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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Jim Cramer, Alex Wagner, Joan Walsh, Arn Pearson, Bradley Smith

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Boehner‘s blunder.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: “So be it.”  Well, that was Speaker John Boehner‘s reaction yesterday when asked about possibly hundreds of thousands of job losses that would result from proposed Republican budget cuts, “So be it.”  Boehner admitted he didn‘t know how many jobs would be lost, so the liberal Center for American Progress did the arithmetic for him—one million lost jobs.  Why wouldn‘t Boehner care?  Could it be because he doesn‘t think federal jobs are real jobs or that unemployment might help the Republicans next year?  Well, they‘re singing out loud now what he thinks privately, “So be it.”  What a great line to remember.

Plus, you know Republican leaders won‘t let go of that birther lie.  Now with some in Mississippi pushing to honor the founder of the Ku Klux Klan on state license plates, even an establishment figure like Haley Barbour is refusing to say that‘s wrong.  Is this what passes for leadership in the party of Abe Lincoln these days?

Plus—Should a Supreme Court Justice attend a meeting held by a group that has an interest in a case before him?  Common Cause is asking that question about Clarence Thomas, and its vice president will join us later to make the case against him.

And Madoff‘s revenge.  The Ponzi schemer broke his silence from federal prison and said the big banks and hedge funds that did business with him were complicit in his massive fraud.  Is this jailhouse pleading or a good question to ask?

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with the absolute need for Senate hearings on this new evidence from Secretary Rumsfeld that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear weapons or even the facility to produce them.

We begin with John Boehner‘s dismissive response to the fact the Republican budget cuts will kill jobs.  “The Washington Post‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and Alex Wagner writes for

Howard, let‘s look at this Boehner comment here.  Let‘s take a look at the SOT, as we call it, “sound on tape.”  Here‘s Speaker Boehner at a news conference yesterday saying jobs may be lost.  Let‘s listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Over the last two years, since President Obama‘s taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs.  And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it.  We‘re broke.  It‘s time for us to get serious about how we‘re spending the nation‘s money.


MATTHEWS:  Well, “So be it” I think is going to go down with one of those cracks that suggests a callousness about unemployment.  What covers him on this, Howard?



FINEMAN:  Remember that?

MATTHEWS:  With Bush.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  It was not smart politics at all, but it was—

MATTHEWS:  It was wiseass.

FINEMAN:  It was wiseass and it was at a time when people are suffering all over the country, including people who work for the federal government.


FINEMAN:  People don‘t make—

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t they real workers?

FINEMAN: -- that much of a distinction.  But what Boehner‘s doing is playing to the prejudices in the base of his own party—

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re calling up to get a Social Security check issued


FINEMAN:  No, but the—

MATTHEWS: -- or you‘re going over a tax matter, the person on the other line is a joke.  So you just call him a joke to start the conversation.

FINEMAN:  But there‘s something else here, Chris.


FINEMAN:  The Republicans who lost some of the governorships last time around in places like California and Illinois and so forth, said afterwards that, We‘ve got—if we Republicans are going to win, we have to destroy the power of the public employee unions because they‘re passionate get-out-the-vote armies for the Democrats.  And I heard more than one Republican governor and operative at the Republican Governors Association saying, Until we destroy the power of the public employee unions and public employees who are passionate to preserve their own jobs—


MATTHEWS:  I always wonder why they keep talking about that.

FINEMAN:  That‘s the reason why.  This is to reduce the army on the other side come election day.  That‘s the ultimate rubber-meets-the-road reason for this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s an old expression in Washington, people don‘t do their best work when they‘re being dumped on.  It‘s phrased a little differently.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But you get the point, Alex.

ALEX WAGNER, POLITICSDAILY.COM:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, if you want somebody to do a job, you don‘t make fun of them all the time.  I‘m sorry, but Speaker Boehner is a federal employee.  He works for the federal government.

WAGNER:  He is, indeed.

MATTHEWS:  He gets paid a check every month or every couple weeks by

the federal government.  All the people that work for him, probably very

hard, work for him, and work for him back in the district and in Washington

they‘re all federal employees.  Why is he dumping on them by saying those jobs don‘t matter?

WAGNER:  Well, I mean—

MATTHEWS:  Especially when we have an unemployment rate that may be up around 17 or 18 percent.

WAGNER:  And which the Republicans benefit—you know, if unemployment stays high, it‘s not good for the administration for 2012.  Maybe there‘s something in there for the Republicans in having a high unemployment rate.  You also are talking about someone—if we‘re talking about, you know, Boehner‘s slip-ups today, this is the same day that he‘s seen supporting a $4.50 -- $450 million program that stands to benefit workers in his district.

MATTHEWS:  Is that why he‘s—is that a sweater or is it some kind of lab coat?


MATTHEWS:  What is that thing he‘s wearing?  Never mind.

WAGNER:  But this is someone who‘s had the word “jobs” tattooed across his face for years now and has—

MATTHEWS:  I thought he wasn‘t—


WAGNER: -- the number one talking point.

MATTHEWS: -- earmarker.

WAGNER:  What‘s that?

MATTHEWS:  I heard he wasn‘t an earmarker.

WAGNER:  And—and—but—well, he‘s been talking about trimming the deficit, trimming the fat, trimming the fat.  And here you have a program that‘s supported (SIC) not only by members of his own caucus, Tea Partiers, but also the White House.  And he maintains that it‘s a good program that‘s going to create jobs, and he won‘t get rid of it, even though it could take out $3 billion from the federal deficit.

MATTHEWS:  Has he got a problem—


MATTHEWS: -- basically an older burgher, Midwestern Republican, who basically supports all the old pork barrel stuff—


MATTHEWS: -- and has to put up with the Tea Party types?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think he‘s trying to drive up the unemployment rate per se to get rid of Obama.  I do think there‘s this—there‘s this battle of turnout that I just explained before.


FINEMAN:  But the other thing is, he‘s trying to talk to the Tea

Partiers.  He‘s trying—you know, the anti-government, anti-federal

government rhetoric of the Tea Party, which he has to deal with every day -


MATTHEWS:  The idiom.

FINEMAN:  He‘s got to speak in the idiom, and it‘s changed who he is.


FINEMAN:  He—that‘s part of why he said, “So be it,” because he thought it would play with the anti-federal, anti-big government Tea Party people, who are now the key to his winning any votes in the House.


FINEMAN:  I mean, as—as Alex—

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right, and you do hear a lot of—and whether it‘s fair or not, you hear people saying, Oh, they make more than the average worker and all that, and they don‘t like them.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Which is—which is not true, by the way.  And they‘re very productive.  That‘s not true.  If we got to have a government, we may as well have good people, and we do have a lot of good people.  That‘s not the point.  But I think that‘s one of the things that was motivating Boehner.  And it‘s going to trip him up repeatedly because he‘s really not quite one of those people anyway, but he‘s trying to talk like them.


WAGNER:  But fundamentally, I mean, I think that that‘s a good point here.  It‘s this inside versus outside Washington dynamic.


WAGNER:  But at the same time—

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s an insider.

WAGNER:  He is an insider—

MATTHEWS:  Trying to talk like an outsider—


WAGNER:  He is an insider.  And look what happened—and look what happened on this jet fighter issue.  You have the Tea Party joining with the administration—


WAGNER: -- to show they‘re serious.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this—I mean, I can use this as rhetoric, and I will just now, right now.  We‘ve been waiting to hear what the Republican jobs proposal is.  Here it is: Get rid of the jobs.


MATTHEWS:  Get rid of the jobs.  Here it is.  The Center for American Progress crunched the numbers, did the arithmetic on—on the Speaker, Boehner‘s, remarks.  And it turns out that if you cut the $50 billion—

$59 billion for the second half of 2011, the current fiscal year, that‘s 650,000 government workers would lose their jobs.  That‘s two thirds of a million.  And another third of a million would lose their jobs indirectly.  So that‘s a million jobs gone, out of work, if Boehner gets his cuts.

Now, what‘s weird about the Republicans, it seems to me—now, they‘re not always right.  In fact, both parties are wrong about long-term spending.  Everybody seems to recognize—who think about this—in the short term, we better need a little bit of a federal deficit to help with the economy right now.  We need stimulus short term.

But (INAUDIBLE) year or two, two years, three years down the road, we better start cutting the deficit.  We better start—or this debt‘s just getting completely out of hand.  The Republicans aren‘t really offering anything on either front.  They‘re talking about, you know, cutting programs in the short run, where we need them to get out of this ditch we‘re in right now, and not really offering up anything on entitlements, Alex.  They‘re not doing either.  So what they‘re doing is just damage, as Howard points out.  They just want to cause trouble in the short run by talking about big cuts in the short run, which (INAUDIBLE) bring our economy back into the second dip again.  And they don‘t care because it may help them next election.

WAGNER:  Well, yes.  I think what we have here is rhetoric and—

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re really partisan about it.

WAGNER:  It‘s very advanced campaign rhetoric because you‘re right, Chris, I mean, in terms of actually creating jobs and actually getting us out of the hole, nothing that they‘re doing right now is that concrete.  And when you talk about entitlement reforms—look, the president didn‘t offer much leadership on that in terms of his budget on Monday, but the Republican leadership has sort of—


WAGNER: -- also spoken very softly—

MATTHEWS:  Speak the language of Howard because Howard has once again figured out what‘s going on here.

WAGNER:  The answer.

MATTHEWS:  You have an insider, one of these guys been around for 20 years—

WAGNER:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- in politics, now trying to act like he‘s the hottest Tea Party kid in town here.  He‘s got the new flavor of the month going for him.

WAGNER:  Well, he‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Then you find out that he‘s ready to kill all kinds of federal jobs because he wants to be part of this rhetoric, the idiom of killing federal employees out there, killing their jobs.  But yet he wants to protect the jobs from this new system he‘s got down there, right?

WAGNER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So when it comes to a defense contract in his neighborhood, he‘s all for those jobs.

WAGNER:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  But nationwide, screw it.

FINEMAN:  That‘s the problem.  That‘s all (INAUDIBLE) problem with what he did here—

MATTHEWS:  You like the way I ask you the question—

FINEMAN:  I‘m sorry.


FINEMAN:  I apologize.  Excuse me.


FINEMAN:  No, no.  Excuse me.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  I apologize.

WAGNER:  No, no, no.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

FINEMAN:  I was just going to say that to just only say that is the problem—in other words, if they said, yes, you know—because I know the Republicans don‘t think that these are productive jobs, that a lot of government jobs don‘t have a multiplier effect on the economy.


FINEMAN:  And there‘s an economic argument you can make about that.  But you can‘t just blurt out what he said without saying, OK, here‘s how we are, in fact, going to create jobs efficiently and well in the country.  And they—without any of that, without the Republicans actually doing that, this sounds very callous.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so basic—


MATTHEWS: -- jobs problem is, Create jobs in my district, get rid of them every everywhere else.

WAGNER:  Well, but look, Chris, this is something we‘ve talked about before.  There is a cleave (ph) within the Republican Party.  There is a sign, Heartbreak dead ahead, that they have been driving towards for weeks, if not months now, and this is exemplary of that.  And John Boehner trying to, you know, control the various—


WAGNER: -- factions has become very problematic in terms of an actual Republican agenda.

MATTHEWS:  OK, this is just the nonsense that‘s going on.  Let‘s talk about the possible hope, the light coming from the other side here, perhaps coming over the horizon, you know?  Right now, Mark Warner, Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn, Mike Crapo, Dick Durbin and Kent Conrad, a group of six, three and three—there they are—are getting together and trying to come out with something like the debt commission, something that‘s positive.  Howard, is it going to work?

FINEMAN:  I‘m yielding my time to Alex—




WAGNER:  If we‘re talking about long-term entitlement reform, it is not happening before 2012.

MATTHEWS:  What about these six guys?

WAGNER:  Look, they—the White House and I think the press corps is going to go at this again and again and again.  When is it going to happen?  All we know is (INAUDIBLE) going to be a civil and adult discourse—

MATTHEWS:  I love the new word, “adult.”

WAGNER: -- presumably behind scenes.  Having that motor (ph) in the Senate I think helps a lot.  But the—I mean, the president and the Republicans are really going to have to take this issue up with gusto, and I don‘t see that happening before the election is over.

FINEMAN:  I think that the president is trying to play a deep game here.  Whether it‘ll work or not, I don‘t know.  The fact that Dick Durbin is in with that group, and Dick Durbin is close to the president—

MATTHEWS:  And he backed the deficit commission.

FINEMAN: -- yes—means that the president is preserving the possibility, however small it is, that he‘ll be able to pull off some kind of deal with the Republicans.  And that‘s why he has Durbin there.  That‘s why this thing is going on.  So the president is saying, Hey, I‘m not saying anything about this now, but he and I know—he and Mitch McConnell had lunch the other week.  I‘m sure they talked about this.  There is a small possibility, if the president sees the chance for it, that he‘ll try to (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Will he take leadership if he gets bipartisan support on long-term debt reduction, even if it goes after entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid?  Will he do it?

FINEMAN:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  Before the election.

FINEMAN:  I think in order to win independent voters that there‘s a chance that he will, if he can pull it off.  If he can pull it off—they can all do it.


FINEMAN:  You know, he did it on health care, in a way.


FINEMAN:  He did it on taxes, in a way.


FINEMAN:  It‘s not impossible.

MATTHEWS:  In the short run, the big story‘s Boehner‘s blunder.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s a big one.  You don‘t say “So be it” when people lose a million jobs.  You don‘t talk like that.  Anyway, Howard Fineman, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Alex Wallace—I mean, Alex Wagner.  I know an Alex Wallace.  We both do.


MATTHEWS:  Coming up: some Republicans are so scared of offending their far-right base that they‘re out there—well (INAUDIBLE) acting like leaders.  How else do you explain Boehner, McConnell and Cantor allowing this birther nonsense to stay alive?  And now a governor, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a possible presidential contender, refused to condemn a new license plate in the state of Mississippi that glorifies a KKK Grand Wizard.  Is this what passes for leadership in the party of Lincoln?  Is that really the party of Lincoln still?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Break out the popcorn, as I‘ve been saying.  This coming Monday, catch the premiere of my new documentary on Bill Clinton.  It‘s called—wow—“President of the World” because no other politician has ever had Clinton‘s worldwide reach, rock star appeal, and let‘s face it, historic mission.


MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Bill Clinton‘s post-presidency is unlike any before.

DAVID MARANISS, CLINTON BIOGRAPHER:  I had always said that Bill Clinton would run for president for the rest of his life, not literally but figuratively.  And I think I underestimated him.  I think he‘s been running for president of the world for the rest of his life.

MATTHEWS:  Following the former president is a little like going on a concert tour—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, my God!  He touched my hand!

MATTHEWS: -- different cities, different countries, exuberant crowds, always the same feeling, that wherever Bill Clinton arrives, it‘s an event, a happening to be experienced and remembered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, he‘s a superstar, isn‘t he?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you can do it here, I can figure out how to put it everywhere and get it funded for you.  I‘ll really help you on it.

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever have a pause where you thought, I don‘t know what I‘m going to do next, and then this began to develop, this almost global role you play now?  It is global.

CLINTON:  Well, in the middle of my second term as president, I began to think about what I would do.  And in general, I thought of two things.  I thought, number one, I want to keep being very active in the things I cared about as president, where I can still have an influence.  And the second thing I wanted to do was to try to explain the world we‘re living in to my fellow Americans and to people around the world.  So everything has sort of grown out of that.


MATTHEWS:  Wow.  “President of the World” premieres this coming Monday night at 10:00 PM Eastern here on MSNBC.  What a show.  Don‘t miss it.

HARDBALL back after this.


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Mississippi governor Haley Barbour is thinking about running for president in 2012 seriously, but as is often the case for Southern conservatives, the top issue facing him today is from 1865.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans in Mississippi want a state-issued license plate to honor a Confederate general who was also a grand wizard of the KKK just after the Civil War.  The NAACP has denounced their push.  Here‘s Governor Barbour Tuesday explaining why he wouldn‘t do the same. 

Let‘s listen.


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI:  First of all, I think the Bureau of Revenue‘s (ph) not going to approve it.  Secondly, I don‘t think that there‘s a chance it‘ll come out of the legislature.  And then I know there‘s not a chance that it‘ll become law.


MATTHEWS (on-camera):  Wow.  That‘s not exactly a profile in courage, is it.  It‘s just the latest example of a Republican leader, especially from down South, refusing to ruffle the feathers of the hard right.

“Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson is an NAA—I‘m sorry, an MSNBC political analyst and Joan Walsh is editor-at-large of  Nothing wrong with the NAACP to be mentioned here.

Let‘s go with the question here.  This tone-deaf thing here—this is a Haley Barbour problem.  A while bag ago, just six weeks ago, apparently, he was out there defending the Citizens Council, a latter-day version of something far—it‘s pretty much the same thing.  What is it about the South, in that deep South, where a politician, who‘s a governor, a very popular one, an effective one, would not want to ruffle the feathers of a group that‘s pushing to honor Bedford Forrest?


think at this point, we have to say this is a Haley Barbour problem.  I

mean, there are other Southern conservative politicians who get it, or at

least who get it after the first iteration, after the first problem.  You

know, Haley Barbour said, Oh, you know, Ole Miss in 1965, there were no

racial problems.  He just says things that are ahistorical, that are just

wrong, and that reflect this incredibly rose-colored view of the old South


MATTHEWS:  Well, what is it that—

ROBINSON: -- that is, in many instances, offensive, to honor—


ROBINSON: -- General Nathan Bedford Forrest—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but Gene, you know—


MATTHEWS: -- segregation and Jim Crow and you grew up in South Carolina.  You know the whole thing.  And I‘m watching it from a distance and I‘m watching a Republican Party that used to sort of duck its head in the South.  Yes, we‘re now the party of Lincoln, we got to be careful about that past.  We can‘t be selling that past.  Now they‘re talking about nullification.  They‘re talking about secession.  They‘re out there selling Confederate Day in Virginia without mentioning slavery.

I mean, they‘re unashamed now.  I‘m not saying they should go around beating their chests about slavery 200 years, 100 years ago. 

ROBINSON:  Well, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t them who did it.  But why act like it wasn‘t there? 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

Well, this isn‘t dog whistle politics.  This is “shout it from the rooftops” kind of politics.




ROBINSON:  I mean, this is very explicit. 

And this is—

MATTHEWS:  Well, why change?  Why are they changing it?  Why is the Republican Party in the South unashamedly pushing the Civil War over again? 


ROBINSON:  Look, there are two possibilities.  It is the modern-day version of the old Southern strategy, but it‘s explicit, like everything is explicit these days.

MATTHEWS:  Make it a white man‘s party.


ROBINSON:  Or in the case of Haley Barbour, it‘s a problem that he has with his own recollection and his own view of the—


MATTHEWS:  Well, dance with the one that brung you. 


WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That could be it. 

Let me go to Joan on this.  Joan, there is a difference now from the way it was even in the ‘60s, when Nixon did his go South thing.  They didn‘t openly come back and say the Civil War went the wrong way.  They weren‘t out there saying, you know, that there wasn‘t any slavery, there wasn‘t any Jim—they weren‘t denying it.  Nixon, to his credit, did end the school system—school system—he didn‘t want to, maybe, but he certainly did. 

And there wasn‘t this game that‘s going on now, which is selling the old cause.  They‘re selling the cause again. 

WALSH:  They are. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Rick Perry and—I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.  Your thoughts. 

WALSH:  No, they absolutely are.  And Haley Barbour has a history of this. 

He‘s also—the other thing he‘s doing here, Chris, is he‘s tweaking the NAACP.  And he‘s done this before.  Once before, the NAACP asked him, would he just ask the Council of Conservative Citizens to yank down his photo from their Web site?  And he said, no, I‘m not going to have—I‘m not going to do that.

So, again, it‘s the NAACP asking him to do something decent, but this is the grand wizard of the KKK, and he‘s tweaking them, and he‘s saying no, and he‘s saying you don‘t have matter and you don‘t have the right to—I shouldn‘t say the right—you can‘t make that claim on me. 

And he‘s doing it to a cheering section that‘s out there, and he knows it, and it‘s worked for him. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the message to African-Americans and the people who care about these things, who are sensitive to them? 

You put up Nathan Bedford Forrest. 

WALSH:  Right. 



MATTHEWS:  Now, he was a Civil War general, a courageous one.  I watched the Civil War on television, on PBS.  I know his role.  But later on, he went back, back home, and was one of the founders, a grand kleagle, of the KKK. 

ROBINSON:  The message to African-Americans is:  Don‘t like me.  Don‘t vote for me.  Work against me as hard as you can.


WALSH:  And I don‘t need your votes. 

ROBINSON:  That‘s the message. 


MATTHEWS:  And it‘s, rub it in your face again. 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  It‘s just—because this guy—this was a bad guy. 

It‘s not just that he was a grand wizard of the KKK, by the way.

WALSH:  Right. 



ROBINSON:  During the Civil War, he ordered the massacre of a group of surrendering black Union troops in a famous incident that, by any standard, certainly by the standard of the day, was a war crime. 

WALSH:  Right.  It was a war crime. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here is John—well, here is John Boehner today with Eric Cantor in the last six weeks.  Let‘s listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  It‘s not my job to tell the American people what to think.  Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.  Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there; that‘s good enough for me.  The president says he‘s a Christian.  I accept him at his word.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  You know, a lot of that has been an issue sort of generated by, not only the media, but others in the country. 

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Is somebody who brings that up just engaging in crazy talk? 

CANTOR:  Well, David, I don‘t think it‘s nice to call anyone crazy. 

GREGORY:  All right. 



BOEHNER:  When you come to—to the Congress of the United States, there are 435 of us.  We‘re nothing more than a slice of America.  And people come with—regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas.  It‘s the melting pot of America.  It‘s not up to me to tell them what to think. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a hell of a loaf that guy is living in.  He‘s defending the—yes, you got to through those other slices of bread here. 

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Look, Joan, I hear things.  We in journalism collect string.  That‘s what we always do.  We try to find out how things fit together. 

You get Michele Bachmann on saying that the founding fathers were really against slavery and did everything they could to stop it.  We put up the facts.  A friend of mine comes up with it -- 10 presidents had slaves, lots of them.  They were trading in them.

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just a—it‘s a sad, tragic part of our history, morally absolutely indefensible. 

But why are they out there saying things?  Why is somebody like Michele Bachmann even talking about trying to clean up the founding fathers and slavery?  Why are they out denying our history?  What is this denial about?  Is it selling something about states‘ rights, something about anti-Washington, something about the hard right always being right, even if it defends slavery?  Is that what they‘re selling?

WALSH:  Well, yes, and they‘re saying—they‘re saying that African-Americans and poor people have really no claim on our conscience, because we have always treated everybody the same, which you and I know is not true.

I mean, the other thing, listening to Boehner say that, I‘m not here to tell Americans what to believe, when in your last segment, he was perfectly happy to tell Americans that it‘s fine to lose federal jobs, because the debt is more important. 


WALSH:  He makes his living telling Americans what to believe.

But when it comes to the question of birthers, he suddenly has an attack of panic and cowardice, because half his base believes the same thing.  There was a poll this week that 51 percent of likely Republican primary voters actually believe that Obama maybe wasn‘t born here. 


WALSH:  That‘s scary.  I hope that poll is wrong, but that‘s what—they‘re playing with fire.  They‘re playing with racist fire.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  They have been playing with fire.

Now, let me ask you, Gene, is this the Republican Party‘s conundrum? 

They‘re a party of two halves. 

ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS:  Establishment Republicans, a lot of people who watch this show, probably business Republicans, who just want less government and lower taxes, just the usual get off my back stuff, and then there‘s new group of crazy people that want—they‘re reactionary to the point of going back to the Civil War.

They want to defend all the bad stuff in our history just to be awful. 

And now the guys in the middle have to buy that. 


MATTHEWS:  The center-right has to buy it.

ROBINSON:  And that new group is where the energy and enthusiasm and manpower and womanpower is for the party right now. 


MATTHEWS:  So, they can‘t stuff it.  They can‘t stuff it back. 

ROBINSON:  Well, they‘re all afraid to.  But they‘re afraid, as Joan pointed out, to do what they get paid to do.  We‘re don‘t—we‘re not paid to tell—I don‘t tell people what to think.

MATTHEWS:  Because it‘s the margin. 

ROBINSON:  Well, then you shouldn‘t be speaker of the House. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, I think it‘s a crazy coalition.  And I think it‘s going to come apart in about Tampa next September, when they have to get together. 


MATTHEWS:  How about when they meet each other, Joan, all these guys from Main Street who run a little business realize they‘re in a party of crazy people? 

Anyway, Eugene Robinson, we have fun at their expense. 

Joan Walsh, thank you for—Joan, thank you.  I haven‘t seen you in a while. 

WALSH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Come back East. 

WALSH:  I will. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next: Republican rising star Chris Christie, boy, is he the guy that—he‘s the hot—well, he has become the flavor of the month.  Everything will be saved, I hear by Joe—you know, Joe Scarborough—everybody is out there saying, bring this guy on.  He‘s going to save us. 

I don‘t know.  He says he‘s not running.  We will check it out in the “Sideshow” next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Here‘s the “Sideshow.” 

First, talk about a low blow down under.  During a sports report on Australian TV, a female anchorwoman made what many heard as a snarky comment about her male co-anchor.  Many believe it had to do with gender.  Well, you will figure it out. 


MARK AISTON, ANCHOR:  And England‘s skipper, Andrew Strauss, arrived in London proudly showing off the little urn.  He will spend four days at home before flying out for the World Cup. 

And, Belinda, I just can‘t understand how something so small can be so impressive. 

BELINDA HEGGEN, ANCHOR:  Well, Mark, you would know about that.  Thank you very much. 

Weather is next with Jane Reilly, but, first, here‘s George Negus. 



MATTHEWS:  Well, everybody is talking about that little back-and-forth.  I like the way she just kept going on there.

Anyway, moving back stateside, Chris Christie goes to Washington.  He‘s the man they all want right now.  He‘s the guy who cuts spending, the guy who tells it like it is, the guy who—let‘s face it, who actually has a personality.  No wonder the R‘s are popping the 2012 question, and popping it the first time he shows up. 


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  Well, that took a long time, didn‘t it? 


CHRISTIE:  I said, what do I have to do, short of suicide, to convince people I‘m not running?

Apparently, I actually have to commit suicide. 


CHRISTIE:  There are lots of people who will run just because the opportunity presents itself.  And I‘m not stupid.  I see the opportunity.  I see it.  That‘s not the reason to run. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, it shows you how lonely the Republicans are at the top.  It‘s Saturday night.  They need a date.  And, oh, are they lonely for the one they can‘t have.

Finally, Arizona ups the ante.  Last year, Republicans out there passed one of the toughest immigration laws in the country.  We know that.  Well, now they‘re taking it one step further.  State lawmakers in Arizona have just proposed a bill that reads—quote—“Before a hospital admits a person for non-emergency care, a hospital admissions officer must confirm that the person is a citizen of the United States, a legal resident of the United States, or lawfully present.”

That‘s right.  The bill requires hospitals to check the immigration status of its parents.  And while it doesn‘t say they should be denied care, it would be obligate, that hospital, to report any illegal immigrant who comes to the emergency room. 

Just guessing, but wouldn‘t that keep someone from coming to the ER?  Inhumane, certainly.  Dangerous, very much so.  I will bet you don‘t see this bill actually passing. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

A new CBS poll shows that a majority of Americans, 51 percent -- 51 percent—disapprove of the health care bill passed by President Obama.  That‘s good news for Republicans, right?  But exactly how many in the same group of people being polled say they do not agree with the Republican push to strip the health care law of its funding?  Fifty-five percent.  A total disconnect here.  Health care reform, can‘t live with it, can‘t live without it -- 55 percent want to keep on funding a bill they say they want to get rid of. 

HARDBALL‘s—well, tonight‘s puzzling “Big Number.”

Up next, the vice president of Common Cause joins us with its complaint against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Did Thomas have an association with a group that had an interest in a case before the court?  Should he have recused himself from the decision?  That‘s what they say.  We will hear the other side, too. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.


I don‘t think American elections should be bankrolled by America‘s most powerful interests. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama made clear of course in that speech that he opposed the Supreme Court‘s ruling in the case known as Citizens United.  And now the group Common Cause is pushing for an investigation into whether Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had a conflict of interests in deciding that case.  They have asked the attorney general to investigate.

Arn Pearson is vice president of Common Cause.  He‘s pushing for that investigation.  Former FEC official—of Chairman, rather, Bradley Smith also joins us.  He says Common Cause is wrong.  So we have both sides here. 

Orrin, let me ask you this question.  Did Justice Thomas take money or gain any kind of perquisite or any kind of favor from a group that had an interest before a Supreme Court decision  Did he take any money or get anything from the Koch brothers or anybody that had an interest in a Supreme Court decision? 

ARN PEARSON, VICE PRESIDENT, COMMON CAUSE:  Well, no, Justice Thomas didn‘t take any money.  And that isn‘t the standard. 


MATTHEWS:  Does did he get any benefit?  Does did he get any benefits from them?  No, answer my question.  Did he take anything?  Because that‘s usually what we look for in conflict of interests.  Did he take anything?  Did he get anything?  Did he get any favors, any benefits at all that might have influenced a decision that he made or voted on with regard to Citizens United? 

PEARSON:  No, he didn‘t.  His wife had a financial interest that we have raised in this matter.


PEARSON:  And he had an—there‘s an appearance of conflict, which is actually the standard.  In order to recuse a judge, you don‘t need a judge to—to receive a financial benefit.  You need an appearance of conflict. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Then what‘s the appearance?  What‘s the appearance?  Because I didn‘t know about this meeting out there.  But you‘re saying because he went to a meeting of the Federalist Society—and the Federalist Society is all over the place in this town here.  I didn‘t know they were a discredited organization.  They‘re a conservative legal society. 

You‘re saying to appear before the Federalist Society is a conflict of interests? 

PEARSON:  No, it‘s not appearing before the Federalist Society.  We‘re raising questions about whether he attended a closed-door political strategy and fund-raising session by Koch Industries and had his way paid for by the Federalist Society. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, he went to that, as well as going to—oh, I see.  And the Federalist Society pay his way.  In other words, this was a pass-through to get him to go to a Koch brothers event.  Is that what you‘re saying? 

PEARSON:  Well, that‘s what it appears to be. 

Now, we raised the question because Koch Industries put out a letter touting the fact that their past events had featured Justice Thomas and Scalia. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PEARSON:  And when we raised those questions, the court put out an official statement saying, no, they spoke as a Federalist Society dinner sponsored by the Kochs, and Justice Thomas just dropped by. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PEARSON:  Well, he—if he just dropped by, then we—we went back and looked at his disclosures forms, and he was paid—he had his accommodations and meals paid for in sunny Palm Springs for four days. 

MATTHEWS:  By the Federalist Society. 

PEARSON:  So, which is it?  Did he—


MATTHEWS:  No, no.  Yes, I know you threw in the sunny—I know you threw in the sunny part to slant this a bit.  I just want to get the facts.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, it‘s not funny. 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s not funny. 

PEARSON:  No, it‘s not.


MATTHEWS:  You‘re accusing this guy of a conflict of interests because he went to a Federalist Society meeting.

And I just want to know if you have the—has any associate justice or any Supreme Court or federal judge ever spoken before a Common Cause event, to your knowledge—to your knowledge? 

PEARSON:  Well, no, I haven‘t, but you‘re—you‘re misunderstanding what the concern is here. 


MATTHEWS:  No, no, I‘m asking, has a Supreme Court—

PEARSON:  It‘s not—

MATTHEWS: -- justice ever spoken to a Common Cause event at all? 


MATTHEWS:  So, what are the groups that you don‘t want Supreme Court justice to speak to?

PEARSON:  This isn‘t about the Federalist Society.  We‘re not challenging a Federalist Society event.


PEARSON:  What we‘re raising a question about is whether he attended a political strategy and fundraising, closed-door session with Koch Industries.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know if he did?

PEARSON:  You know, the judges appear—

MATTHEWS:  Did he?  I‘m just asking.  You‘re accusing him of doing that?


MATTHEWS:  Are you accusing him of going before—involving himself in conservative strategy that would affect a Supreme Court ruling?  Conservative strategy?

PEARSON:  We—it appears that Koch Industries has said he intended.  His disclosure forms show him in Palm Springs for four days on days that appear to be the same day.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he was in a Federalist Society meeting.  OK.  It‘s a Federalist Society meeting, they paid for his trip out there.  He stayed a few extra days he shouldn‘t have.  OK, shouldn‘t have stayed maybe day or two, two nights at the most.  He got three nights or four nights, fine.  That‘s your point.

Now, the question is: do you know if he participated in a strategy meeting yourself?  Would you swear to the fact that he was at a strategy meeting with the Koch brothers?  I don‘t think they should have anything to do with the Koch brothers.


MATTHEWS:  Are you saying he sat in a strategy meeting with him?  What are you saying?

PEARSON:  No, we don‘t.  We‘re asking the question.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you‘re asking the question.

PEARSON:   We don‘t have the information.

MATTHEWS:  OK, fine.

PEARSON:  We‘re asking the question.  We asked the Justice Department to investigate.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s hear from the other gentleman.


MATTHEWS:  Bradley Smith, let me hear Mr. Smith, your view.

SMITH:  Chris, I think it shows the sort of absurdity here.  I mean, there are some—there are legitimate interests about how far justices should go in making speeches.  Justice Ginsburg does it.  Justice Breyer does it.  Scalia does it.  Thomas does it.  And some people say they should all take the approach of Justice Souter, not do anything.

But Justice Thomas has been on the Supreme Court for over 20 years.  He‘s voted to strike down as unconstitutional every single campaign finance case that has come before him in that time.  Nobody I think seriously thinks his decision in Citizens United has anything to do with, you know, him having spoken to a group of people who meet to talk about political issues.

MATTHEWS:  Your response to that, Arn?  Because you‘re saying it affects his decision?

PEARSON:  I think if the—if a liberate justice had attended a Democracy Alliance strategy and political fundraising session—

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t know he attended—

PEARSON: -- the House Republicans would be up in arms.

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t know—I just asked you, I just want you to make your charge here.  Are you charging an associate justice with sitting in on a strategy session?

PEARSON:  I am raising the question based on the Koch Industries‘ own statement that he was featured at a strategy session, and by his disclosure forms that suggest that he was there, and asking the court to provide the American public with a clear explanation of whether he was there or not.

MATTHEWS:  And he was at a Koch brothers‘ event—was he at a Federalist Society event or a Koch brothers‘ event?

PEARSON:  Exactly.  And, you know, there—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking the question.  Was he at a Federalist Society event, which he clearly put on his form?  It‘s on all the form, four days paid for by the Federalist Society.  He‘s not denying it.  He said he was there.  It‘s all on the record.  He did that.

You‘re saying it was something different.  He was on Koch brothers‘ event.

PEARSON:  We think there‘s a strong likelihood that it was, yes.



PEARSON:  There‘s no record of a Federalist Society event, so—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mr. Smith?

SMITH:  Well, Chris, let me take this further, of course, to give an idea of the nature of Common Cause‘s complaint.  They‘ve got several counts.

And one of alleged counts, so to speak, is that Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court.  His wife is Ginni Thomas.  Ginni Thomas worked for a group called Liberty Central.  Liberty Central has a board.  On the board sits a man named Matt Schlapp.

Matt Schlapp runs a political consulting business.  One of his many clients has, at times, been the Koch brothers.  The Koch brothers used the constitutional liberties that the court affirmed in Citizens United, and some disagree with that decision, but the court just said these liberties applied to millions of Americans.  And the Koch brothers then used that liberty in the last campaign.

From that, Common Cause wants you to hold that Justice Clarence Thomas should be disqualified.  We follow that circle all the way back.

I just don‘t think it passes the seriousness test and I think it‘s just a partisan effort to sort of discredit the court and discredit that decision.  And it‘s the kind of thing that historically liberalists have sort of championed as the independence of the court.  And we shouldn‘t let, you know, conservatives or others make these broadsided attacks on them.

And here, I think, you know, Common Cause is engaging in that kind of tactic.  This is not to excuse what conservatives may have done in the past.  I tend to agree with the old standard.  There‘s no question of bias here and this complaint is really just to gain attention and try to discredit the court.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Arn Pearson.  And thank you, Bradley Smith.

Up next: Bernie Madoff, he says the big investment banks, quote, “had to know” he was running a Ponzi scheme.  Is Madoff right?  Was everyone willing to look the other way just to make a buck, or this guy just using jailhouse pleading going on here?  That‘s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  The new White House Press Secretary Jay Carney finally met the press there.  I was watching it.  Carney, a former “TIME” magazine reporter, has—well, the challenge of straddling the old line between his former colleagues and his new job.  A topic he addressed in his first question with the press.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I work to promote the president and the message that he‘s trying—the messages he‘s trying to convey to the American people.  But I also work with the press to try to help you do your jobs, to help you cover the White House, cover the administration, and report on what we‘re doing here.


MATTHEWS:  Carney replaced Robert Gibbs, who left to work on President Obama‘s reelection campaign.

HARDBALL will be right back.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

That man, Bernie Madoff, he‘s in federal prison.  But he broke his silence for the first time since his arrest, like he‘s (ph) in the paper today, telling “New York Times” the big banks and hedge funds out there that did business with him had no problem turning a blind eye to his massive Ponzi scheme.  He said, quote, “They had to know.  But their attitude was sort of, ‘If you‘re doing something wrong, we don‘t want to know about it.‘”  In an e-mail he wrote, Bernie Madoff, “I am saying that the banks and funds were complicit in one form or another.”

For more on this jailhouse interview, let‘s turn to Jim Cramer, host of CNBC‘s “Mad Money.”

Jim, I hear you‘re skeptical as I was of anybody talking in federal prison.  First, they all say they‘re innocent.  He‘s not trying that line.  That won‘t work.  But he‘s trying to say, I‘m not the only one.  It was a much bigger gang.

You know what the old line liberals like to use?  At our worst, I must say.  We‘re all guilty.  We‘re all guilty.


MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s trying—let‘s be serious now.  Banks are supposed to have a fiduciary responsibility.  They‘re supposed to keep an eye on what goes on.  They‘re not just big piggy banks.

If this guy is getting a lot of people to invest in his Ponzi scheme, they‘re all getting paid back with rapid cash that seems to be coming from the second line of people giving money.  Doesn‘t the bank notice a Ponzi scheme in operation?  Can‘t they see it just by looking at the books?

JIM CRAMER, HOST, CNBC‘S “MAD MONEY”:  I know some of the banks that are being suggested that they were complicit.  Or, you know, for instance, they‘re looking at the trustees of JPMorgan.

I think that they may have been confused by Madoff.  When I say confused, it just seemed like he was doing too well.  But, Chris, when you see something like that, your natural instinct is to be able to say, well, wait a second, what does the SEC think of this?  If the Securities and Exchange Commission has blessed this, who are we to question it?

And, Chris, that had been the story.  I had a friend who was trying to replicate the returns that Madoff was getting.


CRAMER:  Couldn‘t do it.  But didn‘t feel it was any of his business to be able to tell the SEC, listen, I can‘t do it.  Always felt there was a missing piece of the puzzle.  Without the government, Chris, you can‘t possibly take it upon yourselves to say the guy is guilty.

MATTHEWS:  Well, can you see looking at the balance sheet of a bank that a guy is pouring money out of it without making any investments?  He‘s simply shifting the most recent deposits back to the original depositors so they‘re going to spread—this is the best return there‘s even been in history.

CRAMER:  No, you can‘t see.  I have been—I have been both on the buy side—I ran a hedge fund, and the sell side.  I worked as a broker at Goldman.  And it would be almost impossible to detect the in-out like that.


CRAMER:  And there‘s always an excuse for it.  And, remember, there‘s a confidentiality issue.  We probably don‘t think there should be confidentiality.  In retrospect with the guy like Madoff who wished that everyone blew the whistle.

But these are very sensitive things.  And, you know, you call Bernie Madoff, and you say, listen, I don‘t understand the money in and out, he pulls the wire.  He doesn‘t—or he says the SEC was just in here, which is what I understand he said constantly.


CRAMER:  And, you know, you can question me, but the SEC gave me a clean bill of health.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in June of 2007, a high-level risk management officer for JPMorgan Chase sent an e-mail to colleagues that said, “I am sitting at lunch with a bank executive who just told me that there is a well-known cloud over the head of Madoff and that his returns are speculated to be part of a Ponzi scheme.  He said if we Google the guy, we can see articles for ourselves.”

Is that evidence that they know?

CRAMER:  No, it‘s not, because there was a “Barron‘s” article which said that there could be a magazine that writes about business, that there could be issues, there were a lot of people popping off there could be issues.  That was the common parlance.  But you know what?  Again, I come back to—I know I thought this, too.  I heard the things as I read the articles.  But I was always thinking (ph), it can‘t be—

MATTHEWS:  Why is he shoveling this stuff out of the federal prison down in North Carolina?  Why”?  What‘s his game here?

He‘s in for life.  He‘s not getting out.  Is this just to screw people, get in the headlines, he gets to read “The New York Times” or something today?  What is this about?

CRAMER:  I think it‘s exactly that.  I think he wants to try to bring down other institutions.  He‘s been brought down.  I think he‘s also—immediately says that the Wilpons, for instance, who really did cash in on it, the owner of the Mets, that they were totally innocent.

If anyone knew about it, and, of course, this all alleged, but if anyone knew about it, it would have been the Wilpons.  They say that they don‘t.  But, you know, this is a story that is being thrown out there.

It‘s a little outrageous because the friends who I know at some of these banks who were very skeptical of Madoff, made it—they went over and over again, listen, drop the skepticism.  The SEC says this guy is Mr.  Clean.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  I love you, Cramer.  You‘re the best.

CRAMER:  Thank you.  Take care.

MATTHEWS:  Philly, Cramer.

CRAMER:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to do it.  Anyway, “Mad Money” airs weeknights at 6:00 and 11:00 eastern on CNBC.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a call to arms.  I never do this.  I‘m doing it now.  We need to get some answers about why we went to war with Iraq.  You can help.  I‘m asking you to do something tonight.  It‘s not hard.  You can do it.  It‘s making a phone call.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a call to arms.  I want everyone watching to call your United States senator and ask him or her to support hearings into the corrupt, bogus, downright unpatriotic way this country was marched to war eight years ago.  Here‘s the number for the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.

We now know from the secretary of defense‘s own hand that there were

no nuclear weapons in Iraq, no production facility to make them, no

evidence of any purchases of such weapons, no attempt to buy such weapons -



This being the case, why are 4,400 Americans dead?  Why are 100,000 Iraqis killed?  Why do we violate our own opposition to aggression by being the aggressor ourselves?

I ask you to call your senator and cite the Rumsfeld book, cite the National Intelligence Estimates of late 2002, which he cites, and the report of the intelligence director of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense.  All this in the book, all this evidence that there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, despite all the talk by President Bush and his people about mushroom clouds.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is John Kerry, you could call him.  But the best people to call are your own senators, Democratic or Republican.  Don‘t they want an explanation of this historic fraud against the American people—a fraud that cost thousands of our lives, their spouses, their fathers, their brothers?

“Senator,” you could say or write, “Secretary Rumsfeld admits in his new book that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons.  Had he admitted this during the war or before the war, rather, the American people would not have backed the war.

Why aren‘t you and the rest of the Senate raising hell about this?  If we had gotten this confession from Rumsfeld before shots were fired, we could have stopped the U.S. attack on Iraq.  Those lost people will be with us today.”

And that will do it.

The time has come for full-fledged national hearings on the methods used to take America into a war that never should have been fought.  It should never been because it was based on something that was never true.

President George W. Bush and his people told the American people—and the world—again and again that Saddam Hussein posed a nuclear threat to our country, that he would hit us with a nuclear bomb.  That threat was a deal maker that got America to go on the attack.

Will just one U.S. senator stand up and demand that this be investigated?  It‘s time that we see nationally televised hearings like the Fulbright hearings, those great hearings on Vietnam.  This time, we need to find out who got us into this war and for God‘s sake why?  Why did they start a war for a reason they knew wasn‘t true?

I‘m not going to stop asking this question—as the great Adlai Stevenson once said—until hell freezes over.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.




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