Guests: Julia Boorstin, Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, Ron Christie, Willie Brown, Lynn Sweet, Jonathan Allen, Donny Deutsch, Michael Feldman
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Out of the woods?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright. Tiger Woods just gave one of the most anticipated news conferences in years, a bold effort to talk publicly and plainly about the behavior that cost him millions of dollars of endorsements and perhaps his iconic stature in American life. We‘ve seen politicians do this all the time. Why is it that some of them are forced to walk—think of Eliot Spitzer—while others, like Louisiana senator David Vitter, can linger on? Did Tiger get himself back into the game?
Plus, war with right-wing radio. Let‘s be clear here. When Rush
Limbaugh refers to the Obama “regime,” or as he did today, “junta,” is he
doing anything less than trying to delegitimize his presidency? Does
Limbaugh and his mindset hold that any administration that‘s not Republican
is illegitimate? Will that work with—well, it works with the dittoheads
I should say work with the independent-minded voter?
Also, are we about to see another fiery national debate in this country, this time over a Supreme Court nomination? Justice John Paul Stevens is talking about retiring. Can President Obama find the winning nominee, someone who will unify and lead the liberals on the Court without getting destroyed in the hearings? And if not now, when? President Obama may never have as many Democrats in the Senate as he does now.
And Michael Steele just can‘t seem to get out of trouble. He said on “GMA” today that as an African-American, the reality is he has a slimmer margin of error than another chairman might. Well, even if that‘s true—and it could well be—what good is it to say so?
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with the wonderful tradition of Americans having our president at baseball‘s opening day and the lost tradition of respecting whoever sits in the office.
We begin with Tiger Woods. Advertising man Donny Deutsch is president of Deutsch, Incorporated, and Michael Feldman is a Democratic strategist. Donny and Michael, please look now. Here‘s Tiger Woods his press conference today. I want your reaction. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You won a lot of golf tournaments over the last five years living a completely secret life. How were you able to do that? And then, secondly, do you feel—what kind of golfer do you feel you‘ll be now going forward without having this secret?
TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: Well, I think it‘s how I was earlier in my career, you know, that‘s—I was at peace. And I‘ve had some—some great years. And unfortunately, what I‘ve done over the past years has been, you know, just—just terrible to my family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Donny, I heard earlier today someone recommended that he give a little bit of information on his MO, how he was able to get away with all this secrecy and all these love affairs, these meetings with women. He didn‘t want to answer that question. Was that smart?
DONNY DEUTSCH, DEUTSCH, INCORPORATED: Yes, interestingly, you know, I
thought the best thing for him—I don‘t know if you feel this way, Chris
it got—the press conference got boring after about five minutes.
DEUTSCH: You know, when he did mea culpa, it was riveting. And why you kind of know that this parade has passed a bit is because you‘re watching it and you‘re kind of going, you know, even you ask that question, you know, like, yes, and? We‘ve heard it. We have ripped it apart. And I think it‘s all come down to the golf course now.
I think it was a non-event. I think he was very direct. I think he seemed very genuine. I think he was giving off a vibe, I‘m kind of moving on, if you will, without kind of forcing it. And I think it was—kind of seemed to be a friendly crowd. He was calling everybody by name. But I was actually surprised there weren‘t more kind of lascivious questions, like, Are there any more girls? Did you have feelings for any of the girls? Have you heard from them? Blah, blah, blah. But for him, it was a home run.
MATTHEWS: Michael, I agree. I think that—Michael Feldman, it seems to me to be a respectful crowd, almost like fans were in the room.
MICHAEL FELDMAN, GLOVER PARK GROUP: Yes, well, look—and I agree with what Donny said. I think he was a human being today. I think he looked relaxed. He showed some humility. I think this was a much better performance for him than it was a few months ago, with that very scripted press conference where he read from prepared remarks. There wasn‘t a human being that day. Today he showed he was a human being.
The other thing about this—and I think this was Donny‘s point, too, about the salacious nature of this. In fact, the most dangerous part of today‘s press conference was actually the material that he covered about whether or not he used human growth hormones. That potentially could have a real impact on his career because that‘s how he‘s measured as an athlete.
FELDMAN: But this other—this other stuff, I agree to some extent, he‘s putting that behind him now and he‘s turning to golf, which is—which is, after all, what most people are interested in. They want to see, you know, can he still play golf?
MATTHEWS: You know, I think this is an advantage he has—your thoughts, Donny—that he can prove himself in a way. A politician is really all reputation. We judge our politicians by their reputations almost in themselves. He‘s going to be judged by how he does in the Masters. Can he beat the best pros in the business this week?
DEUTSCH: Sure. Chris, I‘ve been very outspoken as people have been talking about, you know, Tiger‘s brand is dead. And I keep saying, Look, Tiger‘s brand is about the best golfer in the world. That‘s why we buy his caps and his golf shoes and his soft drinks, not because he‘s father or husband of the year. And the bottom line is, if he‘s wins, he‘ll be bigger than ever.
Here was the other interesting sidebar in that—in the inner—in the press conference, where he said, you know, How have you changed? And he said, Well, I‘m going to try to not have too many highs and lows. And that‘s a concerning thing. You know, if he starts to change his demeanor on the golf course, you know, now you‘re messing with the kind of holy grail. So that was an interesting...
DEUTSCH: ... and telling thought, and I‘d be concerned if I was his caddy, coach or sponsor, hearing that.
MATTHEWS: I wonder, Michael, if we‘re past the days of Babe Ruth, when he could drink, you know, a tub of shrimp (ph) and have X many girls the night before, and a case of beer, and nobody cared because those were the good old days, he could still hit the home run where he pointed. Are we in those days, where it‘s all performance on the field?
FELDMAN: Well, look, in this case, has the scandal or the facts behind the scandal impacted his ability to do his job? There are brand considerations, and I think Donny‘s in a much better position to evaluate them over the long term...
MATTHEWS: OK, you‘re Wheaties. Would you put him on the package?
FELDMAN: You know what? Eventually, if he wins golf—if he wins tournaments, I probably would. And I think he‘ll get those endorsements back if this scandal becomes a smaller part...
MATTHEWS: OK, Donny?
FELDMAN: ... of his public profile.
MATTHEWS: Donny, would you put him on the package?
DEUTSCH: Well, maybe...
MATTHEWS: On the box of cereal.
DEUTSCH: I think that he can get as many dollars as he wants. Some of the kid-oriented stuff, more family-oriented—and those are the ones that‘ve gone by the wayside—so a dominantly male-oriented product that‘s not purchased by Mom...
DEUTSCH: ... so I think it‘s going to be a long time coming before he gets Wheaties, but he‘ll get a lot of other sponsors.
MATTHEWS: He‘ll get golf balls and golf clubs. Let‘s take a look at some...
DEUTSCH: And beers and soft drinks and other things like that.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s some politicians who‘ve survived sex scandals and stayed in the business. I assume we can cross over some of this ability to analyze this. Let‘s listen to the pols explain their business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.
SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past. I am completely responsible, and I‘m so very, very sorry.
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.
JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: I asked you if the rumors were true that you were in an affair with a woman obviously who wasn‘t your wife at the same time that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade.
NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, the fact is—the honest answer is yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “The honest answer is yes.” That was the speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, accepting his responsibility for his affair. Donny, those people all made it.
MATTHEWS: Did they do anything, right? I don‘t think—bringing the wife into it has got to be the saddest part of this number, but he‘s still a senator from Louisiana and I believe the favorite to get reelected down there.
DEUTSCH: Yes. Part of it is how much the public wants to kind of—wants to forgive you. You know, if Richard Nixon had done this, I don‘t think he would have recovered. Bill Clinton, it was on brand for him. I know this sounds silly, but there‘s nobody in the world that was shocked. It‘s why the reason that Governor Spitzer got hit so hard—and I‘m a big Spitzer fan—was because it was so off-brand for him. So I think it has to do with where your brand is.
And look, we are forgiving culture. None of these people killed anybody. Half of the people in the world are unfaithful. It‘s certainly something a politician can recover from.
MATTHEWS: But nobody told Nixon that. He didn‘t know he could apologize. But you don‘t even know if he would have made it if he had apologized...
DEUTSCH: We didn‘t want it sliding off him. Reagan, there could have been 10 women, it would have been OK. We loved him. He was Daddy.
FELDMAN: There‘s another—another...
MATTHEWS: So it all depends. It‘s one of those things where it all depends, Michael, whether you like the guy or not. It‘s likability.
FELDMAN: Well, no, actually, it also—it also goes, again, to the person‘s ability to do their job. Are the facts contrary? Have they undermined themselves with being hypocritical in some way? And in President Clinton‘s case, the reason why his approval rating stayed as high as it did throughout that crisis is he was able to put it to the side very effectively and get up every day and communicate to the American people...
FELDMAN: ... This doesn‘t matter to my ability to be president of the United States. I‘m getting up every day and working for you. And that was effective for him.
MATTHEWS: And he was putting points...
DEUTSCH: Part of—part of...
MATTHEWS: ... on the board, by the way. The economy was so swimming and so great in the ‘90s, nobody wanted to change nothing.
FELDMAN: He did his job.
MATTHEWS: It was like—but Nixon, on the other hand, had “stagflation,” terrible unemployment, terrible inflation. People were mad. They had the gas lines. They were ticked at everything and they wanted to blame Nixon. I know it sounds Marxist, but economics rules.
Here‘s some of the politicians—right, Donny?
DEUTSCH: You know...
MATTHEWS: It‘s how you do it.
DEUTSCH: Look, we talk about this all day on this network. Come November, we can talk all we want about health care, whatnot. It‘s where the jobs and the money are, and that‘s where the elections go. We know that.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a—let‘s take a look at politics of these two fellows that didn‘t do so well. One yanked himself after this and the other one doesn‘t look too good at all. Here they are, their infidelities. Here‘s Spitzer and Edwards. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIOT SPITZER (D), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: In the past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family.
JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FORMER SENATOR, PRES. CANDIDATE: In 2006, two years ago, I made a very serious mistake, a mistake that I am responsible for and no one else. In 2006, told Elizabeth about the mistake, asked her for her forgiveness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Oh, this is kind of unpleasant. Your thoughts, Donny. Why do some guys yank themselves and other guys just stick—I mean, one thing I liked about Spitzer—I have nothing against him personally. I get along with him. But he yanked himself. He didn‘t stick around and make us put up with the embarrassment.
MATTHEWS: He took it on the chin and walked. And by the way, his wife ought to get the profile in courage award for standing there with such dignity in a terrible situation.
DEUTSCH: Yes, I—you know, I—we haven‘t heard the last of Spitzer. I think he handled it as well as he could. He got hit hard because he had been, you know, the guy in the white hat, you know, very kind of high value moral ground, so obviously, he‘s going to get hit hard.
You know, the Edwards thing, there was a sliminess to it. You know, with Sanford, the guy came out, you know, I was in love. There was no kind of hiding behind it. And obviously, all the sordid details with Edwards after the fact about, you know, the paternity test and whatnot—there‘s a difference between a guy who‘s an adulterer and a guy who‘s a deceitful slimebag.
MATTHEWS: You mean...
MATTHEWS: I‘ll let you guys handle this! Michael, is that your view?
MATTHEWS: Is that your distinction?
FELDMAN: Let‘s just put it this way. Sometimes—sometimes, there‘s just a bad fact set, and sometimes, confronted with that, the person in question doesn‘t do a very good job of handling it. In Senator Edwards‘s case, I‘d say both of those things were the case, bad facts...
FELDMAN: ... and poorly handled.
FELDMAN: And I think that‘s why it didn‘t work out for...
DEUTSCH: Chris, before we go, because I‘m going to get a thousand letters, I want to clarify that last statement. Obviously, being an adulterer is deceitful. What I‘m saying is a lot of people do it. There are—it gets uglier than that, and that‘s where you get in trouble. Is that OK, Chris? Did I get myself out of...
MATTHEWS: No. Let me tell you how worse it was for you. You said it was OK to go buy sex but don‘t fall in love.
MATTHEWS: Just kidding. This is just terrible circumstance. I think the economy rules. Let‘s get back to our strength here.
DEUTSCH: Can we talk about health care, please?
MATTHEWS: If you‘re delivering Masters tournaments and winning, if you‘re delivering a strong economy, people have a lot in their heart for you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Donny Deutsch. Thank you, Michael Feldman.
FELDMAN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Wow! Coming up, President Obama goes to war with right wing-radio, and Rush Limbaugh accuses the president of character assassination and calls his administration a “regime,” and today he called it a “junta”—you know, like after a military coup, a junta? President Obama versus Rush coming up next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. This Friday, just last Friday, President Obama dropped some names we rarely hear him say. Here he is with CBS‘s Harry Smith on “The Early Show.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRY SMITH, “THE EARLY SHOW”: Are you aware of the level of enmity that crosses the airwaves and that people have made part of their daily conversation about you?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I mean, I think that when you listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck...
SMITH: It‘s beyond that.
OBAMA: ... it‘s pretty apparent and it‘s troublesome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Talk about product placement. Rush Limbaugh responded this weekend with what we call the Dick Cheney method. In other words, he put out an e-mail, this time to “Politico.”
Quote, “I think the president is trying to distract me to get me talking about me on my show instead of talking about him and the regime‘s agenda. But it won‘t work. I‘m wise to their tactics. I know that a majority of Americans are angry at the regime and the Democrats‘ constant attempts at character assassination of their opposition. They want no part of engaging us in the arena of ideas. They seek instead to discredit and marginalize us, and it‘s gotten old,” end quote.
So who stands to gain or lose by this running chat? Eugene Robinson‘s a “Washington Post” columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, of course, and MSNBC political analyst, as well. And Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC analyst and author of “Renegade.”
Gentleman—you first, Gene. It seems to me that the president—let‘s start with who started this. Naming the names of somebody in the media, no matter how prominent they are, is unusual for a president. There he did it.
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. He did it, and I think he‘s made the calculation that these are pretty good opponents to have. It sharpens the contradictions, as it were...
ROBINSON: ... and you know, I think he‘d be happy to be running against Rush Limbaugh and running against Glenn Beck and running against Sarah Palin, for that matter.
MATTHEWS: Well, the dittoheads—and they‘re self-described. It‘s a term they use to show their allegiance to—it‘s an unusual term for independent-minded Americans!
RICHARD WOLFFE, AUTHOR, “RENEGADE,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
(INAUDIBLE) a regime.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t know, but they do love this guy. He‘s a fantastic entertainer. He‘s a man of the right and he says things most—a lot of people don‘t agree with, but a lot of people do. So here he is, talking about “regime.” He‘s talking about “junta” today.
WOLFFE: Where do you think he‘s going with this?
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think? I have my comment coming at the end of the show.
WOLFFE: Well, it‘s been great for his ratings. That‘s true. The White House—I was talking to some White House officials about this. They see this is a sort of matter of self-defense. The president‘s got to stand up for himself. Obviously, here he was asked a question, so it was prompted. They‘re not going out of their way to make it as a campaign, as maybe some like Rahm Emanuel tried to make it a little bit of an issue before, but it‘s about self-defense. He‘s got to stand up for himself because the stuff they‘re saying, in the White House‘s view, and frankly...
WOLFFE: ... in any reasonable person‘s view, is extreme.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me that there‘s a cake they‘re baking on the right, and very effectively. And all the ingredients are socialist, the delegitimizing of people, the birthers who say he‘s not really an American, the attempt to talk takeovers. All these terms seem foreign and...
ROBINSON: “I want my country back.”
MATTHEWS: “My country back.” You know, it seems like they‘re baking a cake so that people get this idea he‘s not one of us.
ROBINSON: He‘s not one of us and he‘s not legitimate. And you know, the use of the word “regime,” for example—I mean...
MATTHEWS: “Junta” today.
ROBINSON: Junta. Junta.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the military guys...
MATTHEWS: ... used it today.
MATTHEWS: Well, here he is because I think maybe I had a small part in this.
MATTHEWS: Hopefully, a small part. Here he is, the president (SIC), reacting to today to something...
ROBINSON: The Matthews regime?
MATTHEWS: ... moi said on Friday night. I‘m so small in this debate.
Here he is with a word—he‘s up in the grade (ph) here. Here he is.
Let‘s listen to Rush Limbaugh.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: Chris, if you don‘t like “regime,” I‘ll call him a “junta.” You know? Whatever. They‘re governing against the will of the people. It simply doesn‘t matter. Back room deals, bribes, unconstitutionality in order to get legislation passed, legislation the vast majority of the American people don‘t want. It‘s a regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Regime is a word that means foreign. The word we got used in this country, by the way, from the Bush team—I once called it a Bush regime, and I will pay for that as long as I live—but the fact is, the idea of foreign regime change, if there was a phrase that got into our head before the last word, there‘s something to be taken down. Saddam Hussein is a regime. It is a use of a word with this whole confection they‘re putting together: The guy‘s a foreigner.
WOLFFE: Right. Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: He‘s the enemy of the country.
WOLFFE: Well, I think...
WOLFFE: ... in the French sense, right? He‘s a foreigner. He‘s a dictator. He‘s a tyrant.
MATTHEWS: He‘s a junta leader.
WOLFFE: And there‘s an ideological element to it.
But, Chris, I don‘t want you to get distracted here, because you have got to—don‘t let this character assassination come after you. You have to stick with it.
WOLFFE: It is—it is—it is more than a confection. It is an organized system that they‘re trying to place on this White House to say that they‘re undemocratic. And, yes, there‘s a foreign element to it, which you have got to—you have got to be honest about has got something to do with the president‘s color.
There‘s no two ways about it. It‘s his color. It‘s his name, the foreign nature of it. And the ideological piece of it, he didn‘t sign even up to a public option. Excuse me. What kind of junta would do that?
MATTHEWS: You know, I—I like—I know. Look, I‘m going to talk about it later. I don‘t want to give away my commentary, which I‘m already telegraphing, guys. And I think you know where I‘m going with this.
ROBINSON: ... guess.
MATTHEWS: But I think—I think there‘s some wonderful things about America to institutionalize the fact that we accept that he‘s not just a political leader or even head of the administration or chief executive or commander in chief, but he is head of the country. He‘s representative of our republic.
MATTHEWS: Our president is special. When he comes through a room, you hold your kids up to see the president.
When the baseball season starts, the old American sport of baseball, the president‘s there to throw it out, to throw out the first pitch. It‘s an institutionalizing of something better than politics.
It‘s our unity. And when you start calling him a regime or a—look, here he is at the game today—you start referring to it as a junta, a regime, you are basically saying, he‘s not even in the office officially. He‘s somehow an interloper, a junta leader, a military coup leader.
ROBINSON: Right. The president is the head of state.
MATTHEWS: But they don‘t accept that.
ROBINSON: And that‘s very different from being just the head of government.
ROBINSON: And, you know, we don‘t make that separation.
MATTHEWS: He‘s our temporary monarch.
MATTHEWS: We elect him or dump him out of office, but, while he is there, he represents our country.
ROBINSON: We play “Hail to the Chief” when he comes into the room, you know?
ROBINSON: And this is an attempt to deny that, to say that‘s not true about this president.
ROBINSON: And does it have something to do with his color, by the way? I think so. I think so.
MATTHEWS: What other reason—well, I don‘t—I never get into—I don‘t know—I was about to say something that‘s not true. I never get into motive. I do get into motive.
MATTHEWS: But here‘s the question. What reason could they have for saying this? Here‘s the bill of particulars—backroom deals.
MATTHEWS: Well, is that new in American politics?
WOLFFE: I believe that‘s part of Congress.
MATTHEWS: Bribes. It is a crime. It ain‘t new. And I don‘t think he‘s guilty of that. Unconstitutionality in order to get legislation passed. He went through the regular order. They passed the health care bill with 60 senators. They had 60 senators for a while there with Ted Kennedy.
WOLFFE: If I‘m not mistaken, the filibuster isn‘t in the Constitution anyway. So...
MATTHEWS: Well, but they did get the 60 votes they needed.
MATTHEWS: They used reconciliation to tweak it a little bit. Nobody has challenged them on the way they did it. They didn‘t do this deem to have passed number they were talking about doing. They did do it legally.
ROBINSON: They passed the legislation the way it says in the Constitution you pass the legislation.
MATTHEWS: So, what has he done that‘s made him a foreigner? Backroom deals? I think they go back, way back.
MATTHEWS: I think we cut a deal about putting the capital in Washington. That was a deal.
WOLFFE: I have done interviews with conservative talk radio hosts where they are convinced that the birth certificate is fabricated.
You know, this is mainstream.
MATTHEWS: Because they think he‘s born in Kenya or Indonesia or where?
WOLFFE: No, Kenya.
ROBINSON: Kenya mostly, but...
WOLFFE: The serial numbers are blacked out. It doesn‘t matter what it is.
They cannot accept the result of the election, that it wasn‘t even close. OK? This is a guy who won Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia. He‘s a Democrat. And this—this whole idea of de-legitimizing him, I think it speaks to their own problems with dealing with the election.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me just tell you. I may be the—not the oldest guy here. I think you and I are about the same. I think we‘re older than you.
But, if you talk about your kids today, they don‘t know what we‘re talking about. They don‘t understand this way that Limbaugh is talking.
WOLFFE: No, I don‘t think so.
MATTHEWS: They think that he is one of us. There‘s no question about it. And this talk about if, you‘re out, you‘re black, if you‘re white, you‘re in, that‘s old talk.
WOLFFE: Well, it‘s that.
MATTHEWS: That‘s your grandparents talking.
WOLFFE: And it‘s his name. And it‘s his father. And it‘s all mixed up in some jumble of rumor. I mean, this started in the campaign.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Limbaugh audience—not to knock anybody that listens to radio, because he‘s a great entertainer, and he is a smart guy about what he is doing, which is what he is doing.
But could it be that these people who are listening to him on the radio are just mad at their kids, because their kids disagree with them?
MATTHEWS: The kids don‘t think this guy is illegitimate. The kids want the health care bill.
ROBINSON: I think some of them are...
MATTHEWS: The kids voted for him.
ROBINSON: I think some are mad at a lot of things, Chris, and maybe the kids, too.
MATTHEWS: Their—their boss, their wives? I have a whole theory.
ROBINSON: Yes, exactly.
MATTHEWS: I believe that Rush Limbaugh is basically a support group for traveling salesmen. The boss keeps giving him a higher quota. He‘s screwing him. The wife doesn‘t appreciate what he does or how hard he works.
The only person who roots for them every day is Rush Limbaugh. Every day, he‘s say, you‘re great. Those damn feminazis are out there. You‘re great.
Rush, you‘re a genius. You are brilliant as a support group. You ought to be a social worker.
Anyway, Richard Wolffe, thank you.
MATTHEWS: Eugene Robinson.
Up next: B-Rod fired again. This time, Donald Trump did the honors on his TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you just think that Trump was planning this for weeks? Next on the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And now for the “Sideshow.”
Rod Blagojevich fired again. Donald Trump did the honors on last night‘s episode of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CELEBRITY APPRENTICE”)
DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: And, Governor, I have great respect for you. I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don‘t give up.
But, Rod, you‘re fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You can catch B-Rod‘s next trial—and this is true reality—in June. He goes to federal court on 24 charges of corruption.
Next: The Straight Talk Express crashes. Senator John McCain is facing a tough primary challenge from J.D. Hayworth, who has called him out on being too moderate. That perhaps accounts for the—this remarkable changeup from Senator McCain in “Newsweek”—quote—“I never considered myself a maverick. I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.”
Oh, really? John McCain‘s never advertised himself as a maverick?
Catch this 2008 presidential campaign ad from John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties. He will reform Wall Street, battle big oil, make America prosper again. He‘s the original maverick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “The original maverick.” And you heard it in his ad.
I‘m glad to credit Talking Points Memo for that ditty.
Finally, proof that being president isn‘t all work and no play. If you were watching Saturday‘s Final Four game, you saw the president go one-on-one with CBS basketball analyst and former NBA player Clark Kellogg in a shooting exhibition. It was a game of horse, which we all grew up playing, except, in this case, they called it POTUS—P-O-T-U-S—white House talk for president of the United States.
Well, the president initially fell behind, then rose to the occasion.
Here‘s a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We both got T-U?
CLARK KELLOGG, CBS SPORTS: Yes. We got—both got T-U?
OBAMA: This could be it.
KELLOGG: This is money time right here. Money time.
KELLOGG: Oh. They warned me about you talking a little bit when you got going.
OBAMA: Yes. Let‘s see what you got.
That‘s unbelievable. I love that left-handed stroke.
OBAMA: Can I just say, everybody? I guarantee you Clark missed a couple of those on purpose.
KELLOGG: You think so?
OBAMA: But it was only because he didn‘t know he was going to end up losing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That left-handed stroke. Wait until Rush gets ahold of that line.
Anyway, while basketball seems to be the president‘s sport of choice, that didn‘t keep him from throwing out the first pitch at today‘s opening game between the Philadelphia Phillies, my team, and the Washington Nationals.
The Canadian press, by the way, teed up the pitch, writing—quote—
“He‘s lefty without a whole lot of experience, and one of his big recent victories came by the eye-popping score of 229-212,” the health care tally, of course.
So, how did the president do today? Well, you can see him here walking to the mound there in the Nationals jacket and a Chicago White Sox cap. Here‘s a look at the big pitch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it was bit of a lob a little bit to the outside of the plate, but an absolutely mandatory move, he got it past the plate, not a strike, like George W. Bush did, but not embarrassing at all, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Throwing out that first pitch is a big deal for American presidents, a true test of greatness. When did the tradition start? One hundred years ago. Howard Taft, you can see him there. He threw out the first pitch in a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Washington Senators back in 1910 -- 100 years of baseball tradition, an entire century, tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: It looks like President Obama will get the chance to nominate another justice to the Supreme Court. The big question is, how big a fight will the Republicans make out of this pick?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks heading higher on a spike in oil prices in Friday‘s positive jobs report, the Dow Jones industrials climbing 46 points, the S&P 500 adding nine points, and the Nasdaq surging nearly 27 points.
Oil prices fueling gains today on bets demand will be picking up as the economy continues to recover. That kicked energy stocks into high-gear, with Chevron, Noble Energy, and Halliburton all seeing strong gains.
In economic news, the services sector continues to expand at the fastest pace in nearly four years. And pending home sales climbing more than 8 percent in February, retailers also reporting an uptick in multiple offers on the same home.
And the Transportation Department will be seeking the maximum penalty against Toyota. It wants $16.3 million for not coming forward fast enough about defective gas pedals. That is the largest civil penalty—penalty ever issued against an automaker.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, nearing his 90th birthday, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gave interviews this weekend that put him on the cover of both “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” on Sunday. It‘s a not-so-subtle indication that he is planning to retire and give President Obama yet another chance to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Stevens told “The Washington Post”—quote—“I can tell you that I love the job, and deciding whether to leave it is a very difficult decision. But I want to make it in a way that‘s best for the court.”
Well, Justice Stevens wants what‘s best for the court, but how tough a fight will President Obama have this time around with Republicans in Congress?
Ron Christie is a Republican strategist, a former adviser to Vice President Cheney. And Willie Brown is the former mayor of San Francisco and former speaker of the California State Assembly.
Gentlemen, you‘re both attorneys. Let‘s start in that light.
Here‘s Justice Stevens and what he said about President Obama in “The Washington Post”—quote—“‘Obama‘s a very competent president to make choices for the Supreme Court, Stevens said ‘perhaps the best,‘ he said, “‘since Gerald Ford,‘” who picked him. I think that‘s a bit of irony there.
Let me go to—let me go to—to Ron on this.
Ron, it seems to me that we have not had a tradition of using the filibuster. We have had court appointments made where the confirmation has involved people low 50s. No one said that the opposition has a right to veto the appointment by denying it through filibuster.
What is your thinking on that state of play right now in terms of picking a court nominee and getting him or her confirmed?
RON CHRISTIE, FORMER ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, I think that is right, Chris. I think there have only been two judicial nominations in the history of the United States that have been blocked by the filibuster. And both of those, I would point out, have been done by the Democrats.
The first was Abe Fortas back in 1968 that was President Johnson‘s nominee to become the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. And the second was back in 2003, when the Democrats filibustered the nomination of Miguel Estrada to become a member of the D.C. Court of Appeals.
CHRISTIE: So, there have been only been two instances where that‘s taken place. I don‘t think it‘s good for the country.
I‘m confident that the president will send a qualified nominee, should he have a nominee, a vacancy to fill, that he can work with the Republicans and the Democrats to have the best justice for the United States and its citizens.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go to it.
Mayor Brown, the question is, is this president smart to sort of grab up this nomination opportunity and hope that the guy quits, in other words, go for it when you have the most Democrats in the Senate? He‘s got 59. At least, on paper, he probably won‘t have that many senators next year.
Is it smart to make that decision next year?
WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: I think he wishes to make that decision this year. I also think Justice Stevens had already made the decision to retire when, last December, instead of taking on four clerks, as he normally would do, he only took on one.
And in the history of the Supreme Court, when you take on one, that is clearly a sign of retirement or a judge who has, in fact, retired. I think Justice Stevens wishes to give President Obama the best opportunity to repeat what he‘s already done on the court, and that is come forward with a very talented person to fill his position.
MATTHEWS: Well, Sotomayor, Sonya Sotomayor, won with 68 votes in the Senate. She got nine GOP votes, as well as the Democratic votes. Let‘s look at who‘s up for the job this time. This is all sort of what‘s coming out of the smokestack of the White House now. A White House official familiar with the deliberations says that White House is focused on three people: US Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who was on the list before, the federal appellate Diane Wood, and Merrick Garland.
However, Arlen Specter, who is still on that committee, Judiciary Committee—and he‘s now a Democrat—saying we have enough appellate court judges. Here he is on Fox on Sunday. Let‘s listen to Arlen Specter, who has really gotten pretty loud on this issue, for some reason. I have my own theories, but here he is. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We need someone with strong academic and professional credentials. I would like to see, for a change, someone appointed to the Supreme Court with a little broader background. We have enough circuit justices—former circuit justices on the Supreme Court.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a nominee, Senator Specter?
SPECTER: I do. And I hope to see the president at the opening of the baseball season tomorrow, and I intend to tell him my thought .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m sure he did. Let me go to Willie Brown. Mayor Brown, one thing Arlen Specter does is focus on judge-ships. He does like this role he has on Judiciary. The question is, is the president smart to pick somebody who‘s a political person? Of course, the most significant probably court decision of our lifetime was Earl Warren, was AG and governor of California, turned out to be a liberal, turned out to be the Warren court, turned out to be the Brown case, a wonderful appointment that Ike regretted as long as he lived.
But you never—now they seem to know more about the guy or the woman‘s thinking.
BROWN: Well, the whole process of picking someone for the Supreme Court is rooted in whether or not that person can, first, get the votes. And then it becomes an even more difficult task if you‘re trying to make sure that there will not be a filibuster. That almost immediately says, you better get somebody that‘s already been pre-approved. Appellate court justices are pre-approved. They have gotten approval at one time.
They also have somewhat of a track record that you no longer have to debate what they said in college, what speech they made some place. You can actually see what the quality of their stewardship, their intellect and the decisions that they have made. And so that‘s why you end up always on the list appellate court justices.
MATTHEWS: Why not pick someone, as Arlen Specter said, someone with a broader background than just an appellate judge? Let me offer a counter-offer. I‘m not a lawyer, but let me try this by you, Ron. You are a thoughtful political person. Why not a cabinet member, like Janet Napolitano, who‘s been governor, dealt with real law, real law enforcement, executive responsibilities in a bipartisan manner, because you have to be bipartisan to be a governor, a woman, a single woman.
Wouldn‘t that be a smart move? Also a Southwestern choice, which might be a smart move. And potentially a leader. People tell me that Barack Obama looks up to Napolitano as maybe the most impressive member of the cabinet inside that room.
CHRISTIE: Chris, my problems with Janet Napolitano are that I don‘t that think she‘s done a strong enough job as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to secure the border. But I do think that Senator Specter raises an interesting point. I watched that yesterday and I thought, gee, I wonder if the senator is going to be putting himself forward to be a potential candidate.
But the first that thing we need is an individual who can interpret the Constitution, who is going to look at the issue fairly, not going to come in with preconceived notions. And I think that‘s the sort of individual that President Obama, should he be given the opportunity to make a selection, should choose, not someone that‘s going to appease his political base for political purposes.
MATTHEWS: You mean like Midge Rendel.
CHRISTIE: Well, I mean—
MATTHEWS: I mean, that would be an excellent appointment, but he would be thinking very smart to name the appellate judge of Philadelphia, who is also the wife of the governor there. Not a bad move.
Let me ask you, Mayor Brown, what do you think would be a smart move at this point?
BROWN: I think he has to take into consideration geography. I think you need to have a balance on the court reflective of the views of the people of this nation, reflective of all of what exists in our system.
BROWN: Obviously, that means you—maybe you should look at an Asian for a change. We have currently a Latino. We have an African-American. But there‘s not an Asian.
MATTHEWS: You may need to look in that direction, as well.
CHRISTIE: Mayor, with all due respect, we need to get somebody to best interpret the Constitution, rather than looking at the color of their skin for their judicial qualifications.
MATTHEWS: OK, Ron. Thank you very much. Thank you, Willie Brown. I mean, Willie Brown. Thank you.
Up next, after the latest gaffe at the RNC party, Chairman Michael Steele now says that as an African-American he has a slimmer margin of error. Not all Republicans agree. We‘ll get to that next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: New poll numbers in those big races in California. In the Senate race, Senator Barbara Boxer leads a generic Republican by 14 points in the general, according to the “L.A. Times” poll. And right now, it‘s former Congressman Tom Campbell ahead of former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in that Republican primary to face Boxer.
And in the race for governor, Republican Meg Whitman leads former Governor Jerry Brown by three points. No surprise considering Whitman has blanketed the state with 40 million dollars in ads in her primary fight. HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele addressed the recent criticism of his handling at the RNC. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you feel that, as an African-American, you have a slimmer margin for error than another chairman would?
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: The honest answer is, yes.
MATTHEWS: Why is that?
STEELE: It just is. It‘s—Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. We all—a lot of folks do. I mean, it is a different role for, you know, for me to play and others to play. And that‘s just the reality of it. I mean, but you take that as part of—part of the nature of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well Michael Steele weather this storm? Can the Republican party? Joining me right now is the “Politico‘s” Jonathan Allen, and the “Chicago Sun-Times” and “Politics Daily‘s” Lynn Sweet. Lynn, you first. Was he smart to talk about his race, or admit that that was a factor?
LYNN SWEET, “THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”: He didn‘t bring it up. He was candid and therefore he didn‘t want to run away from it.
SWEET: He‘s not going to be replaced right now.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
SWEET: He is not going to be replaced because there‘s an election in January, and it would just put more turmoil into the RNC. And it would just be too much to have to replace him, especially with a November election coming up.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, can he put his numbers on the board against his reputation? In other words, winning all these races in Virginia, New Jersey and then Massachusetts, does that count in his favor stronger than these goofs that go on now and then?
JONATHAN ALLEN, “POLITICO”: Well, I think if he‘s on a winning streak, and certainly if Republicans do well in 2010, in November, he‘ll be able to make that as an argument for himself. But he‘s got some issues right now internally.
Let‘s remember there are a lot of people that want Michael Steele to fail, not only all the Democrats in the country, but he got elected, I believe, it was on the sixth ballot when he ran for chairman. So most of the Republican delegates who voted on that, the committeemen and committeewomen, didn‘t want him in the first place.
MATTHEWS: Why not? They didn‘t think he had the fighting weight or what?
ALLEN: I think that‘s true. I think a lot of them didn‘t feel like he had the substance. They thought he had good style, was good on TV, but wouldn‘t bring what he needed to to the job, as a manger and the fund-raising.
SWEET: That is not relevant. At this point, the fund-raising—this is not a presidential year. A lot of the big money would go to the senatorial and House committees. There‘s other places for Republican money to go. He is the chairman and he‘s just not going to be replayed.
MATTHEWS: What about Senator Kyl coming out against him and people like that, Jonathan? What‘s that mean?
ALLEN: I think Senator Kyl and Kevin McCarthy, the congressman from California, who came out against him, or at least said that some changes had to be made as a result of this scandal, the charges at a strip club—wasn‘t his charge, but a lower-level person. I think it is something that demonstrates exactly how Republicans are feeling about him right now, that they don‘t like the direction the committee has gone.
Lynn makes a very good point, though. A lot of the money would be going elsewhere anyway. What we‘re hearing now is that a lot of the people who donated to the Republican National Committee are actually giving to the Republican Governors Association, to Haley Barbour, who is going to be a big player in 2012, presidential politics.
SWEET: Plenty of other tubs to put this money in. The question is now, is jockeying going to begin for who will be the next chairman?
MATTHEWS: This kerfuffle that goes on every day now about Michael Steele, could this stop the Republicans from picking the House back up, from maybe winning the Senate?
SWEET: I don‘t think so. It‘s a distraction, yes. It‘s a long time, by the way, since November. Most of the candidate recruitment, for better or worse, is there. May is the next round of big primaries, where you have candidates locked in. If he had not—he had not been doing a lot of candidate recruitment anyway, so this kerfuffle isn‘t going to impact it. You could argue that maybe he should have, but that wasn‘t his thing.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, mentioning race, or letting George Stephanopoulos
mention it—Lynn‘s right, he had to answer it one way or another. Either
it‘s a factor or it‘s not. And he had to give what he considered a candid
answer, I believe. Is this something that‘s good or bad for him to admit -
I do thinks the candidates get elected the first time, who are African-Americans, and the heat‘s on them more than other people. It just seems to be. That‘s a judgment by me. Others can disagree with it. He thinks that‘s the case. What do you think is the fact? And what do you think he should have said?
ALLEN: I can‘t speak to his experience. I can tell you that I think candor is something that gets people in the political realm a long way, and I think that answer will be taken as candor by a lot of folks. Whether he‘s under the microscope or not, sure he is. A lot of people believe President Obama was when he first ran. There are very, very few high-ranking African-American officials in the Republican party. And so certainly that adds a dimension to anyone looking at his stewardship.
MATTHEWS: What a wonderful thing you said. You said candor gets you a long way. I always thought saying what you really believe is what got you in trouble. Maybe I‘m a cynic. Thank you Jonathan Allen from “Politico.” Thank you, Lynn Sweet.
When we return, We‘re going to have some final thoughts about this tradition of presidents throwing out the first pitch and the tradition of recognizing the guy in office is our president, all of our president. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish by telling you that 100 years ago, William Howard Taft threw out the first pitch of that opening day of the Major League Baseball season. Today, Barack Obama did the same.
The difference was about 50 feet. In the old days, the president of the United States threw the ball from the stands. It was like a ceremonial deal, a toss really, requiring no athletic ability whatsoever. Today, you have to stand on the mound and get it over the plate.
Jack Kennedy was caught practicing before his opening day back in the early ‘60s. That was in the era when they still tossed it from the stands.
Today, Barack Obama threw it from the mound, the whole 60 feet, 60 inches. I know how hard it is. I once tried throwing a fast ball from the mound at a Double A game up in Connecticut. It was a duster. Believe me, when I did throw out the first pitch at the Nationals Game, I was ready to get it over the plate. Actually, it wound up just a bit outside.
The great thing about the opening day pitch is that it‘s one of the ways we honor the president as chief of state, really as head of our country, not as chief executive, the person who runs the executive branch, as head of the administration, not as the person heading up the government, or even leading one of the political parties, but as the representative of the American people and our republic, itself.
It‘s not a regime or junta, as Rush Limbaugh says it is. Even when the Republican majority got in there, because the Supreme Court—on the Supreme Court majority gave the electoral vote to George W. Bush back in 2000, it was the Bush administration, and it was President Bush, the chief of state, the representative of our republic.
This use of the word regime by Limbaugh is obviously his way to cause trouble, to agitate, to provoke. Other people have used it on occasion. Byron York, the columnist, discovered that I used it myself once back in 2002 in a conversation with Al Sharpton.
It‘s just not the right word, whatever the motive, whatever the circumstance, to describe the government of our country. In the current environment, a place that those who believe the president is somehow illegitimate, that he or his philosophy is less American than those of his critics, that he is—that he is therefore not an authentic president.
Rush Limbaugh is using that word regime with a vengeance. He‘s using it to deny this administration‘s political legitimacy. I can‘t stop Limbaugh from using the word regime. The guy knows his audience. I can say it plays to something bad in this country, no matter who‘s using the word, right or left, no matter why he‘s using it.
Why? Because it‘s not an affirmation of our right to disagree about politics in this country. It‘s a rejection of that right. It rejects our right to debate politics, which is what we do in this country, like play baseball.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Catch us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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