Guest: Jim VandeHei, Tom Tancredo, Richard Haass, Perry Bacon, Michelle Bernard, Lawrence O‘Donnell
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A messy transplant.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off: Tissue rejection. They got their organ transplant in the form of Arlen Specter. Now the Democrats are suffering the political equivalent of tissue rejection. Like the human body, the Democratic body politic is showing morbid signs of rejecting the transplanted member from Pennsylvania.
When he began to behave like a foreign organ, voting against the budget, the Democratic budget, then voting against the Democratic position on mortgage reform and then telling “The New York Times” the other day he wants to see Republican Norm Coleman declared the winner in Minnesota, Democratic senators voted last night to strip Arlen Specter of all committee seniority. He now holds as much seniority in the U.S. Senate as Senator Burris from Illinois, the man who replaced Senator Obama.
Specter isn‘t adjusting very well to his new environment, apparently. Today he said the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, has reneged on his public agreement to let Specter have as much seniority as if he‘d stayed in the Republican Party, rather than being transplanted into the Democratic Party.
Plus: Do Republicans believe in science, or is the party united by its skepticism about such scientific beliefs as evolution and climate change? Look what happened here last night on HARDBALL when I asked Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana about evolution. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in evolution, sir?
REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA: I—Do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that‘s in them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Pence would not go further. Why don‘t Republicans believe in evolution, or admit it when they do, or whatever? Former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo will join us to talk about the Republican Party and its apparent skepticism towards science.
Plus, former Bush administration official Richard Haas says Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity. He says he was against the war but kept quietly loyal to the Bush push for war. Haas joins us later to answer some tough questions on the selling of the Iraq war.
And should President Obama choose a woman for the Supreme Court? Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks so, which raises the question, Should he push for an open distribution on the Supreme Court among women, among ethnic groups, even among sexual orientations? More on that in the “Politics Fix.”
Finally, check out this tongue-in-cheek Web ad from the Democratic National Committee casting leaders of the Republican Party in a new episode of “Survivor.” We‘ll have more on that ad and what we think about it in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
But we begin with the strange tissue rejection of Arlen Specter. Jim VandeHei‘s with “Politico” and Lawrence O‘Donnell is an MSNBC political analyst.
Jim, what do you make of the fact that last night, the Senate voted by voice vote to strip Arlen Specter of all seniority? What is that about? It seems to me a rather drastic step.
JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: Welcome to the NFL. I mean, these guys -
number one, there‘s a lot of Democrats, especially at the activist side, that don‘t like his politics at all and are uncertain that he‘s going to be an authentic Democrat by any stretch of the imagination. He went out there, he made a bunch of votes that definitely turned off a lot of Democrats.
And I think the thing that really, really bothered them was the fact that he was still saying that Norm Coleman should get that seat and that he‘s the one who should prevail. He apparently made those comments to “The New York Times.” He‘s backtracked, but a lot of senators have told us that‘s one of the big reasons that they sort of shut him down last night. They said, You‘re going to be—you‘re going to have no seniority. You‘re going to, basically, have no clout. You‘re going to be the last person to talk at committee hearings. So he went from having sort of marginal power for the minority power (SIC) to having sort of no power at all on the majority side.
And obviously, he‘s frustrated. They‘re frustrated with him. And what we‘re hearing now is they‘re going to sort of take the next year, figure out how he behaves, how he votes to decide if they‘ll elevate him at all to a subcommittee chair or a better position in the next Congress.
MATTHEWS: Well, a lot of people are trying to catch up to all these overnight developments. What‘s happened is that Arlen Specter, a new member of the Democratic caucus—his desk has been moved across the chamber to the Democratic side—has voted on a number of occasions recently against the party position. But he has also done things like this.
Take a look at what he said here in “The New York Times” when he was asked about what he thought about the fact, with the departure—here‘s the question put to him. Quote, “With the departure from the Republican Party, there are now no more Jewish Republicans in the Senate. Do you care about that?” And Senator Specter responded, “I sure do. There‘s still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.”
Lawrence, what do you make of that?
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I want to let Senator Specter know that Al Franken is also Jewish, so he should keep that in mind when he‘s thinking about that question.
But you know, what‘s going on here with the seniority is discipline, Chris. He started this on Sunday by saying to David Gregory on “MEET THE PRESS,” I will not be a loyal Democrat. And what the Democrats are now saying to him is, OK, you have zero seniority. The way for you to get your seniority back is impress us in what‘s left of this Congress. Impress us. And then we will vote on your seniority when we reconvene in the next Congress, if you are reelected.
And so Specter now has the strongest force that we will have seen on him, actually, during his career, the strongest disciplinary force that we will have seen going up against him, which is, If you want seniority in this party that you just joined, you are going to have to toe the line on the votes that we care about for the next year-and-a-half.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s Arlen Specter with “Congressional Quarterly,” the journal which covers Congress, just last night correcting the message. He said the comment he made in saying he wanted Norm Coleman, the Republican, to win in that court fight out in Minnesota was a mistake. Quote, “In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates. I‘m ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I‘ve made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke.”
Jim VandeHei, that‘s an odd thing to say that you forgot even for a moment what party you were in. I just find it—is he doing something here—now, if he was being comical the first time in saying, I‘m rooting for my old buddy, Norm Coleman, and I really didn‘t mean it, he could have said that. But he chose to say, I made a mistake. I got confused about what party I was in, in the swirl of shifting from one party to another.
Well, nobody forgets even for a second what party they‘re in. This is a mental admission, which is rare, to say, I got confused as to who I was. I mean, isn‘t that odd? I mean, really, isn‘t it odd?
VANDEHEI: Well, it‘s weird and it‘s not that plausible because if you look at the comments he made to “The New York Times,” they‘re pretty detailed. It‘s crystal clear he knew what he was talking about. And I think the fact that he walked it back is a reflection of the pressure that he‘s under. He understands on the one hand, he wants to be his own guy, he wants to say, Hey, I‘m above being a Republican or a Democrat. On the other thing, he actually wants to have some power, and he‘s learning that he‘s not going to have any power right now.
And I think he‘s going to figure out how does he reckon with that because there are—remember what happened in Connecticut. There are a lot of activists out there who just are not tolerant of having folks on the moderate side of the party. They think they can win Pennsylvania with someone who‘s a much more authentic liberal. Maybe it‘s Congressman Sestak, maybe it‘s somebody else. And he‘s not backing down. And there‘s a realistic chance here that Specter does not even win the primary, and I think that‘s a huge threat to him.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me...
VANDEHEI: So he could not win that and he could end up with no power in Congress.
MATTHEWS: Like me, in fact, moreso, Lawrence, you‘re a child of the Senate, having worked up there in a pretty high position. It seems to me there‘s two issues here, one which I think Arlen would like to be focused on and one I think I‘m going to focus on now. It‘s not so much point of view. There‘s room in both caucuses for different persuasions ideologically. I mean, clearly, the Democratic Party has had conservatives before, or moderates in its ranks before.
There‘s something about basic loyalty, though. When you start giving speeches saying you don‘t owe the party, your new party, your seniority (SIC), well, that runs against the whole history of the Senate. Your seniority comes from your party membership.
Here‘s what he said on “MEET THE PRESS,” which I think really bugged a lot of senators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR: What were you offered? What inducements have you been give to switch parties?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: None.
GREGORY: You won‘t retain your seniority as you move over on key committees?
SPECTER: Well, that is—that is true. But...
GREGORY: That‘s not an inducement, Senator?
SPECTER: Well, no, that‘s an entitlement. I‘ve earned the seniority. I was elected in 1980. And I think that‘s not a bribe or a gift or something extraordinary. I will be treated by the Democrats as if I‘d been elected as a Democrat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Lawrence, I‘ve always believed that your seniority, your position as a senator, comes from the voters at home. Your position in seniority in the committee ranks comes from the party you‘re in. And the proof of that is the president pro tem of the United States Senate is the senior member of the majority party. It has nothing to do with seniority as a senator, it has to do with seniority in your party. What‘s your view of it? Because a lot of the Democrats on the Hill obviously believe that Specter‘s wrong, you get no entitlement to anything unless you join a political party.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s absolutely right. The seniority, in real working terms, on parties is based on which side of the aisle you sit on. Absolutely. And you know, when this—when his seniority—if he does get returned to the Senate, which now is—it‘s no longer a certain thing that he‘s going to be returned to the Senate. But if he does, there will be a vote in the Democratic caucus.
And there are only six senators who have more seniority than Specter. What Specter will be asking for is that about 50 Democratic senators vote against their own seniority. That seems to me, as I sit here today, to be impossible. I don‘t see any way for Arlen Specter to win his seniority back in a ballot of those senators when they reorganize in the next Congress.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of balloting, Jim and Lawrence, take a look at this new poll. It‘s a Republican polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies out of Pennsylvania. It finds that Specter is leading Toomey by 9 points, just 9 points. That‘s closer than an earlier poll number, 40 to 49, with Specter still in the lead—in the general election, that is. But in the Republican primary, if former governor Tom Ridge gets into the race, he leads Toomey 3 to 1, 60 to 23. So it looks like he would be the Republican nominee against Specter.
And catch this, Ridge against Specter in a general election match-up, he wins by 7, which is interesting as hell, Jim VandeHei, if you‘re Tom Ridge and you‘re looking at these numbers.
VANDEHEI: Yes. I mean, he‘s going to be under a lot of pressure to run. There‘s no doubt that he fits that state, as you well know, Chris, as well as anyone, a lot better than Toomey does. Toomey might be popular with conservatives in the Club for Growth and that crowd. He‘s not a great fit for Pennsylvania and the changing politics of Pennsylvania. That‘s why you have a lot of folks applying that pressure on Ridge, who tends to be more moderate on abortion and a few other issues and obviously is immensely popular from his time as governor there.
VANDEHEI: So I think that—I would not be surprised if he runs. And if he does run, that makes it a much better game for the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: Gentlemen, the first question I would put to Tom Ridge, if I got him in a show like this, would be, Would you have voted for the stimulus package, yes or no, because if he says no, that‘s interesting. It puts him on the right. If he says yes, he‘s in the same kettle of fish, perhaps, as Arlen Specter. Anyway—as Arlen Specter was when he was a Republican. Thank you, Jim VandeHei. Thank you, Lawrence O‘Donnell. Thank you for your knowledge.
Coming up: Why do Republicans have a problem with science, it seems? What‘s all this rejection of the discussions even about evolution? Why do they fight this? We studied it in our biology textbooks at school. For all practical purposes, we all believe in it. It‘s the way we organize life on this planet. What is the fight over it, and what‘s all this sort of know-nothing-ism about climate change? We‘ll get to that sticking point as the Republicans struggle to stay—or become relevant in this debate.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Does the Republican Party have a problem when it comes to believing in science? Check out this exchange I had with Republican congressional leader Mike Pence of Indiana last night when I asked him about evolution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think you believe in evolution, but you‘re afraid to say so because your conservative constituency might find that offensive.
PENCE: No, I‘ve said to you, Chris, I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them.
PENCE: How he did that, I‘ll ask him about some day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So are Republicans afraid to say they believe in things like evolution? Tom Tancredo‘s a former Republican congressman, of course, from Colorado, and of course, a man who ran for president and delighted us in those debates. Mr. Tancredo, thank you, sir. You definitely were a lightning rod in the debates I was involved with.
TOM TANCREDO (R-CO), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: You‘re welcome. Delighted.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you. And look, I don‘t want to get into religious tests...
TANCREDO: ... it worries me a little bit.
MATTHEWS: Well, don‘t get too worried. You‘re at home here. You‘re in your mother‘s arms, sir. I think it‘s a strange thing...
TANCREDO: Bless you, my son. Bless you.
MATTHEWS: Look, I don‘t want to get into religious tests. We all have our own doubts about religion, our own beliefs. Sometimes they‘re overlapping each other. Sometimes we believe things on different levels and we sometimes have conflicts in what we believe and what we were taught in our religion.
Most of us, I think, sort of believe that God created the earth. We have a belief in the deity. We also believe that, somehow, he did it through evolution. There was some kind of guidance to it from the beginning, certainly, and he knew what he was doing—he or she, if you want to get really broad-minded—knew what he was doing and he did it his way. He didn‘t do it in seven days, like we were taught, but he did it his way.
Is that sort of your belief, just so we can get on common ground? And if it‘s not, you don‘t have to say yes.
TANCREDO: Yes, no, I do. I believe what you‘ve just described, by the way, is something that we call “intelligent design.” And therefore, I‘m not sure we have much of a debate. There‘s Darwinian evolution. There‘s intelligent design. That‘s the two conflicting points of view on this.
And I suggest, Chris, that when you look at this very carefully—and believe me, I‘m not a theologian. I‘m not a scientist. I‘m just a layman that looks at the evidence I have in front of me. And when you do look at it carefully, it does seem it me that the one is equal to the other in terms of the number of people who support it, in terms especially of their background, the research that‘s out there.
It‘s not so clear-cut. You know, even Darwin said that in order to prove evolution, his kind of evolution, you would need literally thousands, maybe millions of fossils that were transitional. We should be able to find them, but of course, we haven‘t been able to find them. We can all—
I certainly believe that evolution occurs within species naturally. Human beings have grown taller over time. That‘s certainly true.
But crossing a species—there is no evidence of that. You have to make an assumption. And I‘m just saying that assuming that is just as tough as assuming that there‘s intelligent design.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Let me talk to you about what I think are the extremes on this position. One extreme would be there is no God, it‘s all sort of random, we all ended up here, we don‘t even know why we‘re here. Right? That would be a random totally secular view of everything. I don‘t think you or I are at that end.
The other end would be, It‘s like it‘s written down in the Bible, we don‘t have to figure out science, it‘s all there. And if you really get into the Bible and you‘re totally literal about it—I don‘t want to knock anybody‘s belief—you get to the point of having to deny all the fossils out there because they all pre-dated 4,000 years of written history in the Bible, back to Adam and Eve, through the prophets all the way back. And then you have—then you get into that crazy idea, Well, there‘s a bunch of liberals that went around and buried all these bones in the ground to make it look like there was ancient history.
MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t think most people believe that. I think accept the fact there were dinosaurs that were around here millions of years ago. It wasn‘t covered in the Bible, et cetera, et cetera.
So the question comes down to this. And this is why it‘s relevant to discussions of climate change. Do you accept the scientific method? Now, I went to a Catholic school and I—the Christian brother taught us the first day, he said, Now, you can believe in evolution or not. We believe it here. And from the beginning of the education we had in biology, you had the kingdoms, the classes, the families, the genuses, the species. This is the way you learned about life. And among the way you understood things were the families. And in the family were people, us, and also apes.
Now, if you say there was no connection between the two ever in history, that there was never any evolution that led to the creation of you and me, that led to the creation—I accept the idea of guidance, and if you want to call it “intelligent design,” that‘s fine with me. But it ended up that way. If you don‘t accept the science, if you discover it, then you are really basing your whole life just on belief. And then you have a hard time dealing with a person like that when it comes to scientific evidence on climate change if they simply don‘t want to believe it because they don‘t want to look at evidence.
Are you a person who believes in the scientific method?
TOM TANCREDO ®, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Did you study biology in school, like I did, which is based on these assumptions of evolution?
OK. Yes, I went to Catholic schools for 12 years. Yes, I had biology. Yes, I—first of all, let me go back a little bit earlier to the first part of your statement there about the—the time sequence. And, you know, has it been—in intelligent design, there is no argument about whether the world was made 8,000 or eight billion years ago. Nobody argues that. It could have been any of those things.
And there‘s no religious dogma leading that particular discussion. It‘s not a part of intelligent design. And, so, I can—I certainly can accept that.
The fact is that, when you think about—I mean, again, if you go back and assume that all of the—you have to start thinking about, what was the beginning? And you can see on the micro level, we see evolution. But we cannot make the assumption on it about the macro level, because there‘s nothing to look at.
TANCREDO: We have no scientific data.
You are absolutely right to say that we should use the scientific methods to make these kinds of decisions. But, honest to God, Chris, honest to God, Chris, there is—there is no scientific data there. There‘s no—nothing there that we can look at to see that we made this great leap.
And so it‘s an assumption, just like it‘s an assumption about intelligent design.
TANCREDO: And I‘m just saying to you that they‘re equally valuable.
I think they should be taught in schools together.
Here‘s a—here‘s a group of people, highly educated, well-rounded and well-respected in their field who believe in evolution, Darwinian evolution. Here‘s a group of people, highly respected, who believe in intelligent design. These are two theories.
MATTHEWS: And what is the difference?
MATTHEWS: I didn‘t think we would get into this.
TANCREDO: We should present both of them. I would not be for—I would...
MATTHEWS: OK. What‘s the difference between saying you believe in evolution, but you believe God is behind it? What‘s the difference between that and intelligent design?
TANCREDO: Well, I don‘t think there...
TANCREDO: ... much at all.
MATTHEWS: You believe in evolution, but you believe God is behind it? So, then you just have to have a little introduction in each chapter in the biology book that says, God did this, God did this, God did this, and that‘s intelligent design? I mean, is that the distinction?
TANCREDO: You can—all you have to say—no. You don‘t even have to call it God. You don‘t have to say anything. You just have to say that these people believe that there was something that designed all of this.
You can call it God or Gaia or whatever you want, but...
MATTHEWS: I‘m not going to fight with you on that, Congressman.
I guess—I guess our distinction here is, are we willing to accept the scientific method? And if we discover these artifacts or these connections, the missing link is what it has always been called, that we‘re not going to just reject it and say, that can‘t be, because that runs in the face of my religion.
TANCREDO: No, that‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Are we going to accept the fact that there could be climate change, and man could be causing it, and we better damn well do some changes if that‘s the case?
MATTHEWS: I mean, I think—all I want is an understanding of how reasonable we are being in understanding the world that God gave us.
MATTHEWS: That‘s all I‘m asking. And you say we‘re all trying to understand it together.
TANCREDO: That‘s a wonderful—that‘s a wonderful way to put it, the world that God gave us.
All of us, I think, are looking exactly for that answer—I mean, that understanding.
TANCREDO: And I appreciate the way you have put it, because, frankly, I don‘t think there‘s a heck of a lot of argument here.
TANCREDO: I—although we have done a pretty good job for seven minutes or so.
MATTHEWS: Well, I appreciate that.
MATTHEWS: That for coming on. I think we got way off the course of our secular beliefs, which I think I would like to stick to.
TANCREDO: We will do it again some time. We will do it again.
MATTHEWS: But I‘m trying to figure out if we‘re going to ever understand this—this argument over climate change unless we accept the fact that we‘re trying to get the truth, and not simply always stepping back and saying, I‘m skeptical of all of this, and just ending the conversation there.
At some point, you have to have a method of understanding the truth and make some assumptions, or else you‘re stuck in the mud.
Thank you, Tom Tancredo. Run for president again. We will cover you.
TANCREDO: All right.
MATTHEWS: You will get in our debate.
TANCREDO: Next time. Next time. We will do it again.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Democrats would probably want to vote them off the island, but, for now, they will settle for this goofy Web ad mocking the leaders of the Republican Party, as if they‘re in some survival show.
That and more—you never know what we‘re going to talk about on this show—next in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BLITZER: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First up, the beat goes on.
Democrats think they have got the Republican Party headed toward extinction. That‘s the message, certainly, in this new Web ad produced by the Democratic National Committee that shows big, brand-name Republicans and conservatives as contestants on a reality show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is true that being a Republican moderate sometimes feel like being a cast member of “Survivor.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, actually, I think the Democrats could use some higher production values. Where is the action in all those pictures?
Anyway, meanwhile, former Secretary of State Colin Powell once again called on his party to recapture the middle. In a speech to corporate executives here in Washington, General Powell warned that the Republican Party is—quote—“getting smaller and smaller,” and that he hoped emerging leaders would start bucking the ideas of the far right.
And if you think that‘s tough lingo, check out what he then said about Rush Limbaugh—quote—“I think what Rush does as an entertainer diminishes the party and intrudes or inserts into our public life a kind of nastiness that we would be better to do without.”
That‘s Colin Powell on Rush. I wonder if someone is going to now call Colin Powell a left-leaning liberal.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Back in March, the CEO of the giant insurance firm AIG testified before Congress that his company paid out $9 million in performance bonuses. Just a few days later, an AIG spokesperson adjusted that number to $120 million.
Now, in response to inquiries from U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, AIG has revised its bonus figure a third time. So, what‘s the new grand total for AIG‘s year 2008 bonus payouts? Drumroll, please—
$454 million, almost four times what it reported last year.
By the way, these are just performance bonuses paid out of—paid out on top of those infamous retention bonuses we heard about earlier this year.
AIG handed out $454 million in performance bonuses last year—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Did the Bush administration manipulate the evidence in rushing us to war in Iraq? Richard Haass will be with us. He‘s the author of a new book about the decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein. He‘s a real insider. He‘s got a real insider‘s account from someone who was there as the big decisions were being made. He‘s coming here in a minute.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks climbing amid positive reports about those bank stress test results and less worry about unemployment growth. The Dow Jones industrial average surged 101 points, most of those gains coming in the last half-hour of the session, the S&P 500 up nearly 16, the Nasdaq higher by almost five.
According to reports, the results of government stress tests on the nation‘s largest banks are coming in fairly well. J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, American Express, and Morgan Stanley reportedly won‘t need to raise new capital. The official results, though, are due out after the market closes tomorrow.
A private report shows companies cut fewer jobs in April, a sign that the worst of the job losses may be over. The government releases its April unemployment report on Friday morning.
And, after the close, tech bellwether Cisco Systems reported quarterly earnings that beat analyst estimates. Cisco shares are higher after-hours.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to Chris and HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As a Bush administration official, Richard Haass made the public case for war with Iraq. Now he says he made that case reluctantly. And he writes about working for two presidents, President Bush 41 and President Bush 43, as they took on Saddam Hussein.
The book is “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars.”
Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. This is going to be fascinating, because I watched...
RICHARD HAASS, AUTHOR, “WAR OF NECESSITY, WAR OF CHOICE: A MEMOIR OF
TWO IRAQ WARS”: We‘re going to talk about Babylon, after your previous...
MATTHEWS: I—I‘m not getting into theology. We are going to avoid the Old and New Testaments here.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me that I watched this war from the outside and you watched it from the intellectual inside. And so now I have my chance to ask you, an honest guy, what you can tell me now.
It seems to me that the smart salesmanship for the war was to conflate 9/11, what happened to us, how we were attacked by al Qaeda, with the need to go to war in Iraq, and then to conflate weapons of mass destruction, a terrifying term, with nuclear weapons, so that we would believe somehow, if we didn‘t go to war with Iraq, we would now be hit by an even worst holocaust. We would be hit by the catastrophe of nuclear attack the second time.
Therefore, 9/11 said, we have to go to war in Iraq to prevent the second attack, which would be worse. That brilliant argument, I believe, sold the center and got us into war.
Was that a confection?
HAASS: It was certainly a stretch, if you will. What people were doing was putting the worst possible case on what could happen, Chris.
So, when Condoleezza Rice talked about the possibility of a mushroom cloud, or the vice president, Dick Cheney, talked also about possible nuclear futures, no one could 100 percent prove that they were wrong or that their futures were—were inconceivable or impossible.
What it was, was a worst-possible-case construction. And the reason I believe they put it out there is that they believed very strongly that the United States needed to go to war against Iraq, that they thought it was a historic opportunity for the United States to change history‘s momentum after 9/11 and to transform the Middle East.
I disagreed profoundly. I thought it was a war of choice, and it was a bad choice, and it was going to distract and distort American foreign policy. But, as history shows, and as you know as well as anybody, people like me were in a distinct minority, and did not prevail.
MATTHEWS: Well, I want to go back to this construction which convinced the average—and a lot of people watching this program back in 2001 and ‘02, by the way, to believe in the war, for nationalistic reasons, which was, again, somehow we were hit on 9/11. If we didn‘t go to war with Iraq, we would be hit by a nuclear weapon.
And here‘s how your side constructed this argument, that, somehow, Saddam Hussein was working with al Qaeda, and, somehow, Saddam Hussein, having worked with al Qaeda, had proven the willingness to attack us here on our homeland, and he would somehow construct a nuclear weapon with a delivery vehicle which would land a nuclear weapon on our soil.
That was the ultimate argument, the mushroom cloud, the sort of balsa wood weapon that we imagined over there. It seems to me that nobody really believed that those connections were honest. I think—and I challenge you, Richard—I don‘t think anybody believed, A, that Saddam Hussein was working hand in glove with the people who attacked us on 9/11 and would help them again with a nuclear weapon strike on this country.
I think those connections between 9/11, Saddam Hussein, and then with a nuclear strike on this country ever existed. They didn‘t have a nuclear weapon. They didn‘t have a capability for delivering it. And they had no plausible connection with 9/11. I would argue it‘s all a lie put together by people talking to each other so often that they somehow began to believe something was possible here.
What do you think? What do you know?
HAASS: That‘s the longest question I have ever been asked.
MATTHEWS: No, but it‘s a big frickin‘ question...
MATTHEWS: ... because it got us about 5,000 people killed.
HAASS: Well, no, slow down, Chris.
MATTHEWS: It‘s got us stuck in Iraq and enemies we never even managed having, secular Arabs, who are not a part of this effort against us in the world.
MATTHEWS: And I think it‘s a horror. And I want to know how we got into it.
HAASS: Chris, Chris, slow down.
I, as you know, opposed the war at the time, when I was in the inside, and I oppose it now in retrospect. I think it was bad choice and it was badly carried out.
The idea that some people could have constructed a worst-possible-case analysis is, to me, farfetched. It was ill-advised. It was wrong.
But I—the word lie goes, I would suggest, simply too far. You could not disprove that there was no possible connection between the Iraqis and al Qaeda. I thought there was none, certainly none that was in any way meaningful. But you never know what you don‘t know.
And these were people who were selectively picking and then emphasizing pieces of intelligence, I believe, in order to support their larger purpose, which was to bring as—in a way that they thought possible, to bring democracy to Iran—to Iraq...
HAASS: ... and, through Iraq, to transform the Middle East. I thought that was farfetched. I didn‘t think it was going to happen. But that was their real purpose.
They thought this was going to be a transforming event in history. My frustration is that there never was a national security decision-making process in an—in the administration where people such as me really had a chance to take that on.
MATTHEWS: Well, were you given a chance? Was Dick Cheney willing to let someone like you at your level, middle level, to get in the room with the president and say, there‘s an alternative here. We do have a pain in the butt over there, Saddam Hussein, but he‘s not a strategic, much less an existential threat to this country. We can deal with this in other ways besides occupying an Arab country and putting us into this hell. Did he ever get that alternative voice within the circle.
HAASS: People like me wrote the memos. People like me also argued that if we do go ahead and do this war, the aftermath has the potential to be a nightmare. But I think it‘s important to keep in mind that this president got the National Security Council and process he wanted, not the one he needed.
So there was simply no one out there playing the honest broker. You
never had a meeting before this war was launched, as extraordinary as it is
you never had a meeting in which this issue was argued out from A to Z, where basically advocates and opponents could argue it out in any sort of fair way. It simply never happened.
MATTHEWS: How did he get it into his head that it was in the interest of the United States to go to war with Iraq, the president?
HAASS: I think after 9/11, they decided that what we accomplished in Afghanistan wasn‘t enough. It didn‘t make a big enough impression on the war. To use my expression that I used in the book, it didn‘t scratch the itch. They wanted to do something bigger, larger, bolder, that would change the course of history. That‘s where this came from.
MATTHEWS: Did the president hold Saddam Hussein morally responsible for 9/11? In other words, if not scientifically, did he believe he was delivering a blow of revenge after 9/11 by hitting Iraq?
HAASS: I don‘t think he held Saddam Hussein responsible for 9/11. That was obviously al Qaeda. But what I thought the president and people around him believed was that what we accomplished in Afghanistan, ousting the Taliban, simply wasn‘t enough.
We never got Osama bin Laden. We couldn‘t, by definition, eliminate al Qaeda. And then Iraq presented itself as something of an opportunity that was big enough, with sufficient consequences that they thought this would send a message to go back to another president, Richard Nixon, that the United States was not a pitiful, helpless giant, that the United States could still act and essentially change the course of history.
This president associated himself with boldness, with bigness. He wanted to be a consequential president. He was. He transformed the Middle East. The irony and the tragedy of George Bush is that he transformed the Middle East in a bad way and clearly not the way he intended.
MATTHEWS: Who was he talking to when he wanted to—in other words, who was that message directed to, to go to war with Iraq to establish a big impact, some big noise that said we meant business? Who was that message addressed to?
HAASS: It was the other members of the Axis of Evil. It was Iran. It was Syria. It was also North Korea. It was essentially a message to the world. It was station identification that the United States was both willing and able to shape history, to bend the rules and the course of history. So it was clearly—it was meant to be—
MATTHEWS: But that would be—but, Richard, you‘re an expert. That would be bone-headed. We delivered a message to Iran that we were willing to destroy its only regional rival.
HAASS: One of the great ironies and tragedies of this war, to use that expression again, is the United States made the Middle East safe for Iranian imperialism.
MATTHEWS: Didn‘t the president know this?
HAASS: Again, people did not argue this out in realistic ways. He was told, Chris, that the Iraqis would greet us, as you know, with candy; the children wouldn‘t throw rocks and the rest, that Iraq would become a strong pro-American balancer of Iran. And he believed that because of what we accomplished in Iraq that Iran would essentially bend to our will.
This was all wrong. It was all assumption piled on assumption. And one of the lessons of this war is you need a national security process that takes the assumptions and intelligence and policy and vets them.
MATTHEWS: Did Vice President Cheney, working hand in glove with his chief of staff for all those years, Scooter Libby—I want a simple answer on this because it‘s a tough one. Did they serve the president honestly? Honestly?
HAASS: They served the president in ways that they believe were in the interest of the United States. I‘m not going to challenge the motives. Do I think they served him well? Do I think that—for example, the first draft of the speech they provided to Colin Powell to give to the U.N., which was unbelievably one sided and any intellectual credibility, I thought. Do I believe they served this president well in that instance? No.
But I‘m not going to question their honesty. They believed after 9/11
you have to keep in mind, too—that this country faced an existential or near existential threat. People had that in their frame of mind. They needed—they felt the need to do big things.
MATTHEWS: Did they give the president the comprehensive, honest assessment of the situation that he deserved?
HAASS: Do I believe they did? No. But that wasn‘t necessarily their jobs. They were advocates. Where I fault the president—he was the guy, as he said, the decider. He did not create a national security process that gave him everything, and that ultimately did what it needs to do, which is make him uncomfortable. That‘s what you needed from a national security advisory process. He didn‘t get it.
MATTHEWS: Richard, I‘m going to read every word of your book. I‘m going to buy it and read it. I‘m going to get back to you. This book is important. You know everything. We‘re just trying to look through a glass darkly and go with our hunches about people like Cheney, which I am convinced are accurate, especially after hearing what you just said the last seven minutes.
But I want to know more about this. I‘ll be back with you on this one. Thank you, Richard Haass, “War of Necessity, War of Choice.”
Up next, as President Obama considers candidates to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter, does he have to pick a woman? Big question, a lot of people think so. If you read the papers, the big papers, maybe some of the liberal papers, in fact, that seems to be the point. But is there a risk in that? That‘s next in the politics fix. This is HARDBALL—in that mindset, I mean. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. Time for the politics with the “Washington Post‘s” Perry Bacon and MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, who is the president of the Independent Women‘s Voice.
Let‘s take a look at this, a statement by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She made this statement in an interview to “USA Today” before Justice Souter decided to quit the court. Quote—this is what Justice Ginsburg said—“you know the line that Sandra and I”—Sandra Day O‘Connor “and I keep repeating that, at the end of the day, a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same judgment? But there are perceptions that we have because we are women. It‘s a subtle influence. We can be sensitive to things that are said and draft opinions that male justices are not aware can be offensive.”
So she‘s not saying stack the court, balance the court, but she‘s says there ought to be women on that court.
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I don‘t think anybody would disagree with her in saying that. There are probably other groups and bean counters who will say, President Obama has to put a woman on the court; And President Obama has to put a black person or Hispanic person on the court.
I think Justice Ginsburg would say that the most important thing is to have the most qualified person on the court.
MATTHEWS: Perry Bacon, how does the great mentioner get involved here? I remember David Broder—probably David Broder was the great mentioner. But you heard people being mentioned for president. And there were always like four of them. Who made the mentions?
Now we have a group of people that keep being mentioned in the big papers, like the “New York Times” and your paper, for this court appointment. Guess what they all have in common, gender. Who decided in the rule book, in the style book, that henceforth, all pictures of people up for this court appointment must be women?
PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think people assume, based on what Ginsburg said and what a lot of leaders think the next pick will be a woman. To be fair, if the White House really thought they were going to pick a man, they probably would have pulled us back and told us we‘re going to pick—given us some more male names. They would have leaked some more names to us.
So I think assumption it will be a woman is probably not unrealistic. I do think that though it‘s important for Obama, in some ways, to pick the right person. If you recall, he had a very successful pick of John Roberts. People thought a (INAUDIBLE) when John Roberts was picked, but that was very successful.
And the second time he picked a woman, he made the wrong choice. A lot of conservatives in Harriet Myers—and that sort of backfired on him. It‘s important for Obama probably to pick someone who will be confirmable and someone the Democrats and Republicans will like, particularly Democrats of course.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that we‘re watching this process already beginning?
MATTHEWS: I see Jennifer Granholm‘s name, the governor of Michigan, who is a top Ivy League law graduate, I think Harvard or Yale, one of the two, I think Harvard. Definitely well-known figure, not a jurist, but a public official of high repute.
MATTHEWS: Somebody is floating that name. Why would you float that name if you didn‘t intend to pick her. You don‘t want to drag her out there, put her name out there and then, three days later, say, no, we didn‘t find her up to snuff.
BERNARD: Well, they are not saying that they are the people who have leaked these names. There are lots of names that are out there. I think maybe it is to see what the public reaction is going to be, whether it is from people who feel that she‘s not the right woman, or people who are saying, what about that lonely old white male out there? Why aren‘t you looking at this whole category of males on state and federal courts throughout the country?
Incidentally, I don‘t necessarily think that President Obama is going to pick somebody from the federal bench. I think he‘s going to pick somebody that we normally have not seen presidents look at in the past as material for the Supreme Court.
MATTHEWS: One thing you can say is practically in all the major Democratic high level officials, senator and governors of this country, a lot of them, if not all of them, are pro choice. Perry, that does sort of signal something of a litmus test. You start picking Democrat office-holders, state-wide offices, in most cases, with a few exceptions like Bobby Casey in Pennsylvania, they are pro-choice.
You already know. You don‘t have to have the hearing. You know where they stand. They‘ve said it in every speech they‘ve given to women‘s groups.
BACON: That‘s only one issue, Chris. But, I mean, Obama says there‘s no litmus test. Of course there is on abortion. Whoever the judge is he picked, or legal scholar, that person will also be pro-choice, I‘m pretty sure, and pretty declared on being pro-choice. That test probably is there.
One thing to look for is Obama talked about in the campaign a lot about picking someone who had empathy and someone who understood the world more than being a legal mind. So in that sense, I think Granholm is on the list because she‘s a person who is a lawyer, but also is no—hasn‘t been in the federal judiciary for years and years and years.
MATTHEWS: Well, one person‘s empathy is another person‘s prejudice. Tomorrow, we‘re going to have Frank Ricci here. He‘s the firefighter who brought that case up in New Haven, Connecticut, because he passed over for promotion after he passed a test. And he argues, and maybe the facts are behind him, that he was past—he passed that test, but it was thrown out because no African-American passed that test. That‘s going to be a hot issue. It gets back to the Bakke case, so called reverse discrimination. We‘re going to have him on tomorrow to make his case here.
We‘ll be right back, however, in a moment, with Perry Bacon and Michelle Bernard for more of the politics fix. You‘re watching it on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Perry Bacon and Michelle Bernard. It seems, Perry—your reporting on this, it seems to me that a selection of a liberal or a moderate liberal to the court, someone who is pro-choice on court decisions, just locks in that five-four advantage for the pro-Roe v. Wade belief system, which will probably be with us even more so when we begin to lose people on that conservative side in the years ahead.
BACON: The conservatives are pretty young. I don‘t think a lot of them are going to be moving anywhere very soon.
MATTHEWS: Not Ginsburg and not Stevens.
BACON: The conservatives are pretty young.
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry, they‘re the liberals. So the conservatives are Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas. They will be around a long time. The only possible person to leave would be Kennedy, who is the swing vote.
So what does that tell you, Perry?
BACON: In some ways, it tells you we‘re going to talk a lot about this Supreme Court process, but very little is going to change, in all likelihood. Obama is going to replace a liberal, Souter—a moderate liberal with Souter with another liberal person who is not going to affect the composition of the court very much right now.
MATTHEWS: Will he pick young people?
BACON: My guess is, yes. It will be someone who is in the Roberts/Alito age. It will be someone he picks. So they will be on the court as long as Roberts or Alito would be there.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense, Michelle, that the Republicans are going to lay back on this one? That they are not really going to stop this? If the person is qualified and moderate, a sort of Justice Breyer type, Stephen Breyer, they‘re going to let this go. They‘re not going to vote knee jerk.
BERNARD: No, I don‘t have a clue. I think it‘s going to depend on who the person. If it is somebody who is a far left lefty, I think we‘re going to see fights right away.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Perry Bacon. We like fights.
Michelle Bernard. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. I don‘t think we‘ll do it again tomorrow. Anyway, thanks. We‘ll back tomorrow night. Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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