Guests: Joe Madison, Niger Innis, Dana Milbank, Chuck Todd, Mary Ann Akers, Matthew Avara, Cleo Fields
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Did it work? Did Bush‘s speech in the French Quarter have enough body English to command the country? And how are we going to pay for all this, by cutting other spending, by raising taxes or killing the Bush tax cut, or by running up the deficit and risking big-time inflation? You tell me.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Last night, President Bush stood virtually alone in the vacant stillness of New Orleans surrounded only by the military and the media to deliver his address to an unsettled nation. The message was simple, America will rebuild the Gulf Coast in one of the largest reconstruction efforts in the history of the world. The plan, however, is a complicated list of federal programs, proposals and initiatives, with an astronomical price tag.
As for who is going to pay for it, something‘s got to give. The bottom line, can we afford to rebuild the entire Gulf Coast of America, finance our two-front wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, keep the Bush tax cuts and avoid a killer inflation?
We start tonight with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams in New Orleans.
Brian, those—that‘s a big question, the price tag around the country. How does it look down there?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Well, Chris, I tell you, having been here, you know we took another run through this city today. I keep thinking I have seen it all. I keep thinking I have seen every crucial neighborhood, I have seen the worst of the damage.
Today was the Garden District, the part of New Orleans so many people make a beeline for when they visit. You know, they have got it just as bad in relative terms as some of the folks in the lower Ninth Ward. And, yet, folks in the Garden District by and large have the means to come back and repair. And they will stay in New Orleans because they have deep roots in New Orleans.
You know, someone recently said that, if the federal government is really going to have an emergency plan for all major cities, they should realize the following. There is a very good chance the last 100,000 people to leave every city are going to be the poor, the very people that were affected by this. I think, in terms of cost, no American has any idea how big a project this is going to be.
We‘re going to see some famous brand names, like Bechtel, involved in this. This is huge engineering projects. We may even change the course of the Mississippi Delta before we‘re done here. And as to cost, Chris, you can combine maybe CCC, WPA and a whole bunch of other letters and then you‘ll come up with a constant dollar price tag.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the political connection. Usually, the federal government does play a redistributive role. It takes from the well-off people through a progressive income tax and gives to people through social programs. Here, you have the rest of the country basically paying for that 25 percent down there, I guess even less than that. Do the people down there have an attitude or feeling that they deserve this kind of support from the rest of the country in terms of tax dollars and their benefits?
WILLIAMS: I think, down here, they would argue, our problem is your problem. Look around, America. Our people are now living in all 50 states. Our petroleum was interrupted. You‘re paying close to $4 a gallon, or were. Your commerce comes down the mighty Mississippi River.
And, today, we were escorted on top of one of the famous grass-covered levees, as a tug took a barge past. And you realize—it may sound Mark Twain—but that river carries such a measurable percent of all the commerce exported from the United States. It is a remarkable body of water. I think that would be the argument, that, in a way, as this storm recovery goes, so goes the rest of the United States and, cynics would say, parts of Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Is this the President Bush second term domestic program? Is this it? Is this what it‘s going to be in the main, reconstruction of that part of the country?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I‘m not a political analyst, like you are, but de facto sense, by default, I don‘t think there‘s anything that could change that, Chris. As you know, race was supposed to be one of the big agenda items for President Clinton‘s second term. It got derailed when the Monica Lewinsky story broke.
They say, if you want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are for tomorrow. Same thing holds in a looser sense, without the mention of any higher power, in presidential politics. You never know what is going to come along. And the people who follow presidential history have found it unbelievable that a second president named Bush is going to have such political upheaval as the result of a reaction to a natural disaster.
MATTHEWS: What struck me last night—and this is more about history than politics—is, the way the president‘s address—it was only 15 minutes or 20 minutes—sounded so much not like a Barry Goldwater speech or a Ronald Reagan speech or even a George W. Bush speech. It sounded like a Lyndon B. Johnson speech, lots of money being spent to deal with poverty, lots of reference to the fact that poverty is to a large extent, in that part of the country especially, the result of racial bigotry over the years, including Jim Crow and, before that, slavery, and then lots of names of new government programs, almost like the WPA, as you mentioned, the CCC.
He was throwing out homesteading and enterprise zones and job retraining. Is this the new Bush?
WILLIAMS: Well, someone on the left side of the political spectrum said this morning, I expected the president to say, and I‘m naming Sargent Shriver to run this new program.
WILLIAMS: A la our late friend Lyndon Johnson.
But, yes, I think—I think it‘s the necessary outcome. You‘ve got problem, solution. Well, you can‘t really privatize the reconstruction of this area. If they‘re going to raise any part of this bathtub of a city, this fabulous great American city, that can‘t be contracted out. So, you know, the money has to come from somewhere. The jobs have to come from somewhere.
I did hear some people defending the president and his plan last night, saying, what would you have us do? This, of course, has to be a massive government program.
WILLIAMS: If that‘s evocative of past liberal programs, so be it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the—the country‘s attention span. And I know you deal with this, whether cognitively or not, almost all the time. What does the American audience have an appetite for in terms of news? What are they willing to receive? No matter what you put on the air, what are they going to listen to?
WILLIAMS: Chris, this rules...
MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people are going to be attentive
attentive to this problem down there for months and years ahead?
WILLIAMS: Sorry about the satellite delay.
Yes, this rules my every day work. This is the crux of my lifetime. To my friends and family, I complain about this all the time, because, in the daily evening news business, we‘re partly in the civics business. Some critics have called it eat-your-peas journalism. We have to put stories on in the old days about Bosnia-Herzegovina, pictures and news that people hardly wanted to see, let alone at the dinner hour.
But it‘s our responsibility to put this on the air. Tim Russert, actually, last night said, the American attention span is what he worries about in getting this thing passed and getting it paid for. We move on with the speed of a fruit fly these days to the next thing, the next trend.
But I think the suffering here, I think the fact that, not far from
where I‘m standing, Americans died for lack of food and water. That‘s an -
that‘s an astounding statement, really, when you wake up in the light of day and realize what happened here. I think this has the attention of a good many people. It‘s the speed now. It‘s getting the plans out, mobilizing Americans, maybe calling for sacrifice in the form of service.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Brian Williams. This story has legs. At least it will on NBC News.
Anyway, we turn now to Cleo Fields, who is Democratic state senator from Louisiana, and to Matthew Avara. He‘s a Republican. He‘s mayor of Pascagoula, Mississippi. He met with President Bush yesterday. He joins us now by phone.
Let me go to Senator Fields.
Do you think the president satisfied you last night in terms of his commitment to rebuild this part of the country?
CLEO FIELDS (D), LOUISIANA STATE SENATOR: Well, last night, he did, in terms of his—his commitment. And if that commitment is followed through, then certainly New Orleans and Louisiana and rest of the nation will move forward.
I think the government, the federal government has to make a firm commitment to rebuild a city that was destructed by no fault of its own. So, I was pleased with his statements and I‘m waiting for the action.
MATTHEWS: You may be too young to recall, but did this speech resonate with you as an LBJ speech more than a George W. Bush speech?
FIELDS: This speech was an American president speech, in my opinion.
This is a time we have got to put aside party partisan politics and put the people first. And I think the speech last night clearly put people and Americans first and politics last. I mean, it‘s not a Republican agenda, a Democratic agenda. It‘s an agenda to get people back into Louisiana, get them back in their homes and rebuild a city that was devastated by a national—a natural disaster. And that‘s what an American president—president should do.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, State Senator.
Hold on for a second. We‘re looking, by the way, -- I want to explain what the viewers are looking at right now on MSNBC. We have seen this fire from the air. It‘s obviously being photographed right now by our cameras from the air, live, as you can see on the bug there.
We will have more information on this as we continue these conversations.
But, of course, so much of New Orleans is made of wood. I have actually been surprised there hasn‘t been more scenes like this in this very hot summer here, which continues right now. It‘s over 90 degrees almost every day down there.
More with Mayor Matthew Avara.
Let‘s go to Mayor Matthew Avara, actually, right now, from Pascagoula.
Sir, thank—we‘re going go right—well, more with those two gentlemen when we return.
And, later, the racial divide as exposed by the hurricane, can it be narrowed?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, President Bush laid down his plan for reconstructing the Gulf Coast. The big question now, how are we going to pay for it?
When HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re here with State Senator Cleo Fields, a Democrat from Louisiana, and Republican Mayor Matthew Avara of Pascagoula, Mississippi, who joins us by phone.
By the way, before we go to the mayor, we‘re looking at this scene. They have obviously got this fire under control. So, it‘s great to see that the firefighters of New Orleans are in full control. Look at that—look at that force of water hitting that building. They are doing their job here. See that? That building was in full flame just a minute ago now it‘s just—they‘re almost knocking the thing out right now as we watch it. You see that last corner they‘re putting out?
Looks like water force is back in the city system there. That‘s a pretty powerful thrust they have got going at that fire. It‘s a big apartment house, apparently, apartment building in New Orleans itself.
And, as I said before, when you travel through New Orleans, like we did this week, you see that just about all the buildings—there are so many of them—are wooden buildings and old buildings, which means dried-up wood and therefore kindling for a fire. That‘s one thing that I‘m surprised we haven‘t seen more of, this scene in this temperature, which has reached 90 degrees for about six straight months a year down there. It‘s a very hot part of the country, like most of the Deep South. And that, of course, makes it easier to get a fire started. They have had some rain down there.
But let me go back to our guests. Let me go to Mayor Avara.
Sir, thank you for joining us.
You had the privilege of meeting with President Bush yesterday. What
how would you describe his commitment to your part of the country now?
MATTHEW AVARA ®, MAYOR OF PASCAGOULA, MISSISSIPPI: Well, first of all, thank you for having me.
I had a good visit that lasted a little over an hour. He expressed his commitment from his office to the people here on the Gulf Coast. I found him to be a truly dedicated man to the people, putting aside all politics. He recognizes the suffering that our people are going through right now and enduring right now.
And this storm was so massive, and I think it took all of our governmental agencies by surprise. So, he reiterated his commitment from the federal government. And that‘s what it‘s going to take to rebuild my community. I can only speak for my community. I have not left, except for this morning, to go to Biloxi to meet with some other officials. But I can sense his dedication.
He asked—I had requested that the president come. He started off the meeting and asked for me to say—he said, you called this meeting. Why don‘t we get started? And I choked up a little bit and said that my people were suffering. And I looked over. And I was not the only one in the room that had a tear in his eye. The president had a tear in his eye.
And—but his commitment is very strong to my community and to this entire region.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, how do we keep control of the money? This price tag, as you know, Mr. Mayor, could go to lot more than the $60 billion the president talked about by the time Congress is through with this. How do we make sure the money just doesn‘t sift into the sand, that we don‘t see the real construction and help to the people that $150 or $200 billion should produce?
AVARA: Well, you know, in my city—I can only speak for my city and the people that are suffering down here.
You know, it‘s going to take tight regulations. One of the things I asked the president was to help us do away with some of the red tape that is prohibiting these assets and resources from hitting the ground. The governor of my state, Haley Barbour, and the president have been working very close together.
I think that, at the end of the day, we‘re going to reduce some of the red tape to get the assets and the resources on the ground. But it‘s going to require close scrutiny. And there are a lot of people down here in my region that are suffering, sleeping on their slabs, not in their homes, sleeping on their slabs where their homes used to be.
And our people are very resilient. We‘re going to rebuild. And, as far as the money coming in, that‘s something that will have to be regulated. But we have got to get the money down here first. We have to get the assets and the resources on the ground to get the support for the people. But there are a lot of good people in the federal government who are trying very hard to bring us assistance.
Initially, it was slow. And I told the president that. I told him that there were a lot of people here with badges on and shirts that had FEMA and other agencies on them that didn‘t know what to do. But those resources now are beginning to come into our city. We have got trailers beginning to come in. And we‘re going to be OK.
AVARA: We have endured a lot and we‘re going to be OK.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Mayor, hold on for a second.
Let me go back to Senator Fields.
State Senator Fields, let me ask you this. A lot of people who have been mis—displaced, I should say, to places like Houston, don‘t want to come home. They have had a bad experience with the levees in New Orleans. They don‘t want to come back and risk their lives again. Should they get the same level of relief and help that the president has promised to the people who come back?
FIELDS: Oh, no question about it.
I think any person who has been displaced must get the same level of relief. But I think those people from New Orleans are coming home. And, first of all, we didn‘t have a plan to move people out. I think the plan that was used—and I think all levels of government was irresponsible in that respect—was really unconscionable, to just put people on planes and just move them all across the country.
The people who were displaced should have been displaced right here in Louisiana and not outside of Louisiana. But we thank the people across the country who have taken them in with open arms. But we—people will come back to Louisiana. But we have got a lot of work to do on a local, state and federal level. This should have never happened.
This became a major, major catastrophe because we weren‘t prepared for it. And we should have been prepared. We knew the storm was coming. We knew his name, her name. We knew her face. It was a Category 5. And we failed to take the necessary precautions to make sure that people were out of harm‘s way.
But for the people who are sleeping on cots all across this country, New Orleans will be rebuilt. And I just think they will be back. But the important thing now is reuniting families. We have got too many divided families all across this country. I am calling upon the Red Cross and FEMA to put these families back together.
And then, once—you talked, Chris, about the money that‘s going to be spent. I think the first priority ought to be given to the people who have been displaced. Small businesses and individuals, they ought to have the first opportunity, opportunities at these jobs, so that they can get a head start and get their lives back together.
MATTHEWS: OK. Hold on, Senator.
Hold on, Mr. Mayor.
Let‘s bring in David Gregory right now. We have got something breaking right now with regards to the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. He‘s scheduled some surgery next week for an aneurysm. It‘s an elective surgery to deal with a problem he discovered behind his right knee earlier this year.
NBC‘s David Gregory has the update on the phone.
Tell us about this medical surgery that‘s about to be done on the vice president.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I will, Chris.
I have spoken to Steve Schmidt in the vice president‘s office, who tells me that the vice president is slated to have, as you said, elective surgery to treat an aneurysm in an artery behind his right knee. This was discovered earlier this year during a routine check up.
It is a condition, according to the vice president‘s office, that needs to be addressed, so it doesn‘t become a deeper problem over time. I‘m told it‘s primarily a circulatory issue. The procedure, we‘re told, will be performed under local anesthesia next weekend and will involve a short hospital stay. We‘re told the vice president will return to work shortly thereafter. And there will be some more details released about this early next week.
Bottom line, we‘re told by people close to the vice president, this is nothing that‘s life-threatening, that he‘s been living with this for some time. Certainly, people have seen him in the hurricane zone on a recent visit walking the levee system, doing a good deal of walking. But this is something of concern.
We know about the vice president‘s well-documented heart trouble and the history of heart disease and certainly an issue with his weight that he has dealt with for some time that, as we all know, contributes to heart disease.
GREGORY: But this is described as circulatory issue. Beyond that, I wouldn‘t want to comment into areas that would be beyond my expertise. But this is the information we have just received.
MATTHEWS: You know, Bob Woodward of “The Washington Post” a couple of weeks back said that he believed that Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States, we have been talking about, does intend to run a campaign for election to the presidency next time around.
Do you ever hear anything around the White House in reporting that would suggest any evidence of that kind of an underground campaign or quiet campaign?
GREGORY: You know, there‘s obviously people who have talked about it and have speculated as to whether the president would ask him to do that. The vice president at this stage has certainly ruled that out at this point. But that doesn‘t mean he can‘t reverse himself.
I want to add just a little bit of context here, if I can, Chris.
GREGORY: We report this kind of thing as breaking news. And, as we‘re both not doctors, I have certainly been seeking out some counsel from Bob Bazell, our chief science correspondent, who has done so much reporting as well on the vice president‘s heart condition, and has indicated to me just in our initial conversations here this is not something that‘s related to the vice president‘s heart.
This is local anesthesia. This is not considered a serious procedure. So, obviously, we monitor the vice president‘s health so closely because of his history. And we report on it.
GREGORY: But we want to try to put it in the proper context at this stage.
MATTHEWS: I‘m always impressed, aren‘t you, David, at these men who are—women who are able to just go right back into the hospital get what to most people would be serious operations under their belt. They do them, and they come right back out again. They go back to work. They face reality in a tough way. It‘s very impressive. It‘s very courageous, I think, of guys like Dick Cheney.
MATTHEWS: I mean, he‘s had four heart attacks.
MATTHEWS: This guy has been through a lot, and he just keeps doing it. He just keeps doing his job.
GREGORY: And he has to do it in such a public way. And all of these health struggles are for the public to see. But, again, as sources in the vice president‘s office point out, look, this is not somebody who has had his schedule cut back at all. And they certainly don‘t expect that to be the case here.
MATTHEWS: Now that I have got you on the phone, I can‘t resist asking you. What is the—and speaking of medical bulletin—what is the clipboard check right now on the president‘s speech last night?
Do the White House people, as they get their soundings from around the country, are they sure yet as to how he did last night?
GREGORY: Well, I think they felt he did, as they always say in these cases, what he had to do by, in the largest sense, accepting responsibility for the government‘s botched effort, for the failure that the president said, that the American people should expect more from the government after 9/11 in terms of a response.
But I think now, in many ways, this is a new beginning for his second term. And they see it that way, that the security focus of this administration has been trumped by a safety net. This has become a domestic president in many ways who wants to fix something he feels he can fix, even if he was late off the start. He can now get in there and use the full force of the federal government to try to help so many people in need. At the National Cathedral...
GREGORY: He talked about this not just being an engineering issue or an preparation issue for another storm. But it is to deal...
MATTHEWS: More on the story.
David, thanks for joining us. David Gregory, it was great having you on the phone.
Thank you, Mayor Avara, from Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Thank you, Senator Cleo Fields of Louisiana.
We‘ll be right back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
And we are going to keep watching that fire.
MATTHEWS: Back with HARDBALL.
Let‘s go to Mary Ann Akers now of “Roll Call” magazine. That‘s the magazine—or newspaper, rather. It‘s in basically, what do you call it?
it covers Capitol Hill.
Let me go back to Mary Ann right now.
You broke a story about the vice president of the United States just now.
Give us the details.
MARY ANN AKERS, “ROLL CALL”: His spokesman, Steve Schmidt, told me it‘s going to be surgery to treat an aneurysm.
And the statement he provided to me basically said the vice president is going to have an elective surgical procedure to treat an aneurysm in the artery behind his right knee, which was discovered during a routine procedure earlier this year. Actually, it was last month, because I looked up some old clips, last month, when Cheney went to the doctor and showed small dilated parts of the arteries behind his knees. So, that‘s what he‘s going to do this weekend, have some surgery to fix that.
MATTHEWS: How did you find this out?
AKERS: I found this out this morning from a source of mine who called to tell me about it. But all day long, of course, I couldn‘t get it confirmed from Cheney‘s office.
So, finally, Steve Schmidt gave me this statement and allowed me to break the story.
MATTHEWS: Was it a medical source you got it from? Can you tell me?
AKERS: I actually can‘t tell you.
MATTHEWS: All right.
MATTHEWS: I find it interesting, the fact that you break this story through enterprise. It‘s not an expose, but fact that you‘re breaking it as story that you‘ve enterprised yourself and they didn‘t put it out.
They, of course, didn‘t want to put it out. And I think Steve was a little horrified all day when I kept sending him e-mails and calling him.
AKERS: But, basically, what I heard, which Steve Schmidt would not verify, is the vice president is going to have stints put into his legs.
Now, I don‘t know if that‘s true because the vice president‘s office wouldn‘t confirm that. What they said is that he‘s going to have surgery to treat an aneurysm. They said it‘s a condition that needs to be addressed, so that it doesn‘t become a bigger problem over time. Steve Schmidt, the vice president‘s spokesman, said that it‘s going to be performed under local anesthesia, which I think is important to put out—to point out.
AKERS: And that it will involve a short hospital stay.
MATTHEWS: On scale of one to 10, how concerned was Steve that this story had gotten out?
AKERS: Well, I couldn‘t tell. As you know, he‘s a professional and plays his cards very tight to the vest.
But the fact is, Cheney is 64. He‘s had quadruple bypass surgery. He has a defibrillator. He suffered four heart attacks. He had this other incident last November, which they say turned out to be nothing. So, clearly, his health has been a problem.
Well, hold on. Why don‘t we use you for some other topics? Stay with us for a second, Mary Ann Akers of...
AKERS: Well, I love you so much, Chris, but I got to write a column and turn it in, in like 15 minutes.
MATTHEWS: Go to deadline.
AKERS: Could I join you another time?
MATTHEWS: Deadline. Mary Ann Akers, go for it. Go for it. Thank you.
AKERS: Thanks a lot.
MATTHEWS: Mary Ann works for “Roll Call,” which is—the word escaped me—a tabloid on Capitol Hill, which covers all the news of Capitol Hill.
We have got joining us right now Chuck Todd of “The Hotline,” which is one of the little bibles we read every day around here which tells us everything that‘s going on politically.
A stunning speech last night for anyone who has covered politics, the president of the United States, a Republican conservative, in a conservative tradition from Texas, giving a speech which sounded so much like a liberal—well, an LBJ speech, Lyndon Johnson speech, lots of programs, lots of money, lots of commitment to offsetting the costs of—to people, in human terms, of racism over the years that led to poverty, putting it all together, racism leading to poverty, leading to the need for federal action and dollars, very much a liberal way of looking at things.
CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “THE HOTLINE”: It was, which is why I think the reception, the—the tough reception that Bush has gotten from the—has come from the right. It‘s conservatives that are upset. It‘s conservative lawmakers that seem to nervous about this whole thing.
MATTHEWS: About the philosophy behind it or the cost of it?
TODD: The cost and, I think, the philosophy.
I think, you know, talking about poverty and racism and linking those two things together, something that‘s always been a liberal argument, not really a conservative—as much of a conservative argument. They have had a different way of they think the—the difference what—what causes poverty and that racism isn‘t as big.
So, I think it was the whole philosophy behind it. It just has them nervous. And it‘s like, all of a sudden, every bit of nervousness they have had about Bush that they had five years ago, before they knew what kind of conservative...
TODD: It‘s like it‘s all, like, come up.
MATTHEWS: But if you took all the Republican senators from the Deep South, from the cotton South, all the way across from Alabama, Mississippi, all the way to Texas, they all vote against most domestic programs. I mean, they‘re pretty conservative on spending.
TODD: I don‘t think they‘re going to be voting against them, at least those two Republican senators from Mississippi, the two Republican senators from Alabama.
MATTHEWS: So, they‘re voting records are going to go from 100 percent conservative to about 20 percent conservative overnight.
TODD: Well, at least as far as the Grover Norquist and the Club For Growth gangs are concerned, which is interesting.
I thought Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, a guy who might want to run for president, I thought the fact that he criticized the president‘s speech after the speech...
MATTHEWS: For what, not spending enough?
TODD: No, he criticized because he thought the federal government was being too overbearing, too overarching. He said he wanted the federal government to be a partner, not in charge.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s the...
TODD: And that—I thought
MATTHEWS: OK. That‘s the opposite of the Democratic governor of Louisiana, who wants a full 100 percent federal bailout.
We had the lieutenant governor on last night, Mr. Landrieu, Mr. Landrieu. He said not a nickel of state money, total federal 100 percent bailout. That‘s the Democratic governor. Here, again, it‘s interesting. There is a philosophical difference. Republican governor of Mississippi says, we will pay our share.
TODD: Well, it wasn‘t just, pay our share. He wanted control over the process.
He doesn‘t want to have federal control over the process.
TODD: He‘s being true to his states‘ rights mentality. But let‘s remember....
MATTHEWS: You can‘t have it both ways, can you?
TODD: You can‘t.
And let‘s remember, he did not water—I mean, you know, the—the -
the big difference between Louisiana and Mississippi in this whole disaster, water. And that—it almost changes the dynamics of the situation, I think.
TODD: Because the flooding. It‘s been—Mississippi has been able to get a handle on the situation, or at least feel like...
Let‘s talk something I grew up with, which is worries about inflation in this country. The number one bugaboo for Republican office holders since the time I was born and paid attention to politics was inflation. Democrats live with inflation. Jimmy Carter had it. He didn‘t care that much. Republicans hate inflation, because it takes money away from people who have it and gives it to people who don‘t. That‘s what inflation does. It basically reduces amount of the money you‘re holding, the credit you‘re holding, and it reduces your debt.
Now, listen, if we double the spending on all these programs, if the federal budget deficit now goes from like 300 to 500, right?
MATTHEWS: That means we‘re borrowing all this money. We are putting pressure on the money markets. We are putting money on the borrowing. We‘re going to have def—we are going to have higher inflation, right?
TODD: Look, I‘m not going to sit here and play economist. But there‘s also this idea that this could serve an economic stimulus that we‘re unaware of.
TODD: It could have a different kind of effect.
TODD: Look, I mean, I think that that is...
MATTHEWS: That‘s what destroys administrations. It destroyed the Lyndon Johnson administration, because he tried to pay for guns and butter, Vietnam and the Great Society. This president has a war in Iraq and Afghanistan and he wants to rebuild the South.
TODD: You‘re leaving out another president, Jimmy Carter. It‘s felt
this has been feeling like a Jimmy Carter moment.
MATTHEWS: This destroys a presidency, when you try to do too much with too little. You don‘t raise taxes because that offend the voters. Therefore, you stretch the deficit higher and higher, reduce the value of money. It‘s what happens.
MATTHEWS: Let me see if Dana Milbank is ready from the “Washington Post” newsroom.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
MILBANK: Hello, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Dana.
Let me ask you this. There‘s two challenges that Chuck Todd of “The Hotline” has brought out here. One is the philosophical argument the president made last night, which is so 1960s. Poverty is caused by racism. It can be dealt with by big federal spending.
The other problem, the old Republican bugaboo of big deficits mean inflation. How‘s the president dealing with these two risks?
MILBANK: Well, on the philosophical one, I don‘t think it‘s quite as bad a problem as you guys have laid out there.
A lot of these proposals he‘s talking about are real conservative favorites. He‘s talking about school vouchers. He‘s talking about personal accounts. He‘s talking about tax breaks for businesses. They have had waivers on affirmative action programs. So, just the quality of the programs are ones that conservatives very much like.
Now, the cost, another story, $200 billion, people are looking at, more than the cost of the war in Iraq. The bond markets are already reacting very badly, on fears that inflation is going to be taking off. So, the overall cost I think is what‘s worrying the conservatives. You have got Tom Coburn talking about a meltdown in terms of expenditures.
I don‘t think they care about the programs, per se, but the cost is absolutely overwhelming.
MATTHEWS: What about the president breaking precedent, personal precedent, by admitting again last night that mistakes were made, that he‘s guilty of leading bad mistakes?
MILBANK: Well, it‘s—this is what happens when your approval is down there at 40 percent or about where it is right now.
This is something everybody now agrees he should have said a couple of weeks ago. So, in a sense, he‘s coming down there to overcompensate. He‘s down there every few days now. He‘s called for the—this address to the nation.
And, if anything, we heard in this press conference with Putin today he‘s saying, basically, there‘s—the sky‘s the limit on expenses. We‘re going to spend whatever it takes. So, in a way, to—he has to overcompensate...
MILBANK: ... for this perception.
MATTHEWS: Well, people are getting greedy.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that he‘s going to run for a full term as governor of California. And he‘s asked for $90 million in federal funding to fix California‘s aging levees. Is this everybody has got their hand out now?
MILBANK: I sure hope so. How about D.C.?
MATTHEWS: Yes. I know. Do we have levees?
MILBANK: We will build some.
TODD: You know, the most startling number I saw today. Do you realize that 40 states have declared states of emergency to get money, Katrina-related money, already? I think that the—that is what the—there is sort of money grab going on by some governors.
MATTHEWS: This is like black lung up in Pennsylvania. People who have never been near a mine want the black lung money, because it‘s money.
TODD: It‘s like a class-action—it‘s like trial lawyers signing up people that might have sniffed Fen-Phen.
I mean, it is just amazing that all of a sudden everybody—every state governor who feels the pinch of other state issues and all this stuff think, oh, I can get some federal dollars.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at the politics of the president.
People say the president is not running for reelection, but he is the leader of the Republican Party, Dana. We have got a new number in here. It‘s a Republican poll, actually, that shows that, in Pennsylvania, in probably the hottest Senate race in the country next year, Santorum, one of the leaders of the United States Senate—I think he‘s number three in the leadership—is running—look at this -- 14 points behind Bob Casey, the state treasurer.
That is quite a lead over a guy that‘s one of the leaders of the United States Senate. Are we looking at a possible tsunami politically next year, Dana?
MILBANK: Well, who knows.
I mean, a lot of Santorum‘s troubles are self-inflicted with things he had to say about the hurricane. But, certainly, everybody who is up in 2006 is thinking about this right now. They have got a long time to recover, but this is the time when you‘ve got to start raising money. This is the time when a lot of candidates are being recruited. Certainly, if the numbers and the situation look as badly a year from now, that is going to be a huge problem for them.
Katrina may fade a bit, but then they were not in terribly good position to begin with, with Iraq and with the high gas prices.
MATTHEWS: Does this kill basically any chance of a Republican, perhaps Jeanine Pirro, beating Hillary Clinton next year?
TODD: Oh, I think you‘re right.
MATTHEWS: ... partisanship.
TODD: Don‘t even think about blue states going red.
At this point, you have got to look at the purple states and the red states and where they‘re going.
TODD: I will say this. We will know a lot about how much trouble the president thinks he is on this next court nominee. I think he‘s going to go very conservative, because I think he‘s worried his base might collapse on him, because that‘s the last thing he‘s got going for him.
MATTHEWS: Will he get 60 votes and get this guy in, though?
TODD: Oh, I think he gets 60 votes, yes, but not much more.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
For the next guy, though?
TODD: I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I‘m talking about.
MATTHEWS: I‘m already ahead of...
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Dana Milbank.
And, thank you, Chuck Todd.
Up next, how committed is the president to closing the racial divide that Katrina has exposed? That‘s a big question in this country.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: The black community reacts to president speech‘s last night. Did he fix the damage?
When HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: The president again today at the National Cathedral told Americans he will clear away the legacy of inequality. But has the damage already been done in the black community?
Niger Innis is the national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality. And Joe Madison is a radio talk show host. And he‘s with me right now. Niger is up in New York, I believe.
Niger, we know now from the news reports that the president of the United States during the first days of this horror down there in New Orleans, when the flooding took place and people were stranded there in front of the Superdome or the Convention Center, wasn‘t watching television. It wasn‘t until two days later that someone gave him a DVD to watch on his way to New Orleans to find out what had happened.
Do you think that explains why they got a slow start at the federal level?
NIGER INNIS, THE CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: No.
I think there‘s a variety of blame to go around, Chris, in terms of this crisis with the federal government, with the state government and with the local government. I think it‘s very telling. Last night on “Nightline,” a reporter was interviewing some local blacks in New Orleans and very poor blacks and asking them, you know, do you think the president‘s speech was good and do you think he‘s to blame for slowly reacting?
And they said, no. We‘re going to put blame where blame is due. And the blame that I know of, the individual that I know that serves my community most directly is the mayor of the city.
But I don‘t want to get into the blame game of, is it the mayor of New Orleans, the black mayor of New Orleans? Is it the Democratic governor of Louisiana or the president? I think, for us to move forward, we have to adequately analyze what we wrong and say that blame was shared across the board. The racial canard is a total misnomer. And it does a total disservice to really solving this problem.
And we have to efficiently spend the massive amount of money that is now going to be thrust upon the state of Louisiana as we move forward.
But, Niger, I never mentioned race. I simply said, what do you think was responsible for the slow start of the federal government? Was it the fact that the president wasn‘t aware of the situation? And that‘s been documented, that he didn‘t know what was going on.
INNIS: Yes. Yes.
And I think it‘s the fact that the president was not enough made well aware of the situation. I think the fact that he was not made well aware of the situation by the governor of Louisiana and by the mayor of Louisiana, who had a prior knowledge of this situation.
Look, last year, Chris, in September of last year, you had Hurricane Ivan that was supposed—a level 4 hurricane that was supposed to hit Louisiana as well. They evacuated New Orleans. In that evacuation—it ended up not hitting New Orleans—but, in that evacuation, 40 percent of the residents were left behind. That was a dress rehearsal for what just happened. It was a sneak preview for what just happened.
So, again, Chris, I say that, yes, the president moved slowly. We acknowledge that. Everybody acknowledges that. He acknowledges that. But the governor moved slowly and the mayor moved slowly. And the responsibility is shared across the board. And...
MATTHEWS: Well said. Well said, Niger. And I respect the way you‘ve said it.
But the polling shows that, among the African-American community, 70 percent of the people, when polled, say that the slow response by the federal government was a result of race.
JOE MADISON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And I will tell you this.
It‘s perception. It is perception. And so that perception is reality. I will say this to you.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean?
MADISON: Well, and here is what I mean.
I went to the Astrodome. I went to the alliance—Reliant Center. And then I went to Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula, and Moss Point. If you want to take a poll, take a poll of those 25,000 people who are in Houston and ask them what they think happened, if they were deserted by their government.
The one thing I will agree with Niger on, they are mad at everybody. They‘re mad at the mayor. As a matter of fact, they were actually mad at the mayor before the hurricane hit for all kind of public policy issues. They‘re mad at the governor. They‘re mad at the president. They‘re mad at their government.
Here‘s what someone told me. Americans came together. They came together in Houston. It was the government that let these people down. And this mess about, is it economics or is it race, it‘s a double whammy when you‘re black. It‘s economics, because poor people in this country are always marginalized. It‘s race, because, if you are poor and black, you are marginalized doubly.
The bottom line is, yesterday, who—who criticized the president‘s speech yesterday? Republicans, right-wing conservatives, who said, who does he think he is, Lyndon Johnson? Who does he think he is, Roosevelt? That was a Roosevelt speech. That was a—you know what the bottom line is? You‘re going to...
MATTHEWS: I said that. I did not knock it. I just said that.
MADISON: Well, but they knocked it.
MATTHEWS: It was a Roosevelt speech.
MADISON: But they knocked it. And here is my point.
MATTHEWS: OK, we are going to come right back.
MADISON: You‘re going to need both. You‘re going to need bipartisanship.
MATTHEWS: Who was it that wrote—who wrote “Invisible Man”?
INNIS: Ralph Ellison.
MADISON: That was Ralph Ellison, right.
MATTHEWS: I want to come back and talk about—I think one of the big stories here is the invisibility of the majority community in New Orleans and other big cities.
We‘ll be right back with Niger Innis of CORE and Joe Madison of radio fame in just a moment.
We will be right back with HARDBALL. I want to talk about that, because I think what is brought up is the reality.
MATTHEWS: We are back with Niger Innis, the national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, and Joe Madison, the talk show host.
I was just telling Joe, I remember back in 1960, when Jack Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon, he made a call, that fateful call to Mrs. King, when her husband was in jail in Georgia and with a very uncertain future, possibly being lynched that night. And Nixon did not make the call, even though Jackie Robinson was on the train with him trying to get him to make the call. That moment shifted the black vote in America from about 2-1 Democrat to about 90-10 Democrat.
INNIS: That‘s true.
MATTHEWS: And changed history.
Niger, is this one of those moments? Can the president—is the president in that sensitive a position right now where what he does now is going to affect the movements like that again?
INNIS: Well, I don‘t know about that, but he has to be very, very careful.
You talked about Ralph Ellison‘s “The Invisible Man.” And we want to make sure that those who have been mired in poverty generationally are not seen as human beings, but are seen as victims and, therefore, victims that need to be taken care of by the state.
You know, the fact of the matter is, instead of attacking the question of institutional racism, which I hear thrown about, and institutional poverty, we have to be honest about the institutionalized culture of poverty. You know, back in the 1960s, when racism was much worse, when poverty was much worse in the African-American community, 25 percent of our children were born out of wedlock. Today, in 2002...
MADISON: Oh, man.
INNIS: ... that far removed, that far removed from racism, segregation, slavery, we—it‘s—the numbers are now inverse.
There is a recipe for staying in poverty. You have a child out of wedlock, you don‘t graduate from high school, you commit crime and get involved in the criminal justice system, yes, there—the chances are, you‘re going to get mired in poverty.
And until we are honest, black leaders step up to the plate and stop using the racial canard and nonsense and start stepping up to the plate and saying, look, there are some institutional problems within our community that we are accountable for and that we, more importantly, that we can solve, then, 30 years from now, we‘re going to be looking at this again.
MATTHEWS: Let me—Joe, respond to that.
MADISON: Let me tell you something.
That line will not play anymore in America. Black America is no longer invisible to white America. And I will tell you why. I just saw here on NBC a scene that brought me to tears with that young boy who ran into the arms of his fathers.
MADISON: We have got people getting married in the Astrodome who have been sleeping in shelters.
INNIS: God bless them.
MADISON: I‘m not finished, Niger.
And I‘m were to tell you this. That‘s the black America that I know. That‘s the black America where families stayed together, where mothers and fathers had to make split decisions in this catastrophe to separate each other. That‘s the America. And there‘s no more room for conservatives to sit up here and act as if they have got a cornerstone on family values.
The reality is this. Symbolism is very important. Bush should have had his butt in Houston at the Astrodome. And he should have given that speech yesterday with the victims behind him. To hear someone say, we shouldn‘t look at them as human beings...
MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t he do that?
MADISON: You know, I would imagine—I will tell you exactly why they did it, because Karl Rove said, there‘s no way you‘re going to show up at that Astrodome, with those angry black people screaming at you: Why did you desert me? Why isn‘t there help?
Look, this is going to—this is a—you have got most...
MATTHEWS: You‘re speculating now, right?
MADISON: Oh, yes, because I don‘t talk to Karl Rove.
MATTHEWS: Right. OK.
MADISON: But I have got good sources,like you do.
MADISON: I mean...
MATTHEWS: It‘s not a bad conjecture, but I just want to know where you‘re saying this from.
MADISON: Well, I‘m saying it because I have got sources.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back.
MADISON: No. This—this thing of—of somehow family values and all of this...
MADISON: What you saw, what you really saw, what you really saw, Niger, what you really saw, Niger, is—is—is what has always been in the black community, the majority of people trying to survive from day to day. And we will never look at black America again the way that some sociologists who wrote “The Bell Curve” want us to look at it.
INNIS: Joe, you do not have to preach.
MADISON: Now, you‘re in New York. I went to Houston. I went to Alabama. I went to Louisiana.
MADISON: And you didn‘t even show up in Houston.
INNIS: We have officials in Mississippi—we have officials in Mississippi that are very much working in this. We are working with the United Way.
MADISON: How do you know? You didn‘t even show up.
INNIS: We have a board member that is involved in the reconstruction of...
INNIS: So, please...
MADISON: Excuse me. You didn‘t show up.
INNIS: Joe, you talked. Can I respond, please?
MADISON: Yes. Why didn‘t you show up?
INNIS: Joe, Joe, you do not have to preach to me about the success and the strength of black America.
I know about the success and strength of black America. And I know that it has been the family and our faith that has kept us together throughout dire circumstances. But I also know that, to be a real leader and not a demagogue and a racial demagogue, you have to analyze legitimate problems within our community if you want to really solve those problems.
INNIS: And for you to say that it is more important for Bush to show up at the Astrodome than for us to analyze the breakdown of the black family and the missing black man is criminal.
MATTHEWS: OK. We have got to stop...
MADISON: The only thing that Bush didn‘t do—the only thing that Bush didn‘t do yesterday was say, we shall overcome.
MATTHEWS: OK, Joe Madison, Niger Innis, thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.
INNIS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.
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