover on “Time” magazine. It said love her or hate her? That was the question. It was like fill in the box.
ANA MARIE COX, TIME MAGAZINE: Well it‘s because the poll they did to support that cover story really showed that there is no between with her. Although she is the front runner of the Democratic candidates, that very high number hides the number of people who really hate her. She has some of the highest definitely would not support numbers in the entire poll.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there is a palpability, a tangibility to that problem people have with her? I found people who say there‘s something about her I don‘t like and that seems scary like if you can‘t say what it is.
COX: Well Republicans can say what it is.
MATTHEWS: What do they say, of course she is a liberal>
COX: Well Republicans say that she‘s a liberal. They say that she‘s not likable. They say that she won‘t protect the country from a war on terror. They say she puts her political ambitions in front of everything else.
MATTHEWS: That‘s kind of a crow magnet assessment, isn‘t it? A little more sophistication required here. What is it they really don‘t like her, that she‘s a young, relatively young woman politician who wants to be president of the United States?
COX: And her last name is Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Is that it?
COX: That might have something to do with it. I think it‘s really interesting the one positive thing if you can call it positive that Republicans said overwhelmingly about her, like 71 percent agreed that she was smart. But clearly, that‘s not important to them.
MATTHEWS: What about all the liberal, really sort of literate, sophisticated women, professional women like yourselves, both of you, and I come across them, not all of them.
Obviously, a lot of people are rooting like heck for her, but the people that would seem to be exactly like Hillary, ambitious intellectually, intellectually curious, fine tuners when it comes to policy, they‘re very clear about what they want, what they don‘t want, they say—they always seem to have this sort of wince about them, like, I don‘t know or—what‘s that about?
KORNBLUT: Well, you would—Ana would know better than I would because you just looked at the polling numbers more closely. But I have seen a pretty big disconnect between the chatter that you hear in certain circles, and the actual polling numbers. Because in almost all the polls that I have looked at, the liberal base is there. They really like her.
MATTHEWS: For her?
KORNBLUT: For her. And women, and certainly minorities. I don‘t know if that—actually they didn‘t ...
MATTHEWS: Oh, minorities, there is no doubt about that.
COX: They didn‘t break out Latinos, interesting enough, considering the role Nevada is going to play.
MATTHEWS: I‘ve seen the numbers in your piece, in the “Times” that said eight out of 10 African-American women were asked in a focus group who is, like, the greatest woman in American history, and it‘s like Hillary Clinton.
COX: It was actually eight out of eight. And they said who was their favorite—or what political leader did they admire the most and all eight of them said Hillary Clinton. And it‘s true that among educated women, liberal women, she is the really well-liked.
MATTHEWS: She is?
COX: She is. And if you look across the nation, she is. Like, I don‘t know if you look across the city, maybe not.
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m talking about here in New York and places where I meet people, and I do get that quizzical something.
KORNBLUT: Maybe you should get out of Washington more.
MATTHEWS: No, it‘s bigger than that.
KORNBLUT: The Beltway, yes.
MATTHEWS: It‘s bigger than that.
COX: Well I think it is interesting that they also overwhelming say that she is moderate. Liberals think that she is moderate.
MATTHEWS: Compared to them.
MATTHEWS: Well, because she is a hawk.
COX: Only conservatives think ...
KORNBLUT: Conservatives think she is liberal.
MATTHEWS: She is a hawk on the war. She is as hawkish as Lieberman.
COX: Yes, exactly. I think actually the conventional wisdom is she is going to have a problem in the general but she will be OK in primaries. I think actually that‘s not shaking out that way.
KORNBLUT: Well, I think what we see ...
MATTHEWS: You mean, she won‘t have a problem where?
COX: Well, I think the primary looks tougher than it did a little while ago.
MATTHEWS: Who can beat her?
COX: Well ...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s just go with the numbers. You are going by numbers here. Who can beat her?
COX: Well, actually, there is a huge unknown factor. One of the other things about Hillary that‘s really interesting in that poll is that only three percent of the people that were polled had no opinion about her, or who felt like they didn‘t know enough about her to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion.
Whereas for people like even John Edwards, former vice presidential candidate, only like, 20 percent of people said that they didn‘t know what to make of him yet. So there is this huge field out there that has huge, double-digit numbers that might go anywhere. You don‘t know yet.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there is a feminist thing behind this, that women want to put her in there to sort of make a point.
KORNBLUT: The pollsters I have talked to actually worry about that question, that they might not be getting an accurate reflection of women who would go into the voting booth and say, you know what? Actually, I really would like to see a woman president. I have no independent way of gauging that, but ...
MATTHEWS: That‘s my hunch. See, when you talk—when I try to present here what is this quizzical thing, this debate and you are familiar with this city and you are familiar with this city, where people do talk a lot, the kivitz (ph) a lot, and they come out with perhaps polemics rather than bottom lines.
They will argue a point of view about here, but then, as you say—my question is this, and I‘m not making a case for her at all, because I want a close race. That‘s what I want. I want a good race with a good debate about this war in Iraq is what I want, because we didn‘t have one last time.
I wonder whether when you get in that booth, if you are a mother, for example, for example, and you have daughters, do you want to shut the door on the first chance a woman has to be president with your daughter watching? Just that thing you just said then, that you don‘t know until you get in that booth?
COX: I actually think that people are more likely to tell pollsters that they will vote for a woman than they are when they actually get in.
MATTHEWS: That‘s males?
COX: Yes. I think so.
MATTHEWS: What about females?
COX: I think females maybe that‘s the same case. I mean, one thing we decided to do with the magazine was to kind of not even really talk about the numbers that had to do with would you elect a woman, how do you feel about Hillary Clinton as woman.
MATTHEWS: So you think it‘s like whites voting for blacks? They always ask whites would you vote for this guy for senator or whatever, and there is a big shortfall the day of the vote.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, sure that sounds like the thing to do. Yes, I‘m a regular Democrat. Of course I‘ll do it. They get in the booth, they don‘t do it. You see this in California and saw it in Virginia here. Do you think women will suffer from lying to pollster, that people will lie to pollsters about them?
COX: I think actually we should be careful about saying that people are lying to pollsters.
COX: I think that people are saying they really want to believe that they would vote for a woman or they would vote for a black person.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you don‘t think people lie about this?
COX: Well, I think they are not lying in the sense that they know for a fact that they wouldn‘t do it once they get in the booth.
MATTHEWS: The day before?
COX: Well, OK, maybe you have a point. But I think that in general
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you think about polling. Do you think if a person calls up a very well-developed accent like the best American Standard English, and you asked—let me ask you, will you be voting Democratic in this next election? Yes. Will you be voting for the Democratic candidate? Yes.
And the guy calls up with an Archie Bunker accent talking out the side of his mouth. Are you going to vote for this woman for president? I bet you get a different answer. I bet you get a really different answer.
COX: It‘s a reason why ...
KORNBLUT: I‘ll leave it to you to test it. That‘s a good experiment.
MATTHEWS: I think I would test that out, because I think people that people that get the politically correct voice give the politically correct answer. Of course, I‘m going to do what you want me to do, because I don‘t want to offend you.
COX: Well, there‘s a reason why Gallup polls—Gallup polls is based in Nebraska, actually. I worked for them in high school.
MATTHEWS: And what did you learn about accents on the phone?
COX: That you are not supposed to have one. Of course not.
MATTHEWS: Well, most people have one. Thank you very much. Anne Kornblut, thank you. I think—no, I‘m not going to say anything. Thank you, Ana. Thank you.
Up next, President Bush says Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. How will that play in the midterms?
Plus the fight over illegal immigration nearly turned into a brawl at a city council meeting in New Jersey. Look at it. I think that‘s pretty close to a brawl. The HARDBALLers talking about the hottest issues on our campaign season. Coming up, immigration and Iraq.
You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The president is pummelling Democrats. Democrats are slamming the president, as always. Iraq is going to hell and the November elections are getting hotter and hotter every day now with two months to go.
Here to take it all in are the HARDBALLers, radio talk show host Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.
Let me start with this whole question of Lieberman. Now, let‘s start with—Smerconish, since you are here, we are going to start with—
Santorum was on yesterday. Where is Santorum on the war?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Santorum is a stay the course guy and, Chris, he is exactly where Bob Casey is. I mean, that‘s the miracle of Pennsylvania, is that these two are joined at the hip on abortion, guns, stem cells, Schiavo case, Samuel Alito and Iraq. The only thing that Casey represents so far is I‘m not that guy Santorum.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, that seems to be working.
Let me go to Steve. It seems to me—it reminds me of those boring featherweight bouts we used to watch in the ‘50s where they clinch all the time. I mean, this looks like one long frickin‘ Fabiano‘s (ph) mat time clinch.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, there is a little bit of clinching going on. But you know what, the...
MATTHEWS: That‘s when you don‘t throw a punch, you just wait and see which way the polls are going and hope you can slip in.
MCMAHON: But you correctly summarized it. And Lee Atwater taught Democrats a long time ago, when your opponent is self-destructing, get out of the way. And that‘s what Bob Casey is doing. And on many of these issues, he and Santorum are completely aligned.
MATTHEWS: Are you working for Casey?
MCMAHON: No, but I support...
MATTHEWS: No, I just want to know these things. I like people who watch the show—here‘s Rick Santorum playing HARDBALL last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: What matters is that...
MATTHEWS: Have you had any dealings or has your campaign had any dealings, to get them on the ballot, to do anything to support anything for the Green Party of Pennsylvania?
SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Any role at all?
SANTORUM: Yes, absolutely. We‘ve been absolutely upfront about the fact that we want the Green Party on the ballot. We‘ve asked folks to circulate petitions for them. We asked—in fact, we even had folks who work for me and volunteer for me to go out and volunteer and work for them. We asked folks who would like to help them financially to go ahead and do it. And I know members of my campaign did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, sometimes when I see myself on television, I‘m afraid of me. Anyway, let me—Michael, let me ask you this—Michael Smerconish, you‘re in Philly. Is that fair game? Is that considered kosher to support a second—a third party, a Green Party, to siphon off the votes of your liberal Democrat or your Democratic opponent?
SMERCONISH: Oh, I think it‘s been going on as long as this game has been played. I think that Senator Santorum is just more forthcoming about it in saying, yes, we want this guy on the ballot. As a matter of fact, I can I tell you that I‘ve invited Santorum and Casey together to appear on my radio program, and the Santorum campaign said, and would you also have the green guy on, and I said fine.
MATTHEWS: But you‘re supporting Santorum, right?
SMERCONISH: Santorum is a friend. He got me backstage at a U2 concert.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t know what that means. What did he do to you backstage at the U2 concert?
SMERCONISH: I‘m telling you, he did!
MATTHEWS: What does that mean, he got you?
SMERCONISH: He‘s a friend of mine. My cards are on the table.
MATTHEWS: You mean love at first sight with Rick Santorum?
SMERCONISH: You know what, I have to tell you, Chris, I disagree with him on so many things. I disagree with him on Iraq. I disagree with him on Schiavo. But on a personal level, what I respect about him is that he means what he says. And is he not one of these blow-dry guys who puts his finger to the wind and decides where he‘s going to stand on an issue.
MATTHEWS: So you don‘t agree with Tony Soprano that he‘s Senator Sanatorium?
SMERCONISH: I love that line, I thought it was hysterical, but no.
MATTHEWS: No. I don‘t think it—Steve, this story—is this fair game? Casey is running as the alternative to Santorum. And he‘s just running, as you said, the alternative. So what does Santorum say? OK, I got another alternative. I‘ll split the vote. I‘ll get a Green Party to pull five or 10 points, and you‘re going to lose to me.
MCMAHON: You know, he‘s absolutely right. Santorum is being more upfront about it. It has been going on since politics.
MATTHEWS: What, finding a third party candidate?
MCMAHON: Yes. But most people don‘t brag about it. And the reason they don‘t brag about it is because most voters find it to be a little bit unseemly.
MATTHEWS: You know what the candidates did in the first race in 1946?
They‘re running against a guy named Joe Russo, so you know what they did?
They found another Joe Russo, and put him on the ballot to split the vote.
We‘ll be right back with Michael Smerconish and Steve McMahon.
And a reminder. For the best political debate online, just go to Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. And now you can download podcasts of HARDBALL. Just go to our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the HARDBALLers, ready to talk to Michael Smerconish and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.
Steve, I have not seen in a while a complete disconnect, if you will, between the two parties on any issue like Iraq. The Democrats say Iraq had nothing to do with war on terrorism, it was just something the president had in his craw, he just had to go do it because of his father, because of oil, because of Israel, because of all kinds of reasons. He want to democratize the region. It just seemed to be a thing he wanted to do for a lot of reasons.
MCMAHON: It‘s not just the Democrats.
MATTHEWS: And The Democrats—and the Republicans, on the other hand, say it‘s an essential fight. It‘s the terrorists. They keep calling them the terrorists, like the guy we had on this morning, earlier today. The terrorist attack. How can they both be so different?
MATTHEWS: How can the truth be so divided over...
MCMAHON: Because only one side is telling the truth. And I think the 9/11 Commission said that there was no link between Iraq and the terrorists who flew airplanes into the buildings here.
MATTHEWS: Well, the president said that yesterday.
MCMAHON: The president finally said it yesterday, but then his entire administration, for the last five years, have been trying to create the opposite impression. And most candidates today who are running as Republicans are also trying to create the opposite impression. It‘s funny how the president sort of...
MATTHEWS: The opposite of what?
MCMAHON: They‘re trying to create the impression that there‘s a link between terrorism and Iraq. And there may be now. It‘s a breeding ground, there‘s no question. The president‘s defense of the war in Iraq yesterday sort of reminded me of that old who are you going to believe, me or with your lyin‘ eyes? And, you know, he‘s standing there saying it would be disaster to leave.
MATTHEWS: I tried to get...
MCMAHON: Most people think it would be a disaster to say.
MATTHEWS: You know what I got, the partisan analysis. Michael Smerconish, why is there such a wide divide? You‘re on the radio all day. People see these things differently. Why so?
SMERCONISH: I think the administration was wrong about Iraq. Anyone would have to say that at this point. But I disagree with the statement that the administration was untruthful. I have never bought into this idea that the president of the United States lied about the situation as he perceived it at the time. I think that when he acted, when Colin Powell acted, when Rumsfeld acted, that they acted with the best intentions. And they were acting on incorrect information, incorrect intelligence. So I give them the benefit of the doubt on that.
What you have to say is that the Democrat party has failed to articulate the alternative. And that‘s the issue. Is it going to be enough just to be against the GOP? And I don‘t think that it will be, when push comes to shove.
MCMAHON: Michael, that‘s one issue. And the Democrats have presented an alternative, and that‘s to start moving troops out this year. But—and I don‘t suggest that the president lied, but I do think that the administration—I think there‘s ample evidence that the administration manipulated the intelligence. And we‘ve seen it again and again and again. I think if you ask Colin Powell whether he believes that the administration was manipulating the intelligence before he went to the U.N., he would say, yes.
And so it‘s not a question of lying, it‘s a question of selective release of information that supports your argument. And it‘s the omission of information that doesn‘t. And it tends to feed the argument that many people believe that the Bush administration was intent on war from the moment after the planes hit, and that they were looking for a reason to go.
SMERCONISH: Yes, I think differently. I think the administration was saying we want to be preemptive where necessary. I think their word choice was forward-leaning.
MATTHEWS: Good discussion.
SMERCONISH: And I continue to believe in that. But they were wrong.
MATTHEWS: Good, that‘s what I wanted out of this segment. And you gave it to me. The different views and how they don‘t coincide. Thank you, Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia, Steve McMahon of the Democratic Party.
Play HARDBALL with us tomorrow night. Our guests include Democrat Party—I‘ll make the Republicans happy—the Democrat Party, Howard Dean. He‘s coming. He‘s the chair of the party.
Right now, it‘s time for Tucker.
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