September 6, 2013
Guests: Rep. Juan Vargas, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Tom Cole, Ted Deutch, Nia-Malika Henderson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Surrounded.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in New York.
Let me open tonight with this. You know what it looks like when a
team is on its own one-yard line? You know, just a yard from being tackled
in its own end zone? It would be generous to say that`s where President
Obama now stands in his fight to win congressional approval of an attack on
The latest polling tells a grimmer story, 223 members of the 435-
member House of Representatives are now listed as either no or leaning no
on the resolution. That is not a good field position for the president.
To win the fight next week, the president needs to not only convince
the undecideds, but also many of those who right now are heading toward a
vote against him, either that or have already committed to voting against
We will see whether a presidential address next Tuesday will change
members` positions. We will see whether Nancy Pelosi can pull together the
almost 170 votes she needs on the Democratic side to get the yes vote up to
the necessary 217 House majority.
I don`t expect either the president or Pelosi can expect much help
from the Republican rank and file. The problem is that this country is
divided right now between the usual hawks, many of whom, unfortunately,
hate Obama, and the doves who usually hate war. That leaves the
dangerously lonely middle and an enormous amount of yardage in both
directions, left as well as right.
Former White House senior adviser David Axelrod is an MSNBC senior
political analyst and Howard Fineman is the editorial director of
Huffington Post Media Group and an MSNBC political analyst. Howard
recently interviewed Secretary of State John Kerry.
Well, let me go through this. David, you -- are you surprised at this
number came out overnight, coming out of the Congress, which is basically,
based upon, apparently, individual polling and public statements, has more
than a majority against this proposition of bombing Iran -- bombing Syria?
DAVID AXELROD, FMR. SR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL
ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think we should note -- and you did -- that
I think 100 or so say they`re leaning that way, which means they haven`t
made a final decision.
But look, Chris, this is a tough, tough issue. This is a country that
is weary of war. I helped Barack Obama in 2008 become president, and one
of the reasons he was elected was because he had the foresight in 2002 to
object to the war in Iraq, and his observations were prescient about that
war. And now we`re living with the aftermath of that.
And so I`m not surprised. And obviously, there is work to be done to
make the case. But this isn`t Iraq. It is a very different kind of
situation, and the cost of not acting now is just so high.
And I believe that at the end of the day, members of Congress, enough
members of Congress, may be persuaded that that`s the case, that the
situation is different, that it is discrete and that there are grave
consequence if they don`t act.
MATTHEWS: That`s all true, I believe. I agree with, David. Let me
go to Howard. It seems to me the problem, though, presents itself in the
way I described it. A good half of this country is hawkish, but they don`t
like Obama. In fact, many of them hate Obama. The other half of the
country, just to be crude about it, is dovish, but they don`t like war.
So where are these people who are for Obama and want this act of war
to be committed? Because that seems to be a narrow middle. And that seems
to be the president`s problem, if there is a middle.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, it`s interesting to see the dynamics in Congress, Chris. During
those hearings the other day, the chairpersons in the middle, like the
center of the dais, was sympathetic to the president, by and large. But
the farther you got out to the wings...
FINEMAN: ... of both parties, as you went down the rows there, the
more skeptical people became. And that`s true in the country as a whole.
And I did interview Senator -- Secretary of State Kerry yesterday for
HuffingtonPost, and he`s at ground zero right now with this while the
president`s away at the summit. John Kerry, former senator, is having to
deal with the fears and the angst of a lot of Democratic members, who are
coming to him and saying, Assure me that we`re not going to get into a
quagmire here. My constituents don`t want another quagmire.
And Kerry`s whole message is this is about chemical weapons, it`s not
about a civil war. But it`s very hard to get that message through to
skeptical Democratic members, senators, House members, who back in their
district or in their state are being told by 50 to 1 that their own
constituents don`t want it.
MATTHEWS: Well, the problem is, of course, it isn`t that clean a vote
because you`ve got this whole McCain sidecar thrown on this resolution,
Howard. And I think that`s the problem...
MATTHEWS: ... because McCain drove a very hard bargain and he said
not only do we have to attack them in a punitive raid because of using
chemical, we now have to basically side, with real strong support for the
rebels. We have to find good rebels to support.
MATTHEWS: That`s -- you`re asking members of Congress to say not only
get even or revenge or attack or punishment for using chemical...
MATTHEWS: ... we have to take sides in civil war. And Howard, that`s
not an easy sell. And I`m not sure progressives are for that.
FINEMAN: No, no. No, that`s exactly right. And I know I`ve talked
to senators and House members on the Democratic side who cite that.
Now, what Senator Kerry says in anticipation, I`m sure, of what the
president is going to say next week -- Secretary Kerry says, Well, look,
the Congress is already on record as saying that it would like to see
regime change in Syria and we`d like to support the rebels with various
kinds of materiel in non-combat kinds of ways. That`s true.
But the problem is, if you take that language and stick it into a
resolution that involves an act of war, which is basically what it is...
FINEMAN: ... to attack seriously -- serious -- Syria, that`s what
gets the Democratic grass roots upset, as I`m sure David knows.
MATTHEWS: I want to go back to David on that very question because it
seems to me -- remember how Henry Kissinger was a genius at going around --
maybe he wasn`t being totally frank, to put it lightly. He`d go from the
Arab side to the Israeli side and say different things, whisper different
things in their ears. And in the old days before we had tape recordings
and television, you could get away with that.
Now we find Charles Krauthammer, who is smart as a whip -- I don`t
agree with him generally, but he`s in the paper today saying, I just want
the president to say out loud what he promised McCain and Lindsey Graham
when he said we`re going to really back these rebels.
If he says it out loud, doesn`t he lose Pat Leahy and all the -- all
the liberals in the Senate? He may even lose the Senate if he gets too
AXELROD: Well, actually, I don`t know that that`s the case. I think
Howard`s point is right, though. It`s the connection of the two, the
notion that there would be military action on behalf of the rebels that
involved American hardware and American personnel. That`s the thing that
concerns people. You guys have identified the exact...
MATTHEWS: Are you for this, David? Are you for this sidecar thing of
not just making sure we`ve kept the record straight on the principle of
opposing the use of chemical, but this idea that we should get heavily
involved in picking out the good guys on the rebel side and arming them?
Are you for that?
AXELROD: Well, the sidecar in the resolution says less than that. It
says "change the momentum on the battlefield." Well, the fact is that...
MATTHEWS: It says "al" -- I read it all, David. It says "all forms
of aid" to those groups.
MATTHEWS: All forms of aid, OK? It wasn`t just tilting there. It
was helping them.
AXELROD: The reality is that if we knock out some of these capacities
of Assad, then it will help the rebels. So in a sense, I think you -- it
answers its own question.
MATTHEWS: ... it doesn`t just say that. It says down -- it says down
-- degrade the military power of Assad and upgrade -- it says that in the
resolution -- upgrade that of the rebels. This goes much further than I
think you want to go.
AXELROD: But what Howard said is true. The Congress is already on
the record as saying they want to -- they want to upgrade the capacity of
The real -- look, there are no good answers here, Chris. Let`s be
clear. This is a very, very unhappy choice. But the real question is,
what does it say if this gets voted down? What does it say to the world
about the United States? What does it say to the bad actors in the world
if the United States is in a fetal position, if the world community is in a
fetal position, unwilling to unable to act in the face of wanton abuse of
international norms on things like chemical weapons?
What is the outcome of that? It can`t be good. And I think we have
to take a longer view of this. I don`t believe...
AXELROD: This president, who I know very, very well, is as allergic
to unnecessary intervention as anybody I know. I don`t think that he`s
looking to involve us in a deep conflict there. He`s looking to endeavor a
discrete mission here to make a very important point...
AXELROD: ... to knock out their capacities.
FINEMAN: But the danger -- the danger is that a man of principle, and
let`s accept him as that, could get us into a situation with unintended
consequences, no matter how "tailored," to use their word...
MATTHEWS: I know.
FINEMAN: ... the instrument is. That`s the...
MATTHEWS: Let me...
FINEMAN: That`s the fear...
MATTHEWS: ... go back to HARDBALL here. I know -- and the merits
have been very ably brought out there, I think, by David Axelrod.
According to this whip tally, however, conducted by "The Washington
Post," if a vote on the Syria resolution were held today, 223 members of
Congress -- that`s far more than the 217 on either side to be a majority --
are now either against or already leaning that way. The number would kill
the resolution, of course. Only 25 members out of 435 are now in favor of
the strikes. That`s 25 members up front right now.
It`s the same story according to a similar story taken of congressmen
by the ABC News organization, which says -- again, a majority of House of
Representatives are against the resolution. That`s enough to beat it.
If you look at the polls, it`s hardly surprise the House is crooning
(ph) toward a no vote. Polls taken in the past week or so all show public
opposition to air strikes in Syria. A Pew poll released just two days ago
has opposition levels at 48 percent, which is also far greater than the
percentage who support the action. It grows to 50 percent, according to
the latest NBC News poll, and that`s at 8 points higher than that support
it. It`s nearly -- it`s 60 percent against strikes in the most recent
"Washington Post"/ABC poll.
Again, David, does this president have the potency to go on television
next Tuesday -- I guess he`s doing it from the Oval Office, although I
would recommend going to the chamber for a joint session because he looks
better there and carries more weight, and higher risk. But it would be
Can he turn around this kind of polling?
AXELROD: Well, I don`t know that he turn the polling around
completely. Can he make a case that enough members of Congress will
receive about what their shared responsibilities are in the face of this
kind of blatant act that we`ve seen in Syria? I think that`s possible. I
don`t think it`s just his speech, although I`ve been a strong advocate for
MATTHEWS: OK, should he...
AXELROD: I think it`s absolutely necessary.
MATTHEWS: ... go to the chamber?
AXELROD: Well, he`s obviously made the decision not to. I understand
-- I think you make a very good point and...
MATTHEWS: Stronger, much stronger when you`re in the chamber.
AXELROD: But it plainly -- it sounds like he is going to speak from
the White House. I think that`s where he is going to speak from. But I
also think he has to mobilize other voices. It`s not just his voice.
MATTHEWS: I know.
AXELROD: His voice is the most important, but he has to mobilize
other voices, and they really need to focus on the consequences of inaction
here. I think those are very profound.
MATTHEWS: Howard, just to make my point, help me out here, if you
agree. Is it more power for him to go into the lion`s den, stand there as
head of the country, as head of the administration and commander-in-chief,
speak to those people surrounding him in a very -- when you sit behind that
desk, I`m not sure he or many presidents look that strong. I think Reagan
did, but it`s very hard to be overwhelmingly strong from sitting behind
that desk, I think. What do you think?
FINEMAN: Well, Chris, I think -- I think if the president is going to
get this done, he doesn`t have weeks or months to build public support in
the country. He`s got to cut right to the chase and go right to the
members of Congress and I think basically shame them, attempt to shame them
morally into action here. That`s his strongest argument.
MATTHEWS: Does he show up? Is Woody Allen right that you have to...
FINEMAN: That`s what I`m saying. So according to that, if that`s
what he`s got to do, to go to the chamber and look them in the eye, show
them the pictures from -- show them the pictures from Syria, and look them
in the eye and say, Look, the world has said this shall not happen. We`ve
got to take action. We can`t rely on others to do it. We are the United
States. We`ve got to do it. And we can`t let these types of weapons
potentially loose in the region.
I wouldn`t stress that because as soon as you do that, questions arise
-- and I know this from speaking to Secretary Kerry -- questions arise
about how you control those weapons if you attack the systems, about who
the rebels are, about who the opposition is, all that other stuff.
MATTHEWS: Yes, great.
FINEMAN: Skip all that and just focus on the moral equation about
using chemical weapons. That`s his strongest argument. And for that, he
should make it directly to the members.
MATTHEWS: Very forceful, Howard Fineman. Thank you, David Axelrod.
Thank you so much for the case, for the merits of this. You did a great
job. We`ll see how this develops by Tuesday.
Coming up: If you really want to know what the people think, go to a
town hall meeting, if you dare, like John McCain dared to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I think of Congress! They are a
bunch of marshmallows. That`s what they are. That`s what they`ve become.
Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It`s not
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the first I`ve ever heard anybody call John
McCain a marshmallow right to his face. Anyway, members of Congress are
taking this. They`re hearing it loud and clear in their town meetings.
We`re going to talk about what they`re hearing, a debate on whether we
should get involved in Syria. It`s out there in the land right now. We`ll
be joined by Republican members of Congress who oppose the military strike
and a Democrat who`s for it.
Also, boot in mouth disease? Designer Kenneth Cole learned again why
it`s a bad idea to try to make jokes about war, including Syria.
And "Let Me Finish" tonight with a member of the greatest generation
who lived for his family.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, the unemployment numbers for August are in. The
Labor Department reports that the economy added 169,000 jobs last month.
That`s a lot. Unemployment rate ticked down to 7.3 percent.
But when you dig inside the numbers, the picture isn`t that great. A
big reason why the unemployment rate dropped is because more Americans
stopped looking for work last month, so they`re no longer counted as
unemployed, of course. But look, that was a lot of people getting jobs.
July`s job gains were revised sharply downward.
We`ll be right back after -- I think 169,000 is pretty good.
REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: If you`d raise your hand if you`re
opposed to military strikes so I can get a sense?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Congressman Justin
Amash, a Republican from Michigan, speaking just a few days ago at a town
hall in his home state. The lack of support for intervention in Syria you
saw there is hardly an isolated case among constituents across the country.
Yesterday, Senator John McCain, the Senate`s most prominent hawk, saw
a flood of wrath from angry voters from a town hall who want nothing to do
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I think of Congress! They are a
bunch of marshmallows! That`s what they are. That`s what they`ve become.
Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It`s not
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can do it by negotiation -- by diplomacy and
negotiation, not bombs, Senator McCain! You need to also listen to the
majority of the American people, who do not want you to go there!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is -- this is not an issue that we can fix
so lightly, Senator McCain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would much rather use our taxpayers` money to
take care of our vets that are coming home from the two conflicts we`ve
already been in.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don`t think I need to be lectured to
about veterans, OK? All right? So anyway...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, even that didn`t go over well. Congressman Rick
Crawford, by the way, a Republican from Kansas, says that 99 percent of the
calls to his office were against action in Syria. U.S. Congressman Mike
Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said has received -- he said
he received 126 calls opposing military engagement and only one call in
favor. I believe that from Bucks County.
It`s not just Republicans, either. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont,
an independent, says that almost unanimously, people up there are saying do
not get involved. And Democratic congressman Brad Sherman from California
says, I don`t know a member of Congress whose e-mails and phone calls are
in favor of this.
Well, we`re joined now by two Democratic members of Congress, Elijah
Cummings, of course, from Maryland. He`s expressed serious doubts about
intervention in Syria, but also hasn`t ruled of voting in favor of the
Syria regulation. And of course, Juan Vargas -- he`s from California.
He`s come out in favor of strikes.
I want to start with Mr. Vargas. I haven`t met you before, sir.
Where are you on this? And more importantly, where are your constituents,
to start with?
REP. JUAN VARGAS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, my constituents generally are
not in favor of it. I think it`s like the rest of the country.
But I certainly am. I`ve in favor of this. And the reason for that
is that you`ve used these type of weapons. These weapons should never be
used. And now the amount of children that he killed with this, the
grownups, everybody else -- I mean, we have to do something. And if the
rest of the world does not want to come along, we have to do it ourselves.
But we can`t allow this to stand.
MATTHEWS: Well, what about the other part of the resolution that
McCain jammed in there that talks about aiding the rebels? Are you
comfortable with taking sides in this fight?
VARGAS: Well, not really. I mean, I don`t like that aspect as much
because we don`t know who the good guys are and the bad guys. Yes, we say
some guys are a little bit better than the rest. They all look pretty bad
But the issue of the chemical weapons and gassing all these children,
I mean, how high does the pile of children have to be before we`re outraged
and say we`re going to do something about it? I mean, they killed hundreds
of kids. We ought to do something about it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mr. Cummings, your view on this. Where are
you headed now? And most importantly, what are you hearing from your
people in Maryland?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: First of all, my constituents, I
would say 95 percent of the people I have heard from are against it.
And, Chris, they have the backdrop of Iraq. And they -- in other
words, that they know that we went to war on inaccurate information. They
know we spent hundreds of billions of dollars. They know most importantly
that we have lost so many of our young people, many of them from my
district and from Maryland.
And they -- they feel -- they don`t feel -- they don`t sound as angry
as they did at that McCain meeting. But I can tell you I did a walk
throughout my district yesterday with some NBC reporters. And to a person
-- and they were very thoughtful. Every single person we approached was
well informed on this issue and every one of them said, we don`t want it.
But the other interesting thing, Chris, is that I asked them. I said,
remember, we voted 80 percent for the president in my district. They said,
we love the president. We respect the president. But we just don`t want
to see us going back in this area, going into Syria. And I got to tell
you, I was listening to Fineman in your last segment.
CUMMINGS: I think it was Fineman. And he was saying that the
president has to address us congressmen and senators.
He doesn`t have to only do that. The reason why I have been pushing
for him to address us is because I want him to address my constituents, so
that they can...
MATTHEWS: How is he going to do that between now and next week?
CUMMINGS: Well, he -- no, he is going to do it on Tuesday. I think
it`s going to be one of the most significant speeches of his career.
And I think he has to lay out the moral argument. That, I do agree
MATTHEWS: Well, what about -- you know how television works. It`s
always much more dramatic. It`s big picture when the president walks --
Reagan -- I just wrote a book about it. Reagan, when he walked into that
chamber, it said it was an unbelievable feeling. There is such drama when
a president walks into that chamber of the United States House of
Representatives, where you work every day...
MATTHEWS: ... and addresses the members face to face on national and
CUMMINGS: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Isn`t that more dramatic than sitting in his office?
CUMMINGS: Oh, I would love to see him in the chamber. I think that
would be -- I think that would be an ideal place.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Vargas, would that help make your case if the president
thought this had the same passion you have talked about, about the evils of
chemical weapons used? Would that be more dramatic if he showed up?
VARGAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, he should show up.
VARGAS: I mean, it would be the right thing to do. I have known
Barack for a long time.
We went to law school together. And he is a great orator. And you
know what? Having a group like that around, I think he could make his
argument, not only to us, but to the whole world, why we have to do this.
I agree with you. Standing behind a -- or sitting behind a desk, that`s
not going to do it.
Go to the chamber. Talk to the people directly.
VARGAS: And then hang around and let us talk to him too. I think he
could convince a lot of people. He shouldn`t be afraid to do it.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look. Here he is, Mr. Vargas. Thanks
for coming on, by the way.
Here he is, by the way, as you suggested. But here is, the president
of the United States, overseas now, of course, asked about congressional
resistance to the Syrian intervention at a press conference in Russia.
This is, by the way, today. This is his message to members of Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, you listen
to your constituents, but you`ve also got to make some decisions about what
you believe is right for America.
And that`s the same for me as president of the United States. There
are a whole bunch of decisions that I make that are unpopular, as you well
know. But I do so because I think they`re the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Cummings, I have talked to you so many times.
Now a philosophical question. Are you an Edmund Burke guy who believes
that you owe your judgment to your people back home, not just simply your
vote, your judgment?
CUMMINGS: I believe that I owe a lot of judgment to my constituents.
But I also know something else, Chris.
And after listening, going through three of these classified briefings
now, one of the things that I keep in mind is that I`m getting information
that my constituents don`t even know. And I can`t disclose it to them.
That`s a -- that`s a problem.
MATTHEWS: Well, what does it -- qualitatively, what does it tell you?
You don`t have to give me the details obviously of this classified
What does it do to you that you think should be done to your people in
terms of message? What is getting across to you.
CUMMINGS: Just, I think it -- I think it helps me with regard to what
my good friend Mr. Vargas is saying.
I mean, you get a better -- I mean, the side that the president is
talking about, the significance of the event, the moral -- a lot of the
moral issues and why we have got to do this...
CUMMINGS: ... and how we`re going to do it. But there are still a
lot of questions that I need answered. But, again, I can understand
Vargas` feelings, because I feel the same way.
I`m concerned too when I see children lying down dead after being
CUMMINGS: I mean, I think it`s -- anybody with any kind of heart has
to feel that. But, at the same time, I want to make sure that we don`t go
in and do harm.
MATTHEWS: OK, Mr. Vargas, I have got to give you the same question,
the Edmund Burke question. Do you owe your own judgment? Is it as
important as your polling in your district, when you make a judgment of
conscience like this?
VARGAS: I`m a former Jesuit.
I always make the decision based on what I think is right. And I hope
that constituents come along. But if not, you know, I make the decision,
and that`s the way it has to be.
MATTHEWS: Well, I like even more so that you`re a former Jesuit. I
went to Holy Cross. Thank you very much. I won`t call you father, but
it`s great to have a former Jevy (ph) on the show.
And thank you. I like this kind of conversation. It`s really what
our country is about.
VARGAS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Elijah Cummings and Juan Vargas, members of Congress.
Up next, what has got Bill Clinton so excited about his lunch with
former President George Bush? I think he is like a son in many ways. This
HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. It`s time for the "Sideshow."
And amid clashes over Syria and Edward Snowden, the awkward personal
relationship between President Obama and Vladimir Putin was put to the test
yesterday in Saint Petersburg, where both leaders participated in the G20
But Putin, who is famous for promoting his tough guy image with
ridiculous photographs like this, actually tried to avoid contact actually
with Obama this time around. According to "The Guardian" newspaper, the
Kremlin actually rearranged the seating to separate the two leaders, one
from the other, at a dinner in the imperial palace last night.
But "The Tonight Show"`s Jay Leno imagined what could have happened
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": You know, Putin is
still -- you know, he`s got this whole macho thing going. Did you see them
when they met today? It was so dramatic. Show Putin. Here is the
Look at this. This he is. Now, watch. Now, here comes Putin. Look,
there is no call -- there is no -- what is that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Next, designer Kenneth Cole getting a lot of attention as
New York`s Fashion Week kicks off, but he may be proving that all press is
not necessarily good press.
In a tweet referring to a debate over war in Syria, Cole attempted the
plug his brand, saying, "Boots on the ground or not, let`s not forget about
sandals, pumps, and loafers, #footwear."
Wow. He did respond to the tweet, saying he just wanted to provoke a
dialogue. It`s not the first time Cole has tried to capitalize on conflict
in the Middle East. Back in 2011, he claimed that the Arab spring
uprisings in Cairo were a reaction to his new spring collection.
And speaking of famous footwear, former President Bush 41`s socks are
making news again. This time, it`s because former President Bill Clinton
wants a pair for himself. After breaking bread together yesterday, Clinton
tweeted: "Enjoyed my annual lunch with President and Mrs. Bush in Maine.
Envious of his Western cactus-themed socks, #sockswag."
Up next, the Syria debate, two members of Congress, one for military
action and one against.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Obama needs 217 members of the House to support his
resolution. And, as we showed you earlier, the latest whip count from `The
Washington Post" has 223 members in the no category, or leaning no. Only
25 are for the resolution.
We have two members of Congress now from different catches joining us
to debate the issue. U.S. Congressman Tom Cole is a Republican from
Oklahoma. He will vote no. U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch is a Democrat from
Florida who will vote yes in favor of a military strike.
I want to start with Mr. Cole.
Were you for the Iraq war? I`m trying to find consistency here. Were
you a hawk on the war in Iraq and now are a dove? I mean, is there any
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: No. Well, I wasn`t in Congress when the
original war vote was taken. But I was certainly supportive for the war
and, had I been there, would have voted it. So, if that`s your
designation, I would have been a hawk.
MATTHEWS: Well, why did you change? Why are you a dove now?
COLE: Well, first of all, I think this is a different kind of war.
And it`s a pretty nasty war. It`s a civil war.
It`s a proxy war between the Saudis and the Iranians, and it`s also a
religious war. Second, I don`t see immediate American vital interests at
stake here or any of our allies. We haven`t been attacked. They haven`t
been attacked. Third, I don`t think the measures that the president are
proposing are going to make much of a difference. To me, they`re much more
of a gesture than a real policy or strategy.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Ted Deutch, what is your view on this? I don`t know
your past positions. Maybe you didn`t have one on the Iraq war. But I
assume you were against it. Maybe I`m wrong.
REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: Right. No, no, no, I was against -- I
was against the Iraq war. I wasn`t in Congress at the time, but I was
against it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are you for this one?
DEUTCH: Because this is very different.
The Iraq war -- in the Iraq war, we had a president who was hell-bent
on going to war to take down a regime. They had to manufacture evidence to
get us into that war. That`s why I opposed it.
In this case, we have footage, very powerful footage and very powerful
evidence that Assad gassed his own people. And we have 189 countries who
were on record. The entire civilized war -- civilized world is on record
saying that you cannot use chemical weapons. You can`t gas your own
We have a moral obligation, a human rights obligation, and a strategic
obligation to take some action now, very limited, but some.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s -- I just talked to Senator Boxer. It sounds
like the same -- her argument. It isn`t about the congressional
leadership. It`s about her view of this thing.
So you would say it`s on the merits, having nothing to do with your
No, this is not about party at all. This is absolutely about the
merits and what the cost of inaction would be. The fact is, one, we have I
think a human rights -- we have a moral obligation. We have to act with
our allies to ensure that the world is clear that you can`t use chemical
weapons. You can`t gas your own people.
MATTHEWS: So, if Mitt Romney were president now, just to be somewhat
speculative -- he almost was. He was close.
MATTHEWS: If he were president now, would you support the same
This is not a question about party.
DEUTCH: This is a question about how we respond when there is a moral
interest and a strategic interest.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Cole, same question to you on the other side. Would
you support this? Would you be for this measure if it was supported by the
Republicans, say, like George W. Bush?
COLE: No, I wouldn`t.
Frankly, I think we have learned some hard lessons in the last decade.
And if we went to war every time somebody did this, we would have been at
war, we would have intervened in Iraq on the side of the Iranians in the
1980s and then intervened again when Saddam used this against their own
MATTHEWS: Suppose he does it again. Suppose he does it again and
again and again? At what point would you say no more, no mas?
COLE: One of the interesting questions, I don`t think this has been
the first time.
Look, there is pretty compelling evidence he has been doing this for a
while. But I think, at the end of the day, you know, when it`s -- it`s not
as if the other side is some sort of paragon of virtue.
MATTHEWS: I know. But where is your limit here?
COLE: There is a lot of butchery going on.
MATTHEWS: What is your limit on Assad, about Bashar al-Assad?
MATTHEWS: How many times can he kill his own people with nuclear --
with chemical in this case, sarin apparently, sarin gas, before you say
COLE: It`s not really the -- well, I`m not sure -- the real question
to me, am I willing to risk American lives to go in there?
We`re not the only power in the region. You know, the Turks, the
Saudis have an interest there. The idea that we always have to do it -- at
least, you know, in the first Iraq war, even in the second, there was a --
considerably more tangible international support.
There is just simply not much here. And the idea that we`re going to
enforce this everywhere, does this mean if Russia decided to use chemical
weapons against the Chechnyans that we would intervene there against a
nuclear power? I don`t think so. So I think you have got to look at this
COLE: And, so far, no clear mission.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mr. Deutch on this.
MATTHEWS: Second part on this now, because of the complicated nature
of political compromise, because John McCain and with an alliance with
Lindsey Graham were able to get the Democrats in the Senate Foreign --
Foreign Relations Committee to add on language, it`s called section five,
which really does tilt us in this war.
And it`s got us in there saying we change the momentum. We have got
to give all forms of aid, including lethal aid, to the groups we like
fighting the government there. Are you concerned that this is going to
drag us into this war, because we`re clearly taking sides?
DEUTCH: Well, first of all, I`m not going to support a resolution
that is not limited in scope, that doesn`t limit --
MATTHEWS: But that has passed the senate. This is where it`s at. I
mean, it`s passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
DEUTCH: It has. Right. And there are -- we`ll see what -- we`ll see
if this comes over or not. The fact is we`re not going to do anything with
this authorization, and we shouldn`t to give the president authority that
he doesn`t already have.
But, Chris, remember, it`s not just the fear of inaction. What
happens to Assad and whether he continues to gas his own people.
Congressman Cole and I all of Congress, 400 members voted to impose
sanctions on Iran right before we left in July. And those sanctions will
only work if the supreme leader understands that our word means something.
That`s also what this is about. It`s about sending a message not just
to Syria to stop the gassing of their own people.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe you can send -- here`s my concern and this
is much (ph) --
MATTHEWS: We don`t know how to talk to a mullah. We don`t know
whether they`re religious driven. They`re not secular people like us.
They`re driven by theology in many cases and history. And we don`t know
whether attacking a Shia ally of theirs, in this case, Syria, is going to
just heat them up even more so.
MATTHEWS: Sometimes when you punch somebody, they get more of a
fighter. They don`t say, oh, don`t punch me again. They say go ahead,
punch me again. How do you know it`s going to work the way you think?
DEUTCH: Well, we do -- we do know this. We do know our policy with
respect to Iran -- stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and then
all throughout the Middle East is based on sanctions and a credible threat
of military force.
DEUTCH: If we show that our word doesn`t mean anything, then that
credible threat is gone. And it increases the likelihood that we may find
ourselves in a military confrontation with Iran. Nobody wants that.
MATTHEWS: OK, same question to you, sir. Even Steven here, Mr.
Deutch. Congressman, suppose the guy we`re going after here, the president
gets this approved. He goes and attacks, a very strong attack against
these facilities. Perhaps their chemical facilities, whatever, maybe the
oil wells or whatever, oil refineries in Damascus in that country, and he
does it again.
Then what? He uses chemical again. Now what do we do? Do we keep
hitting him? Do we get in a war?
COLE: Well, you know, if the argument is we`re going to attack a
country that hasn`t attacked us to deliver a message to a second country, I
just find that unpersuasive. And look, the argument really isn`t between
Ted and myself. The argument right now is really between the foreign
policy elite in Washington, D.C. and the American people. Because I don`t
care what district you live in or where you`re at, opinion -- or you`re
Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, opinion is overwhelmingly
against this. And using military power when the American people
overwhelmingly oppose it I think is a very risky proposition. And it is
actually much more likely to put us in the position --
MATTHEWS: Mr. Cole, last question. Have you sat in on the classified
COLE: Yes, I have. Flew back last week --
MATTHEWS: And they didn`t change your mind?
COLE: No, they did not.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Deutch, did you sit in on the briefs?
DEUTCH: Yes. I`ve been briefed. And the evidence is clear, Chris,
first of all. The video footage, I hope that people have an opportunity to
see the footage of bodies, young bodies, young children wrapped in shrouds
as their mothers try to come to determine which is their child that was
gassed to death.
And we have to ask ourselves whether we`re permitted, whether the
world is willing to permit Assad to continue to do that to his people.
Today, it`s 1,400 people in Damascus. Next time, it could be 14,000 or
140,000 in Aleppo there is a moral obligation, a strategic obligation.
And I`m not prepared to defer to the Russians to let them veto our
moral and strategic operations. That`s what is at stake here.
MATTHEWS: Gentlemen, thank you. Gentlemen, it`s an honor to have you
on. It`s a great debate for America.
U.S. Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma and U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch
Up next, brand new evidence the Republicans in North Carolina maybe
doing real damage to their state`s image. I went to school down there. I
got to tell you, I`m really interested in this. This is deteriorating down
there. Something about North Carolina is turning off the rest of the
country, and it was never like this before.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back in a moment with how the Republican agenda in North
Carolina is really hurting that one state big-time.
HARDBALL, back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: They have now made it that it`s easier to get a
gun than it is to register to vote. That is a crime against democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
North Carolina NAACP president, the Reverend William Barber, has been
the driving force there as you see in that state`s Moral Mondays where
residents have strike. The state`s GOP leaders have also put stricter
requirements on abortion clinics that may limit a woman`s access to the
procedure. These are issues we`ve covered extensively on HARDBALL.
And now, a new poll indicates that North Carolina`s image nationally
may be suffering as a result. In 2011, two years ago when the polling
company PPP conducted a national poll, rating the popularity of each state,
which I found testing, North Carolina made the top 10, with a healthy 40
percent favorable, 11 percent unfavorable. That`s an impressive, by the
way, 29 points in the favorable direction.
Fast forward two years and the bottoms dropped out. Now, the country
has a 30 percent favorable opinion on North Carolina, unfavorable, 23
percent, giving the states just 7 points in the favorable direction.
That`s a 22-point drop in just two years. Women`s favorable opinion in
this state has sunk 29 points. Among African-Americans, the state`s
popularity dropped an astonishing 45 points.
Nia-Malika Henderson covers politics to "The Washington Post." David
Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political
In order, I want you to both so sing out here what`s wrong with North
Carolina by the public`s view? Nia?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, I think --
people typically identify North Carolina with the outer banks with the
research triangle park and over these last couple of years, it has been a
very much a politicized and political state. We`ve seen the voting, the
Voting Rights Act down there rolled back by the Supreme Court and now, they
are putting in very strict, I think the strictest voter ID laws and
restrictions down there. Then, of course, with abortion, it very much has
taken a right turn.
I think typically North Carolina has been viewed very differently than
South Carolina. But I think that`s changing. You see Pat McCrory having a
Republican legislature down there, the legislator is more conservative than
he is and he`s having some battles down there with that Republican Party
that is much more conservative than he is.
MATTHEWS: I`m amazed by this. I thought North Carolina was on the
move here because of the research triangle, UNC, of course, NC State and,
of course, Duke, all that.
MATTHEWS: All the thinks going on down there. All the sort of
natural -- nationalization of the state. Everybody goes to North Carolina
to get educated now, go to the beaches. They love the place. And then you
have this sort of retro thing going on there. What is the retro thing all
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Let me put a good word in for Ocracoke
Island in North Carolina where I like to visit.
North Carolina was always part of the South. But in the last few
years, in the last decade or so, because of the growth of the tech and
research and education centers throughout the state, a lot of Northerners
and people from the Midwest have moved there and it seemed to be coming
less a southern state in terms of being part of that conservative culture
that long existed in the South.
In 2008, it went for Obama by half a point. But now, we see 2012,
Obama lost by almost two points to Mitt Romney. You see the resurgence of
the Republican right there. And, again, so this whole image of --
MATTHEWS: What are they upset about, do you know? Nia, can you,
having been down there, what is upsetting the people on the conservative
side of the aisle that makes them want to go the other direction?
HENDERSON: Well, you know, I do think in states across the country,
we have in some ways seen sort of an Obama backlash and you see in some of
these states that are very much controlled by Republicans from top to
bottom from the governor`s mansion to the state legislature, so they have
their way in these states and they very much are running the table on lots
of issues whether, it`s voting rights or more social issues like abortion.
You also saw down there, for instance, they put up an act for same-sex
marriage. That was defeated. William Barber and NAACP down there very
much on the other side of the issue.
CORN: The gun laws they`ve passed, too.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk a positive for a second. You have a state down
there that`s known for having a university system, especially Chapel Hill,
which is up there almost like the Stanford of the East. It has great
athletics, basketball forever, and also on football. Not this year
necessarily. And yet, they have a high academic standard. People from all
over the country want to go to the schools there.
Aren`t they proud of it, Nia, what the developed?
HENDERSON: Definitely. I mean, I went to Duke. I know you went to
UNC. I`m not a fan of UNC basketball, but it`s certainly a great school.
MATTHEWS: Dean Smith. Medal of Freedom.
HENDERSON: The folks down there who I know folks who teach at UNC,
who go to UNC. They are very much concerned about --
MATTHEWS: Like they should be. Let`s remember, Frank Graham and
Anyway, thank you both. And Dean Smith.
HENDERSON: And also Jesse Helms, right?
MATTHEWS: Also in there. I got to go, David.
CORN: Going back in that direction.
MATTHEWS: David, we got to go. David, thank you so much, David and
Nia-Malika Henderson "The Washington Post."
When we return, let me finish with a tribute to one of the men of the
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me end tonight with the story of Robert Emmett
He was part of what Tom Brokaw christened "The Greatest Generation."
He dropped out of his first year of college to join the U.S. Navy. He
wanted to be a naval aviator, got promised by the recruiter he could pull
it off once he enlisted. Instead, they sent him to electronics school,
then shipped him off to New Caledonia in the South Pacific.
There he was issued a suitcase-sized piece of gear that allowed him to
communicate with ships at sea so he could direct gunfire on enemy-held
And from there he was sent to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, one of
the really bad spots in the war.
He was lucky.
Quote, "The thing was changing all time," he told me after dinner a
few months back. "We landed without opposition. We made a regular landing
in boats and walked in the water and carried rifles, went up the beach and
all, but there was no resistance. The Japanese had moved from there to
But it wasn`t that safe. There were, he admitted to me later, "some
minor Japanese fragments who were shooting at us."
"Were you ever scared?" I asked him.
"No," my father-in-law said without a beat.
"I had a hell of a time!"
But as August 1945 approached, it didn`t look like his luck would
hold. He and his buddies were getting word that the Americans were about
to invade the home islands of Japan itself, an operation expected to cost a
"When they started -- they started distributing that heavy clothing,"
he said. "That`s when you knew you were heading to Japan."
"We made practice landings and we were issued winter clothing in 90-
degree heat. We didn`t` have to wear it, we were issued it."
And then, all of a sudden, they got the news that Japan had, as he put
it, thrown in the towel."
So it turns out that Bob Cunningham -- Kathleen`s father -- was one of
those who were saved by President Truman`s decision to use the atom bomb.
What would an invasion been like? I asked him that, knowing how
ferociously the Japanese had defended those many islands in the Pacific.
He let me know exactly what had been on his mind all the years since.
He said it "would have been horrible." "I think that would`ve been
horrible," he said again.
That was almost 70 years ago.
Yesterday, not far from where he and Mary Lou raised five kids in
Northern California -- including my incredible wife -- Bob Cunningham died.
We and our children all visited him last weekend. He was in good
spirits. Our kids were wonderful with him -- and he with them, cracking
jokes right to the end.
Robert Emmett Cunningham -- of Los Altos California, via New Caledonia
and Leyte Gulf -- on his way to Arlington Cemetery.
Thank you for your service.
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