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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Jonathan Alter, John Hofmeister
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Calling General Petraeus.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:
Relieved of command.  When President Obama called General Stanley McChrystal to the White House today because of his comments in “Rolling Stone,” it was one of those rare Washington moments that we didn‘t know how it would turn out.  By mid-afternoon, we did.  McChrystal was out.  Making the best of a bad situation, Mr. Obama chose General David Petraeus to replace him.  It‘s possible the president has burnished his reputation by being tough and decisive.  We go to that at the top of the show.
Also, our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll is out.  And Democrats, look out below.  This could be a very tough November.  We‘ll crunch the numbers for you.
And what‘s going on in the Gulf of Mexico?  Early today, people noticed a lot more oil than before was gushing from the BP well.  Something went terribly wrong today.  Is there really no one anywhere who knows how to fix this?
Plus, back to the McChrystal story for a moment.  A lot of people noticed a similarity between his unguarded comments to a freelance writer for “Rolling Stone” and this movie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What am I doing?  I am telling secrets to the one guy you don‘t tell secrets to.
MATTHEWS:  Wow.  That‘s from the movie “Almost Famous.”  We‘ll get into that, a bit of life imitating art, in the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a rare triumph today of patriotism over partisanship.
We begin tonight with Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News and the host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” on MSNBC, and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, who is also an MSNBC political reporter.  Thank you, Andrea and Howard.  It‘s great to have the heavyweights on tonight, an amazing moment in history today.
Here‘s President Obama on why General McChrystal had to go.  Let‘s listen.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.  It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system and it erodes the trust that‘s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS:  Did it have the snap of authority?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It did, and I was very impressed when he talked about the code of conduct and said that the same code has to apply to—from generals down to the newest enlisted person.  He was saying that this would erode the discipline by the troops and also...
MATTHEWS:  That kind of behavior.
MITCHELL:  ... and not incidentally, of course, the discipline among his own team of foreign policy advisers.  And that is still an issue that needs to be addressed.
MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re going to get—by the way, might as well jump to that great question.  The president today, in getting rid of the guy who caused the problem here, McChrystal, otherwise a noble soldier but said things he shouldn‘t have and allowed things to be said around him -- -he issued a warning today about division.  Who is he sending that message to in naming Petraeus?  He‘s not warning Petraeus, is he?  Who‘s he warning?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he‘s warning his own administration.  I actually thought it was a remarkable moment there in the Rose Garden.  Yes, he was great and in charge and in command as commander-in-chief, as Andrea said, but he was also basically pleading with his own administration to...
MATTHEWS:  Pleading?
FINEMAN:  Well, I wouldn‘t say pleading, but issuing them a public order...
MATTHEWS:  Pretty dramatic!
FINEMAN:  ... to get in line.  To get in line.
MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to hear—I want you to listen to the president‘s words and think about—I know we have to do this now, and you really have to do it for me and for the show.  Tell us who you think he‘s talking to.  Here it is, the president warning, No more debate, no more public division, get your act together, start working together.  Here he is ordering the troops.  Let‘s listen.
OBAMA:  I‘ve just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together.  Doing so is not an option but an obligation.  I welcome debate among my team, but I won‘t tolerate division.  All of us have personal interests.  All of us have opinions.  Our politics often fuels conflict.  But we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities to one another and to our troops who are in harm‘s way and to our country.
MATTHEWS:  That‘s like a public school teacher in a tough neighborhood.
MATTHEWS:  I mean, this—he said, Now is the time to work together.  They‘ve been in office a year-and-a-half now.  Is this—I just want to run through—McChrystal was taking shots.  His people were calling him a clown, Jim Jones, the national security adviser, who wasn‘t there today, taking shots at Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, who‘s the head of the—the State Department representative there, taking a shot at Joe Biden, chuckling about him behind his back, and even chuckling about the president not being focused, not being prepared for their initial meeting.  Who‘s he talking to here?
MITCHELL:  Well, one thing is that he should be talking to his own White House.  Jim Jones, the national security adviser, was not in the Rose Garden.  I found that quite striking.
MATTHEWS:  Yes, why wasn‘t he?
MITCHELL:  He‘s a former Marine commandant and Marine general, former head of the NATO supreme court command.  And one question that I had in talking and remembering some of these previous firings—Mike Dugan (ph) was an Air Force general fired by Dick Cheney at the order and decision of both Cheney and Brent Scowcroft, who was the national security adviser to Bush 41.  The president of the United States did not have to get involved in doing that.  That order was carried out by the civilian leaders at the Pentagon.
MITCHELL:  And you have to ask the question that earlier today Bill Cohen was asking.  Why did it rise to the president‘s level?
MATTHEWS:  Well...
MITCHELL:  That said...
MATTHEWS:  Harry Truman, who was the most respected Democrat of all Republicans—everybody loves him...
MITCHELL:  ... Douglas MacArthur was larger than...
MATTHEWS:  Well, this guy is the top guy in the...
MITCHELL:  Let me just finish here.  Jim Jones and the national security team—this is not working the way it is—it is supposed to be working.
MITCHELL:  Number two, Eikenberry.  This is a former general, current ambassador, and clearly, there were tensions between him and McChrystal.  Third...
MATTHEWS:  But there again, who‘s he blaming?  Is he blaming Eikenberry?  Howard, who‘s he blaming?
FINEMAN:  We haven‘t even mentioned...
MATTHEWS:  Is he blaming the State Department representative?
FINEMAN:  He‘s blaming them all.  And there‘s one we didn‘t even mention, Richard Holbrooke...
MITCHELL:  Well, I was getting there.
FINEMAN:  ... you know, from the long list of people, who is the special representative.
MATTHEWS:  Well, who is—who has been a good soldier?  Who doesn‘t require admonition to do your job and start working together...
MITCHELL:  Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates.
MATTHEWS:  The two stars in this administration so far.
MITCHELL:  Who have been absolutely loyal.  And Joe Biden on foreign policy, as well.
MATTHEWS:  Team players.
MITCHELL:  All been team players, the big-picture people.
FINEMAN:  And let me also say, in reporting out the tick-tock, the minute-by-minute, to the extent I could, of how this went down over the last 36 hours...
MATTHEWS:  Who put Petraeus on the plane this morning and got him to the White House?
FINEMAN:  Well, he—the way I understand it...
MATTHEWS:  Somebody got him going early.
FINEMAN:  No, no.  He was going to be at this meeting anyway.
FINEMAN:  The way—I had assumed...
MITCHELL:  He was going to be by videoconference from Kabul.
FINEMAN:  Oh, by videoconference.  OK.
MATTHEWS:  So they got him on the plane.  So somebody knew this morning...
FINEMAN:  So they must have got him on a plane.
MATTHEWS:  ... Get up here.
FINEMAN:  OK.  So I said to the person I was talking to in the White House, I assume that as soon as the president read this thing in “Rolling Stone” on Monday night, he said, McChrystal‘s out, I mean, because that‘s how I would have...
MATTHEWS:  I heard somewhere today they were going through names last night as replacements.
FINEMAN:  But that‘s not true.  But that‘s not true.
MATTHEWS:  It‘s not?
FINEMAN:  They—they were at pains to tell me and they probably told Andrea that they wanted a very deliberative process here, that they waited.  They had Petraeus racked up...
MATTHEWS:  When did they decide to sack him?
FINEMAN:  Well, you may know more—you probably and always do know more than i, but I don‘t think they decided for sure.  They had Petraeus in the wings, waiting...
MATTHEWS:  So it‘s two tracks.
FINEMAN:  ... and I think they must have had an agreement with...
MATTHEWS:  It was two tracks, whether to dump the guy, and they were already getting the replacement.
FINEMAN:  Right.  And Obama I think wanted to give McChrystal at least the courtesy of his moment in court, day in court, which turned out to be 20 minutes long, after which they got Petraeus, who they already had racked up here, so to speak.  And it‘s interesting to me to wonder what Petraeus asked for, if anything, in exchange for taking this job.  In other words, McChrystal was going to maybe ask for more troops six months to a year down the road and ask for a relaxation of the deadline to begin withdrawing troops...
MATTHEWS:  That‘s the heart of the question.
FINEMAN:  ... from Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS:  That‘s the heart of my question.  I want to get to...
FINEMAN:  Did Petraeus say, Hey, wait a minute, Mr. President, I‘ll take this job, but I need more flexibility.
MATTHEWS:  OK, behind all this, if you read all the comments, especially some on the Republican side, is a basic conflict.  Counterinsurgency means you eliminate the Taliban at some point, like the Viet Cong.  Counterinsurgency, beat the rebel forces,  in this case, the Taliban, knock them out as a military potential and basically make that country inhospitable to them in the future.
At the same time, you‘re making this incredible demand on our military, Get rid of the bad guys, not just beat them, get rid of them.  You‘re saying, Do it by July next year.  Now, something has to give here. 
What‘s going to give, the time—the time limit or the mission?
MITCHELL:  The time limit—I think the mission will remain the same, but the time limit and the numbers of troops will change.  That is...
MATTHEWS:  So we‘re going to go for it.  So we‘re making a bolder goal here, which is to really win the war against the Taliban.
MITCHELL:  I think that the president decided that they were all in.  And I just want to correct myself because I misheard you.  Petraeus was supposed to be there.  I thought you meant McChrystal.
FINEMAN:  Whew!  Boy!  Thank you.
FINEMAN:  Because I was about to yell at my White House source about that!
MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go back to this question.  Where are we headed now, both of you—you start, Andrea.  Are we headed towards a larger war in an attempt to really get victory, which a lot of people on the Republican side say, Stop all this talk about a holding action over there, let‘s get the Taliban dead.  Is that the goal now, as long as it takes?
MITCHELL:  I don‘t think that that is the goal.  I think it is still counterinsurgency and converting...
MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute!
MITCHELL:  ... and cutting a deals with warlords where they can.  I think it is going to be a combination of defeating some and converting those who they believe...
MITCHELL:  ... can be brought over or paid to join.
FINEMAN:  Now, here, unlike the tick-tock of the White House that I was getting today, I‘m strictly speculating here.  But I think Petraeus, who, after all, was the main proponent of the surge in Iraq, is going to take this opportunity of being the new man who saved the president politically in this situation to say, OK, Mr. President, I saved your bacon here.  I need some more flexibility.  And if I were the Taliban, who are supposedly celebrating today at all the problems back here in Washington, I wouldn‘t be celebrating too long because actually, Petraeus is going to have more room to maneuver than McChrystal did.
MATTHEWS:  Yes!   He‘s potentially...
FINEMAN:  Than McChrystal did.
MATTHEWS:  ... a Doug MacArthur.
FINEMAN:  ... more troops.
MATTHEWS:  No, this is very important.  You made a point here.  You said Doug MacArthur was so big because he had basically helped win the Second World War...
MITCHELL:  But now—but now Petraeus (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS:  ... and Petraeus has that kind of clout, that kind of grandeur.  Will he be harder for President Obama to take on if he decides he disagrees with the policy inside?
MITCHELL:  The president...
MATTHEWS:  If he says, We got to do a bigger job here?
MITCHELL:  The president better hope that he and Petraeus can work this out, that they have a better understanding, because Petraeus now has, essentially, almost a veto power over the policy.
FINEMAN:  It‘s really ironic.  In the process of saving presidential authority, the president may have actually ceded some.
MATTHEWS:  You mean outsourced it.
FINEMAN:  Outsourced it to Petraeus.
MATTHEWS:  It‘s amazing.  This is a big, big day, and none of this was intended.  Nobody knew it was going to happen 24 hours ago.  Amazing day.  Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you, Howard Fineman.
Coming up:  With General McChrystal out and General Petraeus in, what‘s next for the war in Afghanistan?  We‘re going to get into that question.  This is about lives and about deaths over there.  What happened today is going to matter about what we‘re trying to do over there.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS:  Wow!  The United States has advanced now to the knockout round in the World Cup in South Africa in stunning fashion.  The Americans left it to the final minutes, beating Algeria 1-zip on a goal by Landon Donovan (ph).  With former president Bill Clinton looking on, it looked as though team USA would be knocked out of the World Cup altogether.  But after missing multiple chances, they got the goal they needed to advance.  We‘ll face Ghana in the next round on Saturday.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  So with a new general in charge, Petraeus now, what‘s next for the war on the ground in Afghanistan?  Retired colonel Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst and “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter‘s also author of “The Promise.”  Congratulations, Jonathan.  Once again, you‘ve scored a big one in your book, “The Promise.”  It‘s got all about the run-up to this, with the fights between the president and General McChrystal.  It‘s a great look, by the way.  Anybody who wants to read a book at how we got to today, read “The Promise” by Jon.
Let me start with Colonel Jacobs on the ground over there in
Afghanistan.  We were just debating as we came out of the first part of the
program with what happens now.  We‘ve got a new general.  Will Petraeus
accept a commission—or a mission, rather, in Afghanistan which will take
him short of victory?  Having won in Iraq, will he take a loss over there -
in other words, a mission that can‘t be achieved?

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  I think he‘s already accepted the possibility that he‘s going to be able to carry out a mission that‘s going to fall short of what he knows the objectives ought to be.  I think he and the president have had that conversation.  Otherwise, he would not have taken the post.
And what that means, of course, is that instead of controlling all of Afghanistan, instead of having a democratically elected government in Kabul, which is—to have something like that would probably take a century or more—he‘s going to have to accept and has accepted the notion of having certain areas that are under control and other areas that are not under anybody‘s control, the important areas like—like Helmand and Kandahar, the areas along the Pakistani border.  But I think about two years from now, you‘re not going to have much more under American tutelage than that, and I think that Petraeus has agreed to that.
MATTHEWS:  Jon, that‘s the deal we left Vietnam with, and it left us with Vietnam going down after we left.  Exact same deal.  We left VC in control of a lot of South Vietnam.  It took a matter of years, but eventually, the VC and the North Vietnamese defeated the central government in Saigon.  Are we setting up the government in Kabul for eventual defeat once we‘re gone?  Is that what we‘re doing here?
JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  It‘s quite possible.  But we got to remember that Obama is very focused on the differences from Vietnam, and in his West Point speech, he actually focused on that.  On the one hand, al Qaeda is a much more direct threat to our national security than the Viet Cong ever were.  On the other hand, the Taliban do not have anywhere near the backing of the people that the Viet Cong had.  They rule by terror, and most Afghans don‘t want them back.  They‘ve been—they‘ve seen that movie before, you know?
MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I know that.
ALTER:  So there is still a chance to hold them off.  Now, but what‘s fascinating to me, Chris, about Petraeus getting this job now is that, you know, Obama respects Petraeus because he‘s very, very smart.  He was right about the surge in Iraq.  Obama and—was wrong about it.  But he was not hesitant about taking Petraeus on in the Situation Room during the deliberations over Afghanistan last fall.  They had a very direct confrontation over the pace of escalation, and Obama wanted it to be much faster than Petraeus.
Petraeus tried to hesitate and say, Well, you know, it‘s different from Iraq in this way and that way.  We can‘t do it as fast.  And Obama said, Wait a minute.  Your last presentation was about how it‘s similar to Iraq.  And if it‘s not, we‘re not going to do this.  We‘re not going to fight this war if you can‘t get us in fast and out fast.  That‘s the policy.
MATTHEWS:  So Petraeus buys into the idea we can—as a country, the United States can largely move out of Afghanistan in a year or so.  Does he buy into that?
ALTER:  He does because...
MATTHEWS:  ... Obama policy yesterday.
ALTER:  Here‘s the critical meeting that they had.  Petraeus was in the Oval Office with Mullen, and Obama was extremely explicit about this last year.  He said, Look, I‘m not asking you to agree with this as the optimum policy.
ALTER:  But do you agree that you can carry out this mission of getting in fast and out fast starting in 2011, subject to review of conditions on the ground, but the basic mission?  And Petraeus said, Yes, sir.  Yes, Mr. President, I agree.
MATTHEWS:  Colonel, now that the dust has cleared and we have a new leader in Afghanistan, let me ask you about the critique of this administration by McChrystal and his team in the article in “Rolling Stone,” which everybody is going to be reading now, oddly enough, after the removal of McChrystal.
Anyway, the shot against the president for not being prepared in the initial meetings, not knowing who Petraeus was, the shot generally by—the shot as a clown—calling Jim Jones, the director of national security for this administration, a clown, making fun of Dick Holbrooke, the special envoy over there.  What did the president—what‘s the president to make of all those shots at his team?
JACOBS:  Well, the easy conclusion, of course, is that it‘s all baloney.  And I‘ve known Jim Jones for over 25 years, and I can tell you he‘s no clown.  But there is something there about—and what this brings to light is in very sharp relief, after all the dust is cleared and McChrystal is gone, the disorder that‘s in the White House with respect to deciding what policy is going to be.  It would appear that there‘s a number of independent operators out there doing their own thing—Holbrooke, Eikenberry, and so forth.
And I think that this is a wakeup call to the president, that he has to get things under control, and I agree strongly with the previous segment in which everybody said that...
JACOBS:  ... this was all directed—all directed at the other people who were operating on their own. 
ALTER:  Yes. 
MATTHEWS:  Well, let me get to Jonathan on that. 
ALTER:  Yes, absolutely.
MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, you‘re an expert on the president.  Let‘s talk about his leadership ability or lack of ability in certain areas.  Nobody is perfect.  He ain‘t.  We know that now. 
ALTER:  Right. 
MATTHEWS:  In fact, our latest poll shows there‘s a real problem on that.  We will get to that. 
Now, here‘s the question.  Does he make it clear to Holbrooke at State, to Eikenberry, the ambassador from State who is an appointee I believe of Secretary Clinton, does he make it clear to Jones, does he make it clear to everybody, military, diplomatic, whatever, that they have all got to take orders from somebody, and who is that person?  Where is that template, eve, of what they are supposed to be all doing together?  Is there such a template, or are they all on their own? 
ALTER:  No, no. 
That person is Barack Obama.  And this is the fundamental misunderstanding of this presidency, because he looks like maybe he‘s not so tough from the outside.  Make no mistake about it.  The people who were in that Sit Room, as they call it, or on the (INAUDIBLE) as they call the teleconferences, are in no doubt whatsoever who they are taking orders from. 
He often actually explicitly, Chris, says, and that‘s an order.  So, one day in the Situation Room, for instance, when he found out to his horror that the Afghan army was paying less than the Taliban to your average Afghan trying to feed their family—No wonder they‘re losing, right? -- he says, raise their pay today.  That‘s an order.  OK?
This is the way he operates a lot of the time.  The problem is that he‘s run up against this Washington...
MATTHEWS:  Jon, officers have told me that if you have to say that‘s an order, that is already an acknowledgement it‘s not working, that your command presence isn‘t working. 
ALTER:  Well, that‘s—that‘s a fair point. 
MATTHEWS:  Because you shouldn‘t have to tell anybody you give an order to, that‘s an order.  They know it‘s an order if you gave it to them.  They know what an order sounds like. 
ALTER:  There‘s a fair point.  But he doesn‘t want there to be any ambiguity. 
Remember, he‘s a young Democratic president with no experience in the military.  So they were testing him.  And when I asked him were you jammed by the Pentagon, the president replied—and I quote—“I neither confirm nor deny that I was jammed by the Pentagon.”
MATTHEWS:  Right.   
ALTER:  So, we know what that means, right, Chris?  That there was a lot of...
MATTHEWS:  That means yes. 
ALTER:  ... struggle at the line of scrimmage there, so he has to be very explicit.  There‘s pushback, especially by the deputies. 
They are the ones who are leaking these things.  The principals are not leaking them. 
ALTER:  His problem with the leaks is the people just a level below the top. 
MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.
Jack Jacobs, thank you very much for being with us.  Colonel, it‘s great having you.
MATTHEWS:  And, Jonathan, good luck with the book.  It‘s a great book, “The Promise.”  It‘s got all this background to what‘s happening right now, so go out and buy it tonight.  It really is a great prep and primer for what‘s going on in this fight right now with the president and his ‘leadership. 
MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Art imitating life?  A lot of people took note of the similarity between General McChrystal‘s comments and the movie “Almost Famous.”  By the way, it was a great movie. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 
First, like a rolling stone.  When you heard yesterday about General Stanley McChrystal about getting rolled by a “Rolling Stone” story, did it sound familiar? 
Let‘s see.  A freelancer goes to interview his subject, ends up spending days with him and his group on the road having a wild time.  The journalist ends up writing one hell of an expose which sparks a firestorm and his subject gets into big trouble.  It‘s, of course, the storyline of that film “Almost Famous.” 
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  What am I doing?  I am telling secrets to the one guy you don‘t tell secrets to. 
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  No, no.  We will—we will do the interview tomorrow. 
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I am a golden god.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I am a golden god. 
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Hey, Russell, don‘t jump. 
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  And you can tell “Rolling Stone” magazine that my last words were, “I‘m on drugs.”
MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe if General McChrystal had kept in mind the lessons of that movie, he wouldn‘t have gotten his marching orders from the president today. 
I don‘t think he acted like that, by the way. 
Next: a second act for Jack Abramoff?  He‘s the Republican lobbyist at the heart of that big corruption scandal that led to his conviction in 2006 on charges of fraud, tax evasion, and bribery.  Now, after serving 43 months in federal prison, the recently freed Abramoff has signed up for a six-month stint at—catch this—Baltimore‘s self-proclaimed best kosher pizza place, Tov Pizza.
Abramoff reportedly will be helping out in almost all areas of the pizza business, with a special focus on marketing strategies. 
Hold the pepperoni, Jack-O man. 
Now tonight‘s “Big Number.”  It has nothing to do with politics, but it‘s too historic a number to pass up. 
This afternoon out at Wimbledon, you saw a big-time battle of wills, as John Isner took on Nicolas Mahut of France on the court.  Catch this.  The match took so long, play had to be suspended for the second day in a row.  The score before play was stopped today in the fifth and final set, 59 games apiece -- 49.
All in all, how long have Isner and Mahut duked it out?  Ten hours and still counting.  That blows the previous record of six hours and 33 minutes out of water. 
A little bit of history on the tennis court today, a 10-hour and counting Wimbledon match.  Jolly good show, fellows.  Can‘t wait to see the finish—tonight‘s unbelievable “Big Number.” 
Up next: results from the brand-new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  And the news isn‘t good for President Obama and the Democratic Party. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks bobbing in and out of positive territory in the final hours of trading, the Dow Jones industrials finishing about five points higher, the S&P 500 slipping three points, and the Nasdaq falling 7.5. 
Just nothing to get too excited about today, the Federal Reserve delivering a no-surprises reading on the economy.  Interest rates will stay just where they are.  The Fed did note that Eurozone instability has become a noticeable drag on the U.S. recovery.  But that‘s not exactly big news to investors. 
What was big news was a record 32 percent drop in home sales in May, to the lowest level in at least four decades.  Analysts were expecting a more modest drop with the expiration of that popular tax credit. 
And more volatility in the oil sector on all that uncertainty about the future of deepwater drilling.  Couple that with a surprise jump in U.S.  inventories, and prices are down almost 2 percent on the day. 
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 
We have a brand-new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight that tells a lot about how this country views President Obama, Congress, and the two parties ahead of the coming November midterms. 
Chuck Todd is NBC News chief political director and chief White House correspondent. 
Chuck, let‘s take a look at these first set of numbers. 
MATTHEWS:  And let‘s start with the mood of the country.  It‘s bad. 
TODD:  Very.
MATTHEWS:  Just 29 percent say the country is headed in the right direction -- 62 percent say we‘re on the wrong track.  That‘s the highest wrong track of the entire Obama presidency so far. 
TODD:  That‘s right.   
MATTHEWS:  And that dissatisfaction plays out in what we call the generic congressional ballot.  By a margin of 45-43, Americans want a Republican-controlled Congress.  That‘s the Republicans‘ best performance in eight years. 
Put it together.  Where we at? 
TODD:  Well, look, if you want to look at it this way, in 1994 and in 2006, the last two times that control—party control changed in Congress, you had a right direction/wrong track that was in this territory of what we‘re seeing today, with the wrong track number in the high 50s, low 60s, even higher in some cases when it comes to 2006. 
So, this is—this is what a change election environment looks like, and that‘s why these numbers, when you start putting them all together—we have the president‘s numbers as well—when you put it all together, this is the picture you would expect to see—if you told me and I woke up the day after Election Day and I had been in a coma and you said, well, Republicans won control of Congress and the last poll I saw was this one, then I would say, oh, yes, that‘s because I remember the last poll I saw had a wrong direction two-thirds of the country said that—Republicans were leading the generic ballot, which is the first time in our poll that they have led in two straight polls I think in over a decade, and that the president‘s numbers themselves were as weak as they are. 
MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s been said by some that people make up their minds on elections around April, based on conditions.  Maybe we‘re seeing that solidifying.  Is that what you think? 
TODD:  That‘s right.  Well, I think that this is where—our good friend Charlie Cook, he loves to use the phrase the cake is baked.  I think he will look at data like this and come close to a conclusion like that. 
My one caveat on all this—and it‘s been a caveat that a lot of us have had—is there is, number one, the speed with information—the speed with which information travels.  I am not convinced that the way things look in June means that people are somehow—they are not going to change their minds anymore based on new information in September, October, particularly if you see some numbers going up.
And then the second thing, which is different from both 2006 and 1994, is the view of the out party, in this case the Republicans.  The Republican Party of 1994 and the Democratic Party in 2006 had much higher favorable ratings and much more higher essentially confidence ratings on a various number of issues than this Republican Party does right now. 
What does that mean?  That is sort of the—that is the—that is the number that doesn‘t fit.  You know, it‘s like every other part of this fits the storyline of, oh, boy, this looks like Republicans are on their way of having a very big election year in 2010.
But the one speed bump, hurdle, whatever, it will—you know, we will decide what it is when it—after we see the results—is this issue that the Republican Party hasn‘t recovered with voters any better, and now Democrats have essentially just gone down to the low levels of how Republicans are viewed. 
MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at how the November vote means to Americans when asked whether their vote is intended to send a signal of support or opposition to President Obama.  Well, 27 percent said support.  Only about a quarter of the voters are looking forward to helping the president politically.
TODD:  That‘s right. 
MATTHEWS:  Thirty-two percent, they want to oppose him by their vote, which means more people obviously are motivated to vote to oppose Obama than support him. 
Back in January, those numbers were pretty much flipped -- 37 percent in January this year said they would vote to support Obama, compared to 27 percent who would vote to oppose him. 
Also, why are Americans opting for a Republican or a Democratic-controlled Congress?  For those choosing to vote Republican, or expecting to vote Republican this November, the number-one reason—no surprise here -- to want to vote Republican is to reduce government spending.  That‘s followed by to repeal health care, to keep taxes down, and then to simply protest the policies of Barack Obama. 
For those that prefer to vote for Democrats, their number-one reason is that they believe the party, the Democrats, will look out for the working people.  They also want to show the support for President Obama‘s policies, support health care legislation, and they don‘t want Republicans to get control of Congress. 
Just slipping ahead there to the reason people—the minority of people who are voting Democrat or intending to vote Democrat this fall, it seems like it‘s a default position. 
TODD:  Thank you.  
MATTHEWS:  It‘s simply people who grew up Democrat, think of themselves as working people and are working people.  There doesn‘t seem to be much inspiration there in the reasons. 
TODD:  It‘s a great—I mean, there‘s no compelling—there‘s no sense of urgency.  It‘s sort of like, well, why the Democrats? 
You know, now, some might argue, well, it‘s because the president has passed health care, or the president did do this with stimulus, or the president is doing some various things.  But you can see it.  The Republicans—it‘s almost as if, while people‘s views of the Republican Party might be negative, the reasons of sort of what the Republican Party had been over the last couple of decades, the party of less government, the party of low spending, the party of low taxes, the fact is, people are putting those descriptions on the Republican Party and what they believe should come from a Republican-controlled Congress. 
If you‘re a Republican political consultant, you‘re really excited about these—about these splits for what you said, because there isn‘t—doesn‘t seem to be a compelling reason, other than the president and, you know, generically, well, looking out for working families.  That feels like the default labor position. 
TODD:  But with the Republicans, there‘s a—people seem to know what they want.  And that is—that‘s—I think that tells you why there‘s also this enthusiasm gap between people fired up about voting for Republicans vs. this lack of fire in supporting congressional Democrats. 
MATTHEWS:  That‘s powerful stuff, Chuck. 
And now let‘s—this one, I think this one is really something here, perhaps the toughest number in the poll, if you‘re an Obama supporter.  Just 40 percent of the people are confident that this president, President Obama, has the right set of goals.  Fifty-nine percent are not so confident. 
In other words, 3/5 of the American people polled by NBC and “The Wall Street Journal” Poll are not confident Barack Obama is doing or trying to do the right things.
That is to me damning.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CHIEF CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it is.  Think about those numbers, 40 percent to 59 percent in that respect.  Forty percent is—that is the default Democratic position, OK?  That is what, you know, 40 percent of this country basically always polls the lever for the Democrat, or for a Democratic idea.
So, that means he‘s almost losing all of that, quote, “middle,” all of the, quote, “moderate” or independent vote, the true sort of independent vote which is 15 percent to 20 percent of this electorate.  All of them right now do not see the president as somebody that they relate to, that his set of policies goals aren‘t ones that they agree with.
And this is something we‘ve seen all over this poll with the president.  He has lost the entire middle of the country and the electorate both in ideology, which is what I just described, but also grow graphically.  We‘re seeing the Midwest is where we‘re seeing his numbers now slip.  You know, at first, it started in the south and the west.
TODD:  OK.  Those are two areas that were, you know, basically much more conservative over the years, and so, they are the first to go.  The next one to go, and the swing area of this country is the industrial agricultural Midwest, and that is where we‘re seeing the latest movement away from the president is in this geographic region.
MATTHEWS:  Stunning report.  Thank you for all the facts and analysis.  Thank you, chuck Todd, at the White House.
Up next: Another setback in the Gulf of Mexico, believe it or not, where an underwater robot bumped into the well casing.  Hundreds of thousands of gallons of more oil now is gushing out.  It couldn‘t get worse.  It‘s getting worse.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS:  Nikki Haley won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina last night.  Haley easily beat U.S. Congressman Gresham Barrett in their runoff election.
In other results, six-term Republican U.S. Congressman Bob Inglis became the fifth incumbent to lose this year.  He lost to prosecutor Trey Gowdy.
And Tim Scott is in line to become the first Republican African-American congressman in South Carolina in over a century when he beat the son of former segregationist Strom Thurmond.  Scott is a big favorite in the general.  If he wins, he‘ll be the Republican Party‘s first black lawmaker since J.C. Watts retired seven years ago.
HARDBALL will be right back.
MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Just when you thought the Gulf oil disaster couldn‘t get worse, it does.  Today, an undersea robot bumped into the venting system and BP had to remove the cap that had been containing some of the spewing oil.  Now, it‘s rushing full force into the Gulf.
John Hofmeister is the former CEO of Shell Oil and the author of “Why We Hate the Oil Companies.”  Well, we got new reasons for that.
I wanted you on and I‘ve asked you to come on for a reason—obviously thinking with inside the box and trusting BP to come up with the next attempt has not succeeded.  In fact, it‘s gotten worse from the day we‘ve been in there.  We tried junk shot.  We tried, oh, cut and cap.  We tried everything here.
I forgot what, did we drop?
MATTHEWS:  Top kill.  We‘ve tried everything.
Is there something we would do if we were more adventurists?  Is there some extreme measure that a company is saying in a more totalitarian society that doesn‘t have to worry about P.R. consequence like the old Soviet Union or China today—will they try something we‘re not trying?
HOFMEISTER:  If you really want to stop a blowout, the fastest way, the most efficient way you is blow it in.  You use explosives and you build a structure around it to try to make sure that the force of the explosion goes down, not up.  And so, you need to build some kind of a containment structure, put a lot of dirt on top of it, if you were on soil.  Down below, you‘d find some other material because soil would wash away, so you‘d find some other material and you want the explosion to go down into the earth.
Now, the problem with that, that is risky, because you‘re in a salt dome territory, and a geologist would tell you that the fragility, the hardness of the salt dome which sits on top of these reservoirs, if you put lots of infinitesimal number of cracks in that salt dome, you could be creating—creating a large seep under the ocean, which you never stop, because nature would find its way to push that oil and gas up through the seep.  So, you may not have shut it in.
So, you real very to be careful and make sure you know exactly what you‘re doing—if you‘re going to go that extreme approach.
MATTHEWS:  Is there any way to seal off this?  Suppose tomorrow by accident, just by accident, a giant tanker, supertanker, were to sink right on top of it, right on top of the spill, gigantic tonnage and a wide dimension and a wide berth right on top of it, jamming it down into the ground—what would happen?
HOFMEISTER:  Temporarily, you wouldn‘t see any oil, but then you would eventually, with the pressure that this reservoir shows, the oil would find its way.  Remember, oil is a liquid.
HOFMEISTER:  And it would find its way through various and sundry parts of the steel structure.  It would find its way out, and it would begin to seep up.  And you would—
MATTHEWS:  It would come up through the ship.  It would come up—
HOFMEISTER:  It would come up around the ship—
MATTHEWS:  Around the ship.
HOFMEISTER:  -- so it would spread out.
MATTHEWS:  So, what is left?  Is there anything—if we brought in
do you have a sense and based upon your knowledge, has this administration explored beyond BP to Europeans to do a lot of oil well drilling.  They do a lot of drilling in Africa and Saudi Arabia.  Is there anybody out there that would have another idea that hasn‘t been tried here in our—in our Gulf of Mexico?
HOFMEISTER:  Not in terms of the mechanics.  In terms of mechanics, of doing something on top of the blowout preventer, I think everything—every idea that has been imagined has been tried.
MATTHEWS:  Above the surface of the earth itself?  What about down into the system, into the well?  What has not been tried that could be tried?
HOFMEISTER:  Well, Matt Simmons, who is brilliant on these things, suggests dropping a nuclear device especially designed low-grade small nuclear device down into the pipe so that the explosion detonates somewhere down close to the reservoir.  The heat of the nuclear fission melts the rock, creates a glass cover and shuts it in permanently.
HOFMEISTER:  Now, I don‘t know how many people would have enthusiasm for a nuclear device down the pipe.
MATTHEWS:  What would be—just to be blunt—what would—because otherwise it looks like we‘re facing an endless destruction of our area here, of North America.  This is just going to keep going and going and going, it looks like.
HOFMEISTER:  There still is the relief well if the cement holds.  The question about the relief well, is there enough mechanical structure left at the base of the reservoir to hold the cement when they start pouring cement in, or does the pressure of the reservoir push that cement up the pipe and it comes out with the oil and doesn‘t have time to set.
Now, hopefully, there‘s enough pressure on the cement, enough weight eventually that it holds at the base of the reservoir so that we do get a shut-in of that—of that pipe.
People say 99 percent certain.  I don‘t know if that‘s high.  We don‘t know what the conditions—
MATTHEWS:  Why do we keep hearing about we might not hit the well, we might miss it?
HOFMEISTER:  Well, you‘re going basically from the top end of the Empire State Building with the north end of Central Park with a directional drill, getting right on that 12-inch or so is, you know, GPS systems are pretty good.
MATTHEWS:  Can you correct it as you drill?
HOFMEISTER:  You might have to make attempts.
MATTHEWS:  No, no.  Can you correct it slightly?
HOFMEISTER:  Oh, yes, you move the drill a lot all the time.
MATTHEWS:  Right.  So, you can correct it as you reach the target.
HOFMEISTER:  And you‘ve got intelligent devices at the drill bit telling you exactly where you are, what kind of temperatures, pressures and so forth.  The technology is fantastic.
MATTHEWS:  What are we looking at here in terms of barrels per day, do you think?  We‘re looking at these horror pictures, it‘s just keep going.  This isn‘t—
HOFMEISTER:  Well, what I understand is there‘s a report going to Secretary Chu either late today or tomorrow, another rendition of what does it look like.  And the more oil we see coming out, the more it tells you that the whole casing system is deteriorating.  The fact that more oil would be coming out rather than less oil would suggest that the construction within the pipe is offering no resistance whatsoever and we‘re just getting a gusher.
MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to the beginning and we got two minutes now.  Let‘s go from the beginning to the end.
We had a vote in the Congress today to give subpoena power to this commission which the president has created to look into why this happened.  Let‘s go to the beginning problem to begin with.  One guy voted against it, Ron Paul—which is so—if everybody wants to know what a libertarian is, it‘s somebody that has a belief that under no circumstances should government have any power, not even in this one.  You‘re always better with an unregulated system with free power to free enterprise.  Ron Paul is the truest believer.
So, let‘s move on from that.  For all of us somewhat to the left of Ron Paul, who believe sometimes government is necessary, what do you think we‘re going to find out here?  What caused this to happen?
MATTHEWS:  If we don‘t want it to happen again, because the courts have just ruled the other day that we can‘t really stop the deep drilling.  So, we‘d better get ready for what caused this not to happen again.
HOFMEISTER:  The most important information we can gather in this whole this are the witness statements from who was on the rig in the days leading up from the date in which the blowout protector was apparently compromised to what happened from that date, what was the role of the BP person, the Transocean person, the Halliburton person, who said what to whom about what issues and what timeframe, what kind of appeal might have gone on shore to people‘s bosses on shore.
MATTHEWS:  Is there somebody now worried like in an old “Columbo” episode that knows they did it and they know it‘s just a matter of time like in a bad dream, they‘re going to be caught?  Is there somebody who‘s a bit suicidal right now—to put it bluntly—who knows it‘s a matter of time before they‘re going to get nailed for the person, they did this?  Or is it a group of people that did it?
HOFMEISTER:  The person in the hottest seat in the nation on this issue would naturally be the BP rig manager.  It‘s his call.
HOFMEISTER:  It‘s his decision and that—
MATTHEWS:  Is he getting beat up from above for profit-saving or is there some pressure on him that he could point and say, yes, but I got a call the night before, don‘t slow that up a day?
HOFMEISTER:  That‘s why you need subpoena power to find that out.  People can still plead the Fifth.  So, you might not get it from that individual, you might get it from other individuals.
MATTHEWS:  OK.  Second, third question—we went through the question we can‘t cap.  Admit your expertise of this.  Is there anything we can do in terms of skimming the surface of the Gulf to save the Gulf from this continuing spill?  Because it looks like it‘s not going to stop for a while?
HOFMEISTER:  I think we have not gone to the scale that we need to go.  You get little shrimp boats out there with skimmers—that‘s hardly going to find the oil.  I think you need to be plying this back and forth with supertankers.  I think you need lines of barges with big suction pumps.
HOFMEISTER:  Get the oil off the surface.
But the problem with that is, they‘re still using so much dispersant that all you get is a little sheen on the ocean but then you get this big globules rolling up from underneath that hit the beaches.
MATTHEWS:  Yes, keep thinking.  Thank you, John Hofmeister.  Thanks for coming in.
When we return, let me finish with a salute actually to patriotism today.  We saw a lot of it over partisanship.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with a calm grandeur of our Constitution.  What those who love this country love best above the God-given beauty of this continent is what we the people have created here—this amazing American Constitution that places the elected president of the United States as commander-in-chief of the military.
The columnist David Freddoso said it well in today‘s “Washington Examiner.”  It all began with George Washington, who after defeating the British army in our great revolution relinquished his commission and returned to private life, walking away from the power that has intoxicated so many other independent leaders—independence leaders—ruin so many other attempts at self-government.
But even promethean role models cannot preserve model government.  Statutes can only stand as guides.  It takes the living to lead and the loyal citizens to follow.
I am so mightily impressed by the manner in which Republicans have joined Democrats in accepting the necessity of this change of command in Afghanistan.  Back in 1951, when a far starker challenge to authority took place on the Korean War front, partisanship reared its head.
The last 24 hours have seen precious little of it, to the great credit of men like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and John Boehner and Peter King and others.  They have all stood up and saluted the constitutional rightness of what had to be done in this situation.  They did so without wavering or wobbling or using the occasion to take an underhanded shot at the president or the hard campaign he‘s pursuing in Afghanistan.
Their conduct at this moment matched the question at hand, not whether we believe the policy in Afghanistan correct but whether we believe the chain of command constitutional.  That and that alone was the decision here.  To recognize who has to do to show respect to the commander in chief and who must make the call on whether he met that duty.
Again, it made me proud today of our country and its Constitution.  Thank you, General Petraeus for meeting the call to serve.  Thank you, General McChrystal, for respecting for your dignified resignation, your ultimate commitment to the president and his policy.  And thank you leaders of the Republican Party for saluting at this difficult moment calmly and without waiver the authority of the president.
That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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