Guests: Pat Buchanan, Jim Warren, Lois Romano, Willie Brown, Eric Alterman, Ron Christie, Jeanne Shaheen, Johnny Isakson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hillary gets hit on Bill‘s global work.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Leading off tonight: Hillary‘s big exam. It was a huge day of politics and policy here in Washington, as Senator Hillary Clinton, president-elect Obama‘s premier Cabinet pick, made her case to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was an impressive display for hours on end of the New York senator‘s amazing mastery of foreign policy issues, as she circled the planet with knowledge and know-how, coming across especially strong on the need to strengthen the State Department‘s work in economic development, and when she demonstrated with great passion her determination to defend women from abuse in the developing world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: This is not culture. This is not custom. This is criminal. And it will be my hope to persuade more governments, as I have attempted to do since I spoke at Beijing on these issues, you know, 13-and-some years ago, that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The trouble came when Senator Clinton went head to head with the committee‘s ranking member, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and refused to commit her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to any further disclosure regarding gifts to his worldwide humanitarian efforts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I don‘t know who will be giving money.
That will not influence, it will not be in the atmosphere. When the disclosure occurs, obviously, it will be after the fact. So, it would be hard to make an argument that it influenced anybody, because we didn‘t know about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, tonight, the transition continues to an exciting inaugural, now just a week away from today, and to a new administration, new standards and big changes promised at the deepest level of American doctrine on a wide range of moral and ethical concerns, from health care, to the interrogation, even torture of U.S. prisoners, to experiments with embryonic stem cells.
And something else tonight, this basic political question, as we turn the page: Did or did not George W. Bush and the people he brought into power unite this country, as they once promised to do, or did they indeed divide us? We want the verdict. And we are going for it tonight.
And speaking of the fast-departing administration, Vice President Cheney made a call in this morning on Bill Bennett‘s radio show and made his final official defense of what‘s been going on the last eight years.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “BILL BENNETT‘S MORNING IN AMERICA”)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are—are al Qaeda members. These are people that we captured on the battlefield. These are folks that—whose main objective in life is to kill Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”
And, finally, Governor Sarah Palin has been blaming campaign aides, her own, for the way she was handled. But, apparently, some people in the McCain circle aren‘t ready to spring to the governor‘s defense. That‘s in the “Sideshow.”
But, first, Senator Hillary Clinton‘s confirmation hearings to be secretary of state.
We‘re joined by two members of the senator Foreign Relations Committee itself, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson.
I want to talk first to Johnny Isakson, the congressman—or the senator.
You spoke first this morning. Here‘s an editorial from “The Wall
Street Journal” today. It‘s and lead editorial. And part of it reads:
“Here is the spectacle of a former President circling the globe to raise at least $492 million over 10 years for his foundation—much of it from assorted rogues, dictators and favor-seekers. We are supposed to believe that none of this—and none of his future fund-raising—will have any influence on Mrs. Clinton‘s conduct as secretary of state. The silence over this is itself remarkable.”
Do you share with the ranking Republican on the committee, Dick Lugar, the desire, if not the demand, that the Clintons come further in disclosing immediately any substantial contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative, as she serves as secretary of state?
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON ®, GEORGIA: Well, that was my initial statement to her when it was my time to question. And the point I made was, Dick Lugar is right, that transparency is absolutely essential. In the world of politics, perception can become reality.
And it would be a tragedy for her efforts, as the chief diplomat of the United States, to become compromised because of controversy over a contribution. If there‘s clear transparency, there won‘t be a controversy.
MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, should the Clintons have to disclose, on a monthly or regular—in fact, on an immediate basis, any contribution of more than $50,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative?
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, they already made a commitment to disclose any contributions after they have been made, and to not take, under the memorandum of understanding—to not take any contributions from foreign governments.
The fact is—and Senator Clinton outlined this very well in her testimony today—the Clinton Global Initiative serves as a pass-through for millions of dollars that are benefiting millions of people around the world in so many ways, from AIDS, to malaria, to other diseases, to other economic development initiatives.
And they‘re doing good work. And we don‘t want to have that good work disrupted. And, as she said today, they are disclosing those contributions.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s Senator Lugar, the ranking Republican on the committee, on that very issue of the Clinton Foundation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR ®, INDIANA: The core of the problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state.
It also sets up potential perception problems with any action taken by the secretary of state in relation to foreign givers or their countries. The only certain way to eliminate this risk going forward is for the Clinton Foundation to forswear new foreign contributions when Senator Clinton becomes secretary of state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Isakson, let‘s just imagine, two weeks from now, somebody wants to make—make a substantial contribution to the Clinton Global Initiative. What should happen?
ISAKSON: Well, it should be disclosed.
I mean, what Dick Lugar said is exactly right. If you have transparencies, you will have discipline, and something that might appear to be tainted won‘t in fact be even made, because they will know the sunshine is going to be shining on the contribution.
So, absolute and complete disclosure is the best insurance policy against a controversy and a compromising of our international diplomacy.
MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, if, a couple of weeks from now, somebody makes a substantial contribution to the Clinton Global Initiative, what should happen?
SHAHEEN: Well, they said they‘re going to disclose it.
And—and I think the point here is that Senator Clinton got a very positive reception from the committee. Her knowledge of the issues facing the Department of State, of her experience in over 80 countries around the world was very apparent, and her...
SHAHEEN: ... depth of understanding of the issues that we‘re going to be facing in this country. And I think that‘s very important.
I think she is going to be confirmed on a very strong bipartisan vote.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think that‘s obvious she did an amazing performance today. We were talking about it all day today, Senator. It was a masterful tour d‘horizon and a tour de force. I mean, I have never somebody know so much about so much.
But I guess the question it comes back to, if somebody makes a substantial contribution to her husband‘s Global Initiative next month, you say it‘s good enough that that information go public by the end of the year. You think that‘s still a good enough transparency, by the end of the year?
SHAHEEN: Look. They have negotiated a memorandum of understanding with president-elect Obama and this new administration that has been commented on and made public. And they are providing disclosure that is beyond what is currently required. And I think that‘s going to be good as we go forward.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have any independent standard of the Clintons? In other words, their standard and the standard of the president-elect is good enough for you? Whatever they agree to is, by its nature, good enough for you, Senator? Or do you have your independence here, to say what you think is good enough?
SHAHEEN: Well, I‘m—I‘m satisfied with the agreement that has been reached. That‘s what I was saying.
Let‘s take a look at this exchange between Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, a Republican, on the same point. Then we will move on. Here he is asking again about the willingness of the Clintons to commit to a full disclosure by the standards set by the Republican members.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I want to speak for a minute, if I can, about the work that is done, because I think it is important.
SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: Mr. Chairman, I have no objection listening to this, but I would like it not to come out of my time, because I would like to pursue these questions.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I guess, I mean, it‘s fair to say that, if you ask a question. And the answer traditionally comes out of the time of the senator.
VITTER: Well, I‘m still waiting for an answer. I would love an answer. But if there‘s an answer to my...
KERRY: Well, I think you need to give the senator an opportunity to give you the answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s hear that. That was a bad bite. We were trying to get Vitter. I don‘t know why we cut that point.
Senator Vitter asking again the question—I‘m not going to drive this any further, but let me go back to Senator Isakson.
Senator Vitter there was asking the question, will the Clintons go further and give a—a full disclosure on a monthly basis? Here‘s the standard put by the ranking Republican, Dick Lugar, who many people thought might have been named as secretary of state in this administration.
If it‘s over $50,000, there has to be an immediate disclosure wherever the source comes from. It can‘t be put off to the end of the year. Do you hold by that standard, and do you wish that standard, and do you wish that the nominee would meet that standard?
ISAKSON: Yes. In the testimony, I endorsed it.
And you know what‘s important here, it is true the Clintons have gone further than anybody‘s ever gone before. But it‘s also true, never in the history of this country, have you had a secretary of state whose husband was a former president who ran an initiative like the Clinton Foundation.
So, this is unchartered water. Those of us in Congress on a—on a monthly basis and in campaigns on a 48-hour basis, have to—have to disclose our contributions for absolute sunshine and transparency. I think that test can be met here as well. And I think what Senator Lugar was recommending is really in the best interests of the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and the integrity of the State Department.
Here‘s Senator Clinton today on another matter. Let‘s move on to the matter that showed great passion on the part of the nominee, Senator Clinton talking about the need for leadership from her and this administration in protecting women from abuse around the world.
It began, however—just to set this up, Senator Boxer showed a very graphic picture of a woman who had had acid thrown in her face in Pakistan because she had divorced her husband, or called for a divorce. And that is the topic that really stirred a lot of passion here today.
Here‘s Senator Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We‘re going to have a very active women‘s office, a very active office on trafficking. We‘re going to be speaking out consistently and strongly against discrimination and oppression of women and slavery in particular, because I think that is in keeping not only with American values, as we all recognize, but American national security interests as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, I was watching a lot of the hearing today, and it was very intellectual until it came to this point. This was powerful stuff.
SHAHEEN: Well, it was.
And I think Senator Clinton spoke very eloquently to the need for the United States to continue to play a leading role in the world in condemning that kind of discrimination and all kinds of threats against women around the world.
And, you know, one of the things that really struck me today, in listening to her comments, was—and talking about president-elect Obama‘s commitment and her commitment to restore diplomacy and the ability of the State Department to engage in active diplomacy around the world, to address an issue like this and to address the many other issues that we‘re facing, so that we really, again, have a State Department that is a diplomatic leader in negotiating with governments and organizations around the world.
MATTHEWS: We have that bite ready, Senator Shaheen.
Let‘s take a look at Senator Clinton making the point you just made yourself. We have got a—we had a bite there on diplomacy. We can‘t go ahead.
Let me go back to Senator Isakson.
And do you have any doubt that Senator Clinton will be confirmed by the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, and, ultimately, by the Senate, this week?
ISAKSON: None whatsoever. She is a very competent, very qualified individual.
I thought the way she responded to the questions today—I particularly appreciate the response on precondition in negotiating with some of the Middle Eastern countries. She was strong on that in her primary, and she‘s going to strong on that as secretary of state. And that‘s important, to see to it that we have preconditions before negotiations.
MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, do you believe it‘s going to be unanimous, perhaps, in this confirmation process for Senator Clinton, even though there‘s a big concern from the Republicans about this disclosure regarding the Clinton Global Initiative?
SHAHEEN: Well, again, I think she‘s going to have a strong bipartisan vote in her favor.
It was very clear today the high regard with which members of the committee, both Democrats and Republicans, hold her and the respect for her experience and her knowledge of the issues we face.
Thank you both for joining us.
Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Senator, thank you.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, thank you for joining us, the senator, of course, the new senator from New Hampshire.
Coming up: One week to go before Barack Obama takes the oath of office, and Washington is getting ready—lots of pictures available of the platform going up on the west front, the works. The 300,000 people are going to be along that parade route and millions down on the Mall next week, this day, by the way, next Tuesday. It‘s coming seven days hence.
Join me for special coverage, as Barack Obama and Joe Biden come to Washington by train. That‘s this coming weekend. We will be on HARDBALL between 5:00 and 8:00 Eastern.
And when we come back tonight, we‘re going to look at a different—well, a different president, Barack Obama. He‘s going to be compared very much to President George W. Bush. We are going to go into the issues that are going to divide the new from the out.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up later on HARDBALL, we are going to look back at the Bush presidency and look forward to the new one to come a week from today.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Just one week until Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States of this country, and this city is ready to see how things are going to be different. Obama campaigned on change, but how quickly will it come?
With us now, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco and the former speaker of the California Assembly.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.
Is there going to be an issue? Let‘s take a look at a radio interview
or listen to a radio interview. Vice President Cheney had it. He joined Bill Bennett this morning on his radio program. And he talked about it being what he called a bad decision to close down Guantanamo.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “BILL BENNETT‘S MORNING IN AMERICA”)
CHENEY: You have got to decide what you are going to do with those folks before you‘re going to control—before you‘re going to close the facility.
These are—are al Qaeda members. These are people that we captured on the battlefield. These are folks that—whose main objective in life is to kill Americans.
And the thing I have noticed is, there‘s never yet been a congressman come forward and volunteer to take 250 al Qaeda members in his district.
BILL BENNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes. Yes.
CHENEY: Nobody wants to do that.
So, then the question is, where are you going to put them? And you have got to sort that all out before you close Guantanamo. I just—I have the impression this is a classic case where they campaigned so hard against Guantanamo...
CHENEY: ... that now they don‘t have a choice but to try to close it.
But that‘s too bad.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan, the argument there at the end was that...
MATTHEWS: ... Barack Obama has to close Guantanamo for the simple reason he promised to. Is that a fair shot?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly is. I mean, he campaigned very hard on that. They made it an issue. It is symbolic now. The core of the Democratic Party wants it done. Barack Obama has said he is going to do it.
But the problem Dick Cheney mentioned there is very, very real. I mean, you have got a number of Hannibal Lecters down there of al Qaeda in that place, and you‘re going to have to find countries with jails who will take them, or you‘re going to have to let them go or put them on trial. And some of them, obviously, you don‘t have enough evidence to pass all the Miranda rules and stuff.
So, Barack Obama has got himself a hellish problem. Chris, you let some of these people go, and they come back and murder Americans, and Barack Obama will have a real problem on his hands.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s the question, Mayor Brown. What do you do with people, where you don‘t have a criminal case against them that would stand up in even a military court, and yet you know they‘re out to get us? They‘re basically belligerents. They say so. They make it clear they want to get us. What do you do with them, just let them loose and hope they won‘t make it—make it back to get us?
WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Well, no, Chris. I don‘t think you—I can answer that question directly because within the context of what Barack Obama campaigned on over a period of 18 to 20 months to win the presidency, he made it very clear that he intended to be obedient to all of the provisions of the Constitution and all of the previous laws. In application in reference to Guantanamo, he will do exactly that. Anybody who should be convicted, anybody who should be held, based on competent (ph) evidence, he will do that. Anybody who should be held to accumulate competent evidence, he will do that. But he will close Guantanamo.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess that question opens it up to a larger question, or your answer. Mayor, what do we do with a situation we don‘t have existing law to cover it? I mean, we haven‘t faced an organization like al Qaeda before, which has an enduring goal of hurting us badly. What do we do when people join that organization, say they‘re part of it, say they share that goal, and they haven‘t done a criminal act yet? What do you do with those people?
BROWN: I don‘t think you can charge...
MATTHEWS: When you catch them.
BROWN: I don‘t think you can charge people with a crime in this country unless they actually engage in some act. It‘s just, frankly, one of the so-called liabilities of a democracy, for some people. When you know somebody intends to do something or they say they intend to do it, unless they take some step that allows you to remove their freedoms, including their freedoms of movement, you can‘t do anything about it.
BUCHANAN: Chris? Chris?
BROWN: You have to wait until they do something.
BUCHANAN: This is a war, Chris, and the enemies in this war are not normal soldiers who fight under Geneva rules and are entitled to Geneva protections. These are people whose form of battle is to deliberately attack and murder as many innocent civilians as they can. In wartime, you shoot people like that. Now, we captured these people, and I can tell you if they let a number of them go and they slaughter a lot of people and we have a Mumbai in America, you‘re going to have Americans demanding Jack Bauer rules, not ACLU rules. And Barack Obama has got to know that. He‘s an intelligent man. He knows what is down there at Guantanamo, and what is down there at Guantanamo is exactly what Dick Cheney described.
MATTHEWS: I want to put—I‘m going to ask Pat the same question. What do you do with a guy you pick up who hadn‘t done anything wrong but was in a training camp or in other ways demonstrated his fealty to the cause against us? What do you do to that person? Do you lock him up until he dies because he joined the wrong organization? I think this is a tricky question. I‘m not asking the question because I know the answer to it, I don‘t know what to do with these guys. What do you do with foreign belligerents who haven‘t committed a crime but are clearly out to commit a crime if they got a chance? What do you do with them?
BUCHANAN: Well, are they—look, if they‘re enemy soldiers, you hold them until the war is over and then...
MATTHEWS: But this war‘s never going to be over.
BUCHANAN: Look, if these people are committed to a life of terror when they go back and they‘re going to find a way to kill Americans and get back over here or to kill us overseas, I think you‘ve—I mean, I don‘t think you treat them under the Geneva convention.
MATTHEWS: What do you do?
BUCHANAN: There‘s got to be some middle way—there‘s got to be some middle way...
MATTHEWS: Well, name it.
BUCHANAN: ... Chris. I don‘t think you...
MATTHEWS: Name it, Pat.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t have...
MATTHEWS: Name it.
MATTHEWS: I know. You don‘t have it.
BUCHANAN: Well, I‘ll tell you what I don‘t do...
MATTHEWS: I think we don‘t have an answer because it‘s damn tough.
MATTHEWS: There is no answer.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t open up Guantanamo, Chris. I don‘t open it up.
MATTHEWS: OK, I think we have a conundrum here, guys, and I think you both agree on it in different ways. What do you do with somebody who‘s clearly joined the other side, clearly committed to jihad against us in a terrorist fashion and yet hasn‘t commit the terrorist act?
Let me ask you about something that might sharpen the distinction between the two of you. Torture, Pat. Are you with the waterboarders, with Dick Cheney, or are you with Chris Kitchens, who‘s been through waterboarding and says we shouldn‘t be doing it?
BUCHANAN: I think, in an extreme case—if you‘ve got an enemy who‘s planted, say, a bomb or a nuclear weapon on a ship in a harbor, I think you do what you have to do to get the information to save human lives. Do we torture as a rule? No. Are there times when you can have situations where there‘s nowhere else you can get the information to a save a lot of lives? I think you turn it over to the people who—quite frankly, the professionals—and again, not the ACLU.
MATTHEWS: So you‘re with Alan Dershowitz on this. You‘re wanting to do anything in extremis.
BUCHANAN: No. Well, don‘t put me—don‘t put me in bed with Dershowitz!
MATTHEWS: Well, because that‘s where he‘s at.
MATTHEWS: He‘s with the “five minutes to midnight” crowd, where you got to stop the—Willie—Mayor Brown, what do we do here? Because I think this is a tough one. I‘m not—I think I can say I‘m against torture, but Pat points out, and so does his pal, Dershowitz, that there are times when somebody knows something about a bomb to go off—look, I don‘t even know whether torture works or not. But what do you think?
BROWN: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: Apparently we use it. We use waterboarding.
BROWN: Well, I think this. I think you have to be very careful. I think you have to literally do what is necessary to secure and ensure my and your safety, Chris, the safety of the people of the country. But I don‘t think you do it at the expense of total and complete constitutional violations.
And believe me, when Barack Obama says he is against the idea of torture, he is against the practice of torture, he meant that. And the American public understood it and they bought it, and I‘m sure his administration will find a way to extract the information that will save the lives without violating the utterances (ph) against torture.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t understand the morality of a position where you could take Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, because of what he did, and take him out and put him up against a wall and shoot him, and that‘s moral, but it‘s immoral to put him under waterboarding for five minutes. I don‘t understand that moral system. I understand the constitutional system and the legal system, but when it comes to morality, I don‘t agree with it.
BROWN: It‘s a question of legality.
BUCHANAN: It is a question of constitutionality. I agree with that.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is all under the rubric of what‘s going to change. Barack Obama‘s coming out of Iraq. He‘s ending torture. He‘s shutting down Guantanamo. What else? He‘s stopping torture, and he‘s going to apparently begin public funding of stem cell—embryonic stem cell research. There‘s a lot of moral issues that are going to have a different look under this administration.
Thank you, Pat Buchanan. Thank you, Willie Brown.
Up next: Hillary Clinton‘s Freudian slip today in her confirmation hearing. This is a little aside, funny moment today.
Plus, why John McCain‘s daughter has—well, she‘s not talking about Sarah Palin, apparently, and that‘s fair enough for her. Family members are allowed to not say nothing if they don‘t want to.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, back to HARDBALL, and time for the “Sideshow.” First up, a funny thing happened on the way to Foggy Bottom. It was apparent at today‘s Senate confirmation hearing that Senator Hillary Clinton was thinking of what might have been when she answered one question from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, who was, of course, the Democratic candidate for president back in ‘04.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Well, Mr.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHMN: I‘ll take that.
CLINTON: It was a Freudian slip. The president-elect...
KERRY: We‘re both subject to those.
CLINTON: Indeed. Indeed. On this subject, especially.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, on subject of the American presidency, it‘s very hard to hide that bug to run. The memory of having run, the hope of running again, that lies within so many of these people.
Next up, the ‘08 campaign is over, but the drama lingers on. Senator McCain‘s daughter, Meghan McCain, spent some time last year campaigning with her father‘s running mate, Sarah Palin of Alaska. But when recently asked by a New Hampshire blog about the Alaska governor, Meghan said, quote, “Sarah Palin is the only part of the campaign that I won‘t comment on publicly.” Could this be one case where the silence on a matter speaks louder than the words?
And the reviews are in. Yesterday, President Bush in his last press conference was both reflective and defiant in assessing his record in office. What grabbed the attention of some top newspaper editors, however, was his set of facial expressions. Look at all those pictures. Look at all the poses they caught. The country‘s top papers were all, front page, various snapshots of the president during that remarkable 45-minute farewell to the White House press corps. Look at them all together there.
Which brings to tonight‘s “Big Number.” There are still some places in the world where President Bush will be missed. One place on that list, Africa. It‘s a place where the U.S. president is still greeted by adoring crowds, mainly because of Bush‘s decision to quadruple funding for AIDS research and AIDS relief and other health and economic programs, such as those in malaria.
In fact, according to the Pew polls, President Bush‘s approval ratings in certain parts of Africa hover about 80 percent. That nearly matches his disapproval rate in this country. Tonight, Bush‘s 80 percent approval rating, in much of Africa, tonight‘s very “Big Number.”
Well, the inauguration of Barack Obama‘s just a week away today. It‘s next Tuesday. And America will turn the page on the Bush presidency. Up next, we‘re going to look at one of George Bush‘s biggest campaign promises, and this is a hot one. He said he‘d be a uniter, he‘d unite this country. Did he, or did he divide us? Let‘s talk about that big pledge from President Bush way back in 2000.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(CNBC MARKET WRAP
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. On this week before inaugural, we‘re all looking back at different aspects of the Bush presidency. And today, we look at his pledge to be—this is George W. Bush‘s pledge—to be a uniter in this country, not a divider. Those are his words on election day 2000. George W. Bush appealed to Americans for their vote. In “USA Today,” he wrote a column that day that we all went to vote. Quote, “Responsible leadership sets a tone of civility and bipartisanship that gets things done. I am a uniter, not a divider, and as the governor of Texas, that is how I have led, and it‘s how I will lead in the White House.”
Well, in his final press conference, President Bush was asked about being a uniter. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a
divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider, or is -
with the challenges for any president and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any president to be a uniter, not a divider?
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. There have been areas where we were able to work together. It‘s just the rhetoric got out of control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?
BUSH: I don‘t know why. You need to ask those who—those who used the words they used.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So what happened? Joining me is Ron Christie, former special assistant to Vice President Cheney, who met with President Bush just last week, and Eric Alterman—was that a good-bye hug or what was that?
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Eric Alterman did not get a hug. He‘s with “The Nation.” Eric, the case is yours. Was the president now leaving us, our president, was he a divider or a uniter?
ERIC ALTERMAN, “THE NATION” COLUMNIST: Well, I think he was obviously a terrific uniter. I mean, look, the entire world is united with about 73 percent of Americans in rejecting the policies of this administration and the tone of this administration.
I mean, think of it, Chris. Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, has an 82 percent approval rating in the United States, and is obviously much more popular in the rest of the world than George Bush ever was. How did that happen? How did we get a guy who‘s got virtually no political experience not only win the election but has an 82 percent approval rating, except for the fact that it‘s a complete and total rejection of the Bush administration? He‘s got 27 percent. He‘s got the Republican base and nothing else.
MATTHEWS: Ron Christie?
RON CHRISTIE, FORMER DICK CHENEY AIDE: Well, I think, obviously, Chris, I have an entirely different take on that...
MATTHEWS: Well, who has he united, except his opposition?
CHRISTIE: Well, let‘s look back to 2001. I think when the president first came into office, he really wanted to change the tone in Washington, and I think he initially succeeded. He came in and wanted to do a number of things on the domestic front. He wanted to pass the wide-sweeping piece of legislation called No Child Left Behind to really make meaningful progress for education, to make sure that children, African-Americans, Hispanic children, people who did not have the opportunity to be in performing schools—they had the opportunity to have a chance to learn. I think he was successful there.
He was in successful in passing a Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That is litany of assumed accomplishments, but where‘s the unity? Where is the unity?
CHRISTIE: If you want one specific thing that unified this country more than anything else, Chris, that after September 11, 2001, this country has not been hit again. His sole responsibility as president of the United States is to insure—no, no, Chris, I‘m answering your question. Wait. This is unifying because we—
MATTHEWS: Give me the data that shows unity.
CHRISTIE: The data that shows unity, Chris, is that we as Americans have not been hit. We feel safer. We feel stronger as a country and as Americans. Why? Because through his leadership and the policies that he worked with this Congress he have not been hit. That‘s why this country has been more unified.
MATTHEWS: Ron, that‘s just propaganda.
CHRISTIE: It is not propaganda.
MATTHEWS: Let me get your reaction to the divider here. Let me ask you to respond to Karl Rove, the president‘s chief political kick for all those years, the man who give him his political guidance. Here‘s how he talked about America four years ago: “conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.”
In other words, people who vote Democrat, who are liberals, are basically interested in the sad feelings of those who try to kill us. And Republicans and conservatives are those who care about protecting the country. Is that unifying language or divisive language? Is that not wedge language aimed at dividing America? This is the president‘s chief political guy.
CHRISTIE: I think that‘s a political statement. That‘s political language. But that was not language that was given by the president of the United States. There are a lot of comments made by a lot advisers—I worked for the president and the vice president. I had my own advice. I offered my own council. But it is ultimately the president of the United States that acts and leads the country.
Karl Rove can say what he wants. Other advisers can say what they want. But it‘s the president‘s actions and his accomplishments that history will judge him by.
MATTHEWS: The issue is unity and division. Let me give you another quote from Karl Rove. This is from 2002, the president‘s chief economic adviser: “Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe. We can also go to the country on this, use this issue, because they trust the Republicans to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America‘s military might.”
Using terrorism and fighting terrorism as a battle cry to vote Republican, I think that may have divided the country myself. Because it suggests that the Democrats didn‘t want to protect the country and the Republican did. I also think he jammed the U.S. Congress into voting on the war issue right before the 2002 elections, in order to force the Democrats to choose between being patriotic or not on the eve of an election. I think he politicized that war in Iraq from day one. That‘s my belief. Your thoughts?
ALTERMAN: I think there is no question you‘re right about this, Chris. Not only did he use these issues to divide the country, but he lied. In the case of Rove, it was simply a lie what he said about liberals. Liberals supported the war in Afghanistan by a rate of nine to one. And so what they were trying to do was create this image where liberals can‘t be trusted to defend the country, and only conservatives can.
And it worked in 2002. That quote from 2002 was very effective. What I find very interesting is that it didn‘t work in 2006 or 2008. People saw what it meant. You know, George Bush—if you leave Rove out of it for a second, George Bush said you can‘t talk about Saddam Hussein without talking about al Qaeda. That‘s roughly an exact quote. It‘s a lie. It‘s false. But that‘s the way they intimidated the country into going to war.
And then once people saw not only how incompetent they prosecuted this
war, but how dishonestly they sold it to the country, there was a wholesale
rejection of everything about this administration. And when you say that -
CHRISTIE: I‘m going to keep this on the rails and keep it polite.
When you use words lie and the president lied, the fact of the matter is—
ALTERMAN: This president lied.
CHRISTIE: This country was struck on September 11, 2001. That‘s not a lie. That‘s a fact. That‘s reality. What this president did in working in a bipartisan manner with the Congress was to take steps to protect the American people. He took the actions and took the course of action that he thought would best protect the country against future attacks. Democrats and Republicans were united in the aftermath of 9/11 to try to take the steps to protect the country.
ALTERMAN: And after the country united in the aftermath of 9/11, he exploited that unity by taking the country to war against Iraq under false pretenses. And if you look at the—don‘t just take my word for it. Take the word of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, who say this war made the United States less safe, not more safe. And that‘s why—
ALTERMAN: 2008 was a wholesale rejection of this administration. Not only—
CHRISTIE: And again, to use such language to say the president lied, the commander in chief of the United States armed forces would never put men and women in harm‘s way, to put them in harm‘s way on a lie.
ALTERMAN: Sir, I wrote a book called “When President‘s Lie.”
CHRISTIE: And I actually didn‘t cut you off. So I would appreciate the same courtesy. This president relied on intelligence. He admitted that that intelligence was somewhat erroneous. But to suggest that the commander of chief of the American armed force would take people into battle and put them into battle, where they could be killed, for some political reason is just absolutely outrageous.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something you may agree was a lie; in 2002, when the country was divided over the war and the U.S. senators were forced to vote on the war right before we went to the ballot box, in 2002, in November, Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, was attacked by the Republican party for being basically an enemy of the United States. He was identified with Saddam Hussein and all of our enemies. He was identified as part of the Osama bin Laden crew.
He lost that election. He was pilloried as an enemy of the United States and lost that election. Do you think that was an honest statement about his patriotism, what was used against him?
CHRISTIE: I think it‘s an unfortunate statement.
MATTHEWS: Unfortunate by whom? Or was it a lie? Was it a lie?
CHRISTIE: I can‘t say whether it‘s a lie. I‘m going to say why it‘s unfortunate. People who wear the uniform should not be attacked. Their patriotism should not be put in question. I think Senator Cleland served his country with honor and distinction. That should not be a political question. But that has nothing to did with George W. Bush and his presidency.
MATTHEWS: George W. Bush was able to defeat a guy named John Kerry by Swift Boating him and brining into question his patriotism to the service. He fought in Vietnam. George W. Bush didn‘t. He got shot at in Vietnam. George Bush chose not to be. And yet he was called a traitor. I‘m telling you that‘s what happened in the 2004 election.
MATTHEWS: It‘s called Swift Boating. There‘s a word for it.
CHRISTIE: It would have been illegal for there to have been coordination between the Bush campaign and that group. So that had nothing to do with Bush. It was independent. Nice try, though.
ALTERMAN: You know—
MATTHEWS: I mean, your way of separating yourself from these—
MATTHEWS: It was the campaign against Max Cleland. It was the campaign by Karl Rove. It was the campaign by the Swift Boaters. But not at one point was it a campaign run by the Republicans. I don‘t get the distinction.
CHRISTIE: Chris, the Swift Boaters were an independent group that had nothing to do with the president, his administration or his campaign. That was an independent expenditure. That was not the president. It was not sanctioned by him. I won‘t let you try to attack for it.
ALTERMAN: Did the president ever condemn anything they said or did?
Did he? Did he ever --
ALTERMAN: Did the president ever disassociate himself from the Swift Boat lies? Did he condemn them? John McCain did, but George Bush never did.
CHRISTIE: You name one instance where you say the Swift Boaters lied.
You like the word lie.
ALTERMAN: Yes, I‘ll tell you why I like the word lie.
ALTERMAN: I‘ll answer your question. I happen to have written a book called “When Presidents Lie.” It‘s 400 pages, got about a thousand footnotes. It was also the subject of my doctoral dissertation. It‘s not unusual for presidents to lie.
CHRISTIE: You didn‘t actually answer my question. I‘m glad you got a plug in for your book.
ALTERMAN: Let me finish. I‘ll answer your question. The president said we had to invade Iraq—he said this twice—because they would not allow the inspectors in. He said that twice.
CHRISTIE: That wasn‘t the swift boat—
ALTERMAN: He said it. It‘s a lie. It‘s a lie. There you go.
CHRISTIE: I can‘t argue with you here. No, actually, that was a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth question.
ALTERMAN: No, no, no. The president of the United States.
CHRISTIE: I give you E for effort, but nice try.
MATTHEWS: I can‘t stop this once I start. Let me tell you, we have just examined and displayed the which George W. Bush has united the country. Thank you, Eric Alterman, and thank you, Ron Christie.
Up next, Hillary refused to—it‘s always a nice try and it usually works. We‘re going to talk about the president of the United States, the former president, Bill Clinton, and the candidate or rather nominee for secretary of state, and the issues of disclosure, which seems to have botched up that hearing today after a masterful performance by Hillary Clinton. The issue once again is disclosure. It is a hot one. We‘ll be back to talk about that, why Hillary Clinton does not want to offer a certain standard of disclosure. The Republicans want her to meet that standard. Once again, we‘re back into that issue again. This is HARDBALL, in familiar territory, on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the politics fix, with cNBC contributor Jim Warren and Lois Romano of the “Washington Post.” Lois, once again, Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York, about to be secretary of state, was masterful today. She knew all the facts. She toured the world. She was brilliant.
Then the question came, will she disclose, as part of the agreement to take this job, her husband‘s contributors, the money going to his global initiative on an immediate basis. She said, no, we‘re going to stick with the annual report.
LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think what you saw is a kiss from the committee and Lugar just making his—Dick Lugar making his mark, saying we know this is going to come up as a problem. I‘m going to put it in the record. Bill always comes up. I think they‘re an eventful couple. There will be more of this.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, Jim? It‘s amazingly familiar here.
JIM WARREN, CNBC: Yes, I mean, I think it also reminds one how when it comes to money and politics, the most unseemly stuff can be the stuff that‘s perfectly legal; 208,000 donors to Clinton‘s foundation, a total of 500 million dollars. One of my ex-colleagues, Andy Zajak in the “Chicago Tribune,” today disclosed that in 2003 a now defunct Japanese America startup called Sakura Capital Management (ph) gave Bill Clinton 500,000 dollars for a speech, 500,000.
Only problem, Bill Clinton never gave the speech, but he got the money. Bill Clinton then took the money, put it into his foundation, though he did not take the tax deduction. Though it did surface in Hillary‘s 2003 Senate financial disclosure forms, the question is unanswered: why did he get 500,000 dollars for a speech he never gave? It reminds one how, in her professional work, whatever the country may be, there‘s the potential problem of someone raising the question, wait a second, you‘re dealing with that government; didn‘t so-and-so give your husband a whole lot of money? It‘s a needless complication, needless complication.
MATTHEWS: I guess Barack Obama hoped to avoid it. But apparently he‘s not going to do so. We‘re back in a minute with more with the politics fix.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with MSNBC contributor Jim Warren and Lois Romano of the “Washington Post” for the politics fix. Jim, it seemed like such a time capsule today, when Hillary Clinton was masterful, well prepared, due diligence, the works, ready to serve as secretary of state. And that weird little thing tagging her, the question of disclosure. Is this going to have legs, the Clinton Global Initiative and their refusal to give immediate postings of where the money is coming from?
WARREN: Weird two-legged thing, Bill Clinton, yes. Sure, it‘s going to. Just like questions have been raised about her campaign financing the guy at the mall in Syracuse. He gets the legislative break, then he kicks in 100,000 dollars several weeks later—several months later to the Bill Clinton foundation.
Yes, it will come up. They have done an impressive amount of disclosure so far. But if they‘re not going to be want to be totally transparent, they better get prepared for the inevitable questions to be raised, particularly when she‘s far away from Washington, in some foreign country, and somebody says, hey, didn‘t the sheik or one of his cousins give you X amount of money or give X amount of money to the Clinton Foundation. And she‘s going to be needlessly on the defensive.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Lois, last thought. You‘ve been interviewing David Plouffe, the guy who—he was the campaign manager. How are they going to keep the Barack campaign alive for the next four years when they‘re in office?
ROMANO: David Plouffe told me, and it‘s up on our website today, in Voices of Power, that he‘s going to be in charge of the 13 million names—
MATTHEWS: How do they keep them activated?
ROMANO: They‘re basically going be in touch with them every minute and try to activate them on certain issue. If it‘s health care, they‘ll find the health care people.
MATTHEWS: So the Obama campaign continues for four years.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Jim Warren. Thank you, Lois Romano of the “Washington Post.” Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.
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