Guests: Matthew Dowd, Tad Devine, John McCain
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bush takes on televised criticism in the 9/11 hearings, bad news in Iraq, the image of single-mindedness in Bob Woodward‘s new book and still leads in the new polls against John Kerry. Is Bush‘s popularity attack proof?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Those new polls on the battle for the White House are coming up. And Senator John McCain will join us a little later on the—on to talk about his new book, “Why Courage Matters.”
But first, the Bush administration disputes Bob Woodward‘s accounts on the events leading up to the war in Iraq.
NBC‘s David Gregory is at the White House.
David, this book has a couple of interesting theories and charges in it, as well reported, as always, in terms of a sort of straight forward reporter‘s look at this administration.
It makes the case, using the words of Secretary of State Powell that Colin Powell—that there was a sort of shield wing within the White House, the gung ho “let‘s go to war” crowd, led by the vice president‘s office and a Defense Department and a Sunni or moderate wing in the White House, in the Bush White House, led by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Is that a clear and true picture?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It is the same picture that really emerged in the aftermath of September 11 and has been a story that has been often told and reinforced by every path to war.
There have been two now, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it‘s on Iraq that the division really became pronounced, because it started to reveal this schism in terms of retaliation for September 11.
And this wing that believed in going after Saddam Hussein is very much a part of the war on terror, and other who viewed it as more of a diversion or perhaps just a dangerous mission, where you find Secretary Powell coming down.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at this amazing quote in the book. And I don‘t think he can retrace his steps past this or wiggle out of it like he‘s tried, perhaps, to do in the other quotes.
Quote, “Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president and Wolfowitz”—that‘s the deputy secretary of defense—“kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11. It was a separate little government that was out there. Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby”—that‘s the vice president‘s chief of staff—“Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Feith‘s”—quote—“‘Gestapo office,‘ as Powell privately called it. He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first Gulf War just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation.”
Well, I don‘t know how the vice president cannot know now that Colin Powell thinks he‘s a bit of a—well, let‘s say a little bit gung ho, at least. Maybe a lit bit over the top.
These denials, are the denials working within the White House that, first of all, calling somebody a Gestapo officer and running a Gestapo operation is hard to deny, isn‘t it?
GREGORY: Well what Colin Powell has said is that he doesn‘t recall making that remark. It was certainly an offensive and an inappropriate one, he said, but he didn‘t recall making it.
There‘s nobody that I‘ve talked to in the White House who‘s saying, “Oh, this is foolish. You know, the relationship between Powell and Cheney is just fine.”
Nobody disputes that there‘s a much different world view between these two men, particularly after September 11. But even before.
Secretary Powell‘s initial concerns, as detailed by Woodward in the book about the war plan being envisioned by Tommy Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld, that it was too sparse, that Tommy Franks was being pushed to use too few soldiers, and to do it too quickly.
He was, as Woodward has talked about, the reluctant warrior, who was the only one out of this group who actually saw combat and thought that the president was being pushed. And he made that point to the president, as recounted in the book repeatedly, that don‘t be pressured into doing this on the wrong timetable or in the wrong way.
MATTHEWS: Well, here he is in August, as you say, August of 2002, a couple seasons before we went to war with Iraq, expressing his concern about a war in Iraq.
Quote—this is Secretary Powell to the president—“War could
destabilize friendly governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan,” he
said. “‘It could divert energy from almost everything else, not just the
war on terrorism and dramatically affect the supply and price of oil. What
of the image of the American general”—what about that image—“running
an Arab country, a General MacArthur in Baghdad?,‘ Powell asked. ‘How long
would it be? No one could know. How would success be defined?‘”
That‘s pretty clear language coming from a conversation between Secretary Powell and the president in private. Does anybody doubt that those quotes, those words came directly from Secretary Powell to Bob Woodward?
GREGORY: Well, no, I don‘t think there‘s a lot of doubt about that at all. I don‘t think there‘ was much doubt about “Bush at War,” about Bob Woodward, about Secretary Powell‘s cooperation with that book and the descriptions about him being in the icebox with this administration when he falls out of the favor.
Remember the “TIME” magazine cover story about whatever happened to Colin Powell?
His relationship with the president has been sometimes competitive, uncomfortable. He appears to be on the outs at other points.
But he also, I think—I think his role sometimes is too often diminished. Don‘t forget that in the end, the president did go to the United Nations and make a strong stand for diplomacy and getting one resolution; ultimately backed out of pursuing a second when it was clear that France would veto a war resolution.
But Secretary Powell has had a strong voice. But it is a voice that is at odds with, among others, but this is the most important, Vice President Cheney. And some of these differences, don‘t forget, go back to the first Gulf War, as well.
MATTHEWS: Is there a sense in the White House that Cheney is No. 2 in this White House and Powell is probably a distant fourth or fifth in terms of power, making issues—war making issues?
GREGORY: I don‘t think there‘s any question that Dick Cheney is a very strong No. 2. The president has said it clearly on numerous occasions, that he talks to him all the time and considers him his most important adviser. And there‘s no question that was the case when it came to Iraq.
And a lot of this discord within the administration is not only a question of priorities, whether Iraq was the right mission to embark upon in the war on terror, but it was the morning after scenario.
The idea of the Pottery Barn rule that Woodward writes about Powell and Armitage believing, which is, if you break it, you‘ve got to fix it and you own it. And of course, the United States very much does own this problem now as we look at this rebuilding effort.
And now you‘ve got other members of the coalition, Spain and Honduras, smaller counties with smaller troop levels, who are pulling out. It just reinforces the point that this is a U.S. problem to fix now.
MATTHEWS: David, is there a sense that Secretary Powell, as much as he‘s admired in the world, was a bit of an opportunist in the sense of talking to Bob Woodward about this book and giving him all the information about the danger signs he saw in the occupation, the resistance that we would face, et cetera, in a third world country, the dangers we would have from an Arab resistance, especially.
Is there a sense that he put out all this information now because the occupation has gotten to be so messy now?
GREGORY: Well, look, there are a lot of questions about Colin Powell‘s role generally. And whether he‘s trying to protect his credibility, in what appears to be his twilight of his time with the administration. Nobody believes that he‘s going to stay on if the president is re-elected.
Yes, there have been questions about whether he fought internally enough on these matters.
I mean, he‘s somebody who is, besides the president, has quite a spotlight this administration, because internationally and certainly among Democrats, he‘s seen as the more moderate voice in an otherwise overly ideological White House.
So there‘s a lot of pressure put upon him, and he is in the spotlight. I think a lot of people are going to dissect what he did, what he didn‘t do, whether he should have done more, whether he did enough. And there‘s no question that he‘s an object of a lot of opinions right now.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the personal relationship between the vice president and the secretary of state?
GREGORY: Well, you know, you talk to people in the White House, and they maintain that it‘s friendly, that‘s it cordial, that they have a working relationship. They‘ve been around each other for a long time.
I don‘t think that there‘s any question there‘s a pretty severe strain there. It has been, for some time, only made worse by the divisions over Iraq.
The president presided over that. He wanted strong personalities when he built his war cabinet before anything went wrong in the world, and he got it. He got a strong war cabinet. He got a war cabinet at odds with itself, and he‘s the one ultimately that has to manage the fallout of that have, if there is fallout from his point of view.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, David, it doesn‘t look like that Harvard Business School model any more. It begins to look more like the Clinton administration, lots of fighting going on.
Anyway, great report. Thank you, David Gregory at the White House.
Coming up, President Bush has reversed his head to head numbers against John Kerry. He‘s winning now, taking a lead in two new polls. We‘ll find out how the president‘s team has turned bad news in Iraq and 9/11 into good poll numbers. What a switcheroo.
And later, Senator John McCain will join us to talk about his new book, his latest. It‘s a specialty of his: “Why Courage Matters.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, despite the 9/11 hearings and the deadly violence in Iraq, President Bush is riding high in the polls. And later, John McCain will be here on HARDBALL. Back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: Just seven months before the presidential election, the latest polling shows President Bush quickly making up ground on John Kerry and holding advantages on issues like national security.
HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster joins us with the latest surprising numbers—David.
DAVID SHUSTER: Chris, these numbers are going to sound counterintuitive, because while the president has been attacked sharply on Iraq and on the revelations coming from the 9/11 hearings, the poll numbers for the president have actually been going up.
SHUSTER (voice-over): According to the latest “Washington Post”/ABC News poll, on the question of who‘s better able to deal with the country‘s biggest problems, President Bush now leads John Kerry 49 percent to 44. A month ago, those numbers were reversed.
And even more troubling for the Kerry campaign, the senator‘s advantage over the president on the economy has completely disappeared. A month ago, Kerry had a 53 percent to 41 percent edge on economic issues. Today, the numbers are 47-47.
The president also leads in the overall match up. If the election were held today, President Bush would beat John Kerry 48 percent to 43 percent, with Ralph Nader pulling six percent. A month ago, thanks to momentum coming out of the Democratic primaries, it was Kerry over Bush, 48-44.
The president‘s reversal comes despite the worst news out of Iraq since the war began. Over the last month, more than 100 U.S. soldiers have been killed.
And here at home, the president‘s credibility has been attacked at the 9/11 hearings. Former terrorism czar Richard Clarke testified President Bush ignored the al Qaeda threat.
RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: Although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don‘t think it was ever treated that way.
SHUSTER: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice revealed the president received a general warning about al Qaeda a month before the attack.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I believe the title was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”
SHUSTER: And the 9/11 widows personalized the tragedy.
But the hearings appear to have had no impact politically. When voters were asked who would do a better job in the campaign against terrorism, President Bush gets 58 percent, John Kerry 37.
On Iraq, it‘s Bush 52 percent, Kerry 41. A month ago, before the uprising intensified, Kerry led Bush on Iraq 48-47.
John Kerry does have a slight advantage on issues including job creation, Social Security and the budget deficit. And the overall mood of the country is still a potential problem for the president. Fifty-seven percent of those polled believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. And that‘s the highest number of the Bush presidency.
SHUSTER: Still, the Bush campaign says that the poll numbers show strength for the president on the issues that matter.
The Kerry campaign, meanwhile, is pointing to some other polls showing that the race is tied or that John Kerry is slightly ahead.
But in any case, all the polls, Chris, are consistent in one respect. And that is the president‘s standing over the last month has not eroded to the degree that Democrats had been hoping for—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, David, about the press reaction. After the press conference last week, I heard a lot of titters from the press about how bad the president did.
I think I said that he was more likable. I think I said that his humility came through, a smidgen of it, that was useful. I sensed that he understood the occupation was unpopular in that country. He would not like to be occupied.
I thought that personality of the president was a positive. Most press people thought he couldn‘t answer the tough questions.
How do you explain the public‘s positive turn to the president now?
SHUSTER: Well, part of it, Chris, is some of the polling doesn‘t include the news conference. But the part that does, does seem to indicate the president‘s numbers are at least moving. They‘re moving in his direction.
John Kerry‘s numbers don‘t seem to be moving at all, in part because John Kerry simply hasn‘t been able to break through. As you know, talking earlier, John Kerry simply is not aggressively trying to pursue either the war on terror or Iraq, at least not that strongly. And as a result, he can‘t get past some of the articles on the front page.
So part of the polling seems to indicate that voters still don‘t have a very clear impression as to who John Kerry is, what‘s his personality like. And every time they see the president, he comes across—the president comes across as a likable guy, even if people inside the Beltway think that he doesn‘t have such a strong grasp on some of the issues.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, David Shuster.
Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign. And Tad Devine is the senior adviser for the Kerry campaign. You were with you a lot during the spring.
We miss the spring. Don‘t you? That was a lot of fun. I love those primaries. I love New Hampshire; I love Iowa.
Let me welcome you to the show, Matt Dowd. Thanks for coming on.
You know, I think—I want to ask you the same question I asked him. The president stumbled occasionally. He had a hard time. He said, “I wish you‘d given me some time to answer the question, the mistakes I made.”
And cognoscenti of the media say, “Well, that shows he‘s not up to the job.”
The public‘s reaction?
MATTHEWS DOWD, CHIEF STRATEGIST, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, it‘s interesting, because I think it presents what the gulf is between the media in Washington and what the average voters wanted and expected.
And I think the president was responding and talking as if he was talking to the voters, as opposed to what he was doing with the media. I just think there‘s this gulf, expectation gulf that the media thought one thing...
MATTHEWS: Did you know that going into that press conference, that even if he stumbled a few times, people would like him?
DOWD: We knew that, you know—we knew what the voters were—wanted to hear and were prepared to hear, which was resolute in Iraq and understand the compassion with what was going on, but a firm hand on what was going on.
And they weren‘t expecting some admission of a mistake or taking responsibility for something related to 9/11. They wanted a commander in chief that...
MATTHEWS: Would people rather have a firm hand that‘s wrong or a weak hand that might be right? Listen closely to what I said. A firm hand that may be wrong or a weak hand that might be right.
DOWD: At a time like this, they want somebody that‘s resolute and firm and knows where he‘s going.
MATTHEWS: Even if he‘s wrong?
DOWD: You know, the possibility that somebody can be wrong is always the case for anybody. But they want a firm hand.
TAD DEVINE, SENIOR ADVISER, KERRY CAMPAIGN: I think they want a strong leader who makes good decisions. And I think the, you know, president has come across as a strong leader. You know, that‘s part of his profile.
I think the problem right now is that people see him as someone who‘s making bad decisions.
And I think the press conference the other night—I agree with Matt. I think, you know, the sort of inside the Beltway read on things and then we see what happens in the rest of the country. And I think the...
MATTHEWS: When are we going to learn?
DEVINE: I think we‘re going to learn on November 2.
MATTHEWS: This poll was—would be very disturbing to me if I were sitting in your seat right now.
The latest “USA Today”/CNN/Gallup poll found that 56 percent of Americans think President Bush means what he says and says what he means. That‘s 56 percent, while on 44 percent think the same of presumed Democratic nominee John Kerry.
Kerry is basically running 44-44 on whether people think he means what he says. Whereas the president, with all his shouts at him about not being up to the job or intellectually not being curious enough, all I think fair shots sometimes, but people think he speaks the truth. He speaks with a single tongue, whereas in the old days of cowboy movies, your guy speaks with forked tongue.
DEVINE: Well, listen, I think they‘re finding out who John Kerry is, and I think part of our challenge in this campaign that I think we‘ll live up to is telling people who he is, where he comes from.
MATTHEWS: Is he against the war?
DEVINE: Is he against the war in Iraq? You know, he‘s against the way it‘s being conducted right now. He‘s against the way the president brought this nation to war. He‘s against the fact that every promise the president made after the vote, the president violated.
So yes, he‘s against that. And he thinks, you know, what‘s going on...
MATTHEWS: So he would have liked the war if he did it Kerry‘s way?
DEVINE: Well, you know, he would have done it differently. He would have gone to the United Nations. He would have gone to war as a last resort. He would have exhausted every remedy, and he would have built a true international coalition. That‘s the difference.
Listen, Chris, Iraq is a mess right now. It‘s not me saying it. The Republican governor of Minnesota said it.
MATTHEWS: Would we better off not having gone?
DEVINE: We would have been better off doing it right. And we‘ve done it wrong.
MATTHEWS: We‘d be better off not having gone?
DEVINE: Listen, you know, John Kerry was prepared to use force and voted to do so. But what he does not think we should have done is what we did, OK? To do it all the wrong way.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to more polling here. The latest ABC News/”Washington Post” poll found that on handling terrorism, 58 percent trust President Bush to Senator Kerry‘s 37 percent. That‘s a wipe-out in that.
DOWD: Yes, and this has been the case for him ever since 9/11. It‘s been higher at some point, lower at some points. But basically, the president has had a 15, 20-point lead on the war on terrorism.
And the interesting thing about this poll is he now has an 11-14-point lead on handling Iraq and dealing with Iraq. So while Tad maybe, you know, the campaign, what they‘re saying, and what the voters are saying is they like the way he‘s handling and dealing with Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Look at Let me go on—I want you to respond to this, Chris. I think it‘s fascinating.
Was it worth going to war in Iraq? Now, the latest numbers are 52 percent to 46 percent it was worth going. They‘re still positive. But back in April 2003 when the war was really just getting started, it was 73-23 percent, a loss of 21 points.
If you extrapolate this out, just project the way that‘s going, by November a significant majority of the people will be against this war if conditions continue roughly as they are.
Why aren‘t you guys completely against the war with Iraq and just make a gamble and say, “We‘ll just say it was a bad decision, all things considered”?
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t you say that?
DEVINE: Because, you know, John Kerry is a responsible statesman.
That‘s why. You know, listen, he‘s not going to turn his back on our troops right there. He understands that—what‘s at stake in Iraq. Listen, we can‘t just pull out of Iraq.
The president made a lot of mistakes. Everybody admits to that.
MATTHEWS: No, but were we right in going?
DEVINE: We were wrong to go the way that he went. It was a huge mistake not to build a true international coalition. And you know, our troops are paying the price today, and the taxpayers of America are practically single-handedly shouldering the burden.
You know, it‘s time to share the burden, and that‘s—you know, that‘s a different policy. And John Kerry will pursue...
MATTHEWS: One of the things in the Woodward book that bugged me about the president was he was asked by—and I don‘t know the circumstances of the conversation. But Woodward—smart guy. He‘s cold sometimes, but he‘s a smart guy. He said—we‘re going to come back and talk about this. There‘s something in there that bugged me.
Bush said—the president said, “I don‘t want to tell the truth, because that would make the other side say, ‘I told you so.‘” Even though he suggested it might be true. We‘re talking about WMD, obviously.
More with Matt Dowd and Tad Devine when we return. Later, Senator John McCain on the violence in Iraq and his new book, “Why Courage Matters.” Especially for John McCain.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Matt Dowd of the Bush-Cheney campaign and Tad Devine of the Kerry campaign.
According to the “Washington Post” poll we‘ve been talking about, fifty-nine percent say the United States has gotten bogged down with the situation in Iraq, while 41 percent say we‘re making good progress.
Is that the key to this election? I personally think it is. Come next November, if there‘s a sense we‘re bogged down like Truman was in Korea or LBJ in Vietnam or Carter in Iran, this president is in big trouble.
If there‘s a sense of forward movement over there by then, he‘s in good shape. Do you accept that prognosis?
DOWD: Actually, I have an expectation there‘s going to be forward movement. But I think the interesting thing about the polls is the fact that with all those numbers that you say, they still support the president and what he‘s doing in Iraq. And they think that this is a military solution, that we actually need to increase our military effort in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: More troops?
DOWD: More troops, as opposed to pull people out.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the McCain argument.
DOWD: But you know, as of right now, the president—this is not President Bush versus everybody else in the world. This is President Bush versus where John Kerry is, and today, the voters support President Bush on this issue more than Senator Kerry.
MATTHEWS: What is it—look at this latest poll. This is the Gallup poll. Americans are evenly split on President Bush‘s handling of the war, 48-49, I think it is. It‘s totally dead even.
DOWD: Yes, but if you look at who they trust more in dealing with Iraq, it‘s a 14- or 11-point lead. So...
MATTHEWS: So it‘s a relative plus for him, but not an absolute plus. I think—Iraq, go back to my proposition. If it looks like we‘re bogged down, a la Truman in Korea, a la LBJ in Vietnam, a la Jimmy Carter in—in Iran, does the president lose?
DEVINE: I think he probably does lose, but not just for that. I think there‘s a lot of other things on the table. I think the economic issues are really concerning people all across this country. It‘s not just job loss, which is substantial in places like Ohio...
MATTHEWS: But isn‘t the economy getting better?
DEVINE: Well, listen, yesterday in Florida, John Kerry talked about wage loss. That‘s really a big problem there, you know, health care costs. All these things are on the table, and it‘s really concerning people.
MATTHEWS: What‘s your best issue: Iraq or the economy?
DEVINE: Well, I think right now both issues are very powerfully advantaging John Kerry.
DOWD: In speaking to that...
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Thank you guys. Please come back, you and Tad.
Up next, John McCain on Bob Woodward‘s new book. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, Senator John McCain on Bob Woodward‘s new book, plus President Bush‘s strong poll numbers, and “Why Courage Matters.”
But, first, the latest headlines right now.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Senator John McCain is the author of the new book “Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life.”
Thank you, Senator, for joining us.
And how is Mrs. McCain doing?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: She‘s doing very well. Thanks, Chris.
She‘s home and we thank all the people for their thoughts and prayers on her behalf. And she‘s doing just fine. We expect full recovery.
MATTHEWS: That‘s great news.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the news the press right now about this new book by—we‘ll talk about your book at length, but I want to talk about this book that is getting all the news and excitement going and that‘s politically generating a lot of high heat in this city. That‘s the Woodward book. As he often does, he‘s caused a stir.
Anything new in there for you just generally as a political figure who has watched this fight over the war, has seen this fight within the administration between Powell and Cheney, anything you learned new in this fight?
MCCAIN: Well, as you know, it‘s an open secret in this city that there is certain tensions between Rumsfeld, Armitage, Powell, Cheney, etcetera. But there is always is. There‘s always tensions between different people in the administration. It depends on how high it gets and whether it‘s damaging or not. Differences of opinion are very healthy for a president of the United States to receive.
Now, I watched Colin Powell very carefully today. He rebutted a number of the assertions that Woodward made in his book. I guess history is going to tell us exactly how deep these divisions were and whether they were damaging or not. I believe—I think Colin Powell is correct when he said he supported the war. He went to the United Nations Security Council and made an argument there.
And as far as who knew what and whom, I don‘t know. The only one I‘m curious about is a briefing to Bandar. I don‘t understand that and I‘d like to know a little more about it.
MATTHEWS: What, whether we were alerting the ambassador from Saudi Arabia before the rest of the Cabinet was informed?
And I‘d like to know more about that, because I‘ve never heard of foreigners being given privileged intelligence information, no matter how close an ally they were, before other members of the administration were. And so I‘d just like to know a little more about it. I‘m not saying there‘s anything wrong with it. I just think it‘s unusual.
MATTHEWS: Frank Gaffney was on last night. And he‘s, of course very supportive of the war. And he said he thinks that the blind spot in this administration‘s foreign policy, in fact its world view, is a blindness towards the dangers posed by Saudi Arabia to our security.
Do you agree?
MCCAIN: I think the Saudis have engaged in activities which have been harmful to the United States of America.
I think the funding of these madrassas, where they take kids off the street and teach them this Wahabi brand of Islam, where they then learn to hate and then want to destroy America and everything we stand for has been incredibly damaging, yes. Now, whether they are a threat to the future of the United States or not, but—and I also could argue that in some cases,, at least appearances, that we have been too close to the Saudis and the reason is a three-letter word, obviously, O-I-L.
Well, let me ask you about the other half of the relationship, the oil relationship. Are you—how do you read this word that‘s been maybe overinterpreted, but the Saudis intended to give us a lower price for gasoline right before the election because everybody counts the cents they put into their tank and it might help the president if they give us a little better break right before the election? What do you make of that?
MCCAIN: I find it hard to believe, No. 1.
But also I would like to add one other point to my previous comment. There is an argument that can be made that if the Saudi royal family were overthrown, then you would get Muslim extremists in power in Saudi Arabia. I think that‘s a concern, but I have believed for years that that doesn‘t work. You can‘t ride the tiger forever. You can‘t keep feeding these extremists and expect to stay in power forever.
That didn‘t work for the shah of Iran and I don‘t think it works for the Saudi royal family. I don‘t know if—it‘s hard for me to believe that there would be an orchestration of oil prices in a deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia. I just don‘t think that‘s accurate. And I‘m told that in the book that it doesn‘t exactly say that, but Woodward sort of intimidated that under questions from Wallace on “60 Minutes.” It will be sorted out.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—let‘s get back to the secretary to have state, Colin Powell.
Who in your understanding of the Constitution is the boss, the vice president of the United States or the secretary of state? Is the secretary of state in a reporting position to the V.P.?
MCCAIN: My understanding is that the secretary of state and certainly by habit and custom reports directly to the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: What the hell is Cheney doing—what the hell is Cheney doing giving him marching orders in this book? It‘s clear in this book, the way Woodward put it together and the way he structured it, that Cheney was ahead in the chain of command of the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, maybe because he helped pick himself as vice president. He was head of the vice presidential selection committee, maybe because he was the head of the transition committee, he had a hand in picking all these Cabinet members.
But how in the hell does a V.P. get the tell the secretary of state what foreign policy should be and defense policy should be?
MCCAIN: It‘s easy, the power delegated to him by the president of the United States. This president and vice president have a very close and strong relationship. That‘s their privilege to have that. And it‘s probably led to a more effective government.
There have been administrations where the—Harry Truman didn‘t even know anything about the atomic bomb.
MCCAIN: So, and, traditionally, the vice president has not had the role of influence that Dick Cheney has had. But that‘s up to the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: I know the vice president—I think Nixon didn‘t even have an office in the EOB. I think he didn‘t have one in the West Wing. That didn‘t come until Mondale, I think. And certainly Agnew didn‘t get much room in the West Wing.
MCCAIN: Nixon had a lot of trouble getting Eisenhower‘s endorsement.
MATTHEWS: I think he sure did.
But let me ask you about the unhealthy potential here. Under our Constitution, the vice president‘s two jobs, preside over the Senate whenever he can and, secondly, secede to the presidency if something goes wrong with the president. He has no executive authority under the Constitution. Yet he‘s giving—it doesn‘t bother you that he could be in a position of giving order or instructions to the secretary of defense or secretary of state?
MCCAIN: Well, his third duty is to inquire daily as to the health of the president.
MCCAIN: I think is that if the president of the United States says to his vice president, I want you to be in charge of this particular area of national security—you‘ve been secretary of defense. You‘ve had a long and involved experience on these issues and I‘m giving you this responsibility—I think that‘s fine. But the president is still responsible. The buck stops there.
MATTHEWS: OK, the reason I raise this, I‘m setting you up for what we‘re going to come back to. That‘s the assertion in the book by Secretary of State Powell, that there‘s a separate little government out there run by the vice president office‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby. It includes people like Wolfowitz and Feith at the Pentagon.
Here‘s the secretary of state in this book accusing the vice president‘s office of running a separate government within this administration. I want your response to that.
I‘ll come back and talk to Senator John McCain about his book and about this other book by Woodward.
Back in a moment.
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MATTHEWS: Coming up, Senator John McCain on his new book, “Why Courage Matters.” And tomorrow, Bob Woodward will join us.
HARDBALL back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Senator John McCain. According to Bob Woodward‘s new book, “Plan of Attack,” quote, “Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president and Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11. It was a separate little government that was out there. Wolfowitz, Cheney‘s chief of staff Scooter Libby, Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith and Feith‘s Gestapo office, as Powell privately called it. He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first Gulf War just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation.”
So here you have the accusation of the president by the secretary of state of an under-government, a secret government run out of the vice president‘s office. Scooter Libby, Wolfowitz, the defense hawks. What do you make of that charge?
MCCAIN: Today, Colin Powell said he and the vice president been friends for 17 years and they meet regularly, and he was involved in all the planning for the invasion of Iraq. But having said that, I‘ve heard these allegations before, about the role of different individuals and others. As you know, the president has asked me to serve on a commission to examine the issue of weapons of mass destruction, i.e. intelligence. I am going to urge the commission to look at these allegations, particularly concerning Mr. Feith and whether—what role his office played in the provision of intelligence to the president, or the secretary of defense, or others.
Look, Chris, we‘ve discussed this before, but we can‘t lose sight of this fact. The greatest threat we face is the use of the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist. We know that the intelligence that the president received prior to our invasion of Iraq, which I supported and still support, was flawed. We‘ve got to get to the bottom of that, and wherever that leads, we‘ve got to go.
MATTHEWS: But for the secretary of state to refer to an Office of Special Plans in the Defense Department, in the general area of Doug Feith‘s operation, a real Mideast hawk, he has suggested there is something really evil going on here. He called it Gestapo office. That‘s a serious charge. That‘s not just an underground government. Colin Powell here is saying there is something evil going on, a cabal, whatever you want to call it, he‘s saying it right here in this new book.
MCCAIN: Look, Powell today denies that, by the way, but if there was an intelligence operation going on in the Department of Defense, that‘s perfectly legitimate. Or in the vice president‘s office—to try and get information. It depends on what information they got and how it was used, and you know, people are innocent around here until proven guilty, particularly since Colin Powell has denied saying that.
MATTHEWS: Well, he says he can‘t remember using the word “Gestapo” in regard to defense—can‘t remember is kind of a weak denial, I think so. I mean, if it‘s in your head, you might use it once in a while.
But let‘s move on to brighter subjects. And I respect your role as one of the—heading that commission.
Let me ask you this thing about the Iraq war situation right now. We‘ve got a new poll out that says that people feel—a majority of the people now feel we‘re bogged down rather than making progress. What is your assessment of the war scene?
MCCAIN: I think we‘re going through a very difficult time. I am also glad to see that there is a majority that believes that we need to send more troops over there.
MATTHEWS: Maybe you‘re the leader of that, because I think it‘s coincidental with your call for more troops. I think the polling shows a spike in people who believe as you do.
MCCAIN: Well, I came back last August from a trip and I urged urgently that we send more troops on the ground. Chris, you know that the ratio of troops to people in Northern Ireland was dramatically different from what we put on the ground in Iraq? I talked to sergeant-majors, I talked to captains and colonels, and to say that the commanders on the ground say they don‘t need them, in my view, is not the proper role for the decision makers. We needed more troops, we need them now, and we‘re going to need them for a long time in the future. We have to win. This is a very tough period, but I think the president argued passionately and effectively for staying the course in Iraq and telling the American people what the consequences of failure are and what the benefits of success are.
MATTHEWS: If somebody worked for you and disagreed with your policies and said so in private meetings with you and then went out after you had taken a different direction and said I told him not to do that, what would you think of that individual, that staff person?
MCCAIN: I think it depends on my relationship with them. I think we all demand loyalty, but I hope we keep a fine balance between open and honest criticism and disloyalty.
Now, look, one of the reasons why I think many of these Army guys may not have been—and I emphasize may not have been—as forthcoming as they should, because perhaps they didn‘t want to be Shinsekied. General Shinseki testified before the Armed Services Committee that we needed several hundred thousand. He left his job. Not one single civilian in the Department of Defense attended his retirement. That was a signal to others in the Army.
So you want to have open and honest viewpoints. These military leaders are outstanding. They‘re wonderful people. I can‘t tell you how proud I am of General Abizaid and General Sanchez and others. But the fact is the realities on the ground dictate that we should have had more troops there and we‘re going to have to have more troops there. And God bless them. We need them.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about your book, about courage on the battlefield and all kinds of courage. Your new book if called “Why Courage Matters,” and it‘s not just about the battlefield. It‘s about guys who have been taken prisoner, like yourself, and how they have behaved courageously.
Back with the big story, “Why Courage Matters,” with Senator John McCain.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Senator John McCain.
We all know, Senator, that John Kennedy wrote “Profiles In Courage.” Now you‘ve written a book much broader than that. It doesn‘t just talk about senatorial courage. It talks about all kinds. I have to ask you, if you can tell the story, which blew my socks off reading it, of Roy Benavides. Do you remember the full account you have in the book? Could you just narrate this incredible story? It‘s like Audie Murphy times 10.
MCCAIN: It‘s the most amazing story I think I have ever read.
Roy Benavides was a Green Beret in Vietnam. His friends were surrounded by a North Vietnamese battalion in Cambodia. He jumped into a helicopter with a gun and some grenades. He fought. He was stabbed. He was shot several times. He was shot in the face. He rounded up the wounded. He got them on to a helicopter.
When they were leaving, the helicopter was shot down. He gathered them up again. It‘s just the most remarkable story of courage. When President Reagan—oh, they thought he was dead and put him in a body bag and he spit in the face of the medic.
MATTHEWS: When they were zipping up the body bag.
MATTHEWS: He spit in the medic‘s face.
MCCAIN: To show them he was alive.
Ronald Reagan said—Ronald Reagan said, if they made a movie out of this, nobody would believe it. He‘s a wonderful, lovely man. He died in the 1980s. And his last words were, “I‘m proud to be an American.”
MATTHEWS: Well, he must have been proud to be in the military, too, because he was a lifer after all that hell.
MATTHEWS: You think he would have been able to get out after that.
Let me ask you about—you know, I know you‘re a Republican. And that has come up as an issue recently, about how good a Republican you are, because you‘ve been flirted with by all the media in the country because we would love to see some excitement out there.
But you pay tribute to a person I always thought was the ultimate sort of the witch from Republican point of view. That‘s Eleanor Roosevelt. Tell me about your fascination with a woman a lot of people think is like the enemy of the Republican Party, Eleanor Roosevelt.
MCCAIN: Eleanor Roosevelt was a very self-conscious, very unattractive, ungainly person. She gained self-confidence by urging herself on every single day to do things she thought she couldn‘t do.
She became one of the most popular people in America. She wrote a column. She was involved in the United Nations. She became a symbol to a lot of women, as well as men, but particularly women in America, that you can be as good as you want to be, and you can overcome great difficulties, and she was a marvelous person and at the end of her days was revered by millions and millions of Americans.
And she had an incredible life and one that I think, as a first lady, was probably unequaled as far as her impact on America is concerned.
MATTHEWS: I guess I just remember her trying to stop John Kennedy from winning the Democratic nomination in ‘60.
MATTHEWS: I remember her saying in that squeaky voice of herself, let it go to a second ballot.
MATTHEWS: I‘ll never forget that. She loved Adlai.
MCCAIN: Yes, she did.
But isn‘t that interesting, that she still had a significant influence 15 years after her husband‘s death?
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. Yes, I know.
Well, a lot of people love her, including you. Let me ask you about a guy I loved and always have loved every since I knew his story. But tell it for us, if you can, John Lewis, the member of Congress from Georgia.
MCCAIN: John Lewis is an example of moral courage combined with physical courage.
John Lewis and these heroes and everyday Americans have one thing in common, and that‘s they‘re committed to something greater than themselves. John Lewis was committed to the cause of social justice and he was willing to stand up for it and fight for it. And there was—he was near bridge in Selma, Alabama, and he and the marchers silently knelt while they were attacked by Bull Connor‘s storm troopers. He knew—he knew that he was going to be harmed. He had a skull fracture.
And he was willing—it‘s one thing to stand up and fight. It‘s another thing to kneel knowing that you‘re going to receive perhaps your own death in standing up for a cause you believe in. John Lewis is one of the noble Americans.
MATTHEWS: How does he avoid bitterness?
MCCAIN: I don‘t know the answer to that. He‘s one of the more gentle and noble souls that I‘ve had the chance to encounter. I don‘t know how he avoids that. He‘s also a very respected voice in the United States Congress. He continues to serve.
MATTHEWS: Yes, who wouldn‘t want him behind them?
Anyway, let me ask you about the guys you spent time with in the Hanoi Hilton. Tell us about that. Give us some hint of the book on that regard, because everybody wants to know what it was like to have buddies in a terrible situation.
MCCAIN: Well, my great privilege in my life has been to serve in the company of heroes.
I observed 1,000 acts of courage and compassion and love. And one of the things I try to point out in this book is, there‘s moral courage and there‘s physical courage. Moral courage, we can strengthen. The first time you stand up to the bully, it‘s hard. The second time it‘s not so hard. Physical courage, sometimes, you run out of. And when I ran out of physical courage and I came back to my cell and tapped on the wall, it was my comrades that picked me up, that lifted me up, that sustained me, that gave me strength to go back and fight again.
And, occasionally, I tell about one of our great resisters. And he was my source of strength. And one day, he came from interrogation and I knocked on the wall, tapped on the wall to him, and there was no answer. And I tapped again. And there was no answer. Sometimes you just get tired.
MATTHEWS: What happened to this fellow?
MCCAIN: He regained his strength and reasserted his leadership. But it took a little while.
MATTHEWS: What does it matter—how is—is courage contagious? Is it something that one person can give to another person? How does it work?
MCCAIN: Absolutely. If we love virtue and we love the things that are right in life and justice and freedom and the right virtues in life, then we will acquire the courage to defend them. And, yes, our parents and how we raise our children have a significant impact on that, and our example to others.
It‘s easy to tell your children not to tell a lie then have them watch you call in sick. You‘ve got to live the virtues that you want to impart to your children. And they will love justice and freedom. And that provides you the courage to stand up. The reason why we wrote this book was because of 9/11.
MCCAIN: The folks at Random House, Jon Karp and others, suggested we write it because people were duct-taping their homes. And I think that—and the other thing is, pay your dues. Those firemen, those policemen that rushed into the burning buildings, those young men and women that are fighting in Iraq, give them their respect and their reverence that they‘re due. They‘re the American heroes.
MATTHEWS: I love your quote from Daniel Webster, the great senator.
“A sense of duty pursues us ever.” I guess it is with you.
Thank you. Great book.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: “Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life.” John McCain, another great book from John, who has become quite an author, as well as a senator.
Thank you for being on the show again.
MCCAIN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: It‘s your 81st appearance by my count. Anyway, thank you very much, Senator John McCain.
An excerpt on the book is available on our Web site at HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
Join us here on HARDBALL again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Our guests are led by the great author of all, Bob Woodward.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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