Guest: Susan Page, Sheldon Whitehouse, Christopher Bond, Michael Smerconish, Ryan Lizza High: What‘s the difference between how President Obama‘s administration is handling the swine flu outbreak and the way President Bush‘s handled Hurricane Katrina?
Spec: Politics; Swine Flu; Disasters; Obama Administration
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Outbreak.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight: Smart people in charge. What‘s the difference in how this president is handling the swine flu outbreak and the way that that other president handled—is that the right word for it? -- the flooding of New Orleans? Here‘s the president this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. And this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Not exactly, “Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job,” is it. Presidents are judged most of all by how they handle crises—FDR and the Depression, the first President Bush and Saddam Hussein‘s invasion of Kuwait, the second President Bush of 9/11 and Katrina. So far, President Obama has largely been judged by how he‘s handled the potential collapse of the economy. But now there‘s a swine flu crisis and a new challenge.
One thing we do know, the public has given President Obama high marks for his performance in office so far. Just consider this one finding from the latest ABC News/”Washington Post” survey. In October, 8 percent of Americans—only 8 percent—said the country was headed in the right direction. Look at that number, 8 percent. Where are we now? Fifty percent now say the country is heading in the right direction, a 42-point jump in these months. Write this down. Those numbers can be attributed to a president who has given the country a sense of hope. In a moment, we‘ll look at how President Obama is doing as we reach the end of his first hundred days in office.
Plus, here‘s a stunning addition to the torture debate. Last week‘s Senate Armed Services report quotes an Army psychiatrist who testified under oath that so-called coercive interrogation techniques were used to elicit false confessions connecting Iraq to 9/11. Could it be possible that the Bush administration condoned torture to help sell the Iraq war? Two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee will be here to discuss that baby.
Also, forget all the talk about President Obama‘s first hundred days. What about the Republican Party‘s last hundred days? Could they possibly have been worse? That‘s in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”
And talk about summer dreams, check out the president‘s chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, at a White House credit card meeting last week. Reminds me of me, actually, when things aren‘t that exciting. Look at that guy, completely nodded off. That‘s in tonight‘s HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
But first, we begin with the swine flu and the politics of responding to a health crisis. Robert Bazell is NBC‘s chief science and health correspondent. We‘ve got a top official of the World Health Organization, Keiji Fukuda, who has just let out this amazing statement, Robert. He says that the swine flu outbreak cannot be contained. What do you make of that?
ROBERT BAZELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means it‘s spread all over the world already. There‘s a lot of politics involved in that and a lot of them sit right with Mexico. There was supposed to be this plan to contain new flu viruses when they appeared in the world, a great plan, except Mexico didn‘t know about it until it had spread all through the country, leading to more than 150 deaths already, and then started to leak into other countries.
This virus is all over the world. It‘s all over the United States.
This cat is out of the bag. The question is, How severe is it going to be?
And right now, we just don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Why are there dead people in Mexico and not in the U.S.?
BAZELL: That‘s the big question, Chris. There are dead people in Mexico either because there‘s a gemisch of different viruses down there, and that in some of them, these people are dying of other things—that takes some investigation—or because their virus in Mexico has just been there longer and there‘s been more cases.
And if it—public health officials in the United States have been warning all day today, as they look here in the United States—we‘re looking at pictures of Mexico now. But as they look here in the United States, they expect to find more severe disease and more deaths. They‘re saying just because all the cases—and it‘s only a handful so far in the United States—have been very mild and there‘s no deaths, don‘t take that to be a sense of complacency. We should expect to have more severe disease here because it is identically the same strain that‘s been affecting Mexico.
MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t want to sound like the war of the worlds, but some of this language we‘re getting from these reports—first of all, the one I just gave you, Robert. You‘re the expert. Senior U.N. health official says swine flu outbreak cannot be contained. I‘m looking at this new declaration by the WHO, the World Health Organization, just out, that they‘ve listed—we‘re now at a level 4 on a scale of 1 to 6. Phase 4, it‘s called, indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic, but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a foregone conclusion. Assess that amazing statement—phase 4 indicates a significant increase...
BAZELL: I got it. I got it. I listened...
MATTHEWS: ... in risk of a pandemic.
BAZELL: I listened to him say that.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s amazing language.
BAZELL: It is. It‘s very—it is potentially very terrifying. And one of the worst things for public health officials and government officials, as you heard President Obama talking before, is to convey a situation where there is uncertainty. There is uncertainty just how bad this is going to be. It really could be awful. It could kill millions of people, as the pandemic of 1918 did, or it could die out. Right now, the health officials just don‘t know, and they have to take a series of actions to try to prevent it from getting as bad as possible.
But that potential pandemic phase 4 on the scale of 1 to 6, when 6 is “Forget about it, we‘re—all is lost,” that is very serious indeed. But it does not mean that it‘s going to happen because we just don‘t know what the case fatality rate of this virus is. We know there‘s been about 150 deaths in Mexico, but as I pointed out, that could be out of a million people who got the disease. But we just don‘t know how long it‘s been going on in Mexico and how many Mexicans were infected before we started to detect it.
MATTHEWS: We‘re looking at TV pictures out of Mexico City and elsewhere down there in that country, that people are wearing masks on the street corner, walking up and down the sidewalk. Are we headed toward that, wearing masks?
BAZELL: Well, masks don‘t do much good, and that‘s one of the problems. You need respirators to really protect against a virus. It makes people feel better. It really isn‘t the way to go.
What we need to do is one thing in this country is to wash your hands all the time. That sounds really silly. It sounds like what your grandmother and mother might have told you to do. But it‘s really important. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. If you feel sick, stay home. Don‘t go to work. And workplaces, even in these bad economic times, need to encourage people to stay home when they‘re sick.
And if you feel really sick, like, you have 102 fever and the chills, and you‘re really knocked out, you should go to the doctor because there‘s two drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, which are available in the United States, and they can treat this virus, which is one of the small pieces of good news that we have about this new pandemic virus.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for that great report, Robert Bazell. We‘ll be watching this and listening to you.
Now to the politics of this crisis and how President Obama is responding to it. Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O‘Donnell are both MSNBC political analysts. Of course, the reference I made earlier, which is—here‘s the president, by the way, in the aftermath—immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Again, I want to thank you all for—and Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director‘s working 24...
BUSH: They‘re working 24 hours a day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, of course, that made the president of the United States look like a bozo, and we don‘t want to see that again. And that is apparently a misperception as to what kind of a job Brownie was, in fact, doing. Michael Brown was not doing a great job. He had gone from running the Arabian Horse Association to defending America against natural disaster, and it wasn‘t a smooth sail on his part.
Pat Buchanan, the president of the United States, how‘s he doing—right now?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think he‘s doing very well. He‘s doing a lot better than that fellow at WHO or at the U.N. who‘s really causing a panic with this kind of talk. The president...
MATTHEWS: Saying that this thing can‘t be stopped?
BUCHANAN: Well, the president said we have no crisis right now, Chris, and there‘s no need to panic right now and there‘s no need for alarm. There is a very serious problem in Mexico, with 150 dead and 1,000 or 2,000 hospitalized. In America, you‘ve got 40 or 50 people who‘ve caught the flu. One person went to the hospital. Everybody else seems to be getting well, including those kids at St. Francis prep. So the idea we should panic—Chris, in 1918, your hometown of Philadelphia, 15,000 people died from the flu and some number, 600,000, in the United States of America.
MATTHEWS: Well, you think the border‘s going to protect us? I mean...
MATTHEWS: ... people dead in Mexico. What‘s the protection for us...
BUCHANAN: No, the border‘s not going to protect us. You‘ve got 1,000 or 2,000 people a day walking into the United States, Chris, as I‘ve been talking about for years, and they head straight for southern California. So no, the border‘s not going to protect us.
MATTHEWS: So they‘re Typhoid Marys, as far as you‘re concerned.
BUCHANAN: Sure, but a lot of diseases have been brought in.
BUCHANAN: Tuberculosis has been brought in. There‘s chagas disease, which is terrible. Bed bugs have been brought back. You know, polio has even come back, and things like that, measles.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at the Obama administration and the governors around the country have done their swine flu full-court press today. Here they are going at it right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I‘m getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are coordinating very closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Homeland Security. We are taking this very seriously.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA: We are monitoring this outbreak minute by minute.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We do not yet know how widespread this flu will be within the United States. So we continue to move aggressively.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: On their toes, Lawrence? What do you think?
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL, ANALYST: Yes. It‘s really quite a contrast from the response to Katrina, including just the basic ability of a president to articulate the situation. I don‘t think there‘s a better clip to show of President Bush after Katrina being, you know, more articulate and explaining the situation any better than saying that some people were working 24/7.
The Obama administration‘s response has been quick, it‘s been sharp, an emergency press briefing yesterday on a Sunday at the White House with the Homeland Security chief and with the White House press secretary. The president‘s language today was less than what you‘re hearing from some of the World Health Organization people.
But if you‘ve been following this since Friday, as I have very
carefully—I have friends in Mexico who‘ve been kind of worried about it
and you‘ll see that the language that everyone is using escalates, Chris, almost hour by hour. And so, you know, the World Health Organization on Saturday was in a much milder verbal place than it is on Monday, and I think it‘s going to be in another place by Wednesday. That‘s the way this has been moving.
MATTHEWS: I just wonder, with all this traffic that goes on, as you point out, not just illegal traffic, which you focused on, obviously, but all the travel that goes on among these countries...
BUCHANAN: Well, globalization...
MATTHEWS: I mean—yes.
BUCHANAN: Globalization carries with it a down side. No question about it. But I do think Obama‘s rhetoric...
MATTHEWS: I‘m basically saying there‘s a lot of traffic in the world right no, people moving around on jet planes, and you turn it into a negative.
BUCHANAN: No, I said globalization, the fact that people travel all over the world and things like that, you‘re exactly right. And they do travel. You notice the European Union told folks not to visit the United States or watch out visiting the United States and Mexico.
BUCHANAN: Obama‘s rhetoric I think is dead right. He is right out front of this. Chris, the idea of a president is get in front of the story, on top of the story, get out, and you‘re leading the solution.
I think more than that clip you showed, Bush‘s problem was he‘s sitting down in Crawford, completely out of touch. Nobody‘s calling him and telling him, Cut (ph) on the TV, take a look at what‘s happening at the convention center...
BUCHANAN: No, government failed, Chris, at every level!
MATTHEWS: Well, why is there a pattern here? Is it that people who believe in government and its potential to help us and meet challenges...
MATTHEWS: There‘s a psychological and ideological difference here between...
BUCHANAN: Chris, it is reality. The government of New Orleans, the government of Louisiana and the government of the United States all failed in Katrina!
MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me—you have a thought about the ideological difference between Bush and Obama, Lawrence?
O‘DONNELL: Oh, definitely, Chris. Look, the government of New Orleans was a pathetic government that didn‘t have the ability to respond to this. Similarly, the government of Louisiana. But the federal government has been set up to respond to hurricanes for a long time. FEMA is a very professional organization.
And the problem you pointed out, Chris, is that that hurricane, all of that was on television. All you had to do was turn on your TV. And there was no one working for President Bush who was of the right mindset who knew what this situation in New Orleans really meant just by watching television and called him up and said, Look, we need very sharp government intervention there. That is inconceivable from a Democratic administration, which has a much more activist view about what government should do.
MATTHEWS: Pat, do you like this regular digging up of Bush and beating him up? Do you like this?
BUCHANAN: Well, I think, you know—people—governments have failed. Look what Jerry Brown did with the Mediterranean fruit fly...
BUCHANAN: ... a complete disaster. That‘s very close to this. But there‘s no doubt Bush was asleep at the switch, and you had the third shift down there at Crawford. Everybody‘s on vacation...
BUCHANAN: ... and nobody calls up and says...
BUCHANAN: ... cut (ph) on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: In the midst of this, on the edge of this perhaps pandemic, which I hope we can avoid and I hope your optimism is well-founded here and the WHO guy looks a little bit like Chicken Little, I hope—I want to give you some good news.
Did you hear the story today that an expert watching these interrogations at Gitmo and elsewhere discovered and is now testifying on the record to the effect, under oath, that they were—among the efforts they were efforting down there was to get these suspected terrorists to admit some kind of relationship between Iraq and 9/11 so you could justify this war. What do you make of that? In other words, trying to get them to lie.
BUCHANAN: If they were trying to get somebody to lie, that would be appalling. If they used this techniques to say, Look, we know you guys got this illegal stuff, you got all this garbage over there, now tell us where it is so we can get it...
BUCHANAN: ... and destroy it, that would be different.
MATTHEWS: But doesn‘t it offend you that, ideologically, we were using—that we were using torture as a means to establish an ideological case to go to war with Iraq?
BUCHANAN: Ideological? You‘re talking about—the suggestion you‘re saying is they wanted to fabricate a lie and wanted these guys to tell it.
MATTHEWS: They wanted to push the case for war whatever way they could.
BUCHANAN: If they did that—and I don‘t know that they did that. I‘d be surprised. If they did that, they ought to be brought up and the whole thing...
MATTHEWS: Lawrence, your thoughts?
MATTHEWS: It seems to fit the case. What do you think?
O‘DONNELL: Absolutely. And everyone knows, including the people who were in favor of torture, that the big risk of torture is it‘s going to produce what you want to hear. Now, when you‘re using the word “Iraq” in your question, you know, as you‘re torturing the person—Tell us how Iraq was involved in 9/11...
O‘DONNELL: ... you‘re obviously trying to push for an answer, and you‘re probably going to get some ridiculous disinformation about Iraq being involved in 9/11.
MATTHEWS: But how many times did the former vice president, Dick Cheney, and his aide-de-camp, his henchman, Scooter Libby, go over to the CIA with one purpose, to make the case we have to go to war with Iraq? It fits like a glove.
Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan. Thank you, Lawrence O‘Donnell.
Coming up: As President Obama closes in on his hundredth day in office Wednesday, how‘s he doing? New polls show Americans give the president, our new president, great grades so far. We‘ll run the numbers and compare President Obama to other presidents after a hundred days in office, and he‘s doing well.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Obama‘s poll ratings at the nearly hundred-day mark show the country is confident in his leadership and optimistic for the future right now. Will this good will last, and will it translate into policy changes?
Chuck Todd is NBC News chief White House correspondent and NBC‘s political director, as well. And Susan Page, another pro, is Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.” Well, I‘ve got the two smart people on to talk about this.
Let‘s look at the numbers. Here are some numbers. Half the country right now says we‘re going in the right direction. That‘s up about 40-some percent since October. Sixty percent have confidence that President Obama will make the right decisions, so they trust his intuition and judgment. Only 21 percent now have confidence in congressional Republicans and 36 percent have confidence in congressional Democrats. Let‘s stop right there.
You first, Chuck—a 42 percent bump up in confidence in the direction of the country is taking, 3-to-1 advantage Barack Obama has over congressional Republicans on making the right decisions. Put it together.
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR., WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And 2-to-1 over congressional Democrats. I mean, this is—all of these polls that we‘ve taken together—and we know the “USA Today”/Gallup—we‘ve got the gold standard coming out tomorrow, the NBC/”Wall Street Journal”—all of them taken together—got to get our plugs in there, right, Susan? All of them taken together are telling us the same thing, and that is the American public has a lot of confidence personally in President Obama. They don‘t have a lot of confidence in Washington. They don‘t have a lot of confidence in the two major parties.
But President Obama, right now, he is sort of like this seal of approval. You know, if his name is on it, if he‘s calling for it, if he‘s doing it, the public is giving him the benefit of the doubt. That‘s a big deal for this White House right now.
And I think, when you look at where we are on the political calendar right now, Chris, this means that I think the president is going to be able to, politically, get what he wants on this budget, probably get what he wants on health care...
TODD: ... is going to have almost a free pass here up until about Labor Day, the next big time when everybody is going to judge how the president is doing.
I just wonder about how glowing this can get before he peaks, Susan. I mean, even Ahmadinejad, the bad guy—we think he is the bad guy—head of Iran, seems to be buckling, and saying, OK, if Palestinians want a two-state solution, if they want Israel as a neighbor, let them have it.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”: You know...
MATTHEWS: No more of this, “Let‘s blow up Israel.”
At least that‘s what he said this weekend with George Stephanopoulos.
What do you think about this man‘s popularity? Look at the latest number here. This is another killer number. Based on the number of polls, basically, he‘s in about the 60s range right now. Past presidents were faring at the roughly 100-day mark, here‘s who they‘re doing. He‘s not as popular as Eisenhower, who was up at 70-something, Kennedy, something—had 80.
He‘s more popular, a bit, than Nixon, than Carter, even—he‘s about even with Reagan. He‘s better off than Bush 41, better off than Bush 43. He‘s sort of in the second league, in terms of the competition here, in these polls, which are hard to mix and match.
PAGE: Well, I would just say that things look very good now. But there‘s a reason the White House is trying to move so quickly on things like health care. And that‘s because this is not likely to last.
Look at the Reagan example. You know, at this point, people were very
glad—Reagan had been shot and survived that assassination attempt. That
people were very glad about that. They were still blaming Jimmy Carter for the economic troubles in the country.
But, by September and especially December, people were holding—of 1981 -- people were holding Ronald Reagan responsible for the economy. He was starting to own it. And we assume that this will also happen for Barack Obama, that he—now people are—are willing to give policies a chance.
But, in the next 100 days, they are going to need to show some results, if he‘s going to continue to have the strong popularity that gives him some political capital to spend.
MATTHEWS: Does he have an advantage over Reagan, just to give him a little bit break here, because his party is a lot more popular than Reagan‘s was?
PAGE: Well, I will tell you, his party is more popular than the Republicans.
On the other hand, Obama is more popular than his own policies. And that will not be a problem if his policies show results. But, if we don‘t see an upturn in the economy, if things get worse, then these questions people have about the size of government and the amount of spending that‘s going on could come around to raise some problems for the White House.
MATTHEWS: I want to go back to—start with you on this, Chuck, just to surprise you and talk about Michelle Obama.
MATTHEWS: You cover the White House. And she‘s very much a part of the White House.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me that, for whatever reasons of history or taste, the Obama family understands their importance as the emblem of American life, that he‘s not...
MATTHEWS: ... just head of the government. He doesn‘t live in some apartment. He lives in the White House. The Clintons never quite got this, that their role is bigger than just filling an office. It‘s filling something big at the top.
How do you explain the success of Michelle Obama in understanding the role of first lady, as it—as it has come to be defined?
TODD: Well—well, I think you described it pretty well in that run-up there, Chris, in that they made the decision—you know, when you think back to what—to where a lot of the political Zeitgeist was when it comes to Michelle Obama before the Democratic Convention, remember how much hype there was about her speech? Boy, how is it going to play?
I know a lot of Democrats around the country focus-grouped it. They were very nervous about it. Boy, is Michelle Obama going to play? You know, she had had that one run-in in the spring of ‘08, when she got hit for saying, you know, the first time she was proud of her country, and that...
TODD: ... that whole sort of media storm. And everybody was just wondering, boy, is she going to be an asset or a liability? What‘s she going to be?
Well, oh, my goodness. Now fast-forward to her as first lady. And it‘s—and, you know, Chris, you‘re always fond of using the—the xylophone thing about just how well sometimes people know how to hit notes.
TODD: She has hit every right note correctly, whether it‘s this vegetable garden, whether it‘s visiting every single Cabinet agency, talking to the employees.
TODD: She‘s really ingratiated herself with the local federal government workers. You know, this is a local—this is a local town, right? The—the—the company town is people that work for the federal government. She has spoken directly to them.
So—and she has stayed out of politics, right? That‘s the lesson of Hillary Clinton. Don‘t pick up a controversial topic and take it as your own, if you‘re going to be first lady.
MATTHEWS: Well, we have to be careful here about the roles of the first lady. She‘s highly educated. She‘s an attorney.
MATTHEWS: She went to an Ivy League school, like he did.
And, yet, she‘s chosen this interesting role, Susan, which is
somewhere between—obviously, in the glamour department—I can say that
Jackie Kennedy and somewhere around Hillary. She‘s clearly a professional woman, clearly not trying to compete with her husband, though, as a policy-maker.
But you can tell that was her choice. It wasn‘t like she couldn‘t.
MATTHEWS: You know what I‘m saying?
PAGE: She doesn‘t...
MATTHEWS: It‘s an interesting—it‘s that women have so many of these choices.
MATTHEWS: As men sort of get stuck with being—you know, we‘re all Dagwoods, in one way or another.
MATTHEWS: But women have to make these decisions...
MATTHEWS: ... as first lady.
Well, what do you think? It‘s always tricky territory here.
PAGE: You know, I think—I think we have—we have found out that Barack Obama is not the only good politician in that family.
PAGE: In the “USA Today”/Gallup poll, which, by the way, is the gold standard for polling, she has a...
TODD: On another network, maybe, yes, not...
PAGE: She has a job approval rating of 79 percent.
I can tell you that none of the three of us has a job approval rating of 79 percent. That‘s really extraordinary. Two-thirds of Republicans say they approve of the job she‘s doing. She‘s hit the right notes.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Thank you.
PAGE: She‘s got this great relationship with her kids. She is doing some things. She is working with military families. She turned out to be one of the—this is one the surprising political turnarounds of the year, I think.
MATTHEWS: Yes. It doesn‘t hurt that she‘s stunning to—in appearance either. It doesn‘t hurt at all.
Thank you very much, Chuck Todd.
Thank you, Susan Page.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Why did Obama—his economic adviser fall asleep in that otherwise exciting credit card meeting?
Look, I sympathize with this guy.
MATTHEWS: When things are not happening, I tend to narc off.
Anyway, that‘s coming up on the “Sideshow.” We are going to watch the smartest guy in the White House, perhaps next to the guy to his right, fall asleep in a meeting.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, and time for the “Sideshow.”
First up: Genius takes a nap. Larry Summers, a member of the Obama brain trust, fell asleep last week, as the president held fort on credit card matters.
Here‘s the former Harvard president defending himself to my pal Chris Wallace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”: Do you find President Obama‘s speeches less than compelling, sir?
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL:
Chris, you know, it‘s kind of like I was thinking about the fine print on some of those credit card disclosures, which is written boring enough to put you to sleep.
And President Obama wants us all to fulfill our American dreams. And I guess I was starting that day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Nice catch. I‘m a bit of a narcolep myself. When I stop, I sleep.
Now to big marker coming up on Wednesday, the mythical 100th days of this presidency.
On “Meet the Press,” just yesterday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offered up President Obama‘s take on this milestone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think, in all honesty, David, he would want the American people to spend a good eight or 10 seconds reflecting on those 100 days.
I think the American people understand that this is, as many in our administration have described, a little bit of a Hallmark holiday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Look, they planned for this day like they plan for Christmas. This was a big deal all along.
Holiday—Hallmark holiday or not, it‘s a longtime marker for political reporters, as well, and it is the subject of tonight‘s “Big Numbers”—yes, numbers.
Check out tonight‘s big four, courtesy of Reuters News Service and NBC‘s crack political team, all in Obama‘s first 100 days. Here it is.
So far, the president has attended one professional sporting event, a Chicago Bulls-Washington Wizards NBA game. Unlike President Bush 41 or President Bush 43 and Bill Clinton, President Obama skipped throwing out that first pitch on baseball‘s opening day. I have a suspicion why. I don‘t think he can throw a pitch.
On the other hand, the president has been—given 10 major speeches so far he‘s given to the American public. President Obama has also gone out on the road, visiting 12 states to help win support for his agenda. He‘s been reaching out overseas as well, meeting with 44 foreign leaders face to face. You can see them there chuckling with him during that G-20 meeting earlier this month.
President Obama‘s 100-day scorecard—tonight‘s “Big Numbers.”
Finally—and this isn‘t funny at all—a 747 flew amid New York‘s skyscrapers early today, scaring the bejesus out of people, who have learned the horror of planes flying toward buildings in Manhattan.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was a photo opportunity to show—quote—“how a government plane would look flying through the city‘s canyons.” For some unknown reason, nobody thought it important to warn New Yorkers that this was going happen.
City officials are raising hell over it, as they should.
Up next: Was the Bush administration using torture to get terror suspects to say that al Qaeda and Iraq were working together to make the case for their war in Iraq? We will be joined by two members of the U.S. Senate on both sides of this torture debate—coming up next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks stumbling, amid concern that the swine flu outbreak will disrupt travel. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 51 points. The S&P 500 down eight, and the Nasdaq off almost 15 points on the day.
General Motors laid out a massive new restructuring plan, as it seeks to avoid going into bankruptcy protection. The plan calls for cutting 21,000 more factory jobs, phasing out the 83-year-old Pontiac brand, and cutting its network of dealerships by 42 percent, all by next year. GM also says it needs to borrow another $11.6 billion from the federal government. It has already received $15.4 billion.
Meantime, as Chrysler struggles to survive, it reached an agreement on major concessions with the United Auto Workers union. It also won approval of a cost-cutting deal with Canadian autoworkers.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to Chris and HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Was the Bush administration devising torture tactics to get terror suspects to admit to a connection or claim a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, between Iraq, the need to invade Iraq, and what happened to us on 9/11?
The Senate Armed Services Committee has this except from an Army psychiatrist, Major Paul Burney, who was assigned to interrogations at Guantanamo: “This is my opinion. Even though they, the detainees, were giving information, and some of it was useful, while we were there, a large part of the time, we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. And we were not being successful in establishing a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link, there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
Joining me now are two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, who is a ranking member of the committee.
I want to start with Senator Whitehouse.
What do you make of this claim by a member of the intelligence community who was working on the—interrogating these suspects that there was a mission on the part of the—the interrogators to try to make a connection between Saddam Hussein and the—and the need to attack his country and what happened to us on 9/11, which was not successful, but, apparently, it angered the—the people doing the interrogations, to the point where it was not helpful?
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Chris, that‘s an important claim, because it bears on the analysis that a prosecutor would look at in making a decision about whether somebody should be charged criminally in all of this conduct.
The Office of Legal Counsel opinion set a number of predicates that were required before these different torture techniques could be applied. And it would seem—again, this is sort of first impression, because a prosecutor would have to look a lot harder at it—but from information that we have, it would seem that that might fall outside of the predicates and strip away the cover of the OLC memorandum.
MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Bond, we know, from the history of this war, that at least a half-a-dozen times, the vice president went over to Langley to try to push for a connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.
And now we find a person coming forward, saying, yes, that was the pressure that was put on these prisoners to try to get them to admit to such a connection. And it was frustrated by apparent reality they couldn‘t find any evidence in the testimony.
What do you make of this?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND ®, MISSOURI: First, Chris, you are mixing up a report from the Armed Services Committee, which was not briefed on the CIA intelligence program. The CIA intelligence program was limited by the parameters outlined in the Office of Legal Counsel opinions.
We will do a thorough investigation in our committee of how these methods were used and what information they got. We have heard from previous directors of central intelligence and the current director of National Intelligence that these tactics provided valuable information. And even our 2006 work in the Intelligence Committee, unanimously approved by all members, Republican and Democrat, said this is a good program. We want to know more about it. But this has been very effective.
So we are looking at the intelligence interrogations. And to my knowledge, none of those had anything in establishing a link. The whole purpose was to gain cooperation, to find out who the leaders of al Qaeda were and about planned attacks on the United States. And the director of Central Intelligence said we disrupted a plot to have a 9/11 type attack on Los Angeles.
MATTHEWS: Which area of interrogation are you saying, senator, was not involved with trying to establish a connection? Was it Army, Defense Department or CIA? Which one was not involved?
BOND: I don‘t know what the Armed Services Committee has done. We are investigating the intelligence community reports. I would say that six Republican members of the Armed Services Committee have put out a statement strongly objecting to the implications of the report, and saying that it was not accurate. They‘re going to have to work that one out. We‘re going to make our own investigation in the Intelligence Committee.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask, Senator Whitehouse, if you were president of the United States, and you were faced with an urgent situation and you were told by your experts that a little bit of pressure on one of these prisoners might get some information, we‘re not sure. Would you take the chance with coercive techniques or not?
WHITEHOUSE: I would be inclined not to. I have repeatedly offered amendments that would restrict the Central Intelligence Agency to the proven techniques of the Army Field Manual. I think the exercise that we‘re going through right now as a country, with our shock and also, to a degree, our shame that we are a torturing country, is proof that this is a misguided decision.
And even if there is some increment of intelligence information obtained, the cost of that, when you look at it from a real cost-benefit calculation with national interest in mind, just isn‘t worth it.
We have done great harm to our country. We‘ve done great harm to our strength in the world. We‘ve done great harm to our credibility. We potentially have even done great harm to our own men and women in uniform by this.
MATTHEWS: You believe personally that torture doesn‘t work?
WHITEHOUSE: Let me put it this way, we have been looking at this in the Intelligence Committee, along with Vice Chairman Bond. And as far as I would say, the jury is very much out. We tried to drill down to actual specifics, and what we hear is a lot of Bush administration bromides. I‘m looking forward to drilling down to the actual specifics and finding out, once and for all, what, if anything, was done.
But a lot of very knowledgeable people believe that there was no meaningful information that was obtained by this.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me, senators, that common sense tells you that some people would be susceptible to even the threat of torture and others would not be. Here‘s a man who once headed up the CIA‘s bin Laden unit. He wrote in yesterday‘s “Washington Post,” quote, “in a breathtaking display of self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance, the president told Americans that his personal beliefs are more important than protecting their country, their homes and their families. The interrogation techniques in question, the president asserted, are a sign that Americans have lost their moral compass. Mulling Obama‘s claim, one can wonder, what could be more moral for a president than doing all that he needed to do to do defend America and its citizens. Is it moral for the president of the United States to abandon intelligence tools that have saved the lives and property of Americans and their allies, in favor of his ideological beliefs?”
My sense is that that guy talking in that memo is an ideologue, a hard right neo-con. My hunch, it‘s loaded with language like that. Your thought, senator—
BOND: Chris, let‘s make a couple points. Number one, we do not torture. The OLC opinions laid out things that you could do, that were not torture, that would bring them to a point of cooperation. As I said, directors of Central Intelligence said it provided very effective information, more than half of the information we have on al Qaeda, and it avoided attack on Los Angeles.
We will be looking into that. The thing that has hurt our country is the statements like the Senate Armed Services Committee report. We want to know now, that he‘s given up and ruined the technique for interrogating high value detainees, how is the Obama administration going to get the information we need to keep our country safe?
MATTHEWS: How can you say, senator, that denial of oxygen to a person is not torture? Denial of oxygen? That‘s what water boarding is. Why is that not torture in your vocabulary?
BOND: We used that same technique on over 100,000 volunteers for the Marines, the SEALS, and pilots. They look very carefully at it. It is a very unpleasant tactic. I have offered legislation to ban it. But it did produce, according to what we heard, information that kept America safe. And they were used with the same limitations that were put on use on our volunteer service members.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri.
Up next, a new political battle over Swine Flu. Liberal critics blame Republicans for stripping out money from the big stimulus bill. Remember that 800 billion dollars? Well, it had a lot of money in there for Swine Flu that‘s not in there now because of those three Republicans who yanked it out of there. Is that going to be an issue?
We‘ll get to that coming up next. The Swine Flu thing is getting political. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the politics fix, with radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, who is an MSNBC analyst, and author of the brand-new book, by Michael Smerconish, “Morning Drive,” with his brilliant thoughts. A great book, there it is. I‘m waving it in the air, Michael. It‘s a great book, as always, endorsed by yours truly. And the “New Yorker‘s” Ryan Lizza has a profile of OMB director Peter Orszag in the latest issue. By the way, the latest issue of the “New Yorker” also has a call by Rick Hertzberg, my buddy, for Texas to leave the Union, if they want to.
Let‘s go to this question of the pandemic potential. During the course of the discussions over the stimulus package, Susan Collins of Maine had a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, yanked out of the bill that would have gone to preparing us for this kind of pandemic, with regard to influenza? Is this going to be a problem politically, for the Republican, who claim to be perfecting the stimulus package, but were taking out things that were better than a lot of other things in that package.
RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”: Let me mount a semi-defense of her. Look, it‘s not a pandemic yet. There is every indication that we have the money to deal with it if it does become a pandemic. So the fact that she got rid of this money, I don‘t think it‘s the worst thing in the world.
The bigger argument was, Susan Collins, through that whole process, had no coherent argument. She just wanted to knock down the total so she could be viewed as a moderate senator.
MATTHEWS: Who came up with the brain storm of knocking out the Flu influenza?
LIZZA: They were going item by item and saying, does this belong in the stimulus package.
LIZZA: You can make an argument that it wasn‘t stimulative.
LIZZA: She wanted it in the omnibus package. I‘ll defend her on that front.
MATTHEWS: Michael, you never know when the federal government—let‘s go to this other question, Ryan, of the handling of this measure, right now, this crisis we‘re in right now.
MATTHEWS: This is one of those test you can‘t prepare for. We have 150 people dead in Mexico. There‘s nothing magical about that border anymore. We‘ve got lots of traffic back and forth. It‘s probably a matter of time before we get hit by this, to some extent.
MATTHEWS: We‘ve got a WHO official tonight just running around like Chicken Little, saying, you can‘t stop it. We have our own leaders, who say they‘ve got things—at least the watch is on and we‘re doing the best we can.
LIZZA: For a president only in office 98 days, he‘s had to deal with multiple crises. He‘s actually more prepared than most presidents at this point in their term. The balancing act he has is we don‘t know if it‘s reached a tipping point or not. You don‘t want to cause a panic by being too out in front and too—concerning the American people too much. But at the same time, you don‘t want to look back at this period and say, oh, we didn‘t do enough, if it does reach a tipping point and we reach a situation where—
MATTHEWS: Michael, it only took a couple hours for the politics of this thing to check in. Now we find out that Susan Collins and perhaps the other Republicans, Specter and Olympia Snowe, who paired away at that stimulus package, seemed to have paired away the money for dealing with the flu pandemic.
What do you make of that? I‘m looking at right now—the liberal blogosphere is percolating this morning with criticism of Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican, for having helped to strip close to 900 million dollars for a pandemic influenza preparedness from the economic stimulus package in February. Your thoughts?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: My thoughts are, if you continue to read on, you‘ll see that Senator Chuck Schumer referred to that as—I think the word was porky—that was put in by the House, and therefore had to be stricken. It‘s totally defensible, because what does it have to do with the stimulus.
Don‘t forget, Chris, without her support, that stimulus package would not have passed.
MATTHEWS: And therefore—let me read you something here. Here is from David Obey late this afternoon. “We‘re trying to get adequate funding to prepare the nation for a pandemic outbreak, the first one since 2005. We tried again as recently as January in the economic recovery package. Whether or not this influenza strain turns out to be a pandemic, sooner or later, some strain will. We‘re not prepared today. Let‘s hope we don‘t need to be, because we need to become prepared as soon as possible.”
Here he is saying the 420 million dollars was taken out, the money for the flu preparations. It‘s not there. It was stripped out by, quote, “after a number of senators objected to the funds.”
SMERCONISH: Well, right now, funding is not the issue. Let‘s hope it doesn‘t get to be the issue. Money wouldn‘t have stopped where we stand at this particular moment. I just think that you can‘t hold Susan Collins accountable for this, particularly because she has a strong record of funding such measures.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with Michael Smerconish and Ryan Lizza for more of the politics fix.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Michael Smerconish and Ryan Lizza, arguing about how come the Swine Flu money was pulled out of the stimulus package. According to a statement just out by Senator Collins, “during negotiations of the economic stimulus package, Senator Collins always maintained that, though very worthwhile, pandemic flu research funding should go through the regular appropriations process. There‘s no evidence that federal efforts to address the Swine Flue outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds.”
That‘s in her statement. But I did love this, that you pointed out, Michael, that it was also Chuck Schumer who pointed out that this money for Swine Flu was one of those porky little things. What an irony. We‘re talking about pork and we‘re talking about Swine Flu. I guess it depends on the situation, doesn‘t it, whether it‘s pork or it‘s Swine Flu prevention?
SMERCONISH: Before it‘s over, someone will be blaming someone else for the spread of the Swine Flu. That‘s the usual way these things go, unfortunately, no matter who the president might be.
LIZZA: As I said before, I think it‘s unfair to pin this on Susan Collins. Right? Her argument was not whether we should have this funding. It was whether it belonged in the stimulus bill or not.
Generally, I think she played a destructive rather than constructive role in the stimulus debate. But her argument was, don‘t put this in the stimulus. Put it in the omnibus bill. She‘s got a long history of support for funding for flue outbreaks, flu money.
MATTHEWS: Michael, I‘ve been convinced in recent reflections that this country is generally right of center, except during crisis, in which we‘re a bit left of center. I think we‘re in a crisis. Thank you, Michael Smerconish. The name of your book is “Morning Drive,” a big one. Ryan Lizza, thank you. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW,” with Ed Schultz.
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