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updated 9/3/2009 12:06:31 PM ET 2009-09-03T16:06:31

Guests: David Gregory, Tom Ridge, Wendy Murphy, Ron Brownstein, Michael Arcuri, Chaka Fattah

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Unite, or die. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight:  Gather around time.  Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their party.  Barack Obama is president.  He leads a Democratic Party that controls the U.S. Senate with 59 seats, and possibly 60 seats, if Massachusetts gets itself together politically, and the House of Representatives, with 256 seats, far more than the 218 necessary majority. 

But can the president unite them?  Can he lead on the issue on which he has set his heart, on which the Democratic Party platform is crystal clear, accessible, affordable health care for all?  Can he make last year‘s election matter? 

This means reconciling the demands of liberals with the reality facing the more so-called Blue Dog Democrats.  The left wants a health care public option, or else.  Blue Dogs know that could cost them their jobs. 

And with the Republicans basically out of the picture, it is the Blue Dogs who hold the power.  So, what does President Obama need to say when he addresses a joint session of Congress next Wednesday? 

We will get the reality check from two House Democrats tonight as we start the program. 

Also, Tom Ridge has a book out, as we all know, on what he sensed was happening on the eve of that 2004 election.  Tonight, we ask him if he stands by his book. 

And we are going to take a look at that terrible abduction case out in California.  How could government fail so spectacularly in protecting children from a known sex offender?  And what do we do with these people to keep them from doing it again and again and again? 

Plus, we will get some serious analysis in the “Politics Fix” from NBC‘s David Gregory of “Meet the Press” and Ron Brownstein of Atlantic Media on the high dilemmas now facing President Obama.  Escalate or get out of Afghanistan?  And can he unite the Democrats on health care? 

Finally, what did Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin‘s almost son-in-law, hear as he sat around the house?  That is where it belongs tonight, in the “Sideshow.”

But we begin with the fight within the Democratic Party over health care reform. 

Michael Arcuri is a Democrat from New York and a member of the Blue Dog coalition.  And U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah needs no introduction.  Of course, he‘s a Democrat from Philadelphia who sits on the Appropriations Committee. 

I want to talk about the Blue Dogs first, so we start with you, Mr.

Arcuri.

Is there a good chance that the Democratic Party will be able to come up with 218 votes necessary to pass a health care bill this year in the House of Representatives? 

REP. MICHAEL ARCURI (D), NEW YORK:  Well, you know, Chris, I think a lot depends on—on what the final bill looks like. 

I personally think it is absolutely necessary that we have health care reform.  The present system is unsustainable.  And I happen to support a public option. 

I think, you know, we need to make sure that we come together, that the—that the bill is deficit-neutral, that it—you know, that it is affordable for us, that it talks about things like preventative care, home health care, incentivizing primary care physicians.  Those are the things that I will be looking for.

MATTHEWS:  So, just to put it down, you are a Democrat, right?  You‘re a Democrat.

ARCURI:  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  And your party and its platform last year—and...

ARCURI:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... platforms still matter, right, things said—you are for accessible, affordable health care for all? 

ARCURI:  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  And that is what you are for? 

ARCURI:  That‘s what I‘m for. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to Chaka Fattah right now. 

Congressman—that‘s what I want to know.  Let‘s not get it too complicated here.  I want to get to the point here.

Congressman Fattah, do the Democratic Party, you know, its liberal base, where you‘re in, are you guys willing and you women willing to live with a compromised bill, if it is necessary to get something through the House of Representatives, and, therefore, to the president‘s desk? 

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, I think what I would tell you is that I think that there is almost no difference between where I stand on this and where Mike stands on it.

I‘m for a public option.  I‘m for accessible health care.  I‘m for making sure that it is deficit-neutral.  I don‘t think that there is a lot of disagreement among Democrats.  There were some differences that got worked out, as they always do.  I think the bill was improved by the input of the Blue Dogs in terms of making sure that we raise the exemption level on small businesses, did some other things that needed to be done. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FATTAH:  But I think that you are going to see that we have the votes in the House to move a health care bill that the president, who they counted on the stimulus bill, we passed it, counted on the budget, we passed it—this is the same noise that we heard a couple weeks before those votes. 

Democrats in the House, we have a majority.  We know what our mandate is.  And we are going to make sure that, once and for all, after 60-plus years of this, that we provide health care and that we make it affordable to everyone in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let‘s listen to former President Bill Clinton on the politics of this issue.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m just telling you, we need to pass a bill.  And it needs to be the best bill we can possibly get through Congress.  But doing nothing is not only the worst thing we can do for the economy and the worst thing we can do for health care.  It‘s the worst thing we can do for the Democrats.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

CLINTON:  And don‘t you think the Republicans don‘t know it. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Who is he talking to, Mr. Arcuri?

ARCURI:  You know, I think he is talking to all Americans.  I think he‘s talking to members of Congress.

I mean, I think he‘s absolutely correct.  I think that this is critical to America.  And we need to do it the right way.  We don‘t need just to pass a bill.  We need to pass the very best bill that we can.  And that is what I think, you know, we are looking for, not just to pass any bill, because that would be politics.  It‘s about passing the very best bill that we can.

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  That is not what he is saying.  No.  No.  You are missing the point.  I—I‘m sorry to contradict you, sir.  You‘re missing the point.

The former president is saying, if you don‘t pass a bill this year, you have given the Republicans an issue, is what he‘s saying.  If you don‘t pass a bill, you‘re giving, just by that fact—you don‘t agree with that? 

ARCURI:  You know, I think that, you know, I‘m just going to—I can talk about myself.  I think that‘s the last thing that I should be focusing on.

MATTHEWS:  No.  I want—I want to ask you what you think of the—I want you to focus on what President Bill Clinton said there.  You need to pass a bill. 

And let me quote to you and Congressman Chaka Fattah—Chaka Fattah -

another point.  This is “The Washington Post” today.  The question, here it comes out.  The White House officials have made it clear that they believe that, if you don‘t get a bill through this year, you have basically given an issue to the Democrats that you can‘t govern the country. 

FATTAH:  News flash:  We are going to get a bill this year.  We are going to pass a bill out of the House.  We are going to pass a bill out of the Senate.  The president is going to be putting his signature on a health care bill this year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FATTAH:  The notion that we are not going to get a health care bill is built up by the opposition.  We understand how important this is.  We have a mandate.

MATTHEWS:  No, I just heard it from Congressman Arcuri, who just said you only want the right bill.  You just want some bill.

(CROSSTALK)

FATTAH:  Well, he—no, what he said was that...

(CROSSTALK)

FATTAH:  ... we want to have a good bill...

(CROSSTALK)

ARCURI:  Look...

FATTAH:  ... not just any bill. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by any bill?  I‘m saying...

ARCURI:  I mean, Chris, I...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you, do you agree with the former president, if you don‘t pass some bill, you are in trouble?

You say it has to be a particular bill. 

FATTAH:  I agree with the president.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Arcuri.

ARCURI:  I think it has to be the—I think it has to be—I think that is my responsibility, to pass the very best bill that we can. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course. 

ARCURI:  Look, I said right out at the beginning...

MATTHEWS:  The very best bill you can pass.

ARCURI:  Look, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Are you—is there any conceptual notion where you can imagine where it is better for the Democrats do go down in defeat?  Can you imagine a scenario where it‘s better to lose than to win?  That is all I‘m asking. 

ARCURI:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine that scenario? 

ARCURI:  ... you know, what I‘m saying is...

MATTHEWS:  No, can you imagine...

ARCURI:  What I‘m saying is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a scenario where it is better to lose?

ARCURI:  I think the worst thing that we could do is pass a bad bill.  I think the best thing we can do is work as hard as we can to pass the very best bill.

That‘s what—that‘s what I‘m hearing from my constituents.  That is what they want from me.  And that is who I‘m responsible to. 

FATTAH:  Hey, Chris, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  So, a bill that isn‘t the bill you want is a bad bill? 

(CROSSTALK)

FATTAH:  Chris, the White House said that the bill we have in the House, the—the bill that we have in the House, the bill that came out of the Senate Health Committee...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FATTAH:  ... is about 85 percent to 90 percent of what they want to get done. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FATTAH:  So, I think that we—you know, we—we know that we have a consensus that is building, and the Democratic Party is going to be prepared to vote for it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FATTAH:  And we are going to have Blue Dogs and liberals and all of us moving in unison.  We might even find a Republican or two. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question about this public option...

ARCURI:  I think that‘s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  ... the public option bill here.

If you get through a—if you push through a House bill with 218

votes out of the House which has a public option in it, you go to the

conference with the Senate, because they have to get 60 votes, and you come

back to the conference and that conference report comes back to the House -

Mr. Arcuri, you first—what will you do if it doesn‘t have a public option in it, it has some kind of a bill in it which regulates the insurance companies, that makes them like—whatever—regulates them, so they can‘t exploit this thing, but doesn‘t have a public option in it?  What would you do? 

ARCURI:  I‘m not married to the public option.  If the bill is good, and it—it ensures, you know, a majority of the Americans that are uninsured, and we can pay for it, and it makes sense, I would support it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.  That‘s a very important answer. 

What do you think, Mr.—Mr. Fattah? 

FATTAH:  Hey, Chris, this is what I think.  This is what I think

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your answer to that same question?

FATTAH:  We have got crop insurance.  We have got flood insurance.  We have got pension insurance.  We need to provide health insurance.  And the best way to do that—the best...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but what would you do if you got a conference report that didn‘t have a public option in it? 

FATTAH:  I‘m not dealing with a hypothetical, Chris.  We‘re going to have a public option in the bill.  Look, the speaker—the...

MATTHEWS:  It is going to come back from the Senate with a public option in it? 

FATTAH:  We‘re—there‘s going to three parties to this conference committee.  The Senate Democrats, the House Democrats, and the White House are going to be in control of the conference committee. 

The House‘s position is going to be strongly in favor of a public option.  We are going to get some of what we want. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FATTAH:  Senators are going to get some of what they want.  And the White House is going to get 80 percent of what they want.  I think that all of these issues, the deficit neutrality, the public option, and regulating insurance companies, so that, if you have insurance, it actually is worth having, I think all of that is going to be represented in the final product. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you gentlemen both a very particular question, because there has been an issue out there of whether the Democrats can agree. 

Here‘s what Dan Balz wrote in today‘s “Washington Post”—quote—

“For much of the year, White House officials have been cautioning—cautioning—their Democratic allies on Capitol Hill that the party will rise or fall together, that failure is the worst possible outcome of the health care debate, because of what it would say about the Democrats‘ ability to govern.”

The way I read that, Congressmen, both of you, is that, if you don‘t get a bill through, the Republicans and the public and the press will say you can‘t govern. 

Is that your assessment Mr. Arcuri? 

ARCURI:  Well, you know, the press is going to say, you know, with all due respect, whatever the press wants to say about it. 

I think our primary responsibility is to pass a bill and pass a good bill.  And, again, that is what I‘m focused on, is passing the very best bill that we possibly can. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FATTAH:  Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Fattah, do you agree that, if the Democrats on the Hill—and you control over 218 votes, enough to pass, and you control 59 Senate seats, and perhaps we will have 60 by the time you vote in the Senate.  You have enough seats by the public‘s arithmetic to do the job you got elected to do. 

If you don‘t get a health care bill because you can‘t agree, do you agree that‘s going to look bad for the Democrats? 

FATTAH:  Well, look, we would deserve to be punished at the polls if we don‘t do something about the health care crisis, 14,000...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FATTAH:  ... people losing their insurance every day.  We have millions who don‘t have coverage. 

But, Chris, we are going to get a bill passed.  The president is going to be signing a bill before we get to a new year that is going to provide health care for every American. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, gentlemen.  It is great to hear you, because, sometimes, when I listen to people who are political, I know you have to take positions at the beginning of a debate that you may not be able to hold at the end.  And, sometimes, I hear what can be adamant positions, which may well be very appropriate positions to take as you begin this debate.

Thank you, gentlemen.  I‘m trying to move you forward to the end of this debate.  And I know you‘re not there yet.

Congressman Arcuri...

FATTAH:  Health care for everyone, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Arcuri, don‘t get mad at me.  I‘m just trying to get answers.  Thank you very much for coming on the show. 

ARCURI:  I understand.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re great to come on.

ARCURI:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And my friend Chaka Fattah is always welcome on HARDBALL. 

ARCURI:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  A great man.

And the Phillies cannot be stopped.  Thank you, sir, joining me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  Tom Ridge, the author of the new book “The Test of Our Times,” says he suspected politics might have been involved in how we set those terror alert levels, at least the way people were talking about it.  We are going to ask him about that next. 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: the abduction case of Jaycee Dugard in California.  Do the laws of our country protect our children or not?  Is this an example of government failure? -- when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

For the last two weeks, a new book by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has made headlines with Ridge‘s suggestion that politics may have played a role in the thinking and the discussions about our national security alerts.  That book is called “The Test of Our Times.”  It‘s in bookstores now.

And Tom Ridge, the former governor and former homeland security secretary, joins us now from New York.  He is at 30 Rock.  I know exactly where he is.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m holding a copy of your book in the air right now.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  See, I‘m holding it right below my head here.

RIDGE:  airplane

MATTHEWS:  Should we believe every word in this book? 

RIDGE:  Well, I hope you do, Chris, because, in that book, I say—I repeat things that I said as secretary.  I repeat things that I told you on HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RIDGE:  I repeat things time and time again that—let me finish.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, this book, this is the bible according to Tom Ridge? 

RIDGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  This book I‘m holding in my hand?  OK.

RIDGE:  It is my...

MATTHEWS:  So, let me go through some of the...

RIDGE:  ... my reflection on what transpired.  We were never pressured. 

The system was designed...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  No, I—I just want to know.  I‘m going to be tough here, my friend. 

RIDGE:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to ask you about what is in this book...

RIDGE:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  ... and if you stand by it.  This is the book I‘m holding in my hand again.

RIDGE:  I got it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me read some passages from the bible of truth, from your—quote—and this is a discussion of a meeting that was held the weekend before the 2004 election after the release of a bin Laden videotape. 

Let me quote to you your own words: “A vigorous, some might say, dramatic discussion ensued.  Ashcroft”—that‘s the A.G.—“strongly urged an increase in the threat level, and was supported by Rumsfeld.  There was absolutely no support for that position within our department, none.  I wondered, is this about security or politics?”

RIDGE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You stand by that? 

RIDGE:  I wrote—I certainly stand by it. 

But your interpretation is...

MATTHEWS:  So, what did you—no.  I‘m asking—I‘m not interpreting a word.  I‘m reading it.  What part did I misinterpret?  I‘m reading it.

RIDGE:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  You...

MATTHEWS: “I wondered, is this about security or politics?”

Do you stand by that? 

RIDGE:  I stand by the words that I wrote, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RIDGE:  I stand by the process that I helped design.  I stand by the notion that nobody pressured anybody. 

We had those meetings on several occasions about which you will never know when people rendered opinions.  The process worked.  Nobody pressured anybody.  But, at that time, the weekend before the election, as the one responsible for homeland security, I mused, because we didn‘t see any justification for going up, but my two respected colleagues did, is there something that I‘m missing?

This is a muse.  This is not suggesting that their motives on that occasion or any other occasion was to either pressure me or to impose politics.  Every decision that they made and every recommendation that they made on multiple other meetings that day and many, many times before, many of which you don‘t know about, because we did not raise the threat system, was based on their assessment as what was in the best interest of the country.  They weren‘t trying to pressure anybody.  They were trying to keep a country safe. 

MATTHEWS:  You said there was no support within your department for raising the threat level, right.

RIDGE:  That‘s right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  None, as you put it to emphasize the point.

RIDGE:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Then you said at the time of this meeting, “I wondered”—this is Tom Ridge wondering.

RIDGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: “Is this about security or politics?”

What you were wondering about at that time? 

RIDGE:  Well, I‘m wondering at the time, Chris, this is a dramatic—the weekend is dramatic, but the process is something we had dealt with the entire time. 

As I say there in book—and you will look earlier in the book, I say, there is no way that anybody can manipulate the process, because it was designed to get the collective opinion of the president‘s Homeland Security Council. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RIDGE:  And if there was a—if there was a collective opinion that we raise the threat, then either General Gordon or Fran Townsend went in. 

But if you talked to those members, nobody felt pressured.  They rendered honest opinions. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RIDGE:  But it is also a dramatic weekend or year, because, earlier that year—and I‘m thinking—and I have got to be thinking about, if you are responsible—because you are—we go up, what are the implications long term for the governors and the mayors?

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RIDGE:  It was also the same year and a couple months after a terrorist attack changed, altered the political outcome of an election in Spain. 

I think you remember that.  We probably talked about it.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  I remember it well. 

RIDGE:  So, I‘m writing the book, and I‘m musing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RIDGE:  We don‘t think we go up.  Some trusted colleagues think we go up.  They were not making...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK. 

RIDGE:  ... the recommendation because they thought it was politics.  They were making the recommendation because they thought it was the right thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RIDGE:  I‘m musing.  I‘m not speculating about their motives. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re musing.  You‘re wondering, is this about security or politics, you asked yourself.

RIDGE:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Then—then, later, you say—quote—“It seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country‘s safety.”

You stand by that? 

RIDGE:  It is there.  That‘s exactly right.   I‘m...

MATTHEWS:  What could be—what‘s something—what was afoot? 

RIDGE:  Well, you know, this is all in the context of the timing of this discussion, the effect of the—of a terrorist attack in—in Madrid, Spain.

And, as the author, I‘m thinking about that dramatic moment.  I don‘t recount everything that was said.  Some people have actually said that there was a political discussion there.  I don‘t remember that at all.  I‘m just musing about what happened.  And, at the end of the day, the system worked. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIDGE:  And, remember, Chris, this is not the only time this group met.  And more often than not, when we met, we did not raise the threat level.  Nobody was pressured. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  And everyone made decisions based on what they thought was the best interest of America, pure and simple.

MATTHEWS:  But you said it seemed possible to yourself and other others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the government‘s—the country‘s interests.

RIDGE:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, who were the other people around the table who had these concerns that something might be afoot? 

RIDGE:  Chris, let‘s—let‘s—let‘s talk about this. 

There was a lot of speculation in the media about that time because of what had happened in Madrid, because of the bin Laden tape.  Will we postpone the election?  Will we—are some people thinking maybe we ought to go up?

And I‘m speculating, I‘m musing at the time, wonder if it is good idea.  Will America fell more secure going to the polls if we raise the threat level?  Will they not? 

I—I‘m an author.  I‘m writing about this.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIDGE:  And I‘m telling you here today, now, that we had that discussion on many occasions, Chris.  You and I talked about it.  I held press conferences.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIDGE:  Nobody has ever bothered to look beyond the colors to learn how the process was working and the process worked very effectively because it was immune from any political manipulation.  You had strong people who had strong opinions.  It was competitive intelligence.  They rendered the opinions, Chris, and when the opinions said we ought to go up, we went up.  And the opinions were always rendered on what these men individually thought was in the best interests...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

RIDGE:  ... of keeping America secure.

MATTHEWS:  The third quote is, “I believe our strong interventions had pulled the go-up advocates back from the brink,” which is consistent with what you‘re saying.

RIDGE:  Yes, there was...

MATTHEWS:  “But I consider that episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington‘s recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security.”

RIDGE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And that episode—well, “After that episode, I had—I knew I had to follow through on my plans to leave the federal government.”

RIDGE:  Chris, I talk about several instances because in an after-911 world, Chris—you and I have had many conversations about this—terrorism became very much something that both parties used, and sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly.  The debate about what we needed to do to combat terrorism was robust, rigorous, a partisan divide on many issues.

And let‘s face it, the decisions about Dubai Ports, the decisions around going after Max Cleland that I talk in the book, were an intersection where politics, fear, security and government came into play.  It was just a statement of fact of the new world, new threat, new environment...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

RIDGE:  ... as something else that we plug into our calculations.  Unfortunately, that‘s the world we live in and I mused about it, but I did not want to speculate...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

RIDGE:  ... and I will never speculate on the motives of my colleagues.

MATTHEWS:  The—“USA Today” has the headline after an interview with you following this book, where it says...

RIDGE:  Backpedaling.

MATTHEWS:  ... “Ridge backpedals.”

RIDGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Was that an accurate headline?  Did you backpedal on what you wrote in the book?

RIDGE:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Or is this article wrong?

RIDGE:  Well, listen—well, it‘s obviously wrong.  I think I told the woman that interviewed me (INAUDIBLE) the same thing I told you, but obviously, she didn‘t believe me, and perhaps you don‘t.  But if you go back and take a look at the history of my public statements, take a look at that earlier section in the book, where I say regardless of what agents, bloggers—regardless of what columnists, bloggers, critics, commentators say, well, you can‘t—the system works.  You can‘t manipulate the system because...

MATTHEWS:  OK, I think you‘re saying...

RIDGE:  ... you have to have a consensus.

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re saying two things differently—two different things that are very consistent.  Let me try to say it my way.

RIDGE:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying that you sensed when you went to those meetings there were people with politics on their mind.  You said it two or three different ways.  But then you said, but in the end, nobody tried to strongarm you.

RIDGE:  Well, who knows what...

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s what you‘re saying because I think you‘re not backtracking...

RIDGE:  No, I‘m not backtracking.

MATTHEWS:  ... on these words, which are going to be quoted in the history books because you said them.  And by the way, you‘re not going to go back when you have to do the paperback version or later—you‘re not going to change any of this, are you?

RIDGE:  Well, I‘m going to ask you to do the narrative because you like the book so much!

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking, are you going to change any of this?

RIDGE:  I‘m not going change...

MATTHEWS:  In the next edition?

RIDGE:  I‘m certainly not going to...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re standing by all these words and you don‘t feel any need to clarify your position as written in this book.

RIDGE:  If we go into paperbacks or the next edition, I‘ll probably change the cover that says I was pressured because thee‘s nothing in the book that says I was pressured, and I don‘t believe I was ever pressured.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do people get that idea from reading the book?

RIDGE:  Well, I don‘t know.  I frankly think people got the idea because they didn‘t read the book, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m reading it right now!  I‘m looking at it!

RIDGE:  Well, you can draw your own conclusions.

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t go by any press release.  OK, we‘re not...

RIDGE:  Chris, the process worked.

MATTHEWS:  ... getting anywhere.  I think it‘s possible that you‘re consistent here, Governor, and I think your consistent statement is you smelled politics in the room, but nobody twisted your arm.  That‘s what I think the message is.  And if you want to counter that in two seconds, go ahead.

RIDGE:  No, I...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

RIDGE:  Chris, it‘s HARDBALL.  You can draw your own conclusions.  You normally do.

MATTHEWS:  No, I don‘t!  Governor, let me ask you one last time, and I‘m not going to bug you again about it.

RIDGE:  I‘m going to stand by the words in the book.

MATTHEWS:  “Is this about security or politics, I wondered.  It seemed possible to me and others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country‘s safety.  But I consider that episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington‘s recent history but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security.”

Any reasonable person would hear those three citations and say, This guy smelled politics around that table.

RIDGE:  This guy knows that after 911, politics somehow, someplace, somewhere, right or wrong, was involved in a lot of the decisions we made.  This guy also does not believe that politics was ever a factor in the decision-making that we had in order to raise the threat level.

MATTHEWS:  Only at the table, but not in the decision making.

RIDGE:  Right.

(LAUGHTER)

RIDGE:  You‘re not going to...

MATTHEWS:  I just think you‘re on a totally...

RIDGE:  You‘re not going to convince me...

MATTHEWS:  OK, Governor...

RIDGE:  ... and I‘m not going to convince you, no matter how hard I try.

MATTHEWS:  No, what I think you‘re doing—I think you‘re doing a different emphasis.  I think your emphasis in the book was the politics you smelled.  The emphasis you‘re putting on it now, since the book has come out, is to emphasize the fact that you weren‘t strongarmed.  But that‘s what I think is consistent in your argument.  It‘s just a different point of view.

RIDGE:  That‘s all right, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Different point—Senator—Governor—I give you all these titles tonight, but the only one that matters is author Tom Ridge, “The Test of Our Times,” now in your book stores.  And this guy‘s going to be—by the way, you‘re—you‘re on Ron Owens (ph) out in San Francisco today.

RIDGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You were on “RACHEL MADDOW” last night.  Jesus!  Well, at least you‘re getting a lot of attention!

(LAUGHTER)

RIDGE:  Hey, well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much...

RIDGE:  The book was designed to generate some light.  Unfortunately, it generated heat in the wrong direction.  But I‘m grateful to have the chance to talk to you about it.  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  As long as you got the editors you got at that publishing house, you‘re going to have a lot more heat.  Anyway, thank you, Governor Tom Ridge...

RIDGE:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  ... who stands by every word in this book.

Up next: Levi Johnston, the teenage father of Sarah Palin‘s grandchild, writes about life with the Palins in “Vanity Fair” magazine.  That‘s in the SIDESHOW.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”  First, more baked Alaska.  Look, the only reason this stuff from Levi Johnston in the coming issue of “Vanity Fair” is going on this show is because just a year ago, his almost mother-in-law, Governor Sarah Palin, was the actual Republican candidate for vice president.

The 19-year-old—that‘s Levi Johnston—has written now, or had somebody write it for him, an article titled “Me and Mrs. Palin,” where he tells all kinds of stuff he overheard in those inglorious days after last November‘s election loss to Barack Obama.

Here‘s one.  “Sarah Palin couldn‘t believe they were saying she lost the election for McCain.  She would say things like, quite, ‘I brought everything to the table,‘ and, quote, ‘The majority of the people were there voting because of me.‘  She definitely thought she was running for president.”

That‘s Levi Johnston writing there.  Well, I don‘t know.  There‘s a “yuck” even in talking about all this Palin stuff.

Anyway, next up, Dick Cheney gets called to account.  Let‘s watch the latest Democratic National Committee ad.  It‘s set to air on cable TV nationwide tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Baghdad‘s brief ended today when three car bombs exploded in quick succession.

CHENEY:  There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There were no large stocks of weapons of mass destruction.

CHENEY:  The enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  All that‘s pretty obvious, anyway, and rather undeniable.

Anyway, finally, talk about red meat.  Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann was at a Denver fund-raiser this week when she made a serious promise—dead serious—to torpedo health care reform.  This is a direct quote here from the congresswoman.  “What we have to do is make a covenant to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing.  This will not pass.  We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn‘t pass.”

By the way, she was the one who wanted all Democrats in Congress investigated for un-Americanism.  Now she‘s into this slit wrists and blood brothers stuff   You throw this in with the gun-toting and the birth certificate-demanding, and the Texas secessionist movement, and you got some strange brew out there.

Anyway, up next, that horrific abduction case in California.  Has our government failed to protect our children from a known registered sex offender, a felon?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CNBC MARKET WRAP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Of course, that harrowing story of an 11-year-old girl kidnapped and then held hostage for an amazing 18 years is even more harrowing because the man accused was a registered sex offender.  More than that, he had regular visits from parole officers.  So why wasn‘t he found out?  Is our government doing enough to keep children safe from sex offenders?

Joining me right now is former prosecutor Wendy Murphy.  Wendy, we‘re off our usual terrain here.  I‘m talking national politics.  But this is about politics.  It‘s about the ability of government to protect us, to do the most basic thing in our society, keep us safe.

Why was a character like this out?  He kidnapped someone, he raped someone, the same person.  Then he got out.  Then apparently, he was taken back in on a parole violation during the time he had been holding this young girl as sort of a white slave in the back of his house and having two children with her.  How did he get away with that in America?

WENDY MURPHY, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  First of all, you‘re absolutely right it‘s a political issue, and it takes leadership and a commitment to the equality of women and children as citizens in this country to actually do right in our legal system.  And what I mean by “do right” is, make sure that when you‘re locking up, arresting, prosecuting, doing parole supervision around men who target women and children for violence, that you don‘t give out discounts because the people they pick on are somewhat politically marginalized.  Look, Chris, this country...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask a question here because I think it‘s different.  Somebody who murders their spouse after a 20-year fight is a unique state of horror (INAUDIBLE) passion and we sort of understand that that‘s probably not a life of crime.  It‘s something can be dealt with maybe a 10-year prison -- 20-year prison sentence.  But there‘s a certain recidivism rate with these sex offenders, isn‘t there.  It‘s something like 100 percent.

MURPHY:  Yes, and I‘m...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it?

MURPHY:  ... I‘m only for a moment going to give you a pass on the comment about the guy who kills his wife.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to explain it.  There‘s a uniqueness to this crime.

MURPHY:  I know, but I just can‘t let that go.  I‘m sorry, Chris.  I understand your point.  But look, here‘s what sex offenders mean to us, and particularly to women and children.  They are prolific.  They are mobile.  They are predatory.  They are opportunistic.  And studies show—and you can read this in Anna Salters (ph)‘s book “Predators.”  It‘s all there.  Studies show that the average sex offender has over 100 different victims during his lifetime, OK?  That‘s why they need to go away forever.

And nonetheless, our legal system doles out such deep discounts.  Joe Biden, when he was then a senator, submitted a report to Congress in the 1990s that said on average, rapists spend—less than 2 percent of rapists spend even one day behind bars.  And on average, all sex offenders spend way less time behind bars than people who commit property crimes.  That‘s how little respect we have for women and children in this country.  You bet it‘s a political issue!

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me—let me get back to the point.  I‘m not going to let you take a free shot at me, either, here.  If a woman knocks her husband off, kills her husband because after 20 years of beating her, she‘s had enough, and she kills the guy, she‘s not likely to kill again, OK?  That‘s a crime in itself.

MURPHY:  I understand that, but...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I‘m saying.

MURPHY:  But I‘m just saying...

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s the point I was making.

MURPHY:  OK.  Fine.

MATTHEWS:  So don‘t jump on me on this stuff when I‘m trying to make a distinction here about predators who are relentless and recidivist.  Don‘t jump on me...

MURPHY:  I understand.

MATTHEWS:  ... when I‘m trying to make a pint.  I know what you‘re trying to do here.

MURPHY:  I got your point.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t use me as your tackling dummy, OK?  Let‘s get back to this case.

MURPHY:  No, I didn‘t.  I didn‘t.  I just didn‘t agree with you, that‘s all.

MATTHEWS:  You did!  No, no.  You jumped on me.  OK, let‘s get back to this case here.  What do we do with these people when they have a—when there‘s a track record, to use a terrible time, a sports reference—of course, I shouldn‘t do that, either.  But what do we do with people like this?  What do we do with them?

MURPHY:  Well, number one, it would help if we actually punished them when they get caught the first time because then they‘d less of the opportunity to commit those other 99 offenses, number one.  Number two...

MATTHEWS:  But even then, how long do you—once you let them out after, say, five or ten years for a molestation case, which is not a capital case, it‘s not a rape case, it‘s a—it‘s a crime.  So they get—how many years would they normally get for that, for some kind of child molestation?  What would they normally get?

MURPHY:  If what you mean by molestation is something not rape—a lot of states call molestation—mean rape when they say molestation.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MURPHY:  But if what you mean a pat on the fanny, and they‘re going to get out, and that‘s fine, let‘s at least make sure that the people monitoring them, the probation officers and the parole officers, are doing their job. 

This guy was on parole in California.  Regular visits from the parole officer.  The neighbors knew there were kids in the backyard and a parole officer didn‘t?  And they said he didn‘t have any parole violations during the time.  We had him from 1999 until last month, he had no violations? 

He had a big whopping violation going on in his backyard and they cared so much about the things he had done wrong and they were so unconcerned about what he had done wrong, they couldn‘t look in the backyard?  That is a reflection of how little.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, what about the judge.

MURPHY:  . value was placed on the crime he committed. 

MATTHEWS:  Wendy, what about the judge—what about the judge who gave a rather lenient sentence for a fellow who was supposed to have served 50 years for kidnapping and rape across interstate lines, and he reduced it dramatically after the guy wrote a letter to him? 

MURPHY:  Yes.  Another big fraud on the public that happens every day in this country.  He got 50 years behind bars and everybody said, oh, isn‘t that terrific, that is what he deserved for what he did. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MURPHY:  But the fraud on the public is a few years later he filed for a reduction and he did 10 years, not 50.  And guess what?  There was no public disclosure.  There was no, you know, front page news story about the big discount he got now was there?  No. 

And that gave him the chance to go grab that little girl, impregnate her, rape her, God knows what else he did in his own back yard where the neighbors knew it was going on, but no cop, no parole officer, are you kidding me?  Why are we not marching in the streets?

Here is another political issue, where is the National Organization for Women on this?  Where are the rape crisis centers?  Where is the outrage that this guy was doing that under the nose of parole officers and no one saw? 

Are you kidding me?  I want the lawsuit.  I will sue that parole department so fast.  They will spend so much money paying that family for what they went through, they will never blow it again. 

MATTHEWS:  Wendy Murphy, that is why we had you on.  Thank you very much for coming on (INAUDIBLE).  And it is a big issue right now.  Thank you very much for coming on. 

Up next, the big challenges facing President Obama, health care and this war in Afghanistan with David Gregory, the moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” he‘ll join us right here. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, can President Obama unite the Democratic Party with a new health care strategy?  When HARDBALL comes back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  The president embraced a public option as part of this pool for uninsured Americans and small businesses as a way of promoting competition with private insurance companies to get them the best possible deal.  He still believes in that competition and choice, and will be promoting that idea. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was White House senior adviser David Axelrod in an interview with NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd.  Time now for “The Politics Fix” with the moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” David Gregory; and Ron Brownstein, who is the political director of Atlantic Media. 

Gentlemen, I‘m going to give you more time than usual on HARDBALL, because these are big questions.  We now know the president is going to speak to a joint session a week from tonight to try to make the final big push.  The big push, as the prince would say, in war. 

David Gregory, what can he do to make the big push work for health care? 

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Well, he has got to clear up confusion.  That‘s one of the things that they want to do.  Second, they want to get the base excited and working for this again.  They feel if there has been a clarifying period in all of this summer, it is that they know where the right is and where they‘re not.  And where they‘re not is with them at all.  They don‘t have the votes, but they want to get the base back in. 

And the president is now going to be in a position to say, here is what I‘m for, this is what I‘m running on.  And he is going to clear up confusion that now exists on the left about whether he is going to ditch the public option or not.  Those are the three main points. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he will make that call, the diamond cut?  Will he say in or out on the option? 

GREGORY:  I still think, and I—Ron will be interesting on this too.  I still think he is going to position himself for a negotiation.  He is negotiating with himself at this point, with his own party.  He wants to.

MATTHEWS:  The reason he‘ll do that is he needs to get the House to pass a bill.

GREGORY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  . to go to conference.  And he‘s afraid if he forecloses a public option, they won‘t even come to conference. 

GREGORY:  Absolutely right.  And the final point on this is, the president‘s thinking is, look, is the left really going to abandon me when we are poised to achieve more than people like Ted Kennedy thought could be achieved over the past three decades? 

MATTHEWS:  And if he can keep—just to follow that point, if he can keep the left, if you will, the base of the party, the big city guys with him to get a House bill passed, then he gets something out of the Senate, then it becomes even harder, does it not, for the Democratic liberals.

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  To walk away.

MATTHEWS:  . to vote against a conference report out of both houses.

BROWNSTEIN:  The bottom line is that any bill that passes, any bill they can get to conference is going to substantially increase access to insurance for millions of Americans now uninsured. 

MATTHEWS:  You are making the case.

BROWNSTEIN:  . who are going to spend.

MATTHEWS:  That is the case. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Wait, who are going to spend—and probably spend something in the neighborhood of $90 billion to $100 billion a year to help people who do not now have health insurance obtain it. 

And also while doing that, make fundamental reforms to the insurance industry that liberals have long sought.  With all of that included in the package, it is hard to imagine how many liberal members could justify in the end voting against it, because it does go as far as they want on the public plan. 

But this is a test to Democrats, really.  Are they capable of overcoming the differences to govern? 

MATTHEWS:  It is the end that matters, it seems to me, not the way you get there.  If you can get accessible, affordable health care for all Americans, one way to do it might be through the private sector.  Meaning you make it like a utility. 

The government has eagle eyes, it watches them, make sure the profit margins are right.  Make sure that gives access to people with preexisting conditions, gives them portability, really does the job that a public option would achieve through competition.  Is that possible? 

GREGORY:  It is possible. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he sell that to liberals? 

GREGORY:  Well, yes.  I mean, the—if you can sell the idea of some delayed gratification, maybe there‘s a trigger, maybe there‘s some kind of backup mechanism to allow for competition if they find that the private insurers are not doing what they need. 

But here‘s a key point, remember what the president has said more recently, the public option is a sliver of health care, a sliver.  The Republicans are saying, oh, you‘re going to have 100 million people.  Well, that‘s not what the CBO is saying.

The CBO has said, really, actually, there will be more people in private insurance because you would be offering more subsidies and whatnot.  And actually the number of people in the public plan will be about 10 million people.  So.

BROWNSTEIN:  Ten million people.

GREGORY:  . the White House is saying, wait a minute, this is not about 100 million people. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what the idea of a public plan looked like, the foot in the door for national health. 

BROWNSTEIN:  And it does to many—to many.

MATTHEWS:  Conservatives.

BROWNSTEIN:  To many conservatives.  But David‘s point is absolutely right.  I mean, for the left to say that they should live or die on the public plan when the Congressional Budget Office says that based on the version of the public plan that is already advancing in the House, you‘re only going to see about 10 million people in it by 2020. 

That is not—that has never been the cornerstone of this proposal.  And it‘s worth noting that even amid all of this cacophony in August that there has been a counter-movement going on, which is that you are seeing many of the key stakeholders in the medical establishment, including forces that opposed almost every previous effort at reform, like the American Medical Association, like the drug manufacturers, like the hospitals, working with groups like the Service Employees International Union. 

Next week, the same day that the president is speaking, Andy Stern of the SEIU will be holding a conference with Wal-Mart and Intel and AT&T to talk about the common principles for reform, working together with Tom Daschle and Bob Dole, who will be there as well. 

So there is actually a lot of consensus if they can get past some of those hot button issues. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve solved the House problem.  Basically the idea is, if we can get to conference, you can get a House-Senate agreement, then probably the liberals will go along with it—or enough.  You could lose 30 votes and still get it. 

Back to the Senate.  He needs 60 votes, probably.  Do you agree on that?  He probably needs 60?  OK.  But he only has 59 members because of the loss of Ted Kennedy.  Olympia Snowe from Maine is a possible.  Is that the only route to the indies here?  Is that the only route to get her and hold the party together?

GREGORY:  Well, the way you get a Senator Snowe is by retaining within your caucus the more conservative members, the... 

MATTHEWS:  Blanche Lincoln.

GREGORY:  . Ben Nelsons and—yes.  And others who are not going to go for a public option, who could be brought around on some co-op option. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  . yes, to get any Republicans, you first of all have to get all of the Democrats, and that means it has to be a pretty moderate plan. 

GREGORY:  Now I‘m not totally—I‘m not convinced that the president thinks it‘s such a horrible idea to go the route of reconciliation, and this idea.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, partly.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  . that you can, you know, push this through with a simple majority.  So I don‘t think they‘ve ruled that out by any means.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  And the idea maybe to have a two-bill strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you ruled it out? 

BROWNSTEIN:  No, no.  I think it very much remains on the table. 

Because it is possible.  Look, it may be difficult to unify every Democrat.  But the fact that they have so many stakeholders, as I said, that traditionally been antagonistic not only to reform but to each other, that are unifying around the central principles that they are advancing, I think, may make it more comfortable for some of those red state Democrats. 

There are 22 Democrats in the Senate, Chris, in states that voted no more than once Democrat president in this decade.  So, I mean, they have a lot of people from difficult terrain who have different electoral calculations than Barbara Boxer or Chuck Schumer.  And that has to be part of the reality of negotiating this.

MATTHEWS:  In my experience, it‘s very hard to tell people from big cities where everybody is a Democratic liberal that there‘s another country out there. 

We‘ll be back with David Gregory and Ron Brownstein for our far more critical question:  How does the president get in or get out of Afghanistan, a war we has to fight?      

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” David Gregory; and Atlantic Media‘s Ron Brownstein for this “Politics Fix.” 

I‘m sorry. 

BROWNSTEIN:  That‘s all right.

MATTHEWS:  Excusez moi.

BROWNSTEIN:  It‘s OK. 

MATTHEWS:  There are options.  That was the public option.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go with this much more serious question, I guess, for the country.  We have men dying and women dying over there in Afghanistan.  A lot of reporting—straight reporting in the major papers today saying the government over there we‘re defending is corrupt, it stole ballots in the election, it may have stolen the election. 

A lot of people think like Joe Biden.  Apparently the vice president believes the smarter course is a stand back position, get our troops offshore, have the ability to go in there and fight al Qaeda, if it comes back. 

GREGORY:  Well, the big question in Afghanistan, what are we fighting for?  And I think this is a big topic of debate within the administration.  There are military commanders who I think are telling this White House, look, we can live with the Taliban at some level.  The Taliban is not coming to get us. 

What we have a problem with is al Qaeda.  We have got to somehow defang al Qaeda and live with a weakened Taliban and find a way to get out.  There may be lots of collateral damage in terms of.

MATTHEWS:  How do you attenuate or separate, divorce, if you will, the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar—who is still on the loose somewhere in Pakistan, from its old ties to al Qaeda, our mortal enemy? 

GREGORY:  We have to find a way to forever separate those two, but the Taliban is a Pashtun nationalist movement that wants to take over Afghanistan.  It does not want to attack the United States.  You have to find a way really with Pakistan‘s help to make sure al Qaeda is significantly weakened (ph). 

MATTHEWS:  Can an American president deal openly with the Taliban? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Very difficult.  But they‘ve already—look, they‘ve already narrowed their sights relative to Bush, who was talking about building a flourishing democracy.  They‘re probably going to have to narrow their sights further. 

But one other think that is worth keeping in mind, the president has more rope and control over this debate than it often seems.  Even after public opinion turned after the war in Vietnam, we stayed there five more years.  Same thing in Iraq.  Bush was able to maintain control of this all the way until the end. 

Obama is going to face more pressure.  But it‘s still hard to imagine his party instigating a full-scale revolt that undermines his choice on this policy.  So really, the decision I think remains still in his hands. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think George F. Will joining the call for removal of the troops was a strong allegiance there that you wouldn‘t expect.  Does the president have the option to pull back from an aggressive war there?  Can you go halfway in that fight? 

GREGORY:  I don‘t think you can do it and maintain this mission. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

GREGORY:  In other words, the president has to be clear about what it is he wants to achieve.  They are now talking about rebuilding Afghanistan.  If you do that, they‘re probably going to need a lot more troops to do that. 

I think they need a find a scaled-back way in order to basically suppress al Qaeda without... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can he stay in the country with a small complement or does he have to go big time or else leave the country and do it offshore? 

GREGORY:  I think a smaller complement and other means.  But I—you know, going—I don‘t know what going big-time means at this point in—as a recipe.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Hard to imagine.

MATTHEWS:  Well, McChrystal is delivering his report to the president today.

BROWNSTEIN:  With all of the other challenges he is facing, hard to imagine him going really big-time, but also hard to imagine him walking away and also he has a lot of leverage. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The president is deciding this as we speak, with this report in-hand.  David Gregory, thank you. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ron Brownstein. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”

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