November 23, 2009
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan, Thomas Tobin; Sen. Bob Corker
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Four Democrats and a health problem.
Let's play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse-pestilence, war, famine and death. Now they have four new names, Lieberman, Landrieu, Lincoln and Nelson, the quartet of Democrats who just say no to a public option for health care.
Plus tonight, the bishop and abortion. The bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, has told a U.S. congressman, Patrick Kennedy, not to take communion because of his refusal to outlaw abortion. What does the bishop believe his authority is over public policy? We'll ask the bishop himself in the show tonight.
Also, independents' day. Independent voters, who were the key to Barack Obama's election victory, are turning away from the Democrats. In the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, only 20 percent of independents had a favorable view of Democrats, compared to 42 percent who had an unfavorable view before. Add to that the president's falling approval ratings, and you have nervous Democrats and giddy Republicans looking ahead to next year's mid-term elections. Could the Republicans take back the House of Representatives?
Plus, good news for Sarah Palin. Republicans in Iowa like her. Interesting news for Sarah Palin. Nobody else in Iowa does. Why Sarah Palin could win the Republican nomination in 2012 and get hurt badly-well, the party would-in the election.
And can Dick Cheney come up with one good thing to say about President Obama? Check out the HARDBALL "Sideshow" tonight.
Let's begin with health care reform with U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. He's a Republican. Senator, thank you for joining us as we begin the holiday season. Why don't the Republican Party, when you've been in charge-why don't you ever do health reform?
SEN. BOB CORKER ®, TENNESSEE: Well, you know, I've been there three years, Chris, and in my very first year, I offered a health care bill with Richard Burr and others that really did create the opportunity for millions of Americans to come on the roll (ph), to have the same kind of plans that we have in the United States Senate. I have a bill right now that I plan to offer as an amendment, if the-if the situation occurs that I can. And I'd like to see health care reform. I ran on health care reform and I'd love to see appropriate health care reform occur.
MATTHEWS: Well, here's the problem. Thirty-nine Republicans, including you, voted unanimously Friday night not even to bring up the health care reform bill. And your party has been in power many years with Reagan and later with George W. Bush, where you've controlled both houses of Congress, and never did you do health reform. And now you go out there and complain and vote unanimously against the Democrats even bringing the bill up for debate.
How can you defend your party-your party-on health reform when they never have done anything?
CORKER: Well, I'm just-I can only speak for myself, Chris. And I know there's a number...
MATTHEWS: Well, you can't. You voted with your party. Are you a Republican, sir?
MATTHEWS: Well, your party...
CORKER: I am. Let's talk...
MATTHEWS: ... explain its position over the years. Over the years, your party keeps waiting for the Democrats. It's like in "Peanuts." You wait for Charlie Brown to go kick the football, then you take the football out of the way. I mean, when are you going to kick the football? Just asking, and I won't ask it again. When is the Republican Party going to step up to the plate, to use another sports reference, and hit a home run on health care reform, do it yourself?
CORKER: Well, I hope that once we stop this bill on the floor-that, by the way, had Republicans offered this very bill, Chris-I think you and I obviously hail from different sides of the aisle, generally speaking-I assure you that if we had offered a bill that is exactly like this bill that's on the floor, you would be wearing us out-I mean, a bill that takes $464 billion out of Medicare to leverage a new entitlement, creates unfunded mandates to states, which are in deep trouble right now...
CORKER: ... uses six years' worth of costs and 10 years' worth of revenues, is actually going to drive up costs for private health insurance, you would be wearing us out. So we want to stop that bill.
CORKER: We want to instead move towards true health care reform. And I can't believe that you think putting 15 of the 31 million Americans that this bill proposes to do on Medicaid is health care reform. So our proposal is to stop this, and let's move towards something that's pragmatic, that actually gives Americans the same kind of choices that I have as a United States senator and that you have working with the particular station that-or network that you work for. That's the kind of health care reform that I think we'd like to see.
I have a bill that's drafted that I plan to offer as an amendment. As I mentioned, in my very first year in being in the Senate, I had a bill on the floor that created the opportunity for millions of Americans to have the choice of private, affordable quality health care. And that's where we'd like to see this go.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, the problem is, Senator, that all these years of watching politics, I've been waiting for the-I think Richard Nixon tried to do something back in '71, and nobody on either side really got behind it. Nobody (INAUDIBLE) He tried. The Republicans in Congress didn't do anything. We've had all this experience with Republican rule over the years, where nothing got even started on health care. There certainly wasn't a bill that was brought to the floor.
You said to me, What would I say if the Republicans had brought a health care reform bill to passage, where you had to get...
CORKER: Like this...
MATTHEWS: ... cloture-if you had brought a bill up, a major bill to try to get people health care reform, I probably would have supported it. I mean, I would-I thought Richard Nixon had a great idea back in '71, where he mandated businesses to give health care to their employees. I thought Nixon was right. I thought the Democrats were wrong not embracing that, but probably you would have opposed that, wouldn't you?
CORKER: Boy, you don't-Chris-Chris, we know...
MATTHEWS: I mean, now that we're getting...
CORKER: ... with the bill Saturday night...
MATTHEWS: ... personal here, would you have supported Richard Nixon back in the '70s, when he came out for health care paid for by the employer in the private sector? Would you have been for that, a mandated benefit?
CORKER: Well, I've said what I'm for. And I've said that I'm for capping the exclusion at 17 grand. It creates $450 billion. And I'm for using that to help lower and middle-income citizens access the private market. I've said that from day one. I've offered a bill that does that. That's the kind of reform that I'd like to see.
I don't think putting 15 of 31 million Americans that this bill does in Medicaid, which is the worst health care program our country has-I don't think that is true health care reform. And that's shifting costs over to the private sector, ultimately driving up private sector costs.
In our state, Chris, there's been a study that says that health care costs in our state are going to go up 60 percent if a bill like this passes. So yes, we did want to stop this particular bill, a bill that was crafted behind closed doors. Sixty votes were garnered for this behind closed doors. We know where this particular piece of legislation is going, and yes, we'd rather stop this type of discussion now and move towards something that is pragmatic.
And again, Chris, $464 billion coming out of Medicare, not even dealing with the doc fix or SGR, which is $247 billion, instead using that money from an insolvent program that would take $38 trillion in cash in an account today earning the interest of Treasuries to be solvent. I just don't think that passes the common sense test. So yes, we'd rather stop...
CORKER: ... and propose something that we think does pass the common sense test. And I don't think you think this bill, in your heart, when you move away from the TV-I don't think you think this is true health care reform yourself.
MATTHEWS: Well, here's what I do think. You say behind closed doors. And I watched the process on the Senate Finance Committee. No Republican supported this, full opportunity to offer amendments and pass it, you didn't. The Labor Committee, same deal. You didn't like the bill in either case, either form. So they put together the merged bill. You say that's behind closed doors. It's a result of the committee process.
Let's take a look at some Republican critiques. And I just think the Republican Party has been asleep at the switch here on health reform, forcing the Democrats to do this in a partisan fashion with all of the Democrats, rather than having some Republicans aboard. Let's take a look here at the Republicans and some of your colleagues and what they had to say during the debate on cloture Saturday night. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH: If this bill passes, it's going to be an explosion of health care costs like we never dreamed possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was supposed to lower the cost of health care. It won't do anything of the kind.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I don't think Americans really understand the scam that's going on here. I think Bernie Madoff went to jail for this kind of behavior!
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The American people are asking us to stop this bill, and we're going to do anything and everything we can to prevent this measure from becoming law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: How do you explain, Senator, that most people, when they're polled on this, say they not only like a Democratic plan, they want a health public option, which is further off to the left? Why do most people say yes when asked by pollsters, Do you want this public option to the private insurance plans available now?
CORKER: Well, I think people have had a lot of trouble with insurance companies, and I think there are reforms that need to take place.
I want to go back to what you just were showing on the air, what Republicans said on the floor. Is there anything that any of them said that wasn't true? I mean, I would ask you that. Using 6 years' worth of cost, and 10 years' worth...
CORKER: ... of revenues, is that true? I mean...
MATTHEWS: There's absolutely no denying that...
CORKER: ... do you really think that this is...
MATTHEWS: I've always believed that if you're going to take 30 or 40 million people that are sitting in the emergency rooms right now, trying to get some health care and waiting three or four hours at a time to get something fixed, they should have had the chance to go to a doctor for-that that's going to cost a lot of money. I think anybody who denies that is crazy. The fact is, it's going to cost more money to give people health care that don't have it.
The choice we face is, keep the emergency room stocked with poor people that can't afford health care and middle class people that don't have insurance, or do something about it. I would like to see the two parties work together, but they're not.
CORKER: Well-well, wait a minute!
MATTHEWS: And so the Democrats are going at it alone. Your party is not doing anything on health care.
CORKER: Now, look, I met with Max Baucus multiple times on the front end and told him that I was more than willing to talk about health care reform. I couldn't see how funding a new entitlement by taking money out of a program that's already insolvent, Medicare, an entitlement-taking money from that, made any sense. I talked to him about the unfunded mandates to the states, which we're doing. And by the way, you talk about the emergency rooms. I mean, this bill will add to people being in the emergency rooms because...
CORKER: ... that's the number one place that people-well, that's the number one place, Chris, that people on Medicaid go, is to the emergency room. And so this bill is going to -- 50 percent of the increase in Americans having coverage is putting them in Medicaid.
CORKER: I don't view that as health care reform. Ron Wyden had a bill that did away with Medicaid and gave people the chance to actually have private health insurance, and that concept I embraced. So I don't view this as health care reform at all...
CORKER: ... and I think most Americans are realizing that that's the case. I know you want to move on to another part of the sector, but I don't think anything that you aired that Republicans said on the floor a minute ago is anything but true. And I think, again, had I offered this bill, this bill in the form that it's in, you'd be railing against me because...
MATTHEWS: Well, I-OK, you asked...
CORKER: ... it just does not add up.
MATTHEWS: ... my opinion, and I'll give it to you. I think this country is governed best when you have certain liberal values but perhaps more conservative fiscal policy combined with it. I think this country is the odd person out in the world with regard to health care. Every other modern country has it. We don't. There's a reason why the American people keep saying they want health care developed at the federal level, because they wonder why we don't do it already. The Republican Party is probably on the wrong side of history.
But on the economics, you've got a lot of good points to make. I just wish the two parties would get together and we'd get the best of both of you guys, the fiscal thinking of the Republicans, the big heart of the Democratic Party. Thank you very much for having good fiscal sense, Senator Bob Corker.
CORKER: I agree. I agree, and I hope we'll do that. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: OK. Coming up-well, we've still got some time. Coming up: Big trouble ahead-thanks for joining us on this week. Big trouble ahead for the Democrats. They're losing independent voters by the droves, and that's particularly hurting the president, although a lot of Republicans are becoming independents. Let's talk about what's going on here. The largest group in this country is neither Democrat nor Republican. Right now, it's independent, and that's a big development. We'll be right back.
And we're going to talk to the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, about what's going on up there with the congressman, Patrick Kennedy, and that kerfuffle going on up there. It's probably the wrong ethnic reference, but that's what's going on.
You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Are independent voters out there ditching President Obama and his Democratic Party? Should Democrats be nervous? Well, NBC political analyst Charlie Cook's joining us right now. He's editor and publisher of "The Cook Political Report." He's the best in the business. And "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and brilliant columnist, again proving that again this week with his column for "Newsweek."
Let me take look at a couple of polls here, which we love to bring you guys in on polls. This is a fascinating poll, party ID. You know, like, if I ask you, What are you, at a party or somewhere, on a street corner or something, What are you, anyway? Pollster.com looks at all the polls, puts them all together into a trend line. Look at this. Independents have risen in the last six months to up to 36 percent of voters, more than a third now, more than either party. And Republicans are falling drastically down to 22.
Charles Cook, even though the president is the one trying to run the country right now and lead us, he gets hurt. But numerically, Republicans are getting hurt pretty bad in this shift to independents.
CHARLES COOK, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT," NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They have-they have not held-I mean, Republicans are being given a wonderful opportunity to pick up a bunch of seats, but they're not doing anything to help themselves. And that's the huge difference from 1994. I mean, yes, Democrats...
MATTHEWS: No contract yet.
COOK: Yes, well, the thing is, the brand, the Republican brand was not damaged in 1994. It is damaged now. You know, yes, they don't have a clear leader like they did with Newt. They don't have a positive message. They have problems with Hispanic voters. Yes, all that's true. But the biggest problem is they've got brand damage that may limit their ability to hit-they're going to get a single or double out of this election. They may not get the home run that they might normally expect to get.
MATTHEWS: Howard, is that because the White House to some extent has been smart in never identifying as Republican leaders Mitch McConnell, John Boehner-you never think of those people, you never see them on television. You see Palin, of course, and Glenn Beck, et cetera. But you never think of the Republicans having a coherent leadership. Is that part of the strategy of the people in the White House, never talk about them?
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think so. I don't think they talk about them at all. And looking at these poll numbers and trying to dig down into them-I had Gallup get out for me the crosstabs on independents and-combined with younger voters. In other words, how are young-how are independents doing things by age? And the Republicans are nowhere with younger independents. Obama's keeping them. He's keeping them up to the age of about 50, 55. The Republicans have made no inroads there. And to the extent that younger people and-younger independents look at the Republicans, they don't see people who they sympathize with at this point.
MATTHEWS: So let's take a look at the latest "Wall Street Journal" poll, NBC poll, of course, same poll. President Obama had a 51 percent approval rating in the last poll, though, obviously, people have heard he's dipped below that in other polls. But among independents, the president's down to 41. and catch this. By 2 to 1, independents had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, Charlie. I think the president is so much more popular than the Democratic Party.
COOK: There is...
MATTHEWS: He just is.
COOK: There is...
MATTHEWS: And I think he won the election not because he was a Democrat but because he was Barack Obama.
COOK: No, that's right. The thing is, among the independents, they like him. They think he's a very bright guy. They think he's incredibly knowledgeable. There is a big contrast between him and President Bush.
MATTHEWS: And he's clean.
MATTHEWS: I mean, clean politically. Doesn't have a problem...
COOK: There's a "but" coming. But they're not sure about his agenda. They're not sure about the specifics on the issues. But those warm and fuzzy feelings that these independent voters have towards Barack Obama, they do not have towards the Democratic Party.
And-and the problem is, with independents, the older independents are worried about the deficit. That's a signature issue with independents, is spending and the deficit.
He's lost-Obama has lost those older ones. That's why he has declined among independents.
MATTHEWS: So, it's interesting. What's hurt the president are two things, and now just to get to the policy problem, if you're him, or the people around him. There's two concerns people have, people that read the papers. And older people especially have the time to do that and worry about money, because they're trying to keep it.
They're worried about the debt, worried about deficits growing every year. People out there in their earning years, people that are 30 and 40 and even 25 out there, trying to make a buck, those people are worried about jobs.
Here's the-here's the conflict, the rub, if you will. The president goes out and spend more money to create more jobs, he runs up the deficit. If he holds back and makes the deficit-conscious people happy, no more jobs. So, he has to decide who he has to appeal to the next year, right?
FINEMAN: Yes, he does.
MATTHEWS: If you're Larry Summers, and you're these guys, Rahm Emanuel, and they're sitting around and advising the president, and Joe Biden, you're going, you know, Mr. President, you have got to make up your mind here. You have to decide whether you're going to go and work with the working people, 30, 40 years old, trying to make a buck, or worry about the older people, if you're just talking in terms of politics.
COOK: No, clearly, there is a squeeze play going on, do something about the economy, jobs, vs. don't aggravate the deficit, don't-you know, don't expand the role of government.
MATTHEWS: Which way are they leaning right now?
COOK: Well, the thing about it is...
MATTHEWS: I think they're leaning toward doing nothing.
COOK: Well, I'm not sure which is doing nothing.
MATTHEWS: No, not creating jobs by spending money.
COOK: Well, the thing is...
FINEMAN: Well, the health care thing is...
COOK: ... if you were just looking at it politically, old people vote in midterm elections; young people don't.
MATTHEWS: Therefore, worry about the deficit.
COOK: In a midterm election, if you only cared about politics, that would be it.
FINEMAN: Yes. But-but the complicating part of that is, only your base comes out. You want your hard-core base to come out in a low-turnout election. And that's why Barack Obama has focused on...
MATTHEWS: And older white people tend to be Republicans these days.
FINEMAN: OK. But they-but they focus on-that's why he's focusing on trying to get this health care bill passed.
The problem is, as he focuses on it, old-older voters are scared about cuts in Medicare, which the Republicans are talking about extensively, and they're worried about the deficit.
MATTHEWS: Look where the independents went in Jersey and in Virginia. Interesting. The exit polls in Virginia and New Jersey had bad news for the Democrats. In those two states, independents made up 28 percent of the overall vote. Chris Christie got 66 percent of the independent voters. And the other guy, the third-party guy, got 9 percent. So, that clearly means that seven out of 10 independents were going away from the Democratic candidate, Corzine. Amazing.
COOK: Well, I think that...
MATTHEWS: That would scare the...
MATTHEWS: ... dickens out of you.
FINEMAN: I think that-I think that's-I think that's because,
having covered the independent vote forever, as Charlie and I have, because
that's what you do when you cover American politics, going all the way back
to John Anderson, in the early '80s, spending and the deficit, that's what
that's what Ross Perot's message was about. That was-to the non-party voters, the nonideological people who worry about that, that's key.
And that-and Obama has lost the older voters among those independents.
MATTHEWS: So, independent voters don't want stuff bought by the government. They want their money back.
MATTHEWS: They don't want health care. They don't want a big, aggressive foreign policy. They don't want the things that cost money. They want to be left alone. Is that what independent voters vote?
COOK: These independent voters are very skeptical about this health care plan. And they have been skeptical for a long time.
I mean, I think President Obama is doing this because he wants to do it. There is not a lot of polling that's telling him you have got to get this done.
COOK: I think the danger here is, in trying to be a great historic president, will it cost him being a good president?
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, in the next year, a year from now-I read about this again this morning when I was going through all the papers and the clips from the weekend and everything-there seems to be a growing consensus that the president is willing to take a hit next year, because that's what you get from trying to do the big stuff like health care, on the idea that the economy will be back in great shape by 2012.
Could he lose 40 seats next year, and still come back and get reelected, Charlie?
COOK: History would say...
MATTHEWS: Clinton did.
COOK: Clinton did. And-and Reagan lost 26 seats in 1982.
MATTHEWS: And Clinton lost 52.
COOK: Yes. So...
MATTHEWS: That seems to be the pattern.
COOK: Well, but the thing is...
MATTHEWS: Is that doable?
COOK: It is doable. What you could actually accomplish going that route, I question. But he could come back. Keep in mind, only one elected president in the last century, taking over from the other party, has lost reelection. And that was Jimmy Carter.
FINEMAN: Well, I know, from talking to people at the White House, that-that Barack Obama and his aides look to the Reagan presidency as their template. That's what I wrote about in the magazine this week.
He thinks of himself, Obama does, as Reagan in reverse. Just as Reagan laid down his big marker with the tax cuts, with the pro-market tax cuts of the beginning of his administration in '81, and then got hammered in '82, then came back and won the presidency in '84, Barack Obama, who wants to do big things, said, I'm going to do the health care thing first.
FINEMAN: It's Reagan in reverse, something for government. And I'm going to get hammered in the midterms, but, because I did that, and if the economy comes back, I'm going to get reelected.
MATTHEWS: I think that was a great column.
FINEMAN: I know that's-at least that's their theory. Whether it will work or not, I don't know.
COOK: When you're a president and you say, you know what, I'm going to do something tough, I'm going to cut your taxes, that's not the big lift that, let's rearrange a sixth of the economy.
FINEMAN: Yes. Well, that's true.
COOK: I mean, cutting...
MATTHEWS: But, if you're a liberal, you can't go the Republican way.
COOK: That's true.
FINEMAN: On the other hand, Ronald Reagan was-was coming into a Washington that still was the Washington of the Democrats.
MATTHEWS: OK, got to go. Got to go.
It's a great debate.
Charlie Cook, thank you-Howard Fineman.
Up next: Dick Cheney's newest assault on the Obama administration. It's getting a little old, isn't it? All he does is climb out from under that bridge and bite this guy's ankle every couple hours.
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MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, and time for the "Sideshow."
Well, Thanksgiving is coming, and nothing says the holiday season like Dick Cheney. He's picked out a conservative radio talk show guy to offer up some nasty November thoughts about the president. He says that ceremonial bow to the emperor of Japan was not just wrong, but harmful. He says that the president just doesn't look at America the way most Americans do, that Obama's overseas trips have been very upsetting.
He says that the reason the attorney general decided to try those 9/11 terrorists up in New York was for propaganda purposes. Here he is.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I
can't for the life of me figure out what Holder's intent here, in terms of having Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in a civilian court, other than to-to have some kind of show trial here.
They will simply use it as a platform to argue their case. They don't have a defense to speak of. It will be a place for them to stand up and-and spread the terrible ideology that they adhere to.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He sounds like he is always going to burp at any moment.
Anyway, could it be that the Obama administration simply has a different set of values than Dick Cheney does? Does every political difference has been to be harmful, upsetting and evil?
Next out, crazy-the crazy. Al Gore showed up on "SNL" this weekend to debut a new strategy on climate change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Celebrate him. And this is the way to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are well on your way. Is there anything that you kind of picked to-picked from Michael Jackson?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. I bumped into him having dinner the other night-that was not the right clip-and Bourbon Steak house in Georgetown. Could this be a case of who laughs last laughs best? We will have that clip in the second edition tonight.
Up next: U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Ted Kennedy, has been instructed by his Roman Catholic bishop not to take holy communion, due to his views on abortion rights. We will ask Bishop Tobin, Thomas Tobin, about the line between public office and private life next.
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HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Hampton Pearson with your CNBC "Market Wrap."
Stocks rallying today on an encouraging home sales report and a pullback in the dollar-the Dow Jones industrial jumping 132 points, the S&P 500 adding almost 15 points, and the Nasdaq climbing 30 points, investor optimism fueled by October's record 10.1 percent surge in existing home sales. Analysts say it's good news for the housing sector, but also for banks, as it helps dispel the myth that banks are not lending.
But the dollar retreating again today, hitting a six-week low against the yen. As we have seen in recent weeks, that translates into gains in commodities and energy stocks, with oil settling at $77.5 a barrel, after hitting near $80 a barrel earlier in the day.
In earnings news, Hewlett-Packard, the final Dow component to post, H.P. results top Wall Street estimates, with quarterly earnings up 14 percent.
That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN F. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will, directly or indirectly, upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That's John F. Kennedy, of course, back in 1960 down in Houston.
The bishop of Providence has been engaged in a series of sharp exchanges these days with U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy over abortion rights. Over the weekend, Congressman Kennedy revealed that Bishop Tobin, Thomas Tobin, had asked him not to receive communion because of his support for abortion rights in Congress.
Bishop Thomas Tobin joins us now.
Your Excellency, what do you make of that quote from Kennedy back in '60; "I believe in an American-in an America where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the pope"?
REV. THOMAS TOBIN, BISHOP OF PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND: Sure. And that's a good reference and a very famous quote, of course.
A little bit of a difference, though. I think what the president, the ex-president, was talking about was the establishment of a national religion. In fact, what we're trying to do is not dictate what the public policy should be in the United States from a purely Catholic doctrinal point of view.
What we're trying to do, most of all, is instill good human values, but also have Catholics who are in political office be faithful to the dictates of the church and the dictates of their conscience and the teachings of the church.
MATTHEWS: I don't see how you read it that way, Your Excellency. "I believe in an America where no public official, no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the church."
I don't know how you read that any other way than the way Senator-or then Senator Kennedy said it-no instruction on public policy from his church. You think he meant something different than what he said?
TOBIN: I suppose there are different ways of approaching that.
But the point is that any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith, not just for a Catholic, but for a member of any religious community. No commitment is more important than your commitment to your faith, because it involves your relationship with God.
And if your faith somehow interferes with or your job gets in the way of your faith, as I have said on other occasions, you need to quit your job and-and save your soul. Nothing can become more important than your relationship with God.
MATTHEWS: If you were a member of Congress-and I know you're a political junky, from reading about you and talking to my friends about you, Your Excellency-what would be your voting record on abortion? How would you deal with the issue if you got to vote in Congress?
TOBIN: Well, of course, I'm not a member of Congress.
But, if I were, I certainly would never be in a position of supporting any degree of abortion legislation that enables or facilitates or encourages abortion. Keep in mind what we believe about abortion. Every time an abortion takes place, a baby dies. I don't know how people of good conscience, especially people from a Catholic background, could take that position in good conscience.
MATTHEWS: Well, what law would you pass?
TOBIN: Well, I think laws that preserve and...
MATTHEWS: That's what we're talking about here, Your Excellency, the law, not the morality of the issue, but the law. You're-you're coming down on Congressman Kennedy and on other public officials because of the way they're approaching the law. What law would you write if you had the authority to do that on abortion rights?
I think I would write laws that pre-I would write laws that preserved and protect human life, to the extent that it's completely possible.
MATTHEWS: Right. That's the value. That's the value you support.
TOBIN: We recognize-right.
MATTHEWS: This isn't about values. This is about behavior.
MATTHEWS: What law would you pass? Would you outlaw abortion?
TOBIN: I think that was certainly where our nation would want to move, much like it was before that disastrous decision of Roe v. Wade.
I mean, that was a benchmark, as you know, that...
MATTHEWS: So, you would vote to outlaw it. No, I really want to get...
MATTHEWS: We have to get down to this, because your problem with Congressman Kennedy is his position on the law, what the law should read on abortion.
What should the law be? What should a good Catholic, as you would put it, believe about the law? Should the law outlaw, should it ban abortion? Is that what a good Catholic should do?
MATTHEWS: Because you're instructing people now how to vote. So, tell Catholics now on television how they should vote as members of Congress.
Catholics should vote as members of Congress on laws that preserve and protect human right. I don't know that I'm in a position to comment on specific pieces of legislation, because, as you know, there are hundreds of them and thousands of them.
MATTHEWS: Would you outlaw it?
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you a broad question. Would you outlaw it?
TOBIN: Absolutely, because abortion is the taking of innocent human life.
MATTHEWS: Right, I know. Right. So that's where your difference is with president-with Congressman Kennedy. He wouldn't outlaw it. Isn't that your difference?
TOBIN: That's a huge difference. And keep in mind that I didn't go after Congressman Kennedy. I didn't single him out. I didn't look for him. I responded to things that he had said when he initiated his first unprovoked attack on the church, and other things he's written since then. So I haven't gone after him. I've responded to things that he has said consistently.
MATTHEWS: You said that we should go back to where we were before Roe v. Wade in '73. So let's go back to that, if that is the prescription you're offering here. If you outlaw abortion at the state level, say at the Rhode Island level, or the Pittsburgh level in Pennsylvania, where you come from, or anything like that, then you make it illegal for a person to go get on abortion. So what does that do, in fact? What's the effect on human life? You want to respect and preserve human life. What is the effect that has if you say a doctor can't perform an abortion? Would you criminalize it? Would you put people in jail? If it's murder, as you see it, would you criminalize it?
TOBIN: Well, the first effect on human life is that we preserve human life.
MATTHEWS: How would it work? How would it work? That's one of the questions I have. How would it work if you outlawed it?
TOBIN: Sure. Well, again, I think it would depend on the specific piece of legislation that was crafted. And I'm not in a position-I wouldn't even pretend to be in a position to do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, that's what you're doing here. You're saying that Congressman Kennedy has voted wrong. Tell me how he should have voted. Should he vote to outlaw or criminalize abortion? If you say that a doctor can't perform an abortion, then somebody else might do it or they might leave the country to have an abortion or they might do it illegally. Some midwife could do it or somebody who flunked out of med school could do it. Unless you outlaw it, unless you outlaw getting an abortion, I just wonder if you're really preventing it in any way.
I mean, what would be the penalty for a woman getting an abortion in the world you would like to construct here? What would be the penalty for getting an abortion?
TOBIN: I have no idea what the penalty would be, because I'm not-
MATTHEWS: Well, you're talking about-no. But you're telling congress-people how to vote and what laws to pass. What law should be-
TOBIN: What we're trying to do-
MATTHEWS: No, no. Go ahead.
TOBIN: No, what we're trying to do-
MATTHEWS: I think you're intervening. I think you're getting into law here, and you don't like Congressman Kennedy's voting record in Congress. That's what you're really going after, where he stands on the law. A lot of catholics agree or disagree in every poll I've seen about what the law should be. They generally accept the teaching authority of the church, the magistar (ph), your teaching authority, your excellency.
Where the disagreement is where the law should be, what the penalty should be. I've never heard of anybody in the church, in the laity, in the clergy, or in the hierarchy saying a woman should be put in prison for having an abortion. And then I said, wait a minute, if you think it's murder, there's an inconsistency here.
And if there is a hesitancy to punish a woman for having an abortion, maybe that's instructive to you, sir, your excellency, because when you realize you don't really want to punish a woman for having an abortion, under the law, then maybe you should step back from using the law as your tool in enforcing moral authority.
Maybe your moral authority comes from the pulpit and from teaching, and a congressman has a totally different role, which is to write the law. Now, I've asked you three times, your excellency, to tell me what the law should be. And if you can't do it, maybe you shouldn't be involved in telling Congressman Kennedy how to write the law. You say you don't know how to do it. Well, you ought to try before you tell him what he's doing wrong. That's my thinking.
Because when it comes to the law, it's a secular question. It has not to do with the moral-we do a lot of things in this country we don't like, we think are immoral. But the question is, what sanction do you apply to it? And I'm asking you again with respect, because you are here on the show of your own free will, at our request. What should be the penalty for a young woman or a girl, even, to have an abortion? And if there is no penalty for it, are you really outlawing it?
TOBIN: Sure. And it can perhaps be different degrees of penalties, depending on the involvement of the person. There might be some penalty for the woman having the abortion.
MATTHEW: What would be appropriate?
TOBIN: For a doctor performing-
MATTHEWS: No, let's get to the woman. No, you have no idea, and it's not your area. And yet this is the very area you've transgressed in. You've gone into the area of lawmaking, and condemned the behavior of public officials who have to write public policy. And I get back to what John Kennedy said when he was under pressure to explain the separation between church and state, the difference between rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, which is the law, and rendering to your flock and people like me what is right and wrong.
And I would contest that your problem is you haven't gotten people to obey your moral code through teaching, and you have resorted now to use the law to do your enforcement for you. And the problem with that is you are hesitant, even here, your excellency, to state for me now what the punishment should be under the law for having an abortion, because you know, deep down, if you said one minute in prison, you would be laughed at, because the American people, catholic and non-catholic, do not think it's a criminal act to have an abortion.
They may not like it. They may think it's immoral. But they don't think it's criminal. And yet you are here bringing the force of the law, the authority of the police, and the bench, the law, the judiciary. You want to bring it all to bear, including the Constitution, to enforce your moral beliefs, which are very valid, and I happen to share them. But how do you do it under the law, your excellency? And I'll give you plenty of time to do this. How do you do it under the law?
TOBIN: Thank you. And I appreciate-appreciate the time to try to explain it. I think it's not unusual, and you would understand this, I think, to have the moral law reflected in the laws of a land. We do that all of the time when we say that you may not kill somebody. You may not steal something. You may not beat somebody up. It's not at all unusual to have the moral law reflected in the laws of the land.
Now, exactly how that is played out, that's not the job of the church, much as we're involved in the question of health care. We're trying to establish some very basic principles about health care. We're not involved in the great details of the 2,000 page piece of legislation. And the same approach would be taken perhaps to abortion. We believe that abortion is wrong. It's a matter of the natural law and our legislation often reflects principles of the natural law.
I'm not a legislator. I can't begin to write those laws. My job is to try to promote the truth of the moral law, and to encourage members of my church who freely choose to be catholic to follow the dictates of their faith.
MATTHEWS: I-your excellency, thank you for coming on. I believe you expressed a hesitancy of the clergy to intervene in terms of what sanctions should be. Words like murder and killing are used in the case of abortion, but they do not seem to apply in terms of writing the law, and you've made that very clear. And I would urge you to consider the possibility of error here, because in getting into telling public officials how to set public policy, you're stepping beyond moral teaching, and you're basically assuming an authority, which I don't think is yours. Anyway, thank you very much.
TOBIN: Obviously, we disagree on that point. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: About the authority of the church. And I do believe that Jesus had it right when he said "render under Caesar the things that are Caesar." And as you admitted tonight on four or five occasions, you don't know how to write law. And writing law is very tricky in a secular society, in which you and I live, even with our moral conduct, I hope acceptable to god. Thank you.
TOBIN: Sure. I will reflect on that, if you reflect on the teachings of the church.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir. Very much your excellency. >
Good news for Sarah Palin. Republicans in Iowa really like her, but the rest of the state doesn't like her at all, apparently. Could Palin actually win the Republican nomination for president and then get creamed in the election? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We're back and it's time for the politics fix with Eugene Robinson and Pat Buchanan, our political analyst for MSNBC. I'm not going to talk about what the excellency, the bishop just talked about because I let him make his point. We'll see how that develops.
Eugene, let me ask you about this big weekend. Sarah Palin, according to Frank Rich-I read his column every week, like I do yours twice a week. "The New York Times" columnist every Sunday-I think it's fair to call him a big liberal-quote, "Palin is far and away the most important brand in American politics after Barack Obama. And attention must be paid." What do you make of that?
EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think there's certainly more than a degree of truth in that, in that she is is a star. Whether or not she leads the Republican party-
MATTHEWS: You just gave her one of those Rex Reed (ph) lines from the movie, a star.
ROBINSON: A star was born last year. No, she galvanizes the conservative wing of the Republican party and other conservatives who don't necessarily consider themselves Republicans, in a way that nobody else does.
Again, I don't know how far that takes you. That's not a majority of voters. But it takes you pretty far and it makes you a player for as long as she wants to be a player.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: She's not only a political force. What gives her the extra dimension is she's a cultural force. Very much like how do you think of John Wayne? Is he a political conservative? Yes. But there's something else there.
AMTTHEWS: What is that else? Is it western?
BUCHANAN: It's dynamism. It's the fact she's a tremendously successful woman in Alaska. And also she's got guts. She's combative. She loves to engage. She's attractive. All of these things that most other conservatives, like a lot of-
MATTHEWS: You make her sound like Cat Belew (ph). I always liked Cat Belew actually.
BUCHANAN: She does have sort of a movie star quality to her, which is the added dimension that these other fellows don't have. Schwarzenegger had it. Reagan had it to a degree.
MATTHEWS: Your guy, Mitt Romney, has a lot of pizazz.
BUCHANAN: He's out of central casting, but it's a minor role.
MATTHEWS: I was thinking back about how they say in Massachusetts the shape of the field determines the result. Jimmy Carter, as we all know, back in '75 and '76 -- Jimmy Carter, centrist, four liberals running against him, Birch, Bayh, Mondale, the rest of them. He stood out from the pack. She's, by definition, being a woman, going to stand out of the pack of Pawlenty and Mitt Romney.
BUCHANAN: She's the greatest threat to Huckabee and also Pawlenty and the other conservatives. Someone who is a centrist moderate fellow like Romney-
MATTHEWS: Does she win today in Iowa right now?
BUCHANAN: I think it would come down to something like a Palin/Romney race. I will say this, if you had the poll taken today, she would win. It comes after one year-
MATTHEWS: I see organization ability. I think she's taking names, everybody she sells a book to. I think they're crazy if they're not taking these names down.
BUCHANAN: I don't think their organization-
MATTHEWS: We'll be back with Gene Robinson and-
MATTHEWS: -- and Pat. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We're back with MSNBC political analysts Eugene Robinson and Pat Buchanan for more of the fix. Pat, we had an interesting discussion, I thought, putting it lightly, with Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, because he has gone out and basically, apparently privately advised Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of Ted Kennedy, he shouldn't go to communion. Kennedy put that out publicly. It's really become a church/state fight here.
BUCHANAN: I agree with the bishop. He has a moral responsibility to teach and instruct someone who's doing something morally wrong, which is providing funding for the killing of innocent human beings. You asked him, you know, what should the sanction be? Should you really be telling lawmakers what to do? Certainly they did in the Civil Rights era. They said, look, I don't know how this law is going to be passed, but what is being done is wrong. Amanda Perez was ex-communicated for being against civil-
MATTHEWS: I'm not sure that anybody on the pro-life side-or few of them are willing to say a woman should be put in prison for getting an abortion. The word murder is used frequently.
BUCHANAN: They would go back to the 1950s. You put the abortionist in prison. If you put someone there, not the woman, she's the first victim.
MATTHEWS: How would that stop a person from-
BUCHANAN: It may not stop all of them, Chris. You can't stop all drugs by outlawing them.
ROBINSON: I thought I heard the bishop say go back to pre-Roe v. Wade. We all know-we're talking about the real world here. We all know abortion is not going to become illegal in every state. Women are going to go across state lines.
MATTHEWS: It's not going to be eradicated where it's illegal, either. Let's face it, there's always going to be a med student who flunked out of school who's willing to be an abortion doctor.
ROBINSON: The question you asked I thought was a good question. How do you criminalize it? What is the penalty?
MATTHEWS: Pat, I go back to this. Your hesitance to prescribe a punishment tells me you have a problem with calling this, in effect, legally murder. Is this murder?
BUCHANAN: It is the killing of an-
MATTHEWS: Is it murder?
BUCHANAN: -- innocent unborn. Does it meet the definition of murder?
I think it does.
MATTHEWS: Why don't you punish the woman?
BUCHANAN: If an abortionist does it, she's a participant in it, but I think she's a victim.
MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you. You're hedging, hedging, hedging. Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan. 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.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Watch Hardball each weeknight
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Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET