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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Chuck Todd, Mark Halperin, Courtney Reagan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Bobby Schilling, Joan Walsh, John Marshall, Clarence Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Health warning.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Games day.  House Republicans are just minutes away from a purely political stunt, a symbolic vote to repeal health care reform.  In other words, a game.  All last year, we heard the same thing from Republicans, “repeal and replace.”  The empty gesture repeal vote comes tonight.  As for replace, don‘t hold your breath.  And after tonight, the bill will die in the Senate.

Plus, political gusher.  Tonight our new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows President Obama up to 53 percent positive approval.  Just 41 percent disapprove now.  That‘s a 15-point upswing from a month ago, when the president‘s numbers stood at 45 up, 48 down.  In other words, in a month‘s time, he‘s gone from 3 down to 12 up.  And more people now say the country is on the right track than at any time since the first year of this administration.  We‘re going to break down the numbers for you tonight and look at where the Republicans now stand.

Also, Sarah Palin has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving to President Obama.  She‘s provided a face of the opposition that no amount of negative ad money could buy.  She‘s, in fact, the best scarecrow the Democrats could ever have out there.

And you just knew this was going to happen.  Republicans, believe it or not, have started to take credit for the improving economy.  Republicans, mind you.  Never mind that they‘ve yet to pass any bill.  Apparently, through some time machine magic, they believe themselves now responsible for jobs that were created before they took office.

Finally, Dick Cheeney—that‘s how you pronounce it—told Jamie Gangel which Republicans he thinks might make good presidential candidates in 2012.  See if you can guess who he left off the list.  Just guess.  Not even on the list.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start with the House vote to repeal health care.  U.S.  Congressman Bobby Schilling is a Republican from Illinois.  Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.  How do you see this now, this vote today?  What is the import of voting to repeal health care, knowing the Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats, is not going to do that?

REP. BOBBY SCHILLING ®, ILLINOIS:  You know, I think the number one thing is we saw on November the 2nd pretty much a mandate.  The people want this repeal done.  And I think what‘s going to be different than the way it was pushed through was it‘s going to—with the repeal and then the replacement starting up tomorrow, it‘s going to be done with transparency and both parties will be involved.  So I think it‘s a pretty big step.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight.  It shows opposition to health care reform weakening.  Right now, it‘s 46 percent thought it was a bad idea, 39 percent oppose it, and voters are nearly split now on repeal, 45 percent say repeal it, 46 percent oppose repealing it right now.

It‘s not exactly a mandate right now for getting rid of this bill, is it?

SCHILLING:  You know, I—really, Chris, when I go out and I speak to the people in my district—it‘s really interesting.  I did a “Bobs (ph) for jobs” tour, visited with 34 different businesses, and not one of those people like the—the—as they call it, the reform that went through.  Not one of the business owners, the job creators of my district that I visited with like what transpired.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you talked to the job (INAUDIBLE) Did you talk to the people that didn‘t have health insurance before and are hoping to get it now?

SCHILLING:  Yes, you know, and that‘s a really good point you bring up.  You know, for four years, the people that don‘t have it, the uninsured aren‘t going to have it for another four years.  We‘re going to pay on this thing for four years before it even—the majority of it even kicks in.  So I mean, what we need to do—Republicans and Democrats need to sit down and we need to do some reform that‘s going to be good for all Americans, you know, and this bill really didn‘t do that.  I mean, that‘s the reason we had the Cornhusker deal.  You know, it was done—you know, a lot of things weren‘t—just weren‘t done in the forefront, and that‘s what this country‘s asking for and that‘s why 87 new freshmen are here in Congress.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I‘ve been watching politics all my life, and I‘ve waited either party to do health care.  The Democrats did it.  The Republicans never did anything to deal with the fact that right now—by the way, the latest number I have from the Urban Institute is that hospitals now have to pay out $60 billion that they basically get from people who are insured to pay for people who sit in the emergency rooms who aren‘t insured.

How do you deal with that, as a Republican, $60 billion our hospitals have to pay to pay for health care for people who wait in emergency rooms?  Is your party prepared to pick up the load and find some way to finance the people who are uninsured if you kill the Democrats‘ bill?

SCHILLING:  You know, what we‘re going to do is we‘re going to—we‘re going to—we‘re going to knock this bill out.  We‘re going to come back with true reforms.  And I think when tonight‘s vote passes through, you‘re going to see some Democrats that are going to shift over, you know, and it‘s going to be more of a nonpartisan.  You know, when we look at what happened last time—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but that‘s not answering my question, sir.  Congressman Schilling, what are you going to do about that $60 billion—six-oh billion dollars—that hospitals, including your local hospitals, have to pay out for people who every Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday who are sitting in those emergency rooms, ready to get primary care they can‘t afford because they‘re not insured.  Those hospitals put that money right on the back of insured people.  What are you going to do about that as a Republican, if anything?

SCHILLING:  And Chris, that‘s not going to change with “Obama care.” 

For four years—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not?

SCHILLING:  -- these people are still going to be uninsured.  And that‘s why—I mean, I‘m—I‘m a guy that‘s run a business for the last 14 years.  I‘m new to this game, but I can tell you this.  You know, when I go out to the people in my district, they tell me, Hey, Bobby, what‘s going on right now, shoving all of these different things through?  You know, and this is where it‘s so important, Chris, for the Republicans and the Democrats to sit down and get this thing straightened out.  Either way—I mean, right now, with the folks going to still be uninsured for the next four years, it‘s still going to be an issue.  You know, J.K. Creative (ph) in Quincy, Illinois, Mike Novis (ph) -- you know, here‘s a guy that says if this thing passes, Bobby, he says, I‘m going to tell you right now, he says, I‘m going to let people go so I can stay under that mark.


SCHILLING:  And that‘s a problem.  This is going to crush more jobs.  And anything that‘s going to take jobs away from American people, I‘m going to vote against it, and that‘s exactly what I‘m going to do—


MATTHEWS:  That‘s the Republican argument, it‘s a job-killing bill.  I know that‘s your argument.

Let‘s listen to Michele Bachmann from Minnesota, the congresswoman.  She made a rather dramatic statement on the floor just a couple minutes ago.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  This is not symbolic.  This is why we were sent here.  And we will not stop until we repeal a president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill, until we repeal the current Senate, put in a Senate that will listen to the American people and repeal this bill.


MATTHEWS:  Is that the use of—I‘ve never seen the floor used like this.  I mean, I worked on the Hill.  You‘re a member, elected member.  I‘ve never seen politicians come on and say their purpose in life is to end someone else‘s political career, to defeat another politician.  Isn‘t there any minimal, minimal civility left that somebody like Bachmann—well, first of all, she‘s there.  She was elected.  That—nobody can do anything about that.  But there she is saying that her purpose in life now is eliminate a presidency.  Do you think that‘s good politics to just talk like that?

SCHILLING:  You know, I think what she‘s saying, basically, is here‘s a president that‘s—that—who she feels has taken us down the wrong pathway.  You know, I believe that we‘re going to see President Obama become more of a moderate.  And we‘re already seeing some shifting going on.

MATTHEWS:  I see that, too.

SCHILLING:  Yes.  So I mean, that‘s a good thing—

MATTHEWS:  Well, when is Michele Bachmann going to become a moderate?

SCHILLING:  You know, you‘ll have to ask Michele Bachmann that.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think when the—hell freezes over.  Thank you very much.  It‘s great to have you on.  Please come back, Congressman Bobby Schilling of Illinois.

SCHILLING:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s turn to Democratic U.S. Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz right now.  Congresswoman Schultz, I will go back to this number which we came up, from the Urban Institute, thanks to “The New Republic”—

$60 billion.  If you don‘t get health care in place here, if the bill you passed this year—last year doesn‘t become (ph) effect, $60 billion has to be paid by your local hospital.  That money is taken directly from insured people, and basically, paid to people who‘ve made—had no participation in their health care.  They‘ve come in desperately to get health—primary care, in many cases.  And it seems a pretty awful system.  And it seems to me that‘s the default you‘re going to go back to if you ever lost “Obama care.”  Your thoughts.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  There‘s no—it‘s health care reform, not “Obama care.”  But the—you‘re absolutely right, Chris.  We have had a situation where we‘re all paying—before health care reform became law., we‘ve all been paying to make sure that people who don‘t have coverage get their primary care in the emergency room.  That‘s the most expensive form of care.  It is something like $60 billion that is spread among all of us.  It increases all of our health care costs.  It drives up the cost of insurance and drives up the cost of medical expenses in general.

And I think it‘s also just important to note that—for—for your last guest, Congressman Schilling, maybe he doesn‘t realize that 160,000 small businesses in Illinois, his home state, right now are benefiting from the health care reform law and are actually collecting those small business tax credits and are able to provide health insurance to their employees when they couldn‘t before.  I mean, he probably doesn‘t—

MATTHEWS:  What do you—

SCHULTZ:  -- probably doesn‘t realize that, but—

MATTHEWS:  This is more in the question area of tone and what happened

in—with your friend, Congresswoman Giffords—and she‘s still

recovering and we‘re praying for her to make it and she‘s been showing good

signs.  Let me ask you this.  This kind of talk from Michele Bachmann—I

don‘t know why she‘s allowed to be an extremist and everybody‘s coaxing on

the right, Republicans, saying the president should move to the center and

be reasonable and moderate, where she‘s allowed to be out there as a

screamer, and in many cases, pretty close to a nutcase.  This kind of talk

she‘s standing on the floor of the House, her job is to enact legislation, and yet there she is, standing there, saying her goal in life is to eliminate a presidency.  That‘s how she talks.

SCHULTZ:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you do on the floor of the Congress now, you talk about eliminating somebody else‘s political career?  I thought there was some deference about these things.

SCHULTZ:  I think she clearly did not get the message of the last week-and-a-half, which is that the American people want us to dial it back.  They want us to make an effort to reach across the aisle and reset the tone of civility, engage in some civil discourse.  But what‘s really disturbing is that her raison d‘etre, the raison d‘etre of Mitch McConnell, their reason for existence is to end a presidency.  Their reason for existence and perhaps they‘re suggesting even their reason for serving the public is to end someone else‘s political career, rather than work together.

I think if we learned anything from the Tucson tragedy, it‘s that the American people want us to work together and find a way to reach some common ground.  And even when we can‘t agree, they want us to make sure that we do that without treating our opponents like they‘re our enemies.  Clearly, she and Sarah Palin have not gotten the message.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Sarah Palin is the best news your party has

ever had.  Thank you—and maybe Michele Bachmann, too.  Thank you so much


SCHULTZ:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  -- U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Thanks so much for coming on.

Coming up: The big bounce.  Wow!  President Obama‘s approval numbers, a switcheroo of 15 points upward, from 3 down to 12 up in a month, and he hasn‘t given his State of the Union yet.  We‘re have the results of our new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll fully coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Remember that proposal that members of Congress sit together, regardless of political party?  Well, it‘s gaining traction today.  Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said he‘s going to break the tradition and sit with Republican Mark Kirk, the new member from Illinois on the Republican side.  They‘re putting geography ahead of ideology.  Both Durbin and Kirk are from the same state.

House Democratic ship Steny Hoyer from Maryland said yesterday he‘s going to sit—be pleased, as he put it, to sit with his Republican counterpart, Kevin McCarthy of California and with majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.  And of course, we heard over the weekend that Democratic senator—wow—Chuck Schumer—now, there‘s a Democrat—

New York and Republican—well, there‘s a real Republican, from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn.  They‘re going to sit together.  This is the buddy system, like in Boy Scouts and swimming.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  We‘ve got a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll out today.  It‘s a doozy.  It‘s got a lot of good news for President Obama.  NBC News political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd‘s here with us with all the numbers.

Chuck, thank you so much for joining—this is one of those news-making polls.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s start with President Obama, the president‘s job approval, up into the sweet spot, 53 percent, a 15-point turnaround, from 3 down to 12 up.  And 74 percent say they like the way he handled Tucson.  No surprise there.  But look at the bunching up, the positive nature of these numbers, 15-point switch around.  What do you make of it?

TODD:  Well, look, this is his highest approval rating since July of 2009, OK?  So this is basically 18 months.  This has to do—this is before the—before the health care town halls exploded and before health care basically started bringing down his job rating.  It‘s—it‘s—it‘s three parts, Chris.  One part Tucson, one part lame duck, and—and—and one part optimism, frankly, from the American public about the economy.

Now, the question is, is this all just short term?  Is this just a little bump that he‘s getting, which of course, comes at a great time for him politically because he‘s got the State of the Union next week, or is this the beginnings of a foundation that he has—


TODD:  -- and a reminder to Republicans?  And look, we‘ll find out in the next couple months.

MATTHEWS:  Well, as David Gregory likes to say on Sunday, let‘s unpack that.  So let‘s unpack it.  Let‘s take a look right now at how he‘s dealing with these issues.  In dealing with the GOP—I‘m looking at it.  It‘s interesting, 55 percent say that the president has struck the right balance in dealing with Republicans, 26 percent—

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- say he‘s too inflexible, 15 percent he‘s too quick to give in.  I love these numbers because it says, basically, the far left, I suppose is in the—only the minority, one sixth of the people, which doesn‘t surprise me.  I think that‘s about the number of the far left who say he‘s not left enough right now.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Right now, not the last two years, right now.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And overwhelmingly, the public seems to think he‘s got the right balance between give and take here.

TODD:  Right.  And then you‘re just putting up on screen—look at where the 55 percent figure goes when you talk about congressional Republicans, which is they‘re being seen as too inflexible.  So this is a real—you know, when you look at this poll, on one hand, yes, there‘s a lot of good news here for President Obama.  But the more important thing about this poll is the warning signs that are there for the Republicans.

Here they are, going into the State of the Union week, OK?  We‘re less than a week away.  And the public is basically saying, We‘re giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt right now.  We think he will cut deals with you.  We think he is going to work with you.  You‘ve got to prove to us that you‘re going to work with him.  You‘ve got to prove to us that you‘re ready to govern.

So there‘s a burden—as one of our pollsters said on our—this morning to me, there‘s a burden of proof for Republicans.  There‘s a benefit of the doubt for the president.  And frankly, two months ago, you would have thought it would have been the other way around, right, that the public, after the elections, were saying, Hey, now the burden of proof is on you, President Obama.  And quickly so far, first two months, and you combine lame duck and Tucson, how he‘s handled himself, he‘s getting good marks from the American public.

MATTHEWS:  But you think the vote today might come across as a bit Mickey Mouse, this vote to basically repeal, knowing it‘s not going to happen.  Will they—can the voters see through that?  Just—can you guesstimate whether they‘re going to see it as a game serious as a policy challenge?

TODD:  You know, it‘s funny.  One of our pollsters said on our analysis call and when we break down the numbers, when we go through it in the morning, said, You know what?  You can almost sense that the public is already cynical to the process in Washington a little bit, that they‘re—you know, when you see that inflexible issue, that—you see a little bit of the cynicism about the process seeping in here.  And that‘s got to be the warning sign to Republican leaders.

You know, look, Boehner and McConnell know this.  They‘ve always been very ginger about how to handle this health care thing.  On one hand, yes, they‘ve got to give the base what they want.  They ran on this.  On the other hand, they know, at the end of the day, they‘ve got to win over moderates if they actually do want to govern the country from the White House.

MATTHEWS:  You know, they‘re beginning—I know—I‘m a student of history, like you, and I tell you, when you look back to the Congress that came in, Republican House that came in after World War II—and it was their turn, 20 years of Democratic rule—

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  -- with the New Deal and the Fair Deal.  They finally got in on a strategy or a slogan of “Had enough?” which was a great slogan.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  They got in.  All they did was hold probes and all they did was do all this nasty stuff.  They limited the president‘s term to terms, every way they could sort of dump on the Roosevelt tradition—

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- but nothing really positive.  And public threw them right out in ‘48 and Harry Truman—let‘s take a look at the way the public looks at the future substantively.

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Look at these numbers, 53 percent now think the direction of the country will get better in five years, 37 percent in August said—that‘s ticking up.  People—even though the jobless numbers aren‘t that great, they‘re 9.4 as opposed to 9.8, I guess—is that the effect of the stock market?  What‘s—

TODD:  Well, it‘s—


MATTHEWS:  -- more optimistic?

MATTHEWS:  Why are they getting more optimistic?

TODD:  It‘s funny.  All of the economic numbers in our poll were more positive, were more optimistic.  So, there‘s one of two ways to read this. 

Either the public thinks there‘s just—we have finally hit bottom, and there‘s just no way it‘s going to get worse, it has to get better.  There‘s another theory that our pollsters posited, which was, you know what?  Right after the holidays, people do feel a little bit better.  They had—


TODD:  You know, they—they gave gifts, they bought, they spent money, they see things churning. 

Throw in the warm feeling that they had, that they felt as if the nation kind of came together in a little bit—


TODD:  -- in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, and so that they‘re just feeling good again about America. 

Now, that doesn‘t mean they think the economy—they still think the number-one problem is the unemployment—when it to comes the economy—


TODD:  -- is the issue of unemployment.  All of the problems are still there. 

That‘s why, you look at these numbers, how short-term are they?  We will see.  It‘s a warning sign to Republicans that, look, be—be careful here.  You have not won a—you don‘t have a majority coalition supporting you yet on your ability to govern.  You had a majority coalition that got you into office, but they‘re not yet impressed with how you‘re going to govern. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  At least they weren‘t happy then.  And the president has still got a lot of strengths that you‘ve got to deal with.

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s something the Democrats have to worry about,, even if the president becomes personally more popular. 

TODD:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the objective reality that‘s going to face them, I think, next November—a 12-point gap now on whether America is in a state of decline.

TODD:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  That gap was 34 points in August.  And 40 percent now think the economy will get better next year.  That‘s up eight. 

But here is my concern as an American, that we‘re going to have real, objective problems that really have nothing to do with the president‘s popularity.  He could get relatively more popular than anybody else—

TODD:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  -- in the business, including Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin or anyone else, and still, if you have states like Wisconsin—

TODD:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  -- Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, where the economy is down, he could lose the general election next year. 

TODD:  Well, that‘s right.  And this goes to this—first of all, that‘s why the—


TODD:  the president, first stop, Wisconsin right after the State of the Union.  No accident.

MATTHEWS:  Smart move. 

TODD:  They didn‘t—they didn‘t use a dartboard on—on that stop number one. 

MATTHEWS:  The same as the Republicans picking the RNC chair out of there. 

TODD:  Exactly.  This is no accident.  Wisconsin is probably the best petri dish of where the Midwest—


TODD:  -- is heading in 2012.

But I have to say this.  Chris, you know this, the more optimistic candidate always wins presidential elections, right?


TODD:  The guy that looks like that the country feels like, boy, he‘s the more hopeful guy, you know, the Reagan/Carter comparison—you had Bush and Clinton in ‘92.  Frankly, you had Bush and Gore in 2000.  And then you had Obama and McCain.


MATTHEWS:  You think like me. 

TODD:  And the thing is, is, can the Republicans have a primary debate that ends up becoming very negative, probably, a presidential primary, and then they‘re not—and then produce a nominee that will be the optimistic guy? 


TODD:  Now, I will say this.  Huckabee and Romney have the potential of being optimistic guys.  They both want to be that guy.  They both have that in—you know, that‘s sort of part of where they have had success in the past is when they have channeled that optimism. 

Can the Republican primary that takes place allow them to be that person? 


TODD:  That is going to be a test. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s exactly why I do it.  I always say to people, close your eyes and imagine which of the two candidates is out in the sun waving at a car going somewhere, optimistic, and which is in behind a desk somewhere, you know, the Bob Doles, the Dick Nixons.

The guy who is sunny, whether it‘s Reagan or it‘s this president, or it‘s Jack Kennedy, those guys—and they tend to be guys—win.  And the guy who looks like a desk jockey holding on to that desk loses. 



TODD:  Look, issues matter, but—but—yes, but tone and optimism does, too. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much, Chuck.

I love this Wisconsin—it‘s like the days of Tim Russert.  We‘re already looking at the state that matters—


TODD:  We are.

MATTHEWS:  -- you know, like Tim used to do with Florida and Ohio. 

TODD:  It‘s going to tell us about the Midwest.  That Midwest is moving.  That‘s the most fluid part of the electorate.  It‘s where Republicans are going to win or lose the White House.

MATTHEWS:  You are—you are the smartest.  Do you know why?  Because I agree with you. 


MATTHEWS:  But besides that. 

TODD:  All right, brother.

MATTHEWS:  This is from Scranton to Oshkosh.  Keep your eye on Oshkosh. 

TODD:  There it is.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Dick Cheney—that‘s how you pronounce it—names his top picks to run for president on his side next month—next year.  But there‘s one name conspicuously absent from his list of favorites.  He doesn‘t even mention her.  Check out the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First:  Dick Cheney is naming names.  He gave NBC‘s Jamie Gangel a list of his top 2012 picks.  Guess who was left out? 





CHENEY:  -- -- candidates out there.

And I‘m intrigued, for example, by someone like Mitch Daniels.  Is he the only potentially candidate out there?  No, we have got a lot of other good ones.  Chris Christie from New Jersey, Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota. 

GANGEL:  What do you think of Mitt Romney? 

CHENEY:  I like Mitt Romney very much.  And we have got some good Senate talent, too, people like John Thune from South Dakota.  So I think there‘s no shortage.  Let me apologize at the outset to everybody I didn‘t mention. 



MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s right about Thune as a wild card.

Anyway, number two on that ticket just two years ago, Sarah Palin, left out, forgotten in the Alaska tundra.  Even when Jamie asked him, pushed him on whether Palin had the right stuff, Dick ducked faster than one of his hunting partners. 

Next:  Anthony Weiner zings the health care scare.  The Democrat from Brooklyn was up for a barroom brawl during  today‘s health debate on repeal. 


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  You know, I want to just advise people watching at home playing that now popular drinking game of you take a shot whenever the Republicans don‘t say something that‘s not true, please assign a designated driver.  This is going to be a long afternoon.


MATTHEWS:  Oh, Tony.

And, finally, a curious pattern.  Walter Shapiro of Politics Daily points us to the three—the last three unsuccessful nominees for vice president of the United States, Joe Lieberman in 2000, John Edwards in 2004, and, most recently, Sarah Palin in 2008.

Sarah Palin is the butt of liberal mockery today, John Edwards as well

John Edwards—and Joe Lieberman just announced he‘s gotten out—he‘s getting out of politics.  It reminds me of the King Tut exhibition, where everyone had a mysterious demise.  Remember the rule:  Democrats bury their losers.  Republicans run them next time.  Bodes well for Romney and Palin.

Up next:  President Obama is no doubt benefiting politically from having Sarah Palin a foil.  With every one of her tweets, every Facebook posting and every FOX News so-called interview, she‘s helping the guy in the White House look more presidential. 

That‘s ahead.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


COURTNEY REAGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Courtney Reagan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks slumping today on some mixed bank earnings.  The Dow Jones industrial slipping 12 points, the S&P giving up 13, and the Nasdaq tumbling 40 points. 

Banks taking a beating in the wake of double-digit surges for some starting back in early December.  Yesterday, we had weaker-than-expected results from Citigroup.  Today, it was Goldman Sachs, just barely beating profit expectations and missing on revenue, quarterly earnings off 53 percent on slowdowns in bond trading and investment banking.

Wells Fargo earnings in line with expectations, but it‘s one of the country‘s largest mortgage lenders, and the sluggish housing market is still eating into revenue.  U.S. Bancorp profits jumping 64 percent last quarter, revenue also coming in higher than expected.  And new lending is back up to pre-crisis levels. 

And eBay reporting after the closing bell, delivering better-than-expected top- and bottom-line results and a strong full-year outlook. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL.  Requests. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Sarah Palin has been all over the news, since the Tucson shootings.  And, on Monday, she told Sean Hannity she won‘t shut up, as she put it.  Is she actually helping President Obama by acting as the primary GOP counterpoint? 

Well, MSNBC senior political analyst Mark Halperin writes for “TIME” magazine, and Joan Walsh writes for, besides helping us. 

Here‘s what Matt Bai had to say in “The New York Times” just today:

“It seems that President Obama now has, in Ms. Palin, something he badly need after a punishing election season, the ideal political foil.  With every controversial tweet or video, Ms. Palin makes Mr. Obama, who has often struggled to project the regality of the office, seem more like the post-partisan grownup he always intended to be.”

Joan, this is tough on Palin.  Has she become the scarecrow on the right that scares people away from that terrain? 


JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM:  You know, something like that.  I hadn‘t thought of it quite that way, Chris, but, clearly—


MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m always looking for the metaphor. 

WALSH:  No, it‘s good.  I like it.

MATTHEWS:  I wasn‘t going to say dodo bird.  I think dodo would be meaner. 

WALSH:  That would be mean.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WALSH:  No, scarecrow is fine.

Yes, I hope she‘s scaring other people away from this terrain because she‘s been very divisive.  She‘s been kind of vicious.  It‘s been all about her.

And, look, I don‘t want to diminish the president here, because I think the three of us would be sitting here anyway talking about how fantastic a job he did at the Tucson memorial.  He was presidential, he was personal, he talked about the victims individually.  He soared that night.  That was the best of President Obama, so he didn‘t require Sarah Palin‘s pettiness to look good. 

However, he got it, and it‘s clearly helping him.  She is the narcissist in chief, and she really shows that she doesn‘t understand what the country needs in a tragedy. 

MATTHEWS:  Trying to get ahead of you, Joan, in this regard will be tough, but I want to now talk about the man who always carrying the shiv hidden under his bunk bed.  Here is Newt Gingrich on “GMA” yesterday—


MATTHEWS:  -- talking about his competitor for the Republican nomination for president this time.  Let‘s listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I think that she‘s got to slow down and be a lot—be more careful and think through what she is saying and how she is saying it.  I—there‘s no question that she‘s become more controversial. 

But she is still a phenomenon.  I mean, I—I don‘t know anybody else in American politics who can put something on Twitter or on Facebook and automatically have it become a national story.  So, she remains, I think, a very formidable person in her own right. 


MATTHEWS:  He is brilliantly diabolical.  He is.


MATTHEWS:  He keeps the smile on his face.  He is brilliantly diabolical.  He keeps the smile on his face, and he just leveled her.  She‘s becoming more controversial.  In other words, we might want someone from the right, a little edgy, but not that far out—

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  -- named maybe Newt Gingrich, someone like that maybe.

WALSH:  Maybe.


it‘s awesome when someone who is thinking of running for president is told

by Newt Gingrich—by Newt Gingrich—you have got to think a little bit



HALPERIN:  -- you have got to think a little bit before you speak. 

Gingrich is a great pundit.  I think, if he runs, he‘s going to have his own troubles, because you‘ve got to not be a pundit when you run for president. 

WALSH:  Right. 

HALPERIN:  Bill Clinton learned that.  George Bush learned that.  He‘s right, though, about his advice to Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by that?  That‘s a thought.  What do you mean by you can‘t be a pundit? 


MATTHEWS:  You can‘t—


MATTHEWS:  -- other guys?

HALPERIN:  If you run for president, you expose yourself to the press every day.  You can‘t do a running commentary and say what you really think.  You have got to be more in the mode of leadership, rather than being a pundit. 

MATTHEWS:  But is he piling on there?  Is he basically admitting she‘s that become a problem on the right by saying—quote—“She‘s become more controversial”?

Controversial is a word we all use in this business.  I try to avoid it.  It‘s another words of saying, you‘re bad, you‘re wrong. 


WALSH:  Yes, well, I think it‘s clear now that it‘s safe to attack Sarah Palin.  For a while, people—remember—you know, Mark remembers this very well.  For a long time, people only talked about her negatively off the record, without attribution, without their names. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, in the green room. 


WALSH:  In the green room. 

And now you have got people lining up on—on the right to take shots at her.  So I think that it shows that they‘re not afraid of her.  She certainly has a passionate following.  We can‘t take that away from her, but I think that she is looking weak.  She‘s looking decidedly not presidential.

And it‘s now safe for these guys to try to step out and say, I‘m the one—this isn‘t going to work for Newt Gingrich.


WALSH:  But I‘m the one who will think before I speak.  I‘m the one who will try to be a little bit less divisive, and that she is probably going to have to move on. 

MATTHEWS:  I would like to see her just on a couple episodes of “Celebrity Jeopardy” or “It‘s Academic” with Mac McGarry, just see if she knows anything.

Steve Schmidt still has the best roundhouse punch against her in history, which is, “She doesn‘t know anything.”  And I think that is subject to proof, of course.

Let‘s take a look at her with Hannity the other night, because I think she said something about herself the other night which was really interesting about who she sees as her compadres. 

Here she is sticking to her guns.  Here she is in that interview.  Well, I wouldn‘t call it an interview—that chat with Sean the other night.

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen. 


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I will continue to speak out.  They‘re not going to shut me up.  They‘re not going to shut you up or Rush or Mark Levin or Tea Party patriots or those who, as I say, respectfully and patriotically petition their government for change.  They can‘t make us sit down and shut up.  And if they ever were to succeed in doing that, then our republic will be destroyed. 


MATTHEWS:  Our republic will be destroyed if we can‘t hear from Mark Levin anymore. 


WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you‘re the guy in the book who reported that great

I have to give you tribute as to—attribute to you the reportage there that Steve Schmidt said she doesn‘t know anything.

But here she is identifying in the circled wagons, not with John Boehner, not with Mitch McConnell, not with anybody, Mitch Daniels, serious officeholders or fellow governors. 

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Her new fellowship is with Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity.  She now sees herself as a right-wing talk show host. 

HALPERIN:  Matt Bai is a brilliant guy.  And I think, on Wednesday in Tucson that day, Palin was a foil that worked effectively for the president.

Longer term, though, I don‘t think so, for the two reasons you just -- 

MATTHEWS:  Does he want her running? 

HALPERIN:  -- you just alluded—

MATTHEWS:  Does he want her running?

HALPERIN:  (INAUDIBLE) But one thing, he‘s—she‘s putting herself not as a politician, as you said, but she‘s putting herself with pundits and—and talk show hosts.

But the other, more central I think why she‘s not going to be a long-term effective foil to the president is she is not playing for the center.  The president needs a foil who wants to go to the center and does it badly.


HALPERIN:  She‘s just playing to the right.

MATTHEWS:  Why did she need a center foil?

HALPERIN:  Because for political reasons, both to get things done in Washington and to get reelected, he needs to win back the Senate.  And going against Palin doesn‘t help him win back the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  You go along with my theory, though, of the eastern conference and western conference, that somebody like Mitt Romney is sitting there, letting her get all this noise because he keeps riding up to the polls.  He doesn‘t have to go out there and show up like her.

HALPERIN:  Nobody wants to take her on.  There‘s just no mileage for it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look at those polls, let‘s look at how she‘s doing now.  NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, an objective poll, 27 percent of Americans have a positive view of that person, 27 percent, 49 and rising, negative.  This is serious business for her.

HALPERIN:  And again, it makes her not a great foil for the president because—except for that 27 percent, which is never going to be for the president.  There‘s no fight.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who is she historically like?  Who is she like?  Is she like Jesse Jackson?  Is she a protest candidate?  Is she like Sharpton?  What is she like?

HALPERIN:  If you look at her full dimensions, Chris, in my life time, there‘s never been anybody like her.  Which is her capacity to be in front of the media and have the change effect she has and her ambitions, there‘s nobody like her.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of it, Joan?  What do you make of her?  Why does she fit in to American political tradition?  Is she pundit?  She‘s not Will Rogers.  She‘s not entertaining.  She‘s not, you know, Mark Twain, she‘s not helping or American culture.

WALSH:  She‘s not witty, no.


WALSH:  But, look, I think—I think that she did reveal something by who she surrounded herself with in that quote, you know?  And it points to what Mark said about you can‘t be—you can‘t run for president while being a pundit.

She is—she is pulling those guys around her.  They are vicious.  They are toxic.  And they are the people who can‘t be silenced or the republic will collapse.

She did not pick mainstream Republicans.  She did not pick Republican leaders.


WALSH:  And so, I think she has pushed herself farther and farther out on the right.  I don‘t know if she knows exactly what she‘s doing, I really don‘t.  But that‘s been the effect.  She‘s a divisive figure.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the only person she left out of her cotillion who was Michael Savage.  Do you think he‘s going to join next week?

WALSH:  Oh, and Glenn Beck.

HALPERIN:  I think there‘s a rotating cast.

MATTHEWS:  What a crowd to want to join.  Anyway, thank you.  I mean, there‘s some brains in there, but there‘s a lot of craziness, too.

WALSH:  It‘s not Mt. Rushmore, that‘s for sure.

MATTHEWS:  Nice point and brilliantly spoken.  Thank you, Mark.  Thank you, Joan, so much.  Joan Walsh from out west, Mark Halperin from right here.

Up next: you know what‘s going to happen.  This is kind of a little comic note.  Republicans are out there taking credit for the uptick in the economy already.  That‘s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the big news.  As follow up to the State of the Union, the president will be going to Manitowoc, Wisconsin next Wednesday, the day after his State of the Union.  If you want to know why he‘s going there, just check the election returns from that county.  Obama won the county with 53 percent in 2008, but last November, Republic Scott Walker run the governor‘s race there by—with 60 percent and Republican Ron Johnson won the Senate race there with 58 percent.  That county has got to be won back.

It‘s clearly no longer friendly terrain for the president.  He needs to win it back.  He needs to win back those working class, if you will, voters, in the middle of the country, from Scranton to Oshkosh.  I say it again and again.  He wants to win reelection.  It‘s not a popularity contest.  He‘s got as to deliver in places like Wisconsin.

HARDBALL will be right back.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These numbers can bounce around from month to month.  But the trend is clear: we saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth.  The first time that‘s been true since 2006.  The economy added 1.3 million jobs last year.  And each quarter was stronger than the last.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That‘s President Obama, of course, early this month, with the first—with the first glimmer of good economic news.  Now comes the fun part—where everyone tries to take credit for an improved economy.

Some Republicans have started the spin already.  Here‘s Senator Jon Kyl on Bloomberg after he was asked about corporation whose balance sheets are now booming and Obama‘s role.


SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  I would contend that for the last two years, it‘s been highly anti-business.  Some of the results that you just talked about I suspect are coming from the fact that we extended tax rates that the president did not want to extend, but was willing to do so at the end of the year last year.


MATTHEWS:  Josh Marshall was founder and editor of “Talking Points Memo.”  And Clarence Page is a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune.”

Josh, I love, I‘ll wait your thoughts.  I mean, I remember Jimmy Durante saying everybody has got to get into the act here.  There they are claiming not even—not even shown up for work yet—the Republicans are claiming credit for a better economy.

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKING POINTS MEMO:  Yes.  You know, I think it‘s one of these things when you‘re in politician—when you‘re in politics, you claim credit for everything, whether or not it makes any sense or not.  I think, you know, no one is taking serially the idea that anything the Republicans have done in the last six weeks is having any effect on the economy.

You know, what‘s interesting to me, though, is these—whether or not the reality is going to be there in six months or in a year, the credibility of those claims is going to become greater.  And that‘s when we‘re really going to see a fight between the president and Republicans and Congress over why the economy is better, if, in fact, it is, at end of 2011 and to the middle of 2012.

MATTHEWS:  Is it objectively true that the Republicans deserve any measure credit for the possible uptick in the economy we live in right now?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Well, certainly not for what Jon Kyl cited, which was the tax deal, which occurred at the end of the year, as he said, at a time when they were tabulating figures for the economic recovery, which has been steady.  And it‘s been steady growth—

MATTHEWS:  And there were—

PAGE:  It‘s been slow but it‘s a steady growth.


MATTHEWS:  There were taxes for 2011.

PAGE:  Yes.  That‘s point number two.  Exactly.

You know, for one thing, there‘s been steady growth under Obama‘s presidency.  It‘s been slow, too slow, but there has been a recovery going on.  Now that it‘s starting to show in the unemployment figures, President Obama should feel very complimented that Republicans are rushing forward to try to claim credit because you guarantee that whether or not a recovery is showing itself, they would not be marching forward and take credit.

MATTHEWS:  You know—you know, Josh, the erudite Senator Kyl, and I don‘t mean to be sarcastic, but there is on Bloomberg trying to take some bloom from the rose, taking credit for health care.  His Republicans are dancing around the House floor at this very moment trying to kill health care and everyone knows it‘s basically hanging in effigy.  It has no impact whatsoever.

How can Republicans be seen to be busy on jobs when all of them are so festively running around the president, painting faces on him?  I mean, they‘re basically just being children out there?  How can they claim they‘ve done all this great work on the economy when nobody has seen them do anything?

MARSHALL:  You know, I think this is a big question going forward over the next few months.  You‘ve seen that Dem—one of Democrats‘ big angles on this, you know, relitigating health care that they‘re doing now is not so much to get into the bill on its merits, although they‘re doing that, too, but to take everything back, oh, why are you doing this?  You know, jobs is the number one issue, why are you wasting time with this stupid thing and that stupid thing and the other or things never become law?

And I—you know, the dynamic there is that the Republicans are coming in on this, you know, big wave of fervor, at least from their base, with a lot of, you know, an agenda that their base really cares a lot about, but ones that are either not that important or opposed by a majority of the people.

So, I think that‘s a real angle that the Democrats have to sort of use the job issue against them as a sort of a cudgel by basically saying they are spending time on this stuff that “A,” isn‘t good policy, and “B,” it‘s just never going to happen, so why are you wasting our time?

MATTHEWS:  You know, in the 80th Congress, coming in after World War

I, I pointed out a minute ago, that they ended all the things Republicans -

Josh is right on the mark here—they did all the things that their base wanted to do.  They limited the presidential term under the Constitution to two terms to get screwed that Roosevelt guy.  We know he‘s dead but let‘s screw him again.


They did all this stuff about going after people.  They caught one live one, Alger Hiss.  But they basically did a lot of HUAC hearings and all these nonsense, trying to catch communists in the movie industry and all that stuff.  And at the end of the two years, the public said and Harry Truman said it well, do nothing.

PAGE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You did nothing and they got blown out of there.

PAGE:  Well, that‘s right.  This is the thing about whatever efforts Republicans make to try to claim credit for—recovery, knock on wood, hoping it continues, that what they are talking about Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, if the economy is doing badly, the president takes the blame.  If it‘s doing well, the president gets the credit.  The public does that, regardless of what hot air is being blown in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Is it possible, gentlemen, to be totally objective here that both sides can benefit?  Jack Kennedy said victory has 100 fathers, defeat‘s an orphan.  If the economy produces enough growth in the next year or two to reduce the unemployment rate below 8 percent, could we not see an election return in 2012 that returns the Republicans to power in the House and returns this president to a second term?  Josh?

MARSHALL:  I think definitely.  You know, we keep looking for—everything in this presidency as opposed to looking to analogs back to Bill Clinton‘s first term.  But I think if you look back at ‘94 to ‘96, what really did happen was the economy kept picking up steam, you know, people thought things were going really well economically by 1996, and it helped both sides.  Bill Clinton got reelected and Republicans held onto the majority.


MARSHALL:  So, you know, I think in that sense, you really can—you know, if you think of politics as a game of musical chairs, everybody who has got a seat when the economy is doing well can profit from it politically, even if they are in opposite parties and have totally different policy agendas.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why I wonder how Nancy Pelosi‘s strategy of getting

re-elected as speaker next time works out, because I don‘t see her hanging

in there, it‘s certainly her right to do so, how she would succeed.  Because if the Republicans fail economically, that‘s because the president has failed.

PAGE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And therefore, they all go down.  I mean, I‘m not sure if I get—then she would win if the president lost, but if the president loses, she‘s not going to win.


MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think—I don‘t see how it works for her in getting back in power.

Let me ask you, what do you think the jobless number has to get down to for this president to beat his problems in Wisconsin, Ohio and the states really hard hit?

PAGE:  It‘s got to be a number that dramatically shows the public—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s 9.4 now.  What does it have to be?

PAGE:  Right.  I‘d say, no, eight would certainly be—

MATTHEWS:  Because Christine Romer, brilliantly, let me go back to Christine Romer and Josh Marshall—politicians hang political operatives who do this to them.  She came out and said it‘s going to go down to eight.  I know the circumstances were unique to her at the time.

But does it have to be eight for this president to get re-elected based on that benchmark?  Josh Marshall?

MARSHALL:  You know, I think eight is a good—you know, as good as any number if you want to peg where that has to be.


MARSHALL:  I think the reality is—

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

MARSHALL:  -- he needs to be able to say to the people that things are obviously getting better and no one disagrees.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s great having you on, Josh.  Please come back again and again.

MARSHALL:  Thanks so much.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Clarence, as always.  Please come back again and again.

PAGE:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what I think is behind President Obama‘s surge in the polls.

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the president‘s new lease—

I‘m talking about his higher approval numbers.

Let me be blunt, I wish him well.  I also know that he will not hold those new high numbers if the jobless rate stays above 9 percent for too many more months.  He needs to give business confidence that things are settled down in terms of taxes and regulation, that they can get their plans together knowing the lay of the land.  I think the president knows all this and will signal it next week in his State of the Union.

He also must know that from here on out, certainly from here to the next election, we are looking at sack race.  You know, like at a picnic, one Democratic leg in the sack, one Republican leg.  Nothing is going to move unless both parties are moving forward together.

Whatever he talks about next week in his State of the Union, it‘s essential that it be something that has a bipartisan appeal.  Got to cut tax rates, not raise them in any reform.  Got to cut fairly and any long-term spending reduction.  That‘s the deal, them‘s the rules.

But right now on the verge of the State of the Union, the president in a good position with the American people.  He got the tone right.

We‘ve got a clear idea of what caused the horror—we haven‘t got a clear idea of what caused the horror in Tucson, but we‘re not completely in the dark about it.  We know it was done with a handgun.  We know it was done against an elected public official, a politician—OK, a Democratic politician.  We know it was at a scheduled official event.

We don‘t know why that guy brought that gun to a political event and shot a politician and those other people.  But it might make common sense to cool it in speeches that do bring together guns and politics, guns and the hatred of government officials.  Don‘t you think?

The president‘s caught the country‘s tone and that could be the chief reason for his 15-point upward spike in job approval.

That‘s the show.  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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