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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Thursday, August 13

Read the transcript to the Thursday show


August 13, 2009



Guesst: Pat Buchanan, Sharon Epperson, Roger Simon, Ryan Lizza, Haynes Johnson, Tom DeFrank, Jacob Hacker, Rep. Niki Tsongas, Rep. Brian Bilbray, Haynes Johnson, Jacob Hacker

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, GUEST HOST: Who's winning the town hall meetings?

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell in New York, in for Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight: Taking a toll. For all the talk about how the rowdy health care town halls are stocked with ringers, so-called astroturf rent-a-moms, there's now evidence they're having their intended effect. A new "USA Today" Gallup poll shows that by a margin of better than 2 to 1, independents say the town hall rantings of these stunningly ignorant protesters have made them more sympathetic to the protesters.

And could that be because people like Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who is the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who is supposedly seeking a bipartisan solution and who knows better, says things like this?


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY ®, IOWA: We should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on Grandma.


O'DONNELL: There's room for legitimate disagreement about health care reform, but when a United States senator says you have every right to fear the government killing Grandma, we've reached the point where the demagogues have seized control of the debate. In a moment, we'll see if two members of Congress can have a HARDBALL discussion of this issue without resorting to provable lies and scare tactics.

And there were many lessons learned from the Clintons' failed crusade for health care reform back in the '90s. Did the Obama administration heed them? We'll compare the "Hillarycare" debacle with what's going wrong right now.

Plus, Cheney unleashed. The former vice president is working on his memoirs, and "The Washington Post" says he plans to criticize former president Bush for going soft and rejecting his advice in the second term. Is this Cheney's revenge for Bush's refusal to pardon his buddy, Scooter Libby?

Plus, what exactly was Hillary Clinton implying when she told Nigerians that the 2000 presidential election in this country came down to one state run by the brother of one of the candidates? That's in the "Politics Fix."

And would you believe Mayor Brad Pitt? What the Hollywood star said about running for mayor of New Orleans in the HARDBALL "Sideshow."

But we begin with the raging debate over health care that is taking place across the country. Joining me now is Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, a Democrat of Massachusetts, and Congressman Brian Bilbray, a Republican from California.

Niki Tsongas, you heard Chuck Grassley, who has been negotiating with Democrats in the Senate, not refute, when given the chance, this notion of death panels that is not in any bill anywhere. Let's listen to what he actually said about it yesterday.


GRASSLEY: (INAUDIBLE) well-meaning people in Congress or people in Washington, but there's some people that think it's a terrible problem that Grandma's laying in the hospital bed with tubes in her. In the House bill, there's counseling for end of life, and from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. We should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on Grandma.


O'DONNELL: Niki Tsongas, do the American people have every right to fear that the government might pull the plug on Grandma?

REP. NIKI TSONGAS (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I'm actually surprised at Senator Grassley because this notion and this version of what's in the House bill has been absolutely debunked. It's true there is a provision in there that says that if physicians have a conversation with their patient, that they have a right-around these issues, all of which are very, very important, that they have a right to be reimbursed for their time spent at this. It doesn't require that conversation. It can be initiated by a patient as they learn of great challenges of their own health care.

But this interpretation that Senator Grassley has given it is one that, as I said, has been absolutely debunked. And I think in order for us to have the kind of discussion we really do need to have, we have to moderate the tone of it and not use our differences to again do nothing.

O'DONNELL: Congressman Bilbray, has any member of your staff rushed into your office pointing to a section of any one of these bills as written to say, Hey, look, hey look, the government's going to kill Grandma?

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY ®, CALIFORNIA: No, they haven't. In fact, what they've pointed out is that this-this kind of fear is why we don't-we shouldn't be trying to at least give the appearance that we're rushing to judgment and trying to force something. I think once we start setting arbitrary deadlines and saying we don't have time to talk about this, it sets off that paranoia, that concern that government is somehow doing something that they don't want us to know about.

And I think that end-of-life consultation is something we need to talk about as a society, as a community. And I think the biggest concern is that people are saying, Is there something in this bill that I'm not allowed or shouldn't be reading? And that sets off this concern. So I think this is a good reason why we should be slowing down, having a dialogue, talking about this and not fearing these town hall meetings.

I'm a former mayor when I was in my 20s. And frankly, this is a great dialogue we're having back and forth. Both sides are very spirited. They're very concerned. And rightfully so, they want a chance to be able to dialogue about this. So I think if we want to stop these scare tactics, as we talk about them, then let's slow down and stop pushing an agenda that moves so quickly that people think the worst, rather than looking for the best.

O'DONNELL: All right. Let's listen to what I actually think is the most important thing that Chuck Grassley said at that town hall meeting yesterday that everybody has missed. Tactically, this is the most important thing. He said to this crowd that he wanted credit for slowing down the health reform process.


GRASSLEY: Well, I think that I have-by sticking my finger in the dike, I've had an opportunity to give the grass roots of America an opportunity to speak up, as you're seeing every day on television, and I think that that's a good thing.



O'DONNELL: Niki Tsongas, President Obama mentions Chuck Grassley constantly as one of the responsible Republicans in the Senate who's trying to work on a solution. Chuck Grassley, when given a chance to describe to his constituents what he's doing, he says he's sticking his finger in the dike. That must have been pretty disappointing for you Democrats in the House, who have been waiting for the Senate to move, and waiting for the Senate Finance Committee in particular, which has missed all the deadlines that Chairman Max Baucus set for it in getting this legislation done.

TSONGAS: Well, I'd like to go back to the notion that we're going too slow. You know, in addition to doing the two town halls that I've done as a part of this August district work period-which have been so helpful to me and I think important to my constituents-I also have done four telephone town halls, which allows me to use technology to reach across the district.

And in one of them, I had an 85-year-old gentleman from Lawrence, Massachusetts, an old industrial city, that said-and he campaigned-he's now 85. He campaigned for President Truman on the issue of health insurance. This is an issue that we have been dealing with as a country for almost 60 years, and in this past presidential election, our two major candidates agreed that we needed to do something.

And so we do have that moment. We've had 60 hearings in the House of Representatives. Three committees have reported out their piece. And this is a moment in time that we have to take advantage of because of the cost of doing nothing is simply too great. We all know the escalating costs of health insurance premiums. They're rising three times faster than wages. We know-we hear the data that if we don't do anything within 10 years, we could be spending $1 out of $5 generated in this country on health care.

We know that-we hear the figure that each one of us is paying over $1,000 a year to help cover the cost of those who are uninsured. And we now-we finally have a moment in time where we had a president elected and committed to making a difference, working with the House, working with the Senate, and committed to going forward.

So you know, I think it's a specious argument to suggest that we haven't been working on this for many, many years. But do I think we have an obligation this month of August and throughout this discussion to get out there, use all forms of communication to reach out, answer people's questions, tweak the bill as we hear concerns that we need to address, but in a sense, debunk all the myths? Yes, I absolutely do. So I think it's been a very important month.

But again, I think that we cannot use these differences to go back to doing nothing. We simply cannot sustain the path we're on.

O'DONNELL: Congressman Bilbray, as we all know who've worked in the Congress, the minority party in the House is always powerless. There's nothing you could have done, for example, in the House to stick your finger in the dike and prevent those committees from taking action. But what you do need on the Republican side, if the Republicans are going to kill this, is someone in the Senate who has the power to stick his finger in the dike, as Senator Grassley has said now that's what he's been doing.

Now, is that really what's going on here? Is this delay-is the Grassley-imposed delay in the Senate about killing the bill or about getting a bill?

BILBRAY: Lawrence, no, it's about, Let's take a look at this. I mean, when people talk about, We don't have time to talk about it, we don't have time for people to read about this-and if it's such a crisis, why is the implementation date at 2013? And 2013 is not tomorrow. So they slow down.

And it's legitimate for people to have a question, Lawrence, about the fact that-if you ask somebody, Would you like to have a free house, a lot of people would say yes. But would you-if they-if you asked them, Would you like to have public housing, it's a totally different answer.

O'DONNELL: OK, Congressman Bilbray...

BILBRAY: So I think it's legitimate...

O'DONNELL: ... what would you be prepared-what would you be prepared to vote for? What could Chuck Grassley negotiate for you in the Senate Finance Committee that you would be prepared to vote for in health care reform?

BILBRAY: First of all, give individuals the same tax credit that we give big business, big labor and big government, the same tax benefits. That should be out there right away, to allow people to independently do that. Portability is a major issue that we talk about. The pre-existing condition I think is something we can actually do. But let's remember, too, we need to look at tort reform. Let's get the lawyers out of the operating room. You know, I was...

O'DONNELL: Would you be prepared to vote for a bill that extends health care insurance and subsidizes it for people who currently cannot afford it?

BILBRAY: Only if they participate in a different type of program than what we see in a lot of places. I think what's exciting is that you look at Niki's state-here's a state that's very aggressive. Here is a state that can actually go-dive into it, and they got major problems...

O'DONNELL: So are you in favor of the Massachusetts plan? It was a Republican plan.

BILBRAY: I think I'm in favor of Massachusetts-I'm very in favor of states being aggressive about this because they're small enough to be able to address if they make a mistake. You got to understand, Niki's state is smaller than one of our counties. We got a county that 50 percent bigger just in California. Niki's state is manageable. It's six million people. It's not 300 million people, which would be the largest health care system in the world by a magnitude of five to six times.

I think Niki's state has taken a great experiment and it's a great way that we ought to look at how can we work with them and see what works or doesn't work because they've got a size that we can manage. We don't have to wait 60 years to admit we made a mistake.


O'DONNELL: Niki, you can tell...

TSONGAS: Can I address that?

O'DONNELL: You can tell Speaker Pelosi that Brian Bilbray is now in favor of insurance reforms and an individual mandate, as has occurred in Massachusetts. What does the experience...

TSONGAS: Well, Massachusetts reform has been an important one.

O'DONNELL: Niki, what does the experience in Massachusetts tell us, especially the struggle they've been having financing that plan?

TSONGAS: Well, I think you have a number of things the Massachusetts plan has done. One, it shows that you can actually have a partnership between the private sector and the public sector. So what you've done is strengthened private insurance companies and strengthened employer-based insurance.

At the same time, you recognize that there are people who cannot afford insurance, whether their income levels are too low or whether they're a small business that cannot compete and negotiate with insurance companies and have the same efficiencies and have the same negotiating power that a larger company does.

So by creating an exchange, you create access for the many who are uninsured and you make a commitment to helping them pay, but on the other hand, they also have to pay a portion of their insurance. And you also create a place that small businesses and the self-employed can go to find affordable insurance.

And the benefit to all of us is that it brings down the cost of care across the system. Also lost in this discussion is the really important insurance reform debates that we-that are so significant to every American, whether it's saying an insurance company can no longer exclude you from coverage for...

O'DONNELL: Well, we just got a Democrat and Republican agreement on this show about the insurance reforms. Brian Bilbray is ready to go with that.

TSONGAS: We did. And there's some others. You know, you cannot have a lifetime cap on people's-what an insurance company is willing to pay out. You cannot drop someone when they become too expensive. You cannot do rating. Your insurance premiums cannot be based on gender. So I would hope that my colleague from California could agree on those, as well, because...

O'DONNELL: Brian Bilbray, you can agree on those insurance reforms, can't you?

BILBRAY: Lawrence-Lawrence, I can agree on a lot of things, as long as we understand that when we put mandates on the insurance options-instead of going to the credit union option that I think that we ought to be looking at, let's not just look at the government option. Let's not look at big business. Let's allow independent people to make independent decisions. And let's not have a situation where we ignore not only the quality, but the cost is a big one.

And the next big crisis, you mark my words, Lawrence-and Niki will jump on this, you watch-that the next big crisis within the decade is not, Do you have insurance, but, Do you have a doctor, do you have a nurse? These are all things that nobody wants to talk about right now. But if we're going to talk about comprehensive, we need to talk about these kind of coverage issues. We got to talk about costs. We got to talk about the whole issue of, How are we going to get the lawyers not to take a pound of flesh out of this issue...

O'DONNELL: All right, Congressman Bilbray...

BILBRAY: That's a challenge.

O'DONNELL: ... we will bring you back to talk about that. Thank you, Congresswoman Tsongas and Congressman Bilbray.

TSONGAS: Thank you, Larry.

O'DONNELL: Coming up: The president's health care plan is in critical condition. Did the Obama administration learn the right lessons from the "Hillarycare" disaster?

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), MINORITY LEADER: While I don't share the chairman's joy at our holding hearings on a government-run health care system, I do share his intention to make the debate and the legislative process as exciting as possible.



ARMEY: We'll do the best we can.

CLINTON: You and Dr. Kevorkian.


ARMEY: I have been told about your charm and wit. And let me tell you, the reports on your charm are overstated, and the reports on your wit are understated.

CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much.



O'DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The last time a president tried to reform health care, the first lady led the charge, and Clinton health care reform died in Congress. What lessons can President Obama take from the Clintons' effort?

Jacob Hacker is a Yale professor and the author of a book about the Clinton health care plan called "The Road to Nowhere." And Haynes Johnson wrote about the 2008 presidential race in the new book "The Battle For America 2008," and he wrote a behind-the-scenes account of the Clinton health care reform effort in the book "The System."

Jacob Hacker, what-what-if there's a page in your book that you would want everyone in the White House to read this weekend, if there's a chapter, what would you highlight for them? What should they be studying?


CLINTON'S PLAN FOR HEALTH SECURITY": Well, I would probably point them to a chapter in my book entitled "The Plan," in which I talk about some of the major mistakes that the Clinton reformers made.

But I think that the-the Obama reformers have definitely paid attention to what happened in 1993, '94. They have, I think, been very attentive to the concerns about-about that episode. But I think, at the same time, they may have overlearned some of the lessons in '93, '94.

You know, there were two big lessons, I think, that people took correctly out of '93, '94. One was that the president had tried to manage the process too directly, to develop his own proposal, and to put it out there himself, and really make it a White House effort.

And the second lesson that was taken out of the Clinton reform failure was that-that whatever reformers did, they shouldn't do anything to threaten the existing private insurance arrangements on which Americans relied.

But I think both of those lessons, very important, needed to be learned, have been overlearned to a little bit of an-too much of an extent. And, in particular, I think that the one lesson of the Clinton reform effort that-that has-seems to have been forgotten is that you really need to have a positive case for change that you're presenting consistently, and that's simple, from the very beginning of the reform effort.

O'DONNELL: Haynes Johnson, how much deja vu are you experiencing these days, and what do you think is the most important lesson for the Obama team to have learned?



Hearing Hillary just saying that-and Dr. (INAUDIBLE) just a minute ago brought it all back to me, the way-the bitterness of it, the failure of the plan. And I think the real lesson in this is that you can't do it unless it's bipartisan. And that's the difficulty, because we're now more polarized than we were 15 years ago.

And the issues are greater. More people have less insurance, and we are in an economic time where people are anxious, understandably. So you have got the problem where a president's greatest power is the power of persuasion. And you have to do that.

The Clinton-the Clinton people did it for a while, but they didn't have the skills that Obama has of reaching over and trying to bring the country together. That's why he won the presidency. Now he's facing a tremendously difficult task. So, I think this is an even greater and more fateful titanic struggle than we had 15 years ago.

O'DONNELL: Jacob Hacker, do you think the Senate Finance Committee is now showing a little too much nostalgia for the old days of bipartisanship?

HACKER: Yes, I don't think that this-this-as-as Haynes was saying, this is such a partisan political environment, I don't think it's realistic to think that we're going to have the kind of bipartisan backroom deal that we had, for example, on Social Security back in the 1980s or on tax reform under Ronald Reagan.

I think this is going to be, inevitably, a very partisan fight. And I don't think that the lesson I would take from the Clinton reform debate was that bipartisanship is the precondition of action.

What I would say is that the really important thing is that the president has to move very quickly and decisively. And he does have to bring moderate-in this case, moderate Republicans on board. But that could occur through pressure and through persuasion toward the end of the process.

It doesn't have to be a backroom deal. And I don't think that they're going to get a persuasive backroom deal. I mean, I think, to go back to the point I was making earlier, the president was right to make this a congressionally centered effort. And he was right to focus on reforms that would help those who don't have access to insurance today to get access to good options.

But what he really needs to do now is show how middle-class Americans who have coverage will benefit from the reforms he supports. He needs to get out there in front of the debate, and not let members of Congress and what they're talking about drive the discussion.

O'DONNELL: Now, the-the thing that I find eerie about both of these debates is that, in-in both periods, is that the plans being discussed are absolutely inexplicable. There is no kitchen table in America where anyone in any family can explain to anyone else in the family what it is the Congress is considering.

And-and, Haynes Johnson, I remember you coming around to my office when I was working at the Finance Committee at the time and many others interviewing people about what we were doing. And we all had these day-to-day notions of who made what mistake today and who made what mistake last week.

And, in retrospect, my view of it was nothing was actually passable, that the-that the goalposts kept moving, the whole thing was impossible, and that what we should have done was go for something much more simple, what the-what the liberals in the House now call Medicare for all.

What every strategist tells you is, of course, that's a political loser.

But I want you both to consider the following. What if, after Hillary's disaster, for two years, the Democrats said absolutely nothing, and then they started getting serious about trying to advance the debate on Medicare for all?

Maybe, 15 years later, like around now, the country might be ready for a serious vote on Medicare for all. The debate might have ripened, if they had-they had started it that long time ago.

Does that sound like a wacky lefty idea to you, Haynes?

JOHNSON: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, I support that. It makes great sense to me, because what we want is something that works. And it's so complex, you cannot understand it. And everybody knows it.

Therefore, it allows itself to be frightened and scared of all the-what we're seeing in these town hall meetings. And what you-if you do it slowly, do this incrementally, piece by piece, wait a while, explain it to the country, be the educator, be the public educator, here is where-how it's going to affect you, so you can understand it.

If you can't understand it, it won't work, and you're going to have this kind of debacle that we had 15 years ago and is now generating so much heat and passion. And it's not a case of bipartisanship entirely. I-I agree with my colleague on this. That's not the point.

The point is, you have got to go slowly. You have got to bring in people in the center, and you have got to see what then comes. And you have got to educate the people.

O'DONNELL: Jacob, as I told Haynes at the time, at the end of our 24 hearings in the Senate Finance Committee on health care reform that year, Chairman Moynihan, at the end of the final hearing, put his hand over the microphone, and simply turned to me and said, "Why don't we just delete the word 65 and over from the Medicare statute?"

It would be explainable. If you-if you don't understand Medicare, you're related to someone who does. Your grandmother, your mother, someone can explain it to you. You don't have to go to a town hall meeting to have it explained.

Do you think, if the-if the Democrats had made that their crusade for the last 15 years, we might actually be at the tipping point, where the country would be ready to go for it?

HACKER: I'm not sure that's true, but I think you're absolutely right that this-that we really need to have a simple alternative that's on the table and that's grounded in something that people are familiar with, like Medicare.

And I think, during the campaign, President Obama did a very good job talking about the idea that this was going to be creating a simple set of options for people. If you didn't have coverage from your employer, or you weren't happy with it, or if you were a small employer that wasn't able to provide good options to your-to your workers, you would be able to go into some kind of new pool where there would be a choice of a Medicare-like public plan.

And that idea, the public plan, has become such a flash point of conflict. And I think part of it is, as you suggested, that Democrats really haven't laid the groundwork. What Senator Moynihan said back in '94 is actually the strategy that advocates of Medicare wanted to follow after it was passed. They thought that it would expand to cover children. They thought that it would expand-and it did expand-to cover the disabled.

They thought that, over time, that people who are at lower incomes might be enrolled in the program as well, and so that it would be a stepping-stone to broader coverage.

But what we have seen, instead, is that the Democrats have been very reluctant to talk about Medicare. They're worried because its costs are out of control. And, as a result, many Americans don't even realize that Medicare is a government program. You know...


O'DONNELL: All right. Jacob Hacker, we're going to have to leave it there.


O'DONNELL: We three could go on and on about this.


O'DONNELL: Thank you, Jacob Hacker and Haynes Johnson.

Anybody working in the White House...

JOHNSON: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: ... who hasn't read these two books from these two authors, you have got to do that this weekend.

Up next: Will actor Brad Pitt consider making the big move to politics, following in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan? That's next in the "Sideshow."

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


O'DONNELL: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

First up: Brad Pitt for mayor? Not so fast. On this morning's "Today Show," the star addressed the calls to run for office in New Orleans, where he bought a home in 2007 and founded a charity to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Here he is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you seen the T-shirts?

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: Yes, I have seen the T-shirts.



I'm looking at this here, and it's pretty good. It's got a-there's a-there's a nice rendering of you, I think.



If chosen, would you run?

PITT: Yes, yes.


PITT: Yes. I'm running on the gay marriage, no religion, legalization and taxation on marijuana platform.


PITT: I don't have a chance.



O'DONNELL: And a political career comes to an end.

And now a blast from the past. Remember Betsy Wright, the top aide to then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton? She's probably best known for handling candidate Clinton's so-called bimbo eruptions during his 1992 campaign for president.

Well, Betsey Wright's back in the news. She's been accused of visiting an Arkansas prison and trying to smuggle a knife and 48 tattoo needles in-get this-a Doritos bag.

Wright's defense? She says she found the Doritos bag lying at the bottom of a vending reason. From suppressing bimbo eruptions to prison smuggling-Clinton world, still stranger than fiction.

Time now for tonight's "Big Number."

The House health care bill's provision for end-of-life counseling has given rise to bizarre right-wing talk of Obama death panels. The critics claim Democrats are trying to pull the plug on grandma to save money.

So, here is a reality check. How much does Congressional-

Congressional Budget Office say the program will actually cost-yes, yes, cost the federal government over the next 10 years? Two-point-seven billion dollars. So, don't be surprised if it falls out of the bill, because it's just too expensive. The end-of-life counseling provision will cost-not save-cost the government $2.7 billion-tonight's "Big Number."

Up next, is former Vice President Dick Cheney ready to reveal his frustration with George Bush in his new book? Revelations about the rift between Bush and Cheney with Pat Buchanan and Tom DeFrank.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SHARON EPPERSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sharon Epperson with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

I'm Sharon Epperson with your CNBC market wrap. A late rally on an encouraging inventories report helping to push stocks into positive territory, just ahead of the closing bell. The Dow Jones industrials added 36 points, the S&P 500 up almost seven points. The Nasdaq finished 10 points higher.

The Commerce Department says business inventories fell by a greater-than-expected 1.1 percent in June, and business sales rose 0.9 percent, the first advance there since July of last year.

A couple of big retailers reporting earnings today. Wal Mart shares finished more than 2.5 percent higher, after reporting relatively flat quarterly profits that still managed to beat expectations.

Kohl's shares finished up a fraction of a point. Profits and revenue beat expectations, but investors were disappointed in Kohl's downbeat outlook for the rest of the year.

Most other retailers skidded on indications consumers were putting off back-to-school shopping, in hopes of better deals down the road.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to


O'DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is writing his memoirs. And "The Washington Post" reports that the one-time master of secrecy will reveal his grievances with his boss, former President George W. Bush, and detail their heated arguments in full.

Someone who attended a recent Cheney gathering described Cheney's disappointment with Bush and said, in the second term, Cheney felt Bush was moving away from him. He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that.

The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him-or, rather, Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He had showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming.

Tom DeFrank is the Washington bureau chief of "The New York Daily News," and Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.

Tom DeFrank, what do we make of this? Is Dick Cheney ready to violate his omerta, his blood oath of science?

TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, I think he is, up to a point. I guess I think that he's going to show a little leg. He's certainly going to-going to deal with the differences between himself and President Bush, especially in the second term.

But I-I suspect that Cheney is not going to be particularly personal about his view of President Bush. I was in contact this afternoon with somebody who is very familiar with both the book and Cheney's view, and I'm told that the "Washington Post" story, in this view, distorts both Cheney's view of President Bush and what he intends to do in the book.

We will just have to see.

O'DONNELL: Pat Buchanan, you're a veteran of the Nixon White House, where a lot of books came in the aftermath of that administration, with a lot of backstabbing in those books.

Does this surprise you, that Cheney might join that crowd of backstabbers who write memoirs revealing all the secrets after he leaves the White House?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't believe Dick Cheney will engage in backstabbing.

I do believe this, Lawrence, that Cheney does feel, I think, that the Bush administration or the president himself had sort of a lapse of faith in his earlier axis of evil policies, that he put Rumsfeld over the side, who was Dick Cheney's mentor and friend, in a way that was-really reduced Rumsfeld to a level that Cheney felt was insulting.

I think he felt that the president didn't move against North Korea and Iran as toughly as he should have in those final two years. And, of course, you have got the Scooter Libby pardon that didn't happen.

But I agree with Tom that-that Cheney's not going to get personal and small here. I think he's going to defend his record as the most powerful, influential vice president in history, going to say, we did the right thing, we should have been stronger at the end, and he's going to establish a separate identity from George W. Bush.

And I think, probably, he's doing the right thing for himself.

O'DONNELL: All right, let's consider this excerpt from the "Washington Post" story. "'When the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him,'" Cheney said, according to Stephen Hayes, his authorized biographer. 'Now we're talking about after we have left office. I have strong feelings about what happened, and I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views.'"

Pat Buchanan, doesn't he actually still have a reason not to express those views?

BUCHANAN: I disagree. I think George W. Bush is being very fatalistic. He talks about in 50 years history may-will decide what my presidency is like. Cheney sees this as being put in ice as a failed presidency.

Let me give you an example. I don't know what Cheney's position was, but my guess would be he would liked to have unleashed the Israelis on Iran or have gone himself, had the United States take out those nuclear facilities. Now, if he has a very strong position-he felt that was the right position, and he was vetoed by the president-you follow the president when you were in there. But when you leave and write your memoirs, Lawrence, I think it's fair to say, this is what I thought should be done and here is what I said?

O'DONNELL: Tom Defrank, doesn't the loyalty extend to history?

Doesn't it extend to the time after office?

DEFRANK: Well, up to a point, I would say, Lawrence. Of course, I think the Bush clan would say that. I mean, the Bush-

O'DONNELL: How is the Bush clan going to react to this?

DEFRANK: Well, the Bush clan, as you well know, prides loyalty over every other factor, over competence and everything else. So unless this is a big distortion of where Cheney really is going to be, I think the Bush people will think this is an act of disloyalty.

On the other hand, one thing that resonated with me about this story was something that happened to me that is very similar to an incident in this story, where Cheney years ago, maybe 25 years ago, said to me he would never write a book, because you've got to be willing-there's got to be one guy around a president who shuts up and keeps his mouth shut.

Why has he changed his mind? I suspect it's because he believes very strongly in certain things. And he clearly was overruled a fair amount in the second term. And I think he has decided, for his own sake and for history's sake, that he's going to lay out some of that. But I don't believe he's going to beat up the president, President Bush. That would probably-as Nixon said, it would be wrong.

O'DONNELL: Pat Buchanan, you've crossed the Bush family. You had the audacity to run against the first President Bush for president. How did that feel? You're still alive. You seem OK.

BUCHANAN: Well, it was-we had a pretty rough going over. But when you take on the president of the United States, as I have often said-people say you can't fight city hall. Try overthrowing the government of the United States. So you expect that.

But let me say on a personal level, as Tom did, I'm very loyal. I like Richard Nixon. He was like a father to me. But if I wrote my memoirs, which I intend to do, I would have no hesitancy in saying that I urged him to do the bombing on North Vietnam in 1969. I thought he should have vetoed this bill, and he didn't do it. I think you can do that and be respectful and say, you know, the president of the United States, you serve him loyally, but you got a right to write your memoirs and say where you stood on all these issues, after the presidency is over.

O'DONNELL: Pat, why didn't you write your Nixon memoir in the '70s when it was hot? If you do a Nixon memoir, it is going to come out over 40 years later, after the president is dead. It seems to me there's a big difference between that and what Cheney is doing.

BUCHANAN: You're right. But look, I was not 68 years old then. I was 34, 35 when I left the administration. Cheney, let's face it, he's had a heart condition. He's got a tremendous reputation in history as the most controversial vice president, most powerful, influential. I almost think, Lawrence, he's got an obligation to lay out why he did what he did.

He's been out front on the torture issue, as they call it. He confronted the president of the United States, Obama, on that. And I think what he's saying is, look, if Mr. Bush wants to go out there and, you know, let history be the judge, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to make the case for what I said and did, because I believe it was right and I believe it is still the right thing to do in the interests of the national security.

And truth be told, Cheney has-if you talk national security, I think Dick Cheney still has great credibility with tens of millions of Americans on that issue.

O'DONNELL: All right. I think I smell book hype here. I'm not-I have a feeling there's going to be less than we want in this book. Thank you, Tom Defrank. Thank you, Pat Buchanan.

Up next, did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton imply Jeb Bush helped steer the election results in the 2000 election at a town hall meeting in Nigeria. Should Hillary put politics aside as secretary of state? That's next in the politics fix. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


O'DONNELL: We are back. Time for the politics fix with "Politico's" Roger Simon and the "New Yorkers'" Ryan Lizza. Here is Secretary Hillary Clinton yesterday. She made a comment about the 2000 election here in the United States in Africa. Let's listen to what she said.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our democracy is still evolving. We had all kinds of problems in some of our past elections, as you might remember. In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for president was the governor of the state. So we have our problems, too.


O'DONNELL: Now, there were some people here in this country who didn't like the sound of that, including our own king of the morning, Joe Scarborough. Let's listen to what he had to say.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state of the United States of America, is overseas and she suggested that the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, rigged the election for George W. Bush. I was there. That is an unfair, slanderous assessment.


O'DONNELL: Roger Simon, referee this one. Unfair, slanderous assessment?

ROGER SIMON, "POLITICO": This is Kingsley's law; you only get attacked when you speak the truth. The only criticism you could make is that Jeb Bush didn't steal it very effectively. He should have done it by a lot more votes than he ended up doing it.

You know, I really don't see the problem with this. What went on in Florida is historic fact. I think you could make the case that it went beyond Jeb Bush to one vote on the Supreme Court. But you might as well tell people in foreign countries the truth about democracy; it doesn't always work perfectly.

O'DONNELL: Ryan Lizza, do we really have evidence that Jeb Bush stole and election? And is that what Hillary Clinton should be telling people in Africa.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": We don't have evidence of that Hillary Clinton told people in Africa that Jeb Bush stole the election.

O'DONNELL: All right. Hold it-

LIZZA: Joe doth protest too much on this.

O'DONNELL: Interpret for me what she wanted her audience to understand by what she said.

LIZZA: She stated a fact, that the guy running for president and the guy running the state that the election hinged on were brothers.

O'DONNELL: Was there something wrong with that?

LIZZA: Well, the suggestion is that there's an inherent conflict of interest in that relationship. I think that's as far as she was going.

O'DONNELL: But was she then telling people around the world that governors of the 50 states control the outcomes of the election in their states? Roger Simon, is that what she wanted people to think?

SIMON: No, I don't think that's what she wanted people to think. I think she was trying to be light-hearted, perhaps at a time-you know, we're in an era where every political reporter is a theater reviewer. And the performer has to be on his or her game, delivering a flawless performance 100 percent of the time. That means no light moments, no moments that can possibly be misinterpreted.

LIZZA: And Hillary is like "Cats," the longest running. Everyone loves to comment on it.

O'DONNELL: If we think of this as a light moment, talking about democracy in parts of the world where democracy is barely understood, where it's in its juvenile stages at best, is this the way to describe the American democracy, which is actually the most successful Democratic experiment in the world?

LIZZA: That being said-I agree with you there. But I don't think that the Florida election of 2000 anyone would hold up to the rest of the world as a model of how a democracy should be run. I think that's all she was getting at, that even in this country we have our own problems. Maybe she could have talked about the Butterfly Ballot. Maybe she could have talked about other things that went on in that, irregularities. But the point she pointed to, the conflict of interest in the governor of the state and the guy running being brothers.

I don't think that's a controversial fact, though.

O'DONNELL: You think that is an inherent conflict of interest? If there's a governor of a state who is related to a candidate, that's a conflict of interest?

LIZZA: It's-it's an inherent conflict of interest. If you look back at the record at the time, he probably recognized that and said that he would recuse himself from certain decisions. It doesn't follow-

O'DONNELL: I don't get it. I don't know how governors control the outcomes of elections in their states. How do they do that?

LIZZA: Well, they appoint the election officials. There's all kinds of machinery in a state that the governor is in charge of.

O'DONNELL: We won't relitigate that one. We're going to right back with Roger Simon and Ryan Lizza for more of the politics fix. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA: Well, I think have-by sticking my finger in the dike, I've had an opportunity to give the grassroots of America an opportunity to speak up, as you're seeing every day on television. And I think-and I think that that's a-I think that that's a good thing.


O'DONNELL: We're back with Roger Simon and Roger Lizza for more of the politics fix. Hey guys, forget about what Grassley said about the death panels. What you just heard is the most important thing he said yesterday. That's what the Obama White House should be worried about. He didn't say I have delayed this bill and I have delayed this process in order to make it a better bill. He simply said, I put my finger in the dike.

Ryan, if that's all he's doing, doesn't the White House have to be very worried about dealing with Senator Grassley now?

LIZZA: In a sense-If his view is he put his finger in the dike, that doesn't sound like a very good position to be in if you're a Republican senator, right? That sounds like the dam is about to break. So yes, Grassley-look, we don't know what Grassley's position is when he's negotiating behind closed doors, and what he's doing when he's being a populist senator in front of his constituents and trying to play to the crowd. Right? There's an inside game and there's an outside game. We don't know how large the gap is between the two of them.

O'DONNELL: Roger Simon, did that sound like an Iowa senator in Iowa saying what his audience wants to hear, ready to go back to Washington and work hard on health care reform?

SIMON: It sounds to me like an Iowa politician playing to the crowd. He doesn't need to scare seniors in Iowa, but it's what he's doing. To put it in some context, Iowa, in terms of the age of its population, is one of the oldest states of the union. It also has one of the highest percentages of people who live in care facilities.

Seniors, those 65 and over, is the one age group that Barack Obama did not carry. He lost them by eight percentage point. One reason is it's the most resistant group to change, which is Obama's central message. People out there, and older people in general, have their Medicare. They have their Social Security checks. And they're worried about anything changing that.

We're only a few days from the 20th anniversary of the famous Senior Citizen Riot in Chicago, where Danny Rostokowski was chased down the streets by senior citizens, and they pounded on the hood on his car, because he was trying to raise the cost of Medicare for an added benefit, that they didn't want. It didn't go through.

It's very easy to scare seniors. Chuck Grassley doesn't need to do it to get elected next year. He's going to get elected anyway. I think he's just going back on his-

O'DONNELL: Roger, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you, Roger Simon and Ryan Lizza. 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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