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updated 11/18/2009 10:28:40 AM ET 2009-11-18T15:28:40

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Michael Smerconish, Jeanne Cummings, Clarence Page, Steve McMahon, Bart Stupak, Cynthia Tucker

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Will the abortion issue kill health care?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Los Angeles.  Leading off tonight: Life and the death of health care.  Do the pro-life people and the pro-choice people have health care now in a death grip?  Word on Capitol Hill has it now that the pro-choice community is now doing what pro-lifers did two weeks ago, refuse to back any bill that doesn‘t back their belief.  Bart Stupak, the pro-life congressman at the center of this debate, joins us tonight.

Also: Baked Alaska.  The more we learn about Sarah Palin‘s book, “Going Rogue,” the more we realize it is less about policy prescriptions for America and more about settling scores.  Tonight, we keep score—the good, the bad and the ugly in the world according to Sarah.

And would Ronald Reagan even be not conservative enough for today‘s right-wingers?  He once raised taxes.  He increased the deficit.  He even made peace with the Soviet Union.  If he were running today, would a right-wing candidate like Sarah Palin run against him?  The civil war within the Republican Party heats up.

Plus, former vice president Cheney had some things to say about President Obama bowing to the Japanese emperor.  Is there anything Mr.  Obama does that doesn‘t displease Cheney?

Finally, U.S. Congressman John Shadegg attacks the Obama administration‘s decision to hold the 9/11 terrorist trials up in New York.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

We start with Sarah Palin‘s book, released today officially.  Cynthia Tucker is with “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”  And radio talk show host Michael Smerconish is an MSNBC political analyst.

Let‘s take a look at this.  “The Hill” newspaper reported last night that McCain, John McCain himself, denied Sarah Palin‘s printed accusation that his campaign stuck her with a $50,000 legal bill to pay for the cost of her vetting.  McCain said the bill was for her legal work, related to allegations up in Alaska that she‘d made improper use of her influence as governor up there to press for the dismissal of a state trooper.  McCain said, quote, “That was over the trooper-gate issue.”

Let me go to Michael Smerconish.  Let‘s start with you, Michael.  It seems to me that this is a book that was planned to launch her into the stratosphere politically.  Instead, it‘s taken her back to the intramural fight between her brand of Republicanism and John McCain‘s.  It‘s like a typical divorce, it‘s over money.  She‘s saying—and she‘s saying he didn‘t pay the $50,000 -- he made her pay the $50,000 for her own vetting.

What is this about?  What was it intended to be about?  What‘s it‘s going to be about, Michael Smerconish?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I

thought that the smarter book for her write would be a policy-oriented book, literally to take a page out of Al Gore‘s book and say something about an issue of substance and try and to enhance her bona fides in the eyes of a lot of Americans who have believed that she‘s just not ready for primetime, and instead comes this book.

And now, having had 24, 48 hours to reflect on it, Chris, here‘s the best theory I can offer as to why instead it‘s a book that talks about, you know, “Who shot John” relative to the ‘08 campaign.  Perhaps she wants to convince the American people that the McCain campaign so mishandled her that they never allowed Palin to be Palin—if you remember that old line about Ronald Reagan being Reagan.  And so but for the McCain forces combined with the liberal media, we would have seen the real Sarah Palin, and the real Sarah Palin is substantiative and is ready for primetime.  That‘s the best I can do.

Beyond that, I can‘t see any justification for this kind of a book at this time, except to raise—to make money, of course, because she‘s going to make a lot of money.

MATTHEWS:  Cynthia, this seems like a war within the Republican Party between the more radical fringe that she represents, or may represent at some point, and John McCain, the more centrist Republicans.  She seems like saying, Had you done it my way, the right would have won in the last election and beaten Obama, although she won‘t quite go that far, literally.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”:  No, she won‘t go that far.  She has had the good sense to not claim that if they had let Sarah be Sarah, they would have won.  But she certainly does suggest that the campaign would have been a lot smoother, they would have gotten more votes.  And of course, she would have looked better to the American people, is, I think, her suggestion, as Michael just said.

But you know, there is absolutely nothing about Sarah Palin‘s past that suggested she was ever going to let the past go.  She‘s always been petty.  She‘s always been vindictive.  She‘s always been a score settler.  So it‘s absolutely no surprise to me that she‘s using this book to settle scores.

Furthermore, there has never been anything about Sarah Palin that has been interested in broad policy.  She wasn‘t interested in that as governor of Alaska.  She wasn‘t interested in that as a candidate.  And so there‘s nothing that suggests that as she launches her book tour, she‘s now suddenly interested in serious ways to reduce the deficit or to win the war in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there she was in that shot with Rick Perry of Texas. 

That‘s putting two minds together.

Let‘s go right now to her attack on Steve Schmidt.  Here she is, I believe this is on Barbara Walters in the ABC clips they‘re putting out right now.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS:  Steve Schmidt, McCain‘s campaign senior adviser, has said publicly, and I quote, “She would not be a winning candidate, and if she was, the result would be catastrophic.”

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  Sounds like Steve Schmidt.  I guess I really, really disappointed him.  And he‘s the one who was in charge of that vetting, is what I was told.  So you know, everybody‘s entitled to their opinion, though.  I know truth.  And I‘m fine with who I am and where I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  You know, there‘s a—Michael, there she is, sticking it back to Schmidt, saying, if you listen to her words, Don‘t blame me, Schmidt picked me for VP.  He was in charge of the vetting, so how can he criticize me, the person he picked?  That is the strangest boomerang of argument you‘ll hear in most places.

SMERCONISH:  I just don‘t think that any minds are being changed by this.  I mean, those who constitute the Sarah Palin base—and I hear from them as radio callers all day long—you know, they‘re thrilled by the presentation, by the unrolling.  They‘re thrilled to have Sarah Palin, Governor Palin, back on the stage.

But to the moderates and the independents and the more independent thinkers, I don‘t know how she gains any ground.  I don‘t know how she increases the size of the tent, which is what she desperately needs to do, assuming that she has her eye on 2012.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, here, Cynthia, watch—here‘s another bit of—I want you to respond to this.  Here‘s another bit of her with Barbara.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  For some people, this is a business.  And if failure in this business was going to reflect poorly on them, they had to kind of pack their own parachutes and protect themselves and their reputations so they wouldn‘t be blamed.  I‘ll take the blame, though, because I know at the end of the day what the truth is.  And if it makes them feel better to be able to say, She‘s the one who caused the downfall because she had a lousy interview one—then so be it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s an interesting thing, Cynthia, where she really knows how to modulate her voice.  And when she wants to sort of go into the subjunctive or go into this sort of, This is ridiculous, she raises the level and she sort of makes a way of saying, These people are crazy.  It‘s interesting how she uses her voice.  It‘s very, very powerful.  I think it works, myself.  But your thoughts?

TUCKER:  Well, I actually thought that the roll-out to her book tour, her appearances on Barbara Walters, her appearances on Oprah Winfrey went very well for her, as well as could be expected.  She seemed relaxed.  She was charming.  She was even charismatic, at points.

And she has this way of pretending to be accepting responsibility when she‘s really not.  If you listen to her words, she says, Well, if they want to blame me, that‘s OK.  That‘s actually as far as it goes in those interviews, a pretty smart response.  So if you‘re someone who isn‘t already disposed not to think poorly of her, you might think, Well, let me give her another look, she‘s not so bad.

And so I actually think she is presenting herself about as well as she possibly could in these interviews.  Of course, the interviews are a lot kinder than they would be if she were running for president.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Michael, I have a theory that the reason we‘re talking so much about her is because in the Republican Party right now, it‘s hard to find a logical replacement, an exciting, charismatic replacement as leader of the party to the candidate last time, John McCain, who waited his turn.  It doesn‘t seem like there‘s a logical person out there.  It‘s a desert.  And she‘s a mirage, possibly.  Or you could say, in that old phrase, She‘s the tallest building in Topeka.  But clearly, if lightning were to strike the Republican Party, the highest peak right now would be Sarah Palin.

SMERCONISH:  Well, you know, there‘s no—there‘s no heir apparent that‘s readily available to the Republican...

MATTHEWS:  Am I right?

SMERCONISH:  Yes, I think you are right.  I mean, I think you are right, unless it‘s purely based on the economy, and I would say that Mitt Romney would probably have the strongest shot.

But Chris, she‘s great copy.  I mean, she‘s a wonderful story, the best and worst aspects of Sarah Palin we love.  We look at her foibles and we see much of our own lives, I think.  We look at some of those personal issues that have been so trumpeted on the newspaper pages, and who among us doesn‘t have a family member who has struggled with some of those same issues?  So there‘s a lot there.

And let‘s also say—I mean, because I‘m sure you‘re going to show that “Newsweek” cover sooner or later—she‘s easy on the eyes.  I mean, she‘s the whole package in terms of what we look for in terms of political fodder.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we don‘t have that handy, but maybe you have a copy there.  Do you, Michael?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You can wave your “Newsweek” at us.  Let‘s take a look at this issue.  I‘m just teasing.  Let‘s go to this issue of political correctness.  This I find fascinating.  This is a quote from her in her interview.  It hasn‘t yet aired yet, we‘re just going to read it to you.  I‘m going to read it to you.

It‘s about the fact that during the campaign—a lot of us who watched this campaign were very proud of John McCain just because he pulled back on the issue of the Reverend Wright, where there could have been an easy way there to score some points ethnically.  He could have really gone after the black churchmen and played up the fact that this guy‘s a screamer and he was very radical in his talk and tied this guy into a sort of inner-city, radical, angry church and really played the race card.  And a lot of us said, Good for John, he didn‘t do it.

Well, Sarah Palin‘s take on this is he made a big mistake.  Quote, “I think it‘s unfortunate that too many people in politics right now want to be so politically correct that they dare not question a person‘s associations or their past record, or their voting record even, because they would fear that they would be called a racist.  That‘s that political correctness that‘s going to do our country in, and I don‘t subscribe to that.”

You know, Cynthia, a person that goes that far and says that this country is going to go down on political correctness—in other words, it‘s such a bad thing to be sensitive about ethnicity or race that it‘s going to bring this country down, do it in...

TUCKER:  But that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  ... I think is a fairly wild statement.

TUCKER:  That‘s a dog whistle...

MATTHEWS:  I think she‘s playing to the right with that statement.

MATTHEWS:  ... to her base.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TUCKER:  That‘s a dog whistle to her base, though, Chris.  They love to hear that kind of thing.  They would love to hear—have her, John McCain and Sarah Palin, both tear into Barack Obama much more viciously than they did.

You know, I think Sarah Palin is an updated and much better-looking version of Richard Nixon.  Richard Nixon was full of resentments, and he appealed to a base of people who were also full of resentments, just people who were sure that the elites were out to get them and that the elites were destroying the country.  That is who Sarah Palin‘s base is today, people who are absolutely sure that politically—political correctness and the elites are destroying the country.

But let me turn that on its head and say Sarah Palin expects political correctness to be applied to her.  I thought it was fascinating on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” when she said she owed Hillary Clinton an apology because she had criticized Senator Clinton—then-Senator Clinton—for so-called “whining,” that the senator had complained that reporters were much more harsh on her, that there was a double standard, and Sarah Palin had criticized her for that.

But there she was on Oprah saying, you know, Now I understand, there was certainly a double standard toward me.  She implied that sexism was to blame.  So it‘s interesting.  She doesn‘t like political correctness toward her opponents, but she certainly wants it toward her.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, do you agree with that assessment?

SMERCONISH:  I believe in the perils of political correctness.  I don‘t want to adopt any of Governor Palin‘s words, but I‘ll lay it out in my terms.  I look at what just transpired at Ft. Hood, and I attribute the fact that no one put the hammer down on the Army major preceding his taking 13 lives because of the climate of political correctness.

Chris, I think we‘re all so damned afraid to offend one another, we‘re walking around fearful of a federal investigation or the proverbial lawsuit, that we discount all of those admonitions which tell us to do what?  Report suspicious behavior.  And why was suspicious behavior not reported in that case?  I believe it‘s because of political correctness.

So to the extent that she‘s arguing political correctness really can paralyze our society, in that respect, I happen to agree.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I just wonder whether we‘re—we‘re going to argue about that term for years, but I think the term “political correctness” was cooked up by a right-winger.  I remember it was Charles Krauthammer that used it the most on the right, the neocon right.  And I got to tell you, I‘m very careful. I wonder about that, Michael.  I usually like what you say, but I think that term is thrown around by people who want to have license to go after other people.

I think pushing Jeremiah Wright as hard as some people wanted to do was ethnic.  They wanted to tie him into the inner-city black church, make him as black as possible, as radical as possible, politically black.  They wanted to put him way over in the corner, where he really wasn‘t.  Do you agree with that or not?  You don‘t think that would have been used that way by Sarah Palin, if she‘d have been unscrewed in this campaign, allowed to be Sarah?

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t—I don‘t look at the Wright case as a case—and you‘re—who knows what all these different definitions are of “political correctness.”  I know how I use it.  I mean it in the context of the war on terror.

Relative to Reverend Wright, the reality is that John McCain didn‘t have to do anything because there were so many people out there carrying his water on that issue.  I applaud him...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.

SMERCONISH:  ... for not having delved into the dirt on that.

TUCKER:  And let me just say, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  OK, I still respect you...

TUCKER:  ... the reason McCain didn‘t use that...

MATTHEWS:  ... for not doing it.  Go ahead.

TUCKER:  I do, too.  But the reason he didn‘t use it more is because they polled it and they understood it wasn‘t working among independents.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll give him credit anyway.  Notwithstanding what you say, Cynthia, notwithstanding what Michael said, I‘m very proud of John McCain for not using the race card, and I think Reverend Wright was a way to do it.

Anyway, thank you, Cynthia Tucker.  Thank you, Michael Smerconish.

Coming up: The Republican civil war.  The anti-tax, anti-big government Club for Growth is targeting all mainstream Republicans and endorsing all right-wing candidates in these high-profile Senate races.  Is this the path for victory in the Republican Party or the road to extinction?

And later, Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, whose anti-abortion—and his amendment on anti-abortion policy in this health care bill is meeting huge opposition in the Senate.  We‘re going to see who wins this fight.  It could be nobody.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s time for the strategists.  Haven‘t seen these two blokes in a while.  Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist who worked on Howard Dean‘s very successful presidential campaign.  He was the sound man.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And Todd Harris is the Republican strategist who worked on John McCain‘s first presidential campaign...

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Very successful.

MATTHEWS:  ... who is currently working for Florida gubernatorial (SIC) challenger Marco Rubio.

You know, I‘ve got to wonder, I always thought you were kind of a tame Republican, Todd, sometimes too tame for this show.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Why are you taking the wild man position down in Florida? 

Is this big bucks are on the side of the Cuban-American or what?  What‘s

going on down there?  You‘re with Marco Rubio against a governor who‘s 30 -

·         or 20 points ahead.  Why are you going with the underdog?  What‘s your—is this ideology at work or what?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, you know, because I actually think that Marco Rubio is the mainstream, credible conservative in the Senate race in Florida.  He‘s only down 15 points, I should correct you, and just a months ago, he was at 6 and Charlie Crist was at 59.

So, Marco‘s message, Marco‘s conservative message, has made huge inroads against Governor Crist.  And it‘s showing with the way that the Crist campaign is reacting. 

Just today, Crist—Charlie Crist‘s campaign said that they‘re going to start their negative attacks against Marco Rubio.  So, obviously, they feel him fast on the governor‘s heels, and they‘re going to start attacking him for it. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Chris, I think that‘s actually...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go—let me go to—go ahead, Steve. 

MCMAHON:  I think that‘s a long way—I think that‘s a long way for Todd to say he‘s going rogue in Florida, right, Todd? 

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  Look, if being with Marco Rubio is going rogue, then call me a roguester. 

MCMAHON:  You and Sarah Palin.  You and Sarah Palin, you old roguester.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can‘t—well, here‘s the kind of thing I can‘t figure out.  What‘s wrong with Charlie Crist?  He‘s governor down there.  He accepted all that stimulus money, like any governor who is sane would, because the government already paid it.  The taxpayers had already coughed it up.  It was already spent.  He might as well shake hands and accept it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did he do so wrong down there? 

HARRIS:  The problem, Chris, is not the accepting of the stimulus money.  It‘s that Charlie Crist had an opportunity to stand up to President Obama and say, you know what, instead of this massive stimulus giveaway, we ought to cut taxes and put money directly into the households of people who need it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HARRIS:  That‘s what Marco Rubio would have supported. 

MCMAHON:  Todd...

HARRIS:  But—but—hold on.  Hold on, Steve. 

That—that picture that everyone is going to be talking about, the picture of Charlie Crist embracing President Obama, the reason why that picture is so powerful is because it advances the narrative that people already thought about Charlie Crist, which was that he lacked...

MATTHEWS:  OK, here is your—here is your...

HARRIS:  ... political conviction. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s your Hillary and Mrs. Arafat picture, basically, the one you‘re—I‘m just kidding.  It‘s the same kind of thing you guys are doing.

Here‘s the Club for Growth ad you‘re not even supposedly paying for.  It‘s the Club for Growth, the group that‘s paying for it.  And it shows this anti-Crist—well, here‘s the anti-Crist ad that‘s running.  Let‘s listen and let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLUB FOR GROWTH AD)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST ®, FLORIDA:  We know that it‘s important that we pass a stimulus package. 

NARRATOR:  Tell Governor Crist to work on fixing Florida‘s economy, not passing more debt to our children. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  This embrace is the embrace of death. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what do you think of this, Steve, that you have got a governor of Florida down there who is enormously popular, got overwhelmingly elected down there, was headed towards the Senate.  And now these guys have—have basically hit him from the side there.  And maybe they will knock him off.  Then the question is, is Marco Rubio a stronger candidate to face the Democrats, Steve McMahon? 

MCMAHON:  Well, listen, Governor Crist‘s mistake was living in reality.  At a time when Wall Street was collapsing, there was a financial meltdown and America‘s economy looked like it was never going to recover, Charlie Crist had—had the decency and the common sense to take a stimulus package offer that the president of the United States put forward that could help put Florida back to work. 

This guy made the right decision.

MATTHEWS:  OK, just be...

MCMAHON:  Go—go—I‘m sorry.  Go ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Before we—before we write off Todd Harris as complete far-right and wing nut, you have taken the side of Kay Bailey Hutchison, the challenger against the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, the secessionist governor. 

Is he just too far-right for you?  Is that your theory here, that this guy who walks around with a blazer and the French cuffs, kind of a fancy guy for Texas, I think, is he just too wing nut for you, Todd Harris?  Is that the thinking here? 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  I think Kay Bailey Hutchison is a conservative who can actually get things done in Texas.  And, you know, Chris, your good friend Dick Cheney is actually in Texas as we speak right now endorsing Kay Bailey Hutchison... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  ... because he knows that, you know, when you put aside all the rhetoric and all the bombast, there are some things that need to happen here in Texas to move the state forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  And Kay Bailey Hutchison can get it done. 

But let me talk about that picture.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you mispronounce—why do you mis—Steve—I mean, Todd, why do you mispronounce Cheney‘s name, on purpose or what?

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  You know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  His name is Cheney. 

HARRIS:  Yes, I know that.  Well, I know that you pronounce it that way.

MATTHEWS:  But why do you call him Cheney?  Why do you call him Cheney?

HARRIS:  Why do you call him Cheney?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s his name.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  Yes.  No.  Well, I‘m not sure that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand why you go with the—you‘re going with some sort of other pronunciation. 

Let me go—let‘s go to this.  Let me ask you, Steve McMahon, do you think the Republican Party would be wise to put Kay Bailey Hutchison in the governor‘s chair in Austin?  Would that be a smarter move for them, politically? 

MCMAHON:  I think, politically, it would be a smarter move for them, because Kay Bailey Hutchison, notwithstanding the fact that Todd is saying that she‘s a conservative, has actually presented a pretty moderate face here in Washington, compared to Rick Perry certainly. 

And I think, you know, what you see here in the Republican Party is—is a civil war breaking out, where the conservatives are basically saying, we want to go primary everybody.  We want to go primary everybody who didn‘t cut taxes.  We want to primary everybody who didn‘t—who didn‘t follow our ideological litmus test, who didn‘t participate in tea bag parties. 

So, you know, it‘s a—it‘s a crisis of the Republican Party that they‘re going to—that they‘re going to maybe enjoy in the primary season, and they‘re going to pay for in the fall. 

Governor Crist is the kind of guy who wins general elections, because he appeals to the middle.  And the picture that Todd and the Republicans are ridiculing him right now of him standing with Barack Obama may hurt him in the primary, but, in a general election, it‘s the kind of thing that demonstrates that he‘s willing to come together for the good of Florida, which is what he did. 

HARRIS:  Well, I can tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Todd, surprise me.  Todd, what—surprise me.  Which side are you on, Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney or John McCain?  That battle seems to be roaring up again.  Is he right about the $50,000, this divorce fight between the two of them, or is she right? 

HARRIS:  I have no idea.

MATTHEWS:  Who paid for the vetting? 

HARRIS:  I have no idea.  I haven‘t read the book.  I‘m not sure that I‘m going to.  As you know, I‘m a huge longtime fan of John McCain.  And—and I will leave it at that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think you‘re more sane than not. 

Thank you very much, Steve McMahon and Todd Harris. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you.  

MATTHEWS:  Too bad.  We‘re going to help you with that pronunciation of the former vice president‘s name. 

HARRIS:  Cheney.  Cheney.

MCMAHON:  Cheney.  Cheney.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Thank you.  Look it up.  As we always say, look it up.

Up next:  Wait until you hear what Republican Congressman John Shadegg said about the Obama administration and their decision to try those terrorists up in New York. 

And, later, Congressman Bart Stupak is coming here.  He‘s the author of the anti-abortion amendment that could be a big problem.  It could spell the end of health care reform.  And, in fact, he‘s being met by the pro-choicers on the other side, who are just as vehement.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First: out of right field.

Last week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York called the president‘s decision to hold al Qaeda trials up no New York fitting, adding that he was confident that the NYPD could handle any security concerns.  Well, it turns out Republican Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona wasn‘t too happy with the mayor‘s assessment. 

Last night on the House floor, he made things personal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN SHADEGG ®, ARIZONA:  This is the time, America, to say, enough is enough.  We are not going to expose America, American citizens, all those judges, all those clerks, all those bailiffs, all those jailers, all those police officers who have to transport somebody.

And it‘s easy for them to say, oh, we‘re tough. 

I saw the mayor of New York said today, we‘re tough.  We can do it. 

Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it‘s your daughter that‘s kidnapped at school by a terrorist? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

Well, strong words for a decision that‘s been already made.  Late today, U.S. Congressman Shadegg apologized for the—quote—

“insensitivity” of his remarks, though he added—quote—“I think it is important to note that this decision involves potential risk of innocent life”—or “risk to innocent people,” rather.

Next: Cheney unbowed.  Dick Cheney has jumped out from under his bridge to bite President Obama‘s foot again, this time for bowing to the—

I mean, literally bowing to the emperor of Japan, a sign of respect in that part of the world, as everyone knows, where the emperor is viewed as divine. 

Here‘s what Cheney had to say—quote—“There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone.  Our friends and allies don‘t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.”

So, what did the former vice president think of President Bush holding hands for all those wonderful moments together with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia?  They talked—they walked and talked for a half-hour holding hands.  Talk about a deep sign of respect for our oil source in the world. 

Anyway, now for the “Big Number.”

Friends and foes of health care continue to spend big money on TV advertising.  You have probably seen it, but there‘s been a big change in the last month.  Opponents of reform are now outspending supporters 2-1. 

The biggest spender?  The pro-business Chamber of Commerce, which spent over $12 million just last month trying to torpedo the health care bill.  Anti-reformers are flooding the TV markets with two times as much advertising as supporters are.  That‘s tonight‘s big, bad number. 

Up next: the man whose anti-abortion amendment could be the end of health care reform.  U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan joins us next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks clawing out moderate gains, despite disappointing outlooks from two big retailers—the Dow Jones industrials climbing 30 points, the S&P 500 adding one point, and the Nasdaq finishing about six points higher. 

Home Depot posting higher-than-expected profits today, but saying its markets remain under—quote—“a great deal of pressure”—shares falling about 2 percent on that report.

Target stores also reporting better-than-expected profits, but, here again, a cautious holiday outlook dragging shares down about 3 percent. 

Luxury retailer Saks surprising Wall Street with its first reported profit in six quarters.  Analysts say the retailer is working with suppliers to lower prices on designer goods. 

And smartphone stocks helping lift the S&P today—Palm is up almost 6 percent, Leap Wireless adding 3.5 percent, and Garmin up more than 1.5 percent, despite concerns about navigation software built into Motorola‘s new Droid phone. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan put the abortion language into the House version of a health care bill.  Pro-choice lawmakers say it‘s too restrictive and vow to strip it.

Welcome, Congressman Stupak.  Thank you for joining us. 

This has been a hard fight for you.  What is your endgame?  Do you hope to keep your amendment in the final bill? 

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN:  Yes, we would like to keep current law in federal health care.  I mean, if we expand federal health care, we think current law, which is the Hyde amendment, which says we do not pay for the benefit of abortion, nor do we pay for health care plans which provide abortion.  So, we‘re just going to keep current language. 

MATTHEWS:  How many members do you have that will fight to the finish against a conference report, for example, that might come back with that language missing? 

STUPAK:  Well, I haven‘t really gone and counted.  And we want to see what a conference report looks like. 

Everyone keeps telling us we‘re going to keep current language.  That‘s what my amendment is.  The Stupak amendment is nothing more than current language.  And, if they keep current language, I guess we don‘t have to worry about it. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s the problem.  How do you find the current language?  The current language says no federal money pays for an abortion.  The president says no federal money can be used to subsidized abortion. 

And, yet, we have never had subsidies before of insurance policies that already exist. 

Let‘s listen to the president, the way he says it.  This was on “Nightline.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “NIGHTLINE”)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill.  And we‘re not looking to change what is a core principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is, federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Stupak, how do you read that? 

STUPAK:  Well, that‘s exactly what the president said.  We do not use federal dollars to subsidize abortions.  And we do not use federal dollars to subsidize health insurance plans that provide abortion coverage. 

Take federal employees, over eight million of them, federal employees.  They pay their monthly premium.  The federal government also pays part of their federal premium for federal employees‘ health benefit package.  We have never paid for abortion coverage.  Those insurance policies that offer their plans to the federal employees, they cannot use—they cannot have abortion coverage in there. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any compromise beyond which we have not reached yet?  Is there any way to reach a compromise between you, and, say, the Senate language that they‘re talking about, the Lois Capps approach, which is say that the money will be segregated? 

STUPAK:  Well—well, that‘s not Lois Capps‘ approach. 

Lois Capps said there must be abortion coverage.  It would be covered.  You could use money to pay for abortions.  Everyone had to pay $1 per month in the public option to pay for abortion coverage. 

Capps‘ language was—is nothing what they‘re talking about in the Senate.  The Senate, they‘re talking about segregating funds.  We‘re willing to look at it.  That‘s been offered in the past.  And you know what?  When we went to offer to segregate the funds—it‘s called the Dornan amendment—we were flatly rejected.  They wouldn‘t even let us offer the Dornan amendment, which says segregate the funds. 

So, I guess, on our side, we‘re seeming to wanting it both ways.  When it‘s in their interest, then, suddenly, they want to segregate funds.  But went we ask that there be a segregation of funds, as in the Dornan amendment, we—they just shut us down.  They—they‘re just—they won‘t give us our amendments. 

So, I mean, Chris, there‘s a problem here.  You know, we—we had a fair-and-square vote.  We won.  Fifty-five percent of all the representatives said we should not have public funds paying for abortion.  So—so, you win on the floor. 

Now, suddenly, they want us to come back and compromise.  Every time we have asked for something this year, they have said no.  Every time we went for a pro-life amendment on every one of the appropriation bills—it‘s is the first time ever—they said no, no, no, no. 

And then we tried to work it out in health care, they‘ve said no.

And then so they had to give me my amendment, and then we beat them, now suddenly they want to compromise.  You know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I understand you‘ve got the upper hand here, Congressman, because you‘ve got the bill through the Congress, the House side the way you wanted it.  But what I‘m hearing now from another member of Congress is, there are people on the other side. the pro-choice, the pro-abortion rights side, who now say they won‘t vote for the bill that has your amendment in it.

So you‘ve got two people, two points of view now willing to say, my way or the highway.  And is that going to kill health care?

STUPAK:  No, I don‘t think it‘s going to kill health care.  After all, it‘s the pro-life Democrats that really put the health care bill over the top.  Forty-one of the members who voted of the 64 who voted for my amendment, Democrats, ended up then supporting the health care bill.

Look, everyone is jostling for position right now.  We‘ve been consistent.  No federal funds for abortion, keep the current law, and let‘s do talk about health care, and let‘s not have an abortion debate.  The sad part about this whole debate is, we never talk about the good things that‘s in the health care bill.  We‘re all hung up on this abortion issue, which all I did was keep current law.  We should be talking about health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there anyone on the Budget Committee or the Health—the Finance Committee staff or Ways or Means staff that‘s trying to figure out some new way to compromise here?  That would achieve the goal of health care reform and maintain the status quo?  Is anybody working on that now?

STUPAK:  Yes, a couple of senators...

MATTHEWS:  Or is it just a battle between your side and the other side?

STUPAK:  No, no. a couple of senators and I, we talked today, and trying to see if there‘s some common language.  Here‘s my amendment, they had my amendment.  Well, what is wrong with it?  Where do you think the—for the pro-choice people, they say it‘s over-broad.  Where is it?  It‘s the Hyde language, it‘s not over-broad. 

Everyone agrees, but do we have to put a line in there that says, look, you can still have public—you can private funding for abortion?  I mean, my amendment says that.  But if you want a clarification, we‘re willing to put that in there. 

We are not restricting insurance policies or individuals from using their own money to get abortion service.

MATTHEWS:  Would you be open to an amendment to the bill that comes out of conference that says, even though no federal spending will go for abortion to support, to subsidize a policy which covers abortion, that insurance companies that now provide that kind of coverage to private customers must continue to offer it?  Would you be open to that language?

STUPAK:  As long as they pay for that policy 100 percent out of their pocket, I have no problem with that language.

MATTHEWS:  So you wouldn‘t mind mandating that so they couldn‘t stop offering that coverage?

STUPAK:  The law is very clear right now.  Insurance companies can offer that benefit all they want.  They can offer the abortion coverage all they want.  Just don‘t ask us to pay for it.  Just don‘t ask the federal government to pay for it.  The majority of Americans agree with us.  Don‘t use our federal tax dollars. 

But insurance companies can provide it.  There‘s no—we‘re not restricting them from providing abortion coverage.  Just don‘t use our money to pay for it.

MATTHEWS:  Which senators are you working with?  Are you working with Senator Casey or Senator Nelson?  Who are you working with to try to find common ground?  And how do you find common ground with the very pro-choice people like Senator Boxer, for example, or Senator Feinstein, or any of the very pro-choice senators?  How do you find common ground with them?

STUPAK:  Well, if you‘re going to get the extremes on both sides, then you can‘t find common ground.  I agree with you.  You really have to try to find people much like myself who are the moderate who will actually try to work with leadership. 

You know, the sad part about this is, we actually had an agreement Friday night before the vote.  There was an agreement.  This never had to be an issue.  They were going to put part of my amendment into the manager‘s amendment.  We didn‘t have to have this debate. 

But, you know, unfortunately, the extremes took over and then they said, OK, now we‘re going to have to run the amendment.  So, again, is there some common language?  I think there probably is, because I think the ultimate goal here for everybody is to have health care for all Americans.

MATTHEWS:  Well, good luck, sir.  I hope you can find the common ground.

STUPAK:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re in the position of strength, maybe you‘re the one that has to offer it.  Anyway, thank you. 

STUPAK:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan.

Up next, Dick Cheney hits the campaign trail in Texas.  He‘s stumping

for Kay Bailey Hutchison now, who‘s trying to unseat the secession-talking

·         well, the secession-minded governor down there, Rick Perry.  Will Cheney help Hutchison with the right-wing crowd?  Interesting question.

this is HARDBALL, where we ask them, on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, for all the hoopla surrounding Sarah Palin, is she running for president 2012?  Is that what this is all about?  That‘s what I think.  We‘ll find out, HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the “Politics Fix” with The Chicago Tribune‘s Clarence Page and the Politico‘s Jeanne Cummings. 

Did you hear what Congressman Stupak just said, Jeanne, that he talked about—the man is on top of the fight here, that he won the fight on the House side, he put in the anti-abortion language which covers any—denies any coverage in any of these plans being subsidized by the government for abortion coverage. 

But he said he was willing to look at it again and make sure it doesn‘t deny coverage to private customers, to people that buy insurance.  A major criticism of that Stupak amendment at the time, a couple weeks ago, when it passed was that it denied—it basically would kill insurance for any abortion coverage. and he says he would fix that, if asked to.

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO:  Well, I think that they might be able to tinker with the language and make it a little more acceptable to more members of Congress.  I do think Stupak was trying to write something that was narrowly defined, but there are arguments that basically money is fungible and so that his amendment had broader reach than he intended it to.

So it is a bit of an olive branch that he‘s offering.  I don‘t think it will solve all of their problems.  But I mean, the amendment right now says quite plainly that women can buy abortion coverage privately.  The amendment already says that, so I‘m not sure exactly what he would add to make the point even more clear.

MATTHEWS:  Clarence, he sounded like he wanted to move a little bit to the center there.  What do you think?  Did we make news there or not?  He sounded like he had the upper hand and he was going to give, or he was willing to.  He said he just—he basically admitted that the time that it came—that the people asking for compromise were the ones who usually don‘t ask for it, but this time they need it.

CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Yes, he sounds like that.  As a matter of principle, he‘s saying that insurance companies can provide for abortion coverage, just don‘t ask the rest of us to pay for it.  The question is when you put that down in legal language, as Jeanne Cummings mentioned, money is fungible and the pro-choice side is concerned this will mean that any company that provides coverage, even if federal money doesn‘t go directly to that coverage, will not be allowed to receive any federal money at all.  And that‘s the thing Stupak says is not his intention.  We‘ll see what happens.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the devil is in the details on this.  So let me go back to Jeanne on something we can all understand.  Should the president—

I love these symbolic arguments.  Dick Cheney has come out from under his bridge and has bitten the president‘s leg again, saying he should never have bowed to the emperor of Japan.  And he only just—look, I‘m Irish-American, I would have a hard time bowing to the queen of England. 

But they believe that this guy is divine in Shinto culture.  And I guess there‘s a special, well, dispensation for people that think you might bow to the guy.  I don‘t think I would have done it.  What‘s your thinking?  Cheney is jumping all over him on this.

CUMMINGS:  Well, and it‘s not just the vice president.  You know, I don‘t think that this is a major issue, and, you know, it‘s a tempest in a teapot.  But it is something that I think the White House has to think more carefully through.  I‘m sure they deliberated over the approach of the president.  The president obviously made a decision to take a deferential stance.

We‘ll see if it yields him any fruit.  If it does, then he‘ll be fine, but if the relations between China and the U.S. go frosty, then this may be something that people keep beating him up on with the argument being that he is inexperienced and he made an error, a rookie error.

MATTHEWS:  You know, this is the kind of thing where Cheney accuses him of being—Cheney is accusing him of being unmanly.  I mean, he not only bowed, but he bowed below the height of the emperor.  Obviously he was schooled in the protocol here.  But Cheney once again is making it into a macho thing.  Is he going to get away with it, Clarence?

PAGE:  Well, first of all, on the Web, people are posting pictures of Eisenhower bowing, of Nixon bowing when he went to China, of George W. Bush walking hand-in-hand with the Saudi royalty.  This is kind of thing that comes up every so often.  But it‘s a tempest in a teapot. 

Obama did deep bow, which is the way you‘re supposed to do it.  There are about five different levels of bowing in Japanese culture.  And so if the emperor is regarded highly, like Americans regard the flag, he was showing respect.  So this is Obama‘s internationalism up against the parochialism of Americans who want to find something to pick on.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Dick Cheney back in 2007 with the emperor of Japan.  Let‘s check out his situation.  Well, there he is standing ramrod tall, consistent with his current position.  The emperor seems to be taking it like a man.  We‘re going to move on from this topic and we‘ll be right back with Clarence Page, make your own judgments.  They‘ll probably be partisan.  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know. this is—I understand the Japanese emperor is held in such esteem, but, but, but.  Americans don‘t bow. 

Anyway, thank you.  We‘ll be back with Jeanne and Clarence in a moment.  We‘re going to talk about Palin and Barbara Walters, something we can grasp more, closer to our own culture.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Do you ever want to be president of the United States?

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  That certainly isn‘t on my radar screen right now, but when you consider some of the ordinary turning into extraordinary events that have happened into my life, I‘m not one to predict what will happen in a few years.

WALTERS:  One way you could have enormous influence is, of course, to have a talk show.

PALIN:  I‘d probably rather write than talk.

WALTERS:  Have you been offered your own talk show?

PALIN:  There have been lots and lots of offers in these last couple of months, especially, coming our way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So she‘s Ernest Hemingway, now.  I‘d rather write than talk.  Jeanne Cummings, where is the writing background coming from?  She had somebody write the book for her, this Lynn Vincent from the evangelical world.  No evidence of having written before.  Now she says, I want to go back to my career as a writer.  Is this delusion here?

CUMMINGS:  Well, it‘s all illusion. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this absolute delusion? 

CUMMINGS:  It‘s all illusion and delusion.  Smoke and mirrors everywhere.  You don‘t know what to believe and what not to believe in.  The book, there so many contradictions with Sarah Palin.  It is amazing.  And you know, I‘m sure that she—you know, just as she tries to do—where she puts out a book that basically is personality-driven and slamming insiders and then complains she doesn‘t get respect on policy and get credit on policy.

You know, so she wants to be a writer instead of a talk show host even though her greatest claim to fame is talking.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I just think, Clarence, that she couldn‘t say what she read when she was asked a simple question by Katie Couric.  And then she said she has got a book and it has been put out that she had a ghost writer for her.  And now she is saying, I don‘t know whether I should go back to my main career of writing.  I just think the whole thing is absolutely daffy. 

But as she proceeds on here, she will have a bestseller without having written anything.  It‘s amazing.

PAGE:  Well, Chris, don‘t forget she was a journalism major and that‘s what she got her degree in.  So I suppose in her head she‘s still a writer who just hasn‘t written in a while and she just got a little help, quote/unquote, with writing her book here.

MATTHEWS:  How many days, Jeanne, and then Clarence, will it take for John McCain to finally come out and say what George Bush Sr. said about Dan Quayle?  It was my decision and I blew it, but I‘m not about to say that I blew it.  It took George Bush Sr. a while to get that in his diary.  It was released by Herbert Parmet, the historian, later on.

There it is showing up in that book.  Is he ever going to come out and just say, I should have never picked Sarah Palin to be my vice presidential running meaning mate, Jeanne?

CUMMINGS:  Well, it‘s possible that ultimately he will acknowledge that.  But I wouldn‘t expect anything like that soon.  I think John McCain definitely does not want to get into this fight.  He‘s trying to stay away from it.  Depending how many more of his senior aides and advisers she attacks, he might.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Got to go.  Thank you, Clarence.  I‘m sorry.  Jeanne, thank you.  Thank you, Clarence.  We‘ll get the rest of that thought later.

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

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

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