Guests: Margaret Brennan, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Ron Brownstein, Clarence Page, Joan Walsh, Pat Buchanan, Ron Brownstein, Clarence Page, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Is silence golden?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in New York. Leading off tonight:
America cares, but how do we show it? How vocal should President Obama be about events in Iran? Once again, tens of thousands came out in protests of last week‘s elections. Here at home, voices are being raised about the president‘s muted reaction so far. We‘ll be joined in a minute by Republican senator Saxby Chambliss, who says the president needs to speak up, and by Senator John Kerry, who says Mr. Obama has been pitch perfect.
Also: Look who‘s talking now. Remember when former president Bush said President Obama deserves his silence? Well, last night in a speech in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mr. Bush differed from his successor on health care, on terrorism, on economic policy. Why is the former president speaking up, and why is he doing it now? Is he taking his cue from Dick Cheney—again? That‘s later in the show.
Plus, the HARDBALL strategists take on the Ensign affair, the Minnesota fangdango, which may be coming to a close, and the GOP‘s incredibly low poll numbers. The strategists will debate those issues.
Also, catch this. Is John Edwards trying to make a comeback? We‘re watching. Some people think so. We‘ll take a look at that in the “Fix.”
And here‘s a warning to generals testifying on Capitol Hill. Call Senator Barbara Boxer “Senator Boxer.” A general learned that lesson the hard way the other day. That‘s on the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.
But we begin with Senator John Kerry, chairman of the foreign affairs committee. Senator Kerry, John McCain, your colleague, has been critical of the president for not speaking out and joining the protest in the streets of Teheran. What‘s your view?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: My view is that the president has clearly spoken out. He spoke in Cairo as clearly as any president ever has about the prospects for democracy, for the possibilities of a different future, and I think he‘s been very, very clear. But for the president to step into the middle of what the Iranians appear to be handling for themselves would be a mistake because it would give to the hardliners the ability to be able to use the president and the West as an excuse.
We‘ve seen what hardline rhetoric has gotten us over the last eight years, Chris. It‘s created an Iran that‘s more powerful in the region, an Iran that‘s been more reluctant to engage with the rest of the world. The president has opened up new possibilities. I think even the elections in Lebanon a week ago showed the results that come from a different kind of diplomacy, and we need to let the president pursue that.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we‘re kidding anyone, though? Don‘t they know on the Ahmadinejad side over there, the government side and the ayatollahs‘ side, that we‘re rooting for the opposition? Don‘t they...
KERRY: They don‘t have any illusions about it, but that‘s very different from overt activities that they can then turn around—just the other day, the foreign ministry attacked the United States and tried to allege that it‘s U.S. meddling that is part of what has created this election uproar. We want the Iranians to carry this. This is an Iranian moment, not an American moment, and we need to have the discipline, the restraint, the maturity to stand back from this as the Iranians proceed.
We obviously can express our support for their efforts in personal ways and in other ways. The president has already questioned the election. There‘s no doubt in anybody‘s mind about where our sympathies lie. But we need to allow the Iranians to really take ahold of this, and that‘s part of what‘s giving it all the extra power that it has on a global basis.
MATTHEWS: Are those people in the streets—they seem highly educated, they seem sophisticated. Are they on our side, or where are they in this fight between Iran and us?
KERRY: I don‘t think anybody can accurately say that. I mean, some are, some aren‘t. What they are for is an accountable process in their own country and one that begins to take them in a different direction. I don‘t think anybody can say with certainty where that is. Most polls have shown that Iranians are overwhelmingly supportive of the nationalistic sort of right that is expressed in their nuclear program. So how this translates ultimately, I don‘t think anybody can say.
What is important is that Ahmadinejad and the current regime have really oppressed people in a way that has restrained their ability to live their lives in a way that I think they want to, and I think that‘s a lot of what is being expressed in the current ferment in the streets in Iran.
MATTHEWS: Well, the president said there‘s really little difference between the two sides in that fight over there. Do you think there‘s no difference?
KERRY: No, I don‘t completely agree with the president on that part of it. I do think there‘s a difference. There‘s already some clear stated differences between Mr. Mousavi and where he wants to go. There‘s not—I think what the president is really talking about, though, is not a clarity as to where they might be with respect to the nuclear program and some of the Iranian foreign policy issues. On that, he may be closer to correct than not.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there‘s something happening over there that surprises—it certainly surprises me watching it. You‘re the expert. Are you surprised at this tremendous outburst of demand for real democracy in Iran?
KERRY: I am a little bit surprised by the extent of it. We‘ve all known that there was a level of it there, but the degree to which they have now openly and courageously, notwithstanding some people being shot to death—and I understand the possibility that the numbers are even greater than we know—and notwithstanding the risks of what they know is a very oppressive capacity within the military, ultimately, the Republican Guard, they‘re taking great risks. And it‘s really an act a of enormous courage and I think that‘s part of what‘s engaging the world in watching with such intensity. These are big stakes, and it‘s much bigger in response than anybody might have anticipated.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we should open up some kind of dialogue with Mr. Mousavi himself, no matter what happens this election?
KERRY: Not at this moment. I don‘t think it‘s possible at this moment anyway, but the answer is no. I think at this particular moment, we have expressed our desire to engage with Iran. The Iranian leadership knows this firsthand. There was a lot of hope that once the election was over, that engagement was going to begin almost as a matter of course. Now, obviously, there are big question marks hanging over all of that.
And the number one security issue for the United States and the president is the nuclear program. That is central to resolving the issues of the Middle East, central to Israel‘s security, central to keeping Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait from engaging in an arms race. So those are the highest stakes here, and I think the president is rightly keeping his eye on those stakes and not diverting into something that the Iranian people seem to be indicating they have the capacity to manage for themselves. So I think the president has struck the right note here.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Republican senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is a member of the Armed Services and the Intelligence Committees. What do you make of what Senator Kerry said, Senator Saxby?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I disagree with Senator Kerry with respect to the president‘s not just silence but kind of mutation (SIC) on this. You know, I thought the president was right to give it a day or two to see what direction we thought these elections were going in, Chris. But now it‘s pretty obvious from these large demonstrations all over Iran that these elections were held in a fraudulent way. And we are a beacon of hope for freedom and democracy around the world, and one thing we‘ve always stood for is free and open elections.
Here we know that we‘ve got a leader in Iran who was elected in a fraudulent election, and I think it‘s incumbent upon this president, just as other world leaders like Sarkozy and the prime minister of Canada have come out very strongly in opposition to these elections and what‘s going on, for him to take a stand that‘s a pretty strong stand, and we just simply haven‘t seen that. I don‘t think it‘s the right direction that America needs to be perceived as taking in this situation.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ve got a long history of interfering in Iran. We interfered back when they had a democracy in the early part of the ‘50s, when Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA went in there and overturned those elections and put in the “peacock throne” and enforced a monarchy kind of government. Do you think we‘re credible as critics of democracy of Iran? Is the United States credible in the eyes of those people and those crowds as caring about democracy in Iran?
CHAMBLISS: Oh, I don‘t think there‘s any question but what we are. You know, they don‘t have to agree with us on everything. The people that are marching in the streets are not marching in a pro-American way. They‘re simply marching in a protest of an election that was stolen from them. And as Americans, we ought to be willing to stand up and say, Hey, these people are right and they ought to have a free and open election in Iran, irrespective of whether we have disagreements with them on a major scale on other issues. But certainly, we have credibility.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess it comes down to the question of nationalism and countries resenting outside influence. I know we would resent it. We would always resent it, any other country getting involved in our election, especially the disputed election of 2000. We don‘t want anybody else talking to us about our elections. Khrushchev back in ‘60 wanted Kennedy to win, but he didn‘t say a word because he knew it would help Nixon. Wouldn‘t it help Ahmadinejad for us to say, We really don‘t like the results of your election, we would have preferred it if Mousavi had won?
CHAMBLISS: Well, you know, that‘s not the point.
MATTHEWS: Why isn‘t it? Because from the point of view over there, won‘t they be saying, Hey, you Americans are rooting for the opposition because Ahmadinejad doesn‘t like you guys?
CHAMBLISS: Well, I don‘t know that anybody was rooting for the opposition. I guess you could say that we would have preferred for the other guy to have won, but we don‘t know if he would have been any different. But the point of the matter is that the Iranian people ought to have the right to a free and open election. They didn‘t have that. They ought to have the right to choose who they want. And we‘re not meddling by simply saying that these elections were not conducted in a free and open and democratic manner. They advertised them to be that, but it‘s pretty obvious that they weren‘t.
And for the United States president to be silent on this, Chris, while other leaders are speaking out, I think puts us in a position of saying, Well, you know, we‘re just going to go along with whoever gets elected over there, and that‘s not—that‘s just not right.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the president‘s concern that our history over there—he‘s voiced this in the Cairo speech—that our history over there of getting involved with Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA, overthrowing those elections back in the ‘50s, getting rid of their democracy when they had one, gives us such a bad reputation in that country that if we go in there now, it‘ll look like we‘re just trying to grab influence in Iran again to our advantage, to get the oil back, to get the influence back that we had there under the shah?
CHAMBLISS: Well, that election was, what, almost 60 years ago now. The world has changed dramatically since then. And I dare say that you go up to any of those people in Teheran who are protesting in the streets and say, Hey, what about the United States meddling in your election in the ‘50s, they would shake their heads, like, What in the world are you talking about?
That‘s not what they‘re protesting about. These folks are protesting an election that was stolen from them last week. And that‘s why it‘s so critically important that America speak with a loud and clear voice in support of free, open, and democratic elections. And frankly, Chris, we‘re not doing that from an administration standpoint. You‘re hearing folks like John McCain and others out there strongly advocating this position, and they are the ones that are being heard by the Iranian people and not the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: OK. There‘s two points I think you might agree and disagree with Senator Kerry on. The one point is he said there is a difference between Ahmadinejad‘s regime and this alternative that we‘re seeing here, basically, supported by those people in the streets. Do you agree with him that we might be better off with one than the other?
CHAMBLISS: Well, certainly, we know what we‘ve got in Ahmadinejad and it‘s not good. I mean, this guy gets up throwing hate balls every day towards the United States.
CHAMBLISS: So it can‘t be any worse, and I would have to say that I probably agree with John there.
MATTHEWS: What about opening a dialogue at some point with Mousavi, the opposition leader, if he doesn‘t get the job? Would you—as a senator on these key committees you‘re on, Armed Services and Intelligence, do you think it might be useful for our people, you or others of your colleagues, to get in contact with this guy and start talking to him in some way?
CHAMBLISS: Well, I‘m not sure what benefit that would be. If this guy is going to keep getting squashed in elections and his voice not allowed to be heard, I‘m not sure what the dialogue would be. Here is what I do think, though...
MATTHEWS: Well, they talk to you. I mean, other leaders from other countries talk to opposition leaders in this country all the time to get a feel for this country.
CHAMBLISS: Well, here‘s what I think, Chris. I think for us to open a dialogue with Ahmadinejad now would be absolutely the wrong thing to do because, you know, we know this guy has been elected with a fraudulent election process. So you know, is our president going to have a dialogue with a guy that we know was elected in an election that was stolen from somebody else? I don‘t think that‘s right. Now, whether we ought to talk to the other folks or not, I guess is a matter that the State Department will have under consideration shortly.
MATTHEWS: Well, senator, thank you very much, and I agree with you on one point. I am thrilled by this opposition over there. I am thrilled at this public demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people, that they believe in democracy and want a fair election over there. And if the president can‘t say so, you and I can certainly say so. Thank you very much, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Up next: Former president George W. Bush said the Obama administration deserved his silence, but then the other night in Erie, Pennsylvania, he got a little off course, perhaps a little off message criticizing the president‘s policies. Why is he speaking out now? Is he still getting his cues from Cheney? I‘m serious. That‘s coming up next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Last night, former president George W. Bush spoke to a business group up in Erie, Pennsylvania. And even though he said he wouldn‘t criticize President Obama, he did say the following. On the economy, quote, “I know it‘s going to be the private sector, not the government, that leads the country out of the current economic times we‘re in.” On health care, “There are a lot of ways to remedy the situation without nationalizing health care.” On closing Gitmo, “I‘ll just tell you that there are people at Gitmo that will kill American people at the drop of a hat. Therapy isn‘t going to cause terrorists to change their minds.”
And finally, when asked if some of President Obama‘s policies are socialist, the president mere said, “We‘ll see.” Well, what‘s he up to? These jabs of his that we heard last night, are they sentiments—well, they‘re certainly sentiments which square with some of the new poll numbers. Is he watching the numbers?
Ron Brownstein—or just listening to Cheney? Ron Brownstein is the political director for Atlantic Media, and Clarence Page is a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune.” Clarence, is he sort of following in the footsteps or word-steps of Dick Cheney? It seems like Cheney was out there the last couple weeks, he went up 8 points in our poll yesterday. Has the president decided to start lip syncing Dick Cheney again?
CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: Maybe the former vice president is the warm-up act for former president Bush. He certainly was talking in that same spirit. Most of what he said was platitudes, when you think about it, but that line about therapy isn‘t going to do it is right off of Karl Rove‘s quote book, not just his playbook. But it is interesting to see, though, after all of these weeks of trying to stay on the sidelines, that Bush is trying to work on personally redeeming his own record, I think.
MATTHEWS: You know, I have to wonder Ron Brownstein, given the record of the private sector of the last eight years, I wouldn‘t be bragging about its ability to bring back recovery. It wasn‘t doing such a good job as of January 20. In fact, the president was spending tons of money, as he was leaving his administration, trying to prop up the private sector. What‘s this belief all of a sudden in unstoppable capitalism and this opposition to—anyway, it sounds like the old malarkey to me, but what do you think?
RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA: Well, a couple thoughts. The overall level of conflict between the Obama administration and its immediate predecessor is at the high end in American history. I mean, we look at what‘s being going on, there are very few examples of members of the outgoing administration engaging in as direct conflict as Cheney, in particular, but also Karl Rove and others have done in these first few months.
Al Gore, for example, didn‘t really say anything substantively political until April of 2002, after his election in 2000. My guess, though, is that George W. Bush is not going to be conscripted into that conflict. I mean, this sounds kind of grudging. Those first two statements, Chris, although, they are kind of bromides, they are bromides that Barack Obama might say.
BROWNSTEIN: He‘s not—he‘s not going to say that he‘s out for nationalizing health care.
And he certainly, in the interviews with John Harwood at CNBC and others in the last week, has made clear that he believes that the private sector is the ultimate engine of growth, although, obviously, he sees a larger role for government in trying to prime that pump or to get that engine started again.
So, I mean, there—that last comment in particular, “We‘ll see,” about socialism, in some ways, that was the most pointed. But my guess—maybe we will be wrong, but I do not—I—I will be surprised if George Bush is as visible and consistent a critic as we have seen some of these other figures be.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me offer a middle case here, Clarence. He‘s doing this for money. If you get paid to go into a place and brag about what you‘re going to tell people ahead of time, like, the president—the former president is going to speak out on national issues, doesn‘t he have to pay the piper?
Doesn‘t he have to give these audiences, this business audience, what they paid for? He can‘t come in there and say, “I‘m above politics,” after grabbing a ton of money from these people.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: Well, that‘s true.
And, you know, the statements are only strong-sounding in context of the fact that he‘s hardly said anything in the least controversial up until now. He‘s left that to—to Vice President Cheney.
And you are right. Cheney is the original pronunciation.
MATTHEWS: It‘s the correct pronunciation.
PAGE: Being a journalist, I tend to talk like journalists do. But...
PAGE: But, yes, I think maybe President Bush is starting to build up the audience for the—for the inevitable book down the road and all.
But, also, remember how weak the Republicans have been on having a spokesperson to speak that old-time religion about, hey, business...
PAGE: ... is going to lead us out of the woods.
So far, business has needed a bailout to help get us on track to—to...
PAGE: ... to—to get out of the woods. But that still works in front of that audience.
BROWNSTEIN: Chris, one other quick point...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Go ahead.
BROWNSTEIN: ... is that, in fairness to Bush, Obama has been very explicit and tough in repudiating key elements of his agenda and legacy, I mean, as—as tough as presidents get. I think it reminds me in some ways of Reagan and Carter. I mean, he‘s been very clear in arguing that the Bush economic strategy brought us to where we are.
He‘s been very explicit in—in opposing elements of the national
security strategy, particularly the argument that it‘s undermined our image
in the world. So, I mean, they have thrown some punches themselves. Their
the first chapter of their budget is basically titled a legacy—inheriting a legacy of failure.
So, they‘re out there making clear—trying to draw that contrast as sharply as they can, because Bush left office with 71 percent of the country disapproving of him on Election Day. So, in a way, it‘s not entirely surprising...
BROWNSTEIN: ... that he would feel some urge to try to defend his legacy.
MATTHEWS: I find it an interesting coincidence, gentlemen, in the fact that our polling, “New York Times” poll backing up “The Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll, both showed a cresting of President Obama‘s support on issues.
And the moment he was seen cresting—in other words, the end of the honeymoon, perhaps—the former president jumped in, lickety-split, within hours. I think he may be more staffed up than we thought.
Let‘s take a look now at the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll on a particular set of questions that it seemed like the former president was addressing last night in Erie. Forty-eight percent support ending water-boarding to 41 percent. That‘s not too surprising, but it‘s fairly close.
But look at Gitmo. Only 39 percent say, close that place. Fifty-two percent say keep it open. That‘s a majority. On the bailout, again a majority against the president‘s policies.
Clarence, on two out of three issues, the country is on the former president‘s side. They don‘t particularly wish to go back to Bush, by any standard, but they like—they‘re closer to him in terms of the issue.
PAGE: Well, this is true.
I wonder, though, how intense their feelings are. The proof is in the pudding as far as General Motors is concerned, as—as with the rest of the economy. How well off will we be at the end of the year? When will unemployment numbers begin to go up? And that will make the difference there.
As far as Guantanamo goes, that‘s always been a big issue with—for a lot of Democrats, especially on the liberal end, not so much for other folks, unless they‘re worried about the Gitmo prisoners moving in next door to them...
PAGE: ... which Republicans are trying—they are trying to encourage that idea out there anyway.
MATTHEWS: Well, NIMBY is a big issue. Not in my backyard I think is a big part of this.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not like we want to screw these guys or hurt them more or torture them more, or put more people into Gitmo. It‘s, we want a hell of a lot less people in our backyard.
PAGE: You got it.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at this new question, which I think really gets to—I think this squares with what our thinking has been so far on this program.
Look at the popularity of the president, people who like him and his policies, 48 percent, people who like him, but not his policies, 27 percent.
Well, first number, let‘s take a look at this one, confident on his economic policies...
MATTHEWS: ... a slight majority not confident. What do you think of that? Could it be that that‘s where the former president is weighing in here, Ron?
BROWNSTEIN: Chris, the overall picture in these polls today that have come out, your poll, Pew, “New York Times,” CBS, all affirm an image of—right now, Obama is more popular than his program.
I think, generally speaking, your...
BROWNSTEIN: ... poll was a little tougher on him, 56 percent approval. The other two that came out, three that came out today were 61 percent, 61 percent, 63 percent. He‘s roughly a 60 percent approval president.
His agenda, though, is much closer to 50 percent. Sometimes, it‘s below 50 percent, as with Guantanamo. Sometimes, it‘s slightly above 50 percent. You had 55 percent supporting the general direction of his health care plan.
But, as a general proposition, he is stronger than his agenda. And the question is, what happens going forward? Does he—does his—does the confidence in him strengthen his agenda, or does some of the controversy around the agenda sap his strength?
Andy Kohut, who runs the Pew Research Center...
BROWNSTEIN: ... pointed out to me today that Ronald Reagan, in 1981, was in a similar position. He was strongly popular himself. There were doubts about how far he wanted to go in retrenching government.
Obama, in some ways, is the reverse, very popular, a lot of confidence in his leadership, but doubts about how far he wants to go in sort of unleashing or having a more aggressive government.
It‘s possible that he could strengthen his agenda, but it‘s also possible the agenda could pull him down over time.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I wonder if true north isn‘t still very close to the center.
Thank you very much, Ron Brownstein.
Thank you, Clarence Page
Up next: Senator Barbara Boxer gets tough with a general who didn‘t call her, “Senator.” Stick around for that one. It‘s about protocol.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And time for the “Show.”
First up: a tense moment in the U.S. Senate. Watch this exchange between U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Brigadier General Michael Walsh at a hearing on Katrina. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, why has it been delayed?
BRIGADIER GENERAL MICHAEL WALSH, COMMANDING GENERAL FOR THE GULF
REGION DIVISION, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Ma‘am, the LACPR is...
BOXER: I—you know, do me a favor. Could you say “Senator,” instead of ma‘am?
BOXER: It‘s just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title. So, I would appreciate it. Yes, thank you.
WALSH: Yes, Senator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, she sure did. She‘s been elected three times, by the way. So, I guess the question is this. Had he said “sir” to a male senator, would that senator be correct in correcting the general?
There is a history, however—and lest us not forget—of male-female condescension the U.S. Senate. just recall the Anita Hill testimony of not too long ago. That just might encourage a woman senator to insist on the title “Senator.”
That being said, an Army spokesman later today says, “sir,” “ma‘am,” or “Senator” are all deemed appropriate under the protocol when addressing a U.S. senator.” That‘s their story.
Next up, here is proof that Richard Nixon, along with Jack Kennedy, remain the only truly intriguing presidents of modern times. Remember John Dean? He was President Nixon‘s White House counsel who, back during the 1973 Watergate hearings in Congress, gave damning testimony that helped force Nixon out of office.
Well, 36 years later, just last night, guess who gave a speech at the Nixon presidential Library out in California? That‘s right, John Dean. Former Nixon aide Robert Odle called the event in poor taste—quote—
“It‘s like having Monica Lewinsky speak at the Clinton Library on the anniversary of President Clinton‘s impeachment.”
Well, the difference, to the aficionados among us, is that Monica Lewinsky never accused her boss of an impeachable offense. John Dean has spent his career making that case against his former boss.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Last night: Democrat and Republican members of Congress engaged in some traditional friendly partisanship. It was the annual “Roll Call” baseball game, where Democrats ended up taking the win 15-10. Well, a different kind of scoring in that game.
Their celebrations continued on the House floor today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE DOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This year was our year. And I‘m happy to announce that the Democrats won the game 15-10.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s Democratic Congressman of Pennsylvania—a regular guy, if there is one—Mike Doyle hosting the—hoisting up the trophy.
It turns out they had good reason to celebrate. When was the last time the Democrats came out on top of the baseball game? The year 2000. That‘s the last time they held the White House, too. Democrats take back the congressional baseball trophy, their first since 2000.
The Democrats‘ long slump is over—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: When will Al Franken take a seat in the U.S. Senate? The Minnesota Supreme Court is expected to decide that race at any moment. Our strategists will be here with the latest on that one, plus the Ensign sex affair, and the Republicans‘ lowest-ever-in-history poll numbers.
You‘re watching HARDBALL here on MSNBC.
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks closing mixed, as caution does return to the market, along with a little bit of hope that the economic recovery may be under way. The Dow Jones industrial average ended its three-day losing streak, gaining 58 points, the S&P 500 up more than seven, but the Nasdaq down just fractionally.
After the closing bell, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion reported quarterly earnings that beat analyst estimates, but revenue was slightly below expectations. And the company‘s outlook was below forecasts. Shares are under pressure in the after-hours trading session.
During the day, though, the headline that gained a lot of eyeballs was the word that the number of people receiving unemployment benefits dropped last week for first time since January, falling by 148,000, to just under 6.7 million. But the number of newly laid-off workers filing first-time jobless claims did rise slightly, as was expected.
Meantime, the index of leading economic indicators rose in May, for the second straight month. That index forecasts future economic activity.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to Chris and HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Our strategists are here to offer their advice, if you will, on how to deal with the Norm Coleman/Al Franken Senate dispute, which seems to never end, but might end tonight even, the Republicans‘ record-low poll numbers, and Senator Ensign‘s sex scandal.
McMahon, thank you.
Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist. And Todd Harris is laughing, but he‘s going to stop laughing in two seconds.
MATTHEWS: What is it with your party and sex scandals? I mean, it used to be the British people had the sex scandals; the Americans had the money scandals. Now the Republicans are monopolizing.
You have got Larry Craig, Mark Foley. Now you have got a straight guy in trouble.
MATTHEWS: What is going on here?
MATTHEWS: What is going on here?
MATTHEWS: Tell me why a guy would mess around with his staffer‘s wife? I mean, this is a double indemnity, as far as I‘m concerned. This is bad news.
MATTHEWS: I mean, loyalty to the staff. How about loyalty to your wife? How about loyalty to your staff guys?
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I—I—look, I agree with you that he—you know, he showed hypocrisy. He showed terrible judgment. And it‘s a huge...
MATTHEWS: Oh, did you just say judgment?
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you—but you—oh, I‘m going over to McMahon.
Isn‘t it amazing? “Mistakes were made.”
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: It was an—he thought he was having sex with his wife, and he made a mistake. “I misjudged.”
MATTHEWS: “I got the wrong person.”
MATTHEWS: What is this misjudgment thing here? “Hey, I got a mistake. I was—I thought it was my wife. What—I misjudged the situation.”
MCMAHON: If anyone—if anyone was hurt or offended, I apologize.
MATTHEWS: Oh, that‘s the other part of it. Here we go.
HARRIS: I‘m looking forward to coming on the show when we‘re going to rail against Gavin Newsom, the incumbent mayor of San Francisco, who is one of the front-runners to be the Democratic nominee for governor, who did the exact same thing...
HARRIS: ... slept with the wife of one of his top staffers.
So, this is not a partisan thing.
HARRIS: This is not a Republican thing or a Democrat thing. It‘s just kind of a dirtbag thing. And I think they find them on both—on both sides.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re talking to a Jerry Brown fan, so don‘t get me into that mess anyway. Who knows who is going to win that thing.
Let me go to McMahon.
Are you guys going to exploit this baby?
MCMAHON: We don‘t...
MATTHEWS: It looks like Harry Reid is being a gentleman about it. He‘s being very collegial and saying: It‘s a private matter. I‘m rooting for this family to get back together. I‘m not going to exploit it.
Do you believe that?
MCMAHON: Well, yes, I actually do believe it.
I think it‘s a tragedy for this guy and for his family. It‘s also appalling that the Republicans have now had three of these scandals in a row, and they haven‘t actually thrown any of these members out. It‘s interesting, though...
MATTHEWS: Aren‘t you Sister Matilda here?
MATTHEWS: Appalling? Where did you get that word from? You never talk like this. Appalling. What are you...
MCMAHON: Lee—Lee Atwater, Chris, had a rule.
MCMAHON: And the first rule of politics is, when your opponent is self-destructing, which the Republicans seem to be doing now, just get out of the way. You don‘t need to do anything.
And if you start to try to take advantage of it, it looks political, and it‘s actually less effective than if you do nothing. The Republicans are doing a good enough job destroying their brand all by themselves. And Democrats, frankly, don‘t need to do anything to help.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me suggest...
HARRIS: Well, you know, I don‘t recall...
MATTHEWS: Let me take a middle course. I think John Ensign handled this, given the situation in his marriage—and nobody is perfect—I think he‘s handled it pretty well.
I think he came out. It‘s always better to release the bad news, to control the development yourself. He didn‘t get caught. He made his point.
Don‘t you think that‘s true? I want to give you a point here, Todd Harris.
MATTHEWS: Your guy handled this as best he could.
HARRIS: Well, it‘s always better to—to get out in front of it.
And I think, if this is the—the end of the story, if there are no more disclosures, then I think he‘s probably going to weather it. If—if we get into a drip, drip, drip situation, and there are more—there‘s more that comes out, then—you know, then he‘s going to be in for—for larger problems.
But, if this is it, I think that he‘s going to weather the storm.
MATTHEWS: I love the way you teased the news there, Todd. That‘s good work there, suggesting there‘s more coming here. Steve, do you have something for us here?
MCMAHON: No, Chris, the Associated Press reported that this wasn‘t his first encounter with a female staffer. And there‘s some suggestion that he did this not because he was a good guy or because he wanted to get in front of it or because he felt like he owed his wife an apology, but because there was some threat of blackmail by these people.
Remember, she was on the government payroll, so was her husband. And her son was on the payroll of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee when Ensign was the chairman. So there may be a drip, drip, drip. There may be more disclosures. And there‘s a lot of suggestion now that there will be.
MATTHEWS: I tell you one thing, it makes me feel like he‘s the victim in a sense, because although he did something wrong, if a former staffer is now blackmailing him, it‘s hard to get any sympathy for that bloke, if he‘s out there trying to make money on the fact his wife had sex with somebody else. That‘s incredible.
HARRIS: I don‘t think there‘s sympathy to be had for any of them. But to put this in the larger political context, and a lot of Democrats are trying to pop champagne right now, but for someone to seriously suggest that what is going on in Nevada with Ensign is going to have any bearing on a Senate race, say, in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, or any of the other battleground states next year, they‘re kidding themselves.
MATTHEWS: We have a new NBC poll, gentlemen. I want to get to some hard numbers here. We got a new NBC poll which is kind of staggering. With all the questions about the president‘s policies, and they are beginning to build, look at the popularity of the Republican party. I don‘t know what the Wigs were when they ceased to disappear now. But it looks like your party, Todd, is doing the limbo here. How low can you go? Twenty five points, is that the rock bottom? Are you there? Have you hit bottom?
HARRIS: Well, I hope so, but the good news for Republicans is that midterm elections are almost always a referendum on the party in power. And as we saw in this new NBC poll, there are a lot of seeds being planted right now of discontent with the Obama administration‘s growing of the size of government, budget deficits, massive spending programs, taking over huge portions of the private sector.
There‘s a lot of concern for Obama policies. Those seeds are being planted now. Next year‘s election is going to be less a referendum on us and more a referendum on Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
MATTHEWS: I want to jump to Steve. I‘ve got pushed ahead here. I have one more question here. It‘s hot. It could be that the Fandango in Minnesota is about to end. It could be that that Supreme Court is about to rule in the next couple hours, and end this and give it to Al Franken, our colleague of the airwaves. Is that good for the Democrats to have 60 seats now?
MCMAHON: It is good for the Democrats to have 60 seats. And I think obviously it‘s going to be great for the people of Minnesota to have two senators. I, for the life of me, can‘t understand what Norm Coleman is doing here except ending his political career. There‘s been some suggestion that he might want to run for governor of Minnesota. If that‘s the case, he should concede immediately when the decision is reached. He should concede gracefully.
And he should try to do something to restore his standing in his state. He looks like a sore loser, who just can‘t give it up.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that, Todd?
HARRIS: I don‘t know what he‘s going to do when the decision comes out. I do think that if he does decide to appeal to the US Supreme Court, he‘d have a hell of a case on his hands. I agree with the “St. Paul Pioneer Press” that there were massive irregularities, huge voter disenfranchisement, and that no one should be proud of the way that this election was handled.
MATTHEWS: Let me give you the example of John Thune of South Dakota. He had a close election. He lost. He could have complained about it. He had a case. He dropped his case. He came back. He‘s now a senator for life. So sometimes it‘s better to show some class. You might be right, Steve. You might be right, Todd. I think, Steve—I think he can get elected governor. That‘s my thought.
Anyway, thank you Steve McMahon. I like the fight tonight. I like the fact we got into a lot of goo tonight, too.
Up next, President Obama on Iran. Is he saying too little in support of the protesters or does he got it right? The politics fix coming up next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to my favorite part of the show, the politics fix, with one of my favorite people, two of my favorite people. The Irish American team is here. Patrick J. Buchanan has got some Scotts Irish in him, unfortunately, his Stonewall Jackson piece, which might be evident tonight. And Joan Walsh, who is a good old-fashioned liberal. She‘s with Salon.com.
Pat, I was reading your column today and I was once again thrilled with your thinking, because it mirrors my own. Your thoughts; the president, does he just have it right this time?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he does have it right, Chris. He‘s behaving not as a politician but as president of the United States. We have a historic event going on in Iran, in the streets of Iran. For seven days, these folks have stood up. You have the people of Iran standing up against the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad.
The whole world is seeing it. We all know who fundamentally is in the right here, and that the president has drawn back, not interfered, not given the Iranian regime an excuse to say the Americans are trying another 1953 or the Americans—this fellow Mousavi is their poodle.
He‘s doing it exactly right, I think. And I disagree with some of my Republican and conservative colleagues, who believe we ought to denounce the regime.
MATTHEWS: Joan Walsh?
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: It‘s going to shock the world, but I pretty much exactly believe along with Pat, that Obama is doing the right thing. I think that this is very dangerous. We can go wrong. The Republicans are being total political opportunists about this. He has sounded every right note but one.
I will take issue slightly with what he said to John Harwood yesterday when he made it sound like there‘s no difference—
MATTHEWS: Was he playing that as a card, pretending he didn‘t have a favorite when he did?
WALSH: It might have been, because it really doesn‘t—I don‘t think it helped the opposition to be tied to America.
MATTHEWS: People laugh at me when my romance shows, thrills up my leg, and things like that, which I honestly actually had. Because when people talk about my country, including the president, it works for me. I am thrilled, Pat, that maybe there‘s a piece of the neo-con argument that‘s correct here, that in the Middle East, in places like Iran, there is a real well-spring of support for democracy.
They‘re no different than us. They want a clean election. They want to have a chance to pick their leaders. People like Wolfowitz, who are dreamers in that department, hawks as well—I admit it‘s all mixed in together. But could it be that the neos have something right here, that there is an urge for democracy, that we of the more realist school have missed?
BUCHANAN: I think there‘s a strong component in Iran that is pro-American. They‘re dead right, Chris. Iranians --
MATTHEWS: No, pro-Democratic, meaning they want to have something like our form of government.
WALSH: I think that‘s true.
BUCHANAN: I think there‘s a very modernized—young people, especially the students and the others who are really wired into the world. I don‘t think they‘re a majority. Basically, I think Ahmadinejad, who has enormous support that we‘ve got to recognize in the rural areas and among the poor—but the modern Iranians, I believe, are very pro-American. And they want to get along with the United States. They‘re nationalistic.
One reason, Chris—you remember—maybe you don‘t. You‘re younger than I am; 1956, I remember USIA was charged with encouraging the Hungarians to rise up and egging them on. And then when the Russian tanks came in, we did nothing. And when they came out at the bridge at Andow (ph) and Nixon was there, Hungarian patriots were cursing the United States for having mislead them. We ought not do that again.
MATTHEWS: In other words, give them a false sense we‘re going to intervene. I just want to say that I think Americans—what do you think? I think we ought to all be speaking out for democracy. The president doesn‘t have to put his thumb on the scale.
WALSH: I think that one thing that‘s great is that right and left are agreeing on the importance of the demonstrations, the importance of democracy, and let‘s keep it at that. And let‘s let Obama off the hook for a while.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t want to let Pat off the hook. Could it be that guys like Wolfowitz, one of the real intellectuals of the neo-con school, who you normally disagree with, and I disagree with on military policy, could be right about the ideology they hold, that there‘s an incipient democracy in the Middle East, and we better try to tap it? Are they right now more than they looked a week ago?
BUCHANAN: I think in the Middle East—everybody in the Middle East would like to vote for their own leaders and rulers. In Iran, that is pro-American, but in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I‘ll tell you, the pro-American governments would go down, and you would get the Muslim Brotherhood and another Iran in Saudi Arabia.
MATTHEWS: And we would have to live with it.
BUCHANAN: Yes, that‘s—
MATTHEWS: That‘s why you are—
BUCHANAN: That‘s why I‘m a pragmatist.
MATTHEWS: You Pat Buchanan, although you are a libertarian in many ways—no, you‘re a nationalist, actually. You‘re not what you like to call derisively a democratist.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t believe there‘s a great salvation in a political process at all. You know, I believe in different—far different things. I put democracy far down the line. I think a devoutly Christian, conservative, traditionalist country, even if it‘s a monarchy, is fine with me.
MATTHEWS: Your Franco is talking, Pat. Franco is speaking.
BUCHANAN: He was better than the alternative, Chris.
MATTHEWS: The colonist, as you call him.
WALSH: Can I just say, I don‘t give Paul Wolfowitz any credit for this. I just need to get that off my chest. I know, you‘re very sweet.
MATTHEWS: I‘m thinking all the time. That‘s my job.
BUCHANAN: Chris is the Karl-ists.
MATTHEWS: The Franco crowd, we miss them dearly. Pat Buchanan is coming back. Joan Walsh is coming back. We‘ll be right back with the politics fix. You‘re watching HARDBALL. We‘re going to talk about John Edwards when we come back.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Pat Buchanan and Joan Walsh for more of the politics fix. Here‘s part of a new “Washington Post” story that ran today on John Edwards: “reputation is not something I‘m focused on,” he said. “The only relevance of it is, at all, my ability to help people. That‘s the only reason that matters. I‘m not engaged or interested in being in a PR campaign.”
Your thoughts on reading that long piece today about John Edwards?
WALSH: If you read through the end, it‘s devastating. John Edwards needs to quick talking to reporters, Chris, and he needs to deal with the wreckage he left behind.
MATTHEWS: Is he a fraud?
WALSH: I‘m not going to go that far. He pulled the plug on a scholarship program that he used to talk about during the campaign. He went to New Orleans and he promised to help families that were evicted by the hedge fund that he worked for, making millions for a while, promised to help them. No help arrived.
So for this man to go to the “Washington Post,” talk up what a great guy he is, talk up how important poverty is, and then not help real life poor people is hypocrisy and really disturbing. He needs to get off the national stage and clean up his mess.
MATTHEWS: Pat, how goes the John Edwards comeback?
BUCHANAN: As we used to say, I think his motives are suspect. But I will say this, Chris, I went through Watergate. Coming out of that, Jeb McCgruder (ph) went into the ministry and stayed in. Chuck Colson set up the prison fellowship. Everybody laughed about it, him being born again;
35 years later, he wins the Templeton Prize. You‘ve had other guys. John Ehrlichman went out and did work with the Hopi Indians.
So going through something like this does affect an awful lot of people. I won‘t prejudge the fellow‘s motives.
MATTHEWS: Now that you‘re getting above prejudging, what do you think of John Dean speaking at the Nixon Library last night?
BUCHANAN: I would dissent on that. I think I agree with some of my friend that felt—you know, I don‘t think—it‘s sort of a stunt, a gimmick, a thing like that. And I know a lot of people, who are not hard liners like me, who were deeply offended that they did this out at the Nixon Library, which is sort of a shrine from a lot of these folks. It‘s a wonderful library, Chris, if you‘ve been there.
MATTHEWS: I‘ve been there many times. I agree with you.
MATTHEWS: You know what, it is federal property now, of course. But I do always agree with Julie Nixon, who is upset about this as well. Joan, your thoughts, the return of John Dean to speak at the Nixon Library?
WALSH: I understand that feelings run high, but it is all part of history. It is federal property. They are joined together forever, John Dean and Richard Nixon. And there he was. So I didn‘t get that upset.
MATTHEWS: Dean, Dean, Dean; remember that?
BUCHANAN: Lazy lump of brick dust.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Pat Buchanan. Thank you, Joan Walsh.
By the way, two fascinating presidents, Kennedy and Nixon. Join us again tomorrow night and 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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