Guests: Scott Cohn, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Anne Kornblut, Peter Beinart, Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, Jonathan Martin, Susan Page
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The deal‘s on the table.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Good enough for government work. So that (ph) maybe, just maybe, pull the rabbit out of the hat. The Democrats have a plan to let Americans get into the same health insurance deal that federal employees get. And that could be the deal maker, the missing link between decades of talk about getting this country insured and actually getting it done. If the deal does get done, it will be the work of five liberal and five moderate Democrats, a gang of 10, if you will, who are meeting right now to get it done. The bottom line will come down to whether the Democrats can win the vote of either Joe Lieberman, the outlier from Connecticut, or Olympia Snowe, the Republican moderate from Maine. That‘s my question for Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Bernie Sanders tonight.
Plus, President Obama said he doesn‘t want to spend the next eight years visiting Walter Reed, meaning he doesn‘t want to be a commander stuck in war. So what is his plan to go into Afghanistan with 30,000 troops and come out with success a year-and-a-half from now?
And is Sarah Palin planning on coming to Washington? Does she have it in her head that she‘s presidential material? She visited Iowa over the weekend. She‘s demonstrated the act of self-deprecation, which is necessary before the Gridiron Club here in Washington. She‘s running 68 percent favorable among Iowa Republicans, and John McCain‘s saying very nice things about her.
And let‘s let‘s just call it, Carry on senator. Senator Max Baucus had an affair with a staffer who he nominated then for U.S. attorney in Montana. Even though Baucus was separated from his wife at the time and is now divorced, will the news of this liaison hurt his leadership role on health care reform? That‘s on tonight‘s aptly named “Politics Fix.”
And finally, in the “Sideshow” tonight, we‘ve got “Saturday Night Live” going to town on those two grifters who BS‘d their way into the White House.
Let‘s start, however, with the important stuff, the gang of 10 Democrats trying to get health care reform done now. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a Democrat from Rhode Island and Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont.
Senator Whitehouse, your thoughts about this option, this new—novel new plan to allow regular people to buy into the plan available to federal employees for health care? Your thoughts?
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: I would describe it as a helpful idea that has been added to the mix. I think the acid test is whether the public option that emerges from it will create actual competition for the insurance companies who dominate so many of the states with enormous market share, and whether it will help put an end to the insurance company abuses, where you get thrown off your coverage when you have the temerity to get sick, or when if you have a preexisting condition, they won‘t insure you at all, when your doctor tries to send a bill out there, refuse to pay it, all that nonsense. There‘s got to be an alternative to that.
MATTHEWS: Senator Sanders, your thoughts about this new option on the table?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, it is one of the ideas that‘s out there, as Sheldon indicates. The bottom line is, many of us made it clear, we need a strong public option so the American people have a choice about something other than a private insurance company whose function in life is to make as much money as possible.
And secondly, Chris, if we are serious about cost containment, which we must be at a moment when health care costs are projected to soar, we need real competition for the private insurance companies, and that‘s what the public option concept is all about.
MATTHEWS: Are you intrigued by the idea that these plans available to federal employees include non-profit plans, Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: Well, I am intrigued. But once again, there is a lot in the mix right now. The bottom line is—and I have made this very clear—is whatever the end result will be in terms of a public option, it has got to be strong. It has got to cover substantial numbers of people. What the House did was weak. What the Senate did was even weaker. We need a strong public option, period.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s go to process, which is normally boring for people watching, but I think it‘s gotten down to where it matters now. Senator Whitehouse and then Senator Sanders, let‘s take a look at this group that‘s meeting right now. It‘s another one of these rump groups. It includes 10 senators, five liberals, if you will, Schumer, Rockefeller, Brown, Harkin and Feingold, and then you‘ve got Lincoln, Landrieu, Nelson, Carper and Pryor.
What do you make of this? Is this the making of a deal for a group there—Senator Whitehouse, your thoughts. Is this the right group to be putting this together, some from the left, some from the center?
WHITEHOUSE: I think it is. It‘s a big enough group that there‘s room for a lot of ideas to swirl around. It‘s a small enough group that it‘s manageable. And between Chuck Schumer and Mark Pryor, it has people who are known as deal makers, as accommodators, as people who try to find a useful path. So I‘m optimistic at the group that is doing this.
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m one of the people that likes the word “ deal maker.” I don‘t find that offensive one bit at this point. It‘d be nice to have a deal maker. So I want you to respond to the same thought, Senator. You‘re an independent in so many ways, in terms of who you are and what your politics are. Senator Sanders, can you let that group be helpful to you, that group of 10?
SANDERS: Absolutely. We will look forward to seeing what the result is. But Chris, let‘s be very clear. The American people overwhelmingly want a public option. And when you break it down to Democrats, who essentially are going to be writing this bill, something like 70 percent or 80 percent of the people who vote Democratic want a strong public option. So I hope that these guys can work out something upon which we can get 60 votes.
MATTHEWS: But just to be an arguer, which I am, Senator—I want to
stay with you, Senator Sanders, then go back to Senator Whitehouse—isn‘t
it important to get started? Isn‘t it important to make a national
commitment for national health care and not blow this one chance? You got
something through the House. You got something through Labor, something
through Finance Committee. You‘re at this point, as we get to the holidays
if the Congress boots this now and it gets shelved, isn‘t that the worst possible option? Or is it worse if you don‘t get the kind of public plan you want? What‘s the worst option here?
SANDERS: Well, Chris, let me give you an unequivocal yes and no. And the answer is, to be very honest with you, Chris, if we were really serious about providing comprehensive universal health care to all of our people, the only way to go is a “Medicare for all” single-payer system...
SANDERS: ... which ends the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste generated by the private insurance companies. If your point is from a political perspective, do the Democrats look bad if they don‘t deliver something? The answer is clearly yes. On the other hand, we have a responsibility not just to provide a bail-out for $400 billion or $500 billion...
SANDERS: ... to the private insurance companies, who will raise their rates without any cost containment.
MATTHEWS: Senator Whitehouse, your thoughts on how practical we can be here?
WHITEHOUSE: I think now is the time for practicality. And one point that I think is worth considering in this debate is even a very strong public option that does not kick in until 2014 allows more than three years for the insurance companies to attack it politically and gut it.
WHITEHOUSE: The sooner we can get proof of concept built out there, the sooner we can see what public options can to accomplish, how well they serve people, how much administrative waste they save, I think we win a battle if we can establish a firm proof of concept.
MATTHEWS: Is the government, the Congress, the Democratic-led Congress right now, in better shape to fix this problem if you get a bill passed later on than if you don‘t get a bill passed? Do you have a better shot at cost containment after you pass—let me start with Senator Sanders on that, to be fair. Do have a better shot at cost containment if you pass this bill or a better shot at holding it up?
SANDERS: I think you probably can argue that you have a better shot if you begin with something. But I have to tell you that the cost containment provisions currently in the bill, if we do not have a very strong public option to compete with the private insurance companies, are pretty weak. And what we‘re looking at with the bill is soaring health care costs, which is unacceptable.
MATTHEWS: Let me go with you, Senator Sanders, and then with—it‘s great to have you both on, gentlemen. Obviously, I respect both of you a lot. Let me ask you both, how do we get past this—what seems to be a real conundrum here about abortion and abortion rights and whether it should be funded through—or not even funded but be allowed in these insurance programs? If you get a Senate vote tomorrow, for example, on the bill being offered to basically ban any funding for these insurance programs if they include a provision for abortion—if that goes through and passes but doesn‘t reach the 60 votes, doesn‘t that give the House conferees a really good argument to keep Stupak in the final bill? Your thoughts, Senator Sanders first, and then Senator Whitehouse.
SANDERS: Chris, I really don‘t. I have to be honest. You know, women, and many of us, have been fighting against right-wing Republicans for years who want to take away a woman‘s right to choose. It is unthinkable and it ain‘t going to happen. It is not going to happen that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president are going to take back rights that women have fought for for years. It simply is not going to happen, in my view.
MATTHEWS: But these programs that you already have in the federal government for federal employees and retirees, they do not provide coverage for abortion. How can you say take back rights if it would simply extend that?
SANDERS: No. The Stupak amendment would make it more difficult for millions and millions of women to get insurance to pay for an abortion.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK, let me go to Senator Whitehouse on that. How do you deal with this in conference if you‘ve got, say, a slight majority in your side of the Hill for this Stupak but—it will be the Nelson amendment in that form, and then you go up against the House, which passed it by a majority vote? How do you deal with it?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think, you know, at that point, it‘s an all-or-nothing proposition on the bill, with the future of the Democratic Party relying on it. You do a whip count and you do the very best you can. And I think you roll back Stupak a lot.
WHITEHOUSE: But the point that I just made goes back to your earlier question. If we don‘t pass this health care bill, not only is it a disaster for future health care efforts, it‘s a disaster for future efforts on energy, on the climate, on financial re-regulation, on jobs. You will have a divided and fractured Democratic Party. We have got to get this done...
WHITEHOUSE: ... and hang together.
MATTHEWS: Well, my only—my vote, which is absolutely worthless since I don‘t have one, is that the party that believes most in government has to govern. Thank you very much, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Coming up: Does President Obama have a clearly defined plan for Afghanistan? That‘s my biggest question tonight. And are the benefits of fighting over there and losing probably hundreds of people in the next year-and-a-half worth the cost of that fight? Will we get something done that justifies the horror and the pain and the death?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Does President Obama have a clearly defined plan for Afghanistan? And what achievement will justify the loss of hundreds of American lives over the next year-and-a-half? Peter Beinart is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast, a wonderful organization. He‘s also a contributor to “Time” magazine. And Anne Kornblut with “The Washington Post.”
Peter, do you know the president‘s clear-cut justification for sending 30,000 troops over there, and probably taking perhaps 500 to 1,000 casualties in the next year-and-a-half, based upon the trends?
PETER BEINART, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: No, I mean, I feel like the president had two pretty coherent choices. The one was committing to a long-term counterinsurgency effort against the Taliban, the other was basically doing what Biden wanted, which was not really fighting the Taliban but just trying to disrupt al Qaeda from the air. And he tried to basically thread the needle. And what he‘s gotten is a too clever by half idea that we can send all these troops in and withdraw them really fast. I don‘t think it‘s going to do a lot of good.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s the question. Do you have a sense—if you want to be more sympathetic in your analysis—do you think—not that you should, but I‘ll ask you to try. Does he have in his head—he‘s obviously a very brilliant man...
MATTHEWS: ... in many ways, obviously, watching him over the last couple of years—does he have that thread or that needle in mind? Does he know what it is—I mean, is he looking at the success of Petraeus in punching it real hard, you know, shocking the enemy, shocking them to the point where you do enough good that justifies the increase in troops, all the time knowing that if you punch their lights out, you‘re planning to get out yourself?
BEINART: It seems...
MATTHEWS: Does he have it in his head?
BEINART: Well, it seems to me there are two ways of interpreting it. The one is that the surge is real and the deadline is fake, which is to say he really is going to go in for a long-term counterinsurgency effort. The deadline is just a sop to the liberal base, and he believes that we‘ve gotten good enough at this and the Taliban is unpopular enough that we can actually make it work. The other is basically...
MATTHEWS: Oh, that is so cynical. I mean, Peter, that is below you because I know you don‘t believe that.
BEINART: No, I mean...
MATTHEWS: But somebody—Robert Kagan the other day, who‘s a very well thought-of neoconservative, who‘s very hawkish—he said it very clearly. He said, Once he gets stuck in there, a year-and-a-half from now, in 2011, he won‘t be able to get out politically. So there‘s maybe a cynical view from another perspective, which is once he goes in with 30,000 more troops and once we get into the fight over there and it gets really hot and it‘s clear we have to keep fighting, there‘s no way in the world he‘ll be able to relieve those troops from there on.
BEINART: But it‘s not really cynical. If Obama really believes that we can defeat—that we can do a lot—that we can win, then it‘s not cynical. And he...
MATTHEWS: What, to lie?
BEINART: No, no. But I mean, I think he‘s saying to try to give himself the political space in order to do this.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t like the idea that he would say something he doesn‘t believe because these are high stakes. These are lives.
BEINART: But Chris, they‘re already...
BEINART: They‘re already retreating from that deadline already.
MATTHEWS: Well, I know they are, but he isn‘t. Let me go—your thoughts, Anne?
ANNE KORNBLUT, “WASHINGTON POST”: Well, what they‘ve done is...
MATTHEWS: Is he still a year-and-a-half, 30,000, then get out?
KORNBLUT: Well, I mean, what I was going to say is I think—I think they have revised the definition of “win” here. I mean, in fact, they‘ve dropped the word “win,” they‘ve dropped the word “defeat” from the entire thing.
MATTHEWS: Well, what justifies it to a gold start mother that have lost their son, or a wife who lost a husband, or the other way around?
MATTHEWS: What justifies that? What do you say on the phone? What do you say in the letter, when you go in there with the idea you‘re going to get out?
KORNBLUT: Well, I mean, that‘s—you‘re right, that is actually the trick he‘s going to have to figure out in the next, you know, year-and-a-half before the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, whatever July of 2011 is. But I think, at this point, he‘s actually got answers to both. I mean, he‘s not pleased either side, as Peter is pointing out...
KORNBLUT: ... I mean, what Peter was going to say...
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s for sure.
KORNBLUT: Either the surge is real and the withdrawal isn‘t, or the withdrawal is real and the surge isn‘t at this point.
KORNBLUT: But I think that he—you know...
MATTHEWS: Except he‘s pleased people who believe he‘s cynical.
MATTHEWS: No, I was just talking about one of the writers the other day, Robert Kagan, he‘s a very smart guy who believes he does mean a more hawkish position, right, than he allows?
BEINART: Yes, but...
BEINART: The reason not to—the other—the point Anne is making is also really important. He really has defined victory down. If you want to—if you want to take the other understanding of what he‘s done, he‘s not saying that we‘re going to destroy the Taliban. All he‘s basically said in his goals is, We‘re going to try to deal them a kind of a blow, get them back on their heels...
BEINART: ... and then hope the Afghan government can deal with it.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what he‘s saying, yes. But I always go back to something where I used to have these arguments when I worked for the Democratic leadership in Congress back during the second Lebanon effort, when we went in there, and one of the top leaders said—it was Tom Foley at the time was arguing, What difference will it make besides the number of casualties we take? Because when eventually we leave, they‘ll be there. The Taliban will be there, we‘ll be gone. And after all the blood and thunder, won‘t it be their country to fight over?
KORNBLUT: Well, I mean, that‘s the—that‘s the argument he actually started laying out in the speech last week, is it‘s theirs, they have to be the ones to take responsibility over it. I think what will be interesting is what‘s the definition of—now that we‘ve set defeat aside, that‘s not going to happen—what is “degrade”? What is degrading the Taliban going to be looking like?
MATTHEWS: Yes, it says—you‘re right, beat them up enough so they‘re back on their heels.
Let‘s take a look at Gates. Here‘s Secretary Gates over the weekend on “Meet the Press.” Let‘s listen to him. He‘s a smart guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It‘s the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether strategy is working. And the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces. But how quickly it goes will very much depend on the conditions on the ground. We will have a significant number of forces in there for some considerable period of time after that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, Peter, our guys, and our women, who joined the service, joined with a real commitment. They go to fight for their country. And they know what that means. It may mean a lot of complicated duty in different countries, but they know what it is. It‘s for us. It‘s for this country and what it stands for.
What are the Afghan soldiers expected to fight for? If we‘re filling their pockets with pay and we‘re giving them training, it still comes down to whether you‘re going to stick your neck out, what your rules of engagement are going to be, and whether you really do risk your life or give your life for your country.
Why would an Afghan do that? And I think that still comes to—and if they would do it a year-and-a-half from now, why won‘t they do it now, when there‘s so many people in uniform over there?
BEINART: I‘m going to...
MATTHEWS: There‘s 90,000 guys in uniform over there on the Afghan side, and they‘re not defending their country against a much smaller number of Taliban. So, why aren‘t they doing it now, and why would they do it a year-and-a-half from now?
BEINART: Well, because I don‘t think they have a government that is worth fighting for. I think there are a lot of...
MATTHEWS: Will they have a year-and-a-half from now?
BEINART: There—well, the—the hope is that we could, by doing some infrastructure development, build some schools and some wells. And people would feel like, you know what, we remember what the Taliban were like, we feel like this is better, and we‘re willing to fight to defend it, maybe not the central government, but to defend our village and our school and our road and our well from the Taliban.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But—but that—you know, I have to tell you, Anne, that‘s what Lyndon Johnson thought about the Vietnam War. We are going to go over there and do basically do a TVA authority. We‘re going to go over there and build it up and electrify it and create all these jobs and everything. And they will be more loyal to their central government.
But they know we‘re leaving.
KORNBLUT: Well, that‘s the danger. I mean, that—and that‘s especially why the liberal wing of the Democratic Party now is so unhappy with this. I mean, I think that‘s the—that‘s the central dilemma.
And I think, as Peter said earlier, he‘s trying to, in a sense, thread a needle here. He didn‘t go all the way, either with the number of troops deployments that are—troops that are going to be deployed, or with the strategy.
MATTHEWS: What is Pelosi going to do, the speaker of the House, who is definitely a dove, who, you can tell from her manner and whatever—what she hasn‘t said? She‘s not happy with this.
KORNBLUT: Well, and has apparently expressed that unhappiness...
MATTHEWS: Jack Murtha doesn‘t like this.
KORNBLUT: ... to the White House.
It will interesting to see, if and when there‘s going to be votes on this, how long she can drag this out, what kind of signal she is going to send to the White House. She‘s been reserved. You‘re right. She hasn‘t said. And she‘s expressed that to the White House.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s very confounding.
Anyway, take a look. Here‘s what the president said. And this is where it gets real. And I want you first—then Anne—to talk about this.
“I don‘t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years.”
Now, what that means is, without any disrespect to anyone, that‘s the president basically saying, it hurts me to see the pain, to see the loss of limbs, to see what war does to people.
He didn‘t like, apparently, going to Arlington, not because he didn‘t want to pay tribute to the soldiers and what they had lost, their lives, but it hurts.
And then the question is, does he want two or three or five more years of battle over there, which costs us an increasing number of casualties. Peter?
BEINART: No, you‘re right. I mean, I think the—the answer that he would give to that Gold Star Mother would be—the honest answer would be, I think, by fighting longer in Afghanistan, we can reduce, not eliminate, but reduce the chances that there‘s going to be another terrorist attack from both Afghanistan and from the tribal areas of Pakistan.
MATTHEWS: How do you explain that, when she says what is the connection between the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda, which has maybe 100 people there? And most of them are in Pakistan next door, where we have an alliance from that government and they won‘t go after the—the al Qaeda? What do you say to the mother who reads the newspapers, who knows what is going on, and says, we‘re fighting the Taliban in one country, al Qaeda is in another country, and nobody is chasing them?
BEINART: Well, first of all...
MATTHEWS: What do you say to the mother who knows what‘s going on?
BEINART: I don‘t think that stat about 100...
MATTHEWS: And there are a lot of them out there.
BEINART: I don‘t think that stat about 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan is actually true. In fact, McClatchy really knocked it down pretty hard.
I think they‘re on both sides of the border. And having a free area where they could go in Pak—in Afghanistan with nobody chasing them would make it that much easier for them to launch operations.
MATTHEWS: I know.
BEINART: I don‘t buy that they...
BEINART: ... could move as easily to Yemen or Somalia. I don‘t think that is true.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, they can move across that border because they don‘t recognize it.
BEINART: Yes, they can.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Anne Kornblut.
Peter, thank you so much.
They move around in Pashtunistan as if there‘s no border there, because they don‘t care.
BEINART: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: They‘re the bad guys.
Up next—in fact, they are the bad guys. That‘s one thing we can all agree on all the time.
Up next, from the serious to the frivolous. “Saturday Night Live” has some fun with those two grifters that broke into the White House. I have got no time for these people, but I guess they‘re fodder for fun for some people. We‘re going to get the New York view of this. My Washington view is, these people ought to be somewhere very unpleasant right now.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First up: Does B-Rod smell foul play? Last week, there was a burglary at the offices of Rod Blagojevich‘s lawyer, the one who is defending B-Rod in his upcoming corruption trial. A safe and eight computers were taken.
Well, Sunday, during his radio show, the former Illinois governor took his case to the public.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: I want you all to know and the people of Illinois to know that I can‘t wait to testify at my trial. I am going to testify at my trial. I will answer each and every question asked of me.
I also would point out that it‘s been in the news that my lawyer‘s offices were burglarized. For six years that they have been there, that office—their offices had never been burglarized before. I don‘t know who did it. I can‘t reach any conclusions.
If you have any ideas, and anybody wants to propose some of their—your ideas on what may have happened there, we would love to hear it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I have got an idea. B-Rod wants the jurors out there to think that maybe his political enemies, maybe even the prosecutors themselves, broke into his lawyer‘s office and that maybe—just maybe—one of those—or one or two of those members of the jury out there in the pool might be thinking that there‘s a basis here for reasonable doubt. That‘s what he wants. And that‘s my idea.
Next: those White House grifters.
Here‘s the comic take of “Saturday Night Live.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)
FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR: I‘m grateful to have the opportunity to speak to you today about our economy. And I‘m also grateful for the chance to get away from Washington and its many distractions.
ARMISEN: And we were losing 700,000 jobs a month, a month.
ARMISEN: Today‘s report is a sign that there are better days ahead. From the moment I was sworn into office, I began taking a number of difficult steps to end this economic crisis.
ARMISEN: We did them because they were necessary to save our country from economic catastrophe. We enacted measures...
ARMISEN: Do you want me in it?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Oh, no, no, no. Just take it.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Just take it, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, finally, it‘s come to satire. We‘re lucky that‘s all it came to, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.”
“The Washington Post” got its hands on a confidential Secret Service report in 2003 on its security failures in the past. How many breaches of checkpoints protecting top officials have there been since 1980? Well, 91, at least. The slip-ups involve autograph seekers, a guy believed to be a delivery driver, a woman who falsely claimed to be a—or to have a special relationship with Bill Clinton.
Ninety-one security breaches of the Secret Service—tonight‘s “Big Number” to worry about.
Up next: Is Sarah Palin‘s big book tour working? Her favorability nationwide has pulled up to even. She‘s even-steven now in a new poll. And even John McCain is out singing her praises. Is she zeroing in on becoming the Republican nominee for 2012?
I think that is what she‘s up to.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks ending the first day of the week relatively flat, after a brief boost on comments by Fed Chief Ben Bernanke—the Dow Jones industrial average up just a point. The S&P 500 fell a little more than two points, the Nasdaq off about four points.
The chairman of the Federal Reserve tamped down concerns about a possible hike in interest rates, Ben Bernanke saying it is still too soon to tell if the budding economic recovery will last. Those comments sent the dollar lower against the euro. It had been gaining after last Friday‘s unemployment report, hitting a five-week high earlier in today‘s session.
But the big buzz today was the Treasury Department‘s slashing its projected losses from the TARP bailout program. Losses should come in around $42 billion. That‘s about $200 billion less than originally predicted.
Finally, Boeing shares, one of the day‘s bright spots, on word its long-awaited Dreamliner could take its first test flight as early as next week.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Sarah Palin was everywhere this weekend. Here in D.C., in Washington, she spoke at the Gridiron Club Saturday night. On Sunday, she was in the key 2012 state of Iowa signing books for people who lined up overnight to meet her, and apparently going to work—she‘s already working the Iowa caucus, it seems.
And, also, her former running mate John McCain praised her this weekend in glowing terms. Is she well positioned for 2012?
“USA Today”‘s Susan Page was at the Gridiron Club on Saturday night, part of the team. And Politico‘s Jonathan Martin was at the Sioux City, Iowa, bookstore.
Well, I have got to go to Sioux City, because I have a theory that they have more votes in the Iowa caucus than...
MATTHEWS: ... Capitol Hill.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let me ask you about, when people you interviewed as a straight print reporter...
JONATHAN MARTIN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, POLITICO.COM: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: ... the best there is, when you went out there and interviewed them, did they take her seriously as a presidential type? I‘m not saying going to vote for her. Did they see her in that league?
I talked to a lot of voters in that line, because there was a long line and there was plenty of time waiting. And almost to a person, they said that they would like to see her run for president, and that they wouldn‘t just vote for her, but would caucus for her, too.
That‘s an important distinction, because a lot of her supporters are not party regular types. They have not, Chris, caucused in the past. So, this will be...
MATTHEWS: Are they all white people?
MARTIN: Almost entirely.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean almost?
MARTIN: I saw one African-American.
MATTHEWS: Right. OK.
But it is a certain sort of—what do you call it, sociometric group...
MATTHEWS: ... that she appeals to.
MARTIN: It‘s a working-class, middle-class group, very populist, very conservative, not always—but, again, not always totally Republican. Some of these folks come from outside the party, which is why she‘s so formidable. She could enlarge the caucuses by bringing in folks that don‘t typically participate.
MATTHEWS: OK. Who are they?
MARTIN: They are evangelical Christians.
MARTIN: They are folks that have kids, with, you know, Down syndrome, like...
MARTIN: ... like she does.
They are sportsmen. They are folks that are really ticked off at Washington, very, very angry that—the sort of tea party crowd. That is her element. And that‘s her demographic.
MARTIN: And they feel very strongly about her. And they‘re willing to camp out overnight to see her in 10-degree weather, and then they‘re going to wait the next morning for five hours until she gets there. This is a dedicated crowd.
Here she is. And this weekend, just to show she can switch-hit, she was before your crowd, the mature journalists of Washington.
MATTHEWS: No. Yes, it takes a while to get in that club. I‘m—respectable, it‘s a respectable group. But didn‘t she do a lot of self-deprecation there the night to show she could be one of the boys?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”: You know, she did it. And this was not her demographic. This was not a group that she thinks...
MATTHEWS: It was a self-important Washington journalist crowd.
PAGE: Well, yes, it was kind of people who have given her a pretty rough ride, I think, in print. She was self-deprecating. She gave a few barbs, too, to...
MATTHEWS: And who wrote this stuff for her?
MARTIN: Well, I hear secondhand that Eric Schnurer (ph), who is a...
MATTHEWS: Does it bother the press that somebody comes in there whose book written for them? And this is people who work. You write every day. You sweat it out getting the right words, thinking how to organize a piece, intellectualizing it, and then putting it on paper.
And—I‘m sorry—and reporting it to start with. It‘s a lot of work, being a reporter. I have seen you guys on deadline.
MATTHEWS: It‘s—it‘s hard work.
MARTIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you essentially disrespect somebody who walks in and puts a book on the table and said they wrote it, when you know somebody else did, who comes in there and gives a speech that you know somebody else wrote all the jokes for and gave it to her, and she paid for it probably?
Doesn‘t that bother you guys? I‘m arguing here. Does it bother you?
PAGE: No, I guess not.
MATTHEWS: Why doesn‘t it bother you?
PAGE: Because, if it‘s in her voice, like the book—I read her book. It‘s in her voice. It sounds just like her. Maybe she didn‘t write it. It does reflect her in a way. And the idea...
MATTHEWS: But she didn‘t sweat it out.
PAGE: You have written many speeches for politicians.
MATTHEWS: And I have written many books.
MATTHEWS: But I have tremendous respect for you guys on the bus when I see you guys.
MATTHEWS: I will sit on a bus somewhere covering a campaign, and all of a sudden one of you people from the big papers, and all of a sudden I see a 1,500-word piece taken out. And you‘ve somehow gotten it done in the same time I have been with you.
I said, when did you write this thing? There‘s a lot of talent that she doesn‘t have, and yet she takes credit for.
PAGE: It‘s not the talent that we ask the political figures to have.
We ask them to have other talents, like points of view.
MATTHEWS: Well, why do you let take credit for books and speeches they didn‘t write?
PAGE: Well, the book—she—I think she acknowledged a co-author on her book. And the idea that somebody wrote her speech for her, this is so not a surprise.
MATTHEWS: You know, when some jock writes a book, and says “As told to” on the first page, we say OK, because he‘s not supposed to be a writer or a thinker.
MATTHEWS: He‘s supposed to be a hell of a performer, right?
MATTHEWS: Can‘t do everything.
But when somebody claims to be an intellectual leader that is going to lead this country with big ideas and lead us in the right direction and puts their name on the cover of the book, shouldn‘t they have written it? Just a guess.
PAGE: Well, they should have played a part.
MATTHEWS: You are so—you are such a...
MARTIN: ... prominent part.
MATTHEWS: You are being so sweet. Is this the new press treatment of Sarah Palin?
PAGE: It is, yes.
MATTHEWS: Why you want her in this race tonight. You‘re more...
MATTHEWS: Look at this. This is—Sarah, Governor, if you‘re watching, she‘s luring you into this race.
MATTHEWS: Come on. We‘re going to be so nice to you. Eat the candy.
PAGE: If you wanted evidence that she is serious about being positioned to run in this race, look at that speech, because she doesn‘t need this crowd.
PAGE: This crowd was not buying...
MATTHEWS: But she softened you up.
MATTHEWS: I can tell.
MATTHEWS: Susan, I can tell she‘s softened you guys up.
MATTHEWS: She treated you with respect.
MARTIN: Here‘s the message by her appearance, though, I think.
MARTIN: Yes, I had to take some shots at you guys, but you get it.
It‘s just part of the game.
I think that‘s...
MATTHEWS: She campaigned on her antipathy to the press, asking the easiest, HARDBALL question, what do you read. She blamed Katie Couric for asking the most obvious question. She then went after Charlie Gibson, one of the nicest guys in this business, and trashed him for being elitist. You know, don‘t tell me she hasn‘t played this game.
MARTIN: Of course she‘s played the game. What I‘m saying is, then she shows up here and sort of plays nice with the same crowd. So which is it?
MATTHEWS: And tickles all you guys under your chin. You go, love this.
PAGE: It‘s like gambling in the casino.
MARTIN: If you‘re one of her true believer supporters, wouldn‘t you be curious—
MATTHEWS: Here‘s John McCain doing his bit. It‘s interesting to watch him, because he has a primary challenge, potentially, this year. And he has to keep the red hots happy, and they like her. So here he is. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I think that Sarah Palin is a—has earned herself a very big place in the Republican political scene. I am so proud of her and the work that she is doing.
DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS” MODERATOR: You thought her book was fair?
MCCAIN: Oh, sure, yeah. I enjoyed her book. Look, if she was—
GREGORY: She kind of felt like she was thrown under the bus by the McCain campaign?
MCCAIN: Listen, we have a wonderful relationship, Todd and Sarah and
I. Just saw her recently. We need vigorous discussion and debate in the Republican party. She‘s going to be a big part of that discussion and debate in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. What degree of veracity would you give what he just said? One to 10.
MARTIN: What John McCain didn‘t say right there was that the week that her book came out, he gave an interview to Reuters, Steve Holland (ph), where he came out and defended Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace, the two campaign aides who she sort of fingers in that book as being the source of some of the leaks and also sort of being against her.
So if McCain did that—and he gave that interview to Steve Holland for that reason.
MATTHEWS: It took George H.W. Bush years to write in his diary he made the biggest mistake of his life putting Dan Quayle on the ticket. Even then he put it—he wrote in his diary, I made the biggest mistake of my life, but I can‘t admit it. Is McCain in that situation, Susan? He can‘t admit he made a real snafu here.
PAGE: Why should he? They didn‘t win. It‘s not like he‘s living with her as vice president and the consequences of that. So why should he?
MARTIN: Also, look at how he responds there, Chris, when he says, three times, I‘m proud of her. Right? It‘s sort of an odd thing to say about one politician of another, right?
PAGE: She‘s a different generation.
MARTIN: Sure. But they‘re both elected officials.
MATTHEWS: I find this to be an interesting Rorschach test of journalism tonight, the way you‘re just building her up. You‘re not building her up here. You‘re keeping your options open and keeping the doors open to access, which is very important in this business.
MARTIN: So cynical, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I understand. Susan Page is reading her latest book. I can‘t wait to read her next book. Thank you, Jonathan Martin.
Up next, Democratic Senator Max Baucus—now we go from the sublime to ridiculous—admits he had an affair with a staffer. Does this sound boilerplate? Senator has affair with staffer. Then he nominates—this is the best part. Then he nominates her for US attorney of Montana, so she can watch over him. Hmm. Even though Baucus was separated—he was divorced at the time—will this news damage his leadership role in the health care reform debate? We‘ll see. The politics fix is next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Time for the politics fix, with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson. Both are MSNBC political analysts. You first, Howard. It seems to me here we are again—we could do this every night—a senator in trouble on something to do with sex. Here you have Max Baucus from Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, who‘s been accused by—what was it, the “Washington Post?” Somebody went after him—with the charge that he had put his girlfriend up for US attorney to cover him, as US attorney for Montana.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: Yeah. We‘re taking a break from the Tiger Woods story here on HARDBALL. Yes, that was the story. It first came up on a website. Then it was pursued by everybody in town. I checked around on the Hill today, talked to a very senior Democratic source who told me there will be no Ethics Committee investigation.
MATTHEWS: Because there‘s no ethical issue.
FINEMAN: Because there really is not an ethical issue in the legal sense for a few reasons. One, he pulled back. He was going to push her for US attorney in Montana. They decided better of it. She was one of three names that in the end were put forward for the job. Then somebody said, let‘s rethink this.
MATTHEWS: The heat‘s on.
FINEMAN: My guess would be—this is strictly a guess—Jim Mecina (ph), who is the deputy White House chief of staff, used to be chief of staff for Max Baucus. Now, woman in question ended up with a political job at the Justice Department. Pulling back from the whole US attorney thing in Montana, I think one reason thing there will be no Ethics Committee investigation is that wiser heads prevailed here. It looked bad. It looked bad to some people. Ironically, though, in many other situations, wives of, spouses of get jobs all around town. Here, he isn‘t married to the woman. There was a question whether he was above-board about things. He says yes.
MATTHEWS: Somebody blew the whistle and fixed it.
EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: And it did look bad. It does look bad. It‘s not technically—
MATTHEWS: You know his defense, that he had not began the personal relationship with this woman at the time he put her up for US attorney. That has been challenged by the reporting.
ROBINSON: Right, that‘s been challenged. Really, if there is a personal relationship and you‘re still putting the nomination forth, you haven‘t withdrawn her, whatever, it looks bad. And, you know—
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Gibbs. You know those little crickets we have at Thanksgiving time, those metal crickets we click? Every time somebody gets a job in Washington, I think, how did they get that job? Then somebody tells me, oh, he went to school with the guy or they were in the Air Force together or that‘s his old girlfriend‘s brother or that‘s his uncle. I go click. It‘s the norm. It‘s the norm. Jobs don‘t go to strangers, usually.
ROBINSON: All around the world, people get jobs through connections, personal connections.
ROBINSON: They know somebody who knows somebody who can open a door.
That happens all the time.
MATTHEWS: Chicago rule, don‘t send me—
FINEMAN: I‘m waiting for Gene to say the but here.
ROBINSON: The but is, if you‘re a US senator and the job in question is US attorney—these are big jobs.
FINEMAN: And this person‘s on your staff.
FINEMAN: And you were developing a relationship with that person.
FINEMAN: It‘s not like you‘re married, you come into town—
MATTHEWS: If they were going to investigate local politics in Montana—
FINEMAN: It‘s complicated. Personal relationships in the office, politics.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to the broader question of sex in politics, to a larger topic. David Vitter was involved, according to reports—I love the way I have to say this because it‘s true—with professional sex workers. You like that phrase? That‘s very politically correct these days.
MATTHEWS: Both in the Washington, DC area and in the Louisiana area.
He‘s still a favorite to win down there.
MATTHEWS: Ensign has got problems. Chris Dodd probably has a tougher time getting reelected than these guys. Harry Reid probably has a tougher—so what kind of country do we live in, Gene Robinson, whereby the most egregious sexual escapades do not land you in hot water as much as problems with the banking industry.
ROBINSON: They land you in hot water some places. I‘m shocked that in New Orleans and Las Vegas you don‘t necessarily get in trouble.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you‘ve done it. You‘ve brought it home. All politics is local. I get it now.
FINEMAN: The logical next step is that they‘re both going to campaign saying they‘re supporting local industry in their states.
MATTHEWS: What‘s that place called, the Chicken Ranch or something?
ROBINSON: In Nevada, parts. Not in Las Vegas.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to be right back. We‘ve reached the newest low here with Howard Fineman and Eugene Robinson. I took them there. The beginning of the story was Max Baucus. He‘s not going to get hit by an Ethics Committee investigation. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. Let‘s come back and talk about health.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Eugene Robinson for more of the fix. It‘s getting interesting. I just got—this is what Harry Reid has said now, quote—ready for this? Talk about getting heated. “When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, slow down, it‘s too early. Things aren‘t bad enough.”
Gene, this is where we‘re at in the health care debate. If you oppose this bill, that‘s been put together through all these months, you are the bad guy.
ROBINSON: You don‘t compare anything to slavery. You don‘t compare anything to the Holocaust. OK? So let‘s get real.
FINEMAN: He‘s holding that in reserve.
ROBINSON: Right, right.
MATTHEWS: You pointed out something during the break—one of the most interesting things happened around here—the irony is that Tom Coburn from Oklahoma said if you‘re going to have a bill, what?
FINEMAN: He said, well, if you‘re going to have a bill, then let‘s make all of us members of Congress part of the public option. A light bulb went off for the Democrats, who said, yeah, let‘s all do that. Maybe there‘s a way we can fashion this so it‘s like what federal employees and members of Congress have, which is a federally supervised but privately offered menu of health care plans.
MATTHEWS: Including some non-profit plans.
FINEMAN: Including non-profit. If you make it national, then you can provide competition for these regional monopolies. In many metropolitan areas, there are only one or two—
MATTHEWS: And there‘s millions of federal employees who benefit from these programs.
FINEMAN: Yeah, so they may have stumbled on something—
MATTHEWS: In other words, don‘t throw me in that briar patch. Don‘t do that to me—or do that to me. It turns out being what the Democrats never could think of.
ROBINSON: It was supposed to be a poison pill. It turns out to be maybe the miracle drug.
FINEMAN: Except for the fact that it‘s irritating to the proponents of the true public option. Now you have to call it true public option.
MATTHEWS: I know. I know. Robust.
MATTHEWS: Early tonight, I had a true believer, a social Democrat, socialist even—I think he uses the term—Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is really tough. He wants that public option as robust as hell. Then I had Sheldon White House, a man who is I think destined for leadership in the Senate—I think we would all agree—headed to the top, this guy. He said, look, this is our last chance. We‘ve got to get this thing through. Pragmatism should rule now. Right?
ROBINSON: Well, yeah.
MATTHEWS: And if you‘re going to get this bill through—by the way, Roosevelt came up with this idea of national health. And if they blow it --
FINEMAN: I didn‘t hear Bernie Sanders completely reject it.
ROBINSON: No, I didn‘t hear that anything. I really think there‘s a realization—the governing rule is that if they fail, if they fail to pass anything, that is the worst possible outcome.
MATTHEWS: That‘s brilliant success for the Republicans and all critics of Obama.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the best Christmas present, right?
ROBINSON: Exactly. So I think there is a realization they have to come up with something.
MATTHEWS: Can you see the “Weekly Standard” if he does, blew it. He blew it!
FINEMAN: They‘re going to find some way to write that regardless.
MATTHEWS: I‘m talking about his critics on the right. So if you‘re
a Democratic senator, you‘re looking at this gang of ten that‘s been
meeting, as we speak, of five moderates, five liberals—I think Schumer -
I was on the plane with him the other day—I think he put it together.
It could work. This could be his leadership bonafide right there.
ROBINSON: This could be what works. I think something ultimately will work.
MATTHEWS: Will it be Lieberman or Snowe that is the capstone to this. Howard, your thoughts? Who will be the 60th vote to break the log jam?
FINEMAN: I‘m guessing that, regardless, Snowe is going to be in on this deal at the end.
MATTHEWS: So it will be at least 60 votes.
FINEMAN: I think they‘ll have her in the end. And she‘ll accept this version of this --
MATTHEWS: Can Lieberman, in the interest of representing his state, which is a big insurance state, up in Hartford—can he reject a program which is available to millions of federal employees as part of the plan?
ROBINSON: I think—look, he‘s on record as saying, if you call it public option he‘s going to reject it.
MATTHEWS: If it‘s called a non-profit, federally supervised --
FINEMAN: Chris, in theory, it could be more business for the insurance company. Now what they‘re going have to trade for that is tougher regulation. That‘s what White House and the others are saying.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s make one prediction we can all agree on. They‘re going to let the buses go up to Canada to get cheaper drugs starting tomorrow night. Right? That amendment is going to carry.
FINEMAN: It‘s going to carry maybe in the Senate. Whether it will be in the final bill --
MATTHEWS: But everybody wants that. McCain wants that.
FINEMAN: Here‘s the problem. If you pull that, then the drug lobbying, which has put 80 billion dollars on the table—
MATTHEWS: Would they pull out?
FINEMAN: I think they‘re going to dare them to pull out. I think, in the end, they won‘t pull out.
MATTHEWS: Everybody wants—everybody who is retired, who is diabetic like me, or anything else, who has a regular need for drugs, right? They want to get in those busses and get up to Canada or get their druggist—according to this plan, your druggist will be able to get the cheapest price available and buy it for you. How can you vote against that? How can you run for reelection and say, I screwed you out of getting a better deal?
FINEMAN: Because you promised the pharmaceutical industry that you wouldn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Well, that will sell.
FINEMAN: I‘m just saying, that‘s the reality.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s going to sell in the Senate. Anyway, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, the pros.
Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 for more HARDBALL. Right now—big Massachusetts election tomorrow to replace the seat of the late Ted Kennedy. I think it‘s Martha Coakely. Time—right now, time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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