Guests: Julia Boorstin, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Sen. Arlen Specter, Michael Isikoff, Ruben Navarrette, Roger Simon, Bill Maher
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Race, guns, abortion, capital punishment, anger management, al Qaeda, the whole shebang.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Let‘s find something to fight about. Nothing that Sonia Sotomayor has said has received more attention than her now famous “wise Latina woman” comment that said that she could render a better judgment than someone else. She started today by saying this to the committee chairman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That wasn‘t good enough for Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the committee, who hit her hard on the issue. That‘s when she went further and said that she had said what she had said about a wise Latina woman being able to give a better decision was bad. It was bad, she was forced to say. We‘ll get an evening update on the day‘s hearings from Senator Arlen Specter, a veteran Judiciary Committee member.
Plus, more on those reports that Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold information about an alleged plot to kill al Qaeda leaders. I‘d like to know what gives the vice president of the United States the legal right to do any such thing. The House Intelligence Committee is now asking the agency to provide documents about the program. “Newsweek” investigative reporter Mike Isikoff is covering this story, and he‘ll be here with us tonight.
We‘ve also got one of our favorite and funniest guests coming here tonight, Bill Maher, host of HBO‘s “Real Time.” He joins us. And something tells me he‘s got some great material on Sarah Palin coming our way.
And speaking of Palin, there was a terrific comment in today‘s “Toronto Globe and Mail”—that‘s the major paper up in Canada—pointing out the oddity of how Republicans love the relatively inexperienced Sarah Palin so much but are ready to hate the self-made Sotomayor and how this is exactly the kind of thinking, if you call it that, that‘s driving the party off a cliff. We‘ll get to that in “The Fix.”
And finally, we have a useful translation of what people in these Supreme Court confirmation hearings are saying and what they really mean when they‘re saying those words, from Ron Fournier, a great reporter with the Associated Press. He‘s going to give us a decoder ring to figure out what they‘re saying. That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.
But we begin with day two of the Sotomayor hearings with Senator Arlen Specter. He‘s a Democrat from Pennsylvania, member of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Specter, what did you make of that back-off by the nominee about how, I was bad. It‘s almost like little person talk, little it‘s almost juvenile talk, I was bad, to say that comment about a wise Latina woman perhaps offering a better judgment than someone else in a court case.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, Chris, I think she‘s just trying to put out a mild fire. But what she said, they‘re making a mountain out of a molehill about it. She was making a statement of self-confidence. You and I make those statements all the time. She thinks she‘s competent. And very often, people are put down on the basis of race, ethnicity, or one reason or another, and she was just asserting herself. It is by no means a major matter, certainly not a disqualifier.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Lindsey Graham, your colleague on the Republican side, saying that if he had said something like that in reverse, if he had said a white guy can make a better decision in a court case than someone else, that he‘d be out of business politically?
SPECTER: Well, I...
MATTHEWS: Do you think that was overstating the case?
SPECTER: Well, I think Lindsey‘s wrong. I think Lindsey‘s so talented, he could make a mistake like that and much bigger mistakes, lots of mistakes, and still be elected in South Carolina or anywhere, he‘s so talented. Listen, gaffes are made by people all the time, and quality guys like Lindsey Graham outlive them and survive them. So had he made a statement like that, I think he‘d still be a United States senator.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get to a hot issue, Affirmative Action and the appropriate way the law should read on that right now. And you‘re the expert on this—the whole question of the courts, you‘re an expert. Let‘s go to this question. The Ricci case up in New Haven, where the appellate court upheld the decision by the district court and said it‘s OK for the New Haven city council to basically throw out a test because the results basically had no African-American passing the promotion exam.
If you‘d sat on that court, that appellate court, would you have given that narrow, cursory decision, or would you have acted in a way that might have set a better precedent here?
SPECTER: Well, I would have sought to decide the case. These Affirmative Action cases, going all the way to Bakke, have been very, very subtle, with very, very nuanced distinctions, and they can really go one way or another. What you want to do is you want to be fair. You want to have an opportunity for minorities to get jobs, but you don‘t want to discriminate against white people who are competing for the same jobs.
When you have 5-to-4 decisions, Chris, nobody can say who‘s right and who‘s wrong because the court‘s going to change and they‘re going to come down with a little different decision. I could give you lots of situations which are indistinguishable, and the courts have gone both ways.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at what the nominee herself, Sonia Sotomayor, had to say about the Ricci case. That‘s the New England case involving—
New Haven case, actually, involving those firefighters who claimed that they were the victims of reverse discrimination. Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOTOMAYOR: In the end, the body that had the discretion and power to decide how these tough issues should be decided, not (ph) along the precedent that had been recognized by our circuit court and another, at least the sixth circuit, but along what the court thought would be the right test or standard to apply. And that‘s what the Supreme Court did. It answered that important question because it had the power to do that—not the power, but the ability to do that because it was faced with the arguments that suggested that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I‘m just wondering how she squares that with her statement that she made in that Duke speech, Duke University speech a while back, where she said that the appellate level—the circuit level in which she serves was the right way—was the place where policy is made, and then to say that she was circumscribed in what she was allowed to do—I mean, isn‘t it a place where a judge is allowed to establish a precedent, or is it one where you just have to go along with something that had been decided at a lower court level or by some other circuit court?
SPECTER: The circuit court can make whatever decision it chooses interpreting the law, unless there‘s a Supreme Court decision which determines the decision. If another circuit decides it, the second circuit can disagree. And that‘s...
MATTHEWS: So it‘s fair to say—so it‘s fair to say that she should be judged as a person who agreed with the district court in that case, that she liked the decision they made, she upheld it. And she did so on a matter of principle. She thought it was OK for the city council of New Haven to throw out a test on which they didn‘t like the results.
SPECTER: She thought that the law on Affirmative Action was directed there, and she decided it that way.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about an issue that‘s obviously very hot in Pennsylvania. Now, we‘re both from Pennsylvania. I am ultimately, you are the senator. Let me ask you this about guns. Explain to me what this whole discussion is about whether it‘s a fundamental right, whether the right that applies to the states, as well as to the federal government—the federal government in the case of—the Howard (ph) case, it‘s been decided, that it is an individual right. It has nothing to do with militias. You have a right to own a gun. Now, does that apply to the states?
SPECTER: It does not apply to the states, Chris. The determinant is that the Court would—Supreme Court would have to say that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which applies to states, incorporates by reference the 2nd Amendment. Now, the Court has said that the due process clause to the 14th Amendment incorporates the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech, 4th Amendment search and seizure, and so forth, but in an old case, decided that it did not apply to the 2nd amendment.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think? Is it a 2nd Amendment right, like, you know, when the kids studied the Bill of Rights in school? Is it a fundamental right, in the common way you use the term fundamental?
MATTHEWS: Like—is it like freedom of speech? Is it like freedom of religion, or freedom of press, of assembly? Is it one of those fundamental rights as Americans that are God-given, or is it something that can be denied by a state?
SPECTER: Well, if I were on the Supreme Court, I would not make distinctions among the specified constitutional rights that are set forth in the Bill of Rights.
SPECTER: Here you get into analyses of what is fundamental and what is not fundamental. And I would say that if the Framers—when the Framers put a right in the Constitution, whatever the number was, and you start to incorporate rights of the first 10 amendments through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, I wouldn‘t pick and choose on vague distinctions like what is fundamental. I would include them all.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you for joining us, Senator Arlen Specter, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and will be one of those to judge this confirmation.
Coming up: Did Dick Cheney have the constitutional authority to keep Congress in the dark about a secret CIA plan to assassinate terrorists? And when are the Democrats going to investigate this matter, if ever?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Did former vice president Dick
Cheney have the authority to conceal from Congress—its leaders, in fact a secret CIA plan to dispatch hit squads overseas to track and kill senior al Qaeda leaders? Well, the House Intelligence Committee has asked the agency, the CIA, to provide documents about the program, which may set the stage for an investigation of the plan and why it was not disclosed on purpose to the Congress.
“Newsweek” investigative reporter Michael Isikoff reported on this story today, and Lawrence O‘Donnell is an MSNBC political analyst. First to you, Michael. Who gives this vice president of the United States we just had for eight years the authority—since he says he‘s not a member of the executive branch—no, seriously.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”: Right.
MATTHEWS: Who gives him the executive authority to tell the CIA to do anything? To do anything?
ISIKOFF: (INAUDIBLE) back and forth on, you know, which branch of government he...
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, who gives him the right? Why did they take orders from him on anything? I don‘t get this.
ISIKOFF: Well, ultimately, the CIA is part of the executive branch. The executive branch is answerable to the president. The president delegates his authority...
MATTHEWS: Did he? Did this president ever say to Dick Cheney, You‘re in charge of the intelligence in this country?
ISIKOFF: He was—well, we do know, as a de facto matter, he was playing a huge role in overseeing the intelligence community. He‘d go down to the CIA and get personal briefings. He would summon CIA officers to his office to get briefed, and he would give directions...
MATTHEWS: OK. The former president has billed himself still today, and I‘m sure he‘ll do it in his biography, as “the decider.” Who decided to put together hit squads and keep that information from Congress?
ISIKOFF: Well, from what we know, this is one of a number of plans that came up within the ranks of the agency...
ISIKOFF: ... within the clandestine service, then the directorate of operations. And look, it—it...
MATTHEWS: Who decided to keep it secret? We were told by “The New York Times” in its lead—in its lead...
ISIKOFF: Yes. Right.
MATTHEWS: ... the vice president decided that. He made a direct order to the CIA to do that.
ISIKOFF: He told—he told—he told them not to inform Congress about it. But first of all—and (INAUDIBLE) to keep it secret. It was all secret at the time. I mean, every—I mean, the president‘s order giving the CIA broad authority to conduct lethal operations against al Qaeda remains classified to this day. We haven‘t seen the wording of the National Security Directive on that. We know of its existence.
So—but look, everybody knew post-9/11 that the agency was going to try to kill top—senior CIA (SIC) leaders.
ISIKOFF: We sent drones armed with Hellfire missiles to kill a top al Qaeda operative in Yemen, far from the battlefield in Afghanistan. That was public...
ISIKOFF: ... became public in November 2002.
MATTHEWS: Let me bring in Lawrence here because there‘s a National Security Act provision that requires the CIA to notify the Congress when it‘s doing these kinds of things, or if it‘s anticipating doing something like this. It didn‘t do so, under orders from the vice president. What do we make of this?
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, it goes back to your first question, which I think is the crucial question, is, Where is the moment? Where is the scene? In any of the investigative books that have come out over this period of time, where is the scene where George W. Bush says to his vice president, This is your power, I‘m going to hand you this presidential power?
In fact, in Bob Woodward‘s first book, there‘s a scene on September 12th, the day after September 11, where the vice president tries to grab the steering wheel by saying, Let me run a separate meeting instead of the National Security Council. And he was also interested in being the guy who would chair the NSC meetings, and Bush very specifically in that scene says no and really shoots down the vice president and says, I‘m going to run it, I‘m going to stay in control.
I have not found the scene anywhere that would justify what we‘re now reading in “The New York Times” and other places that David Addington, that Cheney‘s aide, was the guy who was in charge of deciding who in the Congress would be informed of these things, especially when the law says—as you just said, the law says the president—the president, not the vice president—the president shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed, including about actions they anticipate taking.
Where is that scene, Chris? That‘s your first question. I don‘t know who has the answer to that. When did the moment come when this power was handed over to Cheney, or it was seized by Cheney?
MATTHEWS: And I ask this in a broad context. We‘ve been through this, you and I, Mike Isikoff, and Lawrence, too, as well, because everybody has, in the role played by the vice president in the uncovering of the identity of that CIA agent, Valerie Plame, and the whole question as to what he does and how much of a renegade he truly was. Did he have any tether on him? Did the president ever come in and say, What are you up to today? What do you have for me?
ISIKOFF: Well, ultimately, that‘s only a question that George Bush can answer because it was...
MATTHEWS: Well, have you ever seen the White House layout on the West Wing? They‘re about, what, 20, 30 feet apart from each other.
MATTHEWS: If the president wanted to walk around the corner to the office across, he could have asked.
ISIKOFF: Yes. I mean, look...
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying he didn‘t ask.
ISIKOFF: You know, what took place between the two of them, nobody has divined. But you know, clearly, as Lawrence just pointed out, there was tension at times between Bush and Cheney.
ISIKOFF: We know that. But we also know that Cheney played an extraordinary role throughout the Bush presidency, particularly on intelligence matters. He fancied himself the expert in the White House on...
MATTHEWS: ... as they say in the military. He was the intelligence chief. The scary thing is he never felt the need to respond to public inquiry. He never answered questions even about who was on his energy task force...
MATTHEWS: ... let alone what his role was with Halliburton and all the rest of it. And here he is, we find out now, OK-ing the concealment of a secret operation by the CIA—in fact, ordering it. And I‘m just wondering, what was George Tenet‘s response when he said, You‘re not to tell the Congress?
MATTHEWS: George Tenet is a product of the Congress.
MATTHEWS: He was a staffer on the Hill, like I was...
MATTHEWS: ... and like Lawrence was. How can he say, OK, sir, I‘m not going to tell the people I know I‘m supposed to—under the law, the National Security Act, I‘m supposed to inform, I‘m not going to do it because you told me not to do it?
ISIKOFF: Well, if you go back and in the context of the time, there‘s no question that George Tenet was trying to establish himself with the Bush White House. He was the favored...
MATTHEWS: After blowing 9/11.
ISIKOFF: He was the favored...
MATTHEWS: After blowing 9/11, right?
ISIKOFF: Well, I mean, you know, the Tenet people said at the time they were—they were going in with hair—Tenet was going in with hair on fire, trying to warn them about 9/11, but they weren‘t paying attention.
MATTHEWS: You mean on August 6th, when the...
ISIKOFF: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... within the United States?
ISIKOFF: But there‘s also a question—look, there was...
MATTHEWS: Yes. OK.
ISIKOFF: ... plenty of blame to go around on...
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s take a look at Dick Durbin here. I don‘t buy this, We‘re all guilty. Here we go with—I think some people are guilty. Here‘s Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat on the Hill, talking about the concealment of that CIA program from Congress. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The executive branch of government cannot create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark. There is a requirement for disclosure. It has to be done in an appropriate way so it doesn‘t jeopardize our national security. But to have a massive program that is concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate, it could be illegal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you want the Intelligence Committee to look into this?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Michael and the law here, first of all.
MATTHEWS: And I will get to Lawrence on the law, too.
I understand the word assassination means killing political leaders.
There‘s a gray area there, like Munich, where...
MATTHEWS: ... where Golda Meir says, go get the guys who killed our athletes.
ISIKOFF: Well, and, as we reported today....
MATTHEWS: No. At what point does a person become a political leader...
MATTHEWS: ... and not a terrorist...
MATTHEWS: ... an operative?
A couple things. First of all, as we reported today, I mean, this was, in some part, patterned after the Israeli Mossad operation to gun down Palestinian terrorists after the Munich Olympics. You know, they sent squads throughout Europe.
MATTHEWS: What Spielberg made the great movie about.
ISIKOFF: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: Which everybody saw the movie, right.
ISIKOFF: Which they did, and which was also—you will also remember that mistakes were made.
I mean, they—in one case, they got a Moroccan waiter who was—they—they mistakenly thought was a Palestinian terrorist in—in Norway. And members of the Mossad team were locked up by the Norwegian criminal justice system and spent time in jail.
So, I think that was one of the things the CIA was worried about here, that, you know, the...
ISIKOFF: ... the Risk of exposure, risk that they would send these squads into—into—into cities around the world, and they—they might get tips—someone might tip them off, and they might get busted.
But, you know, all that said, where was the authority? Look, after 9/11, these guys—you know, we were at war.
ISIKOFF: Congress passed the authorization to use military force.
They were military targets.
So, I don‘t think there would have been a lot of quarrel about the legitimacy or the illegality of doing the operation...
MATTHEWS: OK, next step here. Who is going to uncover this for history?
Lawrence, it took a long while for the Church Committee back in the ‘70s to get to the bottom what the CIA had been up to all those years, the crown jewels, if you will. Do you think anybody on Capitol Hill has the stuff, the stones, if you will, to call Vice President Cheney up there and get the answers out of him under oath?
O‘DONNELL: They don‘t as of today. But this story is moving. This story is alive.
They certainly didn‘t last week. It‘s hard to tell where it‘s going to be next week, Chris. It‘s all about that momentum. If the momentum moves in that direction, they‘re going to be forced to do it.
And then they will. And Eric Holder is also—has a portfolio here that could get us into an investigation that does go on and—and into some real depth.
And, you know, Chris, going back to your point about Tenet, the director of the CIA reporting to the vice president, or not reporting to the vice president, it seems like we have a collection of people, like Tenet, for example, who loved his job too much.
You have got to remember, as—as we do, Dick Cheney ran the transition. Dick Cheney was the guy who was saying to the president-elect, here is who I think you want to consider for CIA.
O‘DONNELL: Here is who I think you want to consider for Defense.
So, Tenet owed his job to clearing Cheney‘s transition filter and allowing him to stay in it, having been appointed by a Democratic president.
O‘DONNELL: And you know how that works when they keep them in-house like that. I think Tenet got compromised at a character level here, that he—and—and was owing more to Cheney than he should have been.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Michael, where he is?
MATTHEWS: Nobody seems to be able to get ahold of Cheney.
MATTHEWS: They have got to go to family members, like Liz, his daughter.
ISIKOFF: It actually—it actually is very odd that this week, after all the speaking out he was doing weeks ago and months ago, defending himself, defending Bush administration policies, he‘s been completely silent.
MATTHEWS: To—where does he hide?
ISIKOFF: At an undisclosed location, I suppose.
MATTHEWS: Yes. No, it‘s not funny at some point. The man is immune.
Well, he‘s impenetrable.
MATTHEWS: But I think history is going to decide big things about this guy. Anyway—as well as Scooter, who, by the way, I wish he would write a book.
MATTHEWS: Have you gotten to him?
MATTHEWS: I would love to hear his chief of staff tell the whole story, because I don‘t think...
MATTHEWS: ... the guy was out doing stuff on his own. I don‘t think Scooter Libby was a renegade.
Anyway, Mike Isikoff, thank you.
Up next: We have heard Judge Sotomayor and her Senate questioners for two days now, but what were they really saying? The Associated Press has done something wonderful. They have actually translated what we‘re watching during these hearings, those of us who have been watching them, and told us what they really were saying, what they really meant. It‘s great. It‘s going to on the “Sideshow”—coming right up here on MSNBC‘s HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First up: Tell us what you really think. How many times have you watched someone say something on TV and knew, just knew, what they were really saying? Well, we can thank the good old Associated Press, Ron Fournier reporting, for doing the honor of giving us the real-world translation of what Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Chairman Pat Leahy, and Republican, ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions were really saying during opening-day hearings on her confirmation.
We start with Judge Sotomayor herself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: My career as an advocate ended and my career as a judge began when I was appointed by President George H.W. Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What Judge Sotomayor really meant, well, according to the AP, was: I‘m not as liberal as they say. Bush appointed me, the senior guy.
When Senator Jeff Sessions said this...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA: I expect this hearing and resulting debate will be characterized by a respectful tone, a discussion of serious issues, a thoughtful dialogue, and maybe some disagreements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What he really meant, this Republican: This is a lifetime appointment, folks. We‘re not going to roll over and play dead.
And my favorite, Democratic Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Judge Sotomayor‘s journey to this hearing room is a truly American story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was a warning to Republicans: If you love America, you‘re going to love Sotomayor, or at least do yourself a political favor and vote for her.
Well, there you have it.
Speaking of clever word play, listen to Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as he talked message politics last night with my friend Jon Stewart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)
JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”: The unemployment rate continues to go up. What is the stimulus money doing?
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The stimulus money—actually, I will tell you, I‘m not supposed to call it stimulus.
The message experts in Washington have told us that we‘re supposed to call it the recovery plan, that that works out better with focus groups. I was puzzled by that...
FRANK: ... because I have found most people would rather be stimulated than recover.
So, I don‘t know why...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FRANK: I don‘t know why...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Whatever floats your boat.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Remember last month, when Governor Mark Sanford jetted off to Argentina to meet with his love interest? Well, Sanford was there. While he was there, he got a bunch of calls from his chief of staff, 15 in all.
And how many did Sanford ignore? Well, according to “The State” newspaper down there in Columbia—Columbia, all 15. Governor Sanford basking in that Argentinean love nest—there‘s a mixed metaphor—ignored all 15 calls from his top staffer—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
When we return, the host of HBO‘s “Real Time,” Bill Maher, is going to join us with his unique take on politics right now. We‘re going to get his thoughts on Sarah Palin‘s resignation, on what—on what Dick Cheney—
Dick Cheney—was thinking about when he kept that secret CIA assassination program secret.
Bill Maher here—will be here right after the break.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks closed slightly higher today ,as earnings season kicked into full-gear. The Dow Jones industrials gained 27 points. The S&P 500 added four, and the Nasdaq is up about six points.
Investors were wary after reports on producer prices and retail sales showed anemic consumer growth—the only strong showings, from the volatile auto and energy sectors.
Intel beat expectations with a revenue report that came out just after the closing bell. The world‘s biggest maker of microprocessors reported a profit of 18 cents a share, with revenue coming in at $8 billion.
Better-than-expected reports, as well, today from Goldman Sachs and Dow component Johnson & Johnson. Goldman Sachs gained a fraction-of-a-point. Johnson & Johnson was up half-a-point at the close.
And shares in CIT Group surged more than 19 percent today on word that the government may help the troubled commercial lender get back on its feet.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Joining me right now is Bill Maher, who hosts “Real Time With Bill Maher” on HBO, of course. It‘s on live at 10:00 this Friday night.
God, Bill, it was great being on your show. It was just great. Thank you, sir.
And I have to ask you...
BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”: Chris, you...
MATTHEWS: ... what was it like...
MAHER: ... you were on fire that night.
MATTHEWS: What is it like touring the South, as you just did? I‘m looking. I feel like this is Burns and Allen, and you got these stickers on your trunk. You know, Greenville, Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, Austin, Dallas.
And I was just thinking, South Carolina, the home of Mark Sanford. That must have been fun. And then you went to New Orleans, the home of David Vitter. I mean, you‘re making the tour. You got all those Republican trouble spots.
MAHER: Gee, I—I wish these dates were upcoming. You‘re plugging them, and I already did them.
MAHER: What good is this?
MATTHEWS: Well, I already plugged your damn show. What do you want?
MAHER: But, yes, you‘re right. I—I...
MAHER: I know.
No, I had a lot of fun. Chris, I love going to the South. The South is the funnest place for me to play, because, you know, you go to a place like Greenville, or I was also in Tulsa, Oklahoma—let‘s plug that one. I did it in April.
MAHER: And, you know, there are so many progressive people who live in these states. Now, of course, they‘re marbled in and surrounded by a bunch of hillbillies and rednecks. But the fact that they‘re just there is—is a very positive thing. And, when I come to their town, they all come out of the woodwork, and they come to my show.,
And I feel very good that they‘re—these people do exist everywhere in the United States. And I think they feel good that I didn‘t forget them and say, oh, I‘m not going to go to that state, that‘s a bunch of hillbillies, that I went there and said, no, I recognize that there are people like this everywhere.
So, I have a great time in the South.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it refreshing to meet Southern liberals? Because the great thing about Southern liberals is they don‘t have—they‘re not competing for the latest nuance of sexual freedom, like in Greenwich Village. They are liberals, meaning they‘re—they‘re for black equality, for example, things like that that are pretty nice and wholesome.
MAHER: You mean new concepts.
MAHER: Yes. And, I mean, you...
MAHER: I mean, you—you saw—saw that all day with the Sotomayor hearings, you know, all these white people, especially these white men, who are so incensed about reverse racism and Sotomayor, because, you know, the problem, Chris, is that, for, too long, Puerto Rican women have had their boot on the neck of white men in America.
MAHER: And this must stop. You know, I mean...
MATTHEWS: I just love Lindsey Graham going after her today...
MAHER: This constant...
MATTHEWS: ... about anger management. And here is the guy who was the biggest supporter of John McCain.
MATTHEWS: And he was—he...
MATTHEWS: ... wanted McCain to be president of the United States.
And he was wondering whether she might have a temperament problem.
Did he ever check in with his number-one hero on that point?
MAHER: Temperament and background.
They all—they all act like, you know, her background as a Puerto Rican woman—I don‘t know how you walk around being that—is...
MAHER: ... is somehow different than, you know, like Jeff Sessions‘ background...
MAHER: ... as a Southern—you know, come on. I mean, he was sort of cast as a racist at one point—like that doesn‘t come into play in his decision-making.
MATTHEWS: No, he‘s made some unfavorable comments about the NAACP over the years.
Let me ask you about this. How do you handle home-state favorites like Mark Sanford or David Vitter? I—I think you didn‘t make it to some of the other states where there‘s problem Republicans, but they‘re all over the place. Vegas has got a problem with—with Ensign out there.
There‘s so many of them. You have got Rick Perry, who wants to succeed from the—secede from the union down in Dallas. You were down there. There‘s always somebody local to bang.
MAHER: Right. Right.
I—I—I love it, you know, and I don‘t shy away from it. I—you‘re right. I was just in Austin and Dallas. And I talked about Rick Perry, who was just incensed about Obama trying to give his state stimulus money to help the poor people of Texas.
And, because of that, he threw down the S-card, secession, over stimulus money?
MAHER: And I said to them, you know...
MAHER: ... please, Texas—what will we ever do if Texas secedes from the union? How can we get along without the state that‘s 48th in literacy and first in air pollution?
MAHER: And, you know, there was...
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re not going to back there for a while, are you?
MAHER: ... there was a smattering of boos.
But, you know, I like to go into...
MAHER: No, I mean, you know, these people have a great sense of humor about it.
And to arrive in South Carolina, as I did, the day after the Sanford story broke, and I actually kind of defended him, not that I‘m defending hypocrisy or conservative Christian right-wing Republicans. But, you know, at least Sanford was truly in love. And I think he looks very good next to all the other cheating politicians we have seen in recent years.
I mean, this guy, we got his e-mails.
MATTHEWS: I‘m with you on that one, sir.
MAHER: And what did we see in his e-mails?
MATTHEWS: I‘m with you on that one...
MAHER: You agree with me?
MATTHEWS: ... especially after watching what Ensign did.
MAHER: Right. I mean...
MATTHEWS: Ensign just cashiered this lady, and said, you know, you‘re a—“I acted on my pleasure and selfishness; you don‘t exist as a person,” whereas this guy had—you read the poetry of his—his letters and his e-mail.
I mean, he obviously—whatever you make of it—and marital fidelity is obviously important—but, whatever it is here, it‘s the real thing, it looks like. And, you know, it is what it is, you know?
I mean, when—when you read about—we—we—we‘re so accustomed to Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky, and John Edwards, and Eliot Spitzer, and, you know, all these politicians, Ensign, as you mentioned, and it‘s always just sleazy. They‘re just having sex with the easiest roadkill they can find.
MAHER: ... oh, my gosh, the door just closed. My wife is in the other room. Come over here and touch me.
MAHER: You know, it‘s just very sleazy, quick kind of sex.
And this guy Sanford, I tell you, he could win women back if he just went to this mistress, because obviously that‘s who he loves. That‘s the third act of the movie. The first act is he falls in love. The second act is he tries to reconcile with his wife. And the third act is the wife finally says, go to her. It‘s she you truly love.
MATTHEWS: So, Bill—Bill Maher, you‘re not married yet. Do you love anybody?
MAHER: Well, I love your show, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I just love that back and forth between you and Larry King. I just loved it. You‘d go after him on your show the other night, about how many wives he‘s had, what, nine or something. And then he comes back to you and says, now let‘s talk about you. You know what they say about—anyway, that was high school and I love high school humor.
Bill, good luck with your show. You don‘t need it, but I love that show.
MAHER: Since Brando died, Larry has nobody to kiss. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: You‘re great. Bill Maher, one of the funniest guys on this planet. “Real Time” airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. He‘s moved it up. It used to be at 11:00. It‘s on HBO. I want to thank Bill, sir, having you on the show occasionally.
Up next, why did the same Republicans who criticized Sonya Sotomayor just love Sarah Palin? What is this double standard here? A Canadian—well, a columnist writing up in Canada has had an interesting point that we can learn from. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. Time for the politics fix with the “Politico‘s” Roger Simon and Ruben Navarrette of the “San Diego Union Tribune.” Thank you, Ruben, for joining us.
Let‘s take look at something that columnist Margaret Wente wrote in today‘s “Toronto Globe and Mail”—by the way, that‘s the number one paper up there. She was an American who moved up there. Quote, “according to leading Republican pundits, Judge Sotomayor is a hot tempered, dim witted bigot, whose judicial activism, read nutty identity politics, could play havoc with the Constitution. Amazingly, these are the same people who continue to insist that Sarah Palin is qualified to run for president of the United States.”
I thought—this grabbed me as a brilliant comparison. It really did, because the very qualities of Sotomayor, which is up by your boot straps, studying hard, you know, bringing yourself up, and then this other person that they seem to like based upon no preparation like that, no homework, no scholarships, no effort to manifest. What‘s the story on the Republicans? Why do they like someone who has shown no sweat equity against somebody who has shown nothing but sweat equity?
ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”: Because the question to them is ideology; where do these two women stand on the issues. One is a liberal. One is a conservative. They like conservatives better.
There‘s a confusion in this column. Aside from what you quoted, which was the most sensible part, the author goes on and says that Sarah Palin is a train wreck. She‘s the most scarily incompetent vice presidential nominee in history. Compared to a, quote, dog that, quote, peed all over the carpet.
Now—but she says she‘s not the subject of a vicious attack by the media. You know, the thing is the trouble with that analysis is it confuses where Sarah Palin stands on the issue, which you‘re free to dislike, with how good or bad a campaigner she was. She wasn‘t a bad campaigner in the last campaign.
SIMON: So how can you blame Republicans for saying, she‘s a conservative, not a bad campaigner.
MATTHEWS: I think she‘s a very attractive politician, because she can give a speech, which separates her from 99 percent of most—
MATTHEWS: -- these days. Let me go back to Ruben. Television has destroyed the ability of most politicians to improve their oratorical skills. They can come on shows like this and answer questions with three or four sentence answers and sound delightful. But to hold an audience for a half hour, to turn on a crowd is a rarity, and she can do it. That said, their are problems with Sotomayor, are they ideological? Are they background? Are they what?
They‘re going to vote against her. Most Republican senators will vote against her.
RUBEN NAVARRETTE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, I think that‘s true. Chris, I think the White House is talking about maybe getting ten Republicans to come along. They‘ll be lucky to get that, but it‘s possible. A lot of it is ideological. A lot of is what‘s coming out in the hearings, this The discomfort people have of a wise Latina—
MATTHEWS: I don‘t want to jump your guns here, but what about the temperament issue that Lindsey Graham raised late today, that she has a temperament problem, when you have a governor up in a state who just dropped the job, who just in the middle of her four-year elected term just said, I think I‘m going to do something else? Does that say something about temperament or flightiness or what word would come to mind?
NAVARRETTE: It‘s situational ethics. I‘m a fan of Sarah Palin in a lot of regards. You forgot to mention not only can she draw a crowd, 20,000 people strong in many cases—she lit up the McCain campaign. That‘s no small thing. Every politician would love to draw crowds like that.
So there‘s a lot to Sarah Palin and her appeal to folks.
Back to Sotomayor; I think the temperament issue is a false one. Obviously, they‘ve never been yelled at by Antonin Scalia. Harry Blackman had a very bad temper. This idea that somehow you go to the Supreme Court and you mellow out, that‘s not true. Those folks can really yell at—
MATTHEWS: What about McCain? What about McCain?
NAVARRETTE: And McCain has a famous temperament.
MATTHEWS: Lindsey Graham loves John McCain, has supported him so dutifully and wonderfully. But everyone knows John can have a hot temper, which I do to. A lot of people have them. But to say that he has a hot temper, and yet she needs anger management—I‘m sorry, you‘re laughing. He was tutoring her today.
That was condescending. He was telling somebody up for the Supreme Court, now, you‘ve got to work on this.
SIMON: He was doing that because Rush Limbaugh beat him up last night after he was too nice to Sotomayor in his opening comments.
MATTHEWS: Really? You mean he cares?
SIMON: Rush Limbaugh is saying, if Lindsey Graham says you‘re going to make it unless you have a meltdown, what‘s the point of the hearings? Come on, give us some guts.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the worst condescending thing you‘ve ever said on this show, Roger? You‘re saying Lindsey Graham takes order from Rush Limbaugh?
SIMON: A Republican senator from South Carolina—
MATTHEWS: I won‘t stoop so low, as to accuse him of being a ditto-head. I just don‘t think he‘s a ditto head.
NAVARRETTE: Awfully condescending with his remarks about giving people a second chance, you know, you admit you did something wrong. There‘s a lot of folks out there who don‘t think Sotomayor did anything wrong, nothing to apologize for.
MATTHEWS: What did you think of him making her do this sort of dog walk on the question of buying into his views of the war with al Qaeda, and how she had to accept all his language about them being an enemy, them being combatants; we have to not release them until the combat‘s over.
It was like he was going in the whole direction of saying, unless you‘re willing to basically heel when I talk, unless you‘re willing to do exactly what I tell you, I‘m going to vote against you. Pretty tough.
NAVARRETTE: Don‘t forget, Chris, also, this is after establishing that Sonya Sotomayor, being from New York, was at Ground Zero. So she would understand even better than Lindsey Graham the importance of the war on terror. So it was arrogant and condescending all at once.
SIMON: But I don‘t sense the Republicans really, really dislike Sotomayor. They know they‘re going to lose. It‘s a 12 to seven vote in the committee. It‘s a 60-40 vote—
MATTHEWS: Do you think anybody thinks she‘s an arrogant lefty? Just thought about it. An arrogant elitist lefty? I mean, the worst kind of imagery a conservative—does anybody look at her that way?
SIMON: No, I don‘t think so.
NAVARRETTE: I don‘t think so either.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. We know what an arrogant liberal looks like. You‘re supposed to be above everybody else, better educated, superior, look down on everybody culturally. They don‘t go to the right movies. They don‘t read the right books. I don‘t think she comes across that way. She sweated her way through college. She didn‘t go there for genius.
SIMON: But they‘re not really angry with her. They don‘t want to be the party who blocks the first Hispanic justice of the Supreme Court. Also -
SIMON: It‘s a liberal being replaced by a liberal. It‘s not that important of a vote to them.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re going to come right back. We‘re going to come back and talk about this whole question. I‘m going to talk about, well—let‘s talk about this health care thing. I think it may have hit a snag on this abortion issue. I think they‘re walking into a big problem they may still be able to avoid. We‘ll be right back with Roger Simon and Ruben Navarrette for the politics fix. This health care bill may have hit an iceberg in the last couple of days. We‘ll be right back on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Roger Simon and Ruben Navarrette for the politics fix. Ruben, you lead off here. We get the word now that the president is going to make a lot of TV appearances tomorrow, making the case for health care. He seems to have gotten the word on his trip overseas to Africa and Europe and Russia and everywhere else, meeting the Pope and everywhere, that he‘s got to really step on the gas now if he wants this thing to get done.
NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. And you know, what the problem is, it‘s Democrats. Members of his own party that have said all along, listen—conservative Democrats, blue dog Democrats, this is a non-starter for us. We‘re not going to go and stick our necks out on this plan. I‘m not sure if the president involving himself necessarily gives those Blue Dogs the cover fire they need, because I‘m not sure how popular he is on this issue in their districts. But also—
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the 19 House Democrats who said there can‘t be any abortion funding in this bill? There can‘t be any national health insurance payments for abortion? What do you make of that? By the way, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania yesterday voted with the Republicans to ban any money from this bill that‘s supposed to be for national health going to pay for abortions.
NAVARRETTE: It‘s the last thing Obama needs. The issue is complicated and divisive and controversial enough without bringing abortion into it. The American people are getting mixed signals. They say they don‘t want to pay for the program, but they want to cut costs and they do want to some kind of reform, but don‘t get in the way of my doctor and the tests he might order.
They‘re all over the map. Clearly, politicians are trying to be responsive to all that. It‘s a tough enough issue without bringing abortion into it.
Obama is in a tough spot. I don‘t think he gets this through.
MATTHEWS: I think he will, but he‘s got to deal with this thing. What do you think, Roger? This could be the straw that breaks the camel‘s back? When I see it coming—it came from nowhere. I started reading about it this weekend in the “Weekly Standard.” Then I watched hatch last night on this show saying that he‘d push to ban it.
The law says—it has since the ‘70s, under a Democratic Congress, no federal money pays for abortions. It has been the law of the land. Now they‘re trying to change it.
SIMON: Whatever the merits are, this is, as Ruben said and you‘re saying now—this is just a fight that President Obama does not need. There are other problems with the health care bill, first of all, what it‘s going to look like? Is there going to be a true public option? How are you going to pay for this trillion-dollar program?
You don‘t need to add in a hot-button issue like abortion. To most Americans, abortion is a settled issue.
MATTHEWS: The right to an abortion.
SIMON: Don‘t bother us about it.
MATTHEWS: By the way, he goes over to see the Pope and says they‘re going to reduce the number of abortions, and that same week he pushes to subsidize abortion? You can‘t do that.
SIMON: I think last week is a week the White House would like to have back. He has certain responsibilities. He did Moscow. He did Rome. He did Ghana. At the same time, he‘s saying, I want to have this health care bill on my desk by August. It‘s mid-July. It was sort of a week where the eye got taken off the ball.
MATTHEWS: I think he‘s got to drop all unnecessary features and go with the substance and follow the Rahm Emanuel rule. Ruben, you take from it here. The Rahm Emanuel rule is the thing we cannot accept is defeat here. He‘s got to get the core of this bill through. He can‘t afford the trappings like abortion and paying for abortion with something that‘s considered a critical health issue. Abortion is another matter, it seems to me. Your thoughts?
NAVARRETTE: It seems like the strategy is, as Rahm Emanuel would say, don‘t accept defeat, keep talking about how you‘re not going to derail this; we‘re going to get this done; be very definitive and positive in your remarks. But Bush made that mistake with regard to immigration. He treated it as if it were a done deal. People don‘t like hearing that, because it takes Congress and says, what you do really isn‘t important; we‘re going to get this done regardless.
Now, I think the problem—there‘s a parallel here. Just like Bush had a problem with members of his own party on immigration; likewise Obama on health care. They‘ve got to be positive, but they‘ve got to understand to be respectful to Congress. Stop saying it‘s a done deal. It‘s not a done deal.
MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you very much, Roger Simon. Thank you, Ruben Navarrette for joining us from San Diego. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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