Guest: Robert Merry, Paul Hackett, Alfonso Aguilar, Mitt Romney, Jim Wallis, Amy Goodman, Jerry Sutton
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A fellow evangelist calls on Pat Robertson to resign his teleministry.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Pat Robertson faces excommunication from the Republican faithful, as the Bush White House separates itself from his call to assassinate a world leader.
Massachusetts calls a constitutional convention on gay marriage, with the goal of calling same-sex marriages civil unions. But is same-sex marriage, whatever it‘s called, here to stay in the home of defeated Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and future Republican candidate Mitt Romney? And will it be the killer issue again nationally in 2008?
The federal government moves to help Southwestern states defend the borders, but will the promise of jobs keep the tidal wave of humanity flowing northward?
Finally, the president finds his Cindy Sheehan. Her name is Tammy Pruett. And she backs him on Iraq. We will talk it about with the Iraqi veteran who ran for Congress.
But, first, although religious leader Pat Robertson has withdrawn his call for the assassination of Venezuela‘s president, has the White House now shunned Robertson from the Republican Party?
In Latin America, the anger is growing over Robertson. And, in this country, the questions about his status with President Bush continue.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across Latin America, the anger has been deep. The Spanish reports say Robertson speaks for a huge number of Americans and opinion writers in Latin America say his comments implicate the United States itself.
On Wednesday, Robertson wrote on his Web site: “Is it right to call for assassination? No. And I apologize for that statement.”
But after the release of those two sentences, Robertson‘s television viewers Wednesday night heard and saw him digging in about Hugo Chavez and taking shots at the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE 700 CLUB”)
PAT ROBERTSON, HOST: And take him out can be a number of things, including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power, besides killing him. I was misinterpreted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Misinterpreted? Here‘s what Robertson originally said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE 700 CLUB”)
ROBERTSON: If he thinks we‘re going to try to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Pat Robertson started the Christian Broadcast Network 45 years ago. Fifteen years ago, Robertson sold his International Family Channel to media mogul Rupert Murdoch for $1.9 billion.
That enabled Robertson to expand his signature show. And today, “The 700 Club,” which takes its name from an earlier Robertson plea for donors in a telethon, is now broadcast in more than 100 countries and 70 languages, including in Spanish to Central and South America. And Robertson sells.
Financial analysts estimate he is worth at least $500 million. Robertson‘s political clout was established in 1988, when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Although Robertson eventually lost the nomination to George W. Bush, he beat him in the Iowa caucuses. Robertson‘s campaign ended just as Korean war veterans were challenging his claims to have been in combat, and said Robertson got out of it because of his father‘s political pull.
Through the years, there have been other Robertson controversies. In 1995 Robertson, he said—quote—“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
In 1995, Robertson said his prayers caused a hurricane to veer away from the Virginia coast. In the late ‘90s Robertson boasted about spending millions of dollars or aid for Rwanda. However, he owned a diamond mine there. And critics said Robertson‘s money was spent on mining equipment.
After 9/11, Robertson said he agreed with Jerry Falwell that the attacks were due to God‘s wrath over the ACLU and rulings by the Supreme Court. A year later, Robertson urged television viewers to pray for the deaths of three Supreme Court justices. Then, Robertson joked about blowing up the State Department, saying—quote—“If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that‘s the answer.”
In addition to what Robertson has said, he has also dismayed people with what he has done, like using his television network to relentlessly market Pat‘s Diet Shake, which he devised himself, or like denouncing gambling, while owning a professional racehorse.
(on camera): Despite it all, Pat Robertson‘s support among the Christian right has remained steady. And his staff says he gets a million viewers around the world every night, including the other night, when roe called for Venezuela‘s president to be assassinated. The question is, should President Bush now personally excommunicate Pat Robertson from the Republican Party?
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David.
Dr. Jerry Sutton is the pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church down in Nashville. And Amy Goodman is host of “Democracy Now” on radio and television. She is also co-author of “Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them.”
But, first, Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical, calls on Pat Robertson to step down from his ministry.
Jim, thank you for joining us. You‘re in your car on a cell phone driving north on 95. Why—what do you think should happen to Pat Robertson right now?
JIM WALLIS, PRESIDENT, CALL TO RENEWAL: Well, I think these kind of comments, he‘s done this before many times.
And I hear the word outrageous, which they are. I hear irresponsible and silly. But they increase anti-Christian sentiment around the world. They increase anti-American sentiment around the world. Imagine what this does to a lot of conservative evangelicals who don‘t identify with Robertson‘s extreme views.
He‘s really issued—it‘s like an American evangelical leader issuing a religious fatwa for the murder of a foreign leader. This is really rather unbelievable, and how this puts Venezuelan evangelicals in jeopardy down there. So, this is really a danger in American politics, an embarrassment to the church.
And rather than calling on Robertson just to apologize—again, he also said that 9/11 was because of feminists and liberals. He said the federal judiciary is a greater threat to America than those who drove the planes into the Trade Towers.
I think, rather than calling him on—you know, to apologize, we should just ask him to retire. It‘s time he just stopped talking.
MATTHEWS: OK, Jim, stay with us right now.
Let‘s go right now to Amy Goodman and to the Reverend Jerry Sutton.
I want to start with the Reverend Jerry Sutton, who is an evangelical minister. And he‘s a wonderful host to us when we went down to visit his great church down there in Nashville.
What do you—what should we make of Pat Robertson when he says one day, go kill that guy, and, the next day, says, never mind, like he is Gilda Radner saying, you know, never mind? Should we take him seriously?
DR. JERRY SUTTON, PASTOR, TWO RIVERS BAPTIST CHURCH: Chris, I think that, in the situation here, that Pat was speaking off the cuff. Actually, he was speaking as political commentary.
I don‘t—from what I read in the transcript—I didn‘t see the show. I read the transcript. He sure seemed to me to be someone who was basically speaking as a frustrated American, more than an evangelical leader.
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t he say 23 times, something like that, that this action ought to be taken. It wasn‘t—it wasn‘t really off the cuff, was it? This was a show that he could have corrected at any point during the show. He could have said, I didn‘t mean to say kill him. And he never did. He said assassinate.
SUTTON: Well, I didn‘t hear the word assassinate.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he used it.
SUTTON: I saw the word take him out.
Now, what I see here, though, is—the question is this. Is the guy a danger and is he a terrorist—a proponent of terrorism? And if he is, I mean, that needs to be looked at carefully, but Pat Robertson‘s not the person to look at it carefully, and he‘s not the one who makes those kind of decisions.
MATTHEWS: Well, speaking for evangelicalism on the program tonight—and I‘m putting you in a big-time catbird seat here, Reverend Sutton, but Christianity, does it believe in assassination?
SUTTON: No, it doesn‘t.
As a matter of fact, to talk about killing somebody because it‘s the best thing to do—what I read was that he said it‘s better to take him out—quote, unquote—than to go to war against him, his country, for $200 billion. And it looked like he was framing it in an economic position.
But, from my perspective, I mean, what he said was wrong. I think it was unwise. And, if he had to do it over again, I would hope that he would be more careful in what he said.
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: Reverend Sutton, I‘m very surprised you‘re simply saying you think it‘s unwise and not saying that it‘s immoral, that it‘s evil, that, to call for the assassination of anyone, let alone a world leader, is absolutely, unequivocally wrong.
But I don‘t think it‘s just you falling short here. I think what‘s most significant is that President Bush this week, who has spoken out publicly a number of times this week, while he is busy demonizing peace activists, has not said one word about Pat Robertson and this call.
And you have Defense of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying, he‘s a private citizen, yet not unequivocally condemning this call for the assassination of a foreign leader.
SUTTON: You know, I don‘t know Hugo Chavez, but I do know that, by reputation, he is a very ruthless man.
And the question that I would ask is this. Is this the same kind of scenario that unfolded in Nazi Germany? Is it a situation where you have a ruthless dictator who is going to bring the world into war? I don‘t know...
GOODMAN: Reverend Sutton, are you suggesting that Hugo Chavez killed six million Jews?
SUTTON: No, I didn‘t suggest that at all, and you know I didn‘t suggest that at all.
What I did suggest was that it needs to be considered that he could be a very ruthless man. And Pat Robertson—I‘m not going to justify what pat said. I don‘t think it was right. I don‘t think it was wise. But, at the same time, I suspect that our State Department has probably looked over those kinds of scenarios.
GOODMAN: Well, it‘s interesting you raise our State Department, because Robertson has also talked about nuking the State Department. In 2003, he said...
GOODMAN: I‘m just going to quote him. He said, what we need is for somebody to place a small nuke at Foggy Bottom, which is where, of course, the State Department is.
This is not Pat Robertson just once advocating violence. He‘s done it over and over again. You might be right this was off the cuff.
SUTTON: OK, let me say this about Pat.
GOODMAN: Who cares whether it was scripted or off the cuff. This man said it.
MATTHEWS: OK, let him answer. Let him answer, Amy, please.
SUTTON: Pat is a man who sometimes does—speaks for Pat and not for evangelicals.
He doesn‘t speak for me. And there have been times in his life when he‘s said things that the rest of us just kind of shudder at. And this is one of those scenarios.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Reverend, I say things I shudder at myself sometimes. But, you know, he did say something very fascinating about three weeks ago.
And I wonder. I really think you have got to wonder about the competence—and I don‘t mean moral competence, just, is the guy sort of losing it a bit, when he says something like praying to the lord that there will be more vacancies on the Supreme Court coming up quick, in other words, praying for the demise of a Supreme Court justice, so that this president could have more picks.
MATTHEWS: Does that strike you as an odd use of prayer, to call for the demise, the death of people, so that there will be more opportunities for a conservative court appointments?
SUTTON: Now, did he use the word demise or did he just say—use the word departure?
MATTHEWS: Well, no, he said—no, no, it was very interesting. He said he wanted more vacancies and he wanted them fast. I mean, it‘s very hard to ignore what he was saying.
SUTTON: I‘m one of those who tend to agree with that.
SUTTON: I‘m one of those who tend to agree with it. I‘d be happy if some of the Supreme Court justices would retire and President Bush had the opportunity to appoint others. But I know that‘s not the issue in this...
MATTHEWS: OK, fair enough. So, we‘re talking about retirement.
We‘re not talking about demise. We‘re not talking about...
SUTTON: Yes. I don‘t want you putting words in his mouth. I mean, he says enough things off the wall.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think his words were clear.
Let me go back to Jim Wallis again.
Jim, you know, you‘re a moderate or a liberal person. A progressive, I guess, is a safe phrase for you in the evangelical world. Do you think anybody cares that you, from your side of the thing, of the world, of the evangelical world, says that Pat Robertson ought to quit?
WALLIS: Well, the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals have denounced Pat Robertson‘s statements here.
He‘s calling for the killing of a foreign leader. He didn‘t bother to ask, in this case, what would Jesus do? Here‘s somebody who has championed Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses around the nation. He forgot one sort of troublesome commandment about, thou shalt not kill.
And he‘s showing again that Pat Robertson doesn‘t believe in democracy. He believe in theocracy. There have been little Hitlers all over Latin America...
WALLIS: ... for years that have killed tens of thousands of people. And the U.S. has in fact supported them. Pat Robertson hasn‘t had a word to say about those ruthless dictators. He doesn‘t like Chavez because he is an anti-American leader sitting on lots of oil.
MATTHEWS: Yes. OK, we are out of time. Gentlemen, gentlemen...
SUTTON: Chris, let me jump in on this.
MATTHEWS: Well, very quickly, sir.
SUTTON: OK, quickly.
Theocracy is a—to say that he wants a theocracy is an idiotic notion. He doesn‘t want a theocracy. I heard—heard—read yesterday that some of them said that he was a reconstruction and dominion theologist. That‘s a postmillennial construct. And he‘s a premillennialist. That is absolutely absurd.
Well, I think we have to understand that, when we have democracy around the world—and I believe in it—sometimes, people are going to vote for guys we don‘t like. And that‘s part of the deal of democracy.
Anyway, thank—and we don‘t try to kill them because we don‘t like them.
Anyway, thank you, Jim Wallis, calling us from Route 95 on his cell phone. He‘s editor in chief of “The Sojourners” and author of the best-seller “God‘s Politics.”
Amy Goodman, thanks for joining us again.
And, the Reverend Jerry Sutton, again, thank you for you great hospitality down in Nashville.
Coming up, the majority Democratic Massachusetts state legislature, the great and general court of Massachusetts holding a constitutional convention next month to take up an amendment changing the state‘s legal gay marriages to civil unions. But does the amendment only change the name? Are we just arguing about nomenclature here?
And, later, the state of emergency on our borders against illegal immigrants. Is the federal government getting serious or simply making it look that they are getting serious?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, why is Massachusetts tinkering with gay marriage? We will ask Governor Mitt Romney when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A year and-a-half ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the state, igniting a national debate on the definition of marriage in America. Today, legislators in Massachusetts voted to hold a constitutional convention next month to consider civil unions. But is it just about changing the name?
Republican Mitt Romney is the governor of Massachusetts.
Do you think there‘s any difference, really, between a gay marriage and something called a civil union?
GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I would rather have neither, to tell you the truth. I‘d rather that domestic partner benefits, such as hospital—hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. I don‘t want civil unions or gay marriage.
But there is a difference, even when just the word is the difference. And the difference is that, if you indicate as a society that you‘re indifferent between a same-sex couple marrying and a heterosexual couple marrying, then it means our schools and other institutions are going to have to indicate that there is no—there is no difference whatsoever, and that obviously has societal consequences that are important.
MATTHEWS: You mean if we called it marriage II or barriage or come up with some other word, and yet the law was exactly the same, that would be significant?
ROMNEY: Well, I‘m not sure we are going to come up with a different word.
But if you say that the society is entirely indifferent between whether you have heterosexuals or homosexual couples marrying, then how do you justify, for instance, having birth certificates that include the names of mothers and fathers? We have same-sex couples in my state now saying, we ought to remove mother and father from our birth certificate, instead saying parent A and parent B.
We have schools that believe that it‘s inappropriate to consider mother and father in textbooks. Some have said that that‘s two hetero-centrist.
ROMNEY: And so, you know, I think it‘s appropriate for us to indicate that we do care as a society and that marriage is a relationship preserved for a man and a woman.
MATTHEWS: Help me understand Massachusetts politics here. Is it a
battle between a very hyped-up, passionate interest group, gay people and
their supporters, against a—sort of a vague opposition to it, or is it -
well, tell me, what is it? What is the politics of this issue? Why doesn‘t the state of Massachusetts, through its elected officials, simply overrule the Supreme Court up there and say, there‘s not going to be any gay marriage; I don‘t care what some judge says about the Constitution written 200 years ago? Why don‘t they just do that?
ROMNEY: Well, well, as you know, it‘s not that easy. When a court overreaches its bounds and decides to legislate from the bench, it‘s pretty hard to overturn that.
In our case, we have to pass a constitutional amendment. And my legislature is in, some respects, liberal. It has a conservative wing as well. But the liberal wing is fighting in—fighting very hard for same-sex marriage or its legal equivalent, civil union. And so, as this has gone before the legislature in the past, they‘ve said that the people ought to decide. I agree with them. Let‘s let the people decide.
So, we will have a constitutional convention this year. Hopefully, the decision of our legislature will be to let the people decide. And, specifically, I hope that people will be able to decide that neither civil union, nor same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts.
MATTHEWS: If they end up agreeing on a civil union solution, would you continue to fight for change to go back to the original man-and-a-woman proposition?
ROMNEY: Well, yes. I‘m going to want to see a marriage limited to a man and a woman. I don‘t want to see civil union either.
Of course, if we find ourselves in a setting where the only choice is between civil union and marriage, I will prefer civil union. But I would prefer neither.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this. I was going to ask it in the next segment. I want to jump ahead to it right now. My second cut at this is nationally. You‘re going to run for president, right?
ROMNEY: No, I haven‘t made any decision like that. It‘s way too early to think of something like that. I love being governor, love what I‘m doing here.
MATTHEWS: Why do I get the impression you‘re running for governor—
I mean, running for president?
ROMNEY: I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: I get the impression you‘re a candidate for president. I watch this every day. I read the news. I see you‘re evolving on a number of these issues. You‘re becoming, it seems to me, pretty appropriate for the Republican Party on issues like gay marriage. And you look like you‘re running for president. You‘re not content with just being governor of Massachusetts, are you?
ROMNEY: I love being governor of Massachusetts. I‘m intent on the job. Anything beyond that is something so remote, both in time and probability, it‘s not worth talking about at this point, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Mark Souder, a conservative from the Middle West, said that, if you don‘t you don‘t run for reelection as governor of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you will be looking like you‘re running away from a fight you can‘t win. Do you buy that assumption?
ROMNEY: No. I win by a landslide...
MATTHEWS: That review of your performance.
ROMNEY: Well, I win by a landslide in Massachusetts if I run for reelection. And that‘s very possibly what I‘m going to do.
But, fundamentally, what I‘m doing here is trying to get an agenda through that includes a health care plan that gets everybody health insurance, that it reforms our school system and that builds more jobs here. That‘s what I‘m fighting for. And anything beyond that, time will only tell.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that the Republican nomination for 2008 is open now; there is no clear front-runner?
ROMNEY: Well, I think John McCain is a front-runner, perhaps Rudy Giuliani, Senator Frist. There are a number of folks that are very strong. We have a very strong field. And I want to make sure that we see some strong names continue to be out there fighting very hard, because I think Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. And given the challenges our nation faces, I can‘t imagine anything worse than having her as president.
MATTHEWS: OK. We will be right back with Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. I want to talk to him about the Olympics, which he handled so well out in Salt Lake last time around.
We will be right back with Governor Romney.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
You were so successful in handling the Olympics from the American end out in Salt Lake, Governor.
What about Lance Armstrong? Is this guy in a no-win situation, where he can‘t prove a negative; he can‘t prove he didn‘t use drugs?
ROMNEY: Well, I think, any time you‘re going to take a sample that‘s as old as that sample is, you have got to make sure the science is absolutely right.
Of course, he‘s going to take a look at that sample. His testing people will be able to evaluate whether there was EPO used or not. But, fundamentally, if we‘re going to have the kind of confidence in our athletes that we want to have, we are going to have to have a recognition that science is going to go after these samples and evaluate—evaluate whether people have used drugs. And, if they have, they ought to be stripped of their medals or whatever the award is that they have received.
MATTHEWS: What did your sense tell you, what did your common instinct tell you when you read that article by “L‘Equipe,” the French newspaper, the other day that he had in fact tested positive back in the ‘99 test?
ROMNEY: Well, there are a lot of people here that are trying to prove something. There‘s a lot of bias associated with this.
I got to tell you that I don‘t have a high degree of confidence at this point in the results of tests of a sample that‘s as old as that. I wouldn‘t mind taking the blood sample itself or the urine sample and having it go to one of the top labs in the country, an Olympic lab, for instance, and evaluate whether the results from that newspaper are true.
You know, I think you have to have some skepticism when the parties have such an interest in proving in some way that Lance Armstrong is less than the hero that so many of us feel he is.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that‘s what the French are up to here?
ROMNEY: Oh, I don‘t know whether it‘s the French or just a particular newspaper. You know, there could be the equivalent of a Pulitzer in it for the French newspaper.
There are big interests here. There‘s a lot at stake. And this is a sample which is going to be able to be tested by professionals from other countries that are unbiased. I‘d like to see that happen before we jump to any conclusion on this.
MATTHEWS: Do you think you‘ll face any bias yourself, sir, running as a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a Mormon running for president?
ROMNEY: Well, I‘m governor. And I ran for governor in a state that‘s overwhelming Catholic and has a lot of evangelicals and other faiths.
People looked at me and said, gosh, he has values like everybody else. I hope that John F. Kennedy put that to bed for every governor in every state, and as well as senators and people even running for president. But the job I got is the job I like.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Governor Mitt Romney. It sounds like you‘re running for reelection in Massachusetts.
Up next, the federal government is finally moving into action, maybe, to bolster the border defense of Southwestern states. But will they do enough to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing our borders? I‘m doubtful. We will ask the head of the United States Border Patrol.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After the governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared states of emergency last week, the federal government may be coming to their aid to help prevent the tidal wave of illegal immigrants across their borders. But is this just more paper shuffling and bureaucratic pretense?
Alfonso Aguilar is chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Sir, thank you for joining us tonight.
Do you think that the federal government is capable of stopping the tidal wave is a pretty good word for it of people coming into this country for jobs?
ALFONSO AGUILAR, U.S. BORDER PATROL CHIEF: Chris, we have done that in the past on several areas of the border. As we have progressed and incrementally applied our resources, we have actually brought order to the border, if you will, in places like San Diego, El Paso, South Texas, and we are incrementing incrementally, basically, adding additional resources.
MATTHEWS: You know, I read in the front page of the “The New York Times,” I think it was yesterday, sir, that one person, they owned like a 14-acre estate or something like that, some big estate or something, or a ranch down there; 500 people a night cross just their land.
AGUILAR: Well, we do have a problem down on the Southern border. We acknowledge that. And, of course, we—that is one of the reasons that we are applying the amount of resources that we are applying out there.
For example, in Arizona this year, by the end of the fiscal year, we will have added over 500 additional Border Patrol agents. We will have doubled the number of aircraft that fly in that area out there. So, all of these resources being added are going to bring control to the border.
And let‘s not forget that one of the most important things we‘re doing is a partnership with the state, local and tribal enforcement authorities that we have historically worked with in places like Arizona and New Mexico.
MATTHEWS: Using common sense—and maybe—this certainly goes beyond the bounds of your duty, sir, but, if somebody‘s poor, and they have ambition, and they know there‘s jobs available, even if it‘s $6 an hour somewhere in America, in the United States, and they can get that job because people really don‘t check I.D.s anymore—they don‘t really do it in most jobs—do you think that they‘re continually going to try to get around the law, whatever it is, I mean, come by boat, come by underground?
We were just watching some people digging a hole, coming through a hole in the ground, come through Canada, come through the American coast on the Atlantic or Pacific. There‘s ways to get here without, you know, walking right across. Will they ever stop coming if there‘s opportunity here and there‘s not opportunity there?
AGUILAR: Well, one of the things that Secretary Chertoff spoke about just in the last couple of days is basically stepping back, taking a look at the situation and taking a very comprehensive approach to the situation that we have with illegal immigration.
Part of the things that the secretary talked about were making sure that certain components that are absolutely essential to bring control to the border are going to be incorporated, things such as 100 percent detention of other than Mexicans that are being detained, things such as what the president has talked about as the incorporation of interior enforcement and the removal of these people into the interior of Mexico from where they‘re coming.
MATTHEWS: I see.
Let me ask you about the incident we just heard about this afternoon here on Wednesday afternoon—Thursday afternoon—that somebody must be a hell of a—have an arm in Major League ability, I should say, Major League ability. They threw a rock at a helicopter in the air, a Border Patrol helicopter and hit the rotor and forced the plane to land.
Now, this is—I‘m sure it‘s against the law. I mean, it sounds like crime, a serious crime. What do you make of that passionate ability to confront the authorities under your jurisdiction?
AGUILAR: Well, one of the things that the American public needs to know is that the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol, whether they‘re flying in the air, working the rivers or working the deserts of Arizona, are very dedicated, very diligent, and are not going to let these smugglers take command, if you will, of the areas where they‘re working.
Unfortunately, one of the things—unfortunately and ironically, one of the things that we do see is that when the Border Patrol moves into an area of operation, we do see an elevation of violence, because the smugglers are very hesitant to give up that part of the border that they had previously owned.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And what do you do about that? Do you have the manpower or the resources, the firepower to confront organized criminals?
AGUILAR: Oh, absolutely.
The resourcing continues to come, Chris. We have received a lot of resources since 9/11, as an example, a 58 percent increase in the funding for the Department of Homeland Security, $7.3 billion worth of expenditures just this year alone by the end of the fiscal year. The resourcing is coming, the personnel, the infrastructure, the technology. All of this is being incrementally added to the border in order to take control of that—of the situation that we have.
MATTHEWS: Do you think American business wants to secure the border, or do they want those inexpensive, cheap laborers to come and work where they have jobs that don‘t pay much?
AGUILAR: Well, our responsibility, the responsibility of the men and women at Border Patrol, is national security.
The border security is, in fact, an issue of national security. Our responsibility is to not only guard the borders against illegal immigration, but narcotics traffickers, and, of course, our primary mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of this—out of this country.
MATTHEWS: But do you think the American business community would rather have cheap labor than tough border enforcement? I guess it‘s a tough question for you to answer. If you want to just say, I don‘t want to answer it, fine. But do you think business people who...
AGUILAR: Well, it‘s a tough question.
MATTHEWS: ... have to run hotels, restaurants, farms, places where the labor doesn‘t get paid much, do you think they really are serious about backing you up at home by saying, I‘m not going to hire somebody illegal?
AGUILAR: Chris, that‘s an answer for the business community to answer.
The answer that I can give you is that we are, in fact, very serious, very serious about border security and properly enforcing the laws of the United States to ensure that this country is taken care of, to ensure that the American way of life continues as we know it.
MATTHEWS: Is it dangerous work you‘re in?
AGUILAR: Is it dangerous work? Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: It sounds like it today, when a helicopter comes down.
AGUILAR: The men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol...
The men and women of the Border Patrol every day, 24/7, 365 days out of the year, put their life on the line to protect America‘s borders and protect the way that we know as American way of life.
MATTHEWS: Have you ever gotten any signal from the president, the commander in chief, as to how tough he wants to get on this?
AGUILAR: The signals from this administration, from the secretary, Secretary Chertoff, and our commissioner are very strong. We are very serious. We recognize the problem that we have. We are continuing to add all of the resources that we need.
Right now, what we‘re doing is taking a look at all the comprehensive resources that we need in order to do a better job of bringing control to the border.
MATTHEWS: In other words, I‘m asking, are there any crosscurrents? I mean, Chertoff is a tough customer. He got this job because he‘s tough, heading Homeland Security. But do you get any crosscurrents of people saying, let‘s not offend any communities; the Latino in this community might have a feeling about this, so don‘t be too tough? Or is it always just, get the job done? It‘s a clear-cut—I‘m asking you, do you have a clear-cut mandate to get tough at the border?
AGUILAR: The mandate, the direction, the guidance is, take command of the border. And that is exactly what we‘re doing.
MATTHEWS: OK, thanks. It‘s great having you on. Thank you for your service to the country, sir. Thank you very much, Alfonso Aguilar.
AGUILAR: Thank you for having me.
MATTHEWS: Up next, President Bush hits the road trying to sell the war in Iraq. Is it working here? Is it working abroad? We will ask Paul Hackett, the Iraq war veteran who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Ohio, and Robert Merry, author of “Sands of Empire.” He says President Bush is leading the country toward calamity by pursuing a policy of what Merry calls humanitarian imperialism.
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MATTHEWS: Coming up, two years later and President Bush is still selling the war in Iraq. Is he making the case?
When HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Bush has named one of his most trusted advisers, Karen Hughes, to improve America‘s image abroad, especially in the Islamic world. What‘s she up against?
I‘m here with Paul Hackett, the Iraqi war veteran who‘s criticized the president‘s handling of the Iraq war, and he‘s just lost a very close congressional race out in Ohio, and Robert Merry, who is president and publisher of “Congressional Quarterly,” whose book “Sands of Empire” says it‘s not necessarily in America‘s best interests to go out there and spread democracy.
Let me ask you, Paul, combat veteran.
PAUL HACKETT (D), FORMER OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Yes.
MATTHEWS: You shouldn‘t be afraid of this question.
MATTHEWS: Why do people hate us in the world? They used to really like us.
HACKETT: Well, I think probably...
MATTHEWS: I don‘t mean the French and the Arabs. I mean a lot of people.
HACKETT: I think probably people don‘t like us trying to impose upon them our culture. And I think that‘s a problem.
And I think, ironically, that‘s what we‘re trying to do in Iraq. And that‘s probably why we‘re not going to be successful at doing that, because, historically, there‘s no example of a country going in with military force and spreading a culture. And, effectively, that‘s what we‘re ultimately doing. I think that‘s the goal this week. I could be wrong.
MATTHEWS: But they‘re not watching our movies at gunpoint. They‘re not wearing jeans at gunpoint. They‘re imitating our clothes, buying our clothes, buying our movies, our music because they like it.
HACKETT: Well, that‘s a super...
MATTHEWS: And their parents don‘t like the fact...
MATTHEWS: ... that the kids like it. Isn‘t that it?
HACKETT: Well, I think that‘s a superficial portion of spreading culture, but I don‘t think that really gets to the core of what makes an Arab an Arab, an American an American, and so on down the line.
So, if what we‘re trying to achieve this week in Iraq is spreading the American culture, we‘re going to be unsuccessful at it.
MATTHEWS: Do you think part of that, Paul—and I respect your service, obviously.
HACKETT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: I mean, thank you for doing it.
HACKETT: My pleasure.
MATTHEWS: ... politics or policy. It certainly wasn‘t your pleasure.
HACKETT: Oh, it was. You know, we Marines, we like that stuff, so it was fun.
MATTHEWS: ... me.
MATTHEWS: You know, one of the big issues, as you just indicated...
MATTHEWS: ... jump in here, Bob.
You know, did we fight, so that women would have equal rights in Iraq?
HACKETT: That‘s a new one. That‘s not why I went over there. That‘s not to say that that‘s a noble cause. Perhaps in the right circumstances.
MATTHEWS: Could you care less?
HACKETT: Look, I mean, the Marine Corps goes where we‘re told to go, but I don‘t think that should be why we use our military abroad.
MATTHEWS: Would that be an example of where you think we‘re using our military power to enforce—enforce our culture elsewhere?
I mean, look, make no mistake about it, using the military in Iraq is and was a misuse of the military. However, with that said, I‘m all about going over to Iraq or anywhere else the Marine Corps wants to send me and get rid of bad guys. And if that means killing bad folks in Iraq or in Afghanistan, as a Marine Corps officer, I‘m all about that. I got no problem with that. But if you want to ask me as a politician, is that the right use of the military, no, it‘s not the right use.
MATTHEWS: Remember the first couple days of the war, before it was supposed to start, and we thought—our military thought we had found Saddam Hussein?
MATTHEWS: And we dropped the bombs on him.
MATTHEWS: If we had gotten him then, should we have just come home?
HACKETT: Probably so, yes.
MATTHEWS: Bob Merry, let me ask you this. You‘ve written about this, about “Sands of Empire.” Karen Hughes has been detailed by the president. And he really likes her and trusts her. And she‘s smart as hell. She‘s a great P.R. person. Is P.R. the issue here? Can you go over to the Arab world and say, you know, you‘re wrong about us; I know we have our military in your country over there, and we don‘t like some of this Islamic stuff, but that‘s not really true, because we‘re better than that?
ROBERT MERRY, AUTHOR, “SANDS OF EMPIRE”: In...
MATTHEWS: Will the P.R. thing work?
MERRY: In matters of war and peace, P.R. is not a big deal. It‘s not going to work.
And I have to say, I just clipped out a thing from “The New York
Times,” front page yesterday, that I will take just a part of a sentence:
“raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy.”
So, here we are going over there saying, we want democracy, but who are we really concerned about? Islamist fundamentalists. And what we‘re seeing now is the prospect that the effort to bring democracy to Iraq is going to bring Islamist fundamentalism there. America needs to stay out of the other people‘s cultural matters.
MATTHEWS: Wasn‘t that predictable? I mean, going way back to the beginnings of—way before the beginnings of Israel, back to the ‘20s, when the Balfour Declaration was passed by the British, or they accepted it, the idea that there would be a Jewish homeland, all the Arab street went nuts over it.
You know, and Jaffa, and the Palestinians were going, it was their leaders that cut the deal, that said, OK, we will allow that state to exist or begin to exist, or to allow Jewish immigration.
Aren‘t we always better off dealing with these even corrupt governments over there than dealing with the street?
MERRY: Well, I make that argument.
MATTHEWS: I think that‘s in your book. That‘s...
MERRY: I make the argument in the book. And it‘s been quite controversial. I have been attacked by it.
But it seems to me that, if we‘re in an era of cultural and civilizational conflict, which I believe we are, we need to keep our eye on the ball. And the ball is Islamist fundamentalism. It‘s not these—it‘s not these autocratic governments.
MATTHEWS: Is there any Islamist country that would vote in our favor on any issue if the people all got to vote?
MERRY: I don‘t believe so now. I can‘t think of it.
MATTHEWS: They would never root for us?
MERRY: I don‘t think so.
MATTHEWS: Paul Hackett and Bob Merry are going to be staying with us.
And a reminder: The political debate is 24/7 at Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Follow all the action on the hottest political stories each day. You‘re looking at it right now. Just go to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
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MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Iraqi war veteran Paul Hackett—he ran and lost for that congressional seat out in Ohio—and author Robert Merry.
President—I want to start with this big picture for both of you, Bob first and then Paul.
President Bush has really broken from the vacation he had, broken-up vacation, actually, down in Texas. He‘s out there in Idaho today, and he‘s out there, been campaigning at Salt Lake. Do you think he‘s turned people back, sort of build that thrust back for this campaign in Iraq?
MERRY: I think he‘s operating under a faulty assumption that, if he sort of repeats the litany enough, he will sound Churchillian. But I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.
MATTHEWS: But continuing to say terrorism. All the polls show that, when you say the word terrorism, people back the president. Isn‘t he smart, Paul, to keep saying, we‘re fighting the terrorists; we have got to keep fighting them?
HACKETT: Well, I think that‘s probably the best game he‘s got to play.
But what I like to say these last couple of days, particularly since yesterday, is, look, if we‘re going to fight religious terrorism and religious fanaticism, let‘s start right here at home and let‘s start with Pat Robertson.
MATTHEWS: So, are you going to work for the Senate? You sound like you‘re a working Democrat right now.
HACKETT: I have never heard that—I have never heard that idea yet, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Would you like to be senator from Ohio and beat Mike DeWine?
HACKETT: Sure. Who wouldn‘t?
MATTHEWS: Are you going to do it?
HACKETT: I‘m not sure yet. I‘m really serious about that. I have got an 8-year-old daughter who starts third grade in a couple of days. So, you know, it‘s a big concern. I want to see her grow up. And I have got two little boys who are 2 and 5 years old. And I want to see them grow up. So, it‘s going to be a big commitment.
MATTHEWS: Can you make a living while you‘re running for office?
HACKETT: Oh, yes. I have—you know, as I used to say out on the campaign trail, I have been blessed with success in my small business.
MATTHEWS: That‘s always a big challenge for people to run for office.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you both about this—so, you‘re not going to run for the Senate, right?
MATTHEWS: I‘m trying to get an answer. This is HARDBALL. Can you give me an answer, Paul? You did really close. You ran against this very strong woman.
MATTHEWS: By the way, I said to you before the show. I will say it again. You lost to a very strong Republican candidate. I was very impressed with that woman on this program and the fact that she beat Mike DeWine‘s son earlier in the primary. I think she‘s a serious political figure. And I wouldn‘t try running against her, if I were you.
MATTHEWS: That‘s my advice to you.
HACKETT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to this question. It seems to me most Americans—and this is totally fair—know that we can‘t bug out of Iraq in the short run, because it will just be all our friends over there we have given hope to and the guys in the suits trying to write those constitutions will all get massacred and their throats cut and their heads thrown on the sidewalk. We know that. So, you can‘t do that.
But, also, you don‘t hear anybody who says, I see a bright light at the end of the tunnel. So, in the short run, we can‘t bug out. And yet, over the space of even two or three years, nobody says it‘s all going to get done. So, if you were commander in chief right now, knowing those two facts, we can‘t bug out now, but we can‘t stay forever or we won‘t get much done in the long run, what would do you?
HACKETT: I‘d tell the American people, the war is over. We gave them democracy. We freed them from a brutal dictator. We helped them draft a constitution and we helped set up and give a structure to their defense, and now is the time. Declare victory. Bring it home, because here is why.
MATTHEWS: Will they accept the fact that they‘re able to support themselves, our allies over there?
HACKETT: I don‘t think whether we leave, figuratively speaking, today or two years or three years or four years from now, that we are going to pull out of there.
Whenever we pull out of there, there‘s going to be an uptick in the terrorism. And there‘s going to be an uptick in the fighting, no matter when we leave. And they‘re going to have to sort that out among themselves. And I think the challenge now is to figure out how we begin to draw down the forces over there.
Look, we‘re already doing it. We‘re going to be at under 100,000 troops a year from today.
MATTHEWS: Bob, we did that in Vietnam, and a lot of people to this day, not just military men, felt it was a dishonor to go into Vietnam, recruit allies, bolster them up, get their morale up, and then split, and then pull the money, and watch them all die—fall to the communists.
MERRY: But we didn‘t have much of a choice then, and I don‘t think Bush has much of a choice now.
The fact is, I believe that there‘s been a major transformation in policy. We went in there to create a beachhead, a beachhead to transform the Middle East militarily and maybe other ways. This president wants out of there now. He sees the polls, 36...
MATTHEWS: How do you know that?
MERRY: ... percent approval rating.
MATTHEWS: But where do you read that in his words?
MERRY: Well, there was a—not in his words, but there was a front-page piece in “The Financial Times”: today quoting a general, saying that we‘re going to be moving out.
He‘s really trying to get the ducks in a row on the ground in Iraq—it‘s going to be very, very difficult—I‘m not sure he can do it—so that he can get those troops home.
MERRY: Because it‘s a political disaster. I think he wants to have a major move in that direction by the elections of next year.
MATTHEWS: Do you accept that?
HACKETT: Yes. I think...
MATTHEWS: Do you think next year is the deciding point?
MATTHEWS: By next November, in other words, about 14, 15 months from now?
HACKETT: I think—yes. I mean, we‘re already at that deciding point. The question is, how do we do it in an orderly way and, frankly, how does President Bush do it and save face? And I don‘t have any problem with it. He should be able to save face, but let‘s get the job done. Let‘s be forthright with the American people.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s try to be honest about what we‘re talking about here. And the words you say, well, speak on the way out won‘t mean much to the people we are leaving behind, words, words, words, as Eliza Doolittle said.
HACKETT: Right. Sure.
MATTHEWS: The actions will matter.
If we can‘t defeat this insurgency by the Iraqi holdouts, the Baathists, wherever we are, why do you think that new government over there will be able to do it?
HACKETT: Well, look, defeating the insurgency is more than just killing bad guys.
It is a complicated process, and it‘s going to take more than just military to defeat the insurgency. They will be able to sort that out themselves, I think, number one, eventually. And I think, number two, when we leave, with all that we have given Iraq, I think the insurgency will eventually die off. I mean, right now, it‘s civil war. How are we going to succeed in civil war?
MATTHEWS: I would think that the insurgency would take over the country more likely.
I think it‘s a sectarian free-for-all. It‘s not really a war against the insurgency. There are all kinds of sectarian forces that are jockeying for position on the ground in Iraq. And that‘s really what it‘s all about. This president seems to think that it‘s a war between those people who are small-d democrats like him and those evildoers who want to thwart those people. And that‘s not what it‘s about.
And that—I don‘t see how a civil war is going to be prevented. The only kind of question is what kind of stability can come eventually.
MATTHEWS: After all the bloodshed—and you have been over there and you had bullets shooting at you—do you believe that, if we get out of there in a year, and there is this sectarian sorting out, as you put it, and there‘s still going to be some fighting going on among the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds...
MATTHEWS: ... is that less of a danger to us than Saddam Hussein was or more?
MATTHEWS: In other words, have we made a matter—the whole thing, after all is considered, all the blood and treasure spent on this war and all the amputees we have met on this program, and people are going to be living this the rest of their lives, after all that cost, is the benefit of having gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and replaced him with this confused mess over there worth it? I want an answer.
HACKETT: Well, I have been asked that question before here. And I said no.
MATTHEWS: Is it worth it?
MERRY: Absolutely not.
And the fact of the matter is that the most significant development that emanated from all of this is the transformation of the balance of power in the Middle East. Iran is far stronger today than it was before this invasion. And that‘s probably the most significant development.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s a pretty modern country. Anyway, it could be a danger. It certainly is a danger to Israel right now.
Thank you, Paul Hackett
HACKETT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Robert Merry.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Up next, “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN,” hosted tonight by Amy Robach. What a shift. And more on Tropical Storm Katrina making its way toward the coast of Florida.
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