Guest: Andrew Romanoff, Jonathan Martin, David Sanger, Luis Gutierrez, Jeff Zeleny, Josh Green
CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST: So it‘s official. Harry Reid tells Mitch
McConnell he‘s using reconciliation. In other words, Harry Reid‘s playing
HARDBALL, and so are we.
Good evening. I‘m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews, who‘s
traveling with the vice president still in the Middle East, in Jordan
tonight. Leading off tonight here: Reconcile this. Harry Reid takes off
the gloves and plays his own version of HARDBALL. The one-time boxer
turned Senate majority leader formally notified his Republican counterpart,
Mitch McConnell, that he will use a Senate ruled called reconciliation to
get those fixes to health care passed.
The move allows Democrats to avoid any Republican filibuster against
any of those fixes the Senate wants to make on their already-passed health
care bill that‘s, by the way, still got to get passed in the House. For
Republicans, the move is nothing short of a Senate declaration of political
war. We‘ll get to the bare-knuckle fight that lies ahead in just a moment.
Plus: Just when you thought the Massa saga couldn‘t get any messier,
some of his former Navy shipmates say they were subjected to his unwanted
advances. And if that‘s not enough, now there are questions about whether
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn‘t take an early warning about his erratic
behavior more seriously.
Next, a look at two hot Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate.
We‘re going to talk to the establishment guy in one race, Pennsylvania‘s
Arlen Specter, and the insurgent guy in another race, Andrew Romanoff,
who‘s challenging the sitting senator out in Colorado, Michael Bennet.
Also, more trouble for John Ensign. Just when Republicans think they
have Democrats in an ethics bind, back comes their own ethical problem in
the form of the junior senator from Nevada. Previously undisclosed e-mails
appear to show that he tried to direct lobbying gigs to the husband of his
former mistress. Forget the Senate Ethics Committee on this one, by the
way. Does this put him in hot water with the FBI? We‘re going to get to
that in the “Politics Fix.”
And finally, our friend there, ousted Illinois governor and soon to be
“Apprentice” contestant Rod Blagojevich sure does loves cracking jokes at
his own expense. He delivered Letterman‘s “Top 10 List” last night, and
which was all about himself, and he loved it. We‘ll have part of it for
you in the HARDBALL “Sideshow,” which is what Rod Blagojevich has become.
But let‘s start with the big business here of reconciliation and the
health care bill. We‘re joined by Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.
He‘s headed to the White House right after this interview to sit down with
President Obama about his own problems that he still has with what‘s left
with health care.
And in fact, Congressman, let‘s start with an issue that I‘m pretty
sure you‘re going to bring up with the president, and that has to do with
immigration and what illegal immigrants can or can‘t do in the health care
bill. What is it about the Senate bill that you don‘t like, that you want
to see changed?
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: A couple of things. First, Chuck,
if I could, just say that, so that we frame this correctly, when the
president first came to me and others, we accepted reluctantly—and we
thought it was bad public policy, but we accepted that for the bill to move
forward, undocumented immigrants, illegals, here in the United States,
would be excluded. That wasn‘t easy to do, but we did it.
But then the president kind of doubled down, right? Then he said, But
even if they go to the exchange with their own money, they can‘t buy health
care for themselves and for their families. And I‘m kind of, like, Well,
they collect the money from the IRS and their taxes, and they go to the
store to shop. Why can‘t they pay? Especially since they‘re younger, less
likely to use health care, and the premiums will go to helping support the
system. So we want people to pay, but he said, No, not even then can they
And secondly, I think it‘s very important for people to understand
that in the Senate version, which looks like the way we‘re going here...
GUTIERREZ: ... I mean, every indication is that‘s the way we‘re
GUTIERREZ: ... they‘re going to exclude legal permanent residents for
the first five years. That is to say it‘s a mandate that they go out and
purchase health care, but they can‘t get any subsidy. They‘re required—
and you know, we want immigrants—we‘re always saying, Why don‘t
immigrants play by the rules?
TODD: Pay their own way.
GUTIERREZ: Well, they want to play by the rules. But then we‘re
saying, But you‘re not really part of the rules. So those are a couple of
TODD: ... brass tacks. Let‘s get down to brass tacks. Are those two
issues enough for you to say, You know what, I can‘t support this bill?
GUTIERREZ: They are enough to say, I can‘t support this bill. I‘m
looking forward to talking to the president and see if he can‘t give us
some kind of holistic explanation of what we‘re doing because health care
and immigration, housing, immigration, banking system, immigration, they‘re
all intertwined. Let‘s deal with it in a comprehensive manner so the that
president doesn‘t have to be, I think, really demeaning the stature of his
office and himself by going after immigrants, by saying they can‘t—
because I don‘t really think he believes that. I just think somebody at
the White House told him that might be a good way to go to gain some
leverage among the American public. So we want to talk to him...
TODD: Wait a minute, you said somebody at the White House. Who at
the White House specifically...
GUTIERREZ: I don‘t—I wouldn‘t know. I wouldn‘t know who at the
White House. But I would suspect—I don‘t really think it‘s him. I
don‘t think he woke up—you know, I don‘t think he came and had that
altercation with Congressman Wilson, and then the next day woke up and
said, Well, I‘m going to double down. Not only did I say yesterday that
illegals—and by the way, he used to call them...
TODD: ... Joe Wilson. Let me just remind viewers the “You lie” from
that speech had to do with when the president said his health care plan did
not give health care to illegal immigrants, correct?
GUTIERREZ: And he was—and I‘m going to tell you something.
Because he had to convince me and others to exclude them, I‘m telling you,
the president wasn‘t (INAUDIBLE) But it was, like, the next day, he doubled
down, right, and he said, You know what? Not only—not even that. Even
at the exchange with their own money will we not allow them. That‘s bad
public policy. So I think...
GUTIERREZ: I just think that the president‘s being...
GUTIERREZ: ... being advised poorly.
TODD: You brought up immigration and talked about how it‘s
intertwined with a number of issues, not just health care. You brought up
financial reform. We know that the issue of comprehensive immigration
reform came up earlier today at the White House.
TODD: I guess my question is, if the president says to you,
Congressman Gutierrez, here‘s what I‘m going to do, you‘re going to have to
live with this Senate language. However, I‘m taking on immigration this
year, I‘m not putting it off to next year, I‘m taking it on next year. I
had a good meeting with Senator Graham, with Senator Schumer, who were both
at the White House today. Would that be enough to get your vote?
GUTIERREZ: You know, it would be enough—to be quite honest with
you, it would be enough to enter into a conversation with the president of
the United States. I think we need to deal with this in a macro way. I
want to be helpful.
But quite honestly, you know, understand, I‘m from Chicago. I still
remember December of 2006, when I got the call from my junior senator and
he said, Come on down, Luis, and I‘m going to Hawaii...
GUTIERREZ: ... I‘m going to be with my wife, and when I come back,
I‘m thinking I want to run for president. Will you help me?
GUTIERREZ: And I said, Go have a good time in Hawaii, Barack. Enjoy
yourself. And when you come back, I‘ll stand with you. And I did.
You know what? If we could have a little more of that 2004 Barack
Obama, who just thrilled us all at the Democratic convention...
GUTIERREZ: ... and he applied some of that enthusiasm and charisma to
the issue of immigration, I think we can get—I want to see him come
back. I want to see candidate Barack Obama be President Barack Obama.
TODD: Sounds like it‘s going to be a dynamic conversation tonight.
Very quickly, Congressman, while I have you, are you going to run for mayor
of Chicago next year?
GUTIERREZ: No. I‘ve already—I called the mayor...
GUTIERREZ: ... about a month ago and told him I‘m going to be for
TODD: OK. All right. Congressman Gutierrez, thank you for joining
GUTIERREZ: All right.
TODD: Good luck tonight at the White House.
All right, with me now, “New York Times” White House reporter Jeff
Zeleny. Jeff, you heard some of that interview. It seems like he‘s
mixing, and this is what the congressional Hispanic caucus in general—
they‘re not happy about how the immigration issue has been dealt with not
just in the health care bill but the whole idea of immigration reform. So
if he gets a pledge—it sounded like to me, if he gets a pledge that the
president‘s going to push immigration reform this year, he‘ll sign off on
what he doesn‘t like in the health care bill.
JEFF ZELENY, “NEW YORK TIMES”: That‘s what it sounded like. It‘s
kind of hard to imagine that the president would agree to do immigration
reform this year or would have the support to go forward with it. I mean,
we‘re already pushing the envelope far closer to the mid-term elections
with this big health care fight.
So I mean, equally interesting, I thought, what Congressman Gutierrez
was saying is—he said, We want to see some of that old Barack Obama.
What happened to that 2006 Barack Obama?
ZELENY: This next week or two-week period here really is a lot of
more infighting among some of President Obama‘s close allies than they ever
had hoped to get at this point. The immigration thing—I somehow think
President Obama will be able to talk his old friend from Chicago off the
ledge on this one.
TODD: Well, it certainly sounded like he was willing—you know, at
first—he wasn‘t willing to put his vote on the line, it didn‘t sound
like, at the end of the day.
I want to move on, speaking of this trip a little bit—in the press
room today, take a look at how many people asked Robert Gibbs about this
trip. As you know, the way the schedule is laying out, right, he‘s
supposed to leave a week from today, March 18th, which was a deadline that
Robert Gibbs and some at the White House had publicly said they would like
to see the House deal with health care. And so now a lot of people are
wondering, is this trip in jeopardy either in whole or in part.
Take a listen at the battery of questions he got today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Is the president still planning to launch his Asian trip on
time? Any chance of delay?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If we have any changes in
the schedule, we‘ll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: Does the president still want this thing passed by—that
Senate bill passed by the House before he gets on the plane?
GIBBS: Again, if it takes a couple of days extra, Chip, we‘ll be
happy to have it pass then, too.
QUESTION: Is there anything about the trip that couldn‘t be delayed?
Could you put it off a couple of weeks to finish up health care?
GIBBS: The trip won‘t be put off a couple weeks.
QUESTION: The president doesn‘t have a concern about leaving here if
it hasn‘t been completed?
QUESTION: Are you aware of any contingency planning to move it back
even a day or two?
GIBBS: I don‘t have any announcements on today‘s trip.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: You know, we‘re used to having to parse Robert, you know? You
know, you take words for it, but at the same time, you look and wonder, is
there wiggle room? Did you hear wiggle room?
ZELENY: I think there is wiggle room on this, perhaps not what Robert
Gibbs was saying today, but what the White House, what advisers are hearing
from House Democrats. I was talking to one sort of senior House Democrat
yesterday who said, You mean to tell me we have to do this vote, the
timeline for his is because the Obama girls, the daughters, want to go on
vacation during their spring break?
The White House says, you know, this trip has been planned for a long
time. It‘s about more than that. But I think if the White House gets
enough pushback from House Democrats, they will think very strongly about
reconsidering this trip. So it is really one of the many things that is
rankling House Democrats right now.
TODD: Well, it‘s interesting that you brought up the fact that he is
bringing his family with him. In fact, one of our colleagues there asked
in that way, that is this more vacation than it is a serious—and Robert
seemed to bristle at that. But you‘re hearing from Democrats on Capitol
Hill saying, Hey, don‘t make your deadline a vacation deadline?
ZELENY: I mean, you heard Steny Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi have both
pretty sharply pushed back on this March 18th deadline. What is happening
behind closed doors is really a furious sentiment from some House Democrats
that they feel that they‘re being pushed too much on this. Some of them,
of course, want the vote to happen sooner, rather than later, just to get
it over with.
ZELENY: But others feel that this deadline is more about the
president‘s schedule. And you know, it‘s not the most pressing foreign
trip that he‘s had since taking office. So right now, they say they‘re
still going forward with it. The White House has advance people in
Australia, in Indonesia. But we‘ll see. It could definitely be
rescheduled. We‘ll find out how the White House reacts to this criticism.
TODD: All right, Jeff Zeleny, on top of it there for “The New York
Times” and for us, thanks for joining us.
ZELENY: Thank you.
TODD: All right, coming up, it‘s the Eric messa mass, or is it the
Eric Massa mess? It got a whole lot messier. Turns out some of the ex-
congressman‘s Navy shipmates are now speaking out, and they say they were
subjected to his unwanted advances years ago. And it get worse from there.
We‘re going to get into it next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Just when it looked like the Eric
Massa saga was winding down, guess what? It didn‘t. Today, with the
exception of a couple of votes, the House unanimously passed a Republican
resolution calling for the Ethics Committee to investigate what Democratic
House leaders knew about the Massa mess and when they knew it. What will
happen next, and who‘s this going to hurt or help in November?
Kelly O‘Donnell covers Congress for NBC News and MSNBC. Josh Green is
the senior editor for “The Atlantic.” And he‘s also been covering this
story from a salacious way, and we‘re going to get into that in a moment.
Kelly, bring us up to date on this resolution. Obviously, this is—
the Republicans are kind of feeding the story, trying to give the story
legs a little bit. But what is the news nugget that they‘re hanging this
on, that they put this resolution on today?
KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, they thought, Democrats
did, that Eric Massa‘s resignation would be enough. It wasn‘t because
there was some confusion about when did Democratic officials know of some
kind of problem happening in the office of the former New York congressman.
So how does the story go? Well, there have been questions about what
did the Speaker know? Now, senior aides to the Speaker say that their
office was given some information back in October, but not rising to the
level of these sexual harassment allegations. It was really of a different
tone. They said they were warned by one of Massa‘s staffers at the time
that the congressman had too many staffers, had been living with some of
his staffers, and there were concerns about foul language.
So today, the Speaker said that she did not know about the sexual
harassment allegations until very late in the game. And so she is
contending that she and her office were not aware for months. Republicans
raised that question. Of course, the obvious implication is that they
might have been hiding it, in political terms.
O‘DONNELL: The Speaker‘s office said, No. No, that‘s not what
TODD: All right...
O‘DONNELL: So now they investigate.
TODD: Kelly, Josh, I want to play with you a clip for you. Here‘s
Speaker Pelosi, actually. She sat down with MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow earlier
today in an interview. It‘s going to air in full tonight on Rachel
Maddow‘s show at 9:00 PM Eastern. But let‘s take a listen. This is what
the Speaker said, what she knew about Eric Massa.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”: When was your office first
told about concerns about his behavior?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, any report to
our office was in February that there was an allegation against him, and at
the same time, that it was referred to the Ethics Committee. And that was
the appropriate—I‘m now finding out that there had been a conversation
earlier, but it had nothing to do to—didn‘t come close to any kind of
allegation. It was—repeated something that had been in the newspaper
the day before.
TODD: All right, Kelly, very quickly, that‘s obviously—so what is
she saying that the allegation that she thinks her staff got, that there
was just simply somebody saying, Hey, Congressman Massa‘s—you know, he‘s
walking a line here, he may be getting himself in trouble, but they didn‘t
know what? Is that what she‘s trying to say?
O‘DONNELL: Yes. At the time, there was no indication that there were
advances being made, but people were concerned about the atmosphere, the
foul language, maybe spending too much time with staffers, all kind of
living together. Of course, he had a home back in his district...
O‘DONNELL: ... and sort of had an unconventional way to live here in
O‘DONNELL: So that was really the issue. Was it just kind of some
problems on the horizon...
O‘DONNELL: ... different than these more specific allegations?
That‘s her claim.
TODD: All right.
Josh Green, you have done some reporting about sort of some unusual
behavior he exerted when he was in the Navy. But you said in your
reporting, you were tipped off about some Eric Massa allegations when he
was first running for Congress.
So, if you were tipped off, do we think that other Democratic at least
campaign types might have known something?
JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR EDITOR, “THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY”: I think so. I
mean, Massa has clearly been kind of a powder keg going back to his time in
And I had gotten a tip about a dispute he had had with a former
campaign manager back in 2006, where there was a lawsuit.
TODD: That‘s an election he lost.
GREEN: An election he lost...
GREEN: ... yes, his first run for Congress.
GREEN: But weird lawsuit and contretemps where he made allegations
against a campaign manager that he later retracted about making a pass at
his son, all sorts of weird things.
When the story cropped up again last week, and I got back in touch
with some of these people, it led to his Navy colleagues.
GREEN: And now we see this whole line of people who have been, you
know, groped, or had strange encounters with Massa.
TODD: Now, you got a lot of these Navy colleagues to go on the record
with you about the—about his behavior.
I guess my question is, what explanation do they give to you? Why
didn‘t they go to their—to Eric Massa‘s senior officer and say, hey,
he‘s doing this? Why wouldn‘t they have reported it at the time?
GREEN: I think—I think the main thing was fear of retaliation.
Massa was the number-three commander aboard the ship, a senior figure, a
very aggressive guy.
He was someone that most people in the Navy at the time—this was
around the time of the first Gulf War—had pegged as somebody really
ambitious, going to be admiral one day. You know, you cross him at your
own peril. And, if you‘re a Navy guy...
GREEN: ... to make homosexual allegations against a senior officer is
a serious, scary thing. I think it wasn‘t until these congressional start
charges rolled out earlier this week that they really thought it was
time to come forward.
TODD: Now, Kelly, I want to go back to you, because, obviously, this
this—House Republicans feel they have hit jackpot here, right,
between Eric Massa, Charlie Rangel, even—you‘ve got John Conyers‘ wife -
John Conyers, the congressman—his wife caught up in a—in a legal
problem as well.
They think they have hit the ethical mother lode. What do they say
back, though, when Democrats throw John Ensign at them?
O‘DONNELL: Well, here‘s one of the interesting things.
I talked to Leader Boehner, the top Republican in the House, a short
time ago, and asked him about that apparent contradiction. And he said
that Republicans need to be better as well. And he even acknowledged that
the handling of the Mark Foley issue some years ago, where there were also
O‘DONNELL: ... connotations to it, that they handled that poorly.
So, they‘re kind of grabbing onto it now and saying, let‘s do it better.
We owe the American people that.
Well, that is perhaps a true view of policy, but it‘s also politically
very expedient, because Nancy Pelosi herself had said this Congress, under
her leadership, would be the...
O‘DONNELL: ... most ethical. So, she sort of put this out there as a
standard that might even have been higher than people‘s normal
And if there is something there for them to go after, they‘re
certainly doing it aggressively, keeping that alive, and trying to connect
her to these Eric Massa allegations and saying she should have known.
TODD: Josh, go to—go to 30,000 feet here, because it does seem as
if, each—each time a political party in the last 20 years has lost
control of Congress, it‘s—it‘s been the ethical issues that put it over
the top, right? You had the check-bouncing scandal of ‘92, which led to
some shenanigans in ‘94, led to that thing.
And then we—we saw what happened in ‘06, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff.
Are Democrats extra sensitive to this? Do they see this coming?
GREEN: Well, I think they ought to be.
GREEN: I mean, these things move faster and faster and faster. It
was only two years ago that it was Republican scandals and Mark Foley that
were causing all this. And now you have this whole succession of scandals.
You have this—this—this spectacle, really, in the whole Massa
GREEN: ... and this race to kind of answer questions about who knew
what when, and now the House voting today to start a special investigative
subcommittee that is presumably going to issue a report on June 30, much
closer to the midterm elections. So, you really can see kind of a wave
building where—where Democrats could run smack into the same thing
TODD: All right.
Quickly, Kelly O‘Donnell, how quickly would the Ethics Committee—
this was not a formal—it‘s not as if this vote passing means the Ethics
Committee has to start an investigation. But one would assume it—they
probably would start one, just for political reasons. How quickly would it
O‘DONNELL: Well, with the overwhelming vote in favor of this, that
would certainly suggest that they would do it. They‘re not compelled to.
But there would be an indication. They had only barely begun before Massa
O‘DONNELL: So, they could actually get going quite quickly. But
these things usually take a long time. So, as Josh mentioned, the June 30
deadline is actually pretty quick in the pace of how the Ethics Committee
would typically work.
TODD: We shall see. It‘s been quite the week for Kelly O‘Donnell up
there on Capitol Hill.
TODD: Once again, it‘s why it‘s the best beat in Washington.
Kelly O‘Donnell, thank you.
Josh Green, quite the week for you, Tim Geithner, a huge profile.
It‘s still a must-read. And then there‘s Eric Massa. Thanks for joining
GREEN: Good to be with you.
TODD: All right.
Up next: Outgoing Congressman Patrick Kennedy has something to say
about the Massa scandal, too. He went off on the 1 floor. And we‘re going
to have that next in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: Well, there it is. It‘s back at HARDBALL here. And it‘s time
for the “Sideshow.”
First up: Stop the presses. Retiring Congressman Patrick Kennedy had
a bone to pick with the media during yesterday‘s empty-floor debate on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND: If anybody who wants to know
where cynicism is, cynicism is that there‘s one, two press people in this
We‘re talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV. We‘re talking about
war and peace, $3 billion, 1,000 lives. And no press? No press. You want
to know why the American public is fit? They‘re fit because they‘re not
seeing their Congress do the work that they‘re sent to do.
It is because the press—the press of the United States is not
covering the most significant issue of national importance. And that‘s the
laying of lives down in the nation for the service of our country. It is
despicable, the national press corps, right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman‘s...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That had to do with a resolution about Afghanistan and a—and
a withdrawal issue. It went—what—what Congressman Kennedy was
supporting went down to dramatic defeat, over 300 votes against his
position on that.
By the way, it was an empty chamber he was speaking to as well. And,
again, he‘s retiring, and the outrage he is showing post-retirement.
Next: Blago time. He‘s back in action. Actually, when does he ever
stop? Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the once and future star,
probably, of Donald Trump‘s “Celebrity Apprentice,” showed up on
“Letterman” last night to deliver the top 10 list.
It was a good one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”: Here we
go. Top 10 questions Rod Blagojevich asked himself before appearing on
ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: Can I get paid in
LETTERMAN: Number six:
BLAGOJEVICH: Is there any chance NBC will replace me with Leno?
LETTERMAN: Mm-hmm, yes.
LETTERMAN: I think there‘s an excellent, excellent possibility.
LETTERMAN: Number two:
BLAGOJEVICH: How come I‘m not a governor, and Paterson is?
LETTERMAN: Yes, well, that‘s...
LETTERMAN: And the number-one question Rod Blagojevich asked himself
before appearing on “Celebrity Apprentice”:
BLAGOJEVICH: Will my hair get along with Trump‘s hair?
LETTERMAN: Yes, there you go.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So, what do they? It doesn‘t matter how—how you say my
name. Just make sure you spell it right, or put me on TV. It does seem to
me that‘s all Blagojevich cares about.
Publicity tour aside, Blagojevich has a corruption trial that is
slated for later this year.
And now the “Big Number.”
When “The New York Times” bestseller list comes out the week of March
21, which politician will be on top? Well, according to Politico, Mitt
Romney for his book “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.” Romney
strikes publishing gold. He‘s going to be number one on the upcoming “New
York Times” bestseller list, not number one for politics, number one.
I have to say, a lot of people didn‘t think he could get there with
that. It says a little something.
And, finally, a personal note, just because I‘m getting the chance to
do this. I got to mark the passing of the great Merlin Olsen. I feel like
this guy was all over my childhood, a football great, member of the Los
Angeles Rams‘ Fearsome Foursome back in the ‘60s. I will admit, not—I
wasn‘t around to watch him play so much football.
But, later, he joined the NBC family. He was a football commentator.
He was also an actor on “Little House on the Prairie.” Sadly, it may be
how I was—knew him—best known him—knew as there. He also played
Father Murphy on another show.
Olsen early this morning at a hospital in California. He was 69. He
was also the spokesperson for FTD, just the nicest man who everybody said
was one of the meanest defensive lineman. So, go figure.
Merlin Olsen, rest in peace.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC
Stocks finished picking up the pace in the final hour of trading to
finish moderately higher, the Dow gaining 44 points, the S&P 500 climbing
four points, and the Nasdaq adding on nine points.
Investors keeping a close eye on China today, after it reported a jump
in inflation. A decision to raise interest rates there could slow the pace
of economic recovery.
Citigroup growling again on fresh optimism for its financial future.
Investors are interested in the bank‘s strong base of capital and sky-high
earnings potential. Regional banks also doing well for the second day in a
row on speculation overseas banks are looking to snap up some bargains here
in the U.S.
Shares of energy giant British Petroleum are up after inking a $7
billion deal to look for oil off the coast of Brazil.
And video game retailer GameStop leading the S&P with a 6 percent gain
on rumors of a possible takeover on the horizon.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—back over to
TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Chuck Todd. I‘m in for Chris
Matthews, who‘s in Jordan with Vice President Biden.
Well, it‘s time to talk about some races we‘re loving to cover this
spring. In a few minutes, Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff will
But, first, someone Chris is sorry to miss and hopes to have on again
soon, and I‘m soon he will, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who faces
Congressman Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, which
is on May 18. We‘re almost two months away from that.
Senator Specter, before I get to that race, I want to go to Senator
Reid‘s decision to formally inform the Republicans that he‘s going to go
this Senate rule, reconciliation. What is the—are you concerned about
any of the long-term fallout on how the U.S. Senate runs if and when you
guys vote on some health care fixes this way?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Chuck, there are many
precedents for using reconciliation in analogous circumstances.
For example, on SCHIP and COBRA, Medicare Advantage, welfare reform,
all used reconciliation.
SPECTER: And many of the Republicans now who say, don‘t do it, it‘s
wrong, were firm advocates in the past. It‘s all over the congressional
record in their words.
TODD: Where are you on the filibuster in general? Are—Senator
Reid has talked about reforming the filibuster. Senator Bayh has a
proposal out there to—quote, unquote—it does seem like about, every
20 years, the Senate does try to change the filibuster rule, some time,
when—when it went from 67 votes down to 60 votes.
Where are you on this?
SPECTER: Well, there was a major crisis in 2005 where the shoe was on
the other foot and Democrats...
SPECTER: ... were filibustering President Bush‘s judicial nominees.
TODD: And you were ready to go reconciliation, right, when you were
chairman of the Judiciary?
SPECTER: No, no, I wasn‘t. It wasn‘t reconciliation. There was an
issue of what was called the nuclear constitutional option.
SPECTER: And we were able—we were able to avoid that, so that the
filibuster remains at 60, unless there is a rule change. And that‘s pretty
tough to get.
TODD: All right.
Well, I‘m going to go to your Senate primary. We‘re two months away.
It‘s campaign season.
SPECTER: Go ahead.
TODD: Here was Congressman Sestak talking about you on Monday‘s
HARDBALL. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: He has used language that has made
me appear to people as though I‘m a criminal, you know, and as though I‘m
breaking the law.
And, you know, that‘s the kind of politics that people are saying,
we‘re tired of, that negativity. Yes, he brought it from the Republican
Party leadership, and he‘s doing it again, as he‘s done it, in a dishonest
way, for many, many times against opponents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Some strong, dare I say salty language.
TODD: Criminal—did you accuse him of some sort of criminal
SPECTER: Well, the statute says, if you don‘t pay the minimum wage,
you can go to jail. And it is on record...
TODD: This has to do with his campaign staff, having to do with
contractors, instead of putting them on salary, correct?
SPECTER: His—his campaign workers are required to be paid the
minimum wage by federal and state law. And it is documented, by document -
by what Congressman Sestak‘s campaign has filed, that he paid them about
$2.50 an hour.
And that is a violation of law. And when he says that I‘m using
language unfairly that makes him out to be a criminal, I would ask him to
define what he has done when he has violated a statute which provides a
punishment, including a term in jail. Ask him what he would call himself.
That‘s a fact.
TODD: We haven‘t seen the TV ad. But I want to go to, very quickly
last question here—why should Democratic voters in Pennsylvania trust
you now that you west from being a Republican to a Democrat? Why should
they trust you now?
SPECTER: Because I have a long record of supporting democratic
Values. In my tenure in the Senate, I have voted perhaps more often with
Democrats on key issues, like a woman‘s right to choose, opposing wireless
wire tapping, opposing war. I have faced the Democrats. We had a state
committee meeting, and I got an overwhelming endorsement from the State
Democratic Committee, of 229 to 69 votes. Seventy seven percent of the
Democrats voted for me to be the nominee, because they trust me. And they
trust me based on a very solid record.
TODD: Senator specter, the good news is about our democracy, the
voters are going to decide. May 18th, the big day in Pennsylvania. I‘m
sure we‘ll be talking to you again.
SPECTER: I‘m ready.
TODD: All righty.
I want to turn now to another Senate race. This one is in Colorado.
We‘re going to talk to the insurgent here of sorts, where appointed
Democratic Michael Bennett, he faces a primary challenge. This one is in
August. And it‘s against our next guest. He‘s the former state house
speaker, Andrew Romanoff.
Mr. Romanoff, thanks for joining us here. Simple question, why -
what‘s the fireable offense with Senator Bennett? Why shouldn‘t Senator
Bennett be returned to the US Senate? What has he done that you are making
the case, fire him, hire me?
ANDREW ROMANOFF (D), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, nobody in
Colorado, other than the governor, has had a chance to vote here. There
are three million registered voters in this state. The governor filled a
vacancy that was created when Senator Salazar joined the cabinet in 2008.
I believe I‘ve got the strongest record of legislative leadership,
the deepest knowledge of our state. I‘m the only candidate in this race,
on either side of the aisle, who is refusing to accept the corporate cash
that is corrupting Congress. I think one of the reasons so many voters in
our state and across the country have been disgusted with the United States
Senate is because too many folks in that chamber have become wholly-owned
subsidiaries of the special interests that bank roll their campaigns.
I think you can see it on health reform, on financial reform, on
climate change. We‘re not getting the reforms we need. That‘s a big part
of the reason why.
TODD: I want to show you had a forum already, where you appeared
with Senator Bennett. There was an interesting exchange you had. I want
to play a quick clip from it. It happened last month. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANOFF: I appreciate the accord that‘s breaking out on the stage.
And I welcome you to join our team.
SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT (D), COLORADO: I love you. I wish you were
running a primary against one of the people that is causing the problems
we‘re talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Hard to say; I go from Congressman Sestak and Senator
Specter, who are accusing each other of being criminals, apparently, or
going back and forth on that issue. It was a virtual love-fest. So I
guess I go back at you, at this time, when the Democratic party is under
siege here, what is the fireable offense that Michael Bennett has done,
that says no Michael Bennett; he‘s got to get out of there; Democrats, fire
ROMANOFF: Sure. Let me give you a couple of examples, Chuck. Last
Spring, the Senate Banking Committee had a chance to protect Americans from
foreclosure by allowing them to go to bankruptcy court and renegotiate the
terms of their mortgages. You can do that under the law today if you‘ve
got a yacht, a second home, an investment property. You can protect it
But if you‘re like most of us, with just one home to your name, you
can‘t do that. It‘s an especially important problem here in Colorado,
which has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. The Senate
Banking Committee, including my opponent, killed that bill. And the
members of the committee, including my opponent, were rewarded with
hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the banking
In fact, the fellow I‘m running against is the fifth biggest
recipient of Wall Street cash in the entire Congress. And number one in
the freshman class in the Senate. That‘s a conflict of interest that I
will avoid by turning down those special interest contributions in the
TODD: We‘re going to have to leave it there. I know our time is
short. Mr. Romanoff, thank you for joining us. We‘re going to be talking
about this race a lot, I have a feeling, going up until the August primary.
ROMANOFF: Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: Up next, more hot water for another senator. This one
Republican John Ensign of Nevada. “The New York Times” is reporting that
investigators have new evidence that Ensign may have tried to find lobbying
work for the husband of his ex-mistress. It‘s a scandal that may prove
more damaging, even if it‘s not as salacious than this Massa mess. This is
HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I
violated the vows of my marriage. It‘s absolutely the worst thing that
I‘ve ever done in my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That may be the worst thing he‘s done in his life as far as
person, but he now has some professional issues. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Time now for the politics fix. That was Nevada Senator John Ensign, of
course, last June. Since then, things have gotten worse. The Senate has
been under investigation by both—not just the Senate Ethics Committee,
but the FBI.
The “New York Times” reports that investigators think they have
evidence that the senator tried to get lobbying work for a former aide who
just happens to be the husband of Senator Ensign‘s former mistress. How
much trouble is he in?
Joining me now I have David Sanger of the “New York Times,” and I‘ve
got “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin. We‘re going to a little bit about
Ensign. We‘re also going to get into Middle East and Joe Biden and that
rough trip over there. Nobody a good week.
JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”: We are.
TODD: Other than the press, that‘s right. This seems to be, in an
odd way, a much more serious charge than anything Eric Massa is dealing
MARTIN: Well, the first—the obvious reason, he‘s still there.
Massa resigned. That sort of stops the bleeding for Democrats in the
House. Ensign is not going to resign, apparently. He‘s made that clear
over the past few months. But further, it‘s the use of his office, too.
It‘s not just the fact that he --
TODD: For the record, the Ensign folks have put out a statement and
they said—they‘ve denied that he has done anything illegal or against
the law, which includes this allegation of using his office to get—
MARTIN: If proven true, the assertion that he used his office to
get his former chief of staff lobbying contracts, it looks really bad.
It‘s basically using your office to cover up for your own indiscretion.
It‘s sort of the caricature of Washington corruption.
TODD: Right, it‘s just like that. David, you‘re seeing this—
just go for 10,000 feet for me, a minute. All of this Democratic mess that
the House Democrats are dealing with, and House Republicans today, they are
pretty giddy about it, did these resolutions. How do they handle this John
Ensign thing? And what does the average voter think?
DAVID SANGER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: I think when the average voter
sees this, they don‘t necessarily consider these Democratic scandals or
Republican scandals. Remember when the Republicans had so many ethics
problems prior to the 2008 election cycle. At that time, you saw President
Bush, later on, actually blame the problems they ran into—sorry, this
TODD: Karl Rove, to this day, he doesn‘t blame Iraq.
SANGER: He blames the scandal. And President Bush, I remember, one
evening when he was meeting with reporters said, it had nothing to do with
Iraq. It had everything to do with the scandals.
Now, I don‘t actually buy that argument. But I think the more that
these break out, they do have an affect of sort of canceling each other
MARTIN: -- it could muddy the waters on the Eric Massa scandal, on
the Rangel scandal. It could really blunt their ethic charges against
Democrats because they have problems in their own house.
TODD: You made an excellent point at the bidding. Eric Massa is
out. There is no investigation anymore.
TODD: Walk me through Nevada politics right now. And why isn‘t
John Ensign out?
MARTIN: Because you have a governor out there that, to put it
charitably, is embattled. Jim Gibbons, whose is a Republican, would
appoint somebody if Ensign was to resign. He has his own—
TODD: Nobody trusts this guy.
MARTIN: Has his own issues. Divorced his wife amid allegations of
adultery out there, is really held in contempt by the establishment out
there in Nevada, the Republican establishment. And so there‘s a concern,
kind of like in South Carolina, by the way, what is worse, that he stays or
he goes? Because what‘s next?
TODD: And the trickle down has been any of the Republicans that the
party would like to have run against Harry Reid are all waiting for John
Ensign to leave, right?
MARTIN: It‘s a pretty short line there. And the only folks out
there running right now are challenging Harry Reid. Who could actually
take that Ensign seat? Again, nobody trusts Gibbons to appoint anybody.
SANGER: When was the last time that we were all this focused on
Nevada politics on a national scale? It is pretty remarkable.
TODD: It‘s used to be—it‘s supposed to be what happens in Nevada
stays in Nevada.
TODD: All right. We‘re going to let that stay in Nevada. You guys
are killing me. Jonathan Martin, David Sanger, we‘re going to come back
and talk Joe Biden, Middle East, and a little Israeli domestic politics,
right after this. You‘re watching HARDBALL.
TODD: And we‘re back with “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin and the “New
York Time‘s” David Sanger with more of the politics fix. David, let me go
to your love and your beat here, foreign policy, Middle East peace.
What is going on? The vice president of the United States makes
this—what needed to be an important trip to try to fix the Middle East
peace process. Israelis just virtually slap him.
SANGER: Right. You know, what is amazing to me about this story is
it has played out so many times before. There are secretaries of state
that go back to Jim Baker‘s time, who would land, and the Israelis would
announce settlements that would get in the way.
TODD: De ja vu all the time.
SANGER: This movie has run before. It sort of makes you wonder why
it was that they weren‘t better prepared for this. Now, the State
Department will tell you, the White House will tell you that they believe
Prime Minister Netanyahu‘s contention that he didn‘t know this announcement
was coming while the vice president was there. Now, he must have known—
TODD: But they apologized for the timing, not for the announcement,
SANGER: So it would feel a whole lot better if Biden had left town
first, OK? But the fact of the matter is that the Obama administration,
last year, declared that the settlements had to freeze as a way of getting
the talks started. Then they began gradually to back away from that last
September. And they have been backing away.
But this is a real back away that has happened. And that‘s why the
fascinating issue, to my mind, was that when Vice President Biden issued
his a statement, he didn‘t say I‘m disappointed by this. He didn‘t say, I
wish this didn‘t happen. He said, I condemn this decision. That‘s the
kind of language that the United States uses when North Korea—
TODD: Right, condemn. Jonathan, you were on some of these road
trips with us, the White House press corps. Remember all of the bravado
they had; we‘re going to start the Mid-East peace process in our first
term. We‘re not like Clinton and Bush. What happened?
MARTIN: What happened? David is right. This does happen in past
administrations. That‘s not going to stop the Republicans from ceasing on
this and saying, look, this administration abroad is not only not feared,
they‘re respected. Foreign governments are going to have the temerity to
do these kinds of things because this administration is not sort of viewed
in a way like past administrations.
TODD: So Republicans—you think they can make that a valid
MARTIN: They‘ve been trying to for the past year.
TODD: As you just pointed out, Jim Baker did it.
SANGER: But memories short. I think the core of the political bet
for President Obama is that his new approach, which is engagement with both
adversaries and allies, will, over time, pay off. His problem, 14 months
into this, is that the record of payoff is pretty slim. The Europeans have
TODD: He doesn‘t have that big thing.
SANGER: Right. The Europeans haven‘t given him more troops for
Afghanistan. The Israelis haven‘t played along on this. And Iran hasn‘t
worked out so hot.
TODD: David Sanger, Jonathan Martin, until we meet again, thank you
both. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more
HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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