Guests: Joe Sestak, Dan Lungren, Joe Trippi, Ron Christie, Lois Romano, Jim VandeHei
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A violent time in America and for American forces in Iraq. Thirty-two killed in Virginia Tech, 69 U.S. troops killed so far this month in the war, more than a thousand Iraqis killed in the same time. Are the politicians up to these times? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Today a moment of silence was observed across the country for the victims of the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. Meanwhile, this week in Iraq, one of the deadliest days since the surge began with roughly 230 people killed in a single day. Today the president defended his Iraq plan at a speech in Grand Rapids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who advocate pulling out of Iraq claim they are proposing an alternative strategy to deal with the situation there. Withdrawal is not a strategy. Withdrawal would do nothing to prevent violence from spilling out across that country and plunging Iraq into chaos and anarchy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid condemned Bush‘s Iraq plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and you have to make your own decision as to what the president knows, that this war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: All this as Congress prepares to hash out its war supplemental and present it to the president next week. We‘ll talk to two people on opposite sides of this war debate, Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, and Representative Dan Lungren of California.
Then we‘ll dig into the ‘08 race with Joe Trippi, who just signed on with the Edwards campaign; and Ron Christie, a former aide to Vice President Cheney.
And we have got HARDBALLers Jim VandeHei of The Politico; Lois Romano of The Washington Post; and Craig Crawford, MSNBC political analyst.
But first, NBC correspondent Stephanie Gosk on the week in Baghdad.
STEPAHINE GOSK, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it has been a difficult two weeks here in Iraq. And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates came in with a stern message. He said that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended and that when the United States evaluates the Iraqi government this summer to decide whether or not to pull troops out, they will be looking for progress and reconciliation.
But consider the last couple of weeks. The parliament came under attack. A suicide bomber penetrated layers of security in the Green Zone to blow himself up and kill a lawmaker in the very building where they meet.
And just this week, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pull his six ministers out of the government. Now Sadr is one of the big player in this country. And he pulled them out because he is dissatisfied with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now under those circumstances, progress and reconciliation are certainly going to be difficult to achieve.
Now another interesting thing, it is about a week since the announcement that Army troops were going to have to extend their tours from 12 months to 15 months. Now I was out today with some soldier in the 1st Cav. They‘ve been here for about six months and they say for them, it is not that big of a deal.
They weren‘t really looking to leave any time soon anyway. But for the soldiers that were just about to leave, the soldiers that had maybe a month or so, an extra three months seems like an eternity—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Stephanie Gosk, in Baghdad.
Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania just returned from a trip to Iraq. He is a retired Navy vice admiral who is now on the Armed Services Committee. And Republican Congressman Dan Lungren of California serves on the Homeland Security Committee.
Let me to go Admiral Sestak, now Congressman Sestak, are we winning this war or are we losing the war as Harry Reid said the other day?
REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We are losing this war. But there is a chance still to pull it out. When we were in Iraq with Senator Hagel, what we heard from the military commanders and the senior political leaders there was that this debate here at home that we‘re not having an open-ended commitment has actually moving the Iraqis toward taking charge of more of the situation. They liked it.
But what we have to do now is understand that Iran and Syria, the two key players here. That is why a date certain is absolutely critical. I asked the question of the senior—of the ambassador. Does Iraq—does Iran want a failed state? The answer is no, it doesn‘t.
So we change all of the incentives if we are able to say, we won‘t be there but we‘ll be in the region, protecting our interest. They don‘t want a failed state. And all of their destructive actions will turn into some form of stability as we go forward. That is why we have a chance.
MATTHEWS: Why do you trust an Iranian spokesperson for Ahmadinejad?
SESTAK: Well, you know, we—the person who just said that to me was the ambassador—the U.S. ambassador in Iraq who just said that to me.
MATTHEWS: Oh, I‘m sorry. Let me to go to Congressman Lungren.
Congressman Lungren, what do you make of Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, talking about how good it is to have this debate at home because it helps him leverage the situation over there in Baghdad?
REP. DAN LUNGREN (R-CA), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Well, we can have a civilized debate and a vigorous debate, but I don‘t think saying that we are losing, or that we have lost, as Harry Reid said, helps anything.
If you think that helps morale of our troops, I don‘t understand that at all. You know, we‘ve got the attorney general of the United States on the hot seat for inartful statements that he has made over time that probably damaged the reputations of eight individuals.
Here you have got the leader of the Democrats in the Senate making comments that are detrimental to the morale of 120,000 or 130,000 American men and women in uniform fighting over there. If in fact, the leadership of the other side believes that we are losing, that we have lost, those are his words, we‘ve lost, then we ought to get out now. They ought to have a vote to get out now.
It is a terrible thing to send our troops over there. It is a terrible thing to send General Petraeus there. And then at the same time, saying that his mission is doomed to failure. I listen to General Petraeus more than I listen “General Reid” or “General Pelosi.”
It seem to me he is an honorable man. He is about the best fighting leader that we have in our armed forces. He says that we are not losing. He says we have a chance for success. And he is asking that we support this effort. In fact, he is coming here next week to talk with us.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Sestak, who has more of a right to make a public statement about what U.S. policy should be in Iraq, General Petraeus or Senator Reid? Who has more of a right to make a public statement on policy?
SESTAK: Both have the absolute responsibility to speak what they are. Let me make sure that what we‘re talking about here is known. It is a civil war. Even the Defense Department has said that. And even the leaders, General Petraeus has said, we need a political outcome in order to be—have a successful outcome.
Here the issue. The issue is that we don‘t have the Iraqi political leaders reconciling with one another. We had very senior Iraqi leader out there say to us that this re-Baathification bill is something that‘s not important.
Not important? General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker say it is absolutely vital. I was in Anbar province. Yes, our military security is a bit better, but then when you ask the military leaders and others there, they say there is no national political entity in which the Sunnis will have confidence in order to work with.
That‘s why we have a change of strategy, as needed.
LUNGREN: Let‘s listen to what General Petraeus said. He has said that you can‘t have a singular military victory, it has to be a victory that has a political side to it. It has to have reconciliation with it. But he said a condition precedent to that is military success. And he has outlined what he believe that success would be.
So let‘s make sure we understand what he is saying. Certainly, Senator Reid has a right to express his opinion. But I don‘t think he has a right to be irresponsible, to say that we have lost. That is a statement of finality that we have lost. Not that we‘re losing. Not that we don‘t have some chance. But we have lost. That is totally irresponsible as far as I‘m concerned.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Congressman Lungren, do we have a plausible chance to reconcile the Sunni and the Shia in the near term, the next couple of years while we‘re there? Do you believe that, all right, you say we haven‘t lost, can we win in the next couple of years by bringing together the two sides?
LUNGREN: General Petraeus has said he can‘t guarantee a victory but he believe that we can succeed. He sent a message to all of those troop that are fighting under him and allied with him. John McCain, who certainly knows a little about this and has had his differences with the administration, believes that we are doing the right thing and have a possibility for success.
MATTHEWS: But—no, I want to ask you, do you believe that success is plausible in the next couple of years, meaning, by success, a government over there that can represent both sides of the conflict?
LUNGREN: I do believe that we have the possibility for the beginnings of that. Look, this is tough. There is nobody that believes that this is easy. If I can have a simple analogy, when I took over as attorney general of California, some people believed that the rates of crime that we had across the board were acceptable and were inevitable and that we should accept 3,500 homicides a year -- 3,500 in the State of California.
Over about a four- or six-year period of time, we managed to cut that in half and bring though crime rates down. Now it is a different situation, but analogously, we cannot accept defeat or accept the inevitability of defeat. If we do, we will be defeated.
SESTAK: If I might, I agree with my fellow representative. However, when he took charge over there in California and brought down crime, he changed his strategy to do so. He just didn‘t just stay the course. What we‘re recommending is change the strategy. Recognize that it is a political matter out there. You need a leverage to fix that.
The leverage is this date certain, which even Secretary Gates has said the debate about has helped. That is why we can be successful.
MATTHEWS: OK. Bottom line here, gentlemen, it looks like the conference report is going to come back and go to the president late next week, Wednesday or Thursday, which is going to ask him to agree to a supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq, which includes a soft goal that we‘re out there was by March of next year. Will he sign it or not, Congressman Sestak?
SESTAK: I don‘t think he will sign a goal that has a certain date on it.
MATTHEWS: It is a soft date.
SESTAK: It is a soft date. I hope he does sign at least that. I believe he may veto it and it will have to go back with potentially just benchmarks in it. We will see. I hope for the good of this nation‘s security that he will sign it. It is the best strategy.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Lungren, should the president sign a bill that has a soft goal of getting our troops out of there by next March, about a year from now?
LUNGREN: Chris, The president should not sign the bill that he is going to get that is going to have a date in it and is going to have a bunch of pork to try and buy votes off in both the Senate and the House.
They should get it to the president as soon as possible. We know he is going to veto it. We then should get to the business of giving him that clean bill as soon as possible so our troops know that we are united in that effort.
MATTHEWS: There is only one problem, I respect you a lot, Congressman Lungren, but you know this president has been signing porky pie bill for seven years. He has not ever vetoed a spending bill because it had pork in it. Why should he start now?
LUNGREN: You shouldn‘t use pork to gain votes on an issue that is this crucial to our folks.
MATTHEWS: That is a particular—OK, I agree with you. That is a particular thing. But the idea of pork is not something that has turned this guy off since day one. It is one real problem among.
LUNGREN: I have criticized him in the past for that.
MATTHEWS: . conservative Republicans, they don‘t think this president has been good on government waste.
LUNGREN: But of all cases of the question of life and death and peace or war, you ought not to make that leverage by pork. That‘s my point.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you. Well, that‘s my view, too. I think that‘s a good citizen‘s view. By the way, last word from Congressman Sestak.
SESTAK: If you don‘t mind, in those 31 years I was fortunate to wear the cloth of this nation, I had always assumed as I was leading men and women into war—actually I would hope that the men and women back here, the policy-makers, were debating about us and thinking about the best use of us. And so that‘s what I think is important to keep in mind. This is about where to best use our military.
MATTHEWS: So you think it is OK for Harry Reid to say we lost the war, our men are still fighting?
SESTAK: We—you know, it was like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said when he was asked about the debate and the comments. He said, our men and women are educated in the military. They understand the democratic process. To say otherwise, I think demeans them, it demeans me.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much.
SESTAK: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. U.S.
Congressman Dan Lungren of California.
Coming up, presidential politics. The Democrats court Al Sharpton.
And John McCain makes a joke about bombing Iran, then tells his critics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My response is, lighten up and get a life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, is John McCain running to the right of everyone by joking about bombing Iran? When HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Less than a week before the first presidential debate of 2008, what are the candidates up to? Let‘s ask Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, who has just signed on with the Edwards campaign; and former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, Ron Christie.
Did I pronounce that name right?
RON CHRISTIE, FORMER CHENEY AIDE: You did. And also.
MATTHEWS: There is a certain Dickensian quality to it. I like that.
CHRISTIE: You love it—oh, don‘t go there, Chris. It is a Friday.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you—we‘re going to have Jim VandeHei join us, but let me ask you about this, is -- what is going on about Iran policy? Your new candidate, John Edwards, and John McCain are both acting like they‘re Curtis LeMay when it comes to Iran. Why are they so out there? Even if he gets the bomb, if anything, we‘re going to bomb the Iran. This is further right than the president.
JOE TRIPPI, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: No, I mean—I think Senator Edwards has a very responsible position. I think McCain singing “bomb—bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” is irresponsible. I mean, there are some things you just don‘t joke about in...
MATTHEWS: Is it as bad as Ronald Reagan doing the countdown back in the old days before he did a radio announcement?
TRIPPI: Yes. I think—you know, I think, look, it is going to raise him a lot of money maybe on the right to go do that. But I don‘t think—I mean, that is why.
MATTHEWS: So you think.
TRIPPI: It is really the only possible explanation for why he is doing it.
MATTHEWS: You think it was a real move. He knew what he was doing.
TRIPPI: I don‘t know about that. But it is the only logical explanation...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you.
TRIPPI: . what he is doing. That is not where.
MATTHEWS: McCain has got to live with it, because moveon.org has decided to run a TV ad now in Iowa and New Hampshire. Guess why they picked those places? And it cost them $100,000, bashing McCain‘s joke.
Take a look at the ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: America has live through six years of a reckless foreign policy. We‘re stuck in Iraq. More than 3,000 Americans are dead and thousands more wounded. Now comes John McCain with his answer to what we should do about Iran.
MCCAIN: That old Beach Boys song, “Bomb Iran.” Bomb, bomb, bomb.
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: John McCain, we can‘t afford another reckless president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, I would say that we should all lighten up a bit because I do like John McCain, I respect his service to the country enormously. I have to tell you, though, I think that is going to be used against him.
Ron Christie, in Iowa, most Republican Iowa Caucus attendees coming up want our troops out of there fast. It is not a hawkish state. But I‘m sure New Hampshire may not be either. But I don‘t know.
CHRISTIE: That is right. Well, first of all, my hat has to go off to my friend Trippi over here for Mr. Edwards bringing him on board, a strong move by the Edwards campaign to try to generate some momentum.
MATTHEWS: Hey, Ron, this is HARDBALL, stop it.
CHRISTIE: OK. In that case, you are after the money there, Trippi.
CHRISTIE: No, but seriously, I think that the Democrats have tried to use politics.
CHRISTIE: . to Iran and Iraq. And I think Senator McCain‘s comment, I didn‘t agree with it. I mean, Senator McCain said, oh, this was.
MATTHEWS: So he will be justifiably tripped up on that?
CHRISTIE: I don‘t know if it is—I don‘t know that he is going to be tripped up on it, but they are going to go after him.
MATTHEWS: Will he be “Trippi‘d” up on that one?
CHRISTIE: Will he be “Trippi‘d” up?
TRIPPI: Look, you don‘t joke about—I don‘t think in this environment...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t joke about war.
TRIPPI: . the difference was—right. And Reagan had a different environment than we do right now. We weren‘t at war when Reagan made that joke. And he was talking.
CHRISTIE: Well, we were in the Cold War then.
TRIPPI: But we—you know, I think it is.
MATTHEWS: By the way, even Ronald Reagan, as esteemed as he is, paid for that. That was not a good thing he—I‘m sure afterwards, he would have said, you know, you know, as I have learned in this business, irony doesn‘t sell. People don‘t get it. They think of it as a direct—everything comes out as flat. If you say something comic or ironic fast or sarcastic, it comes off as flat. Like, you really were counting down for a nuclear war? What, do you think that was funny?
CHRISTIE: Right. And I‘m sure if Senator McCain could do this all over again, he wouldn‘t have said it. I agree with Joe, I hate not to be the HARDBALL guy, but.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that is good.
CHRISTIE: But wait, hang on a second. I don‘t think that American politicians should joke about dropping bombs on people in foreign lands period.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about the fight that is coming up, because it is political. And that is next Wednesday or Thursday, I believe, the president will be handed a bill from Congress, the Democratically-controlled Congress, which will basically say all of the money you want, you got. No problem about funding. But to sign this bill, you have got to go along with some goal, a soft goal, G-O-A-L, not a deadline, of next March to get our troops out.
Will he sign it or veto it?
CHRISTIE: I think if there is a goal that is in there that would put forth some benchmarks for progress in Iraq that are achievable benchmarks that the president could look at, I think I..
MATTHEWS: But the bill is going to say “goal,” not “benchmarks.”
CHRISTIE: I think—yes. I think he would sign that. I do not think it is responsible, however, to have a bill that has specific benchmarks that say, if you do not achieve.
MATTHEWS: Ron Christie, a former aide to Dick Cheney.
CHRISTIE: No, no! I‘m not being former aide.
MATTHEWS: He is not going to sign it.
TRIPPI: If he doesn‘t sign it, it will be a big problem...
MATTHEWS: You think he should sign it.
TRIPPI: . for the Republicans in 2008.
MATTHEWS: So, Ron, you think he should sign it?
I‘m saying, if there are goals in the specific legislation, the president will sign it. If there are specific strings that are attached, I don‘t think he will sign it.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you, now we have to calibrate in this new business of gamesmanship.
MATTHEWS: There‘s deadlines, which everybody agrees that he won‘t sign.
MATTHEWS: There are goals, which is problematic. And then there are these new things called benchmarks.
TRIPPI: Well, I—look, he has to sign. Look, the Congress is—we have gone through this over and over again now.
The people of America want out of this thing. They have wanted out since the 2006 elections. That‘s why Democrats won.
And, if he doesn‘t—if he continues now to not sign it, when there is a simple goal of March of 2008, it‘s a big mistake. It‘s really going to hurt the Republicans that are on the ballot in 2008. And I think he is going to lose a lot of Republican support in the House and Senate.
CHRISTIE: It is irresponsible. I still it is irresponsible for people in the House and the Senate to play games with this issue.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, speaking of games, not to lighten it up, because he is a familiar guest on this program.
MATTHEWS: But there is something called the Sharpton primary that is going on right now. I want to come back and talk to you folks about what you think of the fact that all the Democrats, the big five, Edwards, Clinton, Obama, Richardson, Biden, all the way to the top five in the polling, are all showing up for the Reverend Al Sharpton, after his big victory over Don Imus, anyway.
I think you would have to call it that, a victory?
TRIPPI: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: We will be back with Joe Trippi and Ron Christie.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, who has just signed up with the Edwards campaign.
Are you in charge of the barber stuff or not? Are you off that and/or up with that?
MATTHEWS: And, of course, we have got Ron Christie joining us, who is with all kinds of pedigrees politically on the Republican side.
Ron, what do you think of Sharpton‘s ability to draw this crowd? He‘s got Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, the governor of New Hampshire—of New Mexico, Joe Biden of Delaware. This is a powerful thing, when you can—labor unions used to be able to do this, now could do this.
MATTHEWS: Here is an individual in New York who can just say, come on up and do my Action Network, and they‘re all doing it.
CHRISTIE: I think it is pathetic, Chris. I think it is pathetic that all the people who are running for president on the Democrat side of the aisle want to come up and kiss the ring of Reverend Al Sharpton.
We like Al. Reverend Al is a lot of fun to talk to, a lot of fun to hang out with.
MATTHEWS: Where‘s your but?
CHRISTIE: He‘s our buddy.
MATTHEWS: Where‘s your but? What‘s the but?
CHRISTIE: But—the but is, you look at Reverend Sharpton. He runs around. He generates a lot of media attention for himself.
CHRISTIE: But, yet, you look at African-American males. It‘s almost 10 percent unemployment rate. You look at the amount of people...
TRIPPI: Right. And that is who he is speaking for.
CHRISTIE: No. You look at the...
TRIPPI: He‘s speaking for a lot of people in poverty, and that is what...
CHRISTIE: No. He might claim he is speaking for a lot of people in poverty, Joe.
CHRISTIE: But what has he actually done?
MATTHEWS: Why did he get a million votes against Pat Moynihan...
MATTHEWS: ... he ran for the Senate.
TRIPPI: I will tell you.
CHRISTIE: Because he claims he is a populist, Chris.
CHRISTIE: But what does he actually do for the lives of people who are African-American?
TRIPPI: Ron, Al Sharpton, he wasn‘t well educated. He came up. A lot of people are proud of him out there. Not everybody. There are people like you, who think it is pathetic.
But there are a lot of people in poverty that this guy speaks for.
And I think that‘s why you‘re seeing a lot of...
MATTHEWS: Are you seeing that in the poor neighborhoods in Philly, where you‘re working...
TRIPPI: Yes, absolutely. You see that. People in poverty understand that there‘s—they want this guy to keep speaking out for them.
CHRISTIE: But what do you see, Joe?
TRIPPI: And he has been doing that.
CHRISTIE: This is what I‘m saying.
TRIPPI: You see who represents—who is doing something about poverty, who is speaking out for those people. There are a lot of people who spoke out for civil rights. This man stands—has...
MATTHEWS: What do we make of Fred Thompson, who is doing this limited modified hangout, as we used to say in Watergate days. He is apparently going to do “Jay Leno” the night of the first Republican debate. He‘s—instead of doing the debate.
Is he an active candidate, active—actively pretending to be inactive? What is he doing?
CHRISTIE: I think he is actively pretending to be inactive. I think he is trolling around the Hill. He‘s talking to a lot of people on Capitol Hill, trying to generate enthusiasm for his campaign and see if he can raise the money.
TRIPPI: He‘s running.
CHRISTIE: I think he‘s getting in.
MATTHEWS: Is he going to move to the top if he gets in the poll—in the numbers?
TRIPPI: I think he would be formidable. I don‘t...
MATTHEWS: Will he move to the top? Will he get up there and catch Rudy and John McCain and the others?
TRIPPI: I think he will be in it.
MATTHEWS: He will be in the pack?
CHRISTIE: He will be in the top three.
MATTHEWS: Will he—well, who will he hurt the most?
CHRISTIE: I think he hurts the most someone like McCain or someone like Giuliani, people who don‘t perceive them as being conservative.
MATTHEWS: Is he going to be acceptable to the cultural right? Will he be their candidate, the cultural right, the Christian conservatives...
TRIPPI: No. I think, actually, that‘s what‘s interesting about him.
I think he is—I think he does appeal to them.
MATTHEWS: I think—you know what I think he is? A replacement part for the late great George Allen. I think he plays the—he can do it both ways.
TRIPPI: But I also think there are a lot of independents and Democrats...
MATTHEWS: And he has a real Southern accent.
TRIPPI: ... who have a view of him as sort of an independent McCain guy. That‘s not really what it is.
MATTHEWS: You know what I think works?
TRIPPI: But that is what works.
MATTHEWS: He works half this country and a good part of the red states, a lot of people watching right now.
MATTHEWS: He talks with that rich, deep Southern accent.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t fake it. Hillary tried to fake it.
And he‘s a straight-talker.
MATTHEWS: And I think people want to hear daddy lead the daddy party.
That‘s your party...
CHRISTIE: Oh, my party is the daddy party now?
MATTHEWS: Yes, it is.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Joe Trippi. And congratulations on getting a big job.
TRIPPI: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And, Ron Christie, are you going to be joining one of these guys?
CHRISTIE: We will see.
TRIPPI: That sounds like he is going to.
MATTHEWS: Up next—were you bidding—bidding—were you trying to get the bidding war started here?
Anyway, thank you, Ron Christie, who worked for Dick Cheney.
CHRISTIE: And George Bush.
MATTHEWS: Up next: MSNBC is the place for politics, with two first-in-the-nation debates for both the Democrats and the Republicans coming up in the next two weeks.
We‘re going to talk about that, plus Hillary‘s trip to Rutgers today in the wake of the Don Imus debacle, and more on John McCain‘s Beach Boys impersonation, not “Barbara Ann”—“Bomb, bomb, Iran.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘M Mika Brzezinski.
Here what‘s happening.
A standoff at a building at the Johnson Space Center in Houston has ended tragically. Police say a gunman who barricaded himself in an office for several hours killed a hostage before killing himself. However, another hostage escaped with minor injuries.
The family of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho is speaking out, in a
statement issued by his sister on behalf of his family says they feel
hopeless, helpless and lost, and that they never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence. The statement also says, “Our family is so very sorry for his unspeakable actions.”
Today was a national day of mourning for the victims of the rampage. Silence fell across the Virginia Tech campus at noon. And bells tolled at churches nationwide.
And some good news about New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine: Eight days after he was critically, when his official vehicle crashed while going 91 miles an hour, the governor was taken off a ventilator and is now breathing on his own.
That‘s the latest. You‘re up to date. I‘m Mika Brzezinski—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After meeting with President Bush early this week, House and Democratic leaders are hammering out their war spending bill that President Bush is expected to veto.
For more on the Democrats‘ strategy and the Republican expected response, let‘s turn to MSNBC congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira.
We just had Ron Christie on, who used to work for...
MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... Vice President Cheney, who said he thinks the president might sign this bill.
What do you think?
VIQUEIRA: It doesn‘t appear that way to me.
And I think Democrats are taking for granted that he is going to veto it. And I think Democrats are—Democrats are actually welcoming the prospect of a veto, at least the first time around on this thing.
Everybody is going through the motions here, Chris, of what they regard as a fait accompli. Now, if you remember, the House passed that bill, called for a hard timeline of September of next year for a withdrawal, complete withdrawal.
The Senate did something a little different, said withdrawal has to start within four months of passage of the bill, but set a softer goal of March of ‘08.
And it appears as though, when the House and Senate finally get together—and we have learned that is going to be Monday evening—that the Senate position is going to prevail, simply because of the way these votes—the way the nose-counting is going here.
The question is, will liberal anti-war progressives in the House go along with it, or will Democrats need Republican help to pass it, thereby forsaking their anti-war base? Now, what happens after the president vetoes it, if in fact he does veto it, is up in the air.
Democrats are talking about perhaps piecemeal appropriations that last two or three months and revisit this every two or three months, or something tied to benchmarks. Performance benchmarks have been talked about for a while for the Iraqi government, the de-Baathification, the sharing of oil revenues, things of that nature.
Nobody knows exactly how it‘s going to work out. But, in the end, it appears as though Democrats are not going to get that firm deadline—
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t they just declare victory? Once they get the president to turn down, to veto...
MATTHEWS: ... even soft goals, they have won the argument.
VIQUEIRA: Well, that...
MATTHEWS: They can say he is not appealing to the middle. If, however, they continue on this course, and Mickey Mouse this thing with short-string appropriations...
MATTHEWS: ... it‘s going to look like the old Newt Gingrich government shutdown.
VIQUEIRA: Right. And a lot of people...
MATTHEWS: Why are they—why don‘t they just say, “We won; we made the case; this president is not being reasonable,” and stand down for a while?
VIQUEIRA: Well, I mean, that very well may happen.
But, remember, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, they are in a delicate situation here, because they have got to mollify their base. I mean, the majority of House Democrats, back in 2002, didn‘t even vote to go to war, didn‘t even vote in favor of this authorization.
And now, four years later, after the war had commenced, and everything that has happened since then, and all the lives that have been lost, they‘re going to have a problem keeping people satisfied, if, in the end, they just go along with a straight funding of the war. So, that‘s why there is all this talk of benchmarks.
And Republicans probably would go along with some benchmarks, as long as they‘re not tied to a withdrawal date—Chris.
MATTHEWS: The problem they have is, their number-one candidate for president, leading all the polls, is not a dove. Hillary Clinton is not with the spirit of this effort.
Anyway, thank you, NBC‘s Mike Viqueira.
The first-in-the-nation Republican debate of the 2008 presidential campaign is less than two weeks away. On Thursday, May 3, 10 GOP candidates will appear at the debate. It will be nationally televised on MSNBC, streamed live on Politico.com, and hosted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
People can log on to Politico.com to have an exclusive opportunity to submit questions to the candidates via the Web live. You can do it right now, in fact.
“The Politico”‘s Jim VandeHei is here to tell us more.
This is the first time ever that people watching a debate, instead of just getting mad at the questioners, can say, I have got a question.
JIM VANDEHEI, “THE POLITICO”: They can say they‘re better than you, Chris. This is their chance to try to prove that they can pick the best questions asked for the candidate.
And what we‘re doing is, we‘re saying between now and debate day, you can help us pick that first round, help us decide which are the most popular questions for each candidate. We will take some of those. We will use editorial discretion, because we have got to keep the candidates guessing. And we also have to make sure...
MATTHEWS: Wouldn‘t you want to recommend that they stick to the main topics of Iraq and things like that? Or can they go all over the place?
VANDEHEI: They can go all over the place and ask the questions that they want to. And, again, like, we have to keep the candidates guessing and we have to be able to make sure that it sticks with the flow of the debate.
But, then, on debate day, we will take those questions and, in live time, people can log on and they can vote for what will have three different...
MATTHEWS: OK. So, what‘s the best strategy for a person watching now, if they want to get their question put to one of the candidates? Should they wait until real time, May 3, when we do this live out there at the Reagan Library, or should they try right now to get some questions in?
VANDEHEI: They should do both. Submit the question now. Make sure you get your friends and people voting for those questions. Then, if it makes the final cut come debate day, then get all your friends to log on in real time and vote for that question.
And, then, when we have these speed rounds, which will happen three times during the debate, vote, vote, vote. And I will be the person asking those questions.
VANDEHEI: And the candidate only has 30 seconds to answers.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get the candidates to be as speedy as the questions.
MATTHEWS: And you don‘t to have wait until May 3, by the way, which is that Thursday.
But, next Thursday, the Democrats debate. It is an MSNBC decision 2008 special, the first-in-the-nation debate for the Democrats, the Democratic presidential candidates debate, moderated by NBC‘s Brian Williams, live from South Carolina State University. That‘s next Thursday, April 26. The Republican one is the week after.
Now, to dive into the events of this week, let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford, who sits directly in front me, and my friend Lois Romano of “The Washington Post.” There she is, Lois.
Let me ask you all—first of all, Lois, should the press liven up—or lighten on this “bomb, bomb Iran” imitation of “Barbara Ann,” the Beatles song, by John McCain? Or is this nutty of somebody to do something like this, when there really is a possibility of a U.S. strike against Iran?
LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think a little bit of both, Chris. I mean, I think it goes to one of the whole—the rules in politics is, once you‘re slipping, you go into a freefall.
And the question is, if he had done this on the Straight Talk Express in 2000, would everybody have jumped on it? And I don‘t know that they would have. But, more importantly, you can‘t joke about bombing. We all saw that when Reagan did that with the open mike about the Soviet Union.
But, if you read the transcript, it is very interesting. McCain was actually deflecting a question from somebody who was talking about that we have got to go in and get Iran with nuclear weapons. And I think he was trying to lighten it up a little bit himself. But he just picked the...
MATTHEWS: You really think that? You don‘t—but he has been consistently a hawk, very much...
ROMANO: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: ... very much in tandem with Bill Kristol, the real neoconservative leader of this whole thing. He has always been out there out front on Iraq, Iran, the whole region.
Should we consider it just jocular or what? How do we read that thing?
Let me go to Craig Crawford.
How should we read? What do you think Ahmadinejad, in his own way, is picking up on this, the guy on the other end of the rifle here?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Lois is right to bring up the Reagan reference. But, after all, Soviet Union collapsed a few years after Reagan joked about bombing them.
CRAWFORD: I don‘t—I think McCain, as you say, is a hawk. He always has been.
CRAWFORD: And that‘s always been sort of underplayed in a lot of the coverage. He is a pro-life hawk. And he‘s a conservative...
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s not a pro-lifer for people at the other end of the gun here.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at McCain response. Here is what he said to those who criticized him, including, as we showed earlier in the show, MoveOn.org, which is an anti-war group, which really went after him on this with a TV ad that‘s now playing in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But here is Senator McCain‘s response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Insensitive to what? The Iranians?
My response is, lighten up and get a life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think, Jim Vandehei? You never know in the Middle East. There are people who have done movies, made comments;
Richard Gere kissed somebody there other day in public. I don‘t know how you predict what is going to happen when people respond to this kind of thing.
VANDEHEI: You don‘t. I mean, I actually watched the video. It is clear he was telling a joke and he was just jesting based on the question that he was asked. But it is true, these things have a way of blowing up.
MATTHEWS: Jokes have meaning. What was the premise of the joke? It is fun? Or that I‘m a hawk; it is fun that I‘m a hawk?
VANDEHEI: The question was clearly direct at there should be a military response to Iran. And he was sort of bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. It wasn‘t necessarily funny, in or out of any sort of context, but I don‘t think this is a big issue going forward. The question is, like we saw with the Imus episode, thing have a way of exploding virally and people pounce on things.
MATTHEWS: Stay tuned if you don‘t think it‘s a big deal. Stay tuned. Because I think this is the kind of the that will be played with liberal audiences, anti-war audiences, people that don‘t like to hear people laughing about something that has been sticking at them for five or six years now. This war angers people.
The idea that someone can be light hearted and ask us to be light-hearted about a joke about yet another war in the Middle East, isn‘t funny. And you can stick to your position, but I‘m not ready to move on yet.
We‘ll be right back with Jim Vandehei, Craig Crawford and Lois Romano.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Jim Vandehei of the Politico.com, MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford, and Lois Romano of the “Washington Post.” Let‘s take a look at Senator Hillary Clinton up at Rutgers today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We think about this campus and the example it has set for our country; for standing up for what is right; for saying enough is enough; for urging that we turn a culture of degradation into a culture of empowerment; for saying that while we of course must protect our right to the freedom of expression, it should not be used as a license or an excuse to demean and humiliate our fellow citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Lois Romano, is that just a clear opportunity for her and she‘s taking it?
ROMANO: Absolutely, it is a perfect forum for her. The problem is she was a little late on it. She had to cancel last week. It becomes a little bit like so what this week?
MATTHEWS: Yes, what do you think? Was this just, as we used to say in baseball, a gopher ball? She got a big fat fast pitch over the plate and she hit a home run with it today?
ROMANO: Absolutely, I mean, this is her whole message, empowerment. She got a chance to do that and to stick to it Imus at the same time, who she has a running feud with. So it worked out.
MATTHEWS: I forgot. You remember these thing. What is the personal aspect of her and Don Imus?
ROMANO: Well, he just went after her like consistently. And I think he called her fat and ugly and likened her once to Osama bin Laden. And then said, well, maybe that‘s too strong. I‘ll take it back.
CRAWFORD: He only call her the devil. That‘s it.
ROMANO: Right, so she has never been on his show.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Hillary? Ron Brownstein, Jim, of the “L.A. Times,” I thought, did a very interesting distinction of the Democratic party. He said there has always been the interest group party and there‘s the idealistic party. Hillary is working the interest groups, women African-Americans, people, and she is basically saying, labor, I‘ll do what you guys want. I‘ll speak for you. I‘ll be your tribune. Let Obama be the idealistic hero, the Gene McCarthy, Adelai Stevenson character.
VANDEHEI: Politics are about structure and strategy. She is very good about interest group.
MATTHEWS: So she know she is going to have to champion and African-American women and Title nine women are her groups.
VANDEHEI: Absolutely, and that‘s why a lot of Democrats think she‘ll win the nomination. She‘s very good at knowing who you need to have, which parts of the base you have to have locked up. They‘re the people who knock on doors and give you money, and actually turn out and build the infrastructures in those early states.
As for the speech, it is about seizing the moment in politics.
MATTHEWS: So, she doesn‘t need the assistant professor of political science. She needs the women‘ group.
VANDEHEI: Right on.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at Rudy Giuliani, speaking of the base and his party. He now says he agrees with the Supreme Court decision to uphold the ban on—not late term, actually partial birth abortions. But seven years ago on “Meet The Press,” it was a different story apparently. Let‘s take a look at him back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS”: A banning of late term abortions, so call partial birth abortions. You‘re against it.
RUDY GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m against it in New York, because in New York—
RUSSERT: Well, if you were a senator, would you vote with the president or against the president?
GIULIANI: I would vote to preserve the option for women. I think that choice is a very difficult one. It is a very, very—it is one in which people of conscience have very different opinion. I think the better thing for America to do is to leave that choice to the woman, because it affects her probably more than anyone else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Lois, he doesn‘t believe that anymore. He believes the Supreme Court is right. Judge Alito, Judge Roberts, the others, Judge Kennedy believe now, in their opinion, as they stated the other day, that it‘s not up to the woman. It is up to the state to say what procedures are OK and, irrespective of the health of the mother, you can‘t use this procedure. He agrees with it.
ROMANO: Well, I think he might be on the wrong side of this issue. He might be moving a little bit to the right. But the truth of the matter is if you really parse this opinion, nothing has really changed. I mean, everyone thinks that Kennedy changed his mind and now he‘ll be—
MATTHEWS: Well, Rudy changed.
ROMANO: Well, Rudy changed, but I don‘t think the court is going to change.
MATTHEWS: Why is Rudy changing? Why is he going from a pro-choice on this most difficult question of PBA, partial birth, that procedure which is used in late term—Why is he switching overnight from being pro-choice to being pro-life on that tricky question of partial birth?
ROMANO: Because partial birth abortion is distasteful to people. The Republicans coined that term. And there is something about it that makes the public a little bit squeamish. And so I think he saw that wave. People who say that a woman has the right will also say they don‘t want partial birth.
CRAWFORD: Well, I just want to say, you know, what matters to the voters who vote on this issue is what he would do with the Supreme Court appointments. And he has indicated thus far that he would appoint pro-life justices. And as long as he does that, he can waffle around all he wants to on his personal views.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk about reality here. We have an unhealthy—
Stevens is old, right?
CRAWFORD: Oh sure, there are going to appointments coming up.
MATTHEWS: Mrs. Ginsburg is not in great health. This president, Bush, may have two more appointments to make. But certainly within the next six years, there will be an appointment to be made, possibly two. If you go in this direction, which Kennedy was leading in the other day, concern for the unborn child, the fetus, if you will, concern that maybe women aren‘t prepared to make some of the decisions that are involved in abortion. They may regret them. They need to be guided in this.
This is a different paternalistic view of things, and perhaps more moralistic or more moral. But it is different than it was under the Roe decision. Is it fair to say, if you‘re a pro choice person, be aware of a Republican on this.
CRAWFORD: Certainly, and that is why this opinion is going to be very difficult for Republicans down the road, because it elevates the abortion issue, an issue they would probably rather not talk about, in the general public anyway.
VANDEHEI: This has a lot to do with politics. What George Bush did to the Republican party is he really created a new litmus test. You have to say that you‘re going to appoint strict constructionists as judges. They‘re going to be like Alito. They‘re going to be like Roberts. What you‘re seeing from Giuliani is he‘s been sending signals from early on through today that that is exactly what he is going to do.
MATTHEW: -- cynical view of things. But now we know what that mean. It not jurisprudence. It is not constitutional history or law. It is these judges are going to be pro-life.
VANDEHEI: Well, at least in this case and certainly almost all Republicans in this field, maybe except Giuliani, that‘s what they want. Giuliani, what differs him from the rest of the field is he really is sort of a social moderate.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between what Giuliani says about values and policy and being a pro-lifer? What difference does it make? He might as well be Brownback the way he‘s talking.
VANDEHEI: Right, but the question isn‘t just on partial birth, which I think is a little bit easier for people in the middle. The question is, what are you going to do on Roe v. Wade.
MATTHEWS: Did you read the opinion of Judge Kennedy? He‘s talking about forget the health of the woman, the mother. It doesn‘t matter here. This is the first time since Roe v. Wade that a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court says the issue is not to help the mother; it‘s to help the unborn child, the fetus. That‘s what we‘re focused on.
CRAWFORD: This is going to encourage states—
MATTHEWS: This is a major change.
CRAWFORD: This is really going to encourage states to pass more abortion restrictions, which means it is going to come back to the court, which means it is going to stay on the agenda.
MATTHEWS: I think Republican gained on this issue for years as long as they were talking about getting rid of abortion rights. The minute they actually start to do it, my sense is that the Hillary people and the other side, the Democrats, will start to gain on this. We‘ll be right back with Jim Vandehei, Craig Crawford and Lois Romano. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We‘re back with Jim Vandehei of the Politico.com, our colleague, who‘s going to be working with us at the big Republican debates come May 3rd, he‘s MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford, who‘s here often, and the “Washington Post‘s” Lois Romano. Lois, it‘s great to have you, even if you want to argue with me on a lot of points tonight, which is fair.
ROMANO: Well, I am trying to speak up, you know.
MATTHEWS: No, you are entitled. Let me ask you about Fred Thompson. Let‘s lighten it up and end this show on a positive note. Could it be that Fred Thompson, who apparently is not ready to debate as a candidate in the Republican debate coming on May 3rd, is in fact a live candidate for the Republican nomination and could well be among the leaders come a couple weeks from now. What do you think?
ROMANO: I absolutely think so. I think that the Republican party is desperate for somebody. I mean, we can see, you know, McCain is starting to slip. People are just not quite comfortable with Romney. And they keep looking for new faces. I don‘t get why Thompson is playing so much footsy. I mean, he is going to have to really get out and declare to start raising some big money.
MATTHEWS: Doesn‘t he look like the big daddy from the old Tennessee Williams plays? Like Big Daddy comes home and says will the little lady get my slippers? He just looks like the oldest school daddy I‘ve ever seen. Look at him there. What do you think Lois? Do you think he will appeal to the daddy in the daddy party?
ROMANO: I don‘t know about that. I think he is going to appeal to all of the woman that watch “Law and Order” though. It‘s a really popular show. I mean, my kids even like it. So I think people are going to look at it and not think he is conservative, and just think, wow, he‘s a really interesting guy and we like him on TV.
MATTHEWS: You know, if we could pick characters and actors from “Law and Order,” I would prefer Angie Harmon. But let me go to Jim Vandehei. Jim?
VANDEHEI: I am a skeptic. Let me take a contrarian view here. I really believe if Chris Matthews jumped in as a Republican candidate tomorrow, you would get 10 percent in the polls. There is just broad dissatisfaction with the entire Republican field.
MATTHEWS: Could I go up? Could I continue to go up? Could I win the thing?
VANDEHEI: It depends. You would probably dominate the debate, at least filibuster it. No, I think that Thompson looks good on paper, because he‘s an actor and people just want—
MATTHEWS: But doesn‘t he have that presence, you know, that some people have. Poor Dan Quayle, a nice guy; he didn‘t have it. Colin Powell has it. That je ne sais quoi. When you walk into the room, people listen to you. They think that you have something important to say, even if you don‘t.
CRAWFORD: I think he is a better politician than actor. I think his delivery is kind of stilted on “Law and Order.”
MATTHEWS: And he got these gigs because he was playing himself as a lawyer down in Tennessee, right? And he was, in fact, minority counsel to the Watergate Committee. And he is, in fact, a former senator, United States senator for six years. How good a senator was he? Jim Vandehei?
VANDEHEI: Well, most of his colleagues—I covered Congress back then—thought he was a fairly middling senator. He obviously has a good presence. He did not have a huge legislative track record. A lot of people were unhappy with what he did on campaign finance.
CRAWFORD: He wasn‘t a work horse, but he—
MATTHEWS: Didn‘t he blow the hearings on campaign finance when they were all targeting Clinton and the White House and the Lincoln Bedroom? Didn‘t he blow that?
CRAWFORD: He sided—But, a lot of his colleagues would look to him for some of his instincts on just where the public mood is and so on.
MATTHEWS: Lois, would he dominate the press coverage if he got in, just because he is a Hollywood figure, as well as a political figure?
ROMANO: I think initially he would. I mean, you know, all these things run in cycles. But I think, you know, once John Edwards goes out and gets a hair cut again, for instance, that would just take the attention away from Fred Thompson.
MATTHEWS: A 400 dollar haircut?
ROMANO: Amazing, just amazing.
MATTHEWS: You know, he‘s got good hair, and I don‘t know why he‘s spending that kind of money.
CRAWFORD: The son of a mill worker can grow up to run for president and get 400 dollar haircuts.
MATTHEWS: Join us again Monday for more HARDBALL. None of this hair stuff. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS
RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for
research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for
user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be
printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any
fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other
proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Watch Hardball each weeknight