Guest: Roger Simon, Ron Christie, Mark Green, Maria Teresa Petersen, Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Capehart, Jim Cramer, Howard Fineman, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera
MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST: Gas prices hitting an all-time high. Can either of the presidential candidates do anything about it?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Mike Barnicle, in today for Chris Matthews. Our colleague, Tom Brokaw, has what he calls the “UFO theory” of politics—
UFO, unforeseen occurrences. In a year when we thought the war or the housing slump would be the big stories of the campaign, turns out soaring gas prices are the top issue right now. Barack Obama is proposing a windfall profits tax on oil companies and wants to close the so-called Enron loophole to control speculation. John McCain is offering a summertime break from the federal gasoline tax. But can either candidate really do anything about high gas prices?
Also, what do Tom Eagleton, Geraldine Ferraro and Dan Quayle have in common? They were all surprising and ultimately disappointing choices as presidential running mates. So what names top this year‘s list? We‘ll talk to the experts and see whether there are any surprises in store.
Plus, both presidential candidates could plead guilty, with an explanation, to flip-flopping in the first degree this year. Are these changes of heart nothing more than political opportunism, or are they smart politics?
Also, in the “Politics Fix,” does Obama really have a 15-point lead, as a “Newsweek” poll says, or is the race much closer than that? We‘ll look at that and more in the “Politics Fix.”
And in case you missed it, no, the election is not over. And no, that is not the presidential seal in front of Barack Obama. What is it? We‘ll have the answer for you in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
But first, what can the president do about the rising cost of gas? Jim Cramer is the host of “Mad Money” on CNBC and a man who‘s been up since 4:00 o‘clock this morning thinking about these issues.
Jim, today the average national gas price I think is about $4.07. I paid $4.29 for regular over the weekend. Are these prices ever going to drop below $4 again, do you think?
JIM CRAMER, HOST, CNBC‘S “MAD MONEY”: I don‘t expect them to. I think that our price of oil is not in our control. It‘s in the control of countries that are using—doubling their use of oil, basically, China and India. We play a small role, and we are not going to be able to bring it down, even with conservation.
BARNICLE: They had a one-day phony-baloney meeting in Saudi Arabia over the weekend...
BARNICLE: ... you know, to supposedly pacify us. We‘ve had the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States make repeated trips to the Middle East, begging the Saudis to up their production. They agreed to up it, I think, what, 200,000 barrels a day perhaps?
CRAMER: Mike, if they had it, they‘d pump it. They‘ve always been the enemy of higher prices. Why? For a simple reason. Because they don‘t want solar to be developed or wind to be developed. They don‘t want alternative energy. They‘re running out of oil. That‘s the one thing that they‘re never willing to say. You know, the old me, when I was more a fisticuffs guy, I would have called them liars. Now I think that they‘re somewhat dissembling.
BARNICLE: Where is the oil? If they don‘t have it, where is the oil in this world?
CRAMER: We haven‘t got it, my friend! Look, if we had it, China would take it. China will pay 200 bucks for oil. They need oil more than any other country on earth. We are a sideshow to the oil issue, even as we pump and pay $4.25, $5. It doesn‘t matter. The Chinese are going to take it all.
BARNICLE: How much oil is there in Iraq?
CRAMER: There‘s probably double what we‘re producing right now per day.
BARNICLE: And so that‘s why Exxon-Mobil and the other big oil companies are trying to get in there and do contractual stuff?
CRAMER: Yes, well, those companies are so busy being expropriated by people whom I regard as being basic communists—although I think that they probably have—they‘re, like, leftists—that I think if you‘re Exxon, you‘re looking for a stable place. And I know this is going to sound a little erratic, but Iraq is more stable than a lot of the countries that Exxon‘s drilling in.
BARNICLE: Can you tell me—I mean, there‘s been a lot of talk, a lot of things written about speculation. Tell me what speculators are when they buy oil. Tell me how that works.
CRAMER: Well, we‘ve been focusing on this on “Mad Money” for weeks now. Speculators buy something and hope to sell it higher. That‘s pretty much what a speculator does. I regard the people who are buying oil as geniuses. They‘re not speculating, they hit upon the right commodity and they made the right bet, which is that they‘re not—we‘re running out of oil. If they were real, if these guys were really powerful, well, where would they put all the oil that they‘re speculating in? Do they have, like, some sort of Area 57 where they bury it in the ground?
CRAMER: These guys are maybe worth 2,3 bucks in the price of oil. The weak dollar‘s worth 2, 3 bucks. You eliminate both—let‘s say you shoot—you literally shoot all the speculators -- (INAUDIBLE)
BARNICLE: Who are they? Who are the speculators? Are they individuals? Are they companies?
CRAMER: They‘re guys who used to do what I do, hedge fund. I used to speculate all the time. I was a pretty good speculator. And they‘re also institutions that do what‘s known as indexing. They‘re not really speculators. They‘re saying, Listen, we want to put some money in real estate, some money in commodities, some money in stocks. Big pension funds are doing it.
But again, we—it‘s such an easy target. We hate to talk about the communist Chinese using—I shouldn‘t call them that. I know they‘re our friends. But you know, we hate to talk about the Chinese using our oil and India, but that‘s who‘s doing it. And they‘re not speculating, they‘re trying to rebuild cities of 12 million over there. The Chinese own most of the African production. They need oil, and they‘re willing to pay for it. They‘re willing to outbid us. They‘re bigger than the speculators. They‘re bigger than the indexers. And they would pay up to $150 for oil tomorrow.
BARNICLE: So do you think the speculators have added to the cost of oil per barrel or no?
CRAMER: Oil‘s $137 today. I think the speculators might have added a couple bucks, no more than that.
BARNICLE: OK. You just reminded me, on March 19, 2003, the day the Iraq war began, oil was $29.88 per barrel. And as you just indicated, it‘s $137.26 today. How much did the war have to do with this?
CRAMER: The war took out a couple—well, you could argue—we don‘t really know what Iraq was pumping. We need two million more barrels per day. It is somewhat ironic that Iraq was producing two million more barrels than they are right now at various points. We heard at one point, they were doing four million. Sometimes we heard they were doing two million. But that‘s the spare capacity we need to be brought on. That would bring prices down.
We do need oil. If we had it and some of them were pumping, it would bring it down. But right now, every spare drop is being used. It would be unbelievably bullish for people who need oil if Iraq were to come back to its old production.
BARNICLE: What goes through your incredibly fertile mind when you hear both candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, talk about their so-called energy plans and trying to cut the cost of gasoline prices?
CRAMER: OK, I was flummoxed and shocked today that Obama turned out to be very close to the ethanol lobby. That‘s the most powerful lobby on earth because they jacked up your food price. They‘re ruining your July 4 barbecue. You can‘t afford chicken or beef because 30 percent of the corn crop which feeds cattle and feeds chicken is being diverted to a fuel that nobody wants, nobody needs, that can‘t be shipped, that we hate, which is ethanol. The really good ethanol is from Brazil.
So I couldn‘t believe that Obama turned out to be—again, when I was less politic, I would have said in the pocket. Now it turns out he‘s very close to those interests.
Now, McCain—forget the gas tax. He is actually right. We‘re spending a whole week talking about green (ph) drilling. It‘s been since 1969 that we‘ve had an oil spill in this country off of Santa Barbara. America‘s invented technology that would make that spill impossible to have! McCain‘s right. American people are seeing this. They‘re recognizing that we know how to drill and drill clean.
I am, all week, explaining why the Luddites are trying to keep us from drilling. There are billions of barrels off our coast. And I‘ve got to tell you, Mike, the American people know it. They‘re tired of hearing from leaders that we don‘t know how to drill, when our technology is drilling all over the world, except for this elitist nation!
BARNICLE: Yes, except if we start drilling today—I mean, we‘ve been led to believe by a series of politicians and a series of presidents that off-shore oil drilling is the answer, that we‘ll be paying $1.25 for gas because if we start off-shore oil drilling here, by ourselves, that it‘s going to be—like, take about a week to get things done.
CRAMER: But you know...
BARNICLE: It‘s going to take years!
CRAMER: Twenty years ago, we heard, Don‘t drill in ANWR because it‘ll
take years! Well, what the heck? The years have come and we‘re still
using that argument. I think that we have to accept the fact that we have
that we can make coal cleaner in the interim. We‘ve got windmill power.
I don‘t kid you, windmill power‘s not a joke. I visited a windmill farm this weekend. We got a lot of nat-gas. I‘m fired up. I‘m fired up because I know that we have alternatives until that stuff comes on stream, off-shore. I own a beach house on the Jersey coast. I say drill right in front of me! That‘s how confident I am!
BARNICLE: Well, you could drill throughout New Jersey, I would imagine, and...
CRAMER: Why the heck not? We should be drilling wherever this stuff is, instead of telling every other nation on earth we ought to be pumping. Who are we to tell every other nation on earth they should be pumping? And we don‘t use our own technology to find it. We‘re a bunch—well, again, when I was less politic, I would have described us as jokers. Now I think we‘re unfounded.
BARNICLE: Well, now, how annoyed do you get? And I can tell you‘re getting pretty annoyed. Right now, in this election cycle, you know, the Democrats are blaming President George Bush for, you know, lack of an energy policy. And John McCain is saying, you know, we have an energy policy. But if you look at it, if you look at history, as you‘ve just pointed out, we‘re talking 25, 30 years without an energy policy, aren‘t we?
CRAMER: Our energy policy is to rely on countries like Saudi Arabia, our best friends—I love those guys—and to forget about everybody else, including ourselves. We don‘t need to explore ourselves because we‘ve got the other guys. That‘s pretty much our energy policy until recently, when we decided to divert—we decided to do a food for oil program from Iraq—just like—just like we have for Iraq. We‘re doing food for oil, making it so the American people can‘t afford chicken and beef so we can pump really bad stuff into our cars!
BARNICLE: Hey, Jimmy, before I let you go, I don‘t want to invade your privacy, but...
CRAMER: That‘s quite all right.
BARNICLE: ... is your life so lame that you spent the weekend at the windmill something?
CRAMER: Well, I also visited the Marseles (ph) shale. I did natural gas, too.
BARNICLE: Thank you, Jim Cramer. You can watch Jim Cramer on “Mad Money” weeknights at 6:00 and 11:00. It is a show on CNBC.
Coming up, veepstakes. Who are the leading contenders to be running mates for John McCain and Barack Obama?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), FORMER SENATOR: I‘m not seeking the vice presidency. I‘ve not talked to Barack about it. I don‘t expect to be asked, and I have no interest.
CHRIS WALLACE, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”: But that doesn‘t mean you‘d say no?
DASCHLE: Well, obviously, you‘d think about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anyone would be honored to serve John McCain, and I would, as well. But he will have a long list of highly qualified people to choose from.
TOM RIDGE ®, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SEC.: I appreciate the question. I think it‘s very important, and I think the senator agrees with me. It‘s a very important choice for both parties.
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA: This is not something that I have designs on. I‘m very happy with being governor of state of Minnesota.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (d), DELAWARE: I‘m not interested in being vice president. I‘ve let the candidate know. If the candidate asks me to be vice president, the answer is I‘ve got to say yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Ah, the truth, not (INAUDIBLE) Joe Biden. Welcome back to HARDBALL. Questions are intensifying as to who each presidential candidate will pick as his running mate. For look at the leading contenders for both sides, let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and the Politico‘s Roger Simon.
Gentlemen, here‘s the deal. This is going to be like the NFL draft.
We‘re going to run it like the NFL draft, OK?
BARNICLE: I‘m Mel Kuyper (ph), and I‘m going to give you the names, you‘re going to give me the run-downs on the guys. And we‘re going to start with the aforementioned just seen Senator Joe Biden. Howard, you‘re up.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. Joe Biden, he can help in Pennsylvania, which is where his family‘s from. He knows foreign policy. Nobody has a better street sense of the world than Joe Biden. That‘s the plus side. The down side is he‘s a senator who‘s been used to hearing himself talk for many years and sometimes likes it too much.
BARNICLE: Harsh. Harsh! Roger?
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: And he sometimes sticks his foot in his mouth when he‘s talking too much. But he‘s terrifically knowledgeable. He‘s very good on the stump. You know, vice presidents really only have one duty, and that‘s to hold one debate. One suspects he‘d do very well in that debate. But the fact is, Barack Obama could make his day by making him secretary of state. He doesn‘t have to make him vice president of the United States.
BARNICLE: Next, number two, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana for the Democrats.
FINEMAN: Well, shall go first, Mike?
BARNICLE: Absolutely, Howard. Feel free.
FINEMAN: OK. OK. Roger and I are trying to figure how we follow Jim Cramer, so if we start...
BARNICLE: Wave your arms.
FINEMAN: ... shouting, that‘s...
BARNICLE: Wave your arms.
FINEMAN: If we start shouting, that‘s the way we do it. OK, Evan Bayh—there‘s no safer pick. Successful governor of Indiana, respected senator, knowledgeable about foreign policy, was a Hillary Clinton supporter and a very prominent one, which would help Obama heal the wounds in the party, really knows foreign policy, is a favorite of supporters of Israel in this country. A whiter candidate there is not.
FINEMAN: The down side—I don‘t know. I don‘t see a lot of down side, actually.
BARNICLE: Well, Roger do you?
SIMON: Only a small one. I mean, he‘d be great if he could actually put Indiana in play. There‘s only two Great Lake states who went for Republicans last time, Indiana and Ohio. You put either one of them in play, and you‘ve really helped the ticket.
The down side is, when it comes to choosing for vice presidential candidates, and you say, Well, both these guys are equal, let‘s say—let‘s say an Evan Bayh and a Tim Kaine—why don‘t we go with the guy who endorsed us instead of the guy who endorsed Hillary? There is such a thing as loyalty in politics. And it might be that instead of wanting to reach out to Hillary supporters, Barack Obama will say, I‘m going to reward my own supporters. I‘m going to reward a guy who endorsed me early.
BARNICLE: All right, Howard, wave your arms again now. Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia.
FINEMAN: Well, Virginia‘s definitely in play. Kaine is a very popular governor. He also happens to be Catholic, which matters in the demography of politics in America, the Catholics being—it‘s almost ridiculous to call them a swing constituency, since we‘re talking about 50, 60 million people, but they are. So that‘s helpful.
Virginia is going to be a big place for the Democrats to play, and I think it would help enormously. I don‘t think Kaine helps a lot on the foreign policy side, which is required, I think. Not number one, but it‘s very helpful. And since he doesn‘t have foreign policy background or any defense background necessarily, I don‘t think it‘s that helpful. If you want to go for Virginia and go that way, I would maybe take a risk on Jim Webb, the senator from Virginia.
BARNICLE: So Roger, you know, loyalty counts for something. Governor Kaine did endorse Obama.
SIMON: And he endorsed him very early. I mean, he was, you know, one of the first guys outside the state of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama. I think that counts for a lot. Tim Kaine is number one on my (INAUDIBLE) short list of vice presidential selections or predictions of who Barack Obama will select. Ad Howard said, Virginia is really crucial to Barack Obama‘s victory, I think, if he does have a victory.
The only slight negative, as Howard said, you know, it‘s good in national politics now to be a Catholic. It used to be a negative. Now it‘s good because of swing voters. Tim Kaine, however, has what he calls a personal choice, what he calls a faith-based opposition to abortion. Obviously, it doesn‘t matter to the voters of Virginia. However, if he‘s on the ticket, if he‘s a heartbeat away from the presidency, he‘s going to be asked, What kind of Supreme Court Justices are you going to appoint? Are they going to favor Roe v. Wade? Are they going to be opposed to Roe v. Wade. I assume he can come up with an answer to that.
BARNICLE: Howard, here‘s an interesting one. Democrats, Barack Obama, and yet repeatedly, you hear the name mentioned Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
FINEMAN: Well, I think that‘s an interesting choice. And certainly, if Barack Obama‘s message is going to be, I‘m a different kind of politician, this is not politics as usual, I want to end the partisan gridlock in Washington, it would make a lot of sense. Hagel‘s a war hero. Hagel knows business. He comes from the West, the Plains, but the west. And there‘s a lot of emphasis in the Obama electoral college map there. So I think it‘s an interesting choice.
I think a lot of Democrats might be confused a little bit by it because a lot of the rest of Hagel‘s voting record is pretty conservative, pretty pro-business, pretty anti-regulation, and so forth. So he‘d have a lot of ‘splainin‘ to do.
One thing you don‘t want to do as a presidential candidate is have your vice president nominee spend the—choice spend the first few days of the news cycles explaining all of his voting record.
BARNICLE: Roger, we‘re going to switch up here now in the second half, going over to the Republicans‘ draft day here.
SIMON: You don‘t want to hear my opinion of Hagel?
BARNICLE: Go ahead. Quickly.
SIMON: Too dramatic a choice. Both nominees are going to go for someone who‘s dull and safe and not dramatic. And also, Hagel has a zero percent rating from NARAL. I mean, he is strongly pro-life. I really can‘t see the Democratic Party making a strong pro-life choice for vice president.
BARNICLE: All right, now, tell me, Roger, about Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Republican potential.
SIMON: Part of my—very high—part of my two Tim theories. Both candidates will pick a vice president named Tim. He‘s a safe choice. He‘s not going to overshadow anybody. He‘s young. He‘s appealing. He‘s from a state where they decided to hold the Republican Convention. That may not have been an accidental. I think he would be a very solid choice for vice president.
FINEMAN: He has a working-class background, which is—which is good and which is helpful, an unassuming guy, very close to many of the evangelical leaders. It would help McCain with them.
But I think McCain may need somebody with a little more experience and a little more heft in terms of national policy, and maybe even defense, because, after all, McCain is selling himself as the commander in chief president once again, just like George W. Bush. And he wants a running mate who can fill in, in that capacity.
BARNICLE: Roger, Rob Portman in Ohio, big state, swing state. He knows something about money and finances and government spending.
SIMON: He does. But he also—just concentrating on the negatives first—the positive is, obviously, he‘s from Ohio, although whether he could actually contribute to winning that state is problematical.
But he‘s very closely tied to the George Bush administration. He was George Bush‘s budget chief. He was George Bush‘s trade director. If John McCain wants to avoid being called the third term of George—George Bush, picking Portman is not the way to do it.
FINEMAN: Well, if he were to pick him, what he would have to do is emphasize the ways in which—and there were ways in which Portman disagreed with a lot of the Bush policies, especially on spending. As budget director, he was a hawk on that topic. He didn‘t win the day a lot of the times, but that would have to be the argument, that McCain was picking the best and more McCain-like person out of the Bush administration. That is how he would have to sell him. But Iowa would be the main selling point.
BARNICLE: Roger, interesting new Republican face, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana.
SIMON: Interesting, young, very young, almost too young to run, not quite. He gets over the constitutional limit.
But I have got to raise the delicate subject. If you‘re John McCain and you know you‘re going to get an ex-percentage of votes based on race, do you pick a dark-skinned vice presidential candidate who some people are going to say, wrongly, is black? He‘s an Hindu, converted to Catholicism. He‘s an Indian American.
You know, none of that should matter in American politics. But is it a safe choice or is it a choice that‘s going to get everybody chattering? I think McCain is going go for a safer choice than that.
BARNICLE: Yes, I agree with you.
Howard, you agree with that?
FINEMAN: Not necessarily.
I certainly think McCain is intrigued by Jindal. I mean, in the reporting I did on that—that weekend McCain had out at his ranch, he spent a lot of time talking to Jindal. Mitt Romney was there as well, and Charlie Crist.
But Jindal really caught McCain‘s eye. McCain is going to make this decision based in part on personal factors. McCain is a Navy guy. He‘s a squadron guy. He wants somebody he‘s comfortable with. And he really liked Jindal, the problem being is that Jindal is literally half his age. So, it would be a little—a little strange for a guy who—who wants to emphasize the commander in chief role.
BARNICLE: So, Roger, maybe Howard answered this question when he said that, out in Arizona, at the conclave they had with the three potential candidates out there, that Senator McCain spent a lot of time talking with Governor Jindal. Maybe that‘s because our next potential candidate, Governor Mitt Romney, was there.
BARNICLE: What do you say?
SIMON: It could—it could be.
SIMON: You know, if you‘re looking for a—two guys who didn‘t really get along during the primaries, it was those two guys.
On the other hand, if this race is going to get down to a bad economic climate in America—and it certainly is a bad economic climate—Mitt Romney is a good choice. Again, it tests one of those negatives. Is America ready for a Mormon vice president? Again, it‘s a dramatic choice. And I‘m not sure either nominee wants drama.
BARNICLE: Well, why don‘t you stick—let‘s stick with you, Roger—and then we will go to Howard—for our last guy here...
BARNICLE: ... Charlie Crist.
SIMON: You know, Charlie Crist, really, in some ways, put the—
McCain over the top. He gave him a crucial endorsement—he‘s governor of Florida—crucial endorsement before the Florida—Florida primary.
McCain really owes him. He‘s young. He‘s smart, and he will probably get engaged soon. He‘s already talking about it. And that would help put him on the ticket.
BARNICLE: Well, Howard, is that...
BARNICLE: Is that the criterion for—take it away, Howard Fineman.
FINEMAN: Roger and I are covering the social pages now.
FINEMAN: We will be reporting on weddings and engagements.
I think more important than his marital status is the fact that he came out and supported offshore drilling...
FINEMAN: ... which McCain has just—and I‘m not going to go any farther on that topic. But he—but he said, hey, I‘m with McCain on that, even though this is Florida. That was important, just as important politically as endorsing McCain to begin with.
So, Crist is definitely a team player. And he‘s very popular in Florida. Even a lot of Democrats and independents like him in Florida. They think a lot of him. And it would really help McCain in that state.
BARNICLE: OK, quickly, from each of you, one name only. Any dark horses that we didn‘t mention?
You, Howard, first.
FINEMAN: I—I think a general there somewhere, a general or former general, a Wes Clark type, a General Jones type, somebody who has got some military credentials. I think that‘s something that Obama‘s definitely going to look at.
SIMON: Bloomberg is a very, very dark horse for both of them. I don‘t think he‘s going to be selected by either of them. But if you want to dark horse, that‘s a name.
BARNICLE: I will take it.
Howard Fineman, Roger Simon, thanks very much, gentlemen.
Up next: Barack Obama is leading John McCain in the polls. But is it presumptuous of him to have this seal on his podium? The “Sideshow” is next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome to HARDBALL.
Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
Is Barack Obama putting the cart before the horse in his White House aspirations? He‘s still just the presumptive Democratic nominee, but, this weekend, he unveiled a new logo that is vaguely familiar.
His new seal looks remarkably like the real presidential seal. It seems he‘s taking heat for it, more than a few snickers and raised eyebrows when he unveiled it at his meeting with Democratic governors.
He shouldn‘t forget that the real-deal seal comes with the Oval Office, not before.
Jackie Kennedy, as first lady, was the epitome of style and fashion, admired and copied by women around the world. Everything she wore by Christian Dior, Oleg Cassini, and other designers became an instance hit.
And now, over 40 years later, there‘s a new lady in the fashion spotlight, a possible first lady. But have times changed? Instead of handcrafted dresses that cost thousands of dollars, Michelle Obama wore an off-the-rack black and white dress that cost $148 on ABC‘s “The View” last week. The chain store that sells called White House Black Market sold out.
And if you want to order it online for your Fourth of July bash, forget it. If you order today, the estimated ship date is mid-August.
And now it‘s time for “Name That Veep.”
This possible contender has held numerous posts in government, including governor, congressman, and the first secretary of a newly formed agency. But he has a bit of a problem. He and John McCain don‘t agree on abortion rights.
On a Sunday news show, he said—quote—“The vice president‘s job is to support the administration once a decision is made. But that doesn‘t mean that you don‘t share a belief that you have had your entire life”—unquote.
So, who is this experienced moderate conservative who could be a big help to McCain in his home state of Pennsylvania? Ta-dah. It‘s John McCain‘s current senior aide, Tom Ridge.
And now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
In 2004, the Bush administration began financing an Arab-speaking television station for the Middle East called Al-Hurra. Bush promised it would cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda and spread the good word about the United States in that region of the world.
But, according to a “60 Minutes” report, instead of promoting a positive image of the U.S., it has aired anti-American and anti-Iranian viewpoints, broadcast pro-Iranian policies, and even featured a militant who pushed for the death of American soldiers in Iraq.
So, how much has been spent on this embarrassing, obscene TV station that was paid for by American taxpayers? So far, $500 million. That‘s right, $500 million, the number of dollars spent bashing ourselves on TV in the Middle East—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Will voters hold Barack Obama and John McCain accountable for changing their positions on issues like campaign financing and offshore drilling?
Plus, did a McCain adviser really just say that a terrorist attack would be a big advantage for McCain? That‘s ahead in the “Politics Fix.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks closed little changed this Monday. The Dow finished down a fraction of a point. The S&P finished higher by a fraction. The Nasdaq, it got hit hard. It lost 20 points.
Oil prices rose on disappointment over Saudi Arabia‘s promise to increase production by a modest 200,000 barrels a day. Crude gained $1.38 in New York, closing at $136.74 a barrel.
United Airlines says it will lay off 950 pilots at summer‘s end. That‘s about 12 percent of the total number of pilots. The airline also plans to retire about 100 planes. United shares fell 15 percent today.
General Motors announced it will make additional cuts in production of slow-selling SUVs and pickups. It‘s also offering six-year zero percent financing on the gas-guzzling vehicles. They‘re trying to move them off the lots. GM shares fell 7 percent today to their lowest level since 1975.
That‘s it from CNBC. We are America‘s business channel—now back to
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL, after another dose of real good news from Wall Street.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain have had flip-flops or near flip-flops so far this campaign. But will voters hold it us against them?
Joining us now, Mark Green, president of Air America Radio and author of “Losing Our Democracy.” Ron Christie is former special assistant to President Bush.
Let‘s start with you, Mark, because you‘re right here.
And, then, Ron, we will slap you around from Washington.
MARK GREEN, PRESIDENT, AIR AMERICA RADIO: First, welcome to New York, Mike.
BARNICLE: Oh, thank you very much.
GREEN: Happy to have you here.
BARNICLE: I‘m always—always pleased to be here, especially when the Yankees are in third place.
BARNICLE: ... the flip-flop deal, let‘s start with the big one, the most recent one, Barack Obama on public financing. He‘s not—he‘s not going to go for it.
GREEN: The answer to your opening question is, I don‘t think voters will hold them accountable or responsible if, once or twice, a nominee, like any politician, like any person, changes their mind, unless they‘re sleepwalking.
The issue is, is it a pattern? So, I do think they will hold John McCain responsible, because, some 10 times, he‘s switched sides. So, it‘s become almost the zigzag express.
You asked particularly about Obama and financing. He said that he would like to opt in to public financing in the general if the opposing nominee could, but he had the option of opting out. He announced that he opted out, because, since John McCain can‘t control, legally or otherwise, the 527s that...
GREEN: ... have and probably will inundate him...
BARNICLE: The swift boat stuff.
GREEN: The swift boat stuff.
GREEN: And since Obama doesn‘t have a lot of big special interest money, with strings attached, but has 1.5 million people, it‘s almost a form of public financing without taxpayer moneys.
And, finally, Mike, since John McCain, himself, switched and pledged to go into public financing in the primaries as collateral to get a loan to save his campaign, he got the loan, and then he opted out—so, he‘s been running with private funds for the last seven months—I don‘t think he has clean hands to throw mud at Barack Obama.
BARNICLE: Ron Christie, are you going to sit there silently and take that? I mean, come on, man.
RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: I‘m not going to sit here. I‘m far too polite.
But for the former public advocate of the city of New York to suggest that, somehow, that Senator McCain is the true flip-flopper and that Barack Obama is the man of virtue here is preposterous.
Look, Senator Obama made it very clear at the outset of this campaign, when he, of course, was not projected as doing as well—Senator Clinton was the anointed one at this point—he had said that he wanted to look at taking public financing.
Well, when it comes convenient for Senator Obama, when he recognizes that he could raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million to $300 million, he tried make to go before the American people and make it sound like he was the virtuous one. Oh, Senator Obama was going to be attacked by Senator McCain and his Republican allies, which, as Mark accurately points out, is against the law, by the way.
So, then, when it‘s only in the virtue column for Senator McCain—for Senator Obama, or when it comes to his advantage, he comes out with these pronouncements.
Senator Obama‘s problem, gentlemen, here is the fact that one or two statements taken in isolation is not going to be a problem. The problem will become the American people looking and saying, Senator Obama, with Reverend Wright, says one thing, does another. Senator Obama, with public financing, says one thing, Mike, and does another. That‘s where I think for the senator is, is, who is this guy?
But, Ron, before we—before we—and we will get to Reverend Wright, but let‘s stick with the public financing for just a bit longer. Do you really think—first you, Ron—do you really think the public cares about public financing?
CHRISTIE: In a sense, I do.
Mike, they might not necessarily know what it means to accept 84, 85 million dollars of public tax funded dollars. What they do understand is someone who said that Washington is broken; they are going to be a change agent; they were going to accept public financing. All of a sudden they say, no, I‘m not. By the way, I can raise all this additional millions of dollars. I think that‘s what resonates with them, not just do I take tax payer or not. It‘s disingenuous.
GREEN: Mike‘s asking me an embarrassing question that requires a personal comment. I learned the public doesn‘t much care. I ran against Mike Bloomberg for mayor. He spent about as much in our city alone, 74 million, as the FEC would allow in 50 states, 84 million. The public didn‘t hold it against him. I think another reason why, accurately, they thought Mike Bloomberg was too rich to be corrupt and it‘s own money. In other words, he wasn‘t controlled like a puppeteer by special interest money.
Barack Obama, because he has a million and a half donors, Ron—and no one thinks someone who gives 50 dollars is going to control him. I don‘t think they‘re hold it against him, so long as, in my view as a progressive advocate of campaign finance reform, he pledges, as he‘s done, that should he be president, he will fix the broken system, which is tethered in current dollars to what George McGovern spent in 1972. He is the progressive democracy advocate. They both have switched, Ron, on campaign finance.
CHRISTIE: Here‘s the distinction. You can‘t say that I‘ve got a million some odd voters off the Internet and therefore since I have—donors, excuse me—since I‘ve got X amount of donors on the Internet that therefore I‘m the virtuous ones. If you just elect me, since I have people giving smaller donations over the Internet, somehow that makes it better. The issue here, Mark, and you and I both know this, is that it was a statement where Senator Obama, when he was in a position where no one was paying much attention, where he could say, oh, I‘m the virtuous one for public financing and now he‘s using it for his own --
GREEN: What about McCain‘s flip-flop with the bank? He pledged to opt in, got a loan, and then he switched.
BARNICLE: Let‘s move on to another issue. Let‘s drill for oil with John McCain. Ron, he‘s changed his position on off shore oil drilling.
CHRISTIE: Again, Senator McCain has long said he has been opposed to off-shore oil drilling. He was opposed to drilling in ANWR. I think he took a responsible step last, one I absolutely agree with, that this country needs more domestic sources and supply of energy. Be it drilling off the coast of my home state of California, Florida or opening up additional federal lands for drilling, that is a the responsible case.
I would put one thing to Mark here. If you look ten year ago when President Clinton vetoed the ANWR drilling bill, because the Democrats said, oh, we‘re not going to have oil for tin years. If we had the opportunity ten years ago to drill in ANWR and other locations around this country, we would have more supply. It‘s an indication that Senator McCain understands that we need to drill.
GREEN: President Clinton took the view of McCain ten years ago. By the way, Ron, you can have a fair debate of whether we should drill. The issue is flip flop. John McCain, of course, in 2000 and until last week, said we shouldn‘t drill. I would argue more for wind power, solar power, conservation.
But you said something I totally agree with. One or two changes I don‘t think the public would hold it against him. When you add up John McCain‘s proven switches on Social Security, Hamas, Gitmo, gun control, choice—He didn‘t want to overturn Roe v. Wade before; now he does. On immigration, on drilling, on whether we stay in Iraq 100 years or four years—His only principle, it appears, is I will say whatever works. I think the press won‘t let him get away with it this time.
BARNICLE: Ron, I‘ve got to flip to a commercial. I‘m a flip-flopper myself, but I appreciate you being here, Mark Green, Ron Christie.
Up next, a top adviser to John McCain says a terrorist attack on the United States on our soil would be a big advantage to McCain‘s chances to win the White House. McCain‘s reaction next in the politics fix. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: We‘re back with the politics fix. Let‘s bring in the round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post,” and Maria Teresa Peterson of Voto Latino. Let‘s get right away, panelists, to some comments that Charlie Black, a senior official with the McCain campaign, said to “Fortune Magazine.” An excerpt from the magazine reads—we‘re going to put it up on the screen for you to read, and I‘ll read it to you; “the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an unfortunate event, says Black, but McCain‘s knowledge and ability to talk about reemphasized that this is the guy who is ready to be commander in chief. It helped us, as would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raised the issue”—this is fortune magazine—“another terrorist attack on US soil. Quote, certainly, it would be a big advantage to him, says Black.”
Now, Senator McCain was asked about the quote today. He was asked about Charlie Black‘s comments to “Fortune” and he had this to say. Give it a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I cannot imagine why he would say it. It‘s not true. It‘s -
I‘ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear. The Armed Services Committee, pieces of legislation, sponsoring with Joe Lieberman the 9/11 Commission, so we could find out the causes and how to fix the challenges that was as to the security of this nation. I can not imagine it so—if he said that, and I do not know the context, I strenuously disagree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Context aside, earlier today, Charlie Black gave a statement that reads, “I deeply regret the comments. They were inappropriate. I recognize that John McCain had devoted his entire adult life to protecting this country and placing its security above every other consideration.”
Jonathan Capehart, let‘s start with you. That clip that you heard from John McCain, he said among other things, about the Black statement, it‘s not true, referencing if an international incident, terrorist incident happened on our soil, it would help McCain. He said it‘s not true, but is it?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, you know, I think Mr. Black is guilty of being extremely frank with a reporter. You just do not wish harm on the United States and then try to use it for political gain. But in terms of trying to figure out, you know, if certain things happened, what should the candidate do and would those incidents help or hurt the candidate? You know, Senator McCain is the candidate who‘s known as the foreign policy candidate. Everyone gives that to him. The economy‘s not his thing. Foreign policy is his thing. God forbid, if something happens in this country or anywhere in the world where the United States has interest, Senator McCain is going to be looked to as the person first, as the person who—what would he do? What would he think?
Again, in a presidential context going up against, you know, Senator Obama on the Democratic side, you just don‘t—you just don‘t want to be in the game of wishing and hoping for something as disastrous as another attack to give your guy the advantage.
BARNICLE: Maria Teresa, in the get real department here, you know, the probability is that if, as Jonathan outlined it, if something horrendous did happen here in the United States, the ultimate political beneficiary would be John McCain. Do you agree with that?
MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO: Well, I think, I mean—first of all, Black should have stopped with the statement of, you know, about Bhutto. He would have been fine. He did—McCain did demonstrate that he was able to understand the complexity of the issues. Now, unfortunately with his statement, and I think that Jonathan hit it on the head—you don‘t necessarily have to go to the back ends of understanding what people might be discussing behind closed doors and he did. I think what the American people don‘t want to do is they don‘t want to live in fear. They‘re looking for other opportunities of change. Unfortunately, he derailed McCain in doing so.
BARNICLE: Michelle, this, of course, you know feeds into what‘s out there about Barack Obama. Many people feel they don‘t know him yet. And they know John McCain. But does a statement like this—does it hurt John McCain in some way?
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It, you know, it hurts—the statement was very unfortunate. I think if Charlie Black knew how it would have been received, this frankness that he had, I think he never would have made the statement. That being said, it probably hurt John McCain for 24 hours. The statement—it‘s almost analogous to Hillary Clinton when she was giving arguments about why she should stay in the race and she made the huge faux pas in referencing the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Because of our nation‘s history, people will remember that. People will remember 9/11.
We‘re also four months out before the election. I think this issue will have a very short life span in the news cycle. People will go on. John McCain is a war hero. He‘s a Vietnam vet with a very honorable record. He also comes from a family that has spent their lifetime in the military. I think no one, no American will attribute this misstatement by Charlie Black to John McCain. In the long run, it‘s not going to hurt him.
We‘re going to be back with the round table for more of the politics fix. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: We‘re back the round table for more of the politics fix. We have two polls we want to take a look at briefly here. A “Newsweek” poll of registered voters has Obama beating McCain by 15 points, 51 percent to 36 percent. The polling data was not gathered from registered Volvo users at Starbucks in the west side of Manhattan. It‘s a real poll. A “USA Today”/Gallup poll has Barack Obama beating John McCain by six points, 50 percent to 44 percent.
Maria Teresa, what‘s your sense of these two polls and do polls mean anything at this stage of the game?
PETERSEN: Well, I think—the big thing with polls is we have to keep in mind a couple folks often get left behind. And those are oftentimes, you know, minorities, individuals that don‘t have land lines and that kind of thing. I would take that with a grain of salt. You‘re not necessarily looking at, for example, the Latino community, for example.
However, I think what Barack needs to do is really understand that if he does expand his campaign, he should try to help identify what are the battleground states where he can actually make a play for it. I think that‘s what McCain is nervous about, because he doesn‘t have as much money coming in as Barack does.
BARNICLE: Jonathan, your sense of the polls, the same question, do they mean anything?
CAPEHART: They are a snapshot in time right now. The “Newsweek” poll shows that finally, Barack Obama has gotten the bounce out of the contest with Senator Clinton. The Gallup Poll—I think it‘s the Gallup Poll or the “U.S. Today”/Gallup poll, that says to me that Senator Obama consistently is beating Senator McCain. Maybe Senator McCain is being knocked around because he has the R next to his name, Republican. Maybe that‘s why the McCain campaign is spending a lot of time trying to divorce the senator from the party, and focusing on the name brand McCain as the maverick. I‘m not sure that‘s going to work though.
BARNICLE: Michelle, less than a minute here, but the Gallup poll number, 50 to 44 for Obama, if you‘re paying 4.40 for gasoline, it‘s kind of amazing that John McCain is this close, no?
BERNARD: Actually, it really is. Most Republicans that I have been talking to after we heard about the “Newsweek” poll actually believed that Barack Obama probably is truly 15 points ahead in national polls, and that things are looking very difficult for John McCain. That being said, some people might ask, if you‘re playing Devils Advocate, shouldn‘t Barack Obama have had a little bit more of a bump since Senator Clinton has dropped out of the race and also given the fact that gas prices and food prices are really just over the top and causing a lot of Americans great difficulty.
BARNICLE: Me included, no corn on the cob this weekend. Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Capehart, Maria Teresa Petersen. Chris Matthews returns tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with our old friend David Gregory.
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