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updated 9/14/2009 12:57:34 PM ET 2009-09-14T16:57:34

Guest Host: Chuck Todd

Guests: Richard Engel, Jim Maceda, Julia Boorstin, Guest: Robert Gibbs, Mark McKinnon, Joan Walsh, James Carville, Brian Bilbray

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  The president‘s political health.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd in Washington, filling in for Chris Matthews, who will be back on Monday.  Leading off tonight: Image problem.  The “You lie” outburst by Congressman Joe Wilson has us asking, are we at the point where we can say that the intense opposition to Barack Obama in some parts of the country is about more than health care reform, stimulus plans?  Is it also about ideology, regional differences and perhaps even race?  What‘s more, Wilson‘s remark and the support he has received in his South Carolina district—is it threatening to harden the Republican Party‘s reputation right now inside the Beltway?  We‘ll talk to two members of Congress in a moment.

Plus: September 11 is the reason we waged war in Afghanistan.  But eight years after we went in, what‘s our mission there today?  NBC News‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and NBC News‘s Jim Maceda both have been in the region recently, and they‘ll give us their take on the present state of Afghanistan.

The debate over Afghanistan is just the latest development in an enormously important week for President Obama that included health care and the skirmish over his back-to-school speech.  White House spokesperson press secretary Robert Gibbs—since he didn‘t do a daily briefing earlier today, will do one here in a moment.

Plus, with a nationally televised interview on Sunday after his big week, we‘ll ask, Are we seeing too much of President Obama?  That‘s all the in the “Politics Fix.”

And it wouldn‘t be a political scandal without our friend David Letterman tonight.  Joe Wilson‘s top 10 excuses in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we‘ll begin with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. 

Robert, sorry we didn‘t see you earlier today in that room.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRES SECRETARY:  Chuck, how are you?

TODD:  We figured we‘d drag you out and make do you a mini-version...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS:  ... ended up in this room one way or the other, right?

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  I want to play with you a familiar sound bite from the president from Wednesday night.  Let‘s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And while there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined—consumer protections for those with insurance, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage, and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Now, Robert, the president unveiled his plan on Wednesday.  It is the president‘s plan.  You have it on your Web site, Whitehouse.gov.  It is only three-and-a-half pages right now.  And he talked about we saw (ph) the details.  When are we going to see the details?  Because as you found out in July and August, when there weren‘t details provided by you guys, other people filled in the blanks and you guys didn‘t seem to like it.  So when are we going to see it?

GIBBS:  Well, no, no, Chuck.  Let‘s go—I would direct all your viewers to go to that Web site.  There‘s plenty of detail, even more detail that the president has unveiled, actually, since coming to office, outlining how we‘re going to pay for this legislation by seeking and rooting out waste and fraud in Medicare, taxing Cadillac health care plans that are offered by insurance companies.  That‘s just one aspect of many of the details that‘s in that legislation.

And Chuck, I think you‘ve seen people that have reacted to that speech have heard convincingly and clearly what the president stands for and what he wants to do on health care reform.

TODD:  But clearly, you‘ve got to fill in some blanks for everybody.  And it is—it does seem that this week that guys have been intent on making sure you‘re doing in the filling of those blanks.  So when are we going to see more?  Should we expect to see the details of exactly where you get $500 billion out of Medicare, for instance?

GIBBS:  Well, Chuck, I would refer you to the radio address we did in June, which talks about that.  We‘ve directed the Health and Human Services secretary to come up with proposals to address medical malpractice reform.  We outlined a trigger this week that would say we would not move forward with health insurance reform if savings weren‘t seen in—in the reforms that we propose.  And lastly, we said that illegal immigrants wouldn‘t get health care.  And we talked about that a little bit just in this room yesterday.

I think the people that watched that speech, Chuck, understand exactly what the president‘s for, and I think we had a very good week in getting health care reform a little bit closer to getting passed.

TODD:  Well, let‘s talk about the politics of this.  You want to get it passed, you‘re going to need some Republicans.  Maybe it‘s only one at the end of the day, but you‘re going to need at least one Republican to get those 60 votes, for instance, in the U.S. Senate.  Have you made any inroads in reaching out to any more Republicans besides Maine Republican Olympia Snowe?

GIBBS:  The president has talked with Republicans in the last few days.  The—our health care coordinator, Nancy-Ann DeParle, has spoken with Republicans on the Hill...

TODD:  Who?  Who has the president—who‘s the president talked to in the last couple days?

GIBBS:  You know, Chuck, I‘m not going to—I‘m not going to give you names because that poor person‘s phone would ring off the hook.  But the president is reaching out to Democrats and Republicans to try to get this done.  I think you saw the president on Wednesday speak extensively about how we can take the best ideas from both parties, put them together and ensure that Americans that have insurance are protected and that insurance is stable, and a pathway to providing access to affordable health care for the millions of people that don‘t have it in this country.

TODD:  I want to move on to another topic, today being September 11.  A lot of focus now on the war in Afghanistan.  The reason we went in, for a lot of people, for the public, as far as they were concerned, was to get al Qaeda and get Osama bin Laden.  Osama bin Laden is still out there.  Is that the measuring stick today?  Why is he still out there?  And is it this administration‘s goal, is, Look, we‘re going to get rid of that guy, then we win?  What is the exact goal here in Afghanistan?

TODD:  Well, the large goal in Afghanistan and in that region is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately destroy al Qaeda and any of its extremist allies.  Obviously, we know that‘s where the planning for the horrific event that happened eight years ago started.  They ended, unfortunately, over here in this country.  We want to prevent that from taking place again.

Obviously, we are looking for and want to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, but I think that in and of itself can‘t be the total policy.  Obviously, there are a series of very bad people, terrorists bent on murdering thousands of Americans, that we also have to be focused on.  I think this administration has been focused on that since coming in.  And our goal, again, is to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

TODD:  Can you look at this—we have two enemies here, that there‘s al Qaeda, which has shown an ability to strike all around the world, and then there‘s the Taliban, which is a regional threat, a throat Pakistan, clearly, a problem for stability there in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.  But you know, if you feel comfortable that you‘ve disrupted al Qaeda, destroyed al Qaeda, you know, at what point do you sit there and say you got to sit there until you destroy the Taliban?  I mean, are they an enemy that can be destroyed?

GIBBS:  Well, look, again, that‘s why I think we talk about al Qaeda and its extremist allies, people like the Taliban that seek to destabilize Afghanistan, that seek to destabilize Pakistan, which sow the seeds for terror in places between those two countries and provide safe haven for plotters and planners for future attacks.  Look, I think we have to disrupt and dismantle both al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

TODD:  You‘ve been getting a lot of bipartisan support, frankly, more from Republicans, it seems like, on your policy on Afghanistan.  You know, is this a concern of this White House that, politically, a lot of leaders in your own party—Speaker Pelosi yesterday—you had Senator Levin—both very nervous about the idea of trying to, frankly, get support in Congress to send more combat troops to Afghanistan.  How much is the president going to start working on the politics on that in his own party?

GIBBS:  Well, look, Chuck, let‘s take a long view of what the president has done.  In the transition before being even sworn in, the president asked that we reassess and reevaluate our strategy in Afghanistan.  Obviously, we‘ve been there a long time and it wasn‘t working.

In the lead-up to those important elections, the president authorized more than 20,000 additional troops to bring some security and stability to the region in preparation for that election.  We replaced the commander on the ground in Afghanistan, and the president asked for a review and an assessment of where our strategy was.  That assessment has now come back.

But as I said this morning, Chuck, there is no imminent timetable for additional troop decisions.  There wasn‘t one before and there isn‘t one now.  It‘ll be many, many weeks before the president gets to any sort of decision about that.  We‘re working through these initial assessments of what General McChrystal has seen on the ground in Afghanistan after being there for two months.

TODD:  Is it fair for members of Congress, before they‘re asked to vote on sending more combat troops, that they see a detailed exit strategy from the administration?

GIBBS:  Well, this administration is working with Congress on establishing benchmarks for the disruption and the destroying of al Qaeda and its extremist network.

TODD:  So we should determine that as an exit strategy, that the benchmarks are...

GIBBS:  Well, no, we—well, I think the benchmarks are one way of measuring and a very important way and one we need to measure our strategic progress toward those goals.  The president has said we will not be in this region of the world forever.  We don‘t have the resources in manpower to do that.  We don‘t have the resources in the budget to do that.  We have to focus our goals, and I think that‘s what the administration will continue to do in assessing the situation there.

TODD:  Earlier today, there was an incident, some reports about a training exercise with the Coast Guard.  At the time, there was some confusion about what was going on, some media reports.  Do you think the Coast Guard should have put off that training exercise, given that today is the anniversary of 9/11, or is this an issue with the media?

GIBBS:  Well, look, I think there have been people in the government that have asked the Coast Guard for an explanation about their training activities today.  Chuck, I will tell you that...

TODD:  Are you satisfied with that explanation from the Coast Guard?

GIBBS:  I think that is—they‘re still working on that to make sure that we have an adequate explanation.  But I will tell you, Chuck, watching the television, I left a meeting based on what was being reported on the television, which turned out to be erroneous.  It was false.  I think it alarmed far too many people on something on a day in which we‘re—obviously, we remember the events that happened.

And I do wish that some of the people that reported that incident might have taken a little bit of time to check and see whether what they were reporting was accurate.  You may not be the first person with the story, but you may be the first person to report the story accurately.  I think that‘s what people need to look for here.  And I‘m sorry they missed that in scaring people.

TODD:  Professor Gibbs, you‘re going to be a journalism professor before the day is through, I guess.  Thank you very much, sir.

GIBBS:  I‘d be happy to teach the class.

TODD:  Yes, I bet.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  We‘ll see you Monday.

Coming up: Eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Obama may want to send more troops to Afghanistan, but top Democrats have their doubts.  We‘ll get the latest on how the war is going there and what will it take to win it, and what is victory.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama laid a wreath at the Pentagon today to commemorate the attacks of September 11 eight years ago.  That day led us to the war in Afghanistan, but eight years after we went in, the Taliban has staged a comeback.  The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is expected to ask for more combat troops, but a growing chorus of Democrats is signalling potential opposition to any increased combat troop levels.

NBC‘s chief for correspondent, Richard Engel—he just returned from Afghanistan today.  It‘s good to see him here.  And NBC News‘s Jim Maceda traveled to Afghanistan a little more than a month ago.  So two folks that have been on the ground, seeing what‘s going on firsthand.

Richard, let me start with you.  You come home today, and what do you see?  The political debate about more troops.  You‘ve been on the ground there.  Do you see the need yourself, from what you‘re observing and what commanders are telling you about the need for more troops?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s mostly what commanders are saying because it‘s very hard for me to get an accurate picture nationwide about if there should be more troops or not.  I‘m not a general.  It would be presumptuous to say.

TODD:  Fair enough.

ENGEL:  But I was just in southern Afghanistan, and what I did see was a lot of American soldiers and not very many Afghan troops.  And I was with one particular company.  There were about 100, 150 Americans, and they only had 20 or 30 Afghan soldiers.  So they were very limited by what they could do.  They are not allowed to search homes.  Only Afghans are able to go into other Afghan homes.  It‘s considered culturally insensitive otherwise.  So we had American troops sitting around, waiting for the Afghans to show up, and that is a serious problem.

Also, in the north, I think there‘s a lot of room for NATO to step up.  There are tens of thousands of NATO soldiers, and a lot of them, frankly, aren‘t doing very much.  And I heard that time and time again from commanders, that the Italian troops are doing very little, the German troops are doing very little, some of them never even leaving their bases.

ENGEL:  Right.

GIBBS:  In fact, there‘s been one widely published study that most German soldiers serving in NATO in Afghanistan are actually fatter, because of all of the beer that they‘re drinking, than the average German citizen.  So I think there‘s a lot of room for growth there, as well.

TODD:  Well, Jim, being that you‘re also in London, you see there‘s—they‘ve got their own political problems when it come to troops, sending more troops or having troops in Afghanistan and what the role of NATO is.  What is the role of NATO, from what you saw over there?  And is there—you know, is there the political will with our European allies to help us out more?

JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think there‘s a tremendous amount of political will when you‘re talking about Great Britain.  There‘s no question that Britain understands what‘s at stake, and the cooperation between British soldiers and U.S. soldiers, specifically, U.S. Marines—I just—I came out of Helmand province about five weeks ago, and I was at one point embedded with a unit that was partially British, partially American, and those forces got along extremely well.  The Brits were fighting the fight.  They were using less armored kit, as they say.  Their equipment was not quite as enviable as they said ours was, but they got the job done.

When I asked them, in fact, if they wanted more helicopters because there was a great controversy here...

ENGEL:  Right.

MACEDA:  ... in Great Britain about resourcing these troops...

ENGEL:  Right.

MACEDA: -- they said, No, we don‘t need more helicopters, we don‘t need more armor.  Simply what we need to do is continue the fight that we‘re fighting.

TODD:  Jim, do they—who‘s the enemy?  Who do the troops say is the enemy?  Do they believe they‘re fighting the Taliban, al Qaeda, both?  Who‘s the enemy?

MACEDA:  Troops—U.S. troops will tell that you the enemy is a combination of all of the above.  It‘s al Qaeda, and they are not of the opinion, like some of the pundits, that al Qaeda is only in Pakistan and everyone else is in Afghanistan.  They‘re fighting a fight that has no borders.  That Durand line of 1893 does not exist for the Pashtun tribal and armed fighters.  So they say it‘s al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliates, al Qaeda friends.

There are also jihadist fighters, like the Haqqani family, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others who are, in fact, liaisons between al Qaeda and the Taliban, between Afghanistan and Pakistan over that border area.  So they‘re fighting a network.  They‘re fighting a base.  They‘re fighting a group of fighters and of fundamentalists.  They‘re not just fighting al Qaeda.

TODD:  Richard, who runs Afghanistan right now?  We know there‘s an election.  We know there‘s probably going to be a run-off.  They‘re still trying to count the ballots.  But you know, does the Karzai government have full control of that country?  And if it doesn‘t, is the—and is the Karzai government a reliable partner for the United States?

ENGEL:  Right now, no one is in charge of Afghanistan, and that is the major problem, that what has generally been considered a failed election last month has left this country with a huge power vacuum.  Right now, according to the constitution, Karzai does not have the authority to run the country.  He‘s just operating on a sort of borrowed timeframe.  His mandate for power actually expired the day the elections were held.  So if right now one of his...

TODD:  Wow.

ENGEL:  ... ministers or one of his governors decided that they didn‘t want to obey Karzai‘s mandate, they would be perfectly able to do that. 

So, they‘re just giving him a bit of a—a grace period.  That is a -

·         that is a serious problem, because, when you have such a fragile political leadership, and more and more accusations that this—this election, particularly by Karzai‘s supporters, was—was manipulated, and no real legal basis to hold a government, then it—it is a problem for the United States, because the United States doesn‘t have a partner. 

It is not that they are looking for a reliable partner, as you asked.

TODD:  Just any partner.

ENGEL:  They simply don‘t have any partner.  There‘s—there‘s nobody home. 

TODD:  Jim, I want to talk about—you were saying—I know that you have got—done some comparisons with the insurgency of sorts, what—what‘s going on now in Afghanistan.  And what are the similarities and differences to what our soldiers are facing in Afghanistan to what they faced in Iraq during the height of the insurgency there?

MACEDA:  Well, that‘s right. 

I was thinking about this earlier.  And I would put Afghanistan right now, where we are in Afghanistan, to where U.S. forces were in Iraq right around the beginning of 2007.  It‘s at a time when there were initial so-called surge operations, but it would take another five or six months before we really saw any kind of tangible, positive changes. 

TODD:  Right. 

MACEDA:  It was a time when—when the KIAs, kill in action, were just skyrocketing, when...

TODD:  Right. 

MACEDA:  ... support for the army, for the operation at home was plummeting. 

And—and there was a political void, as—as Richard just described, at the top.  The government in Baghdad was absolutely paralyzed...

TODD:  Right. 

MACEDA:  ... just as the government in Kabul is paralyzed, for different reasons.  So, it‘s—I think it is an uncanny situation, and very—very much parallel to what we saw.

And, of course, we saw big changes occur after that. 

TODD:  And I know I have to go quickly, but I want to ask both of you, very quickly, can parts of the Taliban be essentially bought off, the way parts of the Sunnis were bought off in Iraq? 

First, Richard, I ask you, do you buy that the Taliban could get essentially bought off by the Americans?

ENGEL:  I think a lot of people who are now fighting can certainly be accommodated, if they‘re given jobs, if they‘re given other things to do. 

I don‘t think they are going to be bought off like the Sunnis in Iraq, because it was the Sunnis in Iraq who actually asked for American help.  They were being threatened by the—by al Qaeda from the outside.  They came to the Americans. 

TODD:  Taliban is not asking, yes.  The Taliban is not asking.

ENGEL:  The Taliban is not asking.

TODD:  Yes. 

ENGEL:  The Taliban is—is fighting its own fight. 

If you give them jobs, sure, I think a lot of them will put down rifles for now.  But they‘re certainly not coming for—coming to American help, looking for protection. 

TODD:  Well, Richard Engel, Jim Maceda, you guys put your lives on the line for NBC News.  Know that all of us over here appreciate it all the time.  Thank you both. 

ENGEL:  It‘s a pleasure.

MACEDA:  Thank you. 

TODD:  Up next:  David Letterman has got Congressman Joe Wilson‘s top 10 excuses for why he yelled “You lie” at President Obama. 

That‘s next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Back to HARDBALL.

Tonight‘s “Sideshow” has a special campaign twist because I‘m involved, right?  Here we go.

First, it‘s down and dirty in Jersey.  That race between Democratic Governor Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie is perhaps the marquis battle of this November election.  Both sides are going all-out for the win.  Case in point, check out whose name pops up in this ad for Christie, the Republican in the race. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Last year, I voted for Obama because I wanted change.  This year, I‘m supporting Christie. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris Christie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, do you want to change Trenton?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to change Trenton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We can start by changing governors. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  It‘s interesting.  It work for folks.  You‘re trying to appeal to Obama voters or maybe even disenchanted Obama voters.  Who knows?

Moving on to South Carolina, it looks like Congressman Joe Wilson has a tough reelection on his hands in 2010, at least financially.  His Democratic challenger, Rob Miller, has raised an amazing $811,788 off Wilson‘s “You lie” outburst on Wednesday night. 

But guess what?  Wilson is hoping for his own campaign coffer boost.  You can see there he has bought a big-time fund-raising ad on the uber-popular Drudge Report.  And he is getting plenty of traffic himself. 

Speaking of Wilson, Dave Letterman took his outburst and spun it into, not shockingly, comedic gold last night.  Let‘s take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE HOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  So,

guess what the category is here?  Top 10 South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson excuses. 

PAUL SHAFFER, BAND LEADER:  Oh.

LETTERMAN:  Already, he has some excuses.

(CROSSTALK)

LETTERMAN:  Number 10:  Shouldn‘t have gone tailgating before the speech.  I guess not.

Number four:  Yes, I accused a politician of lying.  What was I thinking? 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number three:  I thought it was a roast.  That‘s what I was thinking. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number two:  It has been weeks since a Republican politician embarrassed the state of South Carolina. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson excuses:  Nobody cared when McCain yelled “Bingo.”

Well, there it is right there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  What do they say?  At least they spell his name right. 

Finally, a hearty welcome to the newest member of the U.S. Senate, George LeMieux of Florida, my home state.  There he is being sworn in just yesterday by the vice president.  He is now the youngest United States senator.  Good for him. 

Time for the “Big Number.”

Governor Mark Sanford is weathering quite the political storm down in South Carolina.  Can he hold on?  So, why not check with some oddsmakers, our friends in the Dublin-based Intrade.com. 

Well, according to them—that‘s right—they actually have odds on

this—the chances Mark Sanford will leave office by the end of the year

are at 36 percent.  They obviously are following this race very closely,

because Sanford doesn‘t want to go anywhere.  The online traders are

betting that—Mark Sanford, saying that there is just a 36 percent chance

·         chance he will leave the governor‘s mansion. 

We will see.  Could be impeachment hearings.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  The debate over health care has largely been overshadowed this week by Congressman Joe Wilson‘s outburst.  Should Wilson apologize on the floor of the House?  And what does his outburst and the support he‘s getting in some quarters symbolize about the backlash we‘re seeing against President Obama?  We will ask two members of Congress next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A down day on Wall Street bring an end to an unusual September rally, the Dow Jones industrials off 22 points.  The S&P 500 is down a little bit more than a point, and the Nasdaq slid three points. 

Some light profit-taking after the five-day winning streak offset a jump in consumer confidence.  Consumer sentiment has already improved a better-than-expected 4.5 points in September.

Shipping giants FedEx and UPS both saw their shares shoot up more than 4 percent today—this after FedEx raised its earnings outlook for next year based on cost cuts and a healthier-than-expect international shipping market.  A drop in crude oil prices put pressure on commodities.  Oil fell more than $2.50, to finish below $70 a barrel.  But gold prices continued to soar, as investors look for a hedge against the struggling dollar. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

You lie.  Those two words made Congressman Joe Wilson a household name week.  Wilson apologized over the phone to the White House.  The president accepted.  But now NBC‘s Kelly O‘Donnell, our Capitol Hill correspondent, reports that aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say that, if Wilson does not apologize on the House floor next week, then the House will likely introduce a resolution of disapproval. 

In a minute, we will talk to Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray of California.

But, first, I have got a member of the Democratic leadership right here, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, the majority whip. 

OK.  You guys are talking about doing this—this resolution on the House floor if he does not go to the well and apologize.  Is that correct? 

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA:  That‘s correct, like he should. 

TODD:  What is a disapproval—I have heard of censure.  I have heard of impeachment.  I have heard all sorts of things.  There is an official disapproval that you can do?  Has this been done before?  What was the last person that...

CLYBURN:  Yes. 

Well, there are three categories that we talk about a lot, expulsion, censure, and, of course, reprimand.  Disapproval, I understand, is a much lesser punishment.

But I asked the House leadership—that, is the Democratic leadership

·         to consider disapproval, rather than any of the others.  There are a lot of people in our caucus pushing for censure, even beyond reprimand. 

TODD:  So, you do believe this is a compromise?

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN:  I think this is a compromise.  And I think—I asked them to consider disapproval. 

TODD:  Let me ask you something as a native of the South.  Does the president have a Southern problem?  We see a lot of polling.  It is very—he is more unpopular in the Southern part of this country than—than in other places.  It is—it is somewhat traumatic.  Does he have a problem in the South?  And what would you tell him to do to fix it? 

CLYBURN:  Well, there is a long history in our country about the problem that we have in the South.  We all know that.  And his election, of course, I think...

TODD:  You say we all know that, long problem.  You‘re not...

CLYBURN:  We have a long problem with race in the country. 

TODD:  OK.

CLYBURN:  And it is interesting.  And I have seen all of these clips today about how—of the long history that South Carolinians have with decorum in the United States Congress. 

TODD:  He didn‘t bring a cane. 

CLYBURN:  He didn‘t bring a cane.

(LAUGHTER)

CLYBURN:  But, remember, that big incident was all over slavery.  And, so, we still have these kinds of issues to deal with.  I do believe...

TODD:  Is that too simplistic?  Do you think it‘s too simplistic to chalk—to chalk it all up to race? 

CLYBURN:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

TODD:  OK.

CLYBURN:  A lot of it is about economics.  A lot of it is about our current state of affairs.  And the fact that we are faced with this significant or these significant problems with an African-American in the White House complicates things a little more.  So, you cannot just say it is race.  It has a lot of other implications as well. 

TODD:  Can the—the president hasn‘t visited any Southern states yet, outside of Virginia, which is just across the river...

CLYBURN:  Sure.

TODD:  ... and, politically, has seceded from the South, if you want to talk about it...

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN:  I thought he was in North Carolina.

TODD:  And he has done North Carolina.

CLYBURN:  Yes.  Yes. 

TODD:  But—but he hasn‘t spent a lot of time in Southern states that he didn‘t win. 

CLYBURN:  That‘s true.

TODD:  Would you like to see him show up in South Carolina?  Do you think this would help things at all?  Would it cut down some of the hostility? 

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN:  I think it would.  And I think South Carolina would be a good place for that, because I do believe...

TODD:  Your district, I‘m sure...

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  .. is what you‘re saying.

(CROSSTALK)

CLYBURN:  But, no, his wife, her roots are in—her grandfather was from the 6th Congressional District in South Carolina.  And I think that there are many instances when requests have been made for either one of them, or both, to come to the state. 

And I think the president could do a whole lot of good in this regard if we were to take a hard look at when he and she, or he or she could come to South Carolina. 

TODD:  Spend some more time in the South.

All right, you‘re the vote-counter. 

CLYBURN:  Yes. 

TODD:  You‘re the guy in charge with saying, we have got the votes, we don‘t have the votes. 

Health care, the health care bill, first, are we going to see somebody introduce the president‘s health care bill?  You know, we know we have three in there.

CLYBURN:  Right.  

TODD:  But are you going to have somebody put together, hey, we got to put the president‘s plan now on the floor of the U.S. House?  Is that going to happen? 

CLYBURN:  Yes, that‘s going to happen.  I think that‘s what you heard from the speaker the other day.

TODD:  Who?  Who is putting that together? 

CLYBURN:  Well, the speaker is. 

TODD:  OK.

CLYBURN:  She is working with the three chairs of the three committees. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  And they want to take the president‘s blueprint and turn it into the House bill, correct?

CLYBURN:  Absolutely. 

TODD:  OK.

CLYBURN:  And we are looking—we have got one eye on the Senate. 

She made it very clear. 

TODD:  Right...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... that she wants to wait for that. 

CLYBURN:  Absolutely.

TODD:  Wait for that.

Thanksgiving is what the vice president said you would have a health care bill.  Are we—is that a fair deadline? 

CLYBURN:  I think so.  I think I agree with that. 

TODD:  Thanksgiving. 

Congressman Clyburn, thanks very much. 

CLYBURN:  Thank you so much for having me.

TODD:  Let‘s look at some of what Congressman Joe Wilson had to say on his campaign Web site Thursday. 

Let‘s take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants.  This, too, is false.  The reforms—the reforms I‘m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. 

REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  You lie.

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

OBAMA:  It‘s not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER:  Well, that was the wrong clip.  Let quickly play the—the right clip with Congressman Joe Wilson and his response to the uproar over -- over that moment in the—in—on Wednesday.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  The supporters of the government takeover of health care, and the liberals who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as an excuse to distract from the critical questions being raised about this poorly conceived plan. 

They want to silence anyone who speaks out against it.  They made it clear they want to defeat me, and pass the plan.  I need your help now.  If you agree with me that the government-run health plan is bad medicine for America, then I ask for your support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right, with us now, California Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray from the San Diego area. 

Thanks for coming on. 

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY ®, CALIFORNIA:  Great to be with you, Chuck.

TODD:  OK.

The House Democratic leadership wants to introduce this resolution of disapproval, so, it is not a censure, if Congressman Wilson doesn‘t go to the floor of the House and apologize.

Why—do you think Congressman Wilson should go to the floor?  I know Republican leaders—leaders have asked him.

BILBRAY:  I...

(CROSSTALK)

BILBRAY:  ... think he should.  And I think that he can...

TODD:  You think he should?

BILBRAY:  I think he should.

TODD:  OK.

BILBRAY:  I think he should point out that he not only made a mistake by speaking out, but he thought the president was talking about the House bill that he saw.  He knew that twice the Democratic party said no, we‘re not going to check if illegals are on or not.  He made the mistake of thinking, like a lot of us did, that the president was talking about the House bill, the Waxman bill.  When the president, obviously—when you get to the end of the speech, you say, this man obviously is not talking about the bill that we have before us in the House of Representatives.

And only now do we generally know that the president was speaking of what he hope to see come out of the Senate very soon. 

TODD:  You‘ve been very vocal about this issue of coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill.  It sounds like you‘re giving the president the benefit of the doubt.  You‘re waiting to see the legislation show up on the House floor. 

BILBRAY:  When I heard the president make that statement, I had the same mistake that Joe did.  Only I didn‘t say anything.  The fact is that anybody listening at that time would have said, wait a minute.  The president is dead wrong.  He hasn‘t look at the bill.  He hasn‘t looked at the Congressional Research Service, that says that illegals will be able to participate in the House bill.  Unless you check, unless you do verification to make sure people aren‘t illegal, you know by history that illegals are going to have it. 

The president was separating.  He was actually talking about another bill. 

TODD:  Square this circle for me.  It seem like there‘s unanimity on this issue between Democrats and Republicans.  Nobody wants to give somebody who is not an American citizen U.S. tax dollars, subsidizing whatever to get health care.  But square this circle.  Emergency room in San Diego, what do you do?  what do you do? 

BILBRAY:  Six hundred million dollars it‘s costing just in my county. 

First, what do you do? 

TODD:  Do you tell an emergency room, show me your ID? 

BILBRAY:  No, but you then at least notify.  This isn‘t just illegals.  You have foreign national that‘s come in from Tijuana, go in to emergency rooms.  And they still get a border crossing card.  But I think the big issue here is, you‘ve got to understand that using the same system that the new president has implemented for contractors, that you check over e-Verify -- you check and make sure everyone who is participating in the program is legal. 

But because the games been played—oh, we‘re going to say nobody is allowed to do it unless they‘re legal, but we are not going to allow you to check.  As soon as you do that—this is a shell game that people are frustrated with.  And I think it showed with Joe‘s outburst.

TODD:  I guess I go to, what should an emergency room do?  Reject? 

BILBRAY:  I carry—

(CROSS TALK)

TODD:  I understand, but doctors take this Hippocratic oath.  OK.  To care for anybody.  Somebody has to pay for that care if they do this. 

BILBRAY:  Chuck, in the ‘90s, I introduced a bill, and we had it passed, to get the federal government, who is the deadbeat dad here, who mandates you provide the services, and is responsible for the illegals being here—the federal government ought to be reimbursing those hospital for providing health care.  That‘s our responsibility.  This is one of those things. 

TODD:  You‘re OK with the federal government doing that. 

BILBRAY:  The federal government ought to be paying for the things that they‘re responsible for now, before we start promising more.  We don‘t even pay for the cost of providing this mandated health care.  We don‘t pay for the fact that we‘re responsible for the illegals being in this country.  And we‘re not doing that.  And we‘re already talking about making more promises. 

I think that‘s where the American people say take care of business that you have got now, before you start making any more big promises. 

TODD:  All right.  You‘re in Californian.  You‘ve seen your party not do well statewide.  It has been a struggle sometimes for Republicans in the state.  Arnold Schwarzenegger being the exception.  Do you worry about the image of the Republican party nationally, making it that much harder for Republicans in California to stage a political comeback? 

BILBRAY:  Look, I think that the comeback is natural.  There‘s an ebb and flow here.  I‘m a surfer.  I know when the tide comes in, it is going to come out.  I also know that if you want to know when a tidal wave is coming, it is not when the water is high; it is when the water seems to be super low and never coming.  Then you have the opportunists, which you‘re seeing now, who are trying to go get take the low lying fruit, pick up what‘s easy.  Then the tide comes in. 

TODD:  So you‘re not concerned about the image right now? 

BILBRAY:  I think the image is one that we have to address.  We see that with our gubernatorial candidates.  They‘re looking great.  Again, you just have to really make sure that the extremists on the left may cause a backlash.  You‘re seeing a backlash right now, where independents are coming to the Republican side, not because they like the Republican party, but because they don‘t like to see what the extremists in the Democrats are doing. 

TODD:  Congressman Bilbray, thanks very much.  Thank you for your views. 

BILBRAY:  Thank you very much.

TODD:  Up next, there‘s a huge divide over how people in the south view President Obama versus those in the rest of the country.  Southerners tend to be more Republican and more conservative.  But does any of this backlash against the president have to do with race?  We‘re going to get into that next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  I have Joan Walsh.  She‘s editor in chief of “Salon.”  And Mark McKinnon writes for “The Daily Beast”.com, and is a Republican strategist, and of course work very closely to elect President George W. Bush. 

Mark, I want to start with you, because you have the column of the day, I believe, of the two of them.  No offense, Joan.  But you write on “The Daily Beat,” make Joe Wilson pay.  You say, “because as long as louts like Joe Wilson can spout off and call the president a liar, and get rewarded with reelection, then louts will continue to spout off.”  You go on—you want to start Republicans for Rob Miller, who is the Democrat who is challenging him.  You‘re talking about trying to get rid of all partisans who are a little out of the mainstream.  Is that your agenda here, Mark? 

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think that‘s the only thing that works, at the end of the day, Chuck.  We have on-going discussions and frustration about the partisanship we see in politics.  But as long as people like Joe Wilson keep getting reelected—they get rewarded by their behavior if they keep their seats.  I think the only way we address this is to go to the ballot box and throw these bums out of Congress.  That‘s the only way we‘re going to restore civil dialogue to the political environment. 

TODD:  All right, but, Joan, there are some that are going to hear that, and they‘re going to say, oh, there goes the media, or there goes, you know, people—

JOAN WALSH, “SALON”:  That liberal—

TODD:  No, well, but there they go trying to—they don‘t understand how the left and the right works, and they just love the middle.  They love bipartisanship, and they just don‘t understand the passion that‘s on the left and the right.  Fair?

WALSH:  You know what?  I think that‘s somewhat fair.  I do worry—I

·         basically, I agree with Mark.  If we could get rid of the Joe Wilsons of the world, the world would be a better place.  He‘s a weasel.  He‘s a liar.  He disrespected the president. 

However, I‘m a little worried right now that we‘re making Joe Wilson into a martyr.  As you said top of the show, he‘s now raising more money.  People are coming to his defense.  And I—you know, I think that there‘s a divide in this country—I think he‘s in the minority, obviously, since President Obama won—who will not give this president respect.  And his supporters cannot be convinced by anything you or Mark or I will say. 

TODD:  Mark, you‘re in that little blue dot of Texas that‘s called Austin, as far as the red and blue is concerns.  Is—you know, is this a southern—is this a southern phenomenon mostly, when it comes to this problem with the president and his critics? 

MCKINNON:  Well, if you‘re talking about the issue of race, I agree with Congressman Clyburn.  You know, I think that‘s a factor, certainly, but I think this is driven much more by ideology, culture and economics.  You know, that‘s what‘s creating the divide in this country, much more so than race.  I think that the Republican party would have nominated Colin Powell had he run for president.  There‘s a very good chance he would have been president of the United States. 

Also, I think, by the way, Joe Wilson would have called John Edwards a liar, if John Edwards were the Democratic president today.  So—

WALSH:  I‘m not sure of that.  We‘ve never seen anything like this. 

TODD:  Guys, we‘re going to jump in.  We‘re going to go to a quick break.  And we‘re going to do more of this, more of the politics fix, with Mark McKinnon and Joan Walsh.  We‘ll be back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right.  We‘re back with a little bit longer segment now, with Republican strategist Mark McKinnon and “Salon‘s” Joan Walsh.  Joan, I cut you off.  I‘ll let you finish your thought. 

WALSH:  I lost my train of thought. 

TODD:  Fair enough.  Let‘s talk about this bigger issue of polarization, and the problem inside Washington.  And much of it is in the media.  Maybe we‘re all making too much of it.  Mark, I start with you.  You know, President Bush—you know, one of the reasons I think that you have said you were attracted to then-Governor Bush, or candidate for Governor George W. Bush, was that he was trying to be a bipartisan leader.  He couldn‘t do it here.  He didn‘t—some would say he polarized this place. 

But President Obama ran on sometimes some of the same message, saying that he was going to be post-partisan.  And he‘s already finding it difficult.  Is it Washington?  It just can‘t be done? 

MCKINNON:  It‘s interesting, Chuck.  I actually recommended that some reporters go back and look at the early campaign speeches of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  All their language about changing the tone in Washington and trying to work toward bipartisanship was very similar.  Now, we know that that broke down under both presidents.  And I argue that a part of that, at least, was the fact that we had a recount, and many Democrats never saw George W. Bush as a legitimate president.  That just poisoned the well from the very beginning. 

But I think the fact that President Obama, who campaigned on a similar message of change and restoring some comity to politics in Washington, and we could see the difficulty that he‘s having, suggests that it is a Washington problem.  And, you know, we can ascribe a lot of things to do, gerrymandering of districts, hyper-media coverage. 

Again, I go back to my point.  The only way we‘re going to change the behavior of the elected officials is if we send them the message that they‘re going to get sent home and have to pack their bags, unless they change, and respond to the sort of dialogue and environment that I think the American people really want. 

TODD:  Joan, I mean, is there—do you sit there and say, you know what, your friends, you know, the folks on the left ought to be careful?  You don‘t want to make the middle mad?  There should be an attempt at bipartisanship? 

WALSH:  No, first of all, I would argue there was an attempt at bipartisanship, Chuck.  I take issue with some of what Mark says.  I look back at the ‘99 and 2000 George Bush.  There was a lot to like there.  I covered his education policies.  I said they were good.  He campaigned as a uniter, not a divider. 

He got into office; he rammed through the most radical change that we‘ve seen ever.  He never talked about it.  He didn‘t want to be a nation builder.  And there we are in Iraq. 

TODD:  Joan, that‘s what conservatives are saying about President Obama.  I‘ve heard the same anger there.  Well, he‘s just ramming through the stimulus package. 

WALSH:  He‘s not.  I just want to say, first of all, he worked hard on the stimulus package.  He gave it back to Congress.  Maybe they made some mistakes, but they took amendments on the stimulus package from Republicans.  They didn‘t get the votes.  In the Health Committee, in the Senate Health Committee on the health bill, they took 169 Republican amendments on that bill, and they didn‘t get one Republican vote. 

So it‘s not that Obama isn‘t trying.  It‘s that the Republicans, certainly in the case of Obama, decided their only strategy was to say no and block him. 

TODD:  I‘m going to have to make that the last word.  Joan Walsh, Mark McKinnon, thank you both.  I know we get short on Friday.  Chris Matthews returns Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, and an interview Rod Blagojevich. 

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

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Guest Host: Mike Barnicle

Guests: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Sen. Bob Corker, Cynthia Hardy, Ron Reagan, Roger Simon, Ceci Connolly, Ron Reagan, Cynthia Hardy, John O‘Connor, Chris Cillizza

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  The insult heard ‘round the world.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: The gift.  When Congressman Joe Wilson shouted out “You lie” at President Obama last night, he gave the Democrats a gift they hope just keeps on giving.  Wilson was forced—and that does seem to be the word, forced—to apologize today, and his Washington office has been mobbed, mostly by right-wing supporters.  Democrats hope to turn Wilson into the Cindy Sheehan of the anti-health care reform movement, a clownish figure of ridicule who hurts his own side more than he helps.

Partly lost in all the fuss over Wilson was the president‘s speech itself.  Did he regain control of the debate?  We‘ll deconstruct the speech and see where the debate is headed next.

Plus, it seems like a South Carolina kind of day.  Governor Mark Sanford today defended his decision to stay in office, but can he survive the groundswell of calls for his resignation this week by the state‘s house Republicans?

Back to health care for a moment.  Could Bill Clinton become President Obama‘s secret weapon to keep Democrats in line when reform comes to a vote?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”

And we all know it‘s a bad idea to text while driving.  Well, it‘s not much smarter to text while you‘re on national television.  Virginia‘s Eric Cantor learned that lesson last night, and we‘ll have it on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin with President Obama and where the health care debate goes from here.  Senator Jay Rockefeller is a Democrat from West Virginia and a member of the Finance Committee.

Senator, Congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina—it‘s like a mandatory question being asked by every politician in Washington today.  What was your take on it?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  My take was that it was a very small, I thought rather rude, interruption in a very important speech about health care to the American people, and I don‘t even think about it anymore.

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to play it, Senator, for those few Americans left out there who haven‘t heard it.  Here is President Obama being called a liar by South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK Obama, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants.  This, too, is false.  The reforms...

(SHOUTING)

OBAMA:  The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. Joe WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  You lie!

OBAMA:  Not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Senator, before we get into the specifics of last night‘s speech and what you thought about it, let me ask you, off of what Congressman Wilson said, off of a summer where the birthers have been running around the country saying President Obama wasn‘t born here, off of the last week, where we had such a furor over a president of the United States speaking to schoolchildren, what‘s going on?  What do you think is going on?

ROCKEFELLER:  It‘s—incidents build other incidents.  Rudeness creates more rudeness.  Inappropriate behavior, you know, recreates itself in many forms.  I just think for those of us who are worried about policy and getting a health care bill, the focus on that fellow from South Carolina isn‘t productive.  So I—you‘re just—Mike, I think you‘re great, and I think you love baseball, so that‘s all I need to know.

(LAUGHTER)

ROCKEFELLER:  Then I‘m just not going to think about Mr. Wilson. 

You‘re not going to get me to talk about him.

BARNICLE:  All right.  I‘m with you.  I‘m with you, the Red Sox and the American League East.  But let me ask you about policy.  Could you clear up—there are constant back-and-forths on what is in this bill with regard to the idea of illegal immigrants being covered by a health care reform bill.  Can you clear that up?  Are they—will they be covered?

ROCKEFELLER:  I‘ll do my best.  It‘s very, very simple.  First of all, there is no bill on the Senate side.  There is on the House side, and it specifically says illegal immigrants are not covered, will not be covered, cannot be covered under any circumstances.  That language, or language very close to it with the same force, will appear in whatever Senate bill emerges.  And I can guarantee you that.  So it‘s something that people should not worry about for a moment.

BARNICLE:  Well, the Republicans seem to be putting out—House Minority Leader John Boehner continues to refer to the fact that, you know, they will not—we can‘t ask them whether they‘re here illegally unless they would be able to be covered.  What do you say to that contention?

ROCKEFELLER:  That I would really love to hear what Mr. Boehner has to say in terms of health care policies that he thinks would be useful for the American people.  I mean, this is the whole question of what—where have the Republicans been on sort of actively engaging in public policy?  They‘re actively engaging in nitpicking, where they‘re wrong and where they end up saying untruths to the American people.  And unfortunately, because of the way it‘s always picked up and people always dive right into those controversies, a lot of the American people believe it.  And that‘s very frustrating for those of us who really care about the policy and have been working on this for a long, long time.

BARNICLE:  What is your sense of the situation in your state, West Virginia?  You‘ve just come back from August recess.  West Virginia‘s a state hard hit by the crippled economy over the past few years, actually, historically.  Is there in West Virginia more of a concern about jobs, or more of a concern about the need for health care reform?  How does that work in your state?

ROCKEFELLER:  Well, you know I hate saying this right at this point, in the middle of the health care debate, but there will never come a time that there‘s anything in West Virginia—there will never be an issue that‘s more important than people having jobs because West Virginia‘s always had to struggle that way.  Only 4 percent of our land is flat.  It‘s hard to get industries to move in, build highways, and all the rest of it.  But health care is tremendously important, but jobs trump everything.

BARNICLE:  You know, as you seek a middle ground in the Senate, and as you would seek a middle ground in the conference committee between the Senate version and the House version, do you think you‘re going to get the 60 votes in the Senate?  Where do you think that stands?  The president had, I believe, 17 Democratic senators down at the White House today.  There seems to be a growing feeling among some Republicans that the Democrats, the Democratic Party, the Democratic president are going to just go it their own way and railroad whatever they can right through the Senate and right through the House.  What‘s your sense of it?

ROCKEFELLER:  Mike, I have this feeling about—I was in the state legislature.  I‘ve have been around here about 25 years.  And I was governor for eight years.  So I—I know how these rhythms work.  I think that in legislation, particularly controversial legislation, there‘s a kind of a rhythm.  And people take—they really dig their heels in on something, let‘s say public option or something about insurance or how, you know, providers are reimbursed under Medicare.  They dig their heels in.

And then the closer you come to the fact that you are actually going to vote on or mark up a bill, people become more fluid.  So the word I use for the place where we are now and why I think the president was wise to wait as long as he did to make that good speech is that it‘s a very fluid situation.  It could go a lot of different ways, and I think that bodes well for health care‘s being passed as a bill that gets enough votes.

BARNICLE:  Senator Jay Rockefeller, thanks very much.

ROCKEFELLER:  Thanks, Mike.

BARNICLE:  Senator Bob Corker is a Tennessee Republican who sits on the Banking and Aging Committee.  Senator, mandatory question of the day.  Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina last night, “You lie”—what do you think?

SEN. BOB CORKER ®, TENNESSEE:  Look, that was very not good.  It was the wrong thing to do.  The office of president should be respected.  Against protocol.  My understanding is he apologized formally afterwards and realized himself that he certainly stepped across a line.

BARNICLE:  Senator, let‘s take the word “lie” out of the equation, but you‘ve had some reservations and several comments about the senator‘s (SIC) speech last night and about the health care proposal that the president is advocating.  So do you think—is he fudging the facts?  Is he tripping around the truth?  What is he doing, in your mind?

CORKER:  Yes, look, first of all, I think there are things that we need to do to reform health care, and I think the White House knows that I believe that.  I‘ve said that in every town hall meeting I‘ve had.  And I hope that we can reach a middle ground and do some things that are pragmatic, that really move the ball down the field and don‘t do any harm.

I thought last night‘s speech was a little bit more like a—say, a primary speech in Iowa or something like that that was rhetorical.  And for that reason, I today e-mailed over to the White House chief of staff, to Nancy DeParle, that‘s handling the health care issues, a request for some text so that we could actually put some meat on the bones and understand more specifically what the president was saying.

I left there last night really with more questions than I did answers.  And so anyway, I‘d like—I think for this debate to be advanced, we really need to understand what was said in its text form, what he means by these types of solutions, and I think that would advance the debate, if they would actually come forth with that.

BARNICLE:  So you used the phrase, It sounded more like a primary speech in Iowa.  And today the president of the United States had 18 or 19 Democratic senators down the White House to discuss this.  Do you get the impression that they‘re just going to go right forward with a Democratic bill?  And are they going to really leave you on the sidelines, if that‘s what they have to do?

CORKER:  I felt like—look, in fairness, I know that I‘m viewed as somebody who wants to solve this problem.  I felt like last night, the train left the station, that in essence, it was about consolidating the base, if you will, behind the president.  And I really did feel like that we reached a fork in the road last night with that speech.  I don‘t think that is best for the American people.  I think that that‘s going to be very problematic for all involved.  I hope that that‘s not the case, but that was my sense as I listened to what was said last night.

BARNICLE:  So what‘s your biggest reservation or reservations about the proposal that‘s coming out of Max Baucus‘s committee?

CORKER:  Well, there are a number of things.  Let‘s move policy aside.  I really—as it relates to what happens at the end, I personally believe we do need to have things like exchanges.  We need to deal with the issue of preexisting conditions.  We need to have cross-state line competition.  I think all of those things need to be addressed.  I think we need to have some tax code changes so that people can in a more affordable way purchase health insurance.

What worries me is how this is being paid for, among other things on the policy side.  But for instance, taking $410 billion out of Medicare—and I‘m not saying that that‘s cutting services, but what it is doing is making sure that Medicare is not solvent, that we‘re not dealing with the issue that Medicare‘s going to be insolvent in the year 2017, and we‘re not even dealing with the issue of making sure that next year, we don‘t have a 23 percent cut with physicians and nurses.

Secondly, pushing off the cost to states.  I can‘t imagine us considering pushing off the cost of raising Medicaid levels off to states.  That to me makes no sense.  So there‘s numbers of things.

What‘s happening here in Washington right now is that we are playing with the 10-year budget window game.  In order to finance this, the Finance Committee is looking at 10 years‘ worth of revenues but seven years‘ worth of costs.  And what that means is we‘re going to have deficits into the future.

So there are numbers of pieces to this that I don‘t think will pass the common sense test for the American people.  I don‘t think Republicans and Democrats or independents are going to like the outcome if we go through this reconciliation process, which I fear is the direction that we‘re headed.

BARNICLE:  Now, see, as I listen to you and your nice, soft Tennessee accent, I‘m thinking to myself, Now, here‘s a moderate, congenial guy.  He‘s making sense here.  So let me ask you, how many times have you been invited down the White House to talk to the president in these tones?

CORKER:  I went down and met with the president right—maybe a week or week-and-a-half before recess, which I appreciated.  And in that meeting, Mike, I said exactly what I just said to you—concerned about taking money from Medicare savings and not using it to extend the Medicare program, concerned about pushing Medicaid off to states, concerned about the budget window.

And the fourth thing I would say is, the fact is that there‘s a lot of tough sledding that needs to take place to really solve this problem.  And it‘s going to take leadership at HHS and CMS.

But I‘ve been down there once.  I‘ve had conversations with Nancy DeParle.  I‘ve talked to Rahm Emanuel over the weekend.  I‘ve talked to Max Baucus numerous, numerous times.  I‘ve probably been to 50 or 60 meetings.

But my sense is that there‘s a—that we‘re stuck, that we‘re in this mire that instead of reaching a middle ground, I feel like we‘re heading towards the path I just mentioned.

And again, I don‘t even think that‘s going to be good for the Democratic Party, should that occur.  My concern certainly is not for the Democratic Party but to make sure that we have a policy that will stand the test of time.  And I‘m just afraid that that‘s not where we‘re heading, especially as I listened to the speech last night.

BARNICLE:  Senator Bob Corker, thanks very much.

CORKER:  Thank you, sir.

BARNICLE:  Coming up: President Obama has accepted an apology from South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, who called him a liar during last night‘s speech.  Wilson‘s opponent has already raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the outburst.  But did Congressman Wilson‘s outburst do something even more damaging?  Did it expose the Republicans‘ true colors in this health care debate?  That‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This is the segment where we tell you, you can‘t make this stuff up.  We‘re going to recap this Joe Wilson episode.  Here‘s what happened last night in the United States House of Representatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK Obama, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants.  This, too, is false.  The reforms...

(SHOUTING)

OBAMA:  The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. Joe WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  You lie!

OBAMA:  Not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Now, here‘s Congressman Wilson this morning outside his office on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON:  I last night heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and state that my statements were inappropriate.  I did.  I‘m very grateful that the White House, in talking with them, they indicated that they appreciated the call and that we needed to have a civil discussion about the health care issues.  And I certainly agree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Poor guy is almost crying there.  And here‘s President Obama today reacting to that apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m a big believer that we all make mistakes.  He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I‘m appreciative of that.  I do think that, as I said last night, we have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people‘s motives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Cynthia Hardy is a radio host in Columbia, South Carolina.  That‘s Joe Wilson‘s district.  And old friend Ron Reagan is the host of “The Ron Reagan Show” on Air America radio.

Cynthia, first-time caller here.  What have you been hearing today from his constituents, your listeners?

CYNTHIA HARDY, SOUTH CAROLINA RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it‘s very

interesting. 

You know, I—I heard you say, as you were looking at his rebuttal, or his comments this morning, and it‘s—you said, poor guy.  It seems like he‘s almost crying. 

Well, he‘s in a lot of trouble.  Joe Wilson embarrassed himself and embarrassed his entire constituent base, everyone who voted for him.  And many people feel as if he didn‘t just lose himself; he actually was himself. 

And let me tell you what I mean.  In South Carolina, Congressman Wilson has enjoyed the invitation of a number of African-American leaders, particularly in the faith-based community.  And many of them today are wondering who is Joe Wilson, as if he‘s somehow now been unmasked. 

And, so, for his future politically, it will seem to be problematic here on out.  And I fear that we‘re headed toward a very racially polarizing climate in this country.  And Joe Wilson‘s comments serve to further define that divide. 

BARNICLE:  Before we get to Ron Reagan, what—what do you mean unmasked? 

HARDY:  Well, you know, we—as I mentioned to you, a number of African-American leaders have felt very comfortable inviting Congressman Wilson to their church congregations to speak to groups.  He was very palatable to them. 

When I mention racial polarization in this country and the fact that we appear to be moving in that direction, keep in mind the climate we have just come out of, the climate of, I want my country back from these health care forums.  And these were not people of color, people who said, I don‘t want the president indoctrinating my children, when, heretofore, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush, George W., Bill Clinton, and—and now Barack Obama—well, they all have something in common, but then they all—then there‘s something very different, too. 

And what is the difference?  So, it doesn‘t appear to be about policy.  It appears to be about race.  And, so, where there was a comfort level with Congressman Wilson in the past among the African-American community, there appears to be a tear in that comfort level. 

BARNICLE:  Ron Reagan, out there in Seattle, Washington, you have sat through and heard more than your fair share of State of the Union speeches, and your dad, the president of the United States, addressing joint sessions of Congress.  Were you stunned last night when you heard that? 

RON REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes, I was—I was a little surprised. 

You know, Mike, you, too, have sat through a number of these sorts of speeches before.  In my life, I have never, never seen anybody vault over the bounds of decorum the way Joe Wilson did. 

Now, Cynthia‘s right that Joe Wilson may have unmasked himself, but I think he also unmasked the Republican Party, to a large extent.  A great number of Republicans, I think, are really in the Joe Wilson camp, if you will.  They may be urging him to apologize now, but they‘re not really—they‘re not really refuting what he said. 

HARDY:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  And what he said, of course, was a lie in and of itself.  Barack Obama is not proposing that illegal immigrants be covered.  There‘s no legislation that proposes that. 

HR-3200, coming out of the House, specifically mentions that illegal immigrants can‘t be covered here.  And Joe Wilson ought to know that, and maybe he does.  So, he‘s either ignorant or he himself is a liar.  But, as I said, it‘s emblematic of a large chunk of the Republican Party right now.  And that‘s not doing them any good.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  ... public sees that.

BARNICLE:  So, let me ask both of you, and stick—let‘s stick with Ron. 

You answer this.

And, then, Cynthia, you pick up on it. 

And the question is, we have had the birthers for the past four or five months, people who don‘t believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.  We had what I regarded as a truly depressing several-day period where people were protesting a president of the United States speaking to schoolchildren. 

And, in my mind, it had less to do with ideology than it was just depressing to see this occurring in this country.  And now we have this intemperate behavior last night in the House of Representatives.  We have the increased polarization in politics. 

Ron Reagan, what do you figure is going on here? 

REAGAN:  Well, have you to wonder, is this disrespect for the office, or is this disrespect specifically for this man? 

And I tend to think—and maybe Cynthia‘s better positioned to comment on this than I am, but I do think that there‘s an element of race here.  I do think that Joe Wilson may—may have held his tongue if a white president was up there behind that podium. 

I think it‘s—it‘s almost creepy, if I can use the word, the lack of respect that the Republicans show to this man, who is, after all, all of our president.  He—he is our president.  And he deserves a certain amount of respect, just based on that.   

And the fact that he‘s not getting it, and so obviously not getting it from Republicans, I think is very disturbing. 

BARNICLE:  Cynthia, go ahead.

HARDY:  In addition to that, I think that is very disturbing, too, that he‘s not getting it from many members of the Republican Party. 

But, when you take into account as well that a number of people in certain segments of the population pick up on that behavior and then they take it to the next level.  So, what you get is this blatant disregard for the office of the presidency, which is extremely un-American. 

And, so, where is the outcry for that?  Now, I have seen and heard a number of people decry it today, but I think that that depressing period that Ron mentioned, when people were fearful about indoctrination and what the president of the United States would say to schoolchildren, I mean, we need to stop at this point, and, regardless of anybody‘s political ideology, recognize the dangerous position that we are in, in terms of racial polarization, and what that can mean for further—to accomplish anything else in this country. 

And, so, do you throw the baby out with the bathwater, I mean, or do you realize where you are and what your responsibility levels are?  People elect individuals, not just to protect a certain—a certain political slant, but to do the right thing for the American people. 

And I think, somehow, that‘s getting lost. 

BARNICLE:  Right. 

HARDY:  The audacity of any member of that body to disrupt it in that way, for Christ‘s sakes, it made us appear a Third World country.  This is the United States of America. 

BARNICLE:  Well, Great Britain, they do it every week. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  But, Ron Reagan, let me ask you, did you ever hear your dad express any resentment or any—any feeling at all about the reception, the hissing that would sometimes occur when he spoke before joint sessions of Congress? 

REAGAN:  No. 

I mean, you know, we‘re used to a certain amount of shenanigans that go on in these—these sorts of addresses, the competing standing ovations, the...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  ... you know, the sort of sarcastic applause and things like that, the—you know, the guffawing and shuffling of feet and all that sort of thing.  You know, you put up with a little bit of that stuff.  That‘s—that‘s to be expected. 

But this went way beyond that.  And it‘s just one element in a—in a lot of—a lot of disturbing behavior—and you have cited some of it—at the town hall meetings and this—this business about, you know, President Obama speaking to schoolchildren, and that suddenly being indoctrination. 

This is getting—this is going off the rails.  And I think that we who work in the media, it‘s incumbent upon us to—to point that out to people.  This isn‘t just a political disagreement.  This isn‘t just business as usual in Washington and the usual back-and-forth. 

Something very wrong and disturbing has been happening out there in the country, and we need to try and put our finger on it. 

BARNICLE:  Ron Reagan, thanks very much. 

Cynthia Hardy, thank you very much. 

Up next:  Never mind the shouts of “You lie” last night.  Why was it so important for Republican Whip Eric Cantor to be on his BlackBerry during the president‘s speech?  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up: a lesson in manners.  Guess who was messaging on his BlackBerry last night during the president‘s speech?  House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.  Note:  It wasn‘t a quick sort of text either. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now—now, part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for, from the Iraq war...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  ... to tax breaks for the wealthy. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  You see, 30 seconds later, he‘s still going at it, as the president called out Republicans in Congress.  Congressman Cantor later gave an interview saying he was aghast at some of the claims in the president‘s address. 

Was he listening?  I don‘t know. 

Next up: another sugarplum from the speech.  Now, I have got to admit, if you‘re a Republican, sometimes, it‘s hard to figure out when to applaud during an address like this and when to fold your hands.  That‘s a dilemma evidently faced last night by Senator Lindsey Graham.  Watch what happens after this line from the president on reform. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  ... and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities. 

Now, it is...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Did you miss that?  Check it out again.  Here it is again.  Talk about a tricky maneuver from Graham.  But nobody saw that?  It was too easy, right? 

Time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Last night, President Obama soundly dismissed claims that health care reform would lead to so-called death panels for the elderly.  That line got a standing ovation from Democrats and some Republicans, too. 

In fact, how many Republican senators cheered on that debunking from the president? 

Well, according to “The Hill” newspaper just four, but they‘re a telling crowd of moderates, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Judd Gregg, and Bob Bennett.  Could they be the key to bipartisan reform?  Well, we‘re going to see.  Four Republican senators stand with the president in striking down death panels—that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Can South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford survive, now that most Republicans in his state want him to resign? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another day of moderate, but steady gains on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials up 80 points.  The S&P gained 10.  The Nasdaq added 23. 

Investors were pleased in part today by a healthy treasury auction.  It showed there‘s still strong foreign demand for U.S. assets.  Traders also liked the look of an updated forecast from Dow component Procter & Gamble.  They are projecting increased sales in earnings on price cuts and also new value-oriented product lines. 

Health care sector moved higher, as analysts dissected President Obama‘s address to Congress.  Wall Street is now anticipating a watered-down version of health care reform that could be beefed up over time. 

And late word this afternoon that Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack is stepping down in January.  He will be replaced by one of the bank‘s co-presidents, James Gorman.  That‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Pressure is mounting for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford to resign.  The state speaker of the House and 61 House Republicans called on the embattled governor to step down in separate letters sent to his office this week. 

And here‘s how Governor Sanford responded today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I would say there‘s amazing

disconnect between where working people are in South Carolina and the

degree to which they would like to move on and are attempting to move on,

and where, at times, the political world is, which, for different reasons -

·         and we saw those two actions of this week—people believe it to be in their best interests to raise this and to elevate it, and, with all due respect to some in your field of work, even some in the media thinking it‘s an interesting story that we will keep alive and keep nudging along. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, can he survive the growing calls for his resignation? 

John O‘Connor has been covering the Sanford story for “The State” newspaper, and Chris Cillizza is with WashingtonPost.com. 

John, South Carolina, we‘re sorry for your trouble. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  What‘s going on with the governor?  What‘s the deal?  Is he going to be able to last this thing out?  What‘s—what‘s going to happen here? 

JOHN O‘CONNOR, “THE STATE”:  Opinions differ on that, but I think the short answer is yes. 

It depends on this ethics commission panel investigation that‘s going on right now.  They are looking into his use of the state plane, into use of business-class airfare.  If they release a report that says that there‘s nothing there, potentially, he could survive. 

But you still have the other issue that a lot of lawmakers have latched onto, which is, he disappeared for five days, he didn‘t tell his staff or Cabinet where he was, where he was going, and that a lot of folks feel that‘s a dereliction of duty. 

BARNICLE:  Well, let me ask you, you—you hear—not in South Carolina, obviously.  I haven‘t been in South Carolina in about 20 years.

But you hear on the edge of this story the hints that part of Governor Sanford‘s strength in terms of staying in office is the perceived inability of his lieutenant governor, who would succeed him.  Is there anything to that? 

O‘CONNOR:  I think that‘s absolutely true. 

You know, we—we hear—hear it when we talk to people on the streets, that, you know: “I would like to see him go, but I don‘t like the alternative.  I don‘t like to see Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer step in.” 

He was on the radio earlier this week with a local talk show host here, and a number of people said that when they called in.  So, that‘s an issue. 

The other issue is that the lieutenant governor is—is considering a run for governor next year.  And, so, other folks who are in—in some form of authority here who are running for governor are concerned about what that might do to their chances. 

BARNICLE:  Chris Cillizza, I mean, you watch every state‘s politics.  South Carolina is more interesting than most lately, given Congressman Wilson last night, Governor Sanford today.  What does this do, if anything, to the—to the Republican Party nationally? 

CILLIZZA:  You know, this Sanford thing I think has done some level of damage over time, simply because it‘s distracted people from other things that the Republican party would like to be talking about, most notably health care.  Joe Wilson‘s comments, again, I think feed into that same thing, Mike.  The last 24 hours, and my guess would be the next 24 or maybe the next 48, at least, are going to be dominated by talk about Joe Wilson.  Why did he do it?  Did he get pressure to apologize?  Did he mean it?  All of these things. 

And, again, the Republican party wants to talk about the fact that the White House had a very hard time in August selling health care to the American people.  What are we talking about instead?  A Congressman who clearly breached protocol in the House, and did something that crystallized for a lot—certainly a lot of liberal Democrats, why they ultimately should be behind President Obama, because they agree with him a heck of a lot more than the alternative. 

BARNICLE:  John, can you tell us about Congressman Wilson‘s district?  And can you give us a sense—I don‘t know whether you can, because it‘s been less than 24 hours since he shouted out in the House of Representatives.  Can you give us a sense of what kind of damage may have been done to him in his district? 

O‘CONNOR:  Yes, the district stretches from Lexington County, which is suburban Columbia, kind of south and east to the coast.  The heart of the district is Lexington County.  That‘s where most of the district population lives.  But the reason why it‘s an issue is that the coastal population is growing.  So a lot of the folks that are moving in there are coming in from other parts of the country, maybe a little bit more moderate voters. 

As to whether he did some damage, the answer is probably yes.  Enough to kill his chances?  Who knows yet.  But his opponent hadn‘t really—Rob Miller, who‘s a former Marine, ran against him two years ago, hadn‘t really gotten his campaign going, hadn‘t gotten the fund-raiser going.  All of that got super-charged today.  He is probably going to be up over half a million dollars by the time we‘re speaking right now.  So he‘s a candidate who‘s got some money now. 

CILLIZZA:  Mike, just to put a point on that, remember two weeks before the last election, Michele Bachmann came on this show and insinuated that the president and Democrats were un-American.  Huge uproar.  Her Democratic opponent, Elwin Tinklenburg—love that name—raised vast amounts of money, very similar to what we‘re seeing.  That happened two weeks before the election and she still won.  Now, Bachmann‘s district is probably a little bit more Republican than Wilson‘s.  But we have to be careful.

I think John‘s right.  You have to be careful not to overblow.  We‘re still talking about a long time before an election.  Is Rob Miller going to benefit from this?  Yes.  He already raised 500,000 dollars that he probably wouldn‘t have raised if Joe Wilson kept his mouth shut.  Does that mean Joe Wilson is going to lose?  Don‘t assume it does. 

BARNICLE:  Give me that name again. 

CILLIZZA:  Elwin Tinklenburg. 

BARNICLE:  That‘s a fabulous Minnesota name. 

CILLIZZA:  I love it.  State senator. 

BARNICLE:  Chris Cillizza, John O‘Connor.  Thanks very much.  We appreciate it. 

Up next, back to health care.  Could Bill Clinton be President Obama‘s secret weapon to keep the Democrats in line when it comes time for a vote?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  The first question President Obama was asked following his cabinet meeting today was whether he accepted the apology of Congressman Joe Wilson.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m a big believer that we all make mistakes.  He apologized quickly and without equivocation.  And I‘m appreciative of that.  I do think that, as I said last night, we have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people‘s motives. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  OK, folks, we‘re going to play pretend TV now.  We‘re going to pretend that Joe Wilson had strep throat last night and never said what he said.  And we‘re going to ask the “Politico‘s” Roger Simon and Ceci Connolly from the “Washington Post” what they think the story would have been?  What would we be talking about tonight?  What would we be reading in print and electronic about the speech last night?  Ceci, if Joe Wilson had strep throat? 

CECI CONNOLLY, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think we would be spending much more time trying to figure out if the speech actually moved the public or moved those members of Congress, because, as you certainly recall, Mike, it was a pretty rough August season for Obama and health care reform.  And the whole idea behind that joint address to Congress last night was to try to change the dynamic and shift the agenda. 

The other thing that, frankly, I‘ve been doing all day today is trying to ask more about what exactly is this 900 billion dollar Obama plan that he now is calling his plan? 

BARNICLE:  Roger, what do you think we‘d be doing? 

ROGER SIMON, “THE POLITICO”:  I think Ceci‘s exactly right.  I think the first question he would have gotten after that cabinet meeting—in fact, it was the only question he got—is how are you really going to pay for this thing?  Now that we‘re in the after-glow period of a very emotional and elegant speech, there are some hard questions left unanswered. 

He has promised to have a 900 billion dollar plan that doesn‘t add a dime to the deficit, and apparently will not raise anybody‘s taxes.  Does that strain credulity?  Would this be the time to ask him about that?   Apparently not, because we got to ask him about Joe Wilson for the next 24 or 48 hours instead.

BARNICLE:  Ceci, I don‘t want you to step on your lead here.  But you mentioned you‘ve been working all day on the 900 billion dollar question.  What have you found out? 

CONNOLLY:  Not a lot.  This is the interesting thing.  You go to WhiteHouse.gov and there‘s about three pages of bullet points.  Most are things we‘ve been discussing in health care reform for quite some time, the insurance market reforms, having an individual mandate, where everybody is required to have insurance. 

But there‘s very little detail on his new idea about medical malpractice.  There‘s very little about a McCain idea that he‘s embracing on high risk pools.  There‘s very little, as Roger states, about how to come up with that 900 billion dollars to pay for an expansion of coverage.  We don‘t know at what income level people would get these tax credits.  We don‘t know what small businesses would be eligible for tax credits. 

These are really good, serious, meaty questions we ought to be diving into.  Right now, the White House is not really coming up with the answers. 

BARNICLE:  Roger, in addition to all of those questions, without answers, there still is out there this whole question about are illegal immigrants eligible for coverage under this health care reform.  The president and many, many respected institutions, Politifact, print and electronic, say no, that‘s not in the bill.  But you keep hearing that‘s because we can‘t ask people if they are here illegally.  What are you hearing on this? 

SIMON:  I think you‘re right.  All those neutral organizations that do fact checking now say that the president is right; there‘s nothing in the bill that would give free health care to illegal aliens.  But you also have to deal with the reality of the situation.  If you‘re walking across the street and you have a stroke or a heart attack, you don‘t want the first thing that the emergency medical technicians do is check your pockets for a Passport or proof that you‘re a citizen.  You want care immediately and save your life. 

So, in that respect, everybody is going to get emergency health care.  But there‘s nothing in this bill that sets aside any money to give free medical care to illegal aliens. 

CONNOLLY:  Mike, if I could chime in here.  As Roger points out, it‘s the law of the land right now in this country that hospitals can‘t turn away anyone who is in need of emergency care.  That‘s always going to continue.  But there‘s an interesting kind of health care pickle here when you talk about undocumented immigrants.  And that is they are getting some of that medical care today.  We‘re all helping pay for that cost.  In a way, you could make a policy argument that you might save money if you brought them in for more of the primary care and prevention. 

I know that politically that is a very volatile issue.  But if you‘re talking about how to give smart medical care and when to do it, at an affordable price, it‘s generally on the front end of care.  So we‘ve got a very strange kind of dynamic unfolding here.

And I also just want to point out that what we‘ve learned in a good number of studies is that while those immigrants are indeed getting some care at the emergency room, overall they access much less medical care than the rest of us do.  They just are not inclined to go and seek much care. 

BARNICLE:  Right, out of fear.  Out of fear.  But your other point, you‘re absolutely right.  Any Friday night in any big city hospital emergency room proves your point.  Ceci Connolly, Roger Simon, we‘re going to be right back with more on the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Roger Simon and Ceci Connolly.  That, obviously, was former President Bill Clinton speaking at a Democratic fund raiser.  Could Bill Clinton help President Obama sell health care reform?  There‘s that question and lumped it into is this question, in the very few minutes we have left.  Let‘s start with you, Ceci.  I get the sense he may have moved the meter, President Obama, publicly last night.  Do you get the sense that he moved the meter at all in terms of votes in the House and the Senate? 

CONNOLLY:  You know, that‘s very hard to say today, Mike.  I can tell you that, just released, Senator McCain, who of course Obama made a big deal out of embracing a McCain idea around high-risk pools last night—

Senator McCain has put out a very harsh letter asking people to sign a petition against an Obama-type health care plan.  So that was really an unexpected slap from somebody who, at times, has tried to have sort of cordial relations between those two rivals. 

You also still have a lot of division on exactly what President Obama might do when push comes to shove over this idea of a public insurance plan.  Last night, he left it very up in the air, and that‘s enabled liberals and conservatives to right now say, oh, he‘s leaning more in my direction.  But eventually, somebody is going to have to make a call on this. 

BARNICLE:  Roger, does Ceci‘s news about John McCain surprise you? 

SIMON:  Not really.  I don‘t think President Obama is going to get any Republicans in the Senate for this, except the possible exception of Olympia Snow, who would be a good get, and maybe Susan Collins.  The speech last night really wasn‘t about bipartisanship.  It was about unifying the Democratic party and getting the Democratic party behind one plan. 

But, as Ceci says very accurately, we still don‘t know where the president‘s line in the sand is when it comes to the public option.  This is possibly where Bill Clinton could be a help.  Bill Clinton understands health care, first of all.  But he understands the fiscal conservatives of his party.  And he understands the progressives in his party. 

SIMON:  And he can try to bring them together on this. 

BARNICLE:  Roger Simon, Ceci Connolly, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, what you‘ve been waiting for, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

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