IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show


October 21, 2009



Guests: Rep. Anthony Weiner, Cynthia Tucker, Anne Kornblut, Lincoln Chafee, Vin Weber

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The final battle begins.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:

Last gasp. You heard it, the final campaign is on. Liberals pushing a government-run health care plan to compete with the private sector are making their final drive. The big question, maybe the only question, is whether all 60 Democrats in the Senate will vote for the public option. It is a stunning standard for any political party, especially the Democrats. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is apparently willing to take the risk, bet everything on an up-or-down vote on the whole thing.

Congressman Anthony Weiner joins us to explain why it's a good bet, to risk losing the president's number one measure by putting out the perfect instead of the good. What makes Mr. Weiner think he can get a bunch of moderate Senate Democrats from places like rural North Dakota and Nebraska to vote like a guy from downtown Brooklyn?

One reason the Democrats need every vote they can find is that the Republicans have become the "Just say no" party. If President Obama supports something, they oppose it. Get the picture? That has gotten them to 20 percent in the latest "Washington Post"/ABC poll-of the people of this country say they're Republicans. But it's also gotten them gaining on Democrats in the polls of who's likely to control Congress next year. Is it possible that "Just say no" is actually good politics?

And here's a question that's being whispered around Washington. Is Obama tough enough? In politics, it's better to be feared than loved. So wrote the great Machiavelli. Is the president feared enough to get things done?

Plus, how did John Kerry get to be President Obama's lead envoy to Afghanistan? Let's find out who this new secretary is. That's in the "Politics Fix."

And you heard about the six-figure speaking fees ex-presidents get. Well, which ex-president can you and your entire office see for $19? It's about motivation. Guess which president. Check out the HARDBALL "Sideshow" tonight for that answer.

Let's start now with the fight over the public option. U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner's a New York Democrat who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Thank you, sir.


MATTHEWS: The all powerful Energy and Commerce Committee! Let me ask you about this. It seems like you guys, this progressive wing of the Democratic Party, are going for it. You believe you've got the votes, the 218 for what's called now the "robust public option" in the House. How close are you to getting a majority in the House? We'll start there.

WEINER: I think we're there. I mean, I basically think we're there, looking-and this has been driven by the idea that overwhelming, the country is saying -- 60 percent or so support it. The fact that we've been talking about 218 says it's got broad support in the Democratic coalition, and there's at least 55 votes in the Senate.

So the only question is, Why wouldn't it be in? It's clearly where the country is and it's where our caucus is. And frankly, this notion that it's some kind of far-out lefty idea of having a sliver of competition for these plans-and it's just a sliver because, frankly, you won't be able to get it. I won't be able to get it. It's only going to be for people who have no insurance coverage. That amount of-that amount of competition is hardly a radical notion.

MATTHEWS: Well, there seems to be resistance. Let's take a look now at the six senators we've picked out based on whether-their public comments-Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh.

Now, let's give you some of the quotes out of these people. One is-let's start with Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas. She said this month, "I am opposed to a fully government-funded and gun-run option." Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said, "I'm not for a government-run national public option, but I am for choice and more competition." So these people, a lot of them, are speaking out and saying they disagree with you.

WEINER: Yes, but...

MATTHEWS: So you need them.

WEINER: Look, Mary Landrieu is a classic example. She said that a lot of people she thinks supports public option because they thought it's free health care. People don't have that misconception. Look, the fact of the matter is that a lot of members of Congress running into the face of the health insurance industry and changing the status quo were buffeted over the months of August and September. But now you know what? This has turned into a debate on substance. The American people get it. They want this level of combination.

You know, I did an interesting thing. I have this Web site, We put on a pin map all the zip codes where people sent in a letter or an e-mail saying they wanted the public option, all throughout the country. This is not a coastal thing that's going on here.

MATTHEWS: It's not?

WEINER: No. You (INAUDIBLE) people understand the idea that they want a little competition in the marketplace...


WEINER: ... and that's the only way to hold down costs.

MATTHEWS: The people that seem to be holding out, though, are people like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut-he's bicoastal. He said right away he's with the insurance industry. How are you going to get his vote?

WEINER: Because we're not...

MATTHEWS: He just says...


WEINER: I would like to have a debate and we're going to have it on the floor, whether we get rid of insurance companies. I think we should. But that's not what this argument is about. This is about whether we're going to have a tiny sliver of competition. And something else...

MATTHEWS: But they don't want competition.

WEINER: But I want to say something. If we are not successful, we as Democrats, talking in crass political terms now, if we pass a watered-down bill that's not going to contain costs, we are going to lose the House and Senate because our fundamental objective won't be met. So I think...


WEINER: ... that after a while, these senators are going to...

MATTHEWS: OK, let's talk turkey. You have to take the position of being strong for a robust plan. I know it's your position, it's your philosophy.


MATTHEWS: And I think there's a lot of people, not just on the East and West Coast, who agree with you. But the question is, Can you get 60 senators? Now, here-I want to ask you this. If it comes down to a compromise, where you have to have a trigger or you have to have an opt-in, opt-out by state, would you accept that?

WEINER: I would accept and would be open to the idea of after the program's up and running a couple of years, if a state wants to opt out, if they want to leave 25,000, 30,000, 50,000 of their citizens without that choice-I don't believe it's going to happen, so I would accept that kind of an opt-out thing.

MATTHEWS: But not an opt-in?

WEINER: But the idea-a trigger-we already have a trigger in the law now in that the bill takes effect, realistically, for another seven years, eight years out, 2013 plus a five-year phase-in. There's already a trigger.

The fact is, we're going to be judged on whether there is going to be cost coming down on competition. If we don't have a public option, I don't care what kind of fancy bells and whistles we put in this thing, we're not going to achieve that goal. People are then going to look back and say, You know what? This effort was a failure.

MATTHEWS: OK, here's what I don't understand. We have a new poll out from yesterday-came out the other day-actually, it came out today-

45 to 48 -- "The Washington Post" asked, "Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance?" Now, that did very well. But then there's this one-that was 57 percent. Then we have this other one on-"The Washington Post" asked, "Given what you know about them, would you say you support or oppose the proposed changes to the health care system being developed by Congress and the Obama administration" -- 45 yes, 48 no. After all the noise of this thing, it's not winning.

WEINER: That's right because of all the noise and it's getting picked apart in town hall meetings and everything else. But we're trending in the right direction. Look, I have to say this. I think the president from time to time steps up and gives a great speech on why we need to deal with this...

MATTHEWS: Trending in the right direction? You're 45 to 48 -- you're down.

WEINER: Well, the public option has been going up steadily 5 or 6 points in every single poll because that's been the focus of the conversation. The more people focus and understand these issues, the more they're inclined to support what we're doing.


WEINER: Look, the fact of the matter is, if you ask people, Do you like Medicare, that gets overwhelming...


MATTHEWS: It's free!

WEINER: Exactly, 96 percent...

MATTHEWS: Of course people like it! It's free!

WEINER: ... 96 -- and it also has a 3 percent-it's not free, obviously. We pay premiums and they put taxes into it.


WEINER: But the point is, if you describe what we're doing here, the public option, as being like Medicare...


WEINER: ... which it really is...

MATTHEWS: ... suppose you polled people and said, Do you want a government-run health care system as an option-government-run is not in these-you're smiling.

WEINER: Can I tell you something?

MATTHEWS: The polling question never says "government-run." It says "created by the government," "government-sponsored."

WEINER: How about this?

MATTHEWS: These are pretty soft questions.

WEINER: If I said a government option, such as-like that was created with Medicare 44 years ago-off the charts because people understand how Medicare works. This-making this complicated is why we're losing the issue. I've been saying for months, Just say Medicare is for everyone who's 65.


WEINER: Why? Why not 55 or 45 or 35?


WEINER: People understand...


MATTHEWS: ... ask you about these polls. You've pointed out

anecdotally that you've seen some zip code information that tells you where

but you have ever place like Nebraska, North Dakota-you've got two senators out there. You've got Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both questionable on this thing. You got people from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, questionable on this.

WEINER: Well...

MATTHEWS: You got-these are people-I mean, you've from the big East, where people are more liberal.

WEINER: This is not...

MATTHEWS: These parts of the country are not liberal. They voted for...


WEINER: Here's what I would say to those senators...

MATTHEWS: They vote for McCain!

WEINER: Here's what I would say to the senators. Let's have an up-or-down vote on it. That's what I would say to those senators. Let the majority rule in this case.


MATTHEWS: ... unanimous vote to win.

WEINER: No, no, no, no. Here's what I want them to do. Just give us a yes vote on letting us have the vote on the floor. How about that? That's what this is about. You know, we've lost sight of the forest for the trees here.

MATTHEWS: OK, you're making an argument here that they're not going to make. They say they need 60 votes to break a filibuster.

WEINER: Even get it-and I think that we have to decide as a party, Is this going to be a majority rule situation here? Are we going to go with the-the overwhelming majority of the people who...

MATTHEWS: Unfortunately, you've lost the argument. The Senate is not going to go for 60 votes.

WEINER: I think...

MATTHEWS: They don't have them.

WEINER: I think...

MATTHEWS: And look (INAUDIBLE) the practicality here is when you got guys like Joe Lieberman sticking his head out and saying, I'm not for this bill...

WEINER: Here's where the-here's-they're all deficit hawks, I think. They're all deficit hawks.


WEINER: CBO tells us, common sense tells us, competition and choice drives down costs.


WEINER: Eventually, that argument is going to get through. And I would say-look, when I-I'm going to go back to my office and go to and I'm going to look at how many come from their states, and I bet we got hundreds and hundreds coming from all of their states.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what. It's 45 to 48 nationwide. You got to figure in Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, it's about 30 points for this thing.

WEINER: Wait a minute. That...


WEINER: ... on the public option-no...

MATTHEWS: In the latest polling, only 36 percent of the public-just a little more than a third-strongly support a public option.

WEINER: Well, the public option number over (INAUDIBLE) you can go with whatever poll you want, but the public option is "The Washington Post" two days ago, 60 percent, 58 percent. That's not bad. That's good. That's where...


MATTHEWS: ... final question...

WEINER: And by the way, as a percentage of Democrats, 80.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this. What percentage, do you think, of Democrats in this country are liberals and what percent are moderates?

WEINER: I have no idea. I think...

MATTHEWS: Do you think most are liberals.

WEINER: I have to say...

MATTHEWS: Do you think most are liberals?

WEINER: No, here's what I think. I think when it comes to health care, the moderate position is choice and competition. I don't believe the public option is the liberal position. The liberal position is what I have, single payer for all Americans. This is the compromise position.

MATTHEWS: So let's see on the bottom line, if you were Nancy Pelosi, if you were the Speaker, if you were Harry Reid, would you risk all to get the best possible program? Would you take a big risk and bring to the floor a bill that somebody like Joe Lieberman could vote against at the end, or at the last minute, Olympia Snowe could say, No, you've gone too far in conference, the compromise is too-I've got to pull out...

WEINER: If you...

MATTHEWS: Are you willing to risk that?

WEINER: If you do two things. One, yes, I would say if you put a strong, vibrant public option and then the president puts his finger on the scale and says, This is what I want, I'm prepared to campaign for it and make it a reality, it will become law and we'll be successful as a result.

MATTHEWS: And you're willing to draw on an inside straight here.

You're going to try to get every Democrat to vote for this in the Senate...

WEINER: I think-look...

MATTHEWS: ... because that's what it'll take.

WEINER: I think that we need to make the argument to my Democratic friends that this is an all-or-nothing strategy for us as Democrats. We run the country right now...


WEINER: ... House, Senate and the presidency.


WEINER: And if we can't do this (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: I've been talking around the Hill, talking to staffers and some members, and I've gotten to the point of disbelief. A lot of people like you believe that in the end, no good Democrat from wherever they are in the country is willing to be the man or woman who brings down the president's number one political ambition for this year, health care. And in the end, you folks believe that there'll be such tremendous pressure on all the Democrats, Nebraska, North Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, they'll still have to vote with the party. Do you believe that?

WEINER: Well, let me...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that?

WEINER: Let me say yes but phrase it a different way. There's a divide here. Some people think a watered-down health care plan could be a success for us. Some, like myself, believe if we don't get this right...


WEINER: ... we're not going to get another chance for 20 years.

MATTHEWS: You're a good spokesman. Thank you, sir. Thanks for coming on HARDBALL, Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.

Coming up: Is it smart strategy for the Republican Party to be the party of no? That's what they've become. We've got a hot debate between two Republicans. Former U.S. congressman Vin Weber, a smart guy, says standing up to President Obama is helping the party. In other words, the "No" solution is the right solution. And former senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who's running as an independent for governor of Rhode Island, says, No, you got to say yes sometimes.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, the new "Washington Post" poll finds that only 20 percent of the country, 1 in 5, of our people around us in this country say they're a Republican. That's 1 in 5. That might make you think Republican hopes for 2010, the next year's congressional elections, are dim. But look at this. In our most recent NBC News poll, 40 percent of the country says they'd like to see Republicans to control Congress after next year's election. That's basically the same as the 43 percent who'd like to see the Democrats hold power. So could "Just say no" be the solution for Obama's enemies? Just say no to him. Is that smart?

Lincoln Chafee-Linc Chafee, he's called-is a former Republican senator from Rhode Island who's now an independent running for governor of the great state, the island state, and Vin Weber's a Republican congressman from the heartland of America in Minnesota, the home of Michele Bachmann. Isn't that right? Just kidding!


MATTHEWS: Just kidding!

WEBER: And now Brett Favre.


MATTHEWS: All right, let me go with Linc Chafee. Senator, you're running for governor. You're still-I guess your heart still is a bit right of center. I guess I'm saying that because you got to speak on the question of politics to the Republicans. Is "Just say no" on everything-if Obama's name on it, you dump it-is that smart?

LINCOLN CHAFEE (I), FORMER RHODE ISLAND SENATOR: Well, On health care, I do think the Republicans are being very hypocritical because it was only a few short years ago that the Republican-controlled Congress with a Republican-controlled White House passed a prescription drug benefit, about a $600 billion, $700 billion addition to Medicare.

MATTHEWS: That's right.

CHAFEE: And so now they're saying that health care is too expensive, it's socializing-well, I was there when the Republicans rammed through the prescription drug benefit package without any reforms to Medicare. And it pained me as a Republican to be accused by the Democrats of being fiscally irresponsible, but that's the way I felt at the time.

So I do think it's hypocritical now for the Republicans to say that this is a big socialistic project, when just a few years ago, the Republicans put on the prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

MATTHEWS: Well, you got some other Republican leaders of the past who are out there, now-Bob Dole, Bill Frist, Howard Baker. They all say Republicans should work to get something done on health care, not just say no, but they're not running for office anymore. I know you're about to chuckle here, Vin Weber! So in other words, Republicans who are now eminent grises, eminence grises, grand old men of the party-why would they have a different view than people running for office?

WEBER: Well, because they're not running for office. And by the way, none of them have endorsed a specific-a specific plan. I don't think any of those guys, who I know and like and respect, would be voting for any of the Democrat plans if they were actually...

MATTHEWS: But wouldn't they negotiate...


MATTHEWS: ... compromise?

WEBER: They might-they'd be trying to negotiate, but we-other Republicans have tried to negotiate. Look, there's an ideological divide here. The objectives of the Democratic administration are different than the objectives of the Republicans in Congress. And back to Senator Chafee's point, precisely because they lost their fiscally conservative brand in the Bush administration by doing exactly what Senator Chafee talked about-big programs, no way to pay for them-they're not going do it again.

MATTHEWS: Well, a lot of the Republican Party seems to be going South these days, literally. You once had 55 senators, including you, Senator Chafee, in the Senate. Now you've got 40 members. That's not much of a caucus anymore. You used to have 232 members in the House of Representatives just four years ago. Now you've got 177. So you're definitely shrinking as a party. And the place you're shrinking most, as you know most, is in New England. There's no Republican member of Congress in New England, none at all right now in a part of the country that used to be dominated by Yankee Republicans.

Here's George Voinovich, who was governor of Ohio, and a senator, and he's still a senator. He said, There's too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns. People hear them, and they say, These people, they're all Southerners. The party's being taken over by Southerners. Why the hell they got-what's that got to do with Ohio?

Your thoughts, Linc Chafee. Is the party too Dixie, the Republican Party?

CHAFEE: Well, the agenda definitely hurts those of us in other parts of the country. And you mentioned the Northeast, but certainly in Minnesota, Norm Coleman couldn't survive. And out in Oregon, Gordon Smith couldn't survive. And so it's across the country where that Southern-dominated agenda just doesn't sell.

And the big question now is whether the "party of no" is going to be politically successful, and I don't think so. Too many Americans care deeply about these issues and they want to have an honest debate. And just to say no to everything-I don't think that's going to be politically advantageous for the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: Senator, why did-why did you give up the Republican Party loyalty? Why'd you give it up? You're now running as an independent for governor. Why? Was that practicality or is that belief or what?

LINCOLN CHAFEE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, I thought long and hard about it, because, having been a lifelong Republican, a Rockefeller Republican-Republican, if you will, I wondered if the pendulum would come back to my kind of conservatism.

And I say balanced budgets, caring about the environment, not getting into these quagmires overseas, and the constitutional liberties, particularly no wiretapping without a warrant, freedom of speech.


CHAFEE: That is my kind of conservatism. And I didn't think the-the pendulum was going to come back.

And, so, with some regret, I jumped the fence and became an independent. But now I'm...

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, unfortunately for you, the neocons took over your party. They became-your party became the hawk party on every issue. That is my thought. You don't have to...


CHAFEE: The 4th Amendment, the First Amendment...

VIN WEBER, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I know that's your thought.


MATTHEWS: It has become the party that's the knee-jerk yes to war, no to everything else.

WEBER: Well, the president is going to look to those Republicans to support him on that war is my guess. So, let's...



Let me ask you, Vin Weber, about-you left Congress. Let me ask you this. What is-what is so unseemly about being a Republican congressman anymore?


WEBER: Let me make a couple of points.

MATTHEWS: Michele Bachmann, there is somebody who is your state who is a bit out there, a bit further out.


WEBER: She says controversial things. She is going to get reelected in her district in Minnesota.

Look, we-we-Republicans lost control of the Congress in the 2006 election because of a couple of big issues. And it had nothing to do with what we are talking about here-opposition to the Iraq war...


WEBER: ... and opposition to Republican corruption, mainly in the House of Representatives.

It wasn't about any positive agenda put forward by the Democrats. It was about opposition to something the country didn't like that the Republicans were doing. Well, now a big chunk of the country, that part that might vote Republican...


WEBER: ... doesn't like doubling the debt in the next five years, tripling it in the next 10 years.

MATTHEWS: But you guys just doubled the debt before. Bush doubled the debt.

WEBER: And we're-we are atoning for our sins.

MATTHEWS: But you claim-you are worse. You're hypocritical, aren't you? You say you are fiscally conservative.


WEBER: If you have made a mistake in the past, the right thing to do, Chris, is stop making that mistake.

MATTHEWS: The president didn't veto a single spending bill.

WEBER: Bush is gone.


WEBER: We're talking about the new administration now. And Republicans are on the right side of this issue.

Let me say one last thing. There's no downside to saying no to these spending proposals. But that can't be the end of the story. I agree with Senator Chafee.


WEBER: Longer term, Republicans need a positive agenda.

MATTHEWS: OK. Here is my question.

We have had time in recent history when the Republican Party has controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Why didn't they do their version of health care reform when they had all the power?


CHAFEE: Well...

MATTHEWS: ... why didn't your party do something when they had all the power? You talk about Republican solutions, Republican alternatives, and the minute you have the power to do those things, you don't do them.


MATTHEWS: You wait for the Democrats to come along, and then you trip them up.

WEBER: We tried to do Social Security.

CHAFEE: Yes. Yes. Yes.

WEBER: That was probably a tactical error.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts.

CHAFEE: On Social Security, certainly, I was there for that.

And the president and his administration would not compromise in any way. It was going to be their way or no bill at all. And there were some good ideas to reforming Social Security, but, typical of the Bush/Cheney administration, no area to have honest discussion about some give and take on this very, very important issue.


CHAFEE: And I had one other thing that is, I think, fascinating, is that Lindsey Graham co-authored an op-ed-op-ed piece with John Kerry on climate change.

So, Senator Graham, Lindsey Graham, from South Carolina, he is saying, I think, this party of no, this no to everything is not good politics. Why else would he co-author that letter about joining in on climate change with John Kerry?

MATTHEWS: Because he is smart, smart. And he has a conscience.


WEBER: He's one of the smartest senators in the Senate. That's right.


MATTHEWS: And he is not willing to say there is no science, there's no evolution.

You've got people in your party that say they don't-they know they are all kidding, of course, because they are playing to the very right-wing church people. There's no-there's never been a...


WEBER: Right-wing church people?

MATTHEWS: All those millions of years of bones out...

CHAFEE: Yes, that's right. That's right, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... bones out there we keep discovering, Lucy, that the Leakeys keep finding, oh, they were all planted there by liberals from New York.


MATTHEWS: I mean, you guys, you say things like you don't believe in evolution, you don't believe in climate change.

WEBER: I have never said that. What are you talking about, "you guys"?

MATTHEWS: Because your party is run by its yahoo wing.



WEBER: It is so much fun being on here with you.


MATTHEWS: You're not a yahoo.


WEBER: You don't believe there's Republicans and Democrats. You believe there's good and evil.


WEBER: And I know which side you have got me on tonight.


MATTHEWS: I think there are some moderate Republicans, my brother, for example.


MATTHEWS: But, I mean, do you believe in evolution?


MATTHEWS: Do you believe in climate change?


MATTHEWS: OK. See, it was a little slow there, wasn't it?

WEBER: Well, I believe in climate change, but it's a more complicated issue than that. You've got to ask, how much do you think that human activity is contributing to climate change, how much other factors? What price are you willing to pay to try to reduce climate change?


MATTHEWS: ... ask you if you believe in clean coal or not.


MATTHEWS: But you have to say yes.

Anyway, thank you, Linc Chafee. Senator, Governor, I wish you good luck as an independent. There is a great tradition up there, Lowell Weicker up there, Angus King.

CHAFEE: That's right.

MATTHEWS: I know you have seen these-these prophets of independence before.

WEBER: Senator, Senator, don't listen to this guy.



WEBER: Come back to the Republican Party. Help us change it. You will like it better if you're back with us.

MATTHEWS: Good luck as an independent.


MATTHEWS: I loved your dad, too, like everybody else did, John Chafee.


MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir, for coming on.

CHAFEE: Thank you very much. Kind words.


MATTHEWS: Linc Chafee, the senator from Rhode Island and perhaps the next governor.

And Vin Weber, a great man. He's no Michele Bachmann.

You don't want to investigate the members of the Democratic Party for anti...


WEBER: Michele Bachmann is a friend of mind.


WEBER: What is this thing with you and Michele Bachmann?

MATTHEWS: Because I asked her one time, do you think that the Congress should be investigated for anti-American thinking? And she said yes.


MATTHEWS: That's what I wonder about.


MATTHEWS: Up next-maybe they should just be investigated for thinking.

Up next: $19. Which former president of the-U.S. president-which of them, by the way, thinks that we ought to pay $19 to go to a lecture on motivating our office? In fact, it is 19 bucks for the whole office. Who is going to give that speech? Wait until you hear. Stick around for the "Sideshow." This one really belongs there.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

Guess who is back in the news? Bernard Kerik. Remember him? He was almost the man in charge of protecting our country from terrorism. He was put up for the job of homeland security secretary by President George W. Bush, at the recommendation of-of Mr. Law and Order himself, Rudy Giuliani.

Well, Mr. Kerik now is awaiting trial on corruption, conspiracy and tax fraud. And just take a look at these covers from the New York tabloids. Kerik's half-million-dollar bail was revoked yesterday, as the judge in his case ripped him for a-what he called a toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance.

Kerik was slammed in jail because the judge says he leaked sealed information in order to taint the jury pool.

Well, I am generally pro-police. I hope he gets through this. That's just my feelings.

Next up: "I'm sick," he Twittered. "I'm sick," he Twittered. Oregon's Greg Walden is the first American U.S. congressman hit by swine flu. He announced his illness yesterday through-I guess he wasn't that sick-Twitter. This is what he Twittered: "Just diagnosed with likely H1N1. Ugh"-U-G-H-"Off to seclusion for a while."

All that Twitters is not gold.

Tonight's "Big Number" has to do with a big event happening in Fort Worth, Texas, next week. Here it is, a motivational business seminar featuring former President George W. Bush. We also got General Colin Powell and Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former quarterback Terry Bradshaw in there as speakers.

So, how much will it cost to be motivated to attend this meeting of the minds? Nineteen dollars. By the way, that is the price per person-actually, not per person. They have upped it so you bring the whole office for $19, a $19 wholesale price to get some motivation-motivational advice from George W.

Whoa. That is kind of a low price for a former president. That's tonight's bargain-basement price.

Up next: Nine months into his presidency, is President Obama tough enough? I love enough. He is proving he can take on his critics and make good on his campaign promises?

You're watching HARDBALL. And we're coming back with that one. Is Mohammed-is Barack Obama tough enough? Only at MSNBC.


BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bertha Coombs with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

A lower finish on Wall Street today, after a late sell-off in financial stocks-the Dow Jones industrials down 92 point, the S&P 500 dropping nine, and the Nasdaq falling nearly 13.

Investors were spooked by a ratings downgrade on Wells Fargo from an

influential analyst, Dick Bove. Bove said he expects losses from bad loans

to continue to climb-Wells Fargo shares down 5 percent after the close -

eBay shares are taking a hit in after-hours trading, despite a better-than-expected earning report. Investors appear disappointed in the online auction site's conservative outlook for the current quarter.

And big news out of Washington this afternoon-the federal pay czar will reportedly order massive cuts in executive composition for seven companies that received government bailout funds. Their pay is expected to fall about 90 percent, at least for the top executives, from last year's levels.

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









UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, my God. What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What happened was, you made Barack Obama angry.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: When you make him angry, he turns. He turns into "The Rock" Obama.




MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We're just seeing, by the way, the big question, and we're asking the question right now about Barack Obama ever since he campaigned against Hillary Clinton during the primaries: Is he tough enough?

Well, this week, the "National Journal" magazine pondered the very same issue.

And joining me right now to discuss it, President Obama's strength, is "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson.

You know, I-I have to tell you, I have an opinion. What's yours?


EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not sure that is the right question.

I mean, is he-you know, is he tough enough? Was he black enough when he started? Was he too black? I mean, it's-it's-he is who he is, and he's had a remarkable run of...


MATTHEWS: OK. Let's define tough. Is tough talking tough? Is it bluster? Is it, you know, talking like a tough guy?

ROBINSON: Well, it...

MATTHEWS: Is it getting done things that show strength?

ROBINSON: I think-I think, from the perspective...

MATTHEWS: Is it picking fights?

ROBINSON: ... of this White House, toughness is getting accomplished what you want to accomplish. And, if-if, at the end of the day, you get what you want, then you have won.

And-and-and it doesn't seem to be in Barack Obama's nature to be "The Rock" Obama and to pound the table and...


ROBINSON: ... and to flex muscles in a way that I think he would probably think was gratuitous and-and perhaps counterproductive.

MATTHEWS: OK. Presidents get an opportunity, it seems. Joe Biden said, infamously, before the campaign, being the election that he is going to be tested in the first six months, right?


MATTHEWS: Well, he basically has been tested. Obviously, he's president.


MATTHEWS: But presidents tend, if they are lucky, to get opportunities to show their strength and do it.

Ronald Reagan, whatever you think of union rights and collective bargaining, scored a big one when broke the PATCO strike, because it was a government employees union that broke its contract. It was a wildcat. And he fired them all.


MATTHEWS: And, in the Soviet Union, I understood they said, this guy is different.


MATTHEWS: So, the word went out, this guy is somebody to deal with.

ROBINSON: Mm-hmm. No, that's true. It was-and it happened early in Reagan's administration, right at the beginning. And it did set a certain tone, like, we don't know what this guy is going to do.

MATTHEWS: OK. Should he stand up to General McChrystal-McChrystal keeps speaking out-in terms of what McChrystal wants?


MATTHEWS: Like Harry Truman did to General MacArthur? He sacked him.

ROBINSON: Well, I do think that the White House has to draw a line and indicate that, look, these are political decisions that our elected leaders make, and not decisions that generals make.

And-and my understanding is that that has been made clear to the generals, that the White House is going to make the decision. But you have this long, drawn-out reevaluation of Afghanistan policy. You could argue that the fact that they have drawn it out so long and used the leverage they have over the Karzai government in this way has actually had a positive influence.

It has gotten him to accept a runoff. And I think the aim is to come out of this with an Afghan government that perhaps has Karzai still in charge-you know, he probably still, I think, will win-but maybe cleans up the government a bit, maybe makes it a bit more effective as a U.S. partner.

MATTHEWS: That is going to be on November 7.

ROBINSON: And, so, that's-that would, I think, from the point of view of the White House, be a way of accomplishing...


ROBINSON: ... what he wants to accomplish, without jumping up and down and pounding the table.

MATTHEWS: The big questions of toughness will obviously come to a head-Gene, I want your thoughts on this-when he has to decide on a health care bill. Will he decide on a bill that is tough enough to meet the standards of doing something real. Isn't that going to be a test, and risking it and risking its defeat?

Or is it showing the strength to say, I want a bill; I don't care what the left says, the netroots says; I want a bill; I have to be a grownup; they don't have to?

ROBINSON: Oh, I think...

MATTHEWS: What shows toughness?


Well, the White House-it is my understanding the White House believes that if you-if you take what has already been agreed, what is likely to come out, this is already a big accomplishment. And there is still more that they want. But I think if that is what they can get, I think they will get.

MATTHEWS: Is that tough? Is that showing strength?

ROBINSON: And they will put it as the great...


ROBINSON: Well, they will say, yes, it's showing strength.

MATTHEWS: But, as a columnist who has to score this, will you call it tough?

ROBINSON: No. What I'm going to be doing is, I'm going to be prodding the White House to stand tough on the public option, to stand tough on...

MATTHEWS: So, your definition of toughness is whether he gets a good liberal Democratic bill?

ROBINSON: Well, that would be my definition. But project six months from now. Assume they get a bill. Assume that we look back from the vantage point of a few months and say, you know, this was a huge piece of social legislation. This, while imperfect, established that everyone has a right to health care.

MATTHEWS: You are giving me both sides. You're saying, you would like it if it was almost good, and you will like it if it is good.

ROBINSON: Well, I'll like it-if it is almost good, I will like it better than nothing. I like it more if it's really good.

MATTHEWS: I think people have a different standard of toughness. A lot of people who are hawks in the Middle East will say more troops in Afghanistan, confront the Iranians militarily, either that or authorize Israel, our ally over there, to confront them militarily. That would be a definition of toughness. You would say, in that regard, it would be tougher to stand up to the hawks.

ROBINSON: Well, I think-I don't think you have a choice. You have to stand up to the hawks on that, because most experts that I respect think that would be a disastrous thing to do. It might be tough, but it would be stupid.

MATTHEWS: The real hawks will say he is weak. He let them get those weapons. He didn't fight.

ROBINSON: Well, the neos may get to the point-some of the neos are not saying go bomb Iran. They realize it's not the same thing as Iraq.

MATTHEWS: Take off your progressive hat for a second.


MATTHEWS: Is there an objective standard of toughness? Is there a standard-let me give you an example of this, Harry Truman taking down Doug MacArthur, probably the most popular general coming out of World War II with Eisenhower. Was that toughness? Would a conservative say that was toughness or would they say MacArthur was the tough guy, Truman was the weakling?

ROBINSON: At the time, MacArthur had a big constituency. He was a huge hero. It was dangerous thing for Harry Truman to do. He was not a popular president for a long time. Looking back, we see all this toughness. That is why I use my six month construction, because, often, looking back, we see toughness where we didn't see it initially.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me go through the Patgo (ph) strike. Was that a good thing for Reagan to do? You are a progressive. Was it a good thing to break a union?

ROBINSON: Well, it was a pretty recalcitrant union. I actually looked back at those issues. I think, from Reagan's point of view, it was a great thing for him to do.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think-I'll tell you, the word got back from-I think it was Dwayne Andrews came back from the Soviet Union and said-told Tip O'Neil those communists over there are impressed by Reagan. That is the fact.

ROBINSON: Well, there is a certain-you know, that's one style of governing. We have a president who has a different style of governing. I think his style has brought him a long way. Five years ago, he was a state senator. He wasn't going to-he wouldn't run. The Clintons were going to crush him. He was-he had to be tougher during the primaries, on and on and on.

MATTHEWS: The question is he going to be Ray Molland (ph) in "Cool" or is he going to be Don Knotts?

ROBINSON: The point is the conventional wisdom that he has to be tougher-he has to be tougher has been consistently wrong.

MATTHEWS: I think it is wrong. I said all through the campaign, go after Hillary, fight with her, get the dukes out. Every time he said, no, I'll be a gentleman. In the end, he was a gentleman who won.

ROBINSON: You have to assume that this is a systematic White House that knows what it wants to do. It might work. It might not.

MATTHEWS: I agree. Eugene Robinson, once again, correct. Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson.

Up next, Senator John Kerry acting like secretary of state, so much so that the White House press secretary called him secretary today. I guess that's an incomium. We're going to talk about how John Kerry got the job he may have wanted initially, which is secretary of state, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Getting the job done. We're going to have another election, maybe a cleaner one, in Afghanistan. This may set us up for a better policy over there. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back with the politics fix. Senator John Kerry is getting rave reviews for brokering that deal for the runoff election in Afghanistan. Kerry met with President Obama today and, after the meeting, was asked if he advised the president to wait until the runoff-that's November 7th-before deciding on a new American strategy in Afghanistan.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I said I think that, as a matter of common sense, the president would feel that it makes sense to wait until the end of this two-week period. Two weeks is a very short span of time, folks, to determine whether or not you have a government to work with in a war. It is very hard for me to believe the president would decide otherwise.


MATTHEWS: Well, earlier today, the president told NBC's Savannah Guthrie that he could, in fact, make a decision before the November 7th election. Here he is.


OBAMA: I think it is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined. We may not announce it.


MATTHEWS: I guess John Kerry isn't fully in the loop. Is Senator Kerry at odds with the president? Cynthia Tucker writes a political column for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" and, of course, Anne Kornblut is here from the "Washington Post."

It seems to me that this might be a tempest in a teapot, because two weeks, as the senator said, is a short time. I'm more fascinated with how John Kerry got this job. A lot of us thought he would be secretary of state until the Hillary Clinton decision was made by the president. Here he is performing as secretary of state, in a very effective way, getting Karzai, who is under tremendous heat for his stinky election over there, to now clean up his act. He gets credit for having done it by simply visiting him. Doesn't he get credit?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": It is very clear that John Kerry is the man of the moment. He did an excellent job. This was not easy thing to pull off. One of the most interesting things about it is that he used his own defeat at the polls in 2004 as a way of gaining Karzai's ear, showing that he had sympathy for his plight. Yes, election results don't turn out the way we like them, but you have to abide by legitimate results, even if things don't turn out quite as you like them.

MATTHEWS: There's one problem with that argument. It was nicely argued by you. In the case of Kerry, if he lost Ohio, the buzz was that it was stolen from him by the machinery out there.


MATTHEWS: It wasn't like Karzai stole the election stolen and is asking to give it back. He had it stolen from him. That would be his obviously. We don't know all the facts, obviously, Anne Kornblut, am I right about the surmise here?

ANNE KORNBLUT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, there was buzz about Ohio, but Kerry didn't contest it. He does have a claim to say that. I agree. I think it's fascinating the way he's come back. He did not do this after the-

MATTHEWS: Looks good.

KORNBLUT: He looks good. In 2004, he had about a year where he was still talking about the Swift Boats. It's really taken him about five years to come back fully from that-

MATTHEWS: I know him a bit. I have to tell you, I think anybody would like to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, United States senator, especially. To be chairman of that Senate Foreign Relations Committee is an amazing opportunity, given the fact you have a fellow Democrat as president.

KORNBLUT: Which he only got, let's remember, because Joe Biden was picked to be vice president. Had he not, he would have been there. So Kerry is really in the moment. You have to ask yourself, where was the secretary of state? Where was-

MATTHEWS: According to Robert Gibbs, the presidential press secretary, the secretary in this case was Senator Kerry because he called him secretary. So there's something going on here. Let me ask you this about the president's position. I'm not sure what my position is. It's one of those rarer cases. I think Afghanistan is so difficult, I'd like to know more about our ability to turn events over there. If we can't change events, it's hard to suffer any more losses. If we can change events and perhaps prevent a Taliban takeover of that country and prevent a Taliban takeover of Pakistan, it may be worth the extreme sacrifice of the lives over there.

But it's so hard to make that case to people whose lives are being taken on our side. It's a hard, hard-

TUCKER: But nobody knows, Chris. That's the problem. Nobody can argue persuasively that if we send tens of thousands more troops, we can absolutely prevent a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, much less Pakistan, for heaven's sakes. But obviously, there are huge arguments on both sides. There are sound arguments on both sides.

I happen to like the fact that the president is taking as much time as he's taking. John Kerry was right. In the greater scheme of things, two weeks doesn't make that much more difference. I think the important point, though, is they will have to work with Karzai no matter what.

MATTHEWS: Suppose we have another crummy election over there and sometime in mid-November, we're all facing the fact that Karzai won a crooked election again, that there was so much corruption in that-does that give us a ticket out morally? We can't defend a corrupt government? Is that a ticket out?

KORNBLUT: Look, there's no ticket out. They're not going to just leave at this point. I actually think it makes it harder for them. They're still going to be there. They're still going to have-I think some kind of modest troop increase. Then the question is what is their goal?

What I think is interesting is what we hear about these war counsels. There isn't actually a robust argument in favor of trying to keep the Taliban out. We've heard that from the generals. But what we're hearing from the White House is they're really focused on a counter-terror strategy at this point.

MATTHEWS: OK. So I wonder-I ask this to people who are hawks. I know it sounds odd in our culture. Give me the moral reason to kill anybody in a different country who disagrees with the politics of a corrupt government. We're not only picking sides over there. We're picking the sides, potentially, of a corrupt government against other Afghans who have a different cultural view than we do. It is their country. We're killing them because they have a different political view.

KORNBLUT: That's the argument for narrowly targeting this and eventually trying to get out.

MATTHEWS: I just wonder how we can get into another country and decide who the good Afghans and the bad Afghans, based on our political situation here. We'll be right back with Cynthia Tucker and Anne Kornblut to talk about something much closer to home, what looks to be the Armageddon struggle which is coming in the next couple of days and weeks over health care. There is a real possibility that the liberal wing of the Democratic party will get its way now. I didn't think so until recently. But they've got a shot at a public option getting through both houses of Congress.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back with Cynthia and we're also back with Anne. Let me ask you two this bottom line question here, as journalists and students of politics-Ed Schultz is on after me every night, before me. He's out there arguing for the public health. A lot of my colleagues believe in it. I thought it wasn't possible, this public option. I think we're going to have to make a compromise. Now I think it is possible to get something in there with a trigger. Is that your belief, that they can jam this through all those 60 Democrats senators, and they'll all have to vote for it? Is that possible?

TUCKER: I won't say 60.

MATTHEWS: How are you going to do it without 60?

TUCKER: but I think they find a way to overcome the filibuster. They might lose Olympia Snowe, their one Republican they have as cover. But I think you're right, Chris. I think the public option is suddenly back on the table.

This "Washington Post" poll gives a lot of cover to progressives. "Washington Post" poll says 57 percent of Americans support the public option, once you define it as what it is. Let me just say-

MATTHEWS: Create new health insurance plan. It doesn't say government run, by the way. It doesn't have those magic phrases that turn people off in it. It says having the government create a new health insurance plan. It doesn't-

TUCKER: Having the government create-

MATTHEWS: It doesn't say government run. Your thoughts?

KORNBLUT: I actually think quite the contrary. I think people understand that it is government run. It says have the government create. Right there, we're not talking about government doctors anyway. I do think people understand it. I think they understand that it's limited. It's not automatic. It's not-you know, they didn't phrase it as Medicare for all.

MATTHEWS: Who benefits from a government-run program option?

KORNBLUT: At this point, correct me if I'm wrong, it's the uninsured and it's people who aren't able to get insurance through-initially, to start anyway, through their employment. So people understand the limits of it in the beginning.

MATTHEWS: It's sort of means tested, sort of.

TUCKER: It's not that different from the S-CHIP programs that many states have today for children. There are programs in virtually every state in America. In Georgia, it's is called Peach Care.

MATTHEWS: Before you slip this by me-I'm not in into values argument too much on this show. Occasionally, we do get into values. But I'm talking practicality. Can you get all 60? You said, no, you don't have to get them all. Tell me the other way. Give me the other option how you get this passed without getting all the Democratic voters, all the senators to vote for this?

TUCKER: You know what the other option is, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It's not going to happen. You know, Cynthia-you think they're going to actually jam it through without breaking the filibuster?

KORNBLUT: I can't believe we're back talking over the public option.

We told you over the summer it was dead and the White House backed off.

The fact we're even saying-and you in particular are saying-

MATTHEWS: I'm flexible enough to see its possibilities. I don't see the 60 votes yet, because I'm looking at Joe Lieberman, who says he's voting with the insurance industry against this.

Cynthia Tucker, Anne Kornblut, thanks for joining us. 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.



Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyright or

other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

Watch Hardball each weeknight