Guests: Rep. Artur Davis, Susan Molinari, Elijah Cummings, Marsha Blackburn, Kate O‘Beirne, Margaret Carlson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Barack Obama calls his hundred thousand contributors an unmistakable message to the political establishment in Washington. Is David the match for Goliath?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Today, Senator Barack Obama became a political force to be reckoned with and proved he has the bank to match the buzz. In an announcement that impressed even establishment Washington, his campaign said it raised $25 million in the first quarter, putting Obama head to head with frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Perhaps even more impressive—more impressive still was Obama campaign‘s report that donations came from more than 100,000 people, and they raised almost $7 million over the Internet.
Here‘s what the senator said when he arrived at a fund-raiser in Chicago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We‘re really humbled by the amazing outpouring of support. It‘s broad-based. We did it without taking PAC money, without taking federal lobbyists‘ money, so we really feel good about it.
OBAMA: Oh, the—we‘re always the underdog. When your name‘s Obama, you‘re always the underdog.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Did Obama shatter Hillary‘s posture of invincibility? More on this coming later.
Plus, today Vice President Cheney condemned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s trip to Syria. We‘ll talk about her trip with two members of Congress.
But first, Barack Obama‘s $25 million war chest. U.S. congressman Artur Davis of Alabama is an Obama supporter. Congressman, thank you for joining us.
REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D-CA), BARACK OBAMA SUPPORTER: Chris, thanks for having me.
MATTHEWS: Twenty-five million dollars, 100,000 contributors—what‘s it say to the establishment?
DAVIS: Chris, it is a good day for the Obama campaign, it‘s an even a better day for American politics. It shows you can get to $25 million on a bunch of small contributions from ordinary Americans who are concerned about the issues, and that‘s fantastic. When you look at 100,000 individuals, not lobbyists, not CEOs, ordinary Americans writing checks, and 90 percent the money that Barack raised was less than $100 -- so it‘s a good day for Barack Obama, but it‘s a great day if you care about democracy with a small D in American politics.
MATTHEWS: OK. Translate the dollars into votes, if you can.
DAVIS: Well, it shows there‘s a huge grass roots outpouring on behalf of Barack Obama. It shows that he‘s capture the imagination of a lot of people. And let‘s put this in political perspective. The Clinton organization did a very good job blocking off Barack from getting to large-scale donors. And what did the senator do? He went around it and put together a true army of ordinary Americans who aren‘t well-heeled and aren‘t well connected, but who believe very deeply in a new direction of the Democratic Party and in this country. It is a phenomenally impressive achievement, and it shows that Barack Obama has achieved parity in this Democratic presidential race.
MATTHEWS: How did Hillary try to jam him?
DAVIS: You know, I don‘t want to get into criticism of the...
MATTHEWS: Well, you just did, Congressman.
DAVIS: ... senator from New York...
MATTHEWS: You just said they tried...
DAVIS: Well, this is the reality...
MATTHEWS: You just brought the issue out...
MATTHEWS: ... that they were freezing out the contributors.
DAVIS: Let me make my point. Let me make my point. I think that they did a very good job of saying to people, Stick with who you know. They did a very good job of saying, Stick with the person and the relationship you‘ve had for 15 years. And I don‘t fault them for that, I‘m complimenting them for it.
The reality is that Barack was able to get around it. I‘m not criticizing Senator Clinton for playing good old-fashioned politics by telling people, You got to stick with the person you know. I‘m complementing Barack Obama for being able to outflank it by going to ordinary people all over this country and pulling together a true grass roots army.
MATTHEWS: Was she trying to get a first-round knockout by freezing out the money?
DAVIS: Well, she wanted to have a good first quarter. And let‘s give her credit. I think she had an extremely good first quarter. The difference is that Senator Clinton got her resources a very different way from the way Senator Obama did. Senator Clinton relied on a very impressive and very long-established network in the Democratic Party that she and former President Clinton have been building for 20 years. Senator Obama obviously doesn‘t have a 20-year network, so he had to rely on college students, on paralegals, on young lawyers who don‘t have a lot of money. And it‘s great because these aren‘t just dollars, they‘re voters. They‘re people who are going to be participating in the primaries.
MATTHEWS: Ron Brownstein of “The LA Times,” in many ways, now new dean of the Democrats—of the—I should—Democrats—of the media out there, is saying that the Democrat Party is split between two kinds of people, the interest people who want something when they contribute or when they get involves in politics, and the ideals people, who want a bigger America. Is Obama the candidate of ideals and the Clintons the candidate of the interest groups?
DAVIS: Oh, I think that‘s a little bit too facile, but I think that -
let‘s look at the realities. I think a lot of people in politics who make contributions based on connections, who make it based on relationships -- a lot of them decided to stick with the established candidate. And that‘s understandable. But a lot of Americans who aren‘t lucky enough to have the connections, who aren‘t lucky enough to necessarily have the credentials decided to, frankly, put their money where their hearts lie.
Again, I‘m not faulting Senator Clinton for drawing on what is the most powerful fund-raising network in the Democratic Party heretofore. I‘m complimenting Senator Obama for realizing that there‘s another way to raise big money. You can get to $25 million based on the established people who‘ve got the connections, or you can get to $25 million based on the people who are going to actually be voting in primaries. And I think Barack‘s way of getting there is going to work very well for him in this contest.
MATTHEWS: So Hillary‘s got the connected people and you‘ve got the heart.
MATTHEWS: I‘m just quoting you, Congressman.
DAVIS: Chris, you like these...
MATTHEWS: You say it in this very subtle way, and I‘m just trying to
to juice it up a little or get you to juice it up.
DAVIS: I know you are. You‘re trying to juice it up a lot.
DAVIS: This is what I‘m saying. I‘m saying that there‘s a real grass roots outpouring for Barack Obama. Now, obviously, there‘s a lot of enthusiasm in the Democratic Party. The other thing you ought to be thinking about, if you look at what the Democrats raised, you do the math for me, but isn‘t it $30 million more than what all the Republicans raised combined? Think about that. If you had said 10 years ago that an established crop of Republican candidates would be outraised by $30 million by the Democrats, nobody would have bought that. We used to think Republicans were the party that could raise money in America.
Once again, they raised money, Republicans from very established, traditional sources. Some Democratic candidates raised money from established, traditional sources. Some people were able to break outside their network and genuinely touch the public‘s enthusiasm. And, like it or not, that is what the senator from Illinois is doing right now. I think it‘s good for American politics.
MATTHEWS: Are you betting your house on Obama beating Hillary?
DAVIS: Oh, it‘s going to be a long campaign, Chris. I‘m a Barack Obama fan. I‘ve been since the first day I met him when I was at Harvard Law School back in 1991. I think people are seeing something, frankly, that I see, and my state saw when he came down here to Selma a few weeks ago. Barack is an imaginative individual. He captures people‘s enthusiasm because he represents an interesting combination of intellect and forcefulness and thoughtfulness. People want to see politicians who are pragmatic but who know how to work their way through the serious issues.
They get that these are complex times. And that‘s what Barack is speaking to. He‘s not a shouter. You know, he‘s not someone who‘s going to necessarily be the loudest person who gives a speech. But he is talking about the complex issues that we face.
And these numbers speak better than any polling data. They‘re ordinary Americans who are speaking with their wallets, with their capacity to hit a button on the Internet, and they‘re saying, We want something different, and we‘re inspired by what this guy has to say. And what ought to impress all of us is that you can raise $25 million in America without relying on interest groups or big donors. Ninety percent of the $25 million, less than $100 or less. People who give less than $100 are the people who are going to be voting and deciding these primaries.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think you had a good day, Congressman Davis, and a good day for your campaign that you‘ve invested in so much. And I just think the day will come between now and next February when this campaign‘s going to get a lot closer in engagement. The two candidates that are leading right now are going to get a lot closer to each other. They will be in each other‘s faces by the time this is over.
Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Artur Davis...
DAVIS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... for joining us.
Coming up: Should Hillary Clinton be scared by Barack Obama‘s fund-raising power? And what about the other candidates? Here‘s what John Edwards told NBC‘s Chip Reid today in Iowa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have three Democratic candidates who have plenty of money to run a very serious campaign. All of us broke the records. I think what that means for America is there‘s going to be the ability of voters to focus on the substantive positions each of us take and our qualities individually as candidates.
CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You don‘t see him as just launching into the lead here?
EDWARDS: Oh, no. No. Based on all the polling I‘ve seen, I‘m ahead in Iowa, which is the first caucus state. He and I are either tied of he‘s slightly behind me in New Hampshire. So no, I think I‘m in a very strong position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s right, he is ahead in Iowa.
Anyway, plus, Republican money leader Mitt Romney touts his fiscal discipline, saying, I like vetoes. Will conservatives buy him?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
With Mitt Romney and Barack Obama grabbing the headlines in the money fight, what‘s it mean for the frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani? Former New York congresswoman Susan Molinari is a senior adviser to the Giuliani campaign, and Hillary Rosen‘s an MSNBC political analyst who likes?
HILARY ROSEN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hillary Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Likes Hillary. Let‘s go into this thing here. You know, I hate talking money, but everybody‘s talking it. And I think it somehow pushes—I used to say, like, 24 hours ago, that money pushes people aside. It says, Let the big money run this show, and you watch. Now I see Barack, 100,000 contributors, Hillary about half that many—that‘s a lot of people compared to even the big crowds out there.
ROSEN: And you know...
MATTHEWS: That‘s a lot of involvement.
ROSEN: It‘s hugely exciting that on the Democratic side, we have a candidate in Barack Obama who is bringing new people into politics. I mean, every campaign...
MATTHEWS: Bringing in their money, too.
ROSEN: Bringing in their money.
ROSEN: But you know, Barack has raised...
MATTHEWS: ... $100 bills they‘re throwing at this guy.
ROSEN: Barack raised 90 percent of his money from people who are giving $100 or less, and actually, Hillary Clinton has raised 80 percent of her money in people who are giving $100 or less.
MATTHEWS: Is that 80 percent of her money or 80 percent of her contributors? It‘s how you say it. In other words, most of the money comes from the machers, the big people, but—of the average—anyway, it‘s the way you say it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask the Republican in here, Susan...
SUSAN MOLINARI, SENIOR ADVISER TO GIULIANI CAMPAIGN: Yes?
MATTHEWS: What do you say about all this Democratic activity, 100,000 contributors? I was just thinking, most politicians can‘t draw 10,000 people. Barack draws 10,000 people, 20,000 in Austin, 13,000 in Oakland. And then he had a big crowd somewhere else recently. He‘s—he‘s not only getting the people to show up with their placards, he‘s getting them to write—you know, nobody writes checks anymore—send in the money by e-mail.
MOLINARI: Very exciting. It is very exciting. I think it‘s exciting to be—watch this whole presidential for somebody like you and I...
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m looking for a new show, and this is a new show.
It is a brand-new show.
MATTHEWS: It‘s different than four years ago.
MOLINARI: Well, it‘s different than, what, since the 1950s, where neither political party has frontrunner that, you know, held a seat (ph).
MATTHEWS: How many real people do you know—well, you‘re not a real person anymore because you work in Washington. You are the establishment.
MATTHEWS: Maybe I am, too, and I don‘t want to admit it.
MATTHEWS: But the bottom line is, most people out there watching right now not only don‘t give money to politicians, they don‘t know anybody who does.
MOLINARI: Right. That‘s true.
MATTHEWS: Usually people who give money to politicians are people who have a particular interest or an endangered ethnic group. You know, it could be Jewish people, quit could be Greek people, it can be Asian-Americans, people that come to the country, feel like Americans What do people think—most people out there watching right now do not only not give money to politicians, they do not. People that come to the country, feel like a minority, feel like they got to protect their interests.
MOLINARI: Well, you know...
MATTHEWS: That has been historically the case.
MOLINARI: It‘s so early, too, that...
MATTHEWS: ... confident of their situation. They‘re not angry about anything. They‘re not driven by anything, you know? They don‘t give any money.
ROSEN: There‘s no question Democrats have George Bush to thank for that.
MATTHEWS: OK, so he angered everybody...
ROSEN: ... energy on the Democratic side, all of this change...
MATTHEWS: I got you.
ROSEN: ... all of this new wave...
MATTHEWS: So he has created...
MATTHEWS: ... a counterrevolution here.
ROSEN: ... anybody but George Bush, and three candidates—John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton...
MOLINARI: Well, but that‘s the way it always is in politics!
MOLINARI: The Republicans get charged over Hillary Clinton. I mean, you know, everybody always...
MATTHEWS: That‘s when your party‘s going to wake up, isn‘t it, when she wins the nomination.
MATTHEWS: Look at this now, just so we don‘t get too...
MATTHEWS: ... Pollyanna-ish here with the two people from different parties—I think the president stuck his thumb in the eye of the Democrats again today, and I thought he did very well in his press conference yesterday, but today look what he did. Today President Bush gave a recess appointment to Missouri businessman Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium. This is the guy that kicked in 50K to the Swift Boaters, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations rejected him, basically. So Bush says, The hell with you guys, I‘m putting him in by recess, the guy that banked the whole...
ROSEN: And the guy whose nomination they withdrew last week and—before they could have a vote because they knew he...
MOLINARI: OK, so you got...
MATTHEWS: So what do you think...
MATTHEWS: Did he stick his thumb in the eyes of Democrats?
MOLINARI: ... presidential prerogative. He‘s saying, Just because somebody campaigned against you does not mean you can stop them from being a United States ambassador!
MATTHEWS: So the president—so this idea that these 527 committees, these renegade committees being independent of the president isn‘t true.
MOLINARI: Well, and let‘s—you—let‘s talk about, you know, Hillary Clinton and 527s. Come on! Political parties have created this. Campaign finance created the 527s. Of course, they don‘t conspire. If they did conspire...
MATTHEWS: I love the way you say...
MATTHEWS: ... on the phone, talking to—talking to these people...
MOLINARI: ... are independent, but they have similar goals.
ROSEN: But (INAUDIBLE) about 527s. I mean, Fox is a long-time Republican contributor.
MATTHEWS: That‘s OK.
ROSEN: In this area, there‘s no question. You know, the Clintons did it, too. My friend, Jim Hormel, couldn‘t get confirmed by the Senate, and you know, Bill Clinton gave him a recess appointment. That‘s one of the prerogatives of the presidency is we appoint ambassadors to countries where we‘re not going to...
MATTHEWS: Well, that wasn‘t because he was a Swift Boater...
MOLINARI: ... Giuliani‘s $10 million in March alone, or not?
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s impressive. As he said, if he‘d been able to raise the money all three months at the rate he did the last month, he would be number one.
MOLINARI: And that‘s our goal moving forward.
MATTHEWS: Can he do it?
MATTHEWS: By the way, there are several months left this year. Can he raise $10 million a month for the rest of this year?
MOLINARI: Well, we‘re starting that way. I mean, you know, Rudy ended—our first fund-raiser was the end of January...
MATTHEWS: By the way, I like the way he‘s admitting his mistakes. That is something that is really smart. He says, OK, you know, I made marriage mistakes...
MOLINARI: ... going to make mistakes, but I think I can be as good a president as I was mayor...
MATTHEWS: Bernie Kerik!
MATTHEWS: We got to hope he doesn‘t make Bernie Kerik secretary of defense, though!
We‘ll be right back with Susan Molinari and Hilary Rosen.
MATTHEWS: They‘re staying with us.
And up next: Much more on Rudy and his first presidential campaign trip out to Iowa. By the way, I‘ve seen him in Iowa. He knows Iowa. Can he convince conservative voters that lower taxes and security trump his support for liberal social issues? Hint, hint!
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the thing I would ask you to look at in this presidential campaign—there are lots of things people look at, and they‘re entitled to look at everything. But the thing I would ask you to concentrate on is my record. I have a record of producing and getting results, and that‘s what we need in this country. We need to get results and to get things done, and I can do that!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Giuliani senior adviser Susan Molinari.
You have been promoted.
It‘s like the Latin American army. Everybody is a general.
MATTHEWS: And HARDBALL political analyst Hilary Rosen, who is a Democratic activist, as you can tell, very active.
Let me ask you about your—your party and the—the—this incredible amount of money that Mitt Romney raised. Now, you know, you read the New York newspapers today...
MOLINARI: Very impressive.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t want to get ethnic about this, but they say a lot of the money is—or ethnic isn‘t even the right word—religious—a lot of the money is Mormon. A lot of it is his business contexts. He himself has said on “The Today Show” this week that he has basically maxed out, maxing out. Everybody he knows, he has hit for everything they got. So, he has to find new people now.
MOLINARI: Well, that‘s the challenge for all candidates. I mean, look...
MATTHEWS: No. Obama has got 100,000 people out there.
MOLINARI: Governor Romney did a very impressive job in fund-raising.
He has a terrific good organization. And he works hard.
Now for the Rudy plug.
MOLINARI: We raised $15 million. We have over $10 million cash on hand. And we raised $10 million in one month. So, we think, going forward, we are going to be very competitive.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s watch what you‘re going to with the money—not you‘re going to do—what the Romney campaign is going to do with all that new money.
Here is a new Mitt Romney ad running up in New England.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)
MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m going to cap non-defense discretionary spending and inflation minus-1 percent. That would save $300 billion in 10 years. And, if Congress sends me a budget that exceeds that cap, I will veto that budget. And I know how to veto. I like vetoes. I vetoed hundreds of spending appropriations as governor. And, frankly, I can‘t wait to get my hands on Washington.
I‘m Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I love the way he carefully phrased that.
MATTHEWS: Like, I‘m not going to cut Social Security. I‘m not going to cut Medicare. I‘m not going to cut Medicaid.
MATTHEWS: I might cut some of these other programs that you don‘t really know much about.
MOLINARI: Right. Right.
ROSEN: Until he has to come to Congress and make a deal with somebody to get something fixed.
MATTHEWS: Is that going to win? I mean, you have a president—we all have a president, but you have a party leader in President Bush who doesn‘t veto spending bills.
MATTHEWS: He vetoed a stem cell bill.
MATTHEWS: He doesn‘t—will this guy—is he basically running against Bush, saying, I will veto?
MOLINARI: All the Republicans are trying to run against—are trying to run for fiscal sanity. There is no doubt. Every Republican...
MATTHEWS: Who are they running against?
MOLINARI: They‘re running against...
ROSEN: Well, wait a minute. George Bush didn‘t have to veto spending bills, because his party actually was in charge of the spending bills in the Congress for the last number of years.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but they were all big spending bills.
MOLINARI: But they were deals they cut among themselves.
MATTHEWS: You can‘t even bring yourself to hit a Republican over spending, can you?
MATTHEWS: Because you like overspending.
ROSEN: No, no, no. Republican overspending is bad, bad, bad.
MATTHEWS: OK. I don‘t think you let your instinct...
ROSEN: They spend on bad things.
MATTHEWS: No. Isn‘t it true that this president is notorious for—for not cutting spending, by not vetoing bills, ever, for spending, overspending? And there you have a guy saying, I will do what George W. hasn‘t done.
MOLINARI: I think the fact is that there are Republicans who showed, in poll after poll, that they were very disheartened with the state...
MOLINARI: ... of the United States budget...
MOLINARI: ... time after time.
And, you know, look, I was a member of Congress when we balanced the budget. And we understand, with homeland security and the war on terror, that can‘t happen. But there‘s clearly a conservative movement towards reining in overspending.
ROSEN: Before the war, even, conservatives weren‘t happy with...
MATTHEWS: Every Republican candidate is offering himself as an alternative to Bush, as well as the Democrats.
MOLINARI: They‘re offering themselves as a symbol of fiscal restraint.
MATTHEWS: Well said. The same thing I said.
Anyway, thank you, Susan Molinari, senior adviser to Rudy Giuliani.
Does he listen to your advice?
MATTHEWS: Does he?
MOLINARI: I hope so.
And Hilary Rosen, who advises us all.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Is Vice President Cheney right to say that House Speaker Pelosi is rewarding bad behavior by her meeting with Syria‘s Assad?
Plus: Congress vs. President Bush. Who wins if he vetoes their spending bill for Iraq?
Here‘s what Mitt Romney and John Edwards are saying about that fight out on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: It is time for the Democrats in Washington to stop playing politics with the war. And, if they want to have an up-or-down vote, they can have that up-or-down vote.
But putting pork projects into a bill, or putting in place various non-binding resolutions in the bill, these are confusing and unnecessary. Let‘s have an up-or-down vote.
And, in my view, the president is absolutely right to insist that we should provide a troop surge support effort for al-Maliki‘s government in Iraq. Why is that? Because we do not want to see the country completely devolve into massive violence, potentially a massive and outrageous civil war.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the president vetoes that bill, it is President Bush who is deciding not to support the troops.
It‘s President Bush who is...
EDWARDS: ... deciding not to provide funding for the troops.
EDWARDS: And my view is, if it comes back from the president to the Congress, the Congress—listen, elections have consequences. There is a reason that the American put the Democrats in control of the House and the Senate, because they expect us to be strong. And they expect a different course on Iraq.
So, we need to lead. If the president sends that bill back, and we don‘t have enough to overcome the veto, we ought to send it back to him. And then we ought to send it back to him again.
EDWARDS: We should not give in to this president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks closed higher, despite some lackluster economic reports. That news kept the Dow Jones industrial average in a tight range, gain there just of 20 points, the S&P 500 up just more than 1.5, the Nasdaq eking out a gain of about eight points on the day.
U.S. service industries, which include retailing, banking, travel, construction, and agriculture, grew at the slowest pace in four years in March. Meantime, new factory orders grew by a slower-than-expected 1 percent in February.
Oil prices fell after Iran said it would free 15 British sailors and marines, but then rose a bit again on word of another big drop in gasoline inventories. Crude oil ended the day down 26 cents in New York‘s trading session, closing at $64.38 a barrel.
And electronics retailer Best Buy said fourth-quarter profit rose 18.5 percent, while Circuit City reported a quarterly loss. Circuit City also announced more cost-cutting measures there. Shares of both companies ended down on the day.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As President Bush hits Democrats for setting an exit date to get out of Iraq, leading Democrats are hitting him back.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the midst of the debate over Iraq funding, Democrats are now hitting President Bush even harder.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States.
SHUSTER: The Democrats suddenly seem fearless, emboldened by polls showing public support continues to grow for an Iraq withdrawal, and mindful that not a single Democrat lost his or her seat in the last congressional election.
On Tuesday, President Bush cited reports of progress in Iraq. A week ago, he read entries from an Iraqi blogger.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Displaced families are returning home. Marketplaces are seeing more activity. Stores that were long shut are now reopening.
SHUSTER: Today, the response was aggressive. Democrats pointed to official Iraqi government statistics showing that the overall number of civilians murdered across Iraq is rising, and that the number of Iraqi police killed last month almost doubled from the month before.
In his combative news conference, President Bush also decried the congressional Iraq funding and withdrawal bills, because the measures include pork-barrel projects.
BUSH: Congress should not use an emergency war spending measure as a vehicle to put pet spending projects on that have nothing to do with the war.
SHUSTER: However, Democrats pointed out today that, in last year‘s emergency war spending bill, the president himself requested projects that have nothing to do with the war: $2 billion to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border, and $2.3 billion to help drug companies prepare the government for bird flu.
The president also said Congress‘ refusal to pass a funding bill with no restrictions will hurt America‘s war-fighting ability.
BUSH: Delays beyond mid-April and then into May will affect the readiness of the U.S. military.
SHUSTER: Today, Democrats called the president‘s statement outrageous. They pointed to Pentagon reports acknowledging that U.S. military readiness is already suffering because of the Iraq war and the president‘s escalation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is again leading the chorus of Democrats criticizing the White House. It was just a week ago when she declared:
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I just wish the president would take a deep breath, recognize, again, that we each have our constitutional role.
SHUSTER: Today, Pelosi broke with the White House over U.S. policy toward Syria. The Bush administration has refused to talk with Syria‘s President Assad, citing his government‘s support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
But Pelosi not only met with Assad, but tried to hammer out commitments that would help soothe tensions between Syria and Israel.
PELOSI: We were very pleased with the reassurances we received from the president that he was ready to resume the peace process.
SHUSTER: A spokesman for President Bush today criticized Pelosi for her meeting. So did Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. However, it was just four days ago when a Republican congressional delegation went to Syria, a meeting the GOP did not condemn.
All of this is escalating the war of words between Democrats and the White House.
(on camera): One key question is whether that verbal battle will last as long as the Iraq war itself. For now, neither President Bush, nor the Democrats in Congress are showing any signs of backing down. In fact, by all accounts, their battle is getting nastier.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland is a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Mr. Cummings, what are the Democrats trying to accomplish? The president‘s going to veto anything you send up, in terms of a time limit, so why keep doing it?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: You know, I say that we do not have the right to remain silent.
The American people spoke loud and clear in November. And what they said was, we want out of Iraq. They said, we‘re tired of seeing our men and women killed and injured. And they said, we wanted out.
And what did the president do? He asked for a surge. And, so, you have got, with President Bush, who is a very stubborn man—I have a lot of respect for him, but he‘s very stubborn—you have got to have some force going against what he‘s doing, because it‘s just simply not working.
MATTHEWS: How many times is the Democratic Congress going to risk a veto? If the president made it clear yesterday in the Rose Garden he will veto the bill you‘re sending him now with the time limit of next year some time, are you going to keep sending back bills that you know he will veto...
CUMMINGS: I think that...
MATTHEWS: ... and take the heat?
CUMMINGS: I will be very clear with you. I think the president‘s going to back down. I think he may veto the first one. But I think that, when we send him another one, I think Republicans—more and more Republicans will begin to join Democrats, because they will see that we‘re on the right side of the issue.
They will also see that the American public is 68 percent on our side of the issue. And I think it‘s going to change.
You know, the sad part about all of this is that—the fact that politics gets so involved. And, then, when politics get involved, we forget that we have got men and women dying, Iraqis dying. We have got soldiers going to war unprepared, not rested, not equipped. There are a lot of issues here.
And we just saw some of the bad planning, when we saw members of our military come back injured and not getting the proper care. At least this bill, the supplemental, addresses that, providing billions of dollars more for the care of our troops, and making sure that they‘re taken care of when they come back.
MATTHEWS: How can you defend the trip of Speaker Pelosi to Syria?
CUMMINGS: I don‘t have to—I don‘t have to defend the trip of Ms.
Pelosi. There is a leadership void here.
What Ms. Pelosi did—and I have tremendous respect for what she‘s done—what she did was she read—I‘m sure, I hope, just like President Bush did—the Iraq Study Group report. And it clearly said that we have to open up dialogues with the neighbors of Iraq, meaning Iran and Syria, and—open up dialogues.
And that is basically what the speaker did. She went over there to open up dialogue. And it seems as if she‘s making some headway. And you know what? I think that, perhaps, by her going there and talking, it will make it easier for Secretary Rice and for the president to carry out a diplomatic policy which will get us where we need to be.
MATTHEWS: Well, speaking of dialogue, Congressman, here‘s some monologue right now from Vice President Cheney in an interview on ABC News Radio when he asked about what I asked you about, Speaker Pelosi‘s trip to Syria.
Here‘s what he said:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He‘s been isolated and cut off because of his bad behavior. And the unfortunate thing about the speaker‘s visit is, it—it sort of breaks down that barrier.
It means, without him having done any of those things he should do in order to be acceptable, if you will, from an international standpoint, he gets a visit from a high-ranking American anyway. In other words, his bad behavior is being rewarded, in a sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUMMINGS: I don‘t think his bad behavior is being rewarded.
I think—you know, you have got to keep in mind folks are coming across the Syrian border into Iraq all the time. And, basically, this is an effort to try to stop some of that from happening, and perhaps help some of our troops.
But we know that Syria‘s playing a significant role in what‘s going on here. And I can tell you one thing: We can act as if they are—that we can say to ourselves we‘re not going to talk to them, but I think that‘s a major mistake.
And I—and I have got a good feeling that Ms. Pelosi has made significant headway, and, again, will make it easier for the Bush administration to carry out a successful diplomatic policy.
MATTHEWS: OK, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, sir, thank you for joining us.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is a member of the Homeland Security Committee.
Congresswoman, what is your comment on the trip of Nancy Pelosi and the rest of that delegation to Syria?
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN ®, TENNESSEE: Well, Chris, no member of Congress should be meeting with a state sponsor of terrorism.
And we are not the secretary of state. We are not the department of the secretary of state. And, if we disagree with foreign policy, there is a way for us to take action. And it is called the budget, and not funding it.
MATTHEWS: What do you see as the role of Congress in war-making, under the Constitution, as you read it?
BLACKBURN: Chris, what we can do, if we disagree with some action that is being taken, we can just not fund it. You know, the Democrats, and a great example of this, the Democrats had said we‘re going to have this open administration, we are not going for earmarks. We‘re not going to go for pork. And within three months, they come around, they pass a bill. It is loaded with pork. It serves as a disservice to the men and women in Congress.
So if they don‘t want to be fighting the war, if they think we should leave Iraq right now, they should bring a clean bill up that says let‘s stop the funding. Let‘s have that vote. I think that that‘s the way they should approach it. That is there for us. We can do that as Congress. We can pull that vote to the floor, have that vote, and see where people stand.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the constitutional provision that only Congress can declare war? What do you make of that? What role does that play in your thinking?
BLACKBURN: Well, that is inappropriate role that is there, but when it comes to going in and meeting with the head of a state that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is an inappropriate role for any member of Congress. Now, every member of Congress may want to be the secretary of state, but they are not the secretary of state, Chris. And another example of this, you can go back to the 80s when John Kerry went over and sat down with the Sandinistas to try to broker a deal with the Contras, and you had Henry Kissinger and George Schultz and even your old boy, Tip O‘Neill, talking about that he embarrassed us. It was the inappropriate role.
MATTHEWS: What do you think the motive is of that delegation, which includes, first of all, several Republicans. I think it was four Republicans met with President Assad last week. Do you think they were in violation of your principles as well?
BLACKBURN: I have no idea what their conversation was.
MATTHEWS: No, they met with, as you call, a state sponsor of terrorism.
BLACKBURN: I don‘t think they should have been there. It is just like with pork. It does not matter which side it comes from, Republican or Democrat. It is not something that should be done. If people want to end the war, then put a bill on the floor and say, let‘s cut the funding. But it is inappropriate to do this to the troops. It is inappropriate for member‘s of Congress to go in and try to break a deal or fashion a deal with the head of a state-sponsored terrorist state.
MATTHEWS: How we find a compromise between president‘s position, which is an unfettered bill and fight the war as long as he says we should fight it, and the majority in the Congress that believes there should be a limit to the war, in terms of time next year? Is there any opportunity for compromise between the two positions, the two branches of government?
BLACKBURN: You know, Chris, when you start talking about how long is it is going to take, I think that is a question that goes to the terrorists. How long do they expect to carry this out. We are in a global war. It is a war that is very, very difficult. There are no guarantees. We do know that they have said they‘re going to just fight until they can defeat us, defeat our country, destroy our way of life.
We have to take that seriously. We also have to take seriously that they say that the center stone and the center point of the war on terror, at this point, is in Iraq. And I think it is important that we be mindful of that. We cannot let the terrorists win. We cannot let them get another toehold over in the Middle East or anywhere else.
MATTHEWS: Well, is there an opportunity for—my question was, is there an opportunity for compromise between the Congress and the president on this issue.
BLACKBURN: I did not know if there is an opportunity for compromise. I think a good way to define that compromise would be to put a clean bill on the floor, one that supports the troops, supports their needs, and then have an up or down vote. It Speaker Pelosi doesn‘t agree with the way the Department of State is carrying forth their effort, put it up there, just a clean bill, focused on the Department of State. Look at those appropriations.
If they want to cut them, then that is something that they can appropriately do, reduce their spending.
MATTHEWS: So, it‘s winner take all, as you see it.
BLACKBURN: It is not going to always be winner-take-all—
BLACKBURN: You know, that is the way to decide if they are more that want to completely cut it or not, but to come in here—
MATTHEWS: NO, you said if—
MATTHEWS: You said if the Congressman wants to stop the president, they should stop them. I‘m asking you is there‘s any room for compromise between the two positions? What is it?
BLACKBURN: And that‘s what I‘m saying. The way for compromise is to put a bill on the floor that says let‘s fund the troops, let‘s fund the effort, and what they need. And those that want to vote against it, vote against it.
MATTHEWS: That is a compromise?
BLACKBURN: That is.
MATTHEWS: I just don‘t understand how one side wins, one side loses.
How is that a compromise?
BLACKBURN: It is a clean bill that deals with the issue at hand, and that allows people to have a vote specifically on the issue at hand. But to put in money for spinach farmers and fisheries—
MATTHEWS: Right, you‘re changing the subject. I‘m just asking you is
the founding fathers created a balance of power and checks and balances between the executive and the legislative branches. I‘m just asking if there is room for compromise. I can‘t find it from you. Anyway, thank you Congresswoman Blackburn. Her answer is to let one or the other side win.
Up next, Iran‘s president frees 15 British sailors in what he calls an Easter gifts. And Barack Obama gives Hillary Clinton 25 million reasons to be worried. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Big news today in the Middle East front. Against the wishes of the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on her Middle Eastern trip. Plus, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad released the 15 British sailors on what he called an Easter holiday gift to the Brits. Plus, continued tension between President bush and Congress over an exit date for bringing our troops back from Iraq.
We go now to Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson and “National Review” Washington editor Kate O‘Beirne. First of all, ladies, I want to show you a tape of last night. Here is a home video—you‘ll see it‘s rather grainy—of a protest last night at the great American University here in Washington, were Karl Rove, the president‘s chief political adviser, walked past these students coming from a speech to college Republicans.
This is pretty grainy, as I said. But apparently this was kind of a wild protest against Karl Rove. Quite a picture. Any way, I do not think anybody got hurt. I‘m not defending the actions of the people. But they were the people there.
Kate, what you think of this? Karl Rove has certainly gotten to the colonel—the groin, I must say, of a lot of liberals and anti war people. They don‘t like this guy.
KATE O‘BEIRNE, “NATIONAL REVIEW: No, they don‘t. If they knew him, they would actually find that he is great company, but I do not think they much care. It has flashbacks, when you lack it, to the ‘70s. Right? On campuses, in a way that does not help the left.
O‘BEIRNE: Because they never have the support of the American public, that kind of display. You know, it‘s uncivil. It is over the top. He comes to campus to talk to a small group of students. He ought to be able to do so unmolested.
MATTHEWS: Margaret, do you find anything moving about the fact that students had to go outside and protest in the 21st century?
MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: No one is at risk. Most people aren‘t at risk in this war. Students are not at risk. They have been quiet, uninterested, not saying much, because the sacrifice is not spread around. Students actually getting activated strikes me as a good thing, and there is no way to get at this White House. The White House doesn‘t listen to members of Congress. It doesn‘t listen to anyone except the people they are around, and Karl Rove certainly does not.
So, how do you make herself heard?
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s the question. The president was supposed to throw out the first baseball yesterday, the other day, at the Nationals game at RFK. He chose not to do it for the second year in a row. I think you don‘t have to be overly suspicious to think that the reason might he did not want to get booed.
O‘BEIRNE: Yes, most politicians are pretty leery about showing about up at ball games. They risk the same thing. But I think Margaret is falling into the fallacy of not listening. They certainly are aware of the state of public opinion. They certainly recognize what happened during the elections in November. They know about the unpopularity of the war in Iraq.
It does not mean that they‘re not listening, that they do not agree with the Congressional majority wants to do.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question, since you‘re a far more—well I don‘t want to say. We had the congresswoman on just now from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, and I said to her, what‘s the compromise, is there room for compromise? We‘ve seen it all our lives. It‘s how the constitution is set up, balances, trade offs, deals.
Is there a chance for a balanced deal between the president, who says he‘ll veto a bill with any kind of exit strategy or not?
O‘BEIRNE: Chris, this one is really hard for me to figure out. There could be, I guess. Say the Senate were willing to send—after a veto—the president will veto this bill. Sends it back to him without the funds tied up. They want benchmarks still. There‘s still some spending he does not want, but the funds, cutting off funds is no longer threatened. I think they‘re could be some sort of a compromise there. But I do not think that bill can get through the House.
MATTHEWS: Ask for a reauthorization after this surge. Say, after this surge, some time this fall, I will come back to Congress and ask for a reauthorization to continue this war over there. And if that fails, that reauthorization fails, we will end the war. Why doesn‘t he do that? Because he said if the surge fails, we are out of there anyway, right?
O‘BEIRNE: Except, why would he?
MATTHEWS: If he wants a compromise, to get the public behind for a while maybe, who knows. I‘m not his advisor. Do think there is any room for compromise, Margaret?
CARLSON: Well, you know, the idea that there could be a deadline on the surge opens up the possibility of some kind of compromise, because otherwise it is completely open-ended. Senator McCain goes to Baghdad and says there is great progress, it is not just being reported in the press. It is working. So far, there are none of the benchmarks that are saying that it is working.
MATTHEWS: Margaret, I‘m getting cut off here. We‘ll be right back with more. We‘ll start with you when we get back, Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg, Kate O‘Beirne of the “National Review.” They‘re staying with us. You‘re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson and the “National Review‘s” Washington editor, Kate O‘Beirne. Margaret, I want to ask you this quickly, look at the University of Iowa poll right now. Basically in the Democratic party, it‘s got Edwards, who got none of the publicity in the last couple days, up at 34 percent, Hillary Clinton at 28.5 and Obama at 19.
There you have John Edwards, who gets very little publicity in this fund raising derby, ahead.
CARLSON: Well, Edwards has been there a lot. He‘s been leading there and this may be the Elizabeth Edwards bump, which is more people approved of the way he handled this than not. And he got this. And he stayed in the money race. I mean, the psychological importance of money. It‘s one of the measures we have right now. He stayed in.
I mean, it‘s an astonishing amount that Senator Obama raised, but Edwards raised enough.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to the Republican side again. It‘s more interesting, in fact, on the Republican side. Look at these Iowa numbers. This poll also shows McCain and Rudy all tied up. But also with Romney very close. Look at this. These guys are all within the margin of error, basically, Kate, in the first tough contest.
O‘BEIRNE: I think the polls tell us that in the key early states this race looks a lot different than it does in the national polls, and that‘s not surprising, Chris. These candidates have been concentrating on introducing themselves, in the case of most of them, to these voters.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s where they‘re going to run their ads too.
O‘BEIRNE: And that‘s exactly. They‘re going to see a lot more of these candidates than the rest of us do. And I think these early state based polls really tell us something about the relative popularity of these candidates.
MATTHEWS: Obama has been able to convert grass roots support into money. Can Mitt Romney do the opposite, take big money from a group of people that are supportive of him, and turn it into broad ranging support from a lot of people?
O‘BEIRNE: Well, the Romney campaign will tell you that the kind of numbers he is seeing in Iowa, the kind of organization he is putting together in South Carolina, indicate that he has that potential. Now Giuliani hasn‘t spent much time in Iowa. So that‘s not bad, those poll results, given that he has barely been there.
MATTHEWS: And he‘s ahead in another poll I saw out there today. He‘s very much ahead. So, anyway, thank you very much Margaret Carlson. We‘ll talk about Iran next time you come back. Kate O‘Beirne, thank you.
Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more HARDBALL. Chris Buckley is coming on tomorrow. He has got another doomsday book. It‘s like “Logan‘s Run.” It‘s scary for guys like me, people my age. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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