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updated 10/15/2009 10:43:52 AM ET 2009-10-15T14:43:52

HARDBALL

October 14, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED

Guests: Sen. Olympia Snowe, Everett Wilkinson, Allen Olson, Wayne Slater, Samuel Bassett, Susan Collins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The main event.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:

As goes Maine, so goes the nation. That political axiom has come back alive and well in the 21st century. Olympia Snowe, a popular moderate Republican from the state of Maine, voted for the health care bill coming out of the Senate Finance Committee. She is now a key vote, perhaps the deciding vote, if any health care bill is to pass the Congress. The question now is whether Democrats can keep the health care bill that emerges on the Senate floor as close as possible or even more moderate than the one that the senator voted for in committee-the Republican senator, that is.

Also: Will she or won't she? Maine's other senator, Susan Collins, is now the big name in town. If she joins Snowe in voting for the health care bill-and that's a big if-she may just push the bill over the top. She joins us later.

Plus: To borrow a phrase from the Vietnam war, will Republicans destroy their party in order to save it? The tea party fanatics are now going after their own, after conservative Republicans who aren't far right enough, Republicans like South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. They're getting called traitor, disgraceful, Republican in name only, and much worse. Wait until you see the video of a Lindsey Graham town hall gone bad, disrupted by tea party types who just may be crashing their own party in on itself.

Plus, one of the tea party favorites, Texas governor Rick Perry, may be in historic trouble. Is Perry impeding an investigation into whether a man who was executed on his watch was actually innocent? I mean just didn't do the horrible crime for which he was convicted. Death and Texas later in the show.

And if she had won, would Hillary Clinton have picked Barack Obama for her cabinet? What she has to say right now in the HARDBALL "Sideshow."

Let's start with the first Republican senator to vote for health care reform, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Senator Snowe, thank you so much for voting-for-not for voting for the bill, but for coming on the program. But a lot of people are probably thanking you for voting for the bill, as well.

Let me ask you, who's not thanking you? What's it feel like to be Senator Snowe from Maine today?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-ME), FINANCE COMMITTEE: Well, you know, you hear all kinds of responses, but it's been very positive and encouraging because people want us to work together to solve the public's problems, and it's most notably, of course, is addressing health care reform. So I think from that standpoint, people want to see the system working in Washington. And that's, after all, what it's all about, is building the bipartisan bridges that are so essential to accomplishing that.

MATTHEWS: Well, I was lucky to work for the great senator Edmund Muskie for three years on the Senate Budget Committee staff, and I always looked up to him as someone who could be bipartisan. He and Henry Bellman (ph), the ranking Republican on that committee, were able to forge a bipartisan budget-it's hard to believe these days-every year.

Let me ask you, back home, is this a good thing for you?

SNOWE: You know, I think it is. I mean, I think people want us to reform the health care system, but they're concerned about how we go about it. And I think that's the point, Chris. We have to work in a methodical, practical way, not with arbitrary deadlines, in sorting through these issues. As you know, this is highly complex. It's costly. Given the context of the times in which we find ourselves, people are apprehensive and concerned about whether or not Congress will give this the right amount of attention and forethought to do it right.

So I think that's where the skepticism comes on the part of the public. It's certainly true in Maine. They want us to do something. They just want to make sure that we can get this right and that we don't create unintended and perverse consequences as we go through the overhaul process and what it means to them.

So we've really got to give it the time, and that's what I'm concerned about, is that we won't take-we won't have the patience and the perseverance to examine the issues and what works and doesn't work. And that's why I commend Chairman Baucus, frankly, for, you know, spending the time over the four months to convene the group of six. Even though we didn't reach an agreement...

MATTHEWS: Right.

SNOWE: ... it gave us the opportunity to sort through all of these issues in a deliberative and methodical fashion.

MATTHEWS: What is the deal breaker down the road you foresee? Is there something that might come out of that meeting among Senator Reid, Senator Dodd, Senator Baucus and Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff to President Obama, that might cause you to have to change your vote on the floor?

SNOWE: Well, you know, there-you know, there are obviously several things. Overall, it would be whether or not they add dramatically to the cost. Secondly, of course, is the public option. I think there are other ways of accomplishing that goal short of creating a government program at the outset that raises a lot of concerns about whether or not government will be running health care, making medical decisions, doing it efficiently and effectively or more costly. So there are a number of issues in that regard with respect to that approach.

Secondly, adding to the cost, making sure we have affordability. These are some of the-are going to be the primary issues. And finally, we have to know the final cost before we begin the debate on the floor of the Senate on the motion to proceed, that we have a final score from the Congressional Budget Office so we know exactly the expanse of this bill and how much it will cost as we begin this debate.

MATTHEWS: What do you see as the bridge between the Baucus bill that you supported yesterday, that is going to be probably the basis for the Senate bill, and what seems to be coming out of those three House committees, the Henry Waxman committee, of course, the Ways and Means Committee and the other committee? What do you see as the basis of compromise between the two houses?

SNOWE: Well, I think that, hopefully, that they would take the Senate Finance Committee's basis for, you know, addressing the costs within the health care system, not going outside health care to raise taxes, for example, having a very expansive approach. You know, I have recommended the trigger as a bridge to-you know, a safety net approach for a public option similar to what we did in the prescription drug program, and in fact, was never triggered because...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SNOWE: ... there were so many competitive choices. And the same could be true in this instance, frankly. But I think it'd be less ambitious than what exactly has transpired in the House that's raised so many concerns, and frankly, in some ways sidetracked this debate during the course of the summer in not coming up on the part, I think-you know, between the president and the Democratic majority, a coherent approach, with one approach, essentially, with a framework that would create a design for the system, rather than having multiple approaches...

MATTHEWS: Right.

SNOWE: ... that created a lot of confusion on the part of the public.

MATTHEWS: Well, I just heard you say something that sounds like a deal breaker. If the House version, which contains the notion of taxing the very rich to pay for health care-in other words, going, as you put it, outside the health care situation, the health care system to simply raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for a health care system, you consider that a deal breaker?

SNOWE: Well, that's-yes, that would be problematic for me because I don't think that we should do that at this point in time, given the nature of the economy. And we should maintain budget neutrality within the health care system in finding the offsets in which to accomplish that goal. Yes, I would find that very difficult to support. In fact, I've indicated I could not support taking that type of approach. And that's what we adhered to in the group of six on a bipartisan basis.

MATTHEWS: What caused the loss of the other Republicans? I've always been hopeful, or was for a long time, that Mike Enzi would be among those who supported a bipartisan measure, from Wyoming. Can you guess as to why he went from being a-well, he's a CPA. He's an accountant. He knows the numbers. He knows how to crunch them-why he went off? Because I was hopeful he would be on this team.

SNOWE: I think both Senator Enzi and Senator Grassley are serious legislators and contributed mightily to this endeavor that became the basis for the mark-up in the Senate Finance Committee yesterday. I believe they needed, you know, more time to work through these issues and making decisions and a lot more information at that point. And obviously, there were still differences, and we just didn't have the time to work them through, regrettably.

But they were very serious. They made very serious contributions, were there all the time. No one ever missed any meetings or conference calls...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SNOWE: ... and we all made a collective commitment to this effort. So a lot of what was, you know, worked into this program was a large part of their efforts, as well, even though they couldn't support this bill and some of the things that were in it. And like myself, I couldn't-you know, I didn't support some of these provisions, but I also felt it was important to have the process move forward because I think that's what the American people want. That's what my constituents want. They want us to give it the time to make the process work. And so I think we have an obligation to fulfill in that regard.

MATTHEWS: Can you see any other-we're going to speak with Senator Collins, your colleague from Maine, later and let her speak, obviously, for herself. We're waiting to hear very much from her on this. But are there any other senators outside of Maine in the Republican caucus that might come aboard between now and when this bill comes for a final?

SNOWE: Well, Chris, it's hard to say. I think it all depends on people's, you know, disposition and whether or not they want to support a health care reform bill of this magnitude.

MATTHEWS: I see.

SNOWE: I think it also would be predicated on the types of changes that are made on the floor of the Senate. You know the dynamic can change from day to day, and you just never know. All of a sudden, it could be a catalyst, you know, through the amendment process to bring together and build greater consensus. That's what I'm hopeful for, and certainly, through the Democratic centrists, as well, that I know will play a key role in this debate. So that might invite stronger and broader support in-you know, in the final analysis. Time will tell, obviously.

MATTHEWS: Well, I'm looking at Voinovich in that regard. But let me ask you the last question, the tricky partisan question, the leadership question. Can you tell us, if it happened, if it did happen, whether any one of the leadership, from Senator McConnell on down, that you might be punished in any way for taking this vote?

SNOWE: No. They have never indicated that to me, and I've had very constructive and positive conversations with, you know, Leader McConnell and others. And I-you know, I've never been threatened. I obviously know that they would have preferred that I voted otherwise, but I have no reason to believe, you know-you know, the rumors that have been prevailing with respect to that.

MATTHEWS: Well...

SNOWE: I obviously have to focus on what's right. You know, I don't get up every day worrying about the perks of the office. It's not what drives me or compels me to do my job. I like focusing on the issues and trying to solve problems. That-that's the essence of my obligation, so I don't worry about everything else that happens.

MATTHEWS: Well, you might be getting one of these Profiles in Courage awards from the Kennedy organization up at Harvard-we'll see-whether you want one or not. Thank you very much, Senator Olympia Snowe...

SNOWE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... who's out there voting for health care.

Later in the hour, we're going to talk to Senator Snowe's colleague from Maine, Senator Susan Collins, who just won a sweeping reelection up there. And like the senator that we just spoke to has really a lot of free rein to make up her mind to do what she thinks is the right thing to do, which is a rare ability in this political world, where there's so many pressures on people.

Coming up: Those right-wing tea party types-those people are going to come here and tell us why they're targeting even conservatives like Lindsey Graham, who has something like an 85 percent conservative voting record. They're going after these guys. These are not RINOs they're going after, these are real Republicans. We'll talk about why they're calling them traitors. Well, they will, anyway. These tea party activists say they want to purify the Republican Party. But at what cost? We're going to talk to two of the, two red hot guys coming here.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and Obama are guilty of treason, Article 1, Section 9! You're a traitor, Lindsey Graham! You betrayed this nation and you betrayed the state!

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Read Article 1, Section 9!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was the scene at a town hall meeting held by Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Again, it was last night. Are tea party protesters ready to take on Republicans and even conservative Republicans?

Former House majority leader Dick Armey, who now heads a group called Freedom Works that supports the tea parties, told "Politico," the newspaper, quote, "We will be a headache for anyone who believes the Constitution of the United States isn't to be protected. If you can't take it seriously, we will look for places of other employment for you."

With us now, Everett Wilkinson, who's the Florida state coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, and Allen Olson, who's a tea party organizer in Columbia, South Carolina.

So let's go to-let's start in Florida with Everett Wilkinson. Who are the patriots and who aren't the patriots, sir?

EVERETT WILKINSON, FLORIDA TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Well, the patriots are the Americans that are coming out to the tea parties, the 1.2 million that came out on April 15, the millions that came out on July 4th, the millions that came to town halls all across the country and the nearly two million that marched on D.C. on 9/12. Those are the patriots.

MATTHEWS: And who are the non-patriots in this country?

WILKINSON: Well, I wouldn't classify anyone as non-patriots, but...

MATTHEWS: Well, who isn't a patriot? You've listed who is. Who isn't? Who isn't one of your crowd that believes in the right things? Who are the people who don't get it?

WILKINSON: Oh, I think the tax-and-spend politicians, the ones that are spending future generations' money. Those are the non-patriots.

MATTHEWS: Well, did you go after Bush when he was in eight years of doubling the national debt, when he created TARP, when he saved AIG, when he did all those bail-outs last fall? Were you marching and holding tea parties then? I'm just wondering why all of a sudden the tumult...

WILKINSON: Well, actually...

MATTHEWS: ... just because there's a Democratic president. Your thoughts.

WILKINSON: Oh, Chris, I'm glad you brought that up, and you know, the

reference to Dick Armey. His organization actually came out against TARP

and received a lot of flak from Republicans, including, I know, Karl Rove and his-and the Bush administration, when they came out and protested TARP.

MATTHEWS: What did you do about the doubling of the national debt under Bush? What did you do personally?

WILKINSON: Well, I was-I actually supported candidates and policies to reduce it, so...

MATTHEWS: Yes. So you were against Bush as president.

WILKINSON: I was against the fiscal policies of Bush and other politicians that are spending future generations' money.

MATTHEWS: What about this war in Iraq, this war of choice? Were you for that? I always thought that was beyond the bounds of what I thought was conservativism, which is, you know, look out for the United States, defend us, but don't get too adventurous about changing the world. Don't get too Wilsonian out there about creating democracy, you know, way off out -- I never thought of that as a-I know it's a neocon idea, but there's nothing conservative about the neocons. Your thoughts? Where are you on that? Are you a neocon or a libertarian? Where are you?

WILKINSON: I'm an American. You know...

MATTHEWS: Well, that's-so am I, and so is everybody watching.

That's where it's being broadcast, in America.

WILKINSON: I don't-like most Americans, you know, we're independent and we're looking at policies, not politicians or groups. And you know, really, the-the...

MATTHEWS: So you're going to hedge on the war in Iraq. I'm sorry, sir. You're on HARDBALL. I'm having some fun with you. You seem like a great guy. But where are you on the war in Iraq? Was it the right thing for American interests? American interests? Was it the right to do, or did we get bogged down in another third world country where we're trying to teach them Thomas Jefferson, and the minute we're gone, the books will be thrown out the window? Your thoughts.

WILKINSON: My thoughts are that is was the right thing, and I support our troops. I was in the Marine Corps...

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

WILKINSON: ... Reserves.

MATTHEWS: We all support the troops. OK.

WILKINSON: I lost a childhood friend over in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: OK. I'm for that, too. But you thought it was...

WILKINSON: I support America.

MATTHEWS: ... the right policy to go in there?

WILKINSON: Pardon?

MATTHEWS: No, but was it the right move to go in and start that war, invade that country, take it over?

WILKINSON: You know, I think it was because...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WILKINSON: ... we were under attack, and we would be looking at al Qaeda, you know...

MATTHEWS: OK...

WILKINSON: ... forming camps and dealing with another Iran situation that we have now, so-you know, but this...

MATTHEWS: OK. So you didn't give it much thought, in other words.

WILKINSON: ... this movement, Chris, is about...

MATTHEWS: You didn't give it much thought because...

WILKINSON: ... fiscal responsibility...

MATTHEWS: ... you just said Iraq attacked us. They never attacked us.

WILKINSON: I never said...

MATTHEWS: So, you didn't give it-well, fair enough. You didn't give it much thought, right? You just went along with the Republican president. You saluted and went along?

WILKINSON: No. No, that is not true, Chris.

I went along with the American people. If you remember, most of the politicians voted for the Iraq war.

But why don't we go back to what the tea party movement is about? And that's fiscal responsibility.

MATTHEWS: OK.

The thing is that you come off as a libertarian, as an independent fellow, but the minute I ask you a tough question about policy and life or death or war or peace, you say: I followed the politicians.

That is not in your character. You are an independent American patriot, and now you are using your defense you went along like a lemming with the politicians. You know that is not what you believe. You know there is an inconsistency here between what you espouse as a conservative and what happened under Bush, big spending, TARPs, bailouts, payoffs, doubling of the national debt, going to wars of choice.

Say to it now. Let me get the bottom line here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Was George Bush a true conservative?

(CROSSTALK)

WILKINSON: Chris, the bottom line is very simple, that...

MATTHEWS: Was George Bush a true conservative?

WILKINSON: Bush was not a fiscal conservative, absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: OK. Was he a true conservative?

WILKINSON: And I did not support him.

MATTHEWS: Was he a true conservative?

WILKINSON: No. I do not believe he was a true conservative.

MATTHEWS: OK. Great.

(CROSSTALK)

WILKINSON: He doubled the national debt. We agree on that.

MATTHEWS: You made my point. We agree completely.

(CROSSTALK)

WILKINSON: Yes, 100 percent, that...

MATTHEWS: I think the war was wrong, too. I think-I think, in a different circumstance, you would say-if a Democrat had started that war in Iraq, you would have said-if Hillary had one or if Madeleine Albright had done it, or it was something in Kosovo or someplace like-you would have said, what a stupid war. We are taking our troops into the U.N. cause. We are taking them out there, when they should be at home protecting this country.

WILKINSON: Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: I think I can tell from your smile you are with me on this one.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

WILKINSON: You know, on 9/11, we had to come together as a country and defend our country...

MATTHEWS: OK.

WILKINSON: ... and do what was right.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

WILKINSON: I think we would have supported if it if it would have been a Democrat president or an...

MATTHEWS: OK.

WILKINSON: ... independent or a Republican.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Thank you, buddy. Mr. Everett Wilkinson, thank you for coming on HARDBALL. You stood your ground.

WILKINSON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Allen Olson.

Sir, what is wrong with Lindsey Graham? I always thought of him as a pretty conservative Republican. We checked his voting record. I'm sure you have. He is in the mid-80s in terms of the American Conservative Union. Why are you treating him like a RINO?

ALLEN OLSON, SOUTH CAROLINA TEA PARTY ORGANIZER: Well, actually, because he is a RINO. He talks a good game. He talks like he's a conservative.

However, if you look back on his voting record-and, actually, just last week, he came out saying, about Social Security, he is willing to meet the Democrats more than halfway.

Now, if you ask me, I don't believe that is compromising. I believe that is capitulating.

MATTHEWS: What is the issue on Social Security?

OLSON: Well, I'm not exactly sure exactly what the issue was. But Senator Graham had mentioned he was willing to talk to the Democrats on the issues of Social Security.

MATTHEWS: OK.

OLSON: And I remember the stuff that he was saying...

MATTHEWS: What do you think is the-what do you-OK. Where-give me where he is liberal besides-in terms of his voting record. He's thank our-I always thought he was sort of a Richard Russell conservative.

OLSON: Well-well, if you look back during bailouts, he was one of the first that was voting for the bailouts and the TARP program.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

OLSON: And he also came back saying it might be a good idea to nationalize the banks. That is not conservative.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Why do you think Bush did that? Bush did TARP. Bush did AIG. But did all that stuff to begin with.

OLSON: Well...

MATTHEWS: He sort of got the ball rolling back there with a $700 billion bailout. You know all this -- $85 billion to AIG.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Those guys on Wall Street under Paulson cleaned up under him.

OLSON: Yes. I'm appalled by that myself. And I think Paulson deserves not to be in the position that he was in. I believe he made a big mistake.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of Lindsey Graham on climate change, and where do you stand as a citizen in this country on climate change?

OLSON: OK.

My stance on climate change is not to punish the coal company and not to punish the oil companies. I believe there is a place for wind and solar, but I also believe it should go hand in hand with nuclear, with the coal industry...

MATTHEWS: OK.

OLSON: ... and also with the oil industry. They should be allowed off drill-or drilling offshore.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of climate change? Do you see these pictures...

OLSON: There should be everything.

MATTHEWS: ... of the icecap melting and the sea level coming up, and things like Kilimanjaro, there's no more snow cone at the top? There's something going on. What do you think is going on?

OLSON: Yes. Oh, yes. There's also-the last few years have also been the coldest winters and coldest summers on record, too.

MATTHEWS: So, you don't believe in climate change?

OLSON: Well, if you ask me, I believe it's just-no, me personally, I don't, no.

MATTHEWS: Where are you on science and things like evolution? Do you think evolution argument over these millions of years and finding fossils going back millions of years, do you think that is real?

OLSON: Oh, yes. Yes, I do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, you are not one of these guys who believe in the Old Testament, but you are not against science? So, you are open to science?

OLSON: No, I'm not-I'm not against science and I'm not against religion. I'm very pro-religion. In fact, I'm born-again.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But-but you don't have any problem with people who believe in evolution, who believe in climate change, who have strong commitments to a belief in science?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You have any problem with that?

OLSON: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Everyone has their own beliefs. Everyone has their own beliefs.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

So, Lindsey Graham-the terms used against Lindsey Graham-I think of him as a patriot. He was in the JAG Corps all those years. He's a total pro-military guy, like a lot of people in the South are. He's totally pro-military. He's-he goes to Iraq practically every couple of months. He really knows the war situation over there.

He has been a hawk with McCain. And you guys call him traitor. You call him disgraceful. You call him a RINO. That is what I don't get.

OLSON: No, no, no.

No, I call him a RINO. I call him a patriot. That's true. He is hawkish on the military. And appreciate him for that. However, I don't believe he is a traitor. And you're going to get some fringe elements in every part of society. That does not describe what the tea party is all about.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about the people at the party last night yelling at him? Called him a traitor.

OLSON: I'm not going to defend that. But I will-well, I don't defend that. I don't agree with them either. He is not a traitor, no.

MATTHEWS: Who would you like to see replace people like Lindsey Graham in the United States Senate? Who do you think would be better?

OLSON: OK.

Now, I'm going to speak for myself, not for the tea party movement. I don't want this to be brought up with the tea party movement. But I believe Sarah Palin would make an awesome president.

MATTHEWS: Really?

OLSON: And we do have another conservative senator down here in South Carolina, and I think he would be great for vice president.

MATTHEWS: Jim DeMint?

OLSON: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: So, you would have to have to have a-you would like to see a Sarah Palin/Jim DeMint ticket? And you think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president of the United States, based upon her partial term as-partial single term as governor of Alaska?

OLSON: Absolutely. You look what she did in Alaska. She got rid of the good-old-boys government up there. She straightened that state out. And she turned Alaska around.

And when she-before she got into the public arena with Lower 48 states and as vice president, she had an 80-something percent approval rating to those constituents. It didn't go down until the press started smearing her.

MATTHEWS: So, what went wrong? Why did get-why did she-why did she have trouble with simple questions, like Katie Couric of CBS saying what do you read and getting all flustered about a simple question like that, what newspapers do you read? Why-that is not a curveball. That is a simple question. I could ask you the question. You could ask me the question.

(CROSSTALK)

OLSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It's nothing. Everybody reads newspapers who wants to run for office.

OLSON: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Why didn't she just answer it? I never understood that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I understood the question.

OLSON: I can answer that myself, but not for her.

I just know for a fact that sometimes people don't-in fact, I'm kind-I'm quite nervous myself right now. But a lot of times, people don't do so great under pressure. Maybe it was editorial, like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, if you are afraid of Katie Couric-you

wonder, whether you're afraid of a news interview, you would be afraid to -

you would be strong enough to rule the world.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But I understand they are different situations.

And, sir, thank you very much for coming on. I think you did delineate your position. You are not far out. You're just somewhat out.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And you think Lindsey Graham is further to the left than you are. And you don't like his position on a couple of issues like Social Security and the other issue being climate change.

Thank you very much for coming on and clarifying that, Allen Olson and Everett Wilkinson before him.

Up next: Hillary Clinton talks about that first phone call when Barack Obama offered her the job as secretary of state. And she won, of course-had she won, would she have given him the job in her Cabinet? She answers that question rather-well, we will see.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

First up: the big courtship on "Good Morning America." Hillary Clinton talked about that big phone call from president-elect Barack Obama just days after his election, when he offered her the secretary of state post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, did he say State Department right away?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Oh, absolutely.

Absolutely. He said, "I want you to be my secretary of state."

And I said, "Oh, no, you don't."

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, did you really? Was that the first thing you said?

CLINTON: Yes, I said-oh, no, really.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I said, "Oh, please, there are so many other people who could do this."

But, you know, we kept talking. I finally began thinking, look, if I had won and I had called him, I would have wanted him to say yes. And, you know, I'm pretty old-fashioned. And it's just who I am.

So, at the end of the day, when your president asks you to serve, you say yes, if you can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you have called him if you...

CLINTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, obviously, I like the spirit of all this. I love this getting together.

Anyway, maybe this is why Obama got the Peace Prize, if you think about it. Picking Hillary, that is making friends. That is making peace.

Next, talk about a false start. The Republican National Committee launched its much-redesigned Web site, GOP.com, yesterday. Let's just it is not quite ready for prime time. Take a look at the banner, the faces of the GOP. Now, this face changes every time you refresh the page.

But, as you can see, pretty much every person is either a woman or a minority, not exactly, well, in line with the current Republican reality. In fact, remember the party's crop of presidential hopefuls last year, all white men. I remember, I interviewed those guys at a big debate in California at the Reagan Library.

Also, they have got a page up for the Republican Party accomplishments. Now, they are very big on what happened in the 1860s, you know, the Golden Spike, the intercontinental railroad, winning the Civil War. It gets a little weak toward the end, around 2004. In fact, that is about the last big entry.

Anyway, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, for his part, defended the new Web site, saying it reflects-quote-"what is going on in the streets." Boy, it is getting rough.

And, speaking of the right, got some concerned e-mail today-I never know what I'm going to get-about my comparison yesterday of Rush Limbaugh to Mr. Big. Remember him, played by Yaphet Kotto, in the great James Bond movie?

Anyway, I said I was thinking Mr. Big-or, actually, Rush Limbaugh got me thinking of him when James Bond said-you will know the quote here and why I thought of it-"He always did have an inflated opinion of himself."

Well, it was a movie reference with which I am very proud to relentlessly give you. But, in this political atmosphere, I shouldn't have gone into such detail about Mr. Big's demise at the end of that movie, about the CO2 capsule, especially in reference to Rush. And, certainly, I shouldn't have speculated, even metaphorically, or cinematically, about that happening to Rushbo in the real world.

By the way, we got word from ESPN late last night that Rush Limbaugh will be dropped from that group bidding to buy the Saint Louis Rams.

Up next: Texas Governor Rick Perry, the guy who talked up secession earlier this year-you know, leaving the Union, Civil War-style-is facing big questions now about whether he is impeding an investigation to find out if a man who was executed on his watch didn't do it. And this is really horrific. We will get to that story next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jane Wells with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

Stocks rallying today, sending the Dow above 10000. It's the first time it's crossed that mark in more than a year. Of course, back then, it was on its way down. The Dow Jones industrials soared almost 145 points. The S&P added almost 19, and the Nasdaq jumped 32.

Blockbuster multibillion-dollar earnings from J.P. Morgan building on Tuesday's strong profit report from Intel helped to send stocks higher. The banking giant demolished Wall Street expectations, posting towering profits of $3.6 billion, driven by their investment banking division. And, so, shares of J.P. Morgan Chase are up more than 3 percent on the day.

So, investors felt comfortable on betting on Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, both due to report earnings tomorrow-Goldman and Citi shares each climbing more than 3 percent today as well.

Crude oil prices continue to benefit from a weak U.S. dollar, climbing again today to settle above 70 bucks -- 75 bucks a barrel, this as the dollar slid to its lowest level in more a year as the euro, making that Parisian vacation very expensive.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We don't often talk about topics this stark, but was an innocent man executed on governor Rick Perry's watch? Shortly before he was executed on February 17, 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham said-quote-"I'm an innocent man convicted of a crime I didn't commit. I have been persecuted now for 12 years for something I didn't do."

Wow.

Well, a commission in Texas was investigating whether Willingham was wrongfully executed. But, two days before a critical hearing that could have been embarrassing to Governor Perry, Governor Perry removed four members of the panel, including its chairman, Samuel Bassett.

The former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission joins us now, along with Wayne Slater, senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News."

Wayne, you've been on the show before, so you start. Give us the capsule of this story. Back in 2004 someone was executed. They pled innocent. They were innocent it turns out according to a report that reached the governor right before the execution. But explain what happened.

WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Well, again, the fire was in 1991. Three kids died. These are the children of this Todd Willingham. He was convicted, executed, as you said, in 2004. The legislature created this special commission, a state panel to look into complaints. And this was one of this kind involving the death penalty. And this was one of the first complaints.

So, as you said, just two days before a hearing in which this commission, a state commission under Rick Perry, the governor, which had hired a special independent investigator who concluded that the arson investigation was flawed, fatally flawed, two days before a hearing which would have clearly embarrassed the governor, the governor came in, basically swept out his appointees, replaced the chairman of the committee.

And the effect of this has been no hearing and likely no hearing between now and before next March's primary, at least that is the guessing here.

MATTHEWS: Sam Bassett, were you sacked to cover up a wrong execution, do you believe?

SAMUEL BASSETT, FORMER TEXAS FORENSIC SCIENCE COMPLIANCE OFFICER: I

have no idea, Chris. It is hard for me to speculate. But I will say the change in the commission certainly interrupted some very important work for the future of criminal justice and forensic science in Texas.

MATTHEWS: Well, where were you on the commission before you were dropped-among the four people dropped by the governor from the committee? How close were you to getting to some decision on whether that man, Willingham, was guilty or innocent of the crime for which he was executed?

BASSETT: We had a lot of work left to do, Chris. And our findings were limited to the forensic issues in the case, not the broader issues of guilt or innocence. But obviously the forensic issues would have played into any debate about whether or not he was innocent or guilty.

Now where we were in the investigation was, we had received our report from our expert and we were very interested and I was interested as the leader of the commission in hearing all perspectives. I did not want to limit our investigation to simply what our experts said. I wanted to welcome input from people who may have had the opposite viewpoint. It would have taken...

MATTHEWS: Was there a crime committed? Was there arson? Does your forensic evidence demonstrate that there was or was not a crime committed for which anyone should have been executed?

BASSETT: Dr. Beyler's report raised significant concern about the reliability of the testimony during the trial that opined that there was arson in the case. So there was significant concerns, but we had not reviewed the whole record. We had not finished our investigation. We were kind of stopped at the halfway point.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to Wayne on this. It seems to me if there was reasonable doubt as to whether there was a crime, there certainly was reasonable doubt as to anyone in particular who committed it. That's common sense. If you don't know there was arson, how can you blame-how can execute a guy with any confidence for having committed the arson that may not ever have occurred?

SLATER: Well, again, I mean, this was not the only investigator expert who has really testified here, the one at the committee. There have been, I think, six or seven people who, right before the execution, in material given to the governor, and subsequent to the execution, who have raised serious questions about whether or not this was arson.

If it wasn't arson and they all raised questions about it, then clearly an innocent man was executed. But as Sam said, they weren't there yet. And Rick Perry basically pulled the plug before they got there.

MATTHEWS: How much information did the governor have when he-on what your findings were so far, where you were headed, Mr. Bassett? I'm trying to get at motive here.

BASSETT: He had a copy of the Beyler report. And we were required to disclose that report to all of the public and the media who were interested in the case the day that we received the final report. So he had the report...

MATTHEWS: Did you ever formally-did you-did that stop you from releasing the report that said there was no hard evidence that there was arson?

BASSETT: No. it did not. We released it immediately upon when we received it, as required.

MATTHEWS: But you couldn't take further action or-is the committee working? Is the commission functioning now without you four members?

BASSETT: The October 2nd meeting was canceled. As far as I know, no future meetings have been scheduled. There are four new commission members, Chris. And it is my understanding no meeting has been scheduled.

MATTHEWS: Well, the old argument is that justice delayed is justice

denied. In the case of this poor fellow, Willingham, he is executed, he is

gone. But as for getting at the truth, do you think justice will be

delayed throughout this campaign so that Governor Perry can get re-elected

re-nominated and the re-elected?

BASSETT: I have no idea. I know we were going to have difficulty completing everything we needed to do before the primary. But that wasn't our concern. Our concern was getting to the bottom of it.

MATTHEWS: Well, you won't get to the bottom of it now. Let me-let's take a look at what Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison had to say. She is challenging the governor in this primary coming up. "The only thing Rick Perry's actions have accomplished is giving liberals an argument to discredit the death penalty." Hmm, Kay Bailey Hutchison is a supporter of the death penalty. Well, that's one of her supporters, obviously. What do you make of this, Wayne? Is this going to be a campaign issue? Is it already?

SLATER: It already is a campaign issue. And remember, Chris, in Texas, everyone is supporting the death penalty. You can't be elected statewide without that. In the 1990 governor's race, the three Democrats running, including Ann Richards, all sort of jockeyed for position, who was stronger on the death penalty.

So Kay Bailey Hutchison's move was brilliant today, at least as a political tactician. And that is to say that who is the real friend of the death penalty? It is me, Kay Bailey Hutchison, the one who says, I'm not going to do stuff that gives liberals an opportunity to attack the death penalty like Rick Perry. It's an issue already.

MATTHEWS: Right. It is. And by the way, this is great fodder for the Innocence Project and other efforts to get rid of the-ultimately to bring into question and perhaps bring down the death penalty.

Thank you, Wayne Slater. Thank you, Sam Bassett, very much for this.

Please keep us up to date.

Coming up on here on HARDBALL, right away after this break, one day after Senator Olympia Snowe became the one Republican to vote so far in favor of health care reform, all eyes in the country are on her colleague from Maine, Susan Collins, and whether she might do something like this after some changes are made in the bill. We are going to talk to her and try to figure out which way it is going in terms of two Republicans joining health care reform.

You're watching HARDBALL, Susan Collins, coming up in a minute, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, will Senator Susan Collins of Maine support health care reform when it comes to the floor? This could be the second Republican to do so or not. We're going to ask her in person, Susan Collins, coming up here on HARDBALL in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We're joined right now by Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Congratulations, by the way, on your re-election up there in Maine this past time.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It was a difficult time for most Republicans. Let me ask you, if you had to do a GPS right now, if you had to navigate this president with his chief of staff who is now meeting with some Democratic leaders like Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Chris Dodd, and you had to GPS that senator in that room and the president ultimately defined his way to signing a health care bill that would have your name on it, what would he have to do? What would you do?

COLLINS: Well, first let me say that I think health care reform is important. It has to be a priority. And our system is broken. The Finance Committee bill is the best effort yet, due in large measure to the efforts of my colleague, Olympia Snowe, but it's not there yet. It falls short.

My biggest concern right now is that the bill doesn't do enough to rein in costs. It is cost that is the biggest barrier for the uninsured, that is causing our small businesses and middle-income families to struggle. And I'm worried that the bill that is before us now would actually increase the cost of insurance for many middle-income families.

MATTHEWS: Why is that? Because it puts a tax on what are called the "Cadillac plans," the high-end plans?

COLLINS: There's a number of reasons. First of all, the Finance Committee bill limits the choices of consumers to just four plans. In the individual market of Maine, 87 percent of the individual plans don't meet those standards. So in order for the plans to meet those standards, costs would have to increase.

Also, if you do insurance reforms-which I support, no one should be denied coverage because they get sick. But if you do those reforms, you have to do them in a way that you're spreading the risk over a bigger pool. Otherwise the costs go up.

And there are fees, not just from the Cadillac plans, but other fees that are clearly going to be passed on to consumers. So those concerns really bother me at this point.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the analysis of the cost of this bill that was done by the Congressional Budget Office was accurate?

COLLINS: I think it's probably close to accurate, but the problem is that half of the cost of this bill is paid for by cuts in the Medicare program. And that's another concern that I have. The Medicare program is already financially shaky, and what we're talking about with the Finance bill is taking almost $500 billion out of that program to pay for this new insurance coverage.

The problem with that is those revenues are needed to shore up the Medicare program to make it financially solvent.

MATTHEWS: When we come back, I want to ask you-thank you, Senator Collins. When we come back, I'm going to ask you about the pressure that may be on you from either side and, well, when do you think this is going to get done or not to your satisfaction. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

I wanted to ask a couple political questions. Has Rahm Emanuel or anyone from high level at the White House contacted you as to your concerns and possible needs for changing in this bill?

COLLINS: Yes. Although not within the last couple of weeks. But I've had very good discussions with the administration. They know that my focus is on reforming the health care delivery system in order to hold down the costs. I've had good discussions with them, and I expect I'll be having several more in the weeks to come.

MATTHEWS: I saw in the president's schedule yesterday, I got a look at it, that he met privately without any press around with Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, a Democrat. Would you like to have that kind of sit-down with the president and go over your-I know it's a little bit egotistical, but you're probably the key vote right now.

COLLINS: Well, I had that kind of sit-down back in September. I met for about an hour with Rahm Emanuel and about 20, 25 minutes of that the president joined us as well. So I'm not seeking more attention, but I am seeking some change in the bill. You asked what my predictions were, and I think we can do this, but it's going to take some give and take on both sides, but I think there are a lot of members on both sides of the aisle that really want to see a bill passed.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it's possible for the president-it sounds like you do, for the president to cut a deal in conference when it comes down between the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, that meets enough of the needs of his party and enough of the needs of the more moderate Democrats and you and your colleague from Maine, that he can possibly strike a deal, is that something that's doable? Can he square that circle?

COLLINS: I don't know yet. It's hard to say because the speaker has said over and over again that she has to have a public plan in the final bill. That's a non-starter among many of us on both sides of the aisle in the Senate. So I think that that's going to be difficult and I don't want to see a secret backroom deal struck in conference. I want to see a bill that is fully debated on both the House and Senate floors, and that's reconciled in conference.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the much-respected senator. Thank you so much for joining us. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now it's time for "THE ED SHOW" with Ed Schultz.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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