Guests: Eugene Robinson, Richard Engel, Julia Boorstin, Rep. Bob Inglis, Tim Phillips; Lynn Sweet, Jim Vandehei, Cindi Scoppe
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Death wish.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Boston tonight. Leading off tonight: Killing it loudly. Let‘s face it, the people who said they‘re opposed to this provision of health care reform or that one aren‘t looking to improve the bill, they‘re trying to find any way they can to kill it. They argue against federally funded abortion or make up stories about government-sponsored euthanasia for old people, but they never say, Take this out of the bill, and I‘m for reform.
No, they want this dead, and they want to destroy Barack Obama in the process. We‘ve got one of the people organizing those town hall events, and we‘re going to play HARDBALL with him tonight.
And check out this startling “Wall Street Journal” headline, “Taliban now winning,” quoting General Stan McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The Pentagon pushed back today and said “The Journal” misrepresented what the general was saying. But the story does raise the question whether Taliban are gaining the upper hand despite President Obama‘s troop build-up and his focus on Afghanistan. NBC‘s Richard Engel reports from Kabul tonight to us.
Plus, bad news just keeps piling up for South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. An Associated Press investigation revealed that the two-term Republican used a state plane for personal trips to his children‘s sporting events, for hair and dentist appointments, and political party events. Does this put more trouble into this guy‘s face?
Plus, we‘ve got a fascinating Gallup poll out that shows each of the 50 states, showing where President Obama is most and least popular. It‘s a fascinating list. We‘re going to crunch the numbers in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”
And finally, what did Hillary Clinton think someone said about Bill, her husband, that got her to smack down the questioner over in the Congo? That‘s on the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.
But first, we begin with the politics of health care debate. U.S. Congressman Bob Inglis is a Republican from South Carolina. Congressman, what is going on out there in the country right now? Why all these disruptions at meetings like yours?
REP. BOB INGLIS ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, Chris, I‘m happy for
people to come to town meetings. We had a great town meeting the other
night, 350 people there. And some were there to express their very strong
opposition to the bill. Opposition in some cases turned into hostility,
and hostility turned into hysteria for a few. So a pretty wild time, but
by and large it was a good event.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a listen at what happened at your event.
We have a tape of that, sir. Thank you, Congressman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INGLIS: A good suggestion up here, the suggestion to watch Glenn Beck. Here‘s what I‘d suggest. Turn that television off when he comes on.
INGLIS: Let me tell you why. Let me tell you why. Do you want to know why? Because he‘s trading on fear. And you know what? I think if you trade on fear, what you‘re doing is you‘re not leading, you‘re just following fearful people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, who do you think is stirring up all this noise? Because that‘s not a discussion, that‘s not a debate, which we need in this country, that‘s a screaming fit against you.
INGLIS: Yes, that turned out to be quite a screaming fit right there. Well, I think that, you know, it is true, what we have to do is we have to figure out a way to get past the fear here. There are people out there that are selling fear, that trade on fear, and the result is that there isn‘t a good discussion.
There are a lot of things to discuss in this health care plan and there are many reasons to be opposed. In fact, I sent out a press release last week saying 16 reasons to be opposed to “Obama care,” the top one being that the public option will put private insurance companies out of business, I fear, and the result will be that we end up with a single-payer system. That‘s a problem with the Obama package.
But that doesn‘t mean we need to be hysterical about that. What it means is we need to have a reasoned debate and say, These are our objections, and now here‘s what we could do that‘s a positive alternative to that.” And I think, if we could get past some of the hysteria and get the president open to dropping the public option...
INGLIS: ... we could actually get to a solution.
MATTHEWS: Well, would you vote for it if he did?
INGLIS: If he dropped the public option...
INGLIS: ... and if he made it clear there wouldn‘t be funding for abortion within the package...
INGLIS: ... then I think what‘s left is actually something we can work with.
MATTHEWS: No, I want to...
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re a Republican, sir. You‘re from South Carolina. Let me ask you a couple things that they‘re (ph) good so we get back to substance. And I know that‘s where you want to go.
MATTHEWS: Is it good to try to require young people who are healthy to join into some kind of health insurance, like we did with car drivership, where you have to get insurance to drive a—is it good to get everybody in this together so the young and healthy share the cost of health care with the old and unhealthy? Is that a good thing?
INGLIS: Yes. Individual mandate makes sense. Yes, it does.
MATTHEWS: What about the idea of subsidizing in some way health insurance and getting people who have less than an average income but they‘re not poverty-stricken to start participating in their own health care by paying something and getting some help in doing so? Is that a good idea? In other words, get people...
INGLIS: That makes a lot of sense.
MATTHEWS: OK. What about the idea of encouraging—not mandating but encouraging employer contributions to health care?
INGLIS: Well, what I‘d like to do—it may make sense if you can perpetuate a system of employer-provided insurance. I‘d like to break that connection and have a system where we own our own insurance, but...
INGLIS: ... as long as we‘re saddled with an employer-based system, it makes sense to incentivize employers to provide insurance.
MATTHEWS: How about some kind of national clearinghouse, like they advertise on these networks like Priceline, where a person can—without killing themselves can do a little shopping and get the best deal, the best coverage for their situation? I think that‘s one of the things they‘re talking about doing. That‘s the last thing—what do you think of that idea?
INGLIS: It‘s a great idea. In fact, John Shadegg from Arizona, a good Republican out there, has a great idea like that. It basically is a national system of competition among insurance companies. That‘s a bill that I‘m on. It makes a lot of sense. It‘s something—it‘s an example of something we can work together on to get done in this Congress.
MATTHEWS: Well, I can‘t vote in South Carolina, but you got my vote, sir. Thank you very much for coming on the air tonight and talking—no, I mean it. I‘m not going to patronize. I love politics and I love politicians who have the guts to do what they have to do. If you‘re on the political right, fair enough. Let‘s hear the arguments. Thank you, sir, Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina.
Let‘s go to Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. Tim, where are you from politically? What‘s your story? Who are you politically?
TIM PHILLIPS, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: I‘m a free market conservative.
MATTHEWS: Are you one of the people that questions the president‘s legitimacy as president?
TIM PHILLIPS: No, absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: You‘re not a birther or anything like that?
TIM PHILLIPS: Look, I tell folks I want to focus on what his policies will do...
MATTHEWS: No, but I just—let‘s clarify that you‘re not a birther or any of those...
TIM PHILLIPS: That‘s correct.
MATTHEWS: And you‘re—what about Sarah Palin? Because she‘s out there—I just want to get this because we‘ve got voices out there, like Glenn Beck, who‘s a smart guy, but he knows how to stir things up.
TIM PHILLIPS: Right.
MATTHEWS: And you‘ve got Sarah Palin this weekend talking about “death panels,” and then apparently, she‘s pulled back.
TIM PHILLIPS: Right.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s try to get some civility about this. What do you want politically out of this health care bill? What would you like to see at the end of the day, as they say, in this health care debate?
TIM PHILLIPS: First and foremost, we don‘t want a bill...
MATTHEWS: No, what do you want?
TIM PHILLIPS: ... that drives cost up.
MATTHEWS: No. No. No. I will not have that conversation with you.
What do you want?
TIM PHILLIPS: I want to see better choices and more choices for American citizens, not mandates, but tax incentives that reward behavior.
MATTHEWS: OK, how do we do that? How do we get that? And what are we doing to get that?
TIM PHILLIPS: Well, first, we can push and expand HSAs. I do think that they are not the be-all, end-all, but they‘re a good starting point for broadening people‘s choices and giving them a better opportunity to control their own destiny on the health care front. I also think that we ought to allow people to choose coverage from across state lines.
TIM PHILLIPS: This current system is not good. I mean, it locks you in within your state.
MATTHEWS: OK. Who‘s got a bill like that? Who‘s got—who‘s involved in the debate on Capitol Hill that‘s pushing what you want?
TIM PHILLIPS: Congressman Ryan from Wisconsin...
TIM PHILLIPS: ... has a good bill that‘s a starting point. Senator DeMint in the Senate. We‘ve looked at his legislation...
TIM PHILLIPS: ... and we think both of those pieces of legislation are good pieces that are good starting points for discussion.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about some of the things in the president‘s bill, and you give me your critique...
TIM PHILLIPS: OK.
MATTHEWS: ... of what you like or dislike about—these are—I looked at “The New York Times” today. Whatever you think of “The New York Times,” they did an analysis. I want your judgment on this. Encourage people—in fact, mandate people when they reach young adulthood to get involved in health insurance. In other words, you can‘t be waiting around until your 45 years old and get a disease to say I think, I better buy health insurance. Do you like the idea of requiring people to have health insurance at a young age?
TIM PHILLIPS: I do not. I don‘t think it‘s good for the government to be mandating and requiring that, so I‘m opposed to that.
MATTHEWS: Well, how—they mandate you buy a—when you get a driver‘s license to go out on the road, you have to have insurance to drive a car. You don‘t like that, either (INAUDIBLE)
TIM PHILLIPS: I don‘t want government reaching in and...
MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. Do you want people to have to have insurance if they drive a car?
TIM PHILLIPS: I think that‘s a decent mandate, absolutely, because...
MATTHEWS: That‘s a decent mandate.
TIM PHILLIPS: Hold on. Hold on—because...
MATTHEWS: I‘m holding on. I‘m giving you all the time you want, buddy.
TIM PHILLIPS: Because...
MATTHEWS: Don‘t do this “Hold” on crap with me, OK? I‘m letting you talk. I know the tactics. Talk.
TIM PHILLIPS: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: No, just talk. You don‘t have to say “Thanks, Chris,” just talk.
TIM PHILLIPS: I want people—when you have health care, that‘s a choice that impacts yourself. Drivers‘ insurance impacts other drivers you may have accidents with.
MATTHEWS: But when you go to a hospital—just to make the other side of the argument, you go to a hospital and you show up in the E.R., and you have to go to the hospital, which is required to give service to everybody, aren‘t you putting your cost of your health care on somebody else‘s insurance if you‘re not insured?
TIM PHILLIPS: It‘s not necessarily someone else‘s insurance. It could impact their cost eventually. I don‘t think it‘s right, though, for the government to be mandating health insurance, reaching into your accounts and doing that. I don‘t want to see that with health care.
MATTHEWS: But we mandate hospitals to do E.R. coverage of everybody when they show up, so we are forcing hospitals...
TIM PHILLIPS: Right.
MATTHEWS: ... to foot the bill, and hospitals put the costs on the people who buy insurance. You know that.
TIM PHILLIPS: They do put the costs on the people who buy insurance, but I don‘t want to see government reaching in and hitting their pocketbooks and requiring them on the insurance front. I want to encourage them, maybe give tax incentives, again, to incentivize behavior. I don‘t think mandates are the way to go.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do we get around the problem that there are so many people out there—and this is why we‘re having this debate, sir. It isn‘t just so that Barack Obama gets a “W” next to his name of that the conservatives get an “L” next to his name. The question that‘s bothered the American people since, what, since Teddy Roosevelt‘s time, is some people have health insurance and some don‘t. How do we reconcile that with our sense in this country of looking out for each other to some extent? To some extent.
TIM PHILLIPS: I think that with young people especially, a lot of it is encouragement. You know, I‘ve got a kid who‘s going out of the home now, and thinks he‘s bulletproof in many ways.
MATTHEWS: I got kids like that, too.
TIM PHILLIPS: And we can encourage them to do it because I know when I was in my 20s, until I got married, I didn‘t go out and get insurance. And that was a foolish mistake I made. I could have had a catastrophic occurrence that would have wiped me out financially and put the burden on other people. So I think education for young people (INAUDIBLE) because they‘re the biggest bloc, as I understand it, looking at the numbers of the uninsured.
MATTHEWS: OK. You know, when I hear someone like you speak—and you worked on the Hill like I did...
TIM PHILLIPS: Right.
MATTHEWS: ... and I know you‘re a serious wonk, like I was once. Let me ask you this. Here‘s my problem with you guys. The conservatives talk reasonably when the Democrats get in power and say, Well, we have an alternative that‘s more free market, it‘s less onerous, it‘s less, you know, big shot, big government stuff, and I accept all that. But when you guys are in power, you don‘t do anything on health care.
And that‘s what happens and that‘s why for, God, almost a century of foot dragging on this, the Democrats get in power, whether it‘s Truman or it‘s Bill Clinton or it‘s Hillary Clinton or it‘s Barack Obama, they try something and it fails because you guys are good at playing negative politics. You‘re really good at destroying Democrats‘ planned chances to reform.
But when you get in power, when you have George W. Bush there and both houses of Congress or you got Reagan in there with complete ideological control, you don‘t do anything on health care.
TIM PHILLIPS: I think Republicans got off the tracks when they took over and had the presidency and the entire Congress. They missed a lot of opportunities, Chris. Health care was one of them. Spending was the biggest one they missed, though.
TIM PHILLIPS: They blew it out of the water on spending, that limits the ability now to take on some of the entitlements and to take on some of the bigger issues because they missed the spending argument so badly during their time in power. I think it‘s one reason they got kicked out, too, by the way. American people got tired of it.
MATTHEWS: Tim, at the end of the year, if you guys bring down health care and it can‘t get through the Senate, suppose they can‘t reach a compromise between the health and the finance committees, they can‘t reach a compromise in committee. It‘s very—I think this whole thing could be a bridge too far. I see a lot of hurdles ahead where you could stop (INAUDIBLE) And by the way, you got a lot of opportunities to ambush these guys.
At the end of it all, if Barack Obama crashes and fails at the end of the year, what will the Republicans ever do on health care, now that they got the ball in their hands because they blew it out of this guy‘s hands? What are you going to do when you get your chance to do it?
TIM PHILLIPS: I think they have an opportunity—I mentioned Congressman Ryan from Wisconsin. He‘s a serious guy who‘s looking at this issue, has a pretty broad plan, and Senator DeMint. I think they need to do is go back to those plans, and for every time they‘ve said no—and us, too, as an organization, Americans for Prosperity—as we‘ve said no to different mandates, no to more spending, we need to say yes to some of these reforms.
And some of them are good. I mentioned one of the most basic reforms is allowing folks to get insurance across state lines. Chris—and you know the numbers on that. It would dramatically reduce costs and open up options for people. And I think that‘s the most important thing.
TIM PHILLIPS: When I worked on Capitol Hill, I had the best health care plan probably in the world, and one of the reasons why, it let me choose a broad array of plans. And that‘s the kind of thing we need to get to.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s the problem I have. The Republican Party takes so much money from the insurance companies, your leadership takes so much money from the insurance companies, they like the status quo. They make a bundle. Guys like John Boehner, the golfer, and Mitch McConnell, who reminds me of George Will exponentially, ideologically—those guys don‘t say what you‘re just saying. They‘re not going to do anything on health care.
So when you talk about Ryan and you talk about DeMint and these ideas they‘ve proposed, the leadership of the Republican Party doesn‘t do anything on health care. Year after year after year, they‘ve had the ball with Reagan, with George W. Bush, with George Bush, Sr. They had the ball, and you guys never do anything. And then when Barack Obama tries to do something with the ball, all of a sudden, you guys come alive . You disrupt meetings. You‘re brilliant at it. You are so good at playing defense, but you don‘t have an offense.
TIM PHILLIPS: Two points to that. One, I think there are a wave of Republican leaders coming who are genuinely coming up with good ideas and good solutions.
TIM PHILLIPS: I think they ought to call Tom Coburn “Senator no.”
He‘s got some great proposals...
MATTHEWS: Hey, look, my kids love Coburn. You know what? When I watch these hearings, we‘ll show these meetings over (INAUDIBLE) I don‘t see civil discussion like you and I are having. I see people screaming, trying to shut down meetings so there is no discussion. But Tim Phillips, I hope I let you talk.
TIM PHILLIPS: Can I have one more point, Chris, just one more?
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
TIM PHILLIPS: When I look at these town hall meetings—we are encouraging our membership. We‘re doing e-mails and calls saying come out. And I do—I‘ve been to a lot of meetings in the last few weeks. The vast majority of people, Chris, are civil. And I think Congressman Inglis did say that just now. And I think, as with the anti-war movement earlier this decade, there are always some people who take it over the edge and are inappropriate. But I‘m telling you, the vast majority of Americans at these meetings are coming out on their own and they‘re civil when they‘re there.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me tell you—this has been put out by the group called Right Principles. This is what they tell people to do—Rock the boat early in the meeting. Watch for an opportunity. Yell out. Shout out. Embolden others to call out and yell out. These are instructions to people who go to these meetings. So they‘re not encouraging them to discuss and listen, Tim.
TIM PHILLIPS: I know. Our organization does not do anything like that. We‘re urging people to come out—and for Speaker Pelosi to call these Americans with a broad stroke un-American, I think that‘s wrong. I think she‘s painting with too broad a brush there, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK, well, well said. Thank you, Tim Phillips. Thank you for coming on the show.
TIM PHILLIPS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: Who‘s winning the war in Afghanistan. Boy, this is serious business. Barack Obama has really invested in the war in Afghanistan. Let‘s see what‘s going on over there. We‘ve got the very courageous Rich Engel coming from Kabul tonight. What a story. This is not good.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
“The Wall Street Journal” ran a headline today that reads—quote—
“Taliban Now Winning.” And the story reports that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stan McChrystal, said that the Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan.
But the Pentagon pushed back today, and the general‘s spokesman categorically denies that the general said the Taliban is winning, in other words, beating us over there.
But is the Taliban gaining ground, despite President Obama‘s troop buildup in Afghanistan?
NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Kabul.
Richard, this is strange for a U.S. commander to be even quoted saying that we‘re losing to the other side.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It took many people by surprise here, including, we are told, the general himself.
Hand there are a lot of angry people in the military here in Kabul, back in the Pentagon. There was a—a flurry of e-mail traffic after this article appeared, saying that General McChrystal never said that, that the quote—that the—the article totally mischaracterized what he wanted to say.
He was trying to say that the enemy here is significant, it is an aggressive enemy, and that the United States is under—is in the middle of a policy review examining what has to change on the ground, because, clearly, the current strategy isn‘t working very well.
This—the Taliban has managed to gain a lot of ground, and, just in July, saw the highest number of NATO casualties since the war began. And, already, this month seems set for another bloody—another bloody death toll. So, something clearly has to change, and this policy review is under way.
It was supposed to be done by right around now, but we—we have been told that General McChrystal will postpone it until after Afghanistan‘s elections, which are 10 days from now.
MATTHEWS: Well, common sense tells you, you don‘t reconsider your strategy if it‘s working. You reconsider your strategy if it‘s not.
If the enemy is gaining strength, that means you‘re losing strength relative to the enemy. So, it is—isn‘t this just about words and how they‘re used?
ENGEL: It‘s very difficult for a general to say, we are losing.
It‘s easier for them to say, we need to change strategy. And I think that‘s why the—the general was brought here. He—he‘s been asked to have this policy review. And, already, some details about what he specifically wants to change have emerged.
He hasn‘t presented this to—to the Defense Department yet, but he said he wants to streamline the NATO command, because, right now, it is—it is really completely disorganized, where one sector will be handed over from the French to the Italians to the Germans, then back to the Americans, all different computer systems, different languages.
So, he wants to streamline that. He also wants to limit the number of civilian casualties, bring more drones and aircraft from Iraq, and to double the number of the Afghan security forces, the army and police, and many here suspect all—doing all of this will require more U.S. forces.
MATTHEWS: Well, isn‘t that the old question about Afghanistan? How long can an occupying force last in the country before they‘re hated, the way the Soviet yet were hated, the way the British were massacred eventually in Afghanistan? And at what point can you limit the number of troops before you simply become another Russian force?
The Russians had over 100,000. If we get much higher than 60,000, do we endanger ourselves of becoming as hated as the Russians were?
ENGEL: Well, right now, when you include American forces and other NATO forces, there are about 100,000 foreign troops on the ground right now.
But the soldiers are keenly aware of the history. They know that Afghanistan—and I have been told this by soldiers—was not conquered by Alexander the Great. It was not conquered by the British. It was not conquered by the Russians.
And I think taking from this lesson, the Americans don‘t want to conquer Afghanistan, but at least pacify it enough, so that it‘s not an active threat to the United States, so that it‘s not exporting militants and terrorists to—to the—the homeland. And—and they think that, which is a much more limited goal, is something they can do.
MATTHEWS: Can the United States eradicate the Taliban?
The—the Taliban is an indigenous movement, and it‘s not just a
militant movement. It is a—a—a group that began particularly in the
south. It—there‘s a lot of Pashtun loyalty there. It‘s completely tied
in with the—with Pashtun activities on the other side of the border in -
So, eliminating the Taliban, no, probably isn‘t possible. But pacifying them and preventing them from—from—from killing Americans and joining forces with—with al Qaeda, which is a much more international organization, that‘s what they—they hope to do. But, if you look at the record over the last eight years, it—it hasn‘t been terribly successful.
This war, many people thought was won several years ago, up until 2005, 2006. And, then, starting in 2007, it—it became much, much more violent.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Richard Engel, in Afghanistan.
Up next: He‘s back. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is launching a new Web site promoting his new gigs. That‘s coming up on the “Sideshow,” where it belongs.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First up: a tense moment overseas at Hillary Clinton‘s town hall in the Congo today. A student asked the secretary of state what President Obama thought of the trade deal between the Congo and China.
The thing is, the translator got it wrong and asked Secretary Clinton what Bill, her husband, thought of the deal. Here is Hillary‘s response—quote—“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am. You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I‘m not going to channel my husband.”
Well, talk about the rumble in the jungle.
Next up: B-Rod is back in action. The ousted Illinois governor launched a Web site today, GovernorRod.com, that promises to spread the word about B-Rod‘s mission as—quote—“a champion for ordinary Americans.”
Well, the site has the latest on B-Rod‘s upcoming book and radio show, and also tracks his public events.
Here is a sense of what to expect. B-Rod showed up at a Chicago block party this past Friday, where he channeled Elvis Presley with his very own, very special version of “Treat Me Nice.” Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(ROD BLAGOJEVICH SINGING)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s unbelievable, of course, but the real question is, who has been singing to the grand jury out there?
And, finally, in July, embattled Senator Roland Burris, the man B-Rod appointed to Barack Obama‘s U.S. Senate seat, said that he would not be running for election in 2010.
But here is the senator with an ABC News interview, the first one he‘s had since that announcement, singing a brand-new, different tune about his plans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: (INAUDIBLE) from people all over the country. And they are saying, don‘t give up that seat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, there‘s way you change your mind, is there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you change your mind and decide to run?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got—you got 18 months. You have got time to change your mind.
BURRIS: Well, let me put it this way. You never say never in this business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. What Illinois Democrats need, I think, is an African-American Democrat for the Senate, savvy, smart, and unconnected to Blagojevich.
Anyway, time for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Everyone remembers where they were when Richard Nixon resigned from office and boarded that helicopter. There he is. How long has it been since that historic moment? Thirty-five years ago yesterday, August 9, 1974, also my wife‘s birthday. Perhaps the most fascinating president in history, Dick Nixon, resigned from office—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: An Associated Press investigation has found that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford used state aircraft for personal and political trips, often bringing along his wife and children. Are his days in office numbered?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks retreating today, as investors locked in profits after a four-week rally—the Dow Jones industrials down 32 points. The S&P 500 lost about three points, and the Nasdaq finished eight points lower.
Going head-to-head with the gourmet coffee chains is paying off for McDonald‘s. The fast-food giant posted a better-than-expected rise in same-store sales, due in part to their new McCafe offerings—McDonald‘s shares finishing almost 2 percent higher on the day the.
Wal-Mart shares added about half-a-point today, ahead of an eagerly anticipated earnings report due out on Tuesday.
And shares in Freddie Mac soared more than 128 percent, after it posted its first quarterly profit in two years. America‘s second largest mortgage provider also said it would not need a capital injection from the U.S. Treasury.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford may have more trouble right now. Associated Press Reporter Jim Davenport wrote this—quote—“Records reviewed by the Associated Press show that, since he took office in 2003, the two-term Republican has taken trips on state aircraft to locations of his children‘s sporting events, hair and dentist appointments, political party gatherings, and a birthday party for a campaign donor.”
Governor Sanford‘s spokesman has a different opinion—quote—“Once again, this specific reporter misrepresents the facts with regard to the governor‘s travel. Every time the governor used the state plane, it was for an official state purpose. And that official state purpose was documented.”
And, later today, a South Carolina state senator said, Sanford broke the law.
Joining me right now is Cindi Scoppe—Scoppe, rather—associate editor of “The State” newspaper, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist from “The Washington Post” Eugene Robinson.
Cindi, thank you for joining us.
Put this in perspective. Is this all just piling on at this point? I mean, I‘m thinking about the governor‘s wife walked out with all that official statement and all that—the videotape the other day, and now this story comes right on the foot of that. What do we make of all this coming up at the same time?
CINDI SCOPPE, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE STATE”: I‘m not sure about it coming up at the same time, but I will tell you that, while we have been really disturbed by our governor‘s actions, we have not felt up until now that there was anything indictable or impeachable.
This, though, could rise to that level. It seems that the governor really owes the people of South Carolina an explanation. I think the (AUDIO GAP) the burden is on him to demonstrate that these uses of the state plane really were for official business, because his calendar doesn‘t seem to reflect that.
MATTHEWS: Well, his—his official spokesperson, apparently in response to the piece by the AP, the Associated Press, said that he could justify the trips because, in each case, it may have been a personal event there, a family event or whatever, but there was also an official event.
SCOPPE: Well, like I said, I‘m—I‘m looking forward to him documenting that a little bit better than his calendar seems to document it.
For instance, there are events where he clearly did not feel like it was appropriate to take the state plane to the event in Myrtle Beach or in Beaufort County, but he felt like it was OK to have the state plane fly down and get him and his family and bring them back.
It seems to me that, if you‘re going on vacation or to a political outing, and you know that that‘s not state business, that it‘s incumbent upon you to get yourself back to your state business.
MATTHEWS: Let me bring in Gene.
Gene—Gene Robinson, I guess I‘m used to presidents who travel whenever they want to when they want to. They use federal planes whenever they feel like it. They go anywhere, play golf, whatever. They fly. I guess it‘s hard for me to get the ethical problem here involved.
What do you make of it?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the—the—a couple of the trips that have been reported today seem pretty egregious.
There‘s one in particular in which the—the governor was in Myrtle Beach, seems to have taken the official state aircraft to fly to Columbia to—to make a haircut appointment, at which point, he then went back. And that would be pushing it, I think...
ROBINSON: ... shades of John Edwards and his haircut problems.
And—and—and, of course, later this afternoon, there was a finding by the head of the state senate budget committee that Sanford had violated the law, as the state senator says, by booking business-class and first-class passage on his overseas trips, as opposed to traveling the cheapest way possible.
Now, that, to me, you know, I think, if you get to be a governor, I thought you ought to be able to fly business class. But, nonetheless, that is—that is—that may well be a violation of South Carolina law, technically.
This—this just adds to the—to the trouble that—that Governor Sanford is having and the embarrassment for him and—and for his party in South Carolina.
MATTHEWS: Cindi Scoppe, is this—I guess I find it hard to believe that...
MATTHEWS: ... a governor would really be kicked out of office for flying business class, when he travels as far as Brazil.
MATTHEWS: Well, even journalistic organizations that are relatively cheap...
MATTHEWS: ... when you have to travel for practically over a 12- or 13-hour flight, they usually give you the break and let you travel at least business class.
But is South Carolina tougher than that with its money?
SCOPPE: Yes. Well, a couple of things. First, I agree that it‘s outrageous to think that he would be kicked out of office just for that.
You talked about presidents flying all over the place. South Carolina law doesn‘t allow that. On—other places, you can use state aircraft or you can use Air Force One and reimburse the state or the nation for that. You can‘t do that in South Carolina. There‘s no provision in our law for that.
It‘s—it‘s the cumulative effect. And, again, I don‘t think that those flying business class, flying first class are things that would get him kicked out of office, even though our state law does prohibit those things.
It‘s the question of how much adds up. And I don‘t think we‘re there at this point, but this is the first time where it seems to me like there legitimately are things that need to be investigated and that could really land him in some—some serious trouble legally.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this, Gene, because, you know, presidents don‘t have to reimburse anybody for anything. They do have to pay for political trips. But, when they fly to some ranch in California...
MATTHEWS: ... or they fly to the Western White House, or wherever they set up their digs...
MATTHEWS: ... wherever—wherever they feel like going, they always charge the government for that.
But what do you make—is this all tied into the fact that he had a girlfriend or has a girlfriend down in—where, Buenos Aires? Is that what this is really about?
ROBINSON: Well, is this...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me—Cindi said sure.
MATTHEWS: Cindi said sure, first of all. I love the sure.
MATTHEWS: OK. What‘s the connection, Cindi?
SCOPPE: Well, it‘s...
SCOPPE: The connection is most people in South Carolina wouldn‘t care if it weren‘t for the girlfriend thing. We had a situation about four or five years ago, where we had another statewide elected official who checked out a state van—it wasn‘t even one issued to him—to drive his family I think to Minnesota on vacation, and then bring it back. It was clearly against the law. And the public re-elected him. They said we don‘t care; he‘s a good fiscal conservative who we love.
If Mark Sanford weren‘t in trouble, the public would not care about this.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the public care—by the way, Gene—I‘m sorry to hold up your time, Gene, but I want to know from Cindi, does the public care about his affair with the woman in Argentina? Do they really care? And what do they want him to do?
SCOPPE: It‘s split. Yes, it‘s split. There are a lot of people who are really sick of reading about it, sick of talking about it, sick of hearing about it, just want the whole thing to go away. There are a lot of other people who want to keep talking about it, and are really disgusted with him, and want him to resign. That‘s not going to happen.
And so far, I don‘t think the case has been made that he needed to resign. What we‘ve seen up until this point are good reasons to never elect somebody like this. What we‘re seeing today though could be reasons that go beyond that, although I think the jury is still out.
MATTHEWS: Gene, clean up here. What‘s it all about? Put it together as you editorialize here. What‘s the point?
ROBINSON: A couple points to make. Number one, keep in mind that Sanford‘s reputation is as a fiscal conservative. He‘s so cheap, he makes staff use both sides of Post-It notes. So the—seriously, so the hypocrisy factor is huge here, right? To be taking the plane to get a haircut.
Second, if—as you recall, Jenny Sanford just moved out of the governor‘s mansion, and that reminded me of something that happened actually in Argentina, when I was covering it, the place where Sanford‘s lover lives. President Carlos Mennen, then President Mennen, was a notorious womanizer. His wife got fed up with it. And she actually kicked him out of the official presidential residence, locked him out. He had to live in an apartment a few months, until she went out of town on vacation, and he managed to take back the official president‘s mansion.
MATTHEWS: So there you have it. Thank you for putting an international perspective on this. I don‘t know where to go with this. I‘m going to let it die right here. Cindi Scoppe, thank you for joining us from the “State Newspaper” in South Carolina. Thank you, Eugene Robinson, as always, sir.
Up next, now we get back to where we belong. A poll of each state shows where Obama stands right now. I love this. You want to see where your state stands? This is great stuff. He‘s doing better in some parts of the country than others, as you might expect, and worse in others. HARDBALL back in a minute on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. Time for the politics fix with the “Politico‘s” Jim Vandehei and the “Chicago Sun Times‘” Lynn Sweet, who also writes for PoliticsDaily.com.
I want to start with Vandehei. Both of you, look at this polling. This is fascinating. This is late June. You can extrapolate. I‘d say take all of these numbers down about ten points, based on the national number.
But look at these states where Barack Obama is enormously popular:
Hawaii, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Illinois.
Now let‘s take a look at the states where they don‘t like him at all this. This doesn‘t surprise you either. Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho, Utah, West Virginia.
Jim, somebody said wherever people don‘t live, they don‘t like Barack Obama.
JIM VANDEHEI, “POLITICO”: Democrats.
MATTHEWS: Sparsely populated states, they don‘t like him.
VANDEHEI: Right, and that‘s been the case for some time, if you look at polling. Any states that tends to be rural, tends to be out in the west, does not like Democrats, does not like Obama as much as they do Republicans.
There weren‘t many big surprises on there. I was surprised that Colorado‘s favorable ratings for Obama were so low. He spent a tremendous amount of time there during the campaign. Democrats feel they have made a lot of progress in that state in trying to trend it a little more Democratic.
But basically that poll breaks down with what you‘re seeing across the country. There‘s been over the last couple of months a swing, especially if you look at independent voters and white Democrats, a pretty big swing against Barack Obama. And that is very troublesome to the folks in the White House. That‘s why you see them kicking in this political operation into full gear, trying to win not only the health care debate over the August recess, but also sort of the debate about Barack Obama and his presidency to date.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at the map and show where it stands. By the way, without hanging any crepe here, Jim, I think you‘re hanging some crepe here. Let‘s just do this. Let‘s just assume, based on the polling, its about ten points lower in each state. Look at this, across the board, because that‘s what‘s happened here.
Look at this map. I want to get into the differentiation of people‘s attitudes. Lynn Sweet, we‘re looking at a map that shows the red part of the states, which is basically the Plain States, down through Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. No surprises. The east and the west tend to be, especially New England states and California, very blue, almost blue, or white, which is close to blue in these areas.
What is this about the country? It seems to me we‘re going to see an election next November even that reflects the national map that hasn‘t changed much since I was a kid. There‘s not much change. Lynn?
LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN TIMES”: This thing—yes, you‘re right. The thing to look at though on this map, it still means that Obama has the coalition of states together that he needs to help win in a reelection, if we‘re looking at down the road. And it also shows, which I‘m not surprised at, that the states on the coast are most supportive for him. Hawaii, his native state, Illinois, of course, those are two givens at this point.
The popularity is one thing. The job approval is another. I think as he goes ahead, you know—as was just mentioned, in order to have the White House get really worried, I think you‘d have to see his likability go down drastically, as well as have a problem with job approval. He could take one hit. He can‘t take two.
Right now, his personal ratings are still doing relatively OK.
MATTHEWS: You know, Jim, when I look at this birther movement, and I look at where you hear the most noise and anger about his very legitimacy, there‘s an ethnic piece to it; there‘s a geographic piece to it. It‘s centered in the south.
VANDEHEI: Absolutely. What the polling results don‘t show I think as emphatically is that the Republican party is still very much dominated by the south. If you look at Obama‘s victory and sort of Obama‘s proposition that he can change the Democratic party and change politics in general, is that he can change things that are north of the south. He can start to change things in the Midwest and take states like Ohio, take states Pennsylvania, Colorado, places that have been up and down in the last decade of politics, and make them solidly Democratic.
That would be the big achievement. That really would be where you would have a realignment in politics. It‘s not at all clear that you have that after six months. But it‘s not at all clear that you ever would have that after six months. You‘d have to check back in two years and see if he is truly making progress in those swing states.
MATTHEWS: Lynn, you can also see from the Republican party‘s opportunity coming up next year, they don‘t have to change people‘s minds ideologically. You can still be a Democrat and vote, for example, for a new governor in Massachusetts, which is very likely, a new governor in New Jersey, which is a very Democratic state.
I can see Republicans winning in a lot of states where the Democrats still rule ideologically.
SWEET: Absolutely. One of the reasons these town halls are getting so much attention and worry about the insiders is that if you have a shaky member, if you have someone you‘re afraid could lose their nerve, they know people will be cross-over voters.
MATTHEWS: And they what, that people are going to end up voting against their normal pattern, just to stick a message to the other side?
SWEET: Could well be. And that people in these states, even though -
there‘s no such thing as a forever permanently solid state. You know, in Illinois with the Senate race there, there‘s worry among the national Democrats that it will be a tougher sell than they thought.
MATTHEWS: I‘ll give you a couple of states that aren‘t going to change. Utah is not going to start electing Democratic senators again. And New York is not going the other way. Just guessing. We‘ll be right back with Jim Vandehei to talk about this health thing. We had a civilized discussion on the show tonight, thanks to Tim Phillips and Congressman English. But it‘s not civilized elsewhere. We‘ll be right back with HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Jim Vandehei and Lynn Sweet with more of politics. Let‘s look at what Governor Palin said over the weekend, a couple of different shots on this. First in her Facebook on Friday, quote, “the America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama‘s death panel, so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their level of productivity in society, whether they‘re worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”
That‘s ex-governor Palin. Here‘s what ex-Governor Palin wrote on Sunday, apparently as a modification: quote, “we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Such tactics diminish our nation‘s civil discourse.”
Lynn, I don‘t know what she‘s up to. It gets topsy-turvy with the ex-governor. In one little message to the world she says there‘s death panels out there. In the next panel, she says, let‘s get civil.
SWEET: First of all, so people out there know, there are no death panels being proposed by anyone. There is some end of life counseling in under a Medicare provision in the House version of the bill. That might be the origins of what she‘s talking about. This takes on a life of is own, Chris. I think she was probably wise to having a more tempered statement on her second go on it, because otherwise she would have no leg to stand on in this one.
MATTHEWS: But, Jim, the whackos out there—I should say the wing-nuts. Let‘s be specific. They don‘t have any intention of fixing health care in this country. They just want to destroy what‘s going on right now. They‘re out there. If you read the messages, their job is to shout down, disrupt, rock and roll. They got every word. I mean you‘re seeing the pictures. This is all planned behavior to scream and yell. They want to bring it down. Isn‘t that the goal of most of the people coming to these meetings?
VANDEHEI: I don‘t know, and that‘s the problem. These used to be really important journalistic exercises, going to the town hall meetings in August. You did get a feeling of what Congressmen and women are hearing in their districts. It‘s hard to tell—and we have reporters at a bunch of these right now—how much of this is manufactured and how much of it is authentic. It‘s hard for us to tell. It‘s also hard for lawmakers to tell, because they‘re going home and trying to spend a month. They‘re looking at the same polls we are, and trying to figure out where exactly are our constituents.
And I don‘t think that they know. And now basically, I think the media rewards the absurd. So people who can shout down, who can scream at a Congressman, or do something to disrupt, they know people can get on Youtube. And therefore, they can make a big show of it. And there‘s a huge incentive to do that. And now you see Democrats fighting back, to do the exact same thing, to sort of counter-react that.
SWEET: Jim and Chris, this is the newest, hottest summer reality show for a lot of political insiders to watch. What‘s interesting is that I think the White House and its organizing arm, the DNC and Organizing For America, they were a little slow to realize this. Their organizers at their core, they‘re going to try to pack the halls themselves. They‘re sending out emails and organizing.
I think this issue—it will be interesting to see the next round of town halls, if they find that they cannot pack the room before the other side does. That‘s the thing to watch.
MATTHEWS: There‘s a lot of organizing going on out there, involved with people that did Swift-Boating against John Kerry. There‘s a lot of money out there from the health care industry. One of these guys raising 20 million dollars and spending on this effort. Clearly there‘s a lot of grassroots as well.
We‘re going to try to figure it out ever night here. Vandehei, thank you. Jim Vandehei of the very successful “Politico.” And Lynn Sweet, it‘s great to have you on from the “Chicago Sun Times.”
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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