Guests: Al Sharpton, Pat Buchanan, John Ensign, Jack Valenti
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: So who is in charge? The Constitution gives Congress and only Congress the power to declare war. Is the Constitution obsolete? Two senators, a Republican and a Democrat, tell Bush to spell it out. If he is the decider, what is Congress? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.
The fight against President Bush‘s plans to send more U.S. troops to Iraq gets bipartisan. Next week, the Senate is expected to object to the president‘s plans to add 21,000 troops to the Iraq war. Today Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold moved forward with his push to actually cut off the funding for the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Congress has the duty to stand up and use its war to stop him. If Congress doesn‘t stop this war, it‘s not because he doesn‘t have the power. It‘s because it doesn‘t have the will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is Feingold right? Will Democrats do whatever is necessary to stop the war? Do they know what power they have? Pat Leahy and Arlen Spencer, the chairman and top Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee have President Bush‘s Justice Department to say what powers Congress does have over the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA: The president repeatedly makes
reference to the fact that he is the decider. I would suggest and suggest
respectfully to the president, that he is not the sole decider.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So what will they find us and what does that mean for the Bush administration? We begin tonight with NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory. While sometimes Arlen Specter really does the Senate proud when he asks just the right question. He is asking the president‘s Justice Department to say what powers does Congress still have over peace and war? When do you think they‘ll give us an answer, David?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it‘s not clear but there are important legal and political questions, as you‘ve outlined here, Chris.
On the legal front, even top administration officials have made it clear that while the president has the power to call the shots, to deploy troops, to commit troops, that ultimately it‘s Congress‘ responsibility to provide the funding. And in effect, officials like the vice president in interviews over the past week have said, really defined Congress to cut off money for the war, which they could do over time, which they have done in the past or put conditions on it.
What we‘re really in the middle of though now is not just a legal battle, but a political battle. And I think Russ Feingold said it when he said this is a question of Congress‘s will and there are not even enough Democrats who have coalesced around the idea of cutting off funding to really oppose the surge or the war in general.
MATTHEWS: David, let‘s talk about what‘s a good prospect for next week. Suppose next week, the Biden resolution doesn‘t attract enough Republicans to really accomplish its goal. Say there‘s 49 Democrats not counting Lieberman, who‘s a hawk, and not counting Tim Johnson, who‘s ailing.
They have 49 votes out of the 51. So they pick up two or three Republicans. That‘s not enough for any salvo. Suppose the Democrats decide look, we‘re going to fall back a bit. We‘re going to join the Republicans like John Warner and we‘re going to support a bipartisan resolution which says the nice things about the president, but also tells them we don‘t support the surge.
What does President Bush do if he‘s confronted with a resolution coming out of Congress with a strong bipartisan condemnation of his policy?
GREGORY: Well, I think that‘s the key point is how bipartisan is it? And does it go beyond Chuck Hagel, who the White House has been rather happy to dismiss has a long-time war critic and hardly even a Republican on this matter, in their view. I think there‘s no getting around the fact that the president is going to take a shot on this. He‘s going to take a political shot.
MATTHEWS: David, I‘m not talking about that. I‘m taking about the resolution that John Warner is constructing which will be very mild in its tone, which would accomplish the goal of chastising the president‘s policy, while respecting his office. What happens if that attracts almost 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans? What does the president say to that proposition?
GREGORY: Nothing. That‘s my point, is that he‘s going to take the shot, but it‘s not going to change anything. The president knows what the environment is among Republicans and Democrats. What they want here now is time. They want some time to make things work.
Look at how aggressive they have been in touting in a very detailed way every accomplishment of the Maliki government and of Iraqi security forces on the ground, confronting militias. They want time to demonstrate that it‘s working. At least some progress, and they recognize from the president to his senior advisers that they don‘t have more than a couple of months to demonstrate that sort of progress before more of the Republican floor started to fall out.
MATTHEWS: Do they believe that the bar has been set so low, by both the president, his people and the Democrats, for Maliki‘s government that any sign of support for the war against terrorism, or the terrorists, the insurgents inside Baghdad, they show up in formation. They show up in uniform. They are around when the Americans do the killing—any sign of life on the part of the Iraqi army is cheered as a win.
GREGORY: Well, I think what they want to see is however low that bar is, something that is measurable from these Iraqi security forces that—it‘s not just a question of what they are able to do and what they‘re able to demonstrate in terms of their own facility or faculty in fighting, but just a question of will.
I think what is more important now is will. They are not going to let members of the government start calling the shots on who you go after among the militias. That‘s what they want to see and the president knows that that has to be demonstrated not only for his own satisfaction, but for the likes of Senator Warner, not to mention Democrats who want to start putting some conditions on whether there‘s further funding for the war or for the support for the Maliki government.
MATTHEWS: David, I know you study polls intently. I‘m going to ask you about a new poll number that‘s come out of “Newsweek” just yesterday that said that not only do people not like the direction that Bush is taking us in, but a big number of them think he‘s not dealing in real facts in the world, that he‘s basically judging everything by his own sort of personal world view, his commitment to this war in Iraq. In other words, they think he‘s sort of disconnected with reality—almost with two-thirds of the people believe that. Is that dangerous for him as a leader?
GREGORY: Absolutely, it‘s dangerous. I mean, the idea that he is in denial about the facts on the ground in Iraq. And it‘s most dangerous for him within his own party. But I think—your bottom line question is the important one which is what does he do in response to resolutions like this?
The other question is also important, which is what is Congress going to do? What is anybody going to do to really change the course of this policy? The president still going to direct it for the remaining time that he has in office.
And there aren‘t very many plays left after this surge is tried unless they abandon the Maliki government and go for a plan B there, something that they don‘t really want to talk about out loud.
MATTHEWS: Boy, that‘s interesting. We‘ll have more on that later from you, David. Keep following that story. I wonder what the plan B is if we dump Maliki. Anyway, thank you very much, David Gregory, chief White House correspondent for NBC News.
We‘re joined right now by two former presidential candidates, Reverend Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and on the other side of the political divide, well over to the other side, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
Let me go to you, Reverend Sharpton. We‘re talking constitution here, and we are all taught in our civics classes that Congress has the power to declare war. I know that that‘s become sort of yesterday‘s reading of the constitution, but it is in fact still written there and you‘d think that strict constructionists who believe in the constitution as written, would occasionally notice that only Congress can declare war.
Will Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy succeed by calling the president‘s bluff today and saying, OK, Mr. President, you call yourself the decider. Tell us how the constitution is read by you. Tell us what we have left to do.
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I think it was a very, very significant thing that happened today. When Arlen Specter said what many of us would have wanted to hear a lot of others say, that he wants this president‘s justice department to really tell us what they are they are interpreting as constitutional law.
Now you have—the irony of this is this president is talking about protecting constitutions in Iraq without really having this justice department clarify how he is dealing with constitutional law here. So whether we are saying it‘s an old notion or not, it is written, it is there. It will be very interesting how they try to spin their way out of what the constitution in fact does say.
MATTHEWS: Pat, your reading?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is absurd on the part of Senator Specter and Senator Leahy. The Congress of the United States is the first branch of government in the constitution. It‘s got the power to declare war. It ought to assert its rights against the second branch of government, not ask the president‘s personal attorney to tell them what they can do.
MATTHEWS: Well, you mean they‘re chickening out here?
BUCHANAN: What are they going to Mr. Gonzales for, who‘s the president‘s lawyer?
MATTHEWS: If they‘re daring the president to claim that he‘s a dictator.
BUCHANAN: They are the Congress of the United States. They are the first branch of government in the constitution. The president is in the second. They have got the power to declare war and they gave it to the president in October of 2002 and the president of the United States is now moving toward a confrontation with a third country in there, Iran, and they‘re not saying a word about that. They‘re worried about nonbinding resolutions that will make them look good to their constituents. It is an appalling performance on the part of the ...
MATTHEWS: ... OK, go back to history, Pat. I know you‘ve written a lot about history. Go back to the beginning. Was there a time in the early part of the 19th century, new in our republic, where Congress would have said to the president, we don‘t want to fight the French, we don‘t want to fight the Brits this week, where they would really challenge them on this stuff?
BUCHANAN: That‘s exactly right. John Adams was authorized to embargo certain friendships and not others, and he did the others and they—and John Marshall told him he couldn‘t do it, he‘s exceeded his authority. But even the Supreme Court, if this went to them, you know what they would say, people like Scalia? This is a contest between two co-equal branches of government that should be resolved between them, not us.
MATTHEWS: So it‘s a matter of will.
Reverend Sharpton, is it simply that people like Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, all the big drum-beating Democrats will beat the drum, but they will not use the power given them by the Constitution?
SHARPTON: I think Feingold is right, that‘s it‘s...
MATTHEWS: Well, Feingold‘s all alone out there. He‘s the Lone Ranger.
SHARPTON: Well, I think that he‘s the Lone Ranger, but I think that now the—see, I think the politics of what was done today by Specter raising the question—and I happen to agree with Buchanan, that really the Congress ought to be aggressive on this. But by raising the question, I think it give us an opportunity to now make the president have to come out and make a statement. And we will see whether the Democrats have enough guts, courage and the will to go on and take him on.
So I favor that the question be asked because I‘d think that—I‘d rather someone in his own party has not said, “OK, what do you all read this as?”
If we had Democrats with guts they‘d come in and do what he‘s saying in terms of...
MATTHEWS: You know what I keep wondering? Are they afraid—the Democrats—that everything that‘s obvious is not going to be the case, that all of the sudden out of nowhere we‘re going to be winning this war, that people are going to be saluting us again on both sides, the Shia and the Sunni are going to accept a democratic republic along the lines we—how can they be afraid that it it‘s going to be anything but disaster over there?
BUCHANAN: Well, here‘s the thing...
MATTHEWS: I don‘t get what they‘re afraid of.
BUCHANAN: I‘ll tell you what they‘re afraid of. They‘re afraid if they cut off funds that the nightmare scenario will ensue and they will be blamed for the disaster as they were blamed for Vietnam when they cut off funds. So that‘s why they‘re not going down that road again.
SHARPTON: ... a nightmare, Pat, I mean, if you‘re in a nightmare, you should be afraid to keep sleeping, not afraid to wake up.
BUCHANAN: It‘s your guys that won‘t stand up, Rev, your guys that won‘t stand up.
SHARPTON: I agree with you on this one, Pat, as much as I hate to say it. But you‘re right. And I think that they need to stand up and they need to go, “We are in a nightmare. People are watching this every day. You have nothing to lose, but to wake up and stop the nightmare.”
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re going to find out because Russ Feingold is very much his own man. And if he pushes a resolution on the floor in the Senate, he could be Mr. Smith Comes to Washington, he could be Jimmy Stewart out there on the floor and say, “If you don‘t like this war, these are the words you have to use.”
BUCHANAN: I think Mr. Smith won.
MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Smith won because Claude Rains finally had it up to here.
We‘ll continue with MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and the Reverend All Sharpton.
Coming up, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have the latest on the Scooter Libby trial. Big breakthrough today, Scooter Libby admitted that the reason Joe Wilson went to Africa was because the vice president sent that mission going by asking the big question, “was there a deal?”
And later, who‘s going to win this fight over Iraq? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We continue with the Reverend Al Sharpton, a former presidential candidate, MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, also a former presidential candidate.
By the way, either of you guys going this time, Pat?
BUCHANAN: I have not ruled it out, Chris.
MATTHEWS: When will you be deciding?
MATTHEWS: OK, let me know. (INAUDIBLE)
Reverend Sharpton, I think you are a live one out there. Are you thinking of maybe getting in this one this time?
SHARPTON: I mean, I haven‘t ruled it out. I‘m going to wait and see by late spring, early summer how the debates formulate and whether I think the issues that need to be discussed are really being discussed. So I will be much longer than Pat‘s “tomorrow” to make my final decision.
MATTHEWS: Well, I haven‘t even ruled out running myself.
Give us some clue. Is there a plausible scenario under which you would go for it again?
SHARPTON: I mean, again, I want to see where it goes. I‘m not preoccupied by it. I would much rather continue doing what I‘m doing in National Action Network and civil rights. But I also don‘t want to see a debate over style and sizzle. So I haven‘t ruled it out.
MATTHEWS: OK, well, then let‘s all have some fun, since none of us are combatants.
Here‘s the Hillary—here‘s he Hillary line from this weekend in Iowa. It was a joke, an in-joke among some women. Let‘s see what she meant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: And what in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Now, look at that laugh with all the teeth and all the giggle among the girls, and that‘s fine with me. I like people having fun.
Who in hell was she talking about, besides Mr. Bill?
Reverend Sharpton, I am telling you. That was about Bill.
SHARPTON: I mean, I don‘t know. I think that...
MATTHEWS: Well, who did you think it was about when you watched that clip?
SHARPTON: I mean, when I watched it, it was after she said it and all the reporters had said it was about Bill.
Let me make one thing clear. Hillary Clinton is no one‘s fool. Bill Clinton is very popular, could probably be re-elected president if the Constitution permitted it. She would not be distancing herself. So if she was saying that about Bill, she was clearly joking. She is no way going do distance herself from Bill...
MATTHEWS: I agree with you. I think she wins both ways. She got elected in your state as the victim of Bill, now she campaigns with Bill. This woman can do it flat or round, right, Reverend?
SHARPTON: Well, and let me tell you something. Bill will do whatever
he‘ll bend over and taking a licking or he‘ll go campaigning, whatever it takes to help her win because he believes in her and he believes in what she stands for.
MATTHEWS: Will bill lean over and take a licking? Let‘s go with this one.
SHARPTON: Hey, with that imagery, with the Reverend Sharpton‘s imagery we‘re going with here...
BUCHANAN: Let me just say, look, I thought that was a hilarious line
by Hillary Clinton repeating the question. It was about Osama. Bad, evil
how do I know how to deal with bad and evil men. She picked up on it, she came back with a hilarious line. It was very funny.
MATTHEWS: About who?
BUCHANAN: It‘s about Bill, of course.
MATTHEWS: Of course it was. She‘s denying that.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t compare a guy who kills 3,000 people with somebody who had a little trouble with an intern.
BUCHANAN: Chris, I mean, why is the press all over her when she caught a very...
MATTHEWS: Because she won‘t honestly admit what she does.
BUCHANAN: Why don‘t they just let it go? It‘s a joke? Why do they ask questions?
MATTHEWS: Well, she won‘t admit that was a joke about Bill.
BUCHANAN: Why do they press her about it?
MATTHEWS: Because, Mr. Defender-of-All-Women, the problem is that she won‘t admit a candid joke.
BUCHANAN: We all know it was a joke...
MATTHEWS: The only reason this is an issue is aster she went back into her football formation, her huddle backstage with the people around how, Howard Wolfson, et cetera, she comes out and says, “Oh, that wasn‘t about Bill. That was about Osama bin Laden.”
BUCHANAN: That‘s because guys were asking her, “Who‘s that about?
Who‘s that about? Who‘s that about?” And they got their pens out.
And she just said, “Look, it was a joke.”
MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t she admit it—who was the butt of the joke?
BUCHANAN: She should say it was a joke and move on.
MATTHEWS: she didn‘t.
BUCHANAN: I know she didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the problem. You can defend her all you want, but if she doesn‘t come out clean—here‘s the problem, Reverend Sharpton, everybody knows that Hillary Clinton is a calculated politician. She doesn‘t have the street instincts of Bill. She can‘t move spontaneously, so she has to come with a caravan of consultants. But that‘s one thing. If she has to now meet with a caravan of consultants after she cracks a joke and tries—three different interpretations she came out with the other day afterwards, is that a problem on the stump for somebody who has to meet the American people?
SHARPTON: The problem, if it is that much of a problem—I mean, I have met with Hillary Clinton one on one and, believe me, she‘s tough without consultants in there, both when we‘ve agreed and disagreed.
But the only thing wrong with that scenario you laid out, Chris, is so far everyone I have in these races that are against her have more consultants following them, scripting them, than she does. So, I mean, it‘s not like you‘re going to have a battle of spontaneity in these debates.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that is a problem. But I‘ll tell you one thing. I thought the joke was wrong, because as much as I‘ve been tough on Bill Clinton over the years, I don‘t think it‘s fair to compare to compare him to Osama bin Laden. Even as a joke it falls flat. It‘s a clinker. It‘s like never compare anybody to Hitler. Don‘t compare somebody to Osama bin Laden.
BUCHANAN: How can you call it a clinker when everybody in the room was laughing their head off?
MATTHEWS: Because it was girl humor about girls and the trouble they all have with men. And that could be her strategy, “We girls have had a lot of trouble with men, let‘s face it. I‘ve had to deal with Bill. Let‘s face it. Let‘s all giggle together.”
But then, if you‘re asked, “What did you mean by that?” And it‘s like, “Well, I didn‘t mean that.”
MATTHEWS: Pat, Pat, when you‘re chivalrous, I don‘t you like you. I don‘t like chivalry from Pat Buchanan.
Reverend Sharpton, your New York solidarity is holding true. I‘m waiting for you on that platform with Hillary Clinton on the first primary night, you standing next to her, waving your arms in glee over her victory in Iowa. I want to see you there.
SHARPTON: Well, I think, again, I don‘t know how it will play out. I‘ve been very public about what I want to see happens in terms of some of the policies. But I think, again, don‘t underestimate. Bill Clinton really does believe, I believe, in his wife and what she stands for. And he‘ll play whatever role it takes to win. I don‘t think that he‘s not someone that has beliefs. I just think that he‘s someone that will play whatever role—it‘s like the Super Bowl, he‘ll play wherever you want him on the field, as long as he...
MATTHEWS: Right. In other words, is she has to paddle him at every stop on this campaign with a big, wooden paddle, he‘ll lean over and take it?
SHARPTON: That‘s what I think. and I think that he will hold the paddle while they swear her in as president, if that‘s what it takes.
MATTHEWS: What politicians we‘re talking about here!
Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have today‘s news from the Scooter trial.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Another day of testimony in the Scooter Libby trial. Former “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller took the stand today, the first time she testified publicly against Libby, who was the source she chose to protect, leading her to spend several weeks—many weeks in jail.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is standing by at the courthouse.
David, I was shook today to hear that Scooter Libby told Judy Miller, told Judy Miller, that it was the vice president‘s inquiry about a uranium deal in Africa that led to Joe Wilson‘s trip. This is the first time we‘ve heard out of the vice president‘s office, even secondhand, ad admission, a confession that that trip was because of a question raised by the veep, not because Mrs. Wilson, Valerie Plame, thought her husband needed a junket.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Right, I mean, it was the missing piece of the puzzle that the vice president‘s office has been loathe to acknowledge these last three years and that certainly Scooter Libby has not want to come out of this trial. But it did happen when Judy Miller was testifying about a conversation with Scooter Libby in June of 2003. And she testified that Scooter Libby brought up Joe and Valerie Wilson.
And it was during this testimony, when Judy Miller said that she was told by Libby about the genesis of Joe Wilson‘s trip, and that it was the vice president who had asked the CIA about an intense report that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger in 2002, and that, according to Miller, Libby told her that the CIA then followed it up with Joe Wilson, but that Libby was also adamant, according to Miller, in saying the vice president‘s office didn‘t know anything about this trip, the vice president‘s office didn‘t get a report from the CIA, it was the fault of the CIA.
And, Chris, what was so remarkable is the glimpse that Judy Miller‘s testimony offered us again, about the extent that—extent to which the vice president‘s office wanted to blame everybody else for the faulty intelligence. They were blaming the CIA for not getting back to the vice president‘s office. They were blaming the State Department and the Energy Department for having a footnote in a report that expressed the dissension about what aluminum tubes were for. And according to Miller, Libby said, “It‘s not our fault that we didn‘t see this in this report.”
It was always somebody else‘s fault. And it goes to the idea, Chris, that even after the war had begun, the vice president‘s office was adamant about suggesting that everybody else was unanimous in agreeing that Iraq was trying to expand a nuclear program.
MATTHEWS: Well, we also know that the vice president spent six different trips at over at Langley, at CIA headquarter pushing for evidence to justify a war. And I know that George Tenet, the CIA director at the time, when I asked him, “How could the vice president have triggered a trip to send somebody to Africa, with all the money that cost, and not gotten a report back from the CIA?”
And George Tenet said to me, to my face, “Ask him, ask Cheney.”
So I hope the prosecutors get into this question just for the national history here, just so we know how we got in this war, whether the vice president ever got a report back, or if Scooter Libby protected him from that report, or I don‘t know what, how will you read this?
How can a vice president ask a question, have a trip undertaken at great expense and never get a report back? Let‘s find out. I want the answer.
SHUSTER: Well, and, unfortunately, Chris, it‘s not germane for the prosecutors. But, again, it shows the extent to which the vice president‘s office wanted to blame the CIA completely.
I mean, Judy Miller, when she‘s talking about this crucial conversation with Scooter Libby, and she says that Scooter Libby told her nobody from the CIA came to the White House and said, “Mr. President, this intelligence is not correct. This is not right.”
So there you have Scooter Libby spinning Judy Miller in 2003. And yet, we know and the public knows that the CIA, in fact, stripped this intelligence reference out of a presidential speech in the fall of 2002 because they said the intelligence about Iraq seeking uranium was not accurate. And so there you have the vice president‘s office still spinning that everybody agreed on this after the war had started.
But, Chris, back to the point about the trial, the reason that Judy Miller‘s testimony is so significant is yet again, there is evidence that Scooter Libby knew about Valerie Wilson before the date in which he testified, that he said he first learned about Valerie Wilson. And that‘s what‘s going to get him in trouble.
MATTHEWS: More evidence for the prosecution.
Thank you very much, David Shuster at the courthouse.
Up next, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada. How many of his Republican colleagues will vote against President Bush‘s troop increase when the vote come to floor next week?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Senate is gearing up to criticize President Bush‘s plans to send more troops to Iraq. How many Republicans will he—will he get voting against the troop increase? And what will this mean for the president?
Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada sits on the Armed Services Committee, alongside Senator Warner.
Senator Ensign, what do you make of Senator John Warner, the former chairman of your committee, coming out with a resolution? I looked at the language today. It‘s very respectful of the president. But it does oppose the idea of more troops.
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: Well, listening to General Petraeus, who is a—obviously, everybody here thinks he‘s a great general. He‘s one of the best generals that has come along in quite some time.
And he thinks that having that kind of a resolution on the floor of the Senate would be harmful to—to the troops. And—and I have to—you know, I—I respect John Warner to a great degree. I think he is just one of the best people to serve in the U.S. Senate. But I disagree with him strongly on this point.
I think that there are some messages that we can send to the Iraqis, especially the Iraqi government and—and Maliki. But to actually say that you are against what the troops are going to be doing in the next coming months—you are not going to stop them from doing it—but just to say you‘re against it, I think, actually does damage to the troops‘ morale.
MATTHEWS: We have a new “Newsweek” poll that just came out, Senator. It says that two—two-thirds of the American people do not believe the president is making judgments based on facts; he‘s making those judgments based on his personal view of things, whatever that is.
At what point is it the Senate‘s responsibility to reflect public opponent and say, this president is not dealing with reality on the ground over there?
ENSIGN: Well, Chris, I think that you and I will both agree that, if you govern by polls, that is not leadership. And anybody who just governs, basically, wetting their finger, sticking it up, see which way the wind‘s blowing, is not—not a person of courage, not a statesman.
Certainly, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt would never have governed that way. They did what they thought was right, even in the face of great criticism. And that‘s what great leaders do.
What President Bush is up against is a very, very difficult situation. And the American people need to understand how difficult the situation in Iraq is.
It‘s time to really forget whether we‘re Republicans, whether we‘re Democrats, and that we‘re just Americans. And let‘s—let‘s join together to solve this problem.
I disagree with some of the things that the administration is doing over in Iraq. I have—I have voiced those concerns. I just had a meeting about an hour ago with General Casey, and told him about some of the reconstruction errors over in Iraq that I think that have happened. But I also gave them the ideas of—of how I think those errors can be corrected into the future.
A lot of people are just criticizing what the president is doing, but they‘re not offering any constructive plans going forward.
If we‘re going to join together, let‘s really put our party labels aside and put together constructive ideas that will be better for America.
MATTHEWS: When does a good American say: “This policy‘s hurting us in the world; I will stand against the president”?
ENSIGN: Well, I—I think that you have to be very careful any time that our troops are in harm‘s way.
We, as leaders, we have to measure, very carefully, what we say, whether it is going to do harm, or whether it is going to do good. Is it better to have that conversation behind the scenes?
At a certain point, you may want to go in public, but, once again, look to do it in a constructive way. I just wrote—about a month-and-a-half ago, wrote an op-ed with Senator Hillary Clinton. And we submitted it to “The Wall Street Journal”—it was published—because we disagreed with what the administration was doing on the oil, the distribution of the oil revenues to the Iraqi people. I think the administration waited too long to do this.
ENSIGN: That‘s why we went public with it.
And not too long after that, the president brought forward and got with Maliki and really put a lot more pressure on him. And now you see Maliki trying to push that law.
I—that was a constructive thing to do. It did not hurt the troops. It did not hurt our war effort. It actually improved things. And, as leaders, I think we have to be very measured in what we do, and—and look for things that are going to be good for this country, not just ripping us apart, Republican against Democrat against independent. Let‘s just join together as Americans.
MATTHEWS: Well let‘s look at history here. So many of these countries formed, as you know, as well as I do—formed after World War I, in the case of Iraq, or formed during the course of European history by victorious allies.
These countries are created. Then, afterwards, countries like Yugoslavia, once they‘re given the choices, they come apart. They just are people who don‘t want to be in the same country.
Could Iraq be one of those cases where the differences in religious belief among the various Islamic factions, between Sunni and Shia, is so strong that they would really prefer to be in separate worlds? Could that be where we‘re headed over there?
ENSIGN: Well I think, because of the oil situation, with the—the Kurds having the oil in the—in the north, and the Shia have the oil in the south, I don‘t think that the Sunnis would ever go—go for that.
And—and that‘s one of the reasons that I believe the oil situation should have been solved a long time ago, because a lot of the insurgency was caused by wondering who was going to get the oil revenues, the wealth of the country. Was it going to be—were the Sunnis going to be left out of it?
And the—and, at the time, al Qaeda took advantage of that and—and caused a lot of the sectarian violence—violence by attacking the mosque.
I think that we have to be careful when we‘re trying to predict the future—you know, it‘s going to be one country, 30 countries. I think that, because of the oil—and, if you do it right, I do think that a unified Iraq would be better for the area, but it also would be better for all three of those people living together.
And, if you can have an economic growth fueled by the owning of oil revenues by the individual, I think that Iraq actually can be successful in the future.
MATTHEWS: Bottom line, Senator—it‘s still the acid test—do you believe, after all these years of war, going back to 2003, that it was in America‘s interests—not partisan interests, American interests—to take the American Army into Iraq? Was that in our interest?
ENSIGN: Chris, you know, hindsight is—is wonderful.
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m asking you to show some hindsight. You have seen the past. You have a good look at it.
Looking back, was that in America‘s interests to take the American Army, the bulk of our military strength, into Arabia, into Iraq, to occupy that country? Was that in our interest, to do that thing that the president did?
ENSIGN: Chris—and I—and I—and I‘m not trying to be evasive on this—I think it would dishonor those who have given their lives in the cause for our country to—to actually second-guess.
The bottom line is, we made the best decision with the information that we were given at the time. To look back, Monday-morning quarterbacking, just doesn‘t work. The only reason you look back is to try to learn...
ENSIGN: ... for the next time going forward. You have to learn from the mistakes.
Let me challenge you on that, Senator. Have you learned the lessons of Iraq, so we don‘t repeat them in Iran, that we don‘t let a bunch of ideologues around the president scare us into a war with Iran, where we find our troops at war with a huge country, a very sophisticated country, with lots of danger in the world, through its elements in the Hezbollah and elsewhere in the Middle East; we go to war with them on the same kind of argument that Cheney and Wolfowitz and the rest gave us to go into this war?
I‘m afraid we‘re going to get up some morning, we‘re going to be at war with Iran; Hillary Clinton will be saluting, the rest of the Democrats will be saluting; and the American people will never have had any role in this. That‘s my worry. That‘s why I want to go back and look at how we got into this war.
ENSIGN: And, Chris, I think the way that you just stated it right there is very fair. To look back, to see what mistakes were made at the time, to see what kind of judgment calls were made to prevent it in the future is very, very fair.
The mistakes that I think that were made at the time, first of all, we did not have enough intelligence. We did not have enough human intelligence on the ground to make the kind of decisions prior to going into Iraq.
MATTHEWS: I know.
ENSIGN: But, also, the way that we prosecuted, there—there is no
question there were not enough troops on the ground when we—sure, we
could take over the country, but we could not secure the peace in Iraq. We
we made a huge mistake.
As far as the reconstruction, we did not provide for security, the water infrastructure, the power infrastructure, all of those kinds of things. We did not do that at the beginning.
We should learn from that, and not repeat that mistake, if we ever have to do something like what we did in Iraq again. Those are some valuable lessons that we can learn from history. I hope we—I hope we have learned those lessons.
MATTHEWS: Senator, I love being out in your state of Nevada. I have met a lot of your colleagues in the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party—a great state. I love Las Vegas.
ENSIGN: I‘m glad you were out there. And...
MATTHEWS: It was a lot of fun.
ENSIGN: ... appreciate you helping the economy out there.
MATTHEWS: And—and we picked one beautiful Miss America.
Anyway, thank you very much, Senator John Ensign.
Up next: How did Hillary do in Iowa? And who was the butt of that joke? We will ask the HARDBALLERS, Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: Hillary debuts in Iowa. And New Hampshire is next. What is with the Bill jokes?
When HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Hillary Clinton made her big debut in Iowa. And now she is ready for New Hampshire. How is she doing?
Let‘s bring in our HARDBALLERS. Howard Fineman is chief political correspondent for “Newsweek.”
You‘re top everything.
MATTHEWS: And he‘s also an MSNBC political analyst.
And Chuck Todd is editor in chief of “The Hotline” and a HARDBALL political analyst.
Let me go—this is like the Latin American army. Everybody is a general.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Here are my...
MATTHEWS: And you should be.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this.
Hillary‘s joke, who was the butt of the joke? She tells this big joke: I‘m used to dealing with bad and evil men. I can take on Osama bin Laden.
And she‘s doing it kind of a girl talk kind of thing. I wish it wasn‘t all guys here.
What was she doing? What was that about?
FINEMAN: Well, she was trying to display a sense of humor, for one, which some people might think of as frightening.
FINEMAN: But, actually, I thought it was funny, and it was genuine.
MATTHEWS: What was the joke?
FINEMAN: And it was unscripted.
MATTHEWS: What was the joke?
FINEMAN: The joke was about her husband, obviously.
MATTHEWS: Well, why is she running away from it now...
FINEMAN: She‘s not running away.
MATTHEWS: ... and skirting away from it?
FINEMAN: She‘s showing: I can laugh about it now.
MATTHEWS: Oh, no. Oh, no. She said it was about Osama.
FINEMAN: I thought it was brilliant.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look.
FINEMAN: I thought it was brilliant.
MATTHEWS: I think—let there be no doubt it was about Bill.
Let‘s watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: And what in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Chuck Todd.
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the reason she is now not embracing this is because the fact that we are in day three talking about it a little bit.
MATTHEWS: No. She didn‘t embrace that after...
TODD: I understand that. And then she got asked about it the next day. And she sort of snapped a little bit...
MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t she just laugh?
TODD: You‘re—you‘re psychoanalyzing. But I think she was trying...
MATTHEWS: Nobody is psychoanalyzing it. It‘s about Bill. Just say so and move on.
TODD: Well, what is—I think that they just didn‘t—they were hoping that it would just be implied. They didn‘t want to have to explain the joke. I mean, what‘s wrong with it?
MATTHEWS: Ah. Because she is denying the joke. She‘s saying it‘s about Osama bin Laden.
FINEMAN: I think you are overanalyzing...
MATTHEWS: All right.
MATTHEWS: Everybody is on Hillary patrol here. I know you have got to deal with these people.
FINEMAN: That‘s not the reason.
MATTHEWS: I know you have got to deal with them.
FINEMAN: I think that‘s the first genuine moment I have seen out of her in this campaign.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go on. And she quickly pulled away from it and said; I don‘t want to be genuine.
FINEMAN: Well, then, she got—when—she was back in character the next day, acting like Richard Nixon.
FINEMAN: But Nixon always talked: Don‘t try to psychoanalyze me.
And the Bushes hate to be psychoanalyzed. And, you know, relax.
TODD: But this is the problem now. We have now had two unscripted moments with her, right? We have had this one and we had the Tammy Wynette moment, you know? In some ways, it was framed. It was actually 15 years ago to the weekend.
FINEMAN: Yes, but my point is, this was a good one.
MATTHEWS: I liked it, too.
MATTHEWS: I wish she would stick to the glue she stands on.
FINEMAN: Well, she can‘t do that.
TODD: But the problem...
FINEMAN: She‘s too controlled for that.
TODD: No. No, no, no.
The problem is, they get frustrated that they do get psychoanalyzed.
And I think she retreats from this because she doesn‘t like...
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton...
MATTHEWS: ... lean over and kiss her butt, or his butt, whatever. I think his language was a little confusing there at one point there, but—too much like the Starr report, actually.
MATTHEWS: But is it—is it a good move for her to show a little friskiness about her husband, who was such a problem for her?
TODD: A little bit.
MATTHEWS: Does it show some strength...
MATTHEWS: ... to be able to say, hey, he ain‘t exactly Saint Francis?
FINEMAN: Sure, because the subliminal—subliminal message of that is: I have accepted it. I have moved on. And the country should move on. If I have moved on...
FINEMAN: ... if I have a tough skin about it now, and I‘m not resentful now...
MATTHEWS: You should be her flack, because that is the message she should have come out with.
FINEMAN: No, no. I‘m reacting in an honest fashion to what I saw on that screen.
And that was one of the best moments that Hillary Clinton has had in a long time, I thought.
TODD: Look, it‘s a—look, they have—they have decided they are going to embrace the gender thing, that if they win this nomination, it‘s only women.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the story.
TODD: And that‘s—and she was talking to women.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go through the math.
The Democratic Party is the mommy party in many ways. It‘s good on health, education, child care, parental care, prescription drugs, the kinds of issues that, in a traditional American family, the woman gets stuck with. You ask a guy what shots the kids have had—he doesn‘t know—what the teachers‘ names are. He may know one or two.
So, Hillary is going to play to that, obviously, because that is her strength, health care, issues like that. She‘s also a woman. She is running against seven guys. She just has to divide up her—the 50 percent of the men voting among the guys, if it gets to be a gender vote. It‘s so smart.
As Ronald Reagan used to say, work the difference. Her difference is gender.
FINEMAN: Well, I think that‘s true.
And I was talking to somebody in New Hampshire. I know a woman I know in New Hampshire who is very active politically who was starstruck by Barack Obama.
FINEMAN: And I—a couple weeks ago. And I said, are you with Obama?
And she said: I‘m not sure, because all my other women friends who are active in politics up in New Hampshire are telling me, this is our chance...
MATTHEWS: This is it.
FINEMAN: ... to elect a woman president.
And that is a big argument that is going to be made, not just on Hillary own—Hillary herself, but for history-making purposes.
MATTHEWS: And, by the way, the kind of women that show up at Democratic organizations...
FINEMAN: Yes, boy, do they show up.
MATTHEWS: ... are not the traditional woman who stays at home and doesn‘t go out and work. They‘re the women who go out and work, who get active in meetings...
MATTHEWS: ... who are very militant and gung-ho.
MATTHEWS: And they‘re the kind of people—they‘re like Hillary.
TODD: But there‘s another reason.
MATTHEWS: And she‘s appealing to that mentality.
TODD: There‘s another reason she has to play the gender card. That‘s change. Electing a woman is change. This is a change election; ‘08 is going to be a change election.
MATTHEWS: Is sure is a change election.
TODD: If it‘s about Clinton, if it‘s about electing somebody named Clinton, then, it‘s not a change election.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t make it another go-round of the sitcom.
MATTHEWS: We‘re not going back to the “Desperate Housewives” again.
We are going to the future of women in power.
TODD: Women in power.
MATTHEWS: In other words, keep him off stage.
TODD: Keep him off stage.
FINEMAN: I thought she pushed—I thought she gently pushed him off...
TODD: And it‘s Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.
FINEMAN: She gently pushed him off stage with humor, I thought.
FINEMAN: Very skillfully.
MATTHEWS: Well, he ought to be running camping trips to Guam right know. Maybe that will help her.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd.
Up next, former Motion Picture Association chairman and LBJ top aide Jack Valenti here to talk about Vietnam and Iraq. This is it.
You‘re going to be watching it on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Jack Valenti was special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. And he says important lessons learned then have been forgotten in Iraq, including what happens when we leave a country in the midst of war.
Good evening, Jack.
JACK VALENTI, FORMER CHAIR, MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA:
Hello, Chris. How are you?
MATTHEWS: Jack, let me ask you about this.
When you read the papers every day and you watch the news, what is the flashback to Vietnam?
VALENTI: Well, first, I am no president basher. Having worked for a president in wartime, I am not eager—I‘m very reluctant to criticize another president, because I know the personal agony they go through.
But I see we are making the same mistakes today we made in Vietnam. This war is unwinnable by any gauge you choose to make it. We are occupiers on a foreign land. No occupier, matter how benign his motives, has an—the people have an affection for. They want to get rid of him.
And, as long as we are killing Arabs, we make other Arabs mad at us. The thing is, without any question, we found out in Vietnam, there is a thing called a domino theory, which all of Indochina was going to fall to communism if we got out. It didn‘t happen.
There‘s no such thing as a fixed truth. I think that we ought to take our troops out of Baghdad, put them on the borders of Iran and Syria, and let this civil war go forward. It‘s their civil war, not ours. We can‘t be arbitrating this. And let them fight it out, until one side or the other wins. And then they will get some kind of a government together.
But we found in Vietnam we had one coup after another, no stable governments, all fragile and crumbling.
VALENTI: The same thing is happening over there now.
And it‘s a shame, because our brave troops are surely going to go in, in-close, personal, deadly, hand-to-hand, house-to-house. A lot of civilians are going to be killed. And we will be blamed for it. And a lot of our troops are going to get killed. And they ought not get killed.
My own judgment is that, if we look at the errors we made in Vietnam, and try to apply them now, find some way, not precipitously, but to gradually being—withdrawing our troops, keep enough of them there, so that, if we have to, we can intervene if there is an incursion by the Syrians or the Iranians. But this is not our civil war.
MATTHEWS: It seemed to me, in Vietnam, that whoever survived over there would win. I mean, they survived. We had to leave eventually. They took over, the Vietnamese...
MATTHEWS: ... the North Vietnamese and the V.C.
It seems to me that the Sunni and the Shia are going to there after we leave. Whenever that is...
MATTHEWS: ... if it‘s 20 years from now, they are going to still be there.
VALENTI: It‘s their country.
MATTHEWS: Why do we think we can—quote—“win,” beat the people that live there, and they‘re going to say, yes, you were right; we are going to stop being who we are forever?
MATTHEWS: I just don‘t get the thinking behind the president. I know he‘s taking this seriously. He prays every night about this.
But what can he be looking toward? What do you think he is looking toward?
VALENTI: I don‘t know.
Always, I feel great sympathy for the president, because, when you are sending young boys into die, Lyndon Johnson use to say, it‘s like taking carbolic acid every morning. So, I know the agony...
MATTHEWS: To drink it, yes.
VALENTI: And it—it‘s—but keep in mind this. Our commanders say we are going to take, hold and build. They leave out the fourth word, Chris, which is leave. At some point, we are going to leave.
So, what good is all this taking, holding and building, if you know you are going to going to leave in a year or so? It‘s just more—more young boys are going to be killed over there for no reason at all. This is a civil war where sect, sectarian, family, clan, and religious loyalties always trump a democratic government.
MATTHEWS: Thirteen hundred years of warfare...
MATTHEWS: ... we‘re walking into.
VALENTI: And why do we think that we are going to stop it today? We‘re not. It‘s not our battle. And we are trying to invade ancestral traditions that have lasted for—since the sixth century.
MATTHEWS: What would LBJ say if he was watching this right now?
VALENTI: He would say: I pray for President Bush. I think he ought to get out as quickly as he can, because it can‘t be won.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Jack Valenti, great...
VALENTI: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ... great American.
Play HARDBALL with us Wednesday. That‘s tomorrow. We will have the latest on the Scooter Libby trial—it‘s getting interesting—and the fight over Iraq, which is just getting worse.
Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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