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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, May 9th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Howard Fineman, Roger Cressey, Michael Sheehan, David Corn, Sue Herera, Jeanne Cummings, John Feehery, Ray LaHood


Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Never been better.  That‘s bin Laden, of course.  Best week ever, I‘d say, for the country.  President Obama is coming off the best week of his presidency, certainly.  Osama bin Laden‘s been got, the economy‘s creating jobs, the Republicans look, let‘s face it, less and less able to find a presidential hopeful to even give a uniform to, much less put out there on the field.

And all that is giving the president a boost in the polls.  Our new tonight NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll has the president‘s job approval up to 52 percent—it‘s tough to get higher these days—with just 41 percent disapproving.  But that‘s our top story tonight.

Plus, President Obama says bin Laden had a support network in Pakistan to help him hide.  The big question so far is whether Pakistan‘s officials themselves were part of that network.  Who in Pakistan is nervous tonight?  Just think about it.  And what names are in that treasure trove of computer files our Navy SEALs picked up in bin Laden‘s compound?

And why are so many Republicans unhappy with their presidential candidates?  A group out in Iowa—and this is really something new—is practically begging New Jersey governor Chris Christie to get in the race.  That‘s not a good sign for the other candidates.

And remember when the Republican governor of Florida rejected those billions in federal money to build a high-speed railroad down there?  Well, a big chunk of that money will now go towards increasing speeds between Washington and Boston.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joins us tonight about where that money is going instead of Florida.  That‘s about building America big things, like we did before.

And finally, the great Tina Fey returned to “Saturday Night Live.”  We got a great bit of that for you tonight, reprising her best role ever, Sarah Palin.


TINA FEY, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  It is just so great to be back on Fox News, a network that both pays me and shows me the questions ahead of time.


FEY:  And I just hope that tonight, the lamestream media won‘t twist my words by repeating them verbatim.



MATTHEWS:  God!  I think she looks better than Sarah Palin.  Just guessing.  Much more of that tonight in the “Sideshow.”

We start with possibly the best week ever for President Obama.  Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and The HuffingtonPost Media Group editorial director.  And Jeanne Cummings joins us, as well.  She‘s assistant managing editor for Politico.

Let‘s start with Jeanne.  You‘ve been on it a while.  I wanted to—let‘s recap the week that Obama had.  Well, the week before was consumed with Donald Trump‘s birther barkering.  President Obama released his long-form birth certificate—seems like a million years ago—and then let Trump have it at the White House Correspondents dinner.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Mr. Trump recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership, and so ultimately, you didn‘t blame Little John or Meatloaf.  You fired Gary Bussey.


OBAMA:  And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.


OBAMA:  Well handled, sir.  Well handled.


MATTHEWS:  While everyone was laughing at Trump—at Trump, the president knew that something much more serious was afoot, already under way, in fact, on Sunday.


OBAMA:  Today, at my direction the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability.  No Americans were harmed.  They took care to avoid civilian casualties.  After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that extraordinary news took the president to Ground Zero in New York, of course, last week to honor the victims of 9/11 and also to meet with their loved ones.

That same day, by the way, while the president was looking very presidential, five Republicans met in South Carolina to talk about being president.  Safe to say that his shadow loomed large over that group.  Well, the next day, a jobs report showed the third straight month of job growth—look at it there -- 244,000 new jobs, though the unemployment rate did tick up to 9.  But the important thing in that report is all the new private sector jobs.

The president went to Indiana to promote his economic message, and then it was on to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, to personally thank the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden.  In a taped interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, last night, the president talked about bin Laden‘s death, but message certainly summed up the whole week.


OBAMA:  Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my presidency, but I think for the United States since I‘ve been president.


MATTHEWS:  God, Kroft always gets the good interviews!  Anyway, let me ask—let me go right now to Jeanne Cummings.  And I‘m putting this together, but you know, I do think weeks can become iconic and they do have a value beyond how they bump the polls.  And later on down the road, those iconic moments are remembered back and forth and they do tend to add to the sort of the permanent value of a politician.  Your thoughts about the last week?

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO:  I agree with you, Chris, that this could become a milestone, a turning point in his presidency if things stay on track.  I think that the voters got another look at the president.  We often talk about and write about how he takes close counsel, how he doesn‘t react, you know, very emotionally to things, and that sort of thing.  And what they saw was, you know, a pretty cool customer making a very tough decision.

And that lends insight, I think, into his presidency as a whole.  Especially when people criticize his ability to emote and be warm with voters, I think voters will overlook that if they feel confident in his leadership behind the scenes when it comes to a big call.  And this was a very big call that they‘re going to remember.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s true.  And I think—Howard, your thoughts, just right up front.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, I think Jeanne‘s absolutely right.  And in talking to White House people, as I was this afternoon, they know that the polls could change.  They know all of that.  But one of them told me, Look, I think the voters saw some things about the president as a leader and those are important to us and it‘s important to the president politically for the reason Jeanne said.

Here‘s a guy who sometimes is criticizing for—criticized for being too close on the details.  This was a case where that characteristic, being close on the details, really mattered.  This was a beautifully operated and executed maneuver here that he was closely involved in—cool customer, focused.  Those are things people will remember.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I thought it was interesting—Jeanne, you first—the question of the way he played it as the operations chief, in a sense, overseeing the operation.  It wasn‘t just policy.  It was execution in this case and how he wanted it done.

The president—according to Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, who very much impresses me these days—I‘ve known him forever.  This is a wonderful thing he‘s working at right now in this role.  He said the president only had a 50/50 shot.

And I was thinking about whether Osama was in that compound and I was thinking, compare that to Donald Trump‘s shot.  And this sounds almost ludicrous, but this is the way we were covering the news a couple of weeks ago—Donald Trump.  He was betting the president didn‘t have a driver‘s license, basically, that he didn‘t have a birth certificate, that there was something wrong with his very identity.  That was a bad bet to make because the president knew everything.

And here the president bet a much better bet, a much better gamble, whereas Donald Trump looks really bad now.  He was betting against the president being who he said he was, an American.  And now here‘s the president taking a bet, as well, more calculated, better odds.  But boy, it came out for him.  He got—he went—bet on black and it came up black.

CUMMINGS:  Well, it certainly made the president‘s comments—when he unveiled his birth certificate, he towards the end of the comment said, I‘ve got better things to do than this...


CUMMINGS:  ... or words to that effect.  And then when I saw what happened—what he was really doing, those words took on much greater meaning.  And I think that that summed up how much you have political farce in the silly season of a presidential campaign and real governing that has to go on in the White House.

All White Houses have to run trains at several different levels.  I mean, they were writing a humorous speech at the same time that they were having to plan this incredibly serious and dangerous mission.  All White Houses have to pull that off.  But the birther thing was such an oddity in the middle of it, I thought it gave really new meaning to his comments that day.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at this, Howard, new NBC poll numbers out today.  President Obama‘s overall approval ratings up to 52 from 49 last month, not a huge bump.  However, approval for his handling of the economy‘s down to 37.  No change there.  That‘s probably driven by the high gas prices.  Looking at 2012, 45 percent now say they‘ll probably vote to reelect the president, 30 percent said they‘ll probably vote for Republican candidate.

What‘s interesting in those numbers, Howard, is that it seems like although the president‘s numbers haven‘t jumped up in terms of probably vote for him from 43 to 43 (SIC), the number of people really planning to vote for the Republican candidate dropped from 38 to 30.  In other words, they‘re not sure.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  The moderate to conservative person...

FINEMAN:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  ... isn‘t quite sure where they‘re at now.

FINEMAN:  That would comport with what my sense of this is.  I think he—the president probably shook loose some of those weak Republicans, meaning the ones who aren‘t dead set against him...

MATTHEWS:  Not haters.

FINEMAN:  ... not haters, and may have forced them to take another look at him.  This is what the White House people are telling me, that—take another look at him.  Maybe he‘s got some leadership qualities, maybe he‘s got some positives here, as a leader.  Leave the ideology out of it, leave the—that stuff out of it.  But you want a strong, smart leader who takes calculated risks—key word “calculated”—in defense of the United States at a dangerous time in our world‘s history.  Those people aren‘t necessarily judging based strictly on ideology, and they‘ll take another look at the president depending on what happens over the next several months.

MATTHEWS:  Your thought, Jeanne, on that very point of the president and the way these numbers are moving—the word I think you used was “shake loose” some people in the hard right.

CUMMINGS:  I do think that this is a moment for the White House to try to take advantage of.  I think that—dedicating a full week to sending home the message about Osama bin Laden was important, and they did that well.  However, I don‘t think we can underestimate the threat of the economy and the recovery.  There are very good indicators right now, one that got lost in the mix with all of those—breaking news was that retail sales are also up, which is an indication about consumer confidence.


CUMMINGS:  But it‘s still very fragile and the unemployment number is a really dangerous number for the president.  And Chris, just for your show, I went and took a look at some of the states where things are particularly bad, and many of them are the hard-fought states that the president won last time that now have even higher unemployment rates than the national average.  They include Florida.  They include Ohio.  They include Oregon.  They include Nevada.  All of these states are going to be really, really important.  And may I repeat, Florida, and may I repeat Ohio.  So they really need to take a look at...


CUMMINGS:  ... you know, it still is—you got to put together the victory, and so those—those—the economy is still really, really important.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  The danger—dangerous thing in lot of those states that Jeanne just mentioned are that housing prices are falling again.  In other words, a big concern here is housing prices.  Washington, D.C., is the only metropolitan area where housing prices are going up.

MATTHEWS:  What happens when the housing prices go down?  Explain what that does to people.

FINEMAN:  Well, what it does is it doesn‘t give them confidence that they can build something under their family.  For the last generation, stable if not increasing home prices have given people confidence to borrow and also just confidence...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s your wealth.

FINEMAN:  It‘s your wealth.  It‘s the future of the economy.  When that‘s going down, that drags everything down in terms of people‘s view of the future.  And in the states Jeanne mentioned, it is a huge problem.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s the Milton Friedman argument that—the economist who says that you spend according to your wealth, not according to your income.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  The idea that your wealth—and I look at these problems.  Cash money—we got the—gas prices are up.  That‘s cash you don‘t have in your pocket.  You don‘t have wealth, either.

FINEMAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You ask the people—they don‘t have wealth, don‘t have cash.

FINEMAN:  They‘re under no illusions at the White House that this is going to be easy.  But if the president can have a couple of moments of leadership on the economy of the kind that he had in this very dramatic situation...


FINEMAN:  But it‘s a more difficult thing to do.  It‘s a much more difficult thing to have a dramatic moment of leadership on the economy.  The economy is a long, slow slog.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Jeanne had—I think there‘s something moving, though.  I‘ve looked at these three-month totals and I think things are moving.  I think retail sales—I think it‘s going to be an interesting summer.  People are going to travel.  They‘re going to travel inside the United States.  They‘re going to buy that gas.  That‘s what‘s going to happen.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman, and thank you, Jeanne Cummings.

Coming up: It‘s an intelligence gold mine.  What do you think (INAUDIBLE) what‘s in that bag of stuff they hauled out of that compound and brought back to us?  The Navy SEALs have brought home a treasure of information about the al Qaeda network.  Imagine the people in that Pakistan government who are a little nervous tonight.  Their knees are knocking tonight, wondering how fast that line‘s going to get to them.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:   Well, former vice president Dick Cheney has more nice things to say about President Obama.  Here he is on Sunday on, where else, Fox.


RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘ve got to give him a lot of credit for making the decision to have SEAL Team 6 conduct the raid that got bin Laden.  There‘s no question that was his responsibility, and I think he handled it well.  I give him high marks for making that decision.


MATTHEWS:  Still, Cheney couldn‘t resist knocking the president for ending torture, even though there‘s no evidence at all about the role it may have played in capturing bin Laden.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Today we learned that Pakistani officials will allow U.S. intelligence people access to Osama bin Laden‘s three wives over there, or at the very least share the information gathered in the Pakistanis‘ investigation, interrogation of those people.  What‘s the significance of Pakistan‘s cooperation?

Joining me right now is Roger Cressey and Michael Sheehan, both of whom are terrorism analysts for NBC News.  Thank you, gentlemen.

What is the significance?  He has three wives.  That sort of (INAUDIBLE) most people, you (ph) have three.  Are they going to cooperate?

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, they are.  This shows that they are going to try and cooperate.  But what it also shows, Chris, is that the wives don‘t have any information that could implicate the Pakistani government in sheltering bin Laden.  There‘s no way they would have let us talk to them unless they were confident they didn‘t know anything.  And we shouldn‘t be surprised.  The wives weren‘t going to know anything here.  But it‘s a public way to say, Hey, we‘re working with the Americans post-bin Laden raid.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the significance, Michael, of releasing the picture we‘re looking at right now, of this sort of elderly guy with a white beard in a cold place with no heat, apparently, with a big blanket around him and a hat on, a watch cap, sort of, watching with a flicker (ph) a picture of himself?

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, Chris, I think it matters a lot.  It matters to a lot of different audiences.  First let me talk about the American audience.  A lot of times, terrorism analysts like to paint al Qaeda as 10 feet tall, as a boogeyman under every rock.


SHEEHAN:  I think this shows bin Laden is just a feeble old man on top of a crumbling organization.  Still has a lot of threat out there, but we should take it in context.  Also, for his adherents, I think also it impacts upon them.  They see him in this house in Pakistan, in a military town and not out in the mountains, in the caves, like he likes that footage that he was (ph) watching on Al Jazeera, showing him as much more virile.


SHEEHAN:  So I think it—for multiple audiences, it‘s a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the cache of information.  What‘s your hunch, as a guy that does this for a living?  What do you think we have in that bag?


MATTHEWS:  Michael, you first.  Go ahead.

SHEEHAN:  Oh, I‘m sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

SHEEHAN:  Roger and I both worked on these cases a lot in the past.  This is great news.  And from my experience—and I remember some of the big hits and takedowns we had in 2003, 2004.  The information that came out of those raids, Chris, had long-time impact both on operations around the world and back in the United States because they lead to people, to phone numbers, to international connectivity al Qaeda and these movements have.  And I think it‘s going to put tremendous pressure on the organization.  We‘re going to see investigations and operations stemming out of this takedown of locations, phone numbers and people for months and even years ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s possible the United States doesn‘t know already that Pakistan was involved in harboring this guy?

CRESSEY:  Well, I think it‘s possible that they don‘t know the individuals.  So—we talk about the Pakistani government—what does that mean?  I don‘t think it was senior levels of the government consciously providing support.  There could be members of the government at very low levels who are doing it.  So that doesn‘t mean Islamabad was on top of it all.

Now, to—to—to Mike‘s point, the mother lode here is, yes, there is a little bit of threat information and high-value targets.  The real opportunity is down the road, understanding this mosaic of how the al Qaeda network operates, putting pieces together, and then painting a picture where we can then proactively go after the network in ways we couldn‘t before.  That‘s where the real intelligence value is of this.  This is a gift that keeps on giving.

MATTHEWS:  Do you guys in the field—I‘m going to ask you first, then Michael—do you guys in the field construct like these walls, like “The Usual Suspects,” where you put them on a wall, where they will be able to—like they—what they used to do in the mob, like Eliot Ness, they would show the different families lined up and where they met?

CRESSEY:  Oh, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you do that?

CRESSEY:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you draw those boards? 


So, Mike and I will remember this.  When we were in the government together the CIA would bring link analysis charts into us when I was at the White House with names and photos of people.  And we tried to understand the inter—the interrelationships.  There was a lot of unknown.  And the unknown was always what worried us the most. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, your thoughts on that?  Do you have any recollection of how they do it?  Like in the mob, you always see the FBI with pictures of how the—they have the families figured out in New York and in Chicago and that stuff. 

SHEEHAN:  Oh, absolutely, Chris.  When I was at NYPD, we worked with the FBI together to do these link analyses. 

In NYPD, we used to do it on big pieces of paper with stubby pencils, which is just as effective.  Now, of course, it‘s all computerized.  And it is quicker to fill in those gaps.  But just imagine a link analysis as a house with a line over to a phone number, with another line over to a person. 

And as investigators work these leads, put people under surveillance, put wiretaps on—legal, of course—and do their operations, those networks just keep expanding and each time there is a little node on that sheet, you run another investigation, and you begin to break down the organization and penetrate it. 

I can tell you this is going to be very exciting for those people, as that information, by the way, which is being shared domestically already, which is another good sign, that the sharing is happening, and people are starting to run investigations here in the United States based on that information from overseas. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m asking you about differences now.  This is—you guys are both professionals.  I don‘t even know if you have any politics at all, assume you have none.  It‘s probably a fair bet.

The Republicans have been hacking the Democrats, saying they don‘t get it.  This is a war, blah, blah, blah.  They love the war terminology.  And Democrats have always sort of said, no, we have got to find out how they did it in terms of methodology.  But—and the other was that you have got to say Islamofascism four times a day.  If you don‘t say it, there‘s something wrong with you. 

But when it comes to catching these guys, the lingo doesn‘t matter, does it?  It is about using the technology of criminology.  Isn‘t it finding how to make these connections? 


MATTHEWS:  Or is it—is there any ideological difference in the way Democrats and Republicans terrorist-catchers operate? 

CRESSEY:  Well, ideology matters...


MATTHEWS:  To America, our ideology.

CRESSEY:  Right.  But in terms of the—in terms of the professionals, the operatives, it doesn‘t matter. 

When it comes to al Qaeda, the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is not that great.  We both use Predators.  We both use special operations forces.  We both use...


MATTHEWS:  What‘s the difference? 

CRESSEY:  The difference—there are several things.  First, you don‘t hear Obama talking about the war on terror, because there is no war on terror.  Terror is not an ideology.  It is a tool.  You him talking about the war against al Qaeda, number one.

Number two, it is trying to change the narrative on message vs.  messenger, OK?  If the United States is going to put out a message regarding how we defeat al Qaeda and why choosing terrorism is counter to what we in the West and elsewhere believe is right, then we have got to have a proper messenger doing that.  That—that‘s part of it. 

And we have also got to be careful that we don‘t say or do things that plays into the narrative that al Qaeda and others have been trying to perpetuate about the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Your thoughts, Michael?  How are the two different?  Don‘t say war on terrorism, more about focus on al Qaeda, more going after an institution, not sort of a vague thing.  And don‘t think about a war on a methodology.  Think about a war against people using a methodology. 

SHEEHAN:  I agree with—I agree with Roger, Chris, and both of us have worked on both sides of both administrations in the White House and in other organizations.  And I think he‘s right.

At the operation level, there‘s very little difference.  The one thing I like what this administration is doing—and I think the Bush administration overhyped the threat a little bit, and I talked about that in a book I wrote several years ago, that sometimes we just paint these guys as too big and that plays to their narrative, because terrorism is an instrument of the weak.

They attack unarmed and innocent people because they are weak.  And when we overexaggerate their threat, we empower them.  So, I like the way this administration has toned this down a little bit.  And this recent attack against bin Laden and his capture and these images, again, put this threat, which is serious, but in context. 


SHEEHAN:  If we continue to hammer this organization, we can

marginalize them.  They are not going to go away, but we can reduce their -

then to a nuisance, rather than a significant strategic threat. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you worried about 9/11/11, Michael, still? 

SHEEHAN:  Of course.  We always do.  When I was in New York City, we worried about that every day. 

But the organization is being debilitated, is being dismantled.  And that makes the chances of a more sophisticated attack much, much more difficult for—for al Qaeda.  They maybe have a one-off attack here or there, but strategically they are diminished.  And this is—if we can keep the momentum going, I think we can see major progress against them in the next three to five years. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thanks, gentlemen, for coming on. 

Thank you, Roger.

You are the best, you guys.  Thank you so much, Roger Cressey and Michael Sheehan.

Up next:  Tina Fey brings Sarah Palin back to “Saturday Night Live.”  This has got to be the greatest impression ever.  I mean, sometimes—I‘m not going to talk about it anymore.  It‘s—she‘s so good.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First up:  She‘s back.

On this weekend‘s “SNL,” Tina Fey returned to her role as frontierswoman/presidential candidate Sarah Palin. 


TINA FEY, ACTRESS:  It is just so great to be back on FOX News, a network that both pays me and shows me the questions ahead of time. 


FEY:  And I just hope that, tonight, the lamestream media won‘t twist my words by repeating them verbatim. 


FEY:  As for boning up on experience and policy, I‘m planning a trip to the Middle East, where I will be filming a cameo in “Hangover 3,” the third “Hangover.” 


FEY:  The fellows go to bar, and I‘m there. 


FEY:  I also recently purchased Rosetta Stone English. 



FEY:  I want to acknowledge that, this week, we finally vanquished one of the world‘s great villains.  And I for one am thrilled to say good riddance to Katie Couric. 




MATTHEWS:  Wow, one of the great send-ups in TV history, I would say. 

Next up:  Pot, meet kettle.  Longtime George W. Bush aide Andy Card is accusing—can‘t believe this one—accusing President Obama of grandstanding over getting bin Laden.  Card told German newspaper “Der Spiegel”—quote—“I think President Obama has pounded his chest a little too much.  He can take pride in it, but he does not need to show it so much.”

Well, lest we forget that old Andy himself was chief of staff when President Bush himself gave that 2003 Iraq victory speech, remember, you know, the one on the aircraft carrier in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner.  That war in Iraq, by the way, is still now happening. 

Anyway, at least this president waited until he accomplished something before saying he did.  Card wasn‘t the only former Bushie to whack at that time president.  As we showed you earlier, Dick Cheney was generally complimentary of how President Obama handled the bin Laden mission.  That was nice, but Cheney, being Cheney—Doesn‘t that sound like a good torture advocate name, by the way? -- he couldn‘t help but stick to it the president on this very issue. 


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I still am concerned about the fact that I think a lot of the techniques that we had used to keep the country safe for more than seven years are no longer available, that they have been sort of taken off the table, if you will.

It‘s not clear to me today if we still have an interrogation program that we could put somebody through, should, we capture a high-value detainee. 


MATTHEWS:  Where would we be without this fellow? 

Anyway, he says high-value detainee the way some people say, I want waffles. 

Anyway—anyway, I have got an interesting thought.  Why don‘t have we have Cheney try that water-boarding thingamajig of his on Karl Rove and Scooter to really find out who said what in that CIA leak case?  I think they are fair game, to use a phrase. 

Up next:  What does it mean for Republicans when their de facto front-runner, Mitt Romney, might sit out two of the three first debates?  What‘s that—What, they don‘t even does—he doesn‘t even do debates? -- or that a group out in Iowa is practically begging—they‘re—walk to New Jersey to get Chris Christie to get in the race. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sue Herera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closed modestly higher as investors went bargain-hunting among commodities, the Dow Jones industrials climbing 46 points, the S&P 500 adding six.  And the Nasdaq was up 15.  Commodities rebounded across the board after Friday‘s huge sell-off—silver, gold, oil, and copper all higher, and all helping lift the energy and materials sectors. 

Financials were weak, however, after Citigroup‘s one-for-10 reverse stock split.  And AIG slumped as the government gets ready to sell more shares of that bailed-out insurer to the public. 

In earnings news, Tyson Foods slumped, despite delivering better-than-expected revenue and an improved outlook.  Investors are concerned that it is having trouble raising its prices.  But food distributor Sysco‘s shares soared on strong earnings and solid demand. 

And, finally, FDIC head Sheila Bair is stepping down after a five-year term, during which she helped craft the government‘s response to the economic crisis. 

And that‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—and now back to Chris and HARDBALL.   

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As Barack Obama comes off a monumental week in his presidency, Republicans across the country are looking for, well, the best candidate to run against him in 2012.  In Iowa—this is a big one—donors, contributors, or big-money people are going outside the field.  They‘re planning to fly to New Jersey to try to seduce or court Governor Chris Christie and lure him into running.  Can they succeed?  Is he someone the White House would actually see as a formidable opponent? 

Well, David Corn is an MSNBC political analyst and bureau chief for “Mother Jones.”  And John Feehery is a Republican consultant.

Gentlemen, it‘s great to have you on. 

I want to start with guy who I think might be more attuned to what‘s actually happening over there. 


MATTHEWS:  John Feehery, it‘s great to have you on.

I‘m looking at Chris Christie.  I find him—we had dinner with him the other night.  He was at the Correspondents Dinner with NBC and MSNBC.  He is a regular person.  Forget the politics, for me, just regular guy. 

You can connect with him. 

What do you think?  Is he better than the field you got? 

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I really like Chris Christie.  I think he is in touch with the concerns of the common man.  I think he offers an a really strong kind of leadership, which I think is very appealing in many ways. 

You know, for the Iowa conservatives to go court him is kind of odd, because he‘s not necessarily in tune with them on a lot of issues.  Of course, he‘s also said that he has no interest in running and probably won‘t run.  But I really like the guy. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s why we like him.  I guess why people like anybody, even in the news business, we always like the guy who says—it is like the one that got away when you are dating.


DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I want to know if they brought a glass slipper when they went to see him. 

I can‘t think of anyone who has ever been beseeched into running for the presidency.  You have got to want it.  You have got to have a vision. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know how you get drafted?  Don‘t run.

CORN:  Don‘t run.  Well, yes, because everybody looks good before they get out there and start saying what they really think, what they really do...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know why he looks good.  Let me ask why.  He can

as we say in Philly, he can talk.  He can talk.  You can actually hear him.  When he speaks, he has attitude you get—you get across.  These other guys, you could put Mitt Romney at this table for an hour, he wouldn‘t convince you of anything because he wouldn‘t see passionate about anything. 

FEEHERY:  Well, that‘s not the point.  He talks with great passion and great certainty. 


FEEHERY:  And, sometimes in leadership, you have got to speak with great certainty.  And, boy, he really does that.  That‘s the best thing about him. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think the question is, he‘s also pro-life, which I know may not matter in terms of the Constitution over the eight years of his presidency.  We will still have Roe v. Wade in effect, but it soothes the concerns of the people in the cultural right. 

FEEHERY:  Oh, no question.  And I think that‘s one of the checkoff points.  And I think he has got that. 

There are some other issues that he—because he is from New Jersey, a little bit different than Iowa conservatives. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he starts with owning the South.  Then he picks up a couple of Northern cities, a couple of Northern states. 

FEEHERY:  Oh, no question.

MATTHEWS:  And that is the appeal of a Northerner.


FEEHERY:  No question.


MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to get Mississippi, Alabama.  They‘re probably going to get one of the Carolinas. 


FEEHERY:  I think they will get both Carolinas.

CORN:  He doesn‘t want to run.  He‘s a first-term governor.  He‘s made a big mark bashing the teachers unions and public sectors, which has backfired in Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan.  So, you know...


MATTHEWS:  It helps in the primaries. 

CORN:  It helps in the primary, but it may not help in the general.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to somebody who I do not think is presidential material, but I—that‘s just my opinion.  Maybe I know too much.  Newt Gingrich.  I don‘t get it.  I don‘t know why he‘s back in public life at this level.  I think he is very smart and he cares about the country.  But I don‘t think he should be a candidate. 

Here he is, Newt Gingrich, trying to explain his marital infidelities in an interview with David Brody at the Christian Broadcasting Network this March.  That is only two months ago.  Let‘s listen. 


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  There‘s no question that, at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate.  And what I can tell is that, when I did things wrong, I wasn‘t trapped in situation ethics.  I was doing things that were wrong, and yet I was doing them.


MATTHEWS:  What does he mean by that? 



MATTHEWS:  I mean:  I blame my patriotism on my infidelity—or my infidelity on my patriotism. 

CORN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I have heard a lot of excuses. 

CORN:  I worked—I love America so much, I worked so hard, I had to cheat on my wife.  It makes perfect sense. 

FEEHERY:  Well, it‘s not the best answer, obviously.  But the one thing—the thing about Newt...


MATTHEWS:  Well, there are not great answers.  There are no great answers.

FEEHERY:  There are no good answers.

CORN:  Yes. 

FEEHERY:  But the thing about Newt is he‘s extraordinarily smart and he has good ideas and how to reform things like health care.  He was right on intelligence well before -- 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he get bounced by your party leadership?

FEEHERY:  Well, because he said a lot of different things to a lot of different people and couldn‘t reconcile all the things he said.  He was a great visionary.  He was not a very good political leader.

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t he reformed formally on ethics charges?


CORN:  Several times.

FEEHERY:  He was the person who got charged.  He was the person in the campaign, he made promises he couldn‘t keep.

MATTHEWS:  Is there a statute of limitations on political problems? 

We forget after a few years?  Serious.

FEEHERY:  I‘m sure there is.  There‘s always been.

CORN:  Listen, I think if Newt was seen more seriously, there‘d be more attention.  If he rises in the polls, all this stuff will come out.  He has a record longer than almost anybody else in the race.  And it is tainted.

You know, he—you say good ideas.  But if you talk to people who worked for him, they will say he has 20 ideas a day.

FEEHERY:  But one is really good.

CORN:  But 19 are terrible.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s my problem with him, guys.  I think he believes in

everybody has a certain ratio of nastiness to positive in their approach.  Sometimes maybe two or three good ideas and 80 percent just attack dog stuff.  I think he went after Jim Wright ferociously.  The guy he came after.  I think he—I think he‘s a nasty person as a politician.  It‘s always negative, negative, negative.  That‘s what I think.


CORN:  He practiced.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he‘s a positive force.

CORN:  He has—sort of institutionalized thuggish politics.  When he was leading GOPAC and rising in the House, he would send out lists of language to use against Democrats.


CORN:  Calling them traitors and—

MATTHEWS:  My own opinions don‘t matter here but they are here.

Let me ask you about your party.  I think you have a big problem.  I think half of your political party is mad dog, angry Tea Party people.  And they certainly have a case which I‘m with them on in spending.  I don‘t think there‘s any responsible level much spending.  Nobody sits back in Congress and says, well, I can‘t vote for that spending unless I‘m going to pay the taxes for that, or raise the taxes.  Nobody puts together as you know, on the Hill.  They just do what they feel like doing.

Good point there.  But here it is.  You have a party of people all they care about is that.  And they‘re very angry.  And then have you the establishment party that just wants to win.

Here is Romney.  Look at this.  It‘s so interesting.  This guy is almost a flip side of Sarah Palin.  The Gallup polling out right now shows that Romney support among people with more college graduates than those that don‘t college graduate.

In other words, he‘s got—he‘s the only guy of all the people and women who clearly have the—educated—highly-educated people behind them relatively, and the lower educated people that may have a high school and some college against them.  And what that tells is that‘s the split in your party.  It‘s not going to get the vote of the outside people.

FEEHERY:  You know, he polls first and second in almost any poll in primaries.  So, he‘s definitely the favorite right now.

MATTHEWS:  Among the establishment?

FEEHERY:  Among the party.

CORN:  Among everybody.

FEEHERY:  He‘s definitely the favorite.  I think what Mitt Romney has answers to questions about the economy.  The problem he has is a lack of passion.  And he‘s got to get the passion right and connect with what you are saying—

MATTHEWS:  What does he believe?

FEEHERY:  Well, I mean, that‘s the big question.  He has to be authentic.

MATTHEWS:  He was pro-life, he was pro-choice in Massachusetts.  The minute he left that state, drop kicked it.  He went nationally, became pro-life.  He came through which I think is a very good medical plan in Massachusetts, because it has a requirement that people take personal responsibility for the health care, the individual mandate.  And now, he‘s sort of moving into a party that doesn‘t believe any of that.

FEEHERY:  Well, authenticity is something you can‘t fake.  And I think he‘s got to show passion and to show what he truly believes ands fight for it.

MATTHEWS:  But can you keep changing your mind on a lot of things?

CORN:  No.

FEEHERY:  No, you can‘t.

CORN:  And what he‘s done to date so far is just really—you know, complained a Barack Obama is apologizing to the rest of the world.  That argument went out the window this past week.  But also, when it comes to economics, he hasn‘t put forward a single idea.  He‘s not even talking about cutting taxes, which must Republicans knew.

So, here‘s the guy with all this business backed expertise and he‘s not even putting it to use.

MATTHEWS:  Can I tip my hat to your party?


MATTHEWS:  President Obama put out his long-form birth certificate, the original, paid back at the lawyer, went out and certify, went through all the rigmarole to get it out, about half the birthers stopped being birthers.  So, they have legitimate concerns, I don‘t think they were justified.  But they had them in their heads.  They got them in their heads.  I think a lot of the media and a lot of stuff pushed it in their heads.  They changed.

The people that won‘t change, you got a problem.  And it‘s not his birth certificate.  It‘s a problem they got.

But congratulations to your party because at least half the crazy people aren‘t crazy now.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, David Corn.

CORN:  That‘s a great compliment.

MATTHEWS:  No.  Half the people that raised the issue dropped it. 

And the other half has just got a real problem with their own heads.

FEEHERY:  Well, for most of the leadership, it wasn‘t as serious.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  But you know those people out there.


MATTHEWS:  -- driver‘s license, this crowd.

Anyway, thank you, David Corn.  Thank you, John Feehery.  You take our stuff and we learn from it.

Up next, Florida‘s loss is the northeast—I love this.  Florida—that terrible governor down there, Rick Scott, I don‘t think he‘s great, just turned down all this federal money.  Guess what?  Somebody else is going to get it.  Amtrak is going to get it.  We‘ll see this.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself, is coming here.  There he is.  He joins us next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, we have a hot race for you.  The Senate race in Virginia between George Allen—remember him, he was the senator there—and Tim Kaine, the former chair of the Democratic Party—promising to be the hottest contest in the 2012 undercard.

A New “Washington Post” poll shows how good a race it should be.  Right now, catch this, Allen and Kaine are deadlocked at 46 apiece.  That‘s only eight points to fight over.

The poll shows Allen has his work cut out for him—now, this will really surprise you—among women and minorities, I‘d say so.  While Kaine is struggling with independents—well, he should get independents in this round to get those other people.

We‘ll be right back.  Just guessing.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, Amtrak and train projects across the country and 15 states won $2 billion in federal money that had been turned down by Florida Governor Rick Scott.  The biggest beneficiaries are the Northeast—the Northeast corridor route which stretches from Washington where I‘m at right now to Boston.  It gets the lion share, nearly $800 million to upgrade and speed up the train travel between those two cities.

In the Midwest, approximately $404 million going to expand high-speed rail service, including the Detroit to Chicago route.

On the West Coast, approximately $300 million invested to lay the groundwork for a high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Joining me is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Mr. Secretary, we have a shared passion.  But you are doing it and I‘m just thinking about it.  This chance that we could bring back rail to the days of “North by Northwest” with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, crossing the country at high speed, when will it come?  And who is standing in the way of it?

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY:  Well, nobody is standing in the way of it right now, Chris.  The announcement today ups our—the amount of money that we put out, the $13 billion.

There are two people that deserve the lion‘s share of the credit for this: President Obama and Vice President Biden.  They had the vision.  They are the train men of the 21st century.  They will connect 80 percent of America with their plan, with their vision, in the next 25 years—half the time it took to build the interstate system.

This has never—this 13 billion times more than we‘ve ever had for high-speed rail—thanks to President Obama and Vice President Biden.  They deserved the credit for it.

MATTHEWS:  See?  I think the United States has been broken up by air travel.  I think air travel has created most of America‘s flyover country.  We go from L.A. to Washington or L.A. to New York, and they look down over the people there, and the middle of the country gets overlooked, and those cities atrophy, like St. Louis.  Cities across the Middle West are just not as big as they were when they were railheads.

I think as a nation, we‘re better off united by rail.  What are your thoughts about that?

LAHOOD:  Absolutely, Chris.  And this vision that the president and vice president have and the $13 billion, there‘s a pent-up demand.  For the $2 billion that we got back from Florida, we had requests for $10 billion over 100 applications.

This is what Americans want.  They‘re tired of congestion.  They‘re tired of being stuck in their cars.  They‘re tired of high gasoline prices.  And they love the president‘s vision on this.

Get out of your car, and get on a fast-moving train efficiently. 

You can pay for it and you can you get to your destination safely.

Look, this is what the American people want.  And politicians are finally catching up to what the politicians out in the country.

And the other thing, Chris, is—I was so pleased.  I just returned from Michigan where the new Republican governor accepted the money to get Michigan into the high-speed rail business, from Detroit to Chicago.  Shave off a good amount of time, but a real investment for the people.

I give Governor Snyder a lot of credit.  He‘s got a vision, and couple that with the vision of the new—well, the mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, Michigan is coming back—thanks to the investment the president made in the American car manufacturers, which proved to be very beneficial, and thanks to the investment this administration is making in high-speed rail.  This is what Americans want, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re a good booster.  I mean that.  I‘m thinking about we brought back the car industry.  And Ford is doing great.  G.M. is coming back.  And we actually have a car industry that‘s competing around the world now really well.

LAHOOD:  And Chrysler just—Chrysler just posted first-quarter profits, Chris.  That‘s in direct relationship to the investment the president made.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the Midwest.  People who watch this show right now from Chicago, those who lived on rail.  Rail created Chicago.  Are we going to have a situation where the people in Chicago—you‘re from that area, from Illinois—how do you put together that kind of thing, where Chicago becomes the big railhead again, where trains are goods east and west, to L.A.?  You said Detroit, do you think people are going to get on that train and go back and forth between those cities?  Is this going to happen at high speed?


MATTHEWS:  How fast can they do it?

LAHOOD:  Well, they‘re going to do it fast in Illinois.  I mean, we‘ve invested over a billion in Illinois, Chris.  Chicago to St. Louis, in a little over two hours, at trains going 115 miles an hour, from Chicago, stop in Jolliet, stop in Normal, stop in Springfield, and you‘re in St.  Louis.  You catch a train there and you start going west over to Kansas. 

Again, this is kind of a Midwest connection.

And the announcement today, Detroit to Chicago, and then you run a rail line north of Detroit, all the way to Canada, cross over into the Canadian border, think of the connection we will have, think of the economic engine this corridor will be, from Detroit to Chicago, to St.  Louis and on good comfortable train that people can afford.  And—

MATTHEWS:  When are we going to equalize the time between Washington and New York by rail and air?

LAHOOD:  With the investments we made today, we made some big investments on the Northeast corridor.

I took the train last night from Washington to New York.  It was safe.  It was comfortable, and we did it in just a little less than three hours.  We‘ll reduce that time.  We invested today in more infrastructure, in fixing up the tracks, and we‘re going to get new some train cars, too.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re going to get down to two and a quarter, I‘ll probably fly less.  Anyway, thank you very much.  I think there‘s an advantage of flying.  But I hope you equalize it, because then there would be a lot less danger.  Flying is crazy when you have to keep flying between those cities.

Anyway, thanks, Mr. LaHood.  You‘re doing great work.

LAHOOD:  Thank you, Chris.  Thanks a lot.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks from the country.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why getting bin Laden proves we‘re a country that does great things.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with what Tom Donilon, the president‘s national security adviser said yesterday.  He was on “Meet the Press,” talking about getting Osama bin Laden.  He said the people who did it don‘t deserve—or don‘t serve a political party or only one president.  They serve whoever is in office.

Quote, “It is not a matter of partisanship that the United States about its goals has persistence and determination, that the United States does what it says it‘s going to do.”

The United States—that a great way to speak about a mission carried out by the American people through their government, the United States, not just the American people or just the government doing something on its own, but here was people operating through their government to pursue a mission for all of us, the United States, a great phrase.  We ought to use it more often.

It‘s been a joy for me to see people I‘ve watched progress in political life now perform at such a high level of public service and do it with fine values, a patriotic commitment to the country and what it stands for.  I mean, Bill Daly, who‘s White House chief of staff; and Jack Lew, who‘s the U.S. budget director; or Tom Donilon, who‘s coordinating national security matters.  And I‘m simply proud of the way they‘re doing what they‘re doing.  They have fine values.  They aren‘t ideologues, but solid professionals, who want this country to make it.

They care about the country the way people way out there sitting far from power do.  They‘re not big shots or grand standers, but public servants.  What got me to saying this tonight is the most obvious thing in the world, the thing we or the events of the last Sunday inspired in me to feel.  I love it when our country has served the way the United States should be served, when we achieve the mission and in the right way.

I wasn‘t around on VE-Day or VJ-Day.  So, this is a new feeling for me, this confirmation that the United States, the U.S., our government, serving the country‘s mission can achieve what it sets out for.  So, tonight I say, and not for the last time—God bless the United States.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.



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