Guest: Shawn Hatosy, Orson Swindle, Karen Tumulty, John McCain
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: On the eve of the showdown in the Senate, Arizona Senator John McCain on the filibuster fight and on “Faith of My Fathers,” the upcoming TV movie based on his life.
Live from the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, let‘s play
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Tonight, we‘re at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, where the movie “Faith of My Fathers,” about the life of John McCain, is having its national preview. Senator McCain, once again in the role of maverick, tells us tonight in an exclusive interview that he will cast his vote tomorrow against President Bush and the Republican leadership‘s nuclear option to kill the filibuster.
If anyone‘s life reads like a movie script, it is John McCain‘s. A third-generation Naval officer, he went to the U.S. Naval Academy and then to Vietnam. He was shot down on a bombing mission over Hanoi, was taken prisoner and spent five-and-a-half years in captivity. Later, we‘ll meet a man who was a POW with McCain.
But, first, I began tonight by asking the senator how good he thinks the movie is.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I think it is very good and very accurate. It is hard for me to be objective. But I think the young man who plays me, Shawn Hatosy, is good. Scott Glenn plays my father. And he is a fine actor. So, I think it‘s—there‘s some—a few examples of poetic license, but other than that, it is pretty good.
MATTHEWS: You‘re in the news this weekend. You did a big interview with “New Yorker” magazine and it just came out tonight. “I do believe that I have the qualifications to address what is now the transcendent issue of our time, terrorism.”
Do you believe you would be a great president?
JOHN MCCAIN: I don‘t—I think I could be a great president. I have not decided whether I want to seek the presidency. And I will not for a couple years.
But do I believe that I have the qualities and experience to be a good president? I would hope so. Otherwise, I wouldn‘t even consider it.
MATTHEWS: The reason I ask that is because you seem to have pinpointed the essential concern of the presidency in these times, which is terrorism, and your ability to deal with that problem.
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. I think it is a transcendent issue and I think that is the major reason why President Bush was reelected, because I think the American people felt that he was more qualified to handle this challenge than John Kerry.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about your preparation. There‘s a quote in this article which sounds like Nietzsche, it is so tough. When you go through it, it either kills you or makes you stronger.
Is that true of your experience as a POW in Vietnam? Is that true of your experience getting through South Carolina primary against Bush last time?
JOHN MCCAIN: Well, you learn from those experiences. And you‘ve got to be a better person. Otherwise, you have wasted it.
But I hold no ill will towards anybody about the 2000 campaign. Look, you move on. You move on in life and in politics. And for me to look back in anger over something that happened now nearly five years ago would be foolishness. And I don‘t do that. Really.
MATTHEWS: Last time I interviewed you, we were on a baseball field at the opening day of the Nationals, our team here, which has a winning record, as you know, now.
JOHN MCCAIN: They whacked the Diamondbacks three in a row. Yes, I remember well.
MATTHEWS: That‘s not my fault. Not your fault either.
Let me ask you about—you said on that day—you made news. You said that you were going to vote against the Senator Frist position to try to get rid of the filibuster on judicial appointments. Are you still on that side?
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about...
JOHN MCCAIN: But, as you know, there‘s actually more than 12 of us that are negotiating, trying to come up with something that would be a reasonable approach to it.
And since you raised the issue, just let me remind you. The Democrats abused the filibuster by filibustering so many of the president‘s nominees. They recognize that, or at least a number of them. We‘re trying to figure a way that we don‘t change the rules of the Senate with 51 votes, get the president his up-and-down votes, at the same time, preserve the minority‘s right to filibuster. That‘s what this is really all about.
MATTHEWS: Do you trust the minority Democrats to decide only in cases of extraordinary circumstances to oppose by using the filibuster?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think any agreement that we enter into would be on the basis of trust and goodwill, any agreement.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, another bit of news that was made in this article that came out today, you, apparently on the record now, were offered the vice presidential nomination of the Democratic Party by John Kerry. Is that true?
JOHN MCCAIN: No, it‘s not true. There was never a formal offer and I‘ve stated that 1,000 times.
MATTHEWS: So, this article is wrong.
JOHN MCCAIN: It must be, because I‘ve stated. And I say at least 1,000 times. There was never a formal offer.
MATTHEWS: Was there an informal offer?
JOHN MCCAIN: Well, there was conversations about it, obviously.
MATTHEWS: Did you get idea that he wanted you on his ticket?
JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I got the idea that he wanted to discuss it, clearly. But I would not like to go much further.
JOHN MCCAIN: Because it was a private conversation between myself and John Kerry, who is a friend of mine.
MATTHEWS: He is a friend of yours.
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Can you imagine putting him on the ticket with you if you were the Republican nominee?
JOHN MCCAIN: I—look, I—I just—all this stuff is water under the bridge.
MATTHEWS: Have you talked or has your staff talked to Karl Rove about helping to manage a 2008 campaign? That‘s also in the article.
JOHN MCCAIN: How could I possibly do that? I mean, that is just—that would be insane. I don‘t—I can‘t imagine that. Of course not.
MATTHEWS: Because one of your aides talked enthusiastically about getting Rove to manage your campaign in 2008.
JOHN MCCAIN: That—first of all, I think that Karl Rove has made it clear that he is not going to be involved in more campaigns. Second of all, I have had not one word of discussion with him about 2008, much less whether I would have him involved in any campaign of mine.
Here‘s a direct quote from you: “I‘m a hawk. I‘m for nation-building. I‘m pro-life. I‘m a free trader.” These are the words you used to say that you wouldn‘t fit on a Democratic ticket. You‘re a Republican conservative.
JOHN MCCAIN: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Those words really convey your sort of political position on the world today.
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes, indeed.
MATTHEWS: How is that different from the ideology of this administration, the ideology that—of nation building in Iraq, a very forward-leaning strategy in the world. Do you have any real differences with this administration in terms of foreign strategy?
JOHN MCCAIN: Not as far as strategy is concerned. In fact, I think the president‘s second inaugural address is one of the most enduring, eloquent statements about what America‘s role in the world is.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that we should stick it out in Iraq all the way?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think we have to. I don‘t think we have any choice. I think the consequences of failure are so catastrophic, I don‘t like to contemplate them.
MATTHEWS: What do you think when you see a poll that shows that people think, the American people think, a majority of them, a small majority, that we should just pull out?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think that we made serious mistakes after the initial victory. We paid a very heavy price in American blood and treasure. There were many of us who, at the time, knew about those. We wished that it had been conducted differently. And, yet, I still believe that the elections change the equation from U.S. vs.—insurgents vs. U.S. to insurgents vs. the Iraqi government. We can prevail in the end and we must.
MATTHEWS: The rationale for the war, you were quoted. Again, I‘m afraid now to quote this magazine article to you.
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: But you were quoted as saying that, even if there hadn‘t been any WMD there, you still think the war was worth it.
JOHN MCCAIN: I think we did the right thing, yes.
MATTHEWS: Even without a WMD case.
JOHN MCCAIN: Because—because I believe that Saddam Hussein, it is clear, had used weapons of mass destruction. If he had remained in power, he would have attempted to acquire and use them. And the sanctions were not working and were breaking down. The status quo was not prevailing in Iraq, yes.
MATTHEWS: Last HARDBALL question here. Gary Bauer said in this article in “Newsweek” which came out today that you promised him that, if you were elected president, when he backed you in the primaries, after losing himself, pulling out himself, that you would endorse, you would recommend only pro-choice judges—or—I‘m sorry.
JOHN MCCAIN: No, no, no, pro-life.
MATTHEWS: Only pro-life judges. Did you make that commitment to him?
JOHN MCCAIN: I will not discuss a private conversation I had with Gary Bauer.
MATTHEWS: Would you only endorse pro-life judges if you were president?
JOHN MCCAIN: I—if I were president of the United States, I would make a decision at the time if I were president as to what I would do.
MATTHEWS: But no litmus test?
JOHN MCCAIN: No, I don‘t think there would be a litmus test on anything. There should not be a litmus test on anything.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘ll come back. I want to talk to you about your friend Warren Beatty.
JOHN MCCAIN: OK.
MATTHEWS: He‘s making political noises in California and using this show to build a career.
JOHN MCCAIN: Good.
MATTHEWS: More of my interview with John McCain when we come back.
And tomorrow, two hours of HARDBALL. It is the most important Senate vote in generations, many people say, for or against the Republican motion to kill the filibuster in judicial nominations.
We‘re here at the national preview of “Faith of My Fathers,” live from the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re live at the national preview of “Faith of My Fathers,” here at the Ronald Reagan Building. I‘ll have more of my interview with Senator John McCain when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m here live at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, where the movie “Faith of My Fathers” is about to begin.
Now more of my interview with Senator John McCain. Here is his reaction to this clip of actor Warren Beatty‘s commencement address at U.C. Berkeley this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN BEATTY, ACTOR: Imagine my chagrin when, on television, Arnold shows up and expresses reluctance to listen to my advice.
BEATTY: He said to Chris Matthews, if I promise not to give him advice on politics, he promises not to give me advice on acting.
BEATTY: I can only advise him that, if politics and acting are off the table, we‘re only left with hair and makeup.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, There‘s Warren Beatty this weekend giving the Berkeley commencement address out in California.
People say he might run for office, like governor of California, against Schwarzenegger. What would be your advice to him, political advice?
JOHN MCCAIN: My advice to him is, take—take a poll.
JOHN MCCAIN: But, second of all, look, Warren has been involved in politics for more than 30 years.
JOHN MCCAIN: And he loves politics and he enjoys it. And he wouldn‘t be the first ex-Hollywood actor to get into the...
MATTHEWS: Would that be a good left-right fight for California?
JOHN MCCAIN: Oh, I think you would probably get the biggest...
MATTHEWS: Against Schwarzenegger?
JOHN MCCAIN: Beatty vs. Schwarzenegger? You would probably have the biggest voter turnout in history.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something that Bob Woodward, “The Washington Post”‘s sleuth, said a couple of weeks ago, in fact, very recently. He thinks that Cheney is running an underground campaign for president. The vice president really wants to be president and he will find a way to get it, the nomination.
JOHN MCCAIN: I have no indication of that. I take the vice president at his word. But I certainly don‘t know anything about it.
MATTHEWS: Would he be strong in New Hampshire against you? You own that state.
JOHN MCCAIN: Stop.
MATTHEWS: You beat the president by double digits up there.
JOHN MCCAIN: I‘m not going to decide for a couple years.
MATTHEWS: You could beat Cheney by double digits, couldn‘t you?
JOHN MCCAIN: Look, he‘s done a great job as vice president of the United States. He really has.
MATTHEWS: Do you think—do you think the Republican Party has a clear-cut successor to President Bush right now?
JOHN MCCAIN: No. No, I don‘t.
MATTHEWS: So you think it is up in the air?
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. And I think it is way too early. I think the 2006 elections are going to have some impact, depending on how we do and how—which direction the party is going in. I think that is probably going to have some impact.
MATTHEWS: What is the critical piece of the Bush legacy? What is the thing that has to be preserved in the next—next presidency, do you think?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think the next presidency is spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world, performing our incredibly noble mission of doing what we can to make sure that all people are endowed by their creator certain inalienable rights.
MATTHEWS: How do we avoid this continual sort of Chinese water torture, if I can still say a phrase like that, of sort of cultural bad news, the “Newsweek” story, Abu Ghraib? These—every—it seems to just pop up. How do we deal with it?
JOHN MCCAIN: I don‘t know.
But this whole issue of the prison treatment, which was an issue with Karzai, President Karzai and the president, we‘ve got to have uniform rules and regulations for treatment of prisoners, no matter what the circumstances. And those have to be enforced by disciplined personnel.
It is harmful to us throughout the world and our image. But, having said that, these same people who are quick to criticize the United States or demonstrate because of some allegation about the Koran don‘t speak out when they are blowing up babies, when they‘re killing innocent women and children, when they‘re acting as suicide bombers, which is in direct violation of the Koran.
I would like to see a little more balance in all this criticism about what‘s going on in the world today. But we have to make sure that these prison abuses don‘t happen again.
MATTHEWS: Do you have any advice for “Newsweek” magazine to correct the problem they created?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think that what they came out with today, corroboration, additional sources, was probably the right thing to do. I think they did the right thing by acting quickly, as opposed to CBS. But I‘m not that much of an expert on it.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, good luck, Senator.
JOHN MCCAIN: Thanks.
MATTHEWS: Good luck tomorrow.
JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: On the big nuclear option day.
JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
JOHN MCCAIN: Interesting times.
MATTHEWS: Thanks for having us.
JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Well, tonight here, the big event is waiting for the movie “Faith of My Fathers,” which airs on television on A&E on Memorial Day.
In a moment, Lieutenant Colonel Orson Swindle, who spent over six years in a POW camp in Vietnam, will be here with his story.
This is a special edition of HARDBALL, live from the national preview of “Faith of My Fathers” at the Reagan Building in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re here tonight from the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, where, in a few minutes, the movie “Faith of My Fathers” begins. It is the story of Senator John McCain, including those five years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Orson Swindle was a prisoner of war with McCain. He‘s now a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission.
When did you first meet John McCain?
LT. COL. ORSON SWINDLE (RET.), U.S. MARINES: Well, I first met him talking through a wall, tapping on a wall in late December of 1970 in the Hanoi Hilton.
And he told me a bad Italian joke. And I wrote him off right there.
But I would later get to talk to him directly when he told me he...
MATTHEWS: Do you remember the joke?
SWINDLE: No, I don‘t want to tell a joke. We don‘t want to go there.
MATTHEWS: Were you doing in it Morse code or how were you doing it?
SWINDLE: No. We were using a tap code that we developed, just using a matrix of the alphabet, and a very simple mathematical matrix. But it was an amazing tool that we used to communicate with each other.
MATTHEWS: How did you get through six years?
SWINDLE: The alternative was worse. You hang on. The support of an awful lot of good friends that took a lot of punishment. We shared our suffering and shared our strength and kept pulling each other up from the dungeon, so to speak, and made it through.
MATTHEWS: I think Machiavelli said that—he understood people pretty well. He said that, when you really sacrifice for something or someone, you really become committed. Do you think you became more of a patriot for all your suffering?
SWINDLE: I‘m sure it had an effect on our concept of patriotism.
But I think, more than anything, it—we learned—learned about ourselves. We learned our strength and weaknesses. And we learned to really appreciate what loyalty and commitment to individuals and friends was all about, because that‘s all we had. We stuck together.
MATTHEWS: When you were stuck in solitary all those years, what were you thinking about?
SWINDLE: When I was doing what? I‘m sorry.
MATTHEWS: When you were in solitary over there, where the—hardly eating anything, eating putrid water, drinking bad water, and rats, and what were thinking about? You didn‘t have any books or anything, did you?
SWINDLE: Well, no, I didn‘t any books, but I was thinking, there must be a better way.
SWINDLE: No, it was an ordeal that you just took it one day at a time and just got through it.
MATTHEWS: When did you think it was—when did you first glimmer that you might get through it? You heard the planes bombing or...
SWINDLE: Well, no. I don‘t know that I ever thought I wouldn‘t get through it. I just wasn‘t certain when. And, certainly, when the B-52s starting bombing Hanoi and—John and I were living together, in fact, sleeping side by side at that time in December of ‘72. And I said, we‘re going home.
MATTHEWS: How good was your confidence that the Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese communists, would want to keep you guys alive?
SWINDLE: It was, I think, pretty obvious, Chris, throughout the whole ordeal that they viewed us as bargaining chips.
They admitted to us, there was no way they could militarily win the war. They would win it on the streets of San Francisco and we would be the bargaining chips to get us out.
MATTHEWS: When you‘re reading the papers these days and watching television, and all this debate over Abu Ghraib and over the “Newsweek” story about the Koran never was flushed down a toilet, what‘s your view as an expert on being a POW?
SWINDLE: Well, you know, it hurts, because we should never engage in that kind of humiliation of people.
They‘re prisoners, absolutely. They‘re bad guys, more than absolutely. But I think we have to hold ourselves to a different standard. And I share John McCain‘s feeling that this is not what we‘re about. And I don‘t think it was a command policy. It is certainly not an administration policy to abuse prisoners. But I do think there was a breakdown in communication in the chain of command. And somebody ought to be held responsible, other than some PFC.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we ought to treat people who are in uniform differently than people who are terrorists?
SWINDLE: Well, the Geneva Accords pretty well defined that. You‘re not treated as a prisoner of war so much if you‘re out of uniform. And I think it is a special, unique situation. But we need to treat them like human beings regardless of what they‘ve done.
But I think the public reaction to the treatment is probably a little bit over the top. But the treatment is inexcusable.
MATTHEWS: How do you get information out of a prisoner without torture? How is it done?
SWINDLE: Well, I would take the other approach. I don‘t think you get very good information out of a prisoner when you torture him. They didn‘t get anything of merit out of me.
SWINDLE: They got a lot out, but they didn‘t get anything of any quality.
MATTHEWS: Did you just give them a lot of B.S.?
SWINDLE: Well, I told them what they wanted to know primarily. And you do a lot of lying.
MATTHEWS: You mean you told them what they thought they wanted.
SWINDLE: Yes, sure.
SWINDLE: Not what...
MATTHEWS: Did they ever come back and beat you up because you gave them bad information?
SWINDLE: They always told us in survival school, if you‘re going to lie, you have got to remember the lies and make sure you know what...
MATTHEWS: Be consistent.
SWINDLE: Be consistent.
MATTHEWS: What did you—I don‘t think you want to say anything you don‘t feel like saying. But what do you make of Jane Fonda‘s campaign to sell her book and explain her performance in North Vietnam, you know, yukking it up with the North Vietnamese?
SWINDLE: You know, Chris, I think you‘re an admirer of literature. And if you remember “Fountainhead.” I think it was Robert Roark. His antagonist who worried about him, how Roark felt about him. And he finally got a chance to meet him. I think they only meet once in a movie.
SWINDLE: Yes. And he asked Robert Roark, he said, what do you think about me? And old Gary Cooper thought for a minute. He said, you know, I don‘t think about you.
MATTHEWS: That‘s so great.
SWINDLE: That‘s what I think of Jane Fonda. I don‘t think about her.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I thought of Ellsworth Toohey. I couldn‘t stand the guy. But I loved Howard Roark.
SWINDLE: Yes. Howard Roark, right.
MATTHEWS: How do you feel now? Do you feel like that was part of your life that was part of your—I mean, John McCain says, almost like Nietzsche or—I quote him when he was on. I said, what doesn‘t kill me makes me stronger.
Do you feel that?
SWINDLE: Yes. It is an experience. And your strength comes from the people like John and Paul Galanti and Bud Day and dear friend for life. And we went through a lot together. And we‘ll always be together.
MATTHEWS: Did you see the movie yet?
SWINDLE: No, I haven‘t.
MATTHEWS: Do you think this guy is going to—do you think this guy is going to be able to capture John McCain?
SWINDLE: Well, if he‘s good looking, he‘ll fail.
MATTHEWS: Well, how many guys are left from your POW group?
SWINDLE: Oh, we‘ve lost about 75, I think, maybe 70.
MATTHEWS: How many survived from that experience of getting out in ‘73?
SWINDLE: There are about 600 of us, I think. I‘m ballparking figures now. We‘re having a reunion this week, as a matter of fact, here in D.C.
MATTHEWS: How many are coming?
SWINDLE: I think about 75 will make it. But we usually have a little bigger crowd than that. But we‘re having dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant down there on Friday night. And there are going to be 120 POWs...
MATTHEWS: What is that one, 10 Pin (ph)?
SWINDLE: No, Nonviet (ph), Nonviet down in...
MATTHEWS: So, you guys haven‘t had enough of Vietnam food, huh?
SWINDLE: No, no. We didn‘t get food like this, no.
MATTHEWS: You didn‘t get Vietnam food in Hanoi.
What do make of Hanoi? I just read the other day that the government we were fighting over there is still a communist government, has got like the second greatest economic growth rate in Asia right now, after China. What happened? Have they given up on communism?
SWINDLE: Well, now, it‘s—they‘re industrious people. The Vietnamese friends I have in this country are incredibly industrious people. Their kids are all very dedicated to learning and working and they‘re hardworking people and they‘re decent people. And I think the nation is full of them. There‘s no telling what they could do if they didn‘t have communism on their head—on their back.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the argument about Vietnam? There‘s the number—the number one cause of argument in America today. Should we have fought the war? Should we have stuck with it? Should we have not—should we have gone another way of fighting communism?
SWINDLE: Well, you know, it is easy to second-guess looking back 50 years or 30 years.
But I think we had a great cause. I think we screwed it up pretty badly. We didn‘t seem to have a committed leadership that was committed to winning. And, as John will tell you and any of us will tell you, going to war is a big step. If you‘re going to war, be damn well certain that you‘re committed to winning it. There is no alternative to winning. You have to win. You should not get engaged if you are not going to win.
MATTHEWS: You guys liked Richard Nixon, didn‘t you?
SWINDLE: Well, he did what was necessary to get us home, certainly. And we‘ll always be indebted to him for that. That was a courageous act, as you well know. You were around then.
MATTHEWS: The bombing of North Vietnam.
SWINDLE: Yes. That was tough. And it should have been...
MATTHEWS: The Christmas bombing.
SWINDLE: It should have been done long before. I never heard the Vietnamese, their morale wane one time when I was in prison, not that they gave me any personal indications. But I just observed them. After that bombing went on a couple days, the guards were literally crying outside of our cell blocks.
We should have done that. It would have saved a lot of lives had we done it earlier. But, you know, the anti-war movement in the country was against it and I think they were reluctant to do it.
MATTHEWS: Well, Johnson—President Johnson was so afraid during the Vietnam War he might bring the Soviets in. He might bring the red Chinese in.
MATTHEWS: But you were not worried about that.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
SWINDLE: We were bigger and better. No, they—it‘s just a tough thing for them to do. The Chinese can roll a lot of people in, but they have got to come through Vietnam.
And the Vietnamese didn‘t like the Chinese very well. So, they weren‘t that inclined to let them come traipsing through.
MATTHEWS: I wish we had known that at the time.
MATTHEWS: Because we thought they were all in together.
SWINDLE: We sort of knew that. You know, I just think we played our cards very badly. And, you know, it will be analyzed long after you and I are gone with our opinions. But we had a good cause and I think we screwed it up. They‘re decent people.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s make some news, Colonel. I asked John McCain if he thought he had the right stuff to be president of United States, to be a great president. And he said yes.
SWINDLE: There‘s no doubt about it.
SWINDLE: There‘s no doubt about it. He has the right stuff to be president. It‘s whether the Republican Party has enough right stuff and the good intelligence to pick him as their candidate. That‘s the issue.
He is a remarkable person. We should all be very proud of him. I know I‘m proud of our friendship. He is a remarkable intellect. I don‘t think there‘s anybody in the Congress that has the intellect that he has.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. It‘s an honor to meet you, sir.
SWINDLE: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: As always. Thank you. Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel Orson Swindle.
In a moment, the fight over the filibuster is about to come to a head. We‘ll look at how the confrontation will play out tomorrow. And that‘s the big day—when we come back.
This is a special edition of HARDBALL, live from the national preview of “Faith of My Fathers” at the Ronald Reagan Building.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL from the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.
The Senate moderates are about to hold a press conference announcing what they consider a deal over the filibuster issue.
Right now, we turn to Karen Tumulty, “TIME” magazine‘s national political correspondent, and Norah O‘Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC.
Karen, what is it that works here, as you see it?
KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “TIME”: Basically what they have been trying to bridge is a deal in which the Democrats would agree not to filibuster.
We, again, don‘t know the outlines of this deal, but some numbers of the judges—and the big casino here, of course, is the Supreme Court—except under extraordinary circumstances, at which point, the Republicans would allow the filibuster to remain in place as a possibility for judicial nominees.
MATTHEWS: Well, the big question Norah, is, why would you need a filibuster if some candidate were extraordinarily bad? He wouldn‘t get or she wouldn‘t get 50 votes.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, that‘s why this gang of 12, as they‘ve called themselves, six Republicans and six Democrats, have been meeting behind closed doors without their advisers, have said, most of this deal is built on trust, because you can‘t write in the stuff about what means extraordinary circumstance when this becomes a fight over a future Supreme Court nominee.
So, I think a lot of discussion now becomes, what does this mean in many ways for Bill Frist, who has staked his career and reputation on getting ready to pull the nuclear option?
O‘DONNELL: Help out the White House with these judges? What does this mean in the 2008 races? Does it mean John McCain, whose party we‘re at today, does that mean that he won over Bill Frist? These are the types of discussions that will come. But, again, as Karen pointed out, we‘ll see if this sticks by tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: You raise a good point. Looking at this from a Republican point of view—and they have 55 senators, the majority—they have the presidency. And they would like to pick some Supreme Court judges over the next couple of years. Now all of a sudden, Bill Frist, who is a very hardworking, calculating guy, is told that six of his guys say, we‘re not listening to you anymore, Mr. Leader. We are going to trust the Democrats.
TUMULTY: What happens—what this means is that, on the biggest test of Bill Frist‘s leadership to date, the entire Senate has essentially been hijacked by 12 senators.
MATTHEWS: Would you say that they‘re hijacked permanently or they might be pulled back into line by tomorrow afternoon?
TUMULTY: We don‘t know what this means by a deal. And, again, I guarantee you that, right now, the people who have been pushing to end this filibuster, starting with religious conservatives, are on the phones, on the e-mails, and will be at the Senate in person tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: Well, Norah, won‘t the people on the right, the pressure groups, the Christian groups, conservative groups, won‘t they be saying to Bill Frist, go ahead and hold a vote? Force them. Force their hand.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s quite possible. They have so much at stake and they are so fervent in pushing this forward. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, religious conservatives and others believe this is such a major issue.
And it is a precursor to a fight over the Supreme Court, that that‘s how important this is. But, again, if there‘s a deal and you‘ve got 12 senators, six on each side, Frist has lost his power.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And there‘s three or four forces at work here. One is loyalty. So, most Republicans want to stick with the leadership, say 49 out of 55, right? They want to stick with him. The other six are pulled by what forces, Karen? What forces them? What pulled them away from the leadership?
TUMULTY: Well, there are a number of forces.
Some of them are very senior senators. They know what it feels like to be in the minority. They know it could happen to them again someday. And they don‘t want to lose these rights. There is also a respect for tradition in the Senate. This is a place that is as tradition-bound as any institution that you are going to find. They do not change the rules lightly. And, finally, there are a number of moderates in this—in this group. And they know that, if they lose this, essentially, the possibility of a moderate voice on any issue that comes in front of the Senate is now gone.
MATTHEWS: Explain that to me. Why does a moderate like Susan Collins from Maine or Olympia Snowe from Maine or Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island, how do they benefit from the filibuster? Why do they like it?
O‘DONNELL: But it‘s not just them. It is also John Warner. And that is what is so important. It also Lindsey Graham, who says, I‘m not a moderate. I‘m a conservative.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go right now to the press conference at the U.S. Senate right now. The moderates are holding a press conference. This is the gang of 12.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. JOHN WARNER ®, VIRGINIA: That deal is right here. That‘s it right there.
WARNER: Well, that is that deal right there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down, please.
MATTHEWS: That‘s John Warner with the white hair there on the left. That‘s the—one of the ranking Republicans, a real institutionalist from the state institution. There‘s Mike DeWine from Ohio in the middle. He‘s another Republican. And Susan Collins, still another Republican from the state of Maine.
And they‘re getting ready to hold this press conference, representing the moderates in the United States Senate from both parties. There‘s John McCain, another Republican.
JOHN MCCAIN: I guess you‘ve been wondering why I called you all here together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... your movie.
JOHN MCCAIN: Yes, there‘s a movie showing tonight.
JOHN MCCAIN: A movie showing tonight down in the...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You notice the timing.
JOHN MCCAIN: “Faith of My Fathers” will be shown on A&E on Memorial Day.
JOHN MCCAIN: Starring Shawn Hatosy and Scott Glenn.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is it rated, John?
JOHN MCCAIN: It‘s—actually, it‘s very-low rated.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... that kind of rated.
JOHN MCCAIN: So, don‘t miss it.
WARNER: The name of the film, the word faith is integral to this whole agreement.
JOHN MCCAIN: There you go. That‘s why this...
WARNER: Come on up here.
JOHN MCCAIN: Come on up here (OFF-MIKE)
JOHN MCCAIN: Well, let me just start this out.
WARNER: Oh, OK.
JOHN MCCAIN: Then we‘ll just go back and forth.
MATTHEWS: This is Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska, about to speak right now.
JOHN MCCAIN: (OFF-MIKE)
MATTHEWS: Norah, what do you make of this assemblage? It is mostly Republican we‘re looking at right now.
O‘DONNELL: Well, we‘re going to have a fair number of senators here.
And it looks like Senator Mary Landrieu is coming, one of the Democrats. And they‘re waiting for the rest of the senators to come in, so that they can announce, this bipartisan group, that they‘ve reached this deal. What is significant, I think, is the storyline that will come out of this, which is whether or not there‘s compromise still can be reached in the Senate in many ways and whether they...
MATTHEWS: Here they are.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JOHN MCCAIN: ... seven on each side, to announce that we have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had, in the view of all 14 of us, lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution.
I‘m grateful for the efforts of Senator Frist and Senator Reid to come to an agreement on this issue. We appreciate very much their leadership. And we all appreciate each other‘s involvement, but probably the two that I‘d like to point out here that provided us with a beacon of where we should go is Senator Byrd, our distinguished senior Democrat leader, and Senator Warner who both were vital to this process.
You have before you the agreement and I won‘t go in the details of it. But basically, all 14 of us have pledged to vote for cloture for the judicial nominees Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.
The signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on two judges, William Myers and Henry Saad. Future nominations will—the signatories will exercise their responsibilities and the nominees should only be filibusters under extraordinary circumstances.
And in light of this commitment and a continuing commitment, we will try to do everything in our power to prevent filibusters in the future.
This agreement is meant in the finest traditions of the Senate it was entered into: trust, respect and mutual desire to see the institution of the Senate function in ways that protect the rights of the minority.
So I‘m very pleased to stand here with my other colleagues tonight and I believe that that good-will will prevail.
Nothing in this agreement prevents any individual senator from exercising his or her individual rights.
I would like to ask Senator Nelson and Senator Pryor, but I want to, again, thank my colleagues. And I believe that most Americans would like for us to work these issues out rather than pursue the procedure that we have just departed from, I hope.
SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Well, thank you very much, Senator.
And I, too, am very proud to be here with my colleagues tonight.
And I‘m glad to say that we have been able to reach an agreement, if you will, make a deal for the future to deal with the Senate business in a way that will keep the faith, will certainly keep the faith of the framers of our country and the founding fathers. It will retain the individual rights and responsibilities of each senator.
I think it‘s a positive step for us to be able to set aside the nuclear option. It also gives as many judges as we possibly can under these circumstances an up-or-down vote.
So I think the good faith and the mutual trust that we have achieved here will carry over into this Senate on other business as well.
So, thank you to my colleagues. And you were asking just the other day how to handicap this. Well, I would have to say right now, it‘s 100 percent. Thank you.
SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: Let me just say a couple of very quick words. And first thing I want everybody here to know we don‘t have a Thomas Jefferson in the bunch. OK?
This came as a result of perspiration not inspiration. As you know, we worked very, very hard to get here. It is in the finest traditions of the Senator and this agreement is based on trust. It‘s based on trust.
And I know that people here want to ask a million “what ifs.” What if this? What if that? What about this person or that person, this circumstance?
Listen, there‘s a lot of hypotheticals. We don‘t know what is coming down in the future but we do know that we trust each other.
The 14 of us have sat down, looked at each other, shaken hands, shared our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our frustrations and this is based on trust.
And with that, what I would like to do is turn it over to Senator Warner for a brief word. And then he‘s going to introduce Senator Byrd.
WARNER: No, I‘d like to yield to Senator Byrd.
PRYOR: Senator Byrd, come up...
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I‘ll wait my turn.
WARNER: I would simply say, by way of introduction, we opened almost every meeting with Bob Byrd saying...
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re back, right, with Norah O‘Donnell and Karen Tumulty.
Norah, the terms of the deal.
O‘DONNELL: Well, the terms are five of the seven judges at this point. And the agreement is based on trust, they said. So, they were able to get over some of the humps in terms of working out the details by agreeing to trust one another. Now, this is a gang of 14, not a gang of 12, who have agreed to essentially buck their party leadership.
I mean, Senator Frist and Senator Reid haven‘t agreed to this. But these guys say that they will help sway the Senate, if you will, in order to move things forward. And it is striking, the words that they used, that this is in the finest traditions of the Senate. And Senator John McCain in many ways stealing the show from the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: Right. What—what is Frist going to think of this, Karen?
TUMULTY: Well, I think that it is John McCain standing up there and announcing it is a direct stick in the eye to Bill Frist, because, of course, the two of them both have 2008 ambitions.
And, if this deal holds, this very vague deal based on trust, which, quite frankly, I watched this debate last week. That‘s the most fragile commodity in the Senate these days. If this deal holds, it is a dramatic setback to Bill Frist and his ability to control the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Let me try this.
Bill Frist wants to serve the president. And he guaranteed the president an up-or-down vote on his Supreme Court nominee or nominees the rest of his term. Hasn‘t this deal delivered that?
TUMULTY: It absolutely has not. In fact, they...
MATTHEWS: Why not?
TUMULTY: Because they do not deal directly with the Supreme Court nominees. And make no mistake. This has all along not been about these appeals courts judges. This has been about the Supreme Court.
MATTHEWS: They said only in extraordinary circumstances, Norah.
O‘DONNELL: That is very much going to be in the eye of the beholder.
And right now, looking at what some of these Democratic interests groups have been talking and what they‘ve been saying about some of these candidates, I think it‘s going to be hard defining it.
MATTHEWS: So, even if the president were to put Justice Scalia up from associate justice to chief justice, they might say, this is an extraordinary case. We can‘t accept it.
O‘DONNELL: Although there have been people like Senator Nelson, who say that they don‘t believe that that is an extraordinary case. And, at the same time, you also have two of the men involved in these negotiations, Byrd and Warner, saying they want to put together a commission to recommend people to the president. I‘ll bet they‘ll move forward on that.
MATTHEWS: Great analysis. Thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell and Karen Tumulty.
We‘ll be right back in a moment with “Saturday Night Live” striking again against HARDBALL.
We‘re here at the Reagan Building in Washington for the preview of the movie “Faith of Our Fathers.”
MATTHEWS: We‘re back at the Ronald Reagan Building right now. There is a deal, by the way, averting the showdown over the filibuster. It looks like right now, basically, the deal is, they‘re only going to use the filibuster in extraordinary circumstances.
If those words sound a little bit unclear, stay tuned overnight, because this may not hold.
In a moment, we‘re going to meet John McCain‘s son, Jack, who is sitting right next to me, and the man who is playing him in this new autobiographical movie, Shawn Hatosy.
But, first, “Saturday Night Live” had some fun over the weekend with
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)
DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Chris Matthews.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HAMMOND: The war in Iraq gets stickier by the minute. The filibuster is about to disappear faster than a box of doughnuts in Star Jones‘ dressing room.
HAMMOND: Meanwhile, the only vaguely political issue Americans seem to care about is which “American Idol” contestant is boning Paula Abdul.
HAMMOND: Luckily, there is a whole new controversy brewing. This time, the news is the news. Monday, “Newsweek” magazine was forced to back off a story which asserted that U.S. forces desecrated the Koran. Then, just yesterday, this photo was released.
HAMMOND: No, that‘s not the Arab Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.
HAMMOND: It is Saddam Hussein and his tighty-whiteys. Who is controlling our foreign policy, the Bush administration or the media?
Here to talk about the controversy is one of the journalists at the center of all this hullabaloo, “Newsweek” reporter Michael Isikoff.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Glad to be here, Chris.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HAMMOND: You might want to check your sources on that.
Also with us, fresh off her trip to Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Thank you, Chris. As always, the administration welcomes a chance...
HAMMOND: Mr. Isikoff, we‘re going to start with you. You‘re a veteran reporter. You helped break the Abu Ghraib story, the Lewinsky scandal, Iran-Contra.
What happened with the Koran story? Did you get your source out of Dan Rather‘s Rolodex? Are you going to print anything anyone tells you or what?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Chris, before we go to press, each story is put through a rigorous processing of fact checking to make sure it holds up.
First, we ask the source if he or she is lying. If the answer is yes, we will not use that source.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: If the answer is no, we then ask them, are you sure?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: If the answer to that question is yes, we follow up with a very stern, promise?
HAMMOND: Then, you swear you‘re not lying? It is a pretty airtight process, Chris.
HAMMOND: Why do I get feeling it is incredibly easy to prank call “Newsweek” magazine?
HAMMOND: Madam Secretary, the administration has chastised “Newsweek” for printing a story which relied on faulty information. Now you claim you‘re investigating the Saddam Hussein cheesecake photos. I ask you, is the administration losing control faster than Billy Joel behind the wheel after a 10-martini lunch?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Chris, I think everyone would agree that, up until the media got involved, things were going pretty great in Iraq and Afghanistan.
HAMMOND: Madam Secretary, that‘s the dumbest thing I ever heard.
HAMMOND: But I want to see where this is going.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: The media needs to be held responsible for the stories it reports. If not, this administration is prepared to take action.
HAMMOND: OK. Like what?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Well, there are a lot of options on the table.
For instance, our government might invade “Newsweek” magazine.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Or we might start our own newspaper and have pictures of journalists such as yourself, Chris Matthews, in your underwear.
HAMMOND: It might looks like this.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Lard ball.
HAMMOND: Good lord.
Joining us now to shout about God knows what, everyone‘s favorite “Looney Tune,” former Georgia Senator and current FOX News contributor Zell Miller.
Zell, what do you got for us?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I‘m sick of hearing about “Newsweek” magazine. Let me tell you what we used to do when some yellow-bellied disc jockey wrote something we didn‘t like. We rounded up our boys, got ourselves some crowbars and shotguns and we would head on down to the local printing press other have ourselves a talk.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: After we were done talking, we would throw a couple kerosene lamps through the window and the problem is solved.
HAMMOND: This is why I come into work every day, folks.
Final thoughts, Michael Isikoff?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I‘m afraid I don‘t have the time, Chris. We‘ve just received an important lead. Apparently, Prince Albert is trapped in a can and must be let out.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: May God be with him.
HAMMOND: You don‘t say.
HAMMOND: Condoleezza Rice?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Chris, the freedom of the press is something the Bush administration loves about this country. Don‘t make us take it away.
HAMMOND: Zell Miller, go.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let me tell you, Matthews, this country has got a real problem with the media. And you‘re one of them. If you can‘t control that dirty liberal thing you call a mouth, then maybe I‘ll have to jump on my horse and come up north myself and stuff a sock in it. Do you hear me, Chris Matthews? Do you hear me?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HAMMOND: When we return, Saddam in his speedo. Condi takes over “Newsweek.” Zell Miller explodes.
But, until then, live from New York, it is Saturday night.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That is the best—that is the best ever.
We‘re live at the national preview of the Arts and Entertainment television movie “Faith of My Fathers,” about John McCain‘s experience in Vietnam.
We‘re joined right now by Shawn Hatosy, who plays John McCain in the movie. And guess who else? Jack McCain, Senator McCain‘s son.
Have you seen this movie yet?
JACK MCCAIN, SON OF rMD-BO_Senator JOHN MCCAIN: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: How good is he playing dad?
JACK MCCAIN: I think he did a perfect job, sir.
MATTHEWS: What was the key to catching your father in cinema?
JACK MCCAIN: The limp.
MATTHEWS: How did you like it? How did you figure out how to play McCain? Watching the movies or watching him?
SHAWN HATOSY, ACTOR: Well, you know, there was some good stuff on A&E, the biography there. And the book was obviously very helpful. And, you know, it was just an honor to play a guy with that much tradition in the family. And this guy is following that tradition.
MATTHEWS: Did you figure out what made John McCain tick, what makes him tick?
HATOSY: He is a guy that is not afraid to say what‘s on his mind and stand up for what he believes in.
MATTHEWS: Well, he was pretty tough over there, wasn‘t he, with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese prisoner—guys holding him prisoner, right?
HATOSY: To say the least, yes. He was definitely tough.
MATTHEWS: Why wasn‘t he afraid they were going to kill him? That‘s what I could never figure out.
JACK MCCAIN: It is hard to say. I believe they could have killed him at any moment. And I think he lived with that, which is another reason why it was so hard. But I believe that they found him valuable because, of course, he was an admiral‘s son. So, I doubt they were really going to kill him.
MATTHEWS: Yes. They thought he was the crown prince.
Is he going to run for president, your dad?
JACK MCCAIN: That‘s a good question, sir. Even I don‘t know the answer to that.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
The showdown, by the way, over the filibuster and the launching of the nuclear option, so-called, is expected to begin tomorrow. And Norah O‘Donnell and I will bring you live coverage all day. And I‘ll be back for a live edition of HARDBALL at 7:00 and at 9:00 p.m. later tomorrow night, two times tomorrow night. We‘ll have a special edition at 9:00 with the latest on the filibuster fight. Tomorrow, high noon, the filibuster.
And, next, robots are taking over “COUNTDOWN.” That‘s coming up right now with Keith.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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