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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for March 1

Guests: Richard Daley, Dana Priest, Steve Robinson, Michael Smerconish, Joe Conason, Marc Rotterman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Rudy rules, McCain explains, Walter Reed bleeds.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL.  Senator John McCain made it official last night on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States.


MATTHEWS:  McCain said he‘ll make a formal announcement in April but in the meantime, Rudy Giuliani is beating him soundly in the latest polls.  A new poll by “Time” magazine has Giuliani up by 14 points over McCain in the Republican field.  More on McCain in a moment and on Giuliani.

Plus, the top commander at Walter Reed is out after another damning report in the “Washington Post” just today which said top hospital officials knew about the neglect of wounded soldiers for years, but didn‘t deal with it.  We‘ll talk with Dana Priest, the reporter who broke this story.

But first, Senator John McCain is running.  Recently the senator joined us last October for a HARDBALL College Tour at Iowa State.  Let‘s listen to what he said on the program.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about an area we‘ve all been involved, you especially in talking about Iraq and how we can win this war or deal with it.  You‘ve called just in the last couple of days for 100,000 more troops on top of the 140,000 we have as a complement there.

When I read that on the clips this morning, I went to General Barry McCaffrey who you know so well and he said we‘ve got only a total of 19 brigades that we could actually put into combat right now.  We have 17 committed, two of those brigades to Afghanistan, 15 already in Iraq.  He says we simply don‘t have the capability to sustain another 100,000 troops in Iraq.  You disagree. 

MCCAIN:  I said we need 100,000 more members of the marine and the army.  We need additional troops there, but I think we need to expand the army and the marine corps by 100,000 people. 

MATTHEWS:  More recruitment.

MCCAIN:  More recruitment, and by the way, I‘m sure that people in this audience, many members of the Iowa National Guard, they have served with courage, with bravery, with sacrifice, enormously wonderful performance.  But it‘s a heavy strain on the guard.

MATTHEWS:  Would they please stand up?  I know we have some here.  Would the people of the national guard of Iowa please just stand up, non-officially here?  Thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, thank you for your service.


MCCAIN:  Some of these young people have been to Afghanistan or Iraq two or three times already.  We have put an enormous strain on them.  They have performed magnificently, but we can‘t keep it up, we‘ve got to expand the size.

MATTHEWS:  How many other people, men and women are thinking of making a military commitment in the next couple of years, anyone else, stand up, please.  You‘re thinking of making a military commitment.  Well, you guys are already ROTC, right?  We have the ROTC people here.  Thank you.  Thank you for your future service.  Let me ask you...

MCCAIN:  ... Could I respond to that?  I think that if young Americans, young people in this audience at Iowa State are told, ones at Ohio State, too, but at Iowa State, are told that we need them for a worthy cause, that we will compensate them well, that we will provide for further educational benefits—that we will—that‘s the job of recruiters.  That‘s our job.

MATTHEWS:  But why isn‘t it working?  I mean, so few people here, a couple thousand young people here and a very, very small percentage have expressed a commitment even by standing here.  Doesn‘t that mean we might have to think of the draft again?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think we need to think of the draft again because I don‘t think it makes sense in a whole variety of ways.  But I guarantee you, if these young people felt this nation was in a crisis, and we asked them to serve, virtually every one of them would stand up, because I have the greatest confidence in the young people of America.

MATTHEWS:  But if you were paid better and you had a greater opportunity for education in the military, would anyone else want to stand up here?  See, I‘m wondering because the military—we talked to McCaffrey says we can‘t do this thing. 

MCCAIN:  Well, I talk to young people all the time.  I talk to them one on one, I talk to them in small groups.  I don‘t expect a group of people to stand up.  But I‘ll tell you, if I had the chance—with the ones I have a chance to talk to, they understand how wonderful this country is and they‘re willing to give something back to it.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

MCCAIN:  And that‘s what America is all about.

MATTHEWS:  How many in this room believe in the war in Iraq from beginning to now, support the war in its full reality?  The senator is one of those.  Who else here agrees with him?  Stand up.


MATTHEWS:  Stay up.  Everybody now stay up who would consider participating in this war, participating in the war.

MCCAIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  All you people standing now are planning to participate in the war in some way?  Really?  Everybody here?

MCCAIN:  Thank you very much.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the weird disconnect, when you ask people if they have definite plans to join the military and participate in this war, they say no.  But if you of course make it a political question, you get a much more enthusiastic response. 

Could that be the problem that John McCain is facing out there right now as I speak?  With polls showing the country wants out of Iraq, will McCain‘s pro-war position be his campaign albatross?  Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLers right now, Mike Barnicle‘s an MSNBC contributor and Chuck Todd is editor-in-chief at the “Hotline” and the incoming political director for NBC News.  Thank you very much.

Mike Barnicle, you know what I just did then is what Bobby Kennedy used to do back in the ‘60s, which is compare the people who stand up for a war and those who are willing to stand up in the war.  There is always a big disconnect.  I think it‘s bigger now than it was in Vietnam.

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Oh, I agree with you, Chris.  I was struck watching that clip of Senator McCain‘s appearance with you.  His 2000 campaign was such a wonderful moment for the country, for himself, and even for the media.

But nostalgia doesn‘t win out in the cruel business of politics.  And Iraq is a real problem for McCain right now.  We‘re dealing with an exhausted country, a country exhausted by Iraq and the dilemma of Iraq and Senator McCain just doesn‘t fit into that piece of the puzzle right now.  It‘s early, but right now he‘s in difficult trouble.

MATTHEWS:  To become more hip, did the senator go on Letterman last night?  I mean, Letterman‘s a pretty hip guy, he‘s sarcastic, he can be very cold-hearted at times, but he does appeal to hip people, especially big city people and younger people.  Is that what he did last night to overcome the fact there is this disconnect between his war policy and younger people?

CHUCK TODD, THE HOTLINE:  I think it was two things.  And I don‘t want to read too much into this.  Sometimes we psychoanalyze these guys so much.  But I think one was to show a little optimism and smile.  He had really gotten dour over the last six months.  He‘s really upset about this war and he‘s let it show.  He wears his emotions on his face and when he‘s upset, you see it.  The other is the age thing.  He‘s worried about it.  Letterman brought it up.

MATTHEWS:  He‘ll be 72 when he runs.

TODD:  That‘s right, and Letterman brought it up, and you could just see almost like McCain going, geez, please don‘t tell everybody I‘m 70.  Half the reason why I came on the show was so that I could relate and look younger.  Look the guy doesn‘t look 70.  We asked this poll question in the last “Hotline” poll we said, how old is McCain and most people thought he was under 65.  People don‘t know that he‘s 70 because he doesn‘t look it yet.

MATTHEWS:  Mike, what do you think of that issue?  Ronald Reagan came into office about 70, he served eight years.  Maybe he wasn‘t as sharp at the end of the eight years, although he did bring an end to the Cold War in his last year or so, so he was quite able to deal on the biggest questions of the time, meaning the Cold War.  Is there evidence that John McCain can‘t go the distance, or is he going to have to run for one term rather than two terms?

BARNICLE:  Well you know, this is the last roundup for John McCain, everyone knows that.  And Chuck is absolutely right.  When people are told if they ask how old is Senator McCain and you say 70 years of age, they go wow.

He doesn‘t look 70 or he doesn‘t seem 70.  But it‘s going to be an issue and it‘s going to be an issue because I would just submit that the ‘08 election is going to be different from almost every other presidential election we‘ve had in my memory.  There are going to be so many tools that people have access too.  Everybody is going to be a participant.  Giuliani, Obama, they look young, they look new, they look fresh.  And John McCain‘s age and his presence on the stage for all these years is an issue.

MATTHEWS:  Could it be what the American people want to replace George Bush—and I‘m not being partisan here, because I‘m asking for both directions, Chuck, they really want a hero.  They want a hero.  Maybe it‘s a woman, maybe it‘s an African-American, a young skinny guy, Obama, maybe it‘s Rudy Giuliani, the tough New York cop with a lot of grit.  But they want a hero.  They don‘t want a regular bureaucratic politician to come in there to sort of fill the job.

TODD:  Well I think that‘s right.  They don‘t want a governor.  Usually we go to these governors because governors, they do everything correctly and they manage bureaucracies very well.  I think you‘re right.

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t want a manager, they want a hero.

TODD:  That‘s right, I think they want a leader.  They want somebody to look up to.  Hero is your word—I‘m not there yet on the word hero.

MATTHEWS:  Well because we‘re told now since 2001 by events and our president, both by events and—we‘re in a very scary world. 

TODD:  Well, they want a larger-than life figure, and you‘re right, I think that‘s where being the first woman or being an African-American or being Rudy, who he is—that may be where they‘re getting some of their appeal.

MATTHEWS:  Do we want a kind of a Michael—a nitroglycerine pill, something to really shake up the world and say hey, look we‘re alive, we‘ve got this hot new president and we‘re going to take you guys—by the way his name is—middle name is Hussein.  Get used to it.  You know, we can have a guy with a third world background to some extent.  We‘ve got a young guy here, or we‘ve got Rudy Giuliani, the one tough cop, who was standing on the beat when we got hit last time and stood up and took it. 

We want—well, I‘m asking.  Do we want somebody who can return the fire, not somebody who‘s lesser able than the president we have now?

BARNICLE:  As early as it is in this process, you know, you‘re so right on.  If you go to any of these rallies even up in New Hampshire—

I‘ve not been to Iowa yet.  But you go to New Hampshire, people want strength, but they want optimism.  They want a little sunshine.  It‘s as if we‘ve been living in the shadows of September 11 since September 11. 

They want to be told who they are.  They want vindication as Americans.  We can get this job done.  Follow me, I‘m a leader, and put a smile on your taste, because we‘re going to come out in the far end of this in great shape. 

MATTHEWS:  Can Hillary do that?


MATTHEWS:  Can Hillary do that, Chuck?

TODD:  I think if she‘s running as the first woman, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  She‘s running at Bill‘s wife. 

TODD:  No. 


TODD:  I think that she has to be Hillary.  She has to be the one word, Hillary, the way it is Rudy.  It has to be that.  If she‘s running as a woman, then yes, it‘s somebody to look up to.  If she‘s running as another Clinton ...

MATTHEWS:  So if she sends him on a slow boat to China, the next year would be better off for her. 

TODD:  It‘s another Clinton, and that‘s a ...

MATTHEWS:  Why does she keep bringing up his name, Bill?

TODD:  For primary voters, it‘s very—it works.  It works with primary voters, and it works with donors.  I think that to get the nomination, she‘s got to work.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s got to get away from her donor base.  Yes, Mike?

BARNICLE:  When you see Hillary and when you see Giuliani and when you see Obama, it‘s clear people that come out to see Giuliani and Obama out of curiosity.  They come out to see Hillary out of habit.  They feel that they have to go see here.  And she‘s like a focus grouped candidate, compared to the other two. 

MATTHEWS:  That could be one of those great middleweight fights from the ‘50s.  Remember, Mike?  Bobo—not Bobo Olson.  Who was the Italian guy?  Carmen Basilio...

BARNICLE:  Carmen Basilio from New York.

MATTHEWS:  ... against the best guy, pound for pound, in history, Sugar Ray Robinson.  Now, that would be a good ‘50s fight, Sugar Ray Robinson against Carmen Basilio. 

Anyway, Chuck Todd and Mike Barnicle are coming back with us.  We‘re going to talk ‘50s fight came here.

Anyway, later, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, my friend, is coming here on HARDBALL, himself.  His honor is coming here on HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle and Chuck Todd, editor in chief of “The Hot Sheet” and the new NBC News political director, about to be. 

Anyway, let‘s take another look at this chart.  Mike, you can‘t see it, but let me describe it.  It shows Rudy Giuliani running against McCain.  Look at these numbers.  Giuliani beating McCain in the northeast 50 to 23, in the Midwest 34 percent to 21 percent, in the south 39 to 24, in the west only 32 to 27. 

Now look at that southern number.  We know that Giuliani would be powerful in the ethnic northeast.  But look at the south.  I have been saying this for two years now.  He‘s got strength in the south.  They can‘t spell his name necessarily, but they know Rudy was a hero—Mike Barnicle.

BARNICLE:  Well, yes, but what happens with the delegates to the Republican convention?  I mean, you know, how does he get by them? 

He has enormous strength, enormous appeal coast to coast because of who he is and what his life and his career represents.  Not just September 11.  He took on this myth of New York City, this crime ridden New York City, and he made it safer than it had ever been before. 

People want to be safe in this country.  They want to be secure in this country.  They want to have strength in their leadership.  He represents all of those.

But what does he represent to the delegates who go to these Republican conventions?  I mean, he‘s pro—he‘s pro-choice.  He lived with a gay couple.  He‘s been...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  He lived as a tenant.  Would you stop doing that, Mike?  He lived as a tenant with the gay couple.  You keep suggesting that was his orientation.  It‘s not.

BARNICLE:  No, no.  No, not at all.  But I mean, how—I mean, some of these people that you read about, that you hear about—I don‘t know an awful lot of them—the evangelicals that go to Republican conventions, how are they going to look at him?  How are they going to look at Mitt Romney?

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s see.  That‘s the question, Chuck.

TODD:  I think—I think, look, I think what 9/11 did, 9/11 was a born-again moment for Rudy.  He was born again as a politician.  And in some ways, he sort of sends the subliminal message that says, “Look, not only did it change me—it didn‘t just change the country; it changed me.”  And I think that‘s what the southerners respond with...

MATTHEWS:  All our lives we‘ve seen people rise to the occasion.  And there was something there before. 

I‘m with Mike on that.  I think the way he dealt with the crime situation in New York, with the broken windows and squeegee guys.  He said, “No, we‘re going to stop crime because we‘re going to stop the petty crime first.  And that will cut down the murders and everything else.  And the porno and everything that ends up creating a crime environment.”

And he did something new: he followed the thinkers of the neoconservative social thinkers, which is you‘ve got to stop crime at the street corner level.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He did something, and it worked.  A lot of people didn‘t like it. 

TODD:  I want to—one of the reasons why I think Rudy is getting this sort of pass from conservatives is that the three candidates, McCain, Romney, and Rudy, they‘re all sort of compromises.  And if they‘re going to compromise, they‘re more excited about compromising with Rudy than they are the other two right now.  And I think that‘s what Rudy‘s taking advantage of.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the biggest issue in the next four years?  Is it going to be security of this country or arguing for the millionth year over abortion rights, where we won‘t change our policy?  A million years more we‘ll be arguing about it.

TODD:  And that‘s why, at the end of the day, it does seem like, you know, it‘s—why it‘s McCain and Giuliani are in this.

MATTHEWS:  Does anyone think we‘re going to make a decisive decision to outlaw abortion in the next four to eight years?

TODD:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Does anyone think that on this planet?  That we‘re going to do that?

TODD:  I think—I actually do think that there are some life activists who believe that, that Roberts and Alito. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘ll actually do it?

TODD: And I think that‘s why Rudy talks about...

MATTHEWS:  Brought it back to the states and the states will outlaw—or legalize it? 

TODD:  Correct.  It is possible. 

MATTHEWS:  ... not change that radical that soon.  Right or wrong?

TODD:  No, but I do think that the Roberts and Alito appointees have gotten a lot of the community thinking it‘s possible.  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  Get your head straight. 

TODD:  All right.  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Chuck Todd, our new genius.  Thank you. 

And he is.  I‘ll be getting advice from him as the weeks go on. 

Anyway, Barnicle, thank you because you agree with me. 

Up next, his honor, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.  The kid is a grown-up.  He‘s the guy now.  He‘s the—what you do call that guy—the boss. 

And later, the latest on the fallout at Walter Reed.  Boy, that‘s a big story that‘s popping tonight.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On Tuesday Richard M. Daley won his sixth term as mayor of Chicago, putting him on track to surpass even his father as the longest serving mayor in the Second City‘s history. 

Thank you very much.  You‘re smiling.  Seventy-one percent, Mr. Mayor, amazing performance. 

MAYOR RICHARD DALEY, CHICAGO:  I‘m very happy with the results of the voters giving me confidence and support in our agenda about bringing people together, about tackling the most difficult issues of education and public housing.  And having people really work together block by block.  And I think that‘s what we‘re doing in the city of Chicago. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you make a city run that‘s so ethnically—and this isn‘t a sugaring up question.  I am amazed how you do it.  You‘ve got a city which is, I guess, the plurality is black, a white minority, a Latino minority.  Everything is a minority in that city.  How do you do it?

DALEY:  Well, the problems are all the same.  The quality of education is the same, public housing, the quality of a block, living on a block with affordable housing.  All these issues are common.  And so sometimes they‘re higher in degrees in certain communities, so you really bring people together, dealing with law enforcement, CAPS (ph) program, gangs, guns and drugs.  You have people really work together on behalf of the betterment of the city. 

As well as a business community that‘s really stepped up in our city.  I think we have the finest business community of any city in this country about moving forward, whether it‘s affordable housing, O‘Hare modernization program, whether it‘s education reform.  The business community stands shoulder to shoulder with me at all times. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Mr. Mayor, when I moderated that debate, a couple of debates down in New Orleans, I asked the candidates for mayor to name their favorite mayor as their role models.  They mentioned you and Giuliani.  Do you guys have anything in summon?

DALEY:  I think Mayor Giuliani, Mayor Bloomberg, Shirley Franklin.   There‘s a lot of mayors—Tom Menino from Boston, Villaraigosa from Los Angeles.  All these mayors are tackling tough issues, and they have to make difficult discussions, and sometimes counter to their own constituents.  Because what is good for the city sometimes is not good for one part of the city.  So you look at overall making decisions. 

And that‘s why mayors are effective administrators and basically executives in the country. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s causing the spike in murder rates in these big cities, especially where my city, Philadelphia?  In other words, what‘s going on?  Baltimore, D.C.?  What is going on with this murder?  Is it drugs again or what‘s causing—is it gang stuff or what?

DALEY:  Well, a lot of it‘s drug- and, of course, gang-related.  Our murder rate is going down, and that‘s really good for us every year.  But one murder is one too many.

Also, the access to guns.  So many have so many guns in society.  And that‘s why banning the assault weapons in Illinois, we‘re going to push some common sense gun laws.  Common sense, because if we don‘t, you see increase of murder rate not only in big cities, but also smaller cities and surrounding the large city, in the suburban areas. 

MATTHEWS:  You know a lot about a man that a lot of people are curious to know more about.  The latest polls show that half the American people want to know about Barack Obama.  You know him as a political colleague.  Tell us something we don‘t know. 

What is it about this guy, this young guy, who seems to have so much -

it‘s an old word—charisma?

DALEY:  Well, he does have charisma, but he has more than that.  He has real substance.  He‘s been in the general assembly in the Senate for many, many years in the Illinois senate.  Now he‘s in the U.S. Senate.  He‘s willing to compromise and move the agenda forward. 

And I think America understands that the federal government is dysfunctional.  It‘s too big.  It‘s like General Motors.  It‘s like Ford: it got too big.  It doesn‘t relate to the average citizen, regardless of where you are in this country.  It‘s very difficult.  And I think Obama understands that. 

He‘s really an outsider in Washington and he‘s looking at the federal government completely different.  The failure at Katrina, what we see in Iraq, and many other issues, what you see in the veterans hospital, is an example of a government getting too big and a government not really serving the people with passion and understanding of the issues confronting the American public. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you deliver Illinois for him?

DALEY:  Well, I don‘t think I could ever deliver Illinois.  I don‘t think—I think you have to look at Illinois as very—as very supporting Obama from the southern part to the northern part—city, suburban, counties.  And I think this is Obama‘s state.  It‘s not Mayor Daley.  It‘s a lot of people out there.  And it‘s also himself; he‘s doing it himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve got a number showing that he dominates out there in the Midwest generally.  Do you see that?  I know it‘s early going. 

DALEY:  Well, it‘s early going.  He‘s very dominant in Illinois.  I can‘t speak for the other states, but he is very, very popular with younger people.  He‘s very popular, I really believe, with many, many voters.  And that‘s a two-year struggle that he has to really convince the rest of America what he stands for.  And I think he will do that. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to talk to you again, Mayor Daley. 

DALEY:  OK, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Best to your family out there.  What a great guy.  Thank you very much. 

DALEY: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor Richard Daley winning his sixth term as mayor of the Second City, the city that works. 

Up next, the top official of Walter Reed is out, not by his own decision.  We‘re going to talk with the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest, who‘s reporting blew the thing wide open. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Dana Priest of “The Washington Post” broke another big story today on the treatment of outpatients at Walter Reed medical hospital.  In her piece, she reports that Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, the Army‘s top medical officer, had been told on numerous occasions by numerous people about the negligent treatment of wounded troops.

Dana joins us right now.  Dana, give us the timeline.  You heard about this out there.  You investigated it.  Who else let the big guys know about this problem before?

DANA PRIEST, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think there were a lot of people.  There were veterans groups as far back as 2003.  There were members of Congress.  We quote today in the story Republican Bill Young from Florida and his wife used to visit Walter Reed in ‘03 and ‘04 and complained to Kiley personally and felt like he blew them off.  And they eventually stopped going to Walter Reed, they were so insulted by the treatment.  But more than that, they couldn‘t get a response.

They‘ve held town hall meetings there for soldiers.  They hold what they call “sensing (ph)” sessions for officers, in particular.  And I quote a social worker in the story today saying that he briefed a whole set of colonels in ‘06 about the disenfranchisement and frustration.

Kevin Kiley, who is the surgeon general right now, the Army‘s top

medical officer—he used to command Walter Reed for two years, up until -

I think it was until 2004.  And then he passed it off to General Farmer (ph), who also told us yesterday—or today that he was aware of problems.  He talked with—tried to fix problems.  And he of course, passed those on to General Weightman, who today we learn has been fired from his job as commander at Walter Reed.

MATTHEWS:  Why did his head roll, rather than Kiley‘s or someone else‘s?

PRIEST:  Well, I think that—as you remember, Secretary Gates said, It‘ll be 45 days, we‘ll look in to this and then people will be held accountable.  But I do think that they were feeling such heat because the response and the—just out in the country has been so big and continues to be so big that they probably felt they needed to do something now.  And everyone can understand the commander of Walter Reed is in charge of Walter Reed, whereas the surgeon general is slightly removed, although he is the commander‘s boss.

MATTHEWS:  We have a new secretary of defense, Bill Gates (SIC).  Is that the reason that heads rolled, that he felt, as the new man on the block, that he could kick—kick some people out and be credible, whereas if Rumsfeld were still around, it would look like Rumsfeld was part of the problem, he couldn‘t fire anybody?

PRIEST:  Well, it‘s hard to tell.  But you know, Rumsfeld visited there many times, and in our story today, we actually say that Joyce Rumsfeld, his wife, had heard these complaints, and she came surreptitiously with a friend of hers to a meeting of—they call it “girls time out,” a support group for wives and mothers of soldiers.  And she sat there—some of them didn‘t even know who she was—and heard their complaints.  And at the end of the meeting, she asked one of the social workers there, Do you think that my husband has seen the real truth there, or are they hand-picking soldiers?  And she was told, no, they‘re hand-picking soldiers.

So whether she went back and said anything, I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Dana, congratulations.  And I shouldn‘t say a celebrated piece, but an important piece.  You‘ve once again had an impact for the better.  Thank you very much, Dana Priest from “The Washington Post.”

PRIEST:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  We go now to Steve Robinson.  He‘s director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, who says that shortly after the war in Iraq began, he told General Kiley about the bad care at Walter Reed.  Tell us about what happened.

STEVE ROBINSON, VETERANS FOR AMERICA:  Around 2003, I was working at Walter Reed with another advocacy group, working with soldiers who were back.  They had received their medical care, their good, state-of-the-art care—their prosthetic limbs, their burn care—but were now in the transition, not receiving care but waiting to get discharged.  And I was working on a particular case with a soldier, and I just got frustrated and I went to the command suite.

And I walked into the command suite, and he was there.  And I told him.  I said, Sir, I‘m working on this case.  This is who I am.  We got people in the barracks drinking.  We got people in the barracks overusing their drugs.  We‘ve got people in the barracks that you don‘t even know exist.

And he directed me to his sergeant major.  I spoke with that person.  I never heard back from them.  Then later, I testified about it before Congress.

MATTHEWS:  And this is the guy who‘s now been put in total charge, as of today.

ROBINSON:  That‘s correct.

MATTHEWS:  General Kiley.


MATTHEWS:  Who was on the show here last week.


MATTHEWS:  Do you want to make a complaint now about his behavior?

ROBINSON:  No.  You know, this is going to get fixed.  I believe Secretary Gates is going to fix it.  And it‘s interesting that he...

MATTHEWS:  Well, heads are going to roll.  It seems like they‘ve already begun to roll.  We‘ve lost Weightman, and it looks like they‘re going to keep firing people until they get this job done.


MATTHEWS:  But is—let me be—let me try to take the brief of these top guys.  Do they have the power, if they see mold or rats or rat crap or something—or bad treatment—can they complain to higher-ups and say, Give me more money?  Can they really do that?

ROBINSON:  Yes, but Chris, that‘s really not the issue.  They want to talk about mold and mice.  They want to talk about mold and mice.  The soldiers can tell their leaders what‘s wrong with their rooms, and leaders should respond.

MATTHEWS:  Do they have the money to fix problems?

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.  It‘s not a money...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at what General Kiley said here on HARDBALL last week.


MATTHEWS:  Do we give the servicepeople coming back from Iraq the treatment, the kind of care that we should be?

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, CMDR., U.S. ARMY MEDICAL COMMAND:  Well, you know, you‘ve been to Walter Reed yourself.  We know and appreciate your visit.  I think we do.

Clearly, some of these soldiers would have died in prior conflicts.  They come back seriously injured.  Their wounds and injuries, both emotional, mental, physical, are complex and take long periods of time to convalesce.  And I think that‘s been part of the perception which I think is incorrect, that we let them languish.


MATTHEWS:  Steve, your response?

ROBINSON:  Absolutely incorrect.  I have been in those barracks.  I‘ve been in the Malone (ph) House.  I‘ve been to every major demobilization site in the United States.  These soldiers should be getting care on learning how to reintegrate back into society.  Someone should be monitoring the amount of drugs and the drinking that‘s going on.

MATTHEWS:  OK, it sounds to me, just listening to you, that we‘re very good at that first response.

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Bring them in there.  They got a leg missing or an arm missing or worse, and we give them really good medical care.

ROBINSON:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  So the doctors and the nurses are first-rate.

ROBINSON:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Then they‘re moved across the street or somewhere else for sort of, like, a halfway situation on the way home, right...


MATTHEWS:  ... and that‘s when they‘re dropped.

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.  That‘s that—this is where we‘re failing. 

And I‘ve told this...

MATTHEWS:  If a guy has been in the service, out there facing the enemy every minute of his life, all of a sudden, he‘s put in stir, basically, he‘s probably going to drink or something out of boredom or frustration, right?

ROBINSON:  Well, absolutely.  And we need to get in there and teach them how to return back from this war.  We can‘t just let them sit in there on their own.  There‘s not enough care managers.

MATTHEWS:  So there should be the kind of level of activity among these guys halfway back to their lives that‘s commensurate to the activity they had in the military.

ROBINSON:  The care doesn‘t stop...

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re working hard all day and under discipline. 

And all of a sudden, they‘re not under discipline.

ROBINSON:  Correct.  The care doesn‘t stop when they get that good surgery.  The care transitions From the time they get that good operation...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you this.  What happens to a guy—we had a guy we visited over there, he was a guy in brown, a UPS guy, and he was going back to his job, all right?  He lost a leg.  Who‘s to help him get back on that truck again?  I mean, that‘s a tough job anyway, in bad weather especially.  How does he get back into his real-life civilian job again?

ROBINSON:  Well, I wonder how much transition assistance he got to try to get that job while he was waiting at Walter Reed.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) back to work.  Does somebody negotiate and say, You can work 10 hours a week, 20 hours a week, 30 hours a week, and see how much of a work shift he can handle?


MATTHEWS:  Is somebody there to say, Look, you got to take a day off now because your—your leg is hurting?

ROBINSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is somebody watching these guys and helping them to get back into society?

ROBINSON:  There‘s supposed to be what‘s called a seamless transition.  When they get out of the Department of Defense and they go into the VA and they get their health care, there‘s vocational rehab that would allow that guy to go back and get that job at UPS.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about the worst cases we saw, which I don‘t even like to talk about, the guys with brain injuries, blind, and these guys are not going to be able to make a big living when they get back.  They may be able to do some basic work, but they‘re probably out of the workforce.  What happens to them?

ROBINSON:  I think we still try to help them become productive.  We can‘t just say we‘ve done everything we can do.  We them more than that.

MATTHEWS:  But what do we—do these guys end up spending their lives in South Philly, at the naval hospital or something like that, or one of these VA hospitals around the country?  Do they end up...

ROBINSON:  Some will.  Some will become hospice patients.  Some...

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re not hospice.  That‘s the end of the line.

ROBINSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is that—I‘m talking about guys who have permanent injuries, permanent...

ROBINSON:  They will require 24-hour care, and sometimes the VA puts that care into their home...

MATTHEWS:  Before we start the next war, maybe we ought to do this discussion about what happens to people in war.

ROBINSON:  Oh, absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Because it‘s one of the costs that doesn‘t get listed when they say the budget‘s going up by $300 billion next year.  You got to list this human reality in our society, and these people, you know, who—in a burst of incredible patriotism, risk their lives and then they find themselves sitting in a hospital like that, right?

ROBINSON:  There‘s no national philosophy is what is owed, and we don‘t know what we‘re giving them because no one‘s looked at it.  We need a top-to-bottom review, DoD health care system and VA health care system.

MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable.  Wow, it‘s emotional stuff.  Thank you, Steve Robinson.  Good word for you because you blew the whistle.

Up next: Can John McCain cut into Rudy Giuliani‘s lead in the polls?  Rudy Giuliani is doing something out there.  And by the way, can McCain win over those conservative primary voters who are not talking to him right now?

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Did John McCain‘s announcement on Letterman last night inject new life into his campaign?  And why is Rudy Giuliani trouncing McCain right now in the national opinion polls?

Michael Smerconish is a radio talk show host and columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer.”  Congratulations on your column with the Inky.


MATTHEWS:  And you‘re in “The Daily News.”  He‘s also written a book called “Muzzled.”  That‘s him on the cover.  Marc Rotterman worked as an official in the Department of Transportation under President Reagan, now advises Republican Senate and congressional candidates.  Down South, right, is your specialty.


MATTHEWS:  And Joe Conason is a columnist for “The New York Observer,” a great newspaper, and  He‘s also the author of the book “It Can Happen Here,” which is pretty scary, about where we‘re headed, maybe.

Anyway, let me ask you this about this question—McCain on last night—Michael Smerconish.  Is McCain struggling?  Why is he—he got Tom Ridge‘s endorsement the other day.  He got Santorum—or as they say on “The Sopranos,” Sanitarium...


MATTHEWS:  ... trashing him, saying he‘s the only guy he will not vote for.  This Pennsylvania war is going on.  What does it tell you?

SMERCONISH:  Well, it tells me that Rudy is on a roll.  And I think that Rudy is on a roll because he‘s playing well in the suburbs.  As a matter of fact, an hour ago, I interviewed him, Chris, because—you‘re talking a lot about polls tonight—a Pennsylvania poll just came out that showed that despite the fact that 50 percent of Pennsylvanians think the president is doing a poor job, Pennsylvanians are prepared today to vote for either Rudy or McCain against Barack Obama or Hillary.

And I think the reason why is they‘re both perceived as being moderate on social issues.  And that‘s a dramatic step from where the Republicans have been.  Typically, at this stage, they‘re trying to placate the evangelicals and the conservatives and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, neither one of those guys is riding on the Bush bus.

SMERCONISH:  Well, that‘s exactly...

MATTHEWS:  Neither one of them look like Bushies.

SMERCONISH:  But I‘m worried that—you know, this weekend is the Conservative Political Action conference, and I‘m just concerned that there‘s going to be a movement to the right.  And if that doesn‘t happen, I think the Republicans are going to be in good shape.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can see what happens tomorrow.  How about a prediction?  You just hear it from me right now.  Rudy wins the CPAC convention straw vote tomorrow.  We‘ll see what happens.

Anyway, Mark, what do you think‘s going to happen with Rudy?  Rudy is booming right now.

ROTTERMAN:  Well, I think Rudy‘s going to be—you know, we‘ve traveled around with him some in the South, and I‘ve got to tell you...

MATTHEWS:  They love him down there.

ROTTERMAN:  They love—I haven‘t heard an evangelical come up after an event and say to me, I won‘t vote for him because he‘s pro-choice.  I haven‘t heard that.  I‘ve heard...


MATTHEWS:  ... is there a sense that his sins are known, that he‘s not like an interesting question mark, like certain other politicians?

ROTTERMAN:  I don‘t buy into the Washington thing, once they get to know him...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t buy that, either.

ROTTERMAN:  I don‘t buy that.  What I do believe is, is they want somebody who will keep them safe and secure, and they think they he‘s bin Laden‘s worst nightmare.

MATTHEWS:  Interesting stuff.  So his speech at the Republican convention, guys—I know he‘s driving you crazy, Joe.  We‘re talking about the conservatives here.


MATTHEWS:  But his speech to the Republican convention in 2004, where he said, We‘re not always right as a party, they‘re not always wrong, but there are times that what we‘re right about is most important, which is security.

ROTTERMAN:  Look, I‘m not...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying—he‘s saying, basically, I‘m your guy.

ROTTERMAN:  That‘s right.  And I‘m not—I‘m not with any campaign, but let me just say, tactically, McCain should have gone to CPAC.  I mean, that‘s a tactical error.  They‘re doing a lot of...


MATTHEWS:  ... conservative political action committee.

ROTTERMAN:  That‘s correct.  That‘s correct.  I mean, and I think what McCain is doing is he‘s very top-heavy, and they‘re doing a lot of old school stuff.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, even I spoke at CPAC a few years ago.

Let me ask you, Joe Conason, what do you—what do you make of this thing that Giuliani is able to beat Hillary in these polls?  He seems to be this third force now.  He‘s triangulating the two parties.

JOE CONASON, “NEW YORK OBSERVER”:  Well, in some polls he beats her. 

There have been polls before that where she beat him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the current polls (INAUDIBLE)

CONASON:  In current polls, he beats her by...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what we go by.  It‘s called present time.

CONASON:  That‘s true.  And later time, we‘ll have later polls.  But look, I think—I actually do subscribe to the view that when the other candidates define him, which I think the consultants for McCain will ultimately be forced to do, probably sooner than later, some of the religious right will fall away from him.

There was a very interesting piece I think today by a former “Observer” reporter, Ben Smith, about his judicial appointments when he was mayor.  He appointed, you know, a gay judge.  Now, to me that‘s no big problem, and it was a very moderate gay judge in terms of this guy‘s judicial temperament.  But in the South and in certain parts of the Republican Party, I think that‘ll be anathema to some folks.

ROTTERMAN:  Well, I‘ve got to disagree with that.  I think if the Republican Party‘s talking about gay rights and they‘re talking about abortion, we lose. If we‘re not talking about national security and foreign policy...

SMERCONISH:  I totally agree with that.

ROTTERMAN:  ... issues, we‘re not going to win.

MATTHEWS:  Mike, you raised a good point, because it‘s where I grew up.  You know, I grew up right on the border between Bucks County and Philly when we had a—we moved on up to a nicer neighborhood, as you know, Somerton (ph).  And I was just up there, and Rudy—I talked about Rudy to that crowd up there in Bucks County at the Bucks County Chamber of Commerce, central Bucks County.  I mean, it seems like the suburbs have become a powerful political force.  They like Ed Rendell.  They like—they vote Republican generally, but they‘re pro-choice.  They care about security.  They love the city they all came from, wherever it happens to be, Philly or New York.  They like guys like Rudy and Rendell who cleaned up their cities, don‘t they.

SMERCONISH:  I think it‘s not just Philadelphia.  I mean, you and I both know this area well, but I think across the country—and Virginia Tech polled on this after the mid-term election—that that suburban vote, the suburban manifesto, as I like to call it, is one that says, Be tolerant of homosexuality.


SMERCONISH:  Be tolerant of both views relative to abortion.  Be tough on national defense.  Be fiscally conservative.

Look, this is not the year to trot out the flag-burning ruse or to talk about, you know, same-sex marriage amendment.

MATTHEWS:  Did you say “ruse”?

SMERCONISH:  Nobody cares!


SMERCONISH:  Nobody burns flags.  Nobody cares about same-sex marriages.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it funny, Michael...

SMERCONISH:  We want to—we want to kill al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re mocking the idea of sort of a cartoon version of conservativism, which is fair enough here, but Hillary Clinton is the one that‘s come for the flag-burning amendment.  She‘s fighting the last war.

But here‘s an exchange shot by Senate cameras at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday—that‘s two days ago—between Senator John Kerry and Sam Fox, who‘s the president‘s nominee to ambassador to Belgium and a big Republican donor.  Take a look at this little incident, this firefight.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  You did see fit to contribute a very significant amount of money in October to a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, correct?


KERRY:  Now, why would you give...


KERRY:  ... to a group that you had no sense of accountability for?

FOX:  Well, because if 527s were banned, then it‘s banned for both parties.  And so long as we‘re not banned...

KERRY:  So two wrongs make a right?

FOX:  Well, I don‘t know.  But if one side is contributing, the other side ought to...

KERRY:  Is that your judgment?  Is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship, that two wrongs make a right?

FOX:  No, I didn‘t say that two wrongs made a right, sir.

KERRY:  Well, why would you do it, then?

FOX:  Well, I did it because, politically, it‘s necessary, if the other side is doing it.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a slow burner, Joe.  I mean, here‘s the...


MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a guy who was the target of the Swift Boat campaign.  You could argue he lost the election because these guys put all this money together and trashed his military career...

CONASON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... although many of them didn‘t have a military career, the guys putting the money together.  That was kind of calm, but do you think he might put a hold on this guy‘s nomination?

CONASON:  Oh, he‘s—yes, he‘s had a few years to think about this, so...

ROTTERMAN:  He might have a little senatorial privilege in there...


MATTHEWS:  You think he might not get this ambassadorship to Belgium?

ROTTERMAN:  He may be waiting for a while.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I want to talk when we come back—and we‘ll be back with Marc Rotterman and Joe Conason and Mike Smerconish to talk about Hillary and Rudy.  Could this be the subway series coming up in the next election—in fact, the one we‘re talking about now.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Michael Smerconish, Joe Conason and Marc Rotterman.

Marc, here‘s a battle, battle royal, right, Hillary Clinton, Democratic nominee, right?


MATTHEWS:  If she is.  She‘s running against Rudy Giuliani.  How‘s the South go?

ROTTERMAN:  I think the South goes for Rudy.  No question.  And I think they‘ve already come to that conclusion.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, my friend, Michael Smerconish, Pennsylvania, Rudy versus Hillary.  Who wins...

SMERCONISH:  It‘s 53/37 as of today for Rudy.  And that‘s significant because, you know, W. didn‘t carry Pennsylvania in either of his presidential cycles.

MATTHEWS:  How‘s he different?  How is Rudy different than a typical Republican like President Bush?

SMERCONISH:  On the social issues, he‘s a moderate, and it plays in suburbia, not only here but also all the way across the country.  And that‘s the winning combination.

MATTHEWS:  Does he cut into the ethnic vote, the Italian, Jewish, Irish, whatever vote you want to call it, that usually votes Democrat?


MATTHEWS:  Will he get that?

SMERCONISH:  The Rizzo-crats, as you know, Chris, we used to call them in this town.


MATTHEWS:  Our people, Mike~!


MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me go to you, Conason.  What do you think of that race?  What happens if Rudy runs against Hillary and it‘s a subway series?

CONASON:  I think it‘s an extremely close race.  But I think you‘re underestimating the degree to which Rudy is now changing his social positions.


CONASON:  Oh, well, he said the other day he would appoint judges like Scalia, Roberts and Clarence Thomas, to just give one example, strict constructionists.

MATTHEWS:  Strict constructionists, yes.

CONASON:  And that was the—that was Where this piece about his judicial appointments took off from.

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t that conundrum because he‘s pro-choice and he says so?

CONASON:  Well, he says so, but you know, we‘ll see how that goes...


MATTHEWS:  I agree with you on Alito because Alito looks like he‘s anti-choice.


SMERCONISH:  Hey, Chris, can I get in on that?

MATTHEWS:  But I‘ll bet you Roberts will leave Roe v. Wade (INAUDIBLE)


MATTHEWS:  Yes?  Go ahead, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  One hour ago, I said to Rudy Giuliani, When you use the words “strict constructionism,” are you speaking in code to the pro-life community?  And he said absolutely not.  A strict constructionist can be someone who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade or wants to uphold Roe v. Wade, and people should not read too much into that...

MATTHEWS:  Where can...


MATTHEWS:  All right, let‘s—I want to challenge you on that, Michael.  Where in the Constitution can you find the word “abortion” or “abortion rights”?  Where can you have a decision based upon the strict reading of the Constitution that came out of Roe v. Wade?  I think it‘s new material.  I think it‘s definitely a bold decision.  It may well be a brilliant one, but...


MATTHEWS:  Is it based on the letter of the Constitution as written in Philadelphia in the 18th century?  Anything on abortion back then?

SMERCONISH:  Well, you certainly have to read into the 14th Amendment to get there.  But listen, the pro-life community, you know, has been taken for granted.  They use a CB radio every year when they show up for a Roe v.  Wade rally to hook up the president, just like they did for Reagan...

CONASON:  Listen...

SMERCONISH:  ... just like they did for 41.

CONASON:  ... strict constructionist may not mean anything.  He may define that to mean nothing.  But Scalia, Thomas and Roberts mean something when he says that.  That is a—that is a...


ROTTERMAN:  But security is going to trump everything.

MATTHEWS:  Security will trump everything, especially if we‘re hit again between now and then.

Thank you, Michael Smerconish.  Welcome to the show, Marc Rotterman, and Joe Conason.  We‘ll talk about your book next time at little bit.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, we got to push that baby.

Finally tonight, let‘s get the deliberations in the Scooter Libby trial.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is down there at the courthouse.  David, will we get a verdict this week?

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  No, we will not, Chris.  I mean, seven days of deliberations, and they have not reached a verdict.  But there‘s also no indication that the jury is stuck.  They are not brought into court each day, Chris, but they were this afternoon so that the judge could tell the jury that he was agreeing with their request in a note that they be dismissed tomorrow at 2:00 o‘clock and resume their deliberations on Monday, an indication to the judge that they will not be reaching a verdict this week.

The judge also told them he was not going to grant the request that they have a dictionary.  The judge said that was not part of the evidence.

When the jury walked in, Chris, they were dressed very casually, but they seemed giddy.  They were very happy.  They were laughing about things in the courtroom.  This does not seem to be a jury that is in distress in any fashion.

Finally, Chris, the judge said he had some concerns before bringing them in because the jury was not dressed for court, and he said the jury was mad at him earlier in the week when he brought them in and they were all dressed in jeans.  That suggests that the judge believes this is a jury that is very deferential to the court and a jury that‘s going to give every indication when they‘re ready with a verdict—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, my old theory is that good news comes late.  That could be good news for either side in this case.  Thank you, David Shuster.

Play HARDBALL with us on Friday.  Our guests will include former CIA operative Bob Baer and former Homeland Security secretary Governor Tom Ridge.

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”



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