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updated 1/8/2010 11:27:05 AM ET 2010-01-08T16:27:05

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Cynthia Tucker, Richard Ben-Veniste

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  No siege mentality.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight, as I said, no siege mentality from this president.  President Obama has made it clear he‘s not getting into the bunker with Dick Cheney. 

He‘s not declaring war any where that Islam exists.  We‘re not fighting the Muslim world, we‘re fighting a targeted campaign against al Qaeda.  Those people who attacked us on 9/11, the people who tried to blow up airliners over the Pacific, they who tried to blow up that plane over Detroit on Christmas day. 

Let‘s listen to the president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses but not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don‘t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Good for him the president‘s statement came after he received a report on how a man armed with hidden explosives was able to board an American airliner with the intent of blowing it up. 

He said the intelligence community did not follow up on leads, failed to connect the dots and that there were gaping holes in the no-fly system. 

So what went wrong?  We‘ll get into that right up front. 

Plus, politics is not just Democrats who are in trouble after two of their senators and one governor decide not to seek re-election this year.  The GOP brand is badly damaged as well and Republicans are taking incoming from the tea party crowd, which side can take it the worst advantage of this situation. 

By the way, it looks like everybody is in trouble who‘s got an elected job right now. 

Also, question number one.  Which prominent Republican out there just said President Obama is engaged in a, quote, “extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America”?  Well, you may be surprised by this person engaging in that kind of lingo. 

And question number two, who is the top Republican in the eyes of Republicans in the country right now?  Here is a hint.  The answers to both questions are the same Republican.  Check out the side show tonight. 

We begin with reaction to the president late this afternoon.  Chuck Todd is political director for NBC News and our chief White House correspondent.  He‘s there at the White House now.  And of course, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent. 

I want to start with Chuck.  I was taken with the president‘s language tonight.  I will be taken with it for months.  The distinction in the way he talks about the world and the threat we face is so different, so 180 degrees different than Dick Cheney. 

He doesn‘t like the term “war on terror.”  He doesn‘t like that way of sort of snarling and getting in the bunker and everybody‘s out to get us and we got to change our ideological view of the world. 

What is he saying positively?  How is he different than the Cheney crowd? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, it‘s funny you brought that up, Chris, because, you know, for the last 13 days, ever since this happened, I think the president‘s been looking for an opportunity to figure out how to deal with this issue because, look, both the Fort Hood massacre and this—and Abdulmutallab, the guy, the terrorist who tried to blow up this plane, had one thing in common. 

They were—they were sort of growing extremists as loners, recruited by al Qaeda, almost taken advantage of for their own personal problems in their life, whether they were feeling—you know, they didn‘t have company. 

You know, we had Major Hasan who was looking for a wife.  This Abdulmutallab didn‘t seem to be able to make friends very well.  Wasn‘t comfortable.  Didn‘t have a good family life.  Whatever it is. 

And they‘ve taken advantage of that and I think this president has been trying to figure out how to talk about that a little bit and remind the Muslim world that, you know, as upset as the country is right now and as concerned as the country is about the fact that al Qaeda seems to be popping up in other countries besides Afghanistan and Pakistan, that he wanted to re-emphasize this is not a war against Islam. 

Look, it‘s something that President Bush would say too at that time, but you are right.  There is a lot of rhetoric on the right on this that says, hey, we should be profiling.  We got to be going after this. 

And you know what?  This is becoming a war against the extremist versions of some of these Islamic extremists.  So it is—it is a debate I think that is actively going on in this country and I think the president wanted an opportunity to address it.  It‘s the first time he‘s done it in this instance. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, the bad thing—one of the horrible things about war is you begin to ac like your opponent. 

Let‘s take a look at the president.  Andrea, jumping in here, but here is the president today talking about the siege mentality.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don‘t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. 

That is exactly what our adversaries want and so long as I am president, we will never hand them that victory.  We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children. 

And in this cause, every one of us, every American, every elected official can do our part.  Instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let‘s move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that define us as a people. 

For now is not a time for partisanship.  It is a time of citizenship, a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands. 

That‘s what it means to be strong in the face of violent extremism.  That‘s how we will prevail in this fight and that‘s how we will protect our country and pass it, safer and stronger, to the next generation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, we‘re involved in a war, not against people wearing uniforms, but if you think about it the people we profile now—think about, say they‘re 18 to 23 years old.  Well, in 9/11, they were 11 years old, 9 years old. 

The people we worry about today were thinking about this for the last eight or nine years and becoming recruits, becoming terrorists.  A guy goes from being an angry person, a disenchanted person, to being radicalized to becoming a jihadist to becoming a terrorist. 

Is he right?  Is Chuck right, the president‘s trying to stop them before they act? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  He is taking control of the intelligence community.  He is taking the reins of the intelligence bureaucracy, and he is saying, I‘m in charge.  The buck stops with me. 

What he‘s saying to the Republican critics and to Dick Cheney and the others, look, this is a war.  It‘s a war against al Qaeda.  But we will not hunker down.  We will not change our values.  We will not change what makes America great. 

As Barack Obama sees it, his vision, his definition.  That‘s what makes us strong.  This is really an Obama doctrine.  This was a very strong. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he hold that line if we get hit? 

MITCHELL:  That‘s—that‘s the kind of hypothetical that I don‘t think we can even project at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go. 

MITCHELL:  Which. 

MATTHEWS:  To Chuck, do you think he can hold this line, that we‘re going to remain a liberal society in terms of human rights and trial by jury and habeas corpus and Miranda, and also not get really angry in a reactive way at the Islamic world generally, not to be—get that bunker mentality that Israel has to take from time to time, when they just get, hey, the whole neighborhood hates us?  We got to be reactive to that.  Can he keep us from that point of view and that mentality? 

TODD:  Well, I think it‘s tough, but you know, the greater challenge is that there aren‘t enough—there aren‘t enough other Muslim leaders around the world who stand up and criticize al Qaeda publicly enough. 

You know, this is the great challenge here, I think, and this is what makes it, I think, harder for him to win this argument with the right in this country is that there aren‘t enough examples around the world where we have leaders of other Muslim nations who stand up and loudly yell, these guys in Yemen are thugs. 

They are bastardizing Islam and this is not what it is.  And that, I think, has been this challenge, because I think the president, you know, believes this in his heart.  I think he believes it. 

Ninety-nine percent of Muslims around the world believe that this is not a violent religion, an extremist religion, but there is so much fear in the Middle East among some leaders of some of these countries, that they are going to be toppled by this extremist movement, that they are afraid to speak out about it. 

And that, of course, puts the president in a box here politically with his own domestic critics because we say—I think you see conservatives and say, hey, it doesn‘t seem like the Muslim world wants to stop these guys. 

MATTHEWS:  And yet the Muslim world, the leadership of what they consider these parasitical states, where you have the people running these countries like Jordan or Saudi Arabia or Egypt or any of the other countries that are pro-Western, they‘re the governments they want to topple. 

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re the very people that they—in this whole jihad thing is about.  It‘s not about taking over New York City.  It about taking over those Arab countries. 

MITCHELL:  And to your original point about whether the president is willing to make made a compromises for security if we were hit again, they‘ve already made a compromise which he announced today.  They are going for these scanners which many people complain do invade privacy. 

And if you look at the—Tom Costello demonstration on “Nightly News Tonight.” 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  They really—you look at it up close, they really go after. 

MATTHEWS:  Which congressman now—Congress persons now going to vote against scanners? 

MITCHELL:  Nobody. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they all did a couple of years ago. 

MITCHELL:  Bernie. 

MATTHEWS:  I think time has changed.  Here‘s the president again on his philosophy about it.  You might call it the Obama doctrine.  Here he is tonight.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We are at war.  We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11 that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and that is plotting to strike us again.  And we will do what ever it takes to defeat them. 

And we‘ve made progress.  Al Qaeda‘s leadership has hunkered down.  We have worked closely with partners, including Yemen, to inflict major blows against al Qaeda leaders.  And we have disrupted plots at home and abroad and saved American lives. 

And we know that the vast majority of Muslims reject al Qaeda.  But it is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, Chuck, making your point the president‘s aware of the recruitment drive around the world.  The battle, as I have always thought, it‘s a battle at cafes, people sitting around talking.  Some are willing to buy the anti-American argument.  Some who just want to come to Michigan state and study engineering. 

We‘ve got to get more on that list. 

TODD:  And Chris? 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  It is like Jim Jones, though.  It‘s like the old Jim Jones.  In some ways, you hear about this al Qaeda recruiting, this (INAUDIBLE) that‘s hunkered down in Yemen, who had contacts with Hasan and contacts with Abdulmutallab.  And it comes across as if they‘re like pass around the Kool-Aid.  I mean it‘s very cult-like in the way they recruit.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  . these loners and. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:   What about the Awlaki?  You know this area.  This one guy who was over here in Falls Church, right?  He was a cleric over here.  He was influential with the fellow at Fort Hood, Nidal Hasan.  He‘s influential with this guy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Nobody in all the briefings today and none of the reporters unfortunately asked about the future.  Does Awlaki have a list of people he‘s sending out, that he‘s working on right now to hurt us? 

MITCHELL:  He is—yes.  He is operational and he‘s in the 9/11 report.  We‘ve known about him for 11 years. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he have people. 

MITCHELL:  He was in San Diego counseling—he was the spiritual adviser to two of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and then in Falls Church, Virginia. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is he? 

MITCHELL:  Where is he now?  In Yemen. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we get him? 

TODD:  And Chris. 

MITCHELL:  Well, we‘re trying to. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we get him?  Chuck? 

TODD:  And Chris, one other thing.  They thought they—there was a lot of people that thought they got him in that last Yemeni raid that happened about a week before the Christmas attack. 

But one more quick thing on Awlaki.  They believe he was basically the

guy that helped train Abdulmutallab.  One intelligence official said to me

intelligence expert said to me, they think because of his knowledge of American airports and screening, he has been the one that was able to help Abdulmutallab figure out how to get around the system. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s get to the politics.  I know this is important, and we‘re going to get it later.  But the politics—here‘s Dick Cheney today, or the other day, saying President Obama is trying to pretend we‘re not at war. 

Did the president hear the footsteps of Cheney today by saying we are at war?  Did he have to react to the charge that this guy is not even admitting we‘re at war? 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  That was the—that was the most striking thing about the speech today, is he was saying we are at war, we are at war with al Qaeda, but as long as I‘m president, we‘re not going to change the way.... 

MATTHEWS:  Did he say that because Cheney said he hadn‘t said it? 

MITCHELL:  I believe so. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that the assessment of the White House over there that the president had to say this because Cheney keeps biting the ankle of this guy and saying you don‘t believe we‘re at war? 

TODD:  I think they felt like they had to say it but what really ticks them off here is that he—Obama said we‘ve been at war for months when it comes to al Qaeda. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know it.  Cheney is—it‘s a strange thing.  This guy in later part of his life, he‘s over there putting statements out.  I know by the time we get up tomorrow morning, and this is the “MORNING JOE,” by 6:00 tomorrow morning, I know there‘ll be a, quote, “an e-mail statement,” at Politico headquarters from Cheney. 

The guy is relentless.  You know he puts it out or his daughter puts it out or his wife puts it out.  They‘re like one of these strata forcers with the machine guns coming out of it and they‘re all issuing statements. 

MITCHELL:  It‘s not just Dick Cheney.  It‘s. 

MATTHEWS:  It isn‘t? 

MITCHELL:  They are out there most prominently.  But there‘s been a lot of criticism that the president is receiving, he‘s passive, he‘s receiving briefings from the intel guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  But he hasn‘t really taken charge.  I think tonight he was taking charge.  He‘s saying. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why didn‘t he. 

MITCHELL:  . here are the gaps. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You want to play defense?  I want you both.  Do—you first.  Why if we know the CIA station chief in Lagos, Nigeria was approached by the father of a son who said he went to the head of intelligence, or head of intelligence, and said I got tell you my son is dangerous.  He‘s over in Yemen, he‘s going to cause some trouble. 

Why didn‘t that guy, the station chief in Lagos, call the station chief of the CIA in Yemen and say you got anything that looks like a suspicion?  And why didn‘t the station chief in Yemen call the guy in Lagos and say we‘re looking for a Nigerian?  We don‘t know he‘s dangerous, involved with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.  How come neither station chief talk to each other and why isn‘t Leon Panetta, at the CIA, on top of this baby? 

MITCHELL:  It‘s—that‘s inexcusable.  Panetta puts out. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t the president say this? 

MITCHELL:  Well, they put out a statement.  He said it in the situation room.  He was pretty tough the other day. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t he publicly tonight roll some heads? 

MITCHELL:  Because there was so much shared responsibility.  Look, the State Department—the State Department, by missing one letter in his name didn‘t realize that the guy had a visa. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I know.  Well, you know what they do in pro football?  You and I go to the games.  If the kicker misses an easy kick, you fire him. 

TODD:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You get rid of him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And last but quickly.  Chuck? 

TODD:  But Chris, look, they want to let—before they roll a head, make them go before Congress.  Don‘t forget, Congress will hold hearings over the next three weeks and then after that punishment by Congress.  My guess is the person that performs the worst after that whole experience probably should be getting their resume ready. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, trial by fire.  Thank you, Chuck Todd, at the White House.  Great reporting. 

Thank you, Andrea, as always.  You know the world. 

So what went wrong on Christmas day and what can be done to fix it?  Let‘s get into the details when we come back about how somebody gets on a plane after the father rats him out, tells the CIA station chief, look out for my son in Yemen.  The guy in Yemen knows he‘s looking for a Nigerian. 

Nobody puts it together?  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  In sum, the U.S. government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack.  Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already have. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Richard Ben-Veniste served on the commission—the 9/11 Commission that investigated that horror in America.  And we‘re luck to have him tonight. 

You saw the president.  Your view. 

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  I thought the president did exactly what he should be doing.  He‘s taken charge.  He‘s accepted responsibility.  The buck stop there, he acknowledged that, and I think there will be a very careful review.  There are things that need to be done. 

Quite clearly, somebody at NCTC, the group that was stood up and ordered to fix the problems of 9/11 in terms of assimilating information, stitching it together, cobbling it together, in order to provide us with the kind of information we need to act proactively did not happen. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it like in that room in Washington where people get the information from Lagos, Nigeria about a father coming in the door and saying my son is dangerous?  They get information from Yemen.  There is a Nigerian on the loose, we got to look out for him. 

What‘s it like in that room?  People with eyeshades on, rolled up sleeves?  What goes on in that room? 

BEN-VENISTE:  I think at the end of the day, you‘re going to find that somebody who had responsibility for this information was overwhelmed with other things to do. 

And I think the lesson out of that is going to be to allocate more resources, human, technological.  You need to have the kind of search engine capability that is capable of matching names together. 

We know now that Customs and Border Protection were able, while a flight was in the air, to send a message saying that Abdulmutallab needed to be interviewed upon landing, OK? 

So the information was there.  It should have been available in Amsterdam, the same information caused them to say, look, you need to screen this guy before he gets loose in America. 

So that information was there.  We need to get some answers as to why it wasn‘t acted upon at an early stage.  The 9/11 Commission recognized this, said we need to screen people, particularly people who are transiting from some third world country into western Europe to an airport. 

They need to be screened.  We need to use that information. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me blow your socks off.  This just in, as we say in the journalism world.  A senior—this is from a hot note at NBC here.  A senior State Department official says a simple misspelling of the name Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab name, his name, was the reason no one realized the would-be bomber had a visa to enter the U.S. 

What‘s your reaction to that?  A spelling error by one letter in a very long name. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Buy a vowel.  Listen. 

MATTHEWS:  You were saying as we came in here just Google it. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Google. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no correct for spelling. 

BEN-VENISTE:  I mean we need to improve, obviously, the technology to match these names.  There are going to be many misspellings.  If I Google something and I get it wrong, it comes up, do you mean such and such. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he was listed as a P3b, a possible terrorist, and yet when he applied for his visa and got one to come to the United States, he somehow or somebody at the consular office misspelled his name by one letter, and because of that, he got through the screen. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well he had a pre-existing visa.  The question was why wasn‘t it revoked?  Why wasn‘t he subjected to secondary screening, at least, on the basis of the information that was available?  And that‘s where we fell down. 

MATTHEWS:  Pretend right now—it‘s not hard for you to do, you‘ve done it—you‘re a chairman of a committee.  Next couple of weeks these guys are going to be going before the committees. 

The CIA people, the national intelligence head, Dennis Blair, they‘re all going to be facing the music up there, the lions, if you will.  What would you hit them with? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, the same questions. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you hit Panetta with, head of CIA? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Why wasn‘t there more intramural sharing at the CIA?  Did you do everything that you could?  Do you need more help?  Do you have the assets needed in Yemen to confront what we now see as a very serious spread of the central al Qaeda message to this other country, which has now got a very effective recruiter working for it, Awlaki. 

He is the pipe piper of these individuals.  When you take a look at this young man and you look at what his reaction were, you almost—you almost begin to think about brain washing, programming, an individual who is. 

MATTHEWS:  Over the Internet? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, that it‘s beginning of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BEN-VENISTE:  That‘s the beginning of it. 

MATTHEWS:  They are seducing and recruiting.  Let me ask you.  Stop looking in the rearview mirror.  We‘ve been doing that tonight.  Look through the windshield of the car. 

Looking ahead right now, Awlaki is still over there in Yemen. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Awlaki recruited Nidal Hasan and this young guy.  He‘s out there recruiting.  And he‘s sending people out there to act.  Nobody asked about that today, I‘m asking you.  What would we get out of the CIA on that one? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, we‘ve known about Awlaki for quite some time.  In fact, he was specifically identified in the 9/11 Commission report because he had contact in both San Diego and Virginia with two of the 9/11 hijackers.  So we knew who he was. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s 2-2 now. 

BEN-VENISTE:  We have been trying to kill this guy in Yemen.  And in fact, recent reports thought that they had actually gotten him. 

MATTHEWS:  Richard Ben-Veniste, thanks for your time.  Great to have you on.  This is side night. 

Up next, the top five most influential Republicans, according to Republicans.  Stick around for the side show.  More coming in HARDBALL tonight.  A lot more on this fight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Side Show.”  First, the story of the pet miniature pony and the pet pig, who together, discovered how to open the canister of dog food.  A parable by their owner.  The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  That‘s not unusual for me to look up, for working on a budget on something, and to find the pig and the pony standing right in front of me and staring at me. 

Now the dog‘s food, which we keep in the canister with a screwed-on lid, sits on top of the dog‘s kennel.  The pony has now learned how to knock the canister off the top of the kennel and then he and the pig wedges it into the corner. 

Now this there is a ridge on the lid of the canister and the pig with its snout pushes this ridge around and around until it loosens up.  Then they roll the canister around on the floor until the food all spills out. 

And then, of course, they can go to town and they eat it. 

Now, it is—I have no idea how they ever figured all this out, to tell you the truth.  I mean it‘s like humans figuring out how to create fire, but it is the greatest example of team work, and I love it. 

It‘s about team work.  So one lesson to draw from the pig and the pony story is of what we can accomplish when we work together. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The pig and the pony, sounds like the bedtime stories I used to make up for our children. 

Anyway, next, the Harris Poll has got a great list out on who Republicans say are the most influential leaders in the Republican Party.  Tied at number five, Rudy Giuliani and Rush Limbaugh.  I guess Republicans like rich people.  Just ahead of them, Newt Gingrich.  This one‘s hard to swallow. 

Coming in at number three, the thriller from Wasilla, Sarah Palin.  No surprise there.  Her book is number one on the “New York Times” best seller‘s list.  Beating them out or beating her out, likely presidential rival to her, Mitt Romney. 

And in number one position, the most influential person in the Republican Party, according to Republicans, you won‘t believe it, Senator John McCain. 

Congratulations, Senator McCain. 

Now for the “Big Number.”  Remember how the Bush crowd loved mocking France, they even tried killing the term “French fries”?  Anyway, it‘s a bunch of nonsense.  Most Americans jump at a chance to visit old Paris and there‘s no place as inspiring as going to Normandy. 

Apparently, the world agrees.  A new poll by “International Living” magazine ranks the best places in the world to live—they take into account cost of living, culture, environment, safety, weather—France is number one in the world the fifth straight year. 

Australia is number two.  A place I‘d love to visit since I like every Australian I‘ve ever met.  And America is—I hate to say it—just number seven.  A new survey ranks America as the seventh place in the world to live.  You wouldn‘t believe it from all the people trying like hell to come here. 

Tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next: After three top Democrats called it quits, how bad will the midterms be for Democratic incumbents?  And will Republicans put aside their own infighting and be able to capitalize?

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.

Here‘s what‘s happening.

The State Department now says a misspelling is now to blame for allowing the attempted in-flight bombing suspect to board a plane bound for Detroit.  An employee reportedly dropped one letter from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab‘s name, which kept him from being moved to the no-fly list.

A disgruntled worker opened fire at a manufacturing plant near St.  Louis today, killing three people and wounding five before he turned the gun on himself.

Authorities in North Carolina have arrested two former Blackwater contractors accused of killing two Afghans after a traffic accident last year.  The contractors claimed the shootings were justified.

A deep freeze continues to grip the nation‘s midsection.  Parts of North Dakota are experiencing wind chills of up to 52 below, and forecasters say another major snowstorm is on the way.

Newly released security video shows the breach that forced New Jersey‘s Newark Airport to shut down, causing massive delays.  It shows a guard leaving his post allowing a man to sneak into a secure area.

Back to be HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

One week now into 2010 and the battle for U.S. Congress gets tougher every day.  Do Republicans really have a shot at taking over the House of Representatives?  And what can Democrats do to stop him?  In a moment, we‘re going to talk to a Republican congressman who‘s out there scouring the country for new candidates to help them take over.

But first, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, he‘s chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  It‘s called the DCCC.  He‘s also my congressman.

How is it look in playing defense and keeping Pelosi speaker?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND:  Well, we‘ve said, Chris, from day one that this is going to be a tough and challenging cycle.  The first midterm of a new president always is.  But this gloom and doom talk of 1994 all over again is just Republican spin.

In fact, Michael Steele, the head of the RNC, just the other day in a moment of great clarity said, “We‘re not taking back the House.  Republicans aren‘t taking back the House.”  And to add insult to injury, he went on to question whether they could even lead in the unlikely event that would ever happen.

Look, tough cycle—yes.  1994 all over again—no way.

MATTHEWS:  All right.  What you‘re going to do if we get hit again?  We actually get hit like on 9/11 or something like it, one of these plane attacks actually works?  Somebody like Dick Cheney is going to go into interplanetary television on something like that.

Will that be a political issue come November if we are hit again?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, it shouldn‘t be the kind of a political issue. 

Dick Cheney has demonstrated that he will make anything a political issue.

I think the American people‘s reaction to all of this is, look, you guys should be able to get together in the interest of national security.  When you have a problem like we had with the attempted Christmas bombing, they want people to come together to say, where did we go wrong, let‘s fix the problem together.

I think it‘s a great mistake for Dick Cheney to be trying to politicize some of these issues.

As you know, the Obama administration has been incredibly firm from day one against al Qaeda.  They have put more resources into Afghanistan and Pakistan.  They were already in Yemen after al Qaeda.  They have been in Somalia.  These guys have had their eye on the ball.

MATTHEWS:  What are the facts that are going to decide this year‘s politics?  You need to get a health care bill through, is that fair?  If you don‘t, it‘s a disaster.

VAN HOLLEN:  Yes.  We need—we need to show.

MATTHEWS:  Is it a disaster if you don‘t get a bill?

VAN HOLLEN:  I think it‘s a significant problem because, I think, it‘s a question of whether or not we can govern.  We need health care reform and if we failed to get it, not only would the American people have to live with the status quo, which I think is a problem.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But, politically.

VAN HOLLEN:  Yes.  But it would embolden.

MATTHEWS:  But politically, would it be a disaster?  Yes or no, would it be disaster?

VAN HOLLEN:  It would be a huge problem.

MATTHEWS:  Huge problem.

Number two, if the unemployment rate hangs up there, we haven‘t talked about it because of this crisis over the attack, attempt to bring down the plane with all the people on it.  But the unemployment rate remains up there.  If it stays up at 10 percent, can the Democrats hold the House?

VAN HOLLEN:  The economy is going to be.

MATTHEWS:  Can you hold the House?

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLDEN:  Yes.  Yes, we can hold the House but we‘re not going to -

I believe the unemployment rate is coming—is going to come down.  It already has begun to turn the corner, in terms of the number of people who lose their jobs.

           

And people, remember—look, American people are fair.  They know when this president was sworn in one year ago, the economy was falling through the tank, and so, the question people are going to have is: why would you give the keys to the car back to the guys who drove it into the economic ditch and then walked away from the accident?  Not a single Republican in House voted for the economic recovery bill.  That‘s helped stabilize the economy.  We won‘t be happy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How good could we do with the economy this year?  Can we get the unemployment rate down below eight?  Can we do that this year?

VAN HOLLEN:  I don‘t.  I‘m not an economist, Chris.  I don‘t—I

think most economists would say that would very be difficult.  No, I don‘t

I‘m not making predictions on the economy.

           

MATTHEWS:  Because I‘m looking at the horror—the political horror is nothing compared to the human horror.  But the political horror is that if you have an unemployment rate of 10 percent, we get hit between this year between now and next November, which is much worse than losing an election, of course.  And you have a health care bill that dies on abortion rights the last minute, the Democrats, it seems to me, could lose 50 or 75 seats?

VAN HOLLEN:  First of all, we‘re going to get a health care reform bill, a good one, signed.  We have don‘t want to live with the status quo, the insurance companies run health care today.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

VAN HOLLEN:  We don‘t want to do that.

Economy—again, Republicans helped drive the economy into the ditch.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VAN HOLLEN:  They were not with us.  They were AWOL when it came to the economic recovery bill.  Not a single Republican.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why does Nancy Pelosi get a bad press?  She‘s smart.  She‘s sharp.  She wins every one of the big fight.  She‘s the best speaker since Tip, I think.  Why does she get bad press?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, look, the Republicans have tried to demonize her.  They try and everyone tries to come up wit some enemy.  The fact of the matter is the strategy of running against Nancy Pelosi has failed.  They have tried many times to run ads against our candidate, with Nancy Pelosi and President Obama before he was president.  It didn‘t work.

MATTHEWS:  You know what Tip O‘Neill‘s job approval was when he left? 

Sixty-seven percent.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, that‘s a failed strategy for them.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, fighting to keep the Democrats in power.

Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy is in California.  He‘s recruiting House candidates for 2010.

Are you going to hit all those three buttons—terrorism, unemployment and health care bill?  Are those the three buttons for you guys?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY ®, CALIFORNIA:  I think it‘s going to be jobs. 

There‘s lack of jobs in the United States.  Unemployment is at 10 percent.  This president said you give him a stimulus bill by a certain deadline, unemployment would never go above 8.5 percent.  That‘s not the case.  It has.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think was the result—the cause of the unemployment situation which developed late last year?  We were facing a Great Depression.  What was the cause of that?  Was it—was it President Obama?  Was he the cause of it, the fact that he was going to be elected president or he had been elected?

Some Republicans say that he‘s the result.  He is the cause of the bad economy because it looked like he was going to win last year.  I‘ve heard those ridiculous arguments.  Would you make that case that because he was going to win last November, the economy began to tank?  Would you make that case today?

MCCARTHY:  No.  No.  I‘d make the case the regulations that have gone through, the stimulus bill that did not work.

And Republicans didn‘t sit back and all just say no.  We actually produced our own bill.  We scored our bill and it produced twice as many jobs with half the money.  Congressman Eric Cantor personally handed it to the president.  We invited this president to our conference, but none of the ideas were taken.

Nancy Pelosi, the day that the president walked out from our conference, introduced a political stimulus bill that now they claim thousands of jobs are created in places of America that don‘t even exist.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the 9/11 attack.  Was that in anyway the fault of the Republican administration at the time?

MCCARTHY:  The 9/11 attack—I think it was a built up problem that you saw didn‘t have the intelligence.  And I think, to build an intelligence, you have to go much further back to find that it was the lack thereof.

MATTHEWS:  So, the current problems facing our country are not the result of last year but the 9/11 attack was the result of a previous administration.  Aren‘t you double-dealing here, saying if something goes wrong, horrifically wrong, it‘s OK for you, a Republican, to blame it on a previous Democratic administration, but if something goes wrong on Democratic watch, they can‘t blame it on what they inherited.  Why is there a double-standard, sir?

MCCARTHY:  Chris, there‘s not a double standard.  When there is a problem with America.

MATTHEWS:  There is with you.  You just gave met double standard.  You said 9/11 was not the fault of President Bush.

MCCARTHY:  Chris, I didn‘t say not the fault.  I said, when you talk about the gathering of information, you don‘t change that overnight.  It takes time to build up.  Now, what do you do with that information when we have a system.

MATTHEWS:  So, why is Dick Cheney attacking this administration.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me, Congressman, you‘re again caught with double-dealing, because Dick Cheney is all over the place, trolling around and attacking this president for what happened with the Christmas bombing and he—you say it‘s OK for President Bush to blame a previous administration for the worst attack on our homeland since Pearl Harbor and when there‘s an attempted attack on our country, you don‘t let this president take any credit for the fact he inherited a system which isn‘t working.  This is a complete inconsistency with what you have just said.

MCCARTHY:  Chris, you can try to put words in my mouth, but that‘s not what I said.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have a tape.  We will play it for you again if you‘d like.

MCCARTHY:  I will tell you, when you have an attack upon America, we come together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans.  And we need to find the problem and move forward.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did Dick Cheney do that last week?  I‘m sorry, Did Dick Cheney come together as Americans or did he run out an e-mail, an attack on the president‘s support for this country and desire to save this country from attack?  Did he take a cheap shot at President Obama, Dick Cheney?  Did he or did he not?  Was he uniting behind President Obama with his little e-mail to “Politico” the morning of?

MCCARTHY:  I think individuals can put their point across of how they want to do.  I serve an elected office.  I serve in a position that we are going to work together to make this country safe.

MATTHEWS:  Good.  So you don‘t agree with the Cheney approach?

MCCARTHY:  I think we need to make this country safe.  We look today - I applaud the president saying the buck stops with him, but what I want to find out is what we do with it.  If we found that people had—look, for instance, the father came to the CIA and said, “I‘m worried” about my son.  He gets on the plane without a passport.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCARTHY:  He travels to different countries into Detroit without even a jacket, without even luggage, buys a ticket with cash.  There are so many options within there that‘s already there that should have been caught, why wasn‘t it?  And I don‘t think from a perspective we care about which party is to blame, we want to solve the problem.

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re back in Washington, Mr. McCarthy, Congressman, please come on the show.  I‘d love to have you on as a guest.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy of California, a member of the Republican Party, out looking for recruits to take over the House.

Coming up: John McCain ranks as the most influential and respectful Republican, but he doesn‘t have much respect for his president—his latest attack against President Obama next in “The Fix” when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  There was a service this morning at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown to celebrate the life of our great friend, Smith Bagley.  He was much-trusted and much-loved by so many of us involved in politics and our national life.  President Clinton spoke beautifully and warmly of a man who never lost faith in our country‘s unique values, in American politics, in the belief that democratic government can do the right thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are at war.  We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again.  We will do whatever it takes to defeat them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are back with “The Politics Fix.”

Pat Buchanan is a political analyst for MSNBC, and Cynthia Tucker writes a news column for the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”

Pat, I think there‘s a big fight in this country over what we‘re facing you.  The president says we‘re at war with al Qaeda.  But he will not use the language of the right, well, the new right, which is: we are in a war on terrorism.  What‘s the big fight here, in language?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, the fight in language is, of course, if you are fighting terrorism, then Hamas is involved, Hezbollah is involved, the IRA is involved, all sorts of people are involved.  If you are at war with al Qaeda, you focus on al Qaeda, the people that are coming after us.

But, Chris, I think the president‘s got a real problem tonight.  He started off strong.  He said, “Look, this thing was a foul-up.  This guy was a known terrorist, he got on a plane.  We had intelligence.  We should have stopped him, we failed.”  And then he turns around and says, “I take full responsibility and we are going to do a better job.”

I mean, where is the accountability here?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That‘s what I wonder, too.  First of all, let‘s go to accountability question.  We know a couple of facts because they gave them to us.  Brennan gave us the facts.  The father came in went to the CIA chief, the station chief, right there in Lagos.  Imagine going.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION:  Well, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  . ratting out your son to the head of intelligence from another country and sitting down with the intelligence and said, “My son‘s dangerous.  You got to stop him.”  And then they go over in Lagos, you know, Yemen, and they said, “We are looking for a Nigerian.”

Why didn‘t the CIA guy in Yemen call the CIA guy in Lagos?  Why didn‘t the CIA in Lagos call the guy in Yemen?  It‘s one agency, the CIA?

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  But the CIA wasn‘t the only group.

MATTHEWS:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  Homeland security was in room.  The State Department was in the room.  I agree with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Why complicate it?  The CIA blew it.

TUCKER:  It is—it was a failure of common sense here.  When a father comes in and turns his son in, that son needs to move to the top of every watch list we have.  But I don‘t think anybody needs to be fired over this.  They‘ll be dressed down, and if it happens again, that the same people were involved, they will certainly be fired.

I don‘t—I don‘t see anything wrong with the moves that the president made that he outlined today.

BUCHANAN:  How can we have confidence in the security system of the United States that failed so horribly here that the Border Patrol was waiting for this guy to interrogate him in Michigan but he‘s allowed to get on an airline and fly over the Atlantic?

TUCKER:  Well, for heaven‘s sake, was anybody fired when Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was allowed to get on a plane and almost blew it up?  Just as Abdulmutallab did?  I don‘t think so.

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you something.

TUCKER:  In fact, President Obama has handled this much the same way President Bush handled Richard Reid.

BUCHANAN:  Chris, you remember Jack Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs.  He called in Allen Dulles.  He said, “In the British system, I go and the American system, you go.”  He went, his deputy went.

MATTHEWS:  That vessel (ph) went, too.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  A whole bunch of them went.  You guys got to go.  That‘s accountability.

TUCKER:  I don‘t think we‘re elevating this to the Bay of Pigs.  I certainly hope not.  This was a troubled.

BUCHANAN:  Three hundred Americans dead over Detroit is not a big, big problem?

TUCKER:  But they didn‘t die, Pat, for heaven‘s sake.  This was.

BUCHANAN:  Why didn‘t they die?

TUCKER:  They didn‘t die in part because passengers helped to stop the attack, but also because the guy didn‘t have the proper detonation devices.  Our security is good enough to stop them from.

BUCHANAN:  Our CIA—how had our CIA prevent him from having the proper detonation?

TUCKER:  It was security.  It wasn‘t the CIA.  It was security that now stops that sort of detonation device from getting on the planes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want you to respond to this.  The president said, everyone of us, every American, can do our part.  What is our part?  Every American.

Somebody please tell passengers on airplane who (INAUDIBLE) job because the only people that stop these things are the people over Pennsylvania that took that plane down and these people that jumped this guy.  The officials haven‘t been as good as the civilians.

TUCKER:  They—I agree completely that the civilians did a good job, but part of our job is not to be Henny-pinnies either, Chris, not to run around and say the sky is falling, the sky is falling.

MATTHEWS:  What does he want us to do?

TUCKER:  Not to do the terrorists‘ job for them.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the president wants to do, Cynthia?

BUCHANAN:  The sky.

MATTHEWS:  He said, I want every one of us, every American, to do our part.  What is our part?  Tell us.

TUCKER:  If you—if you have a tip about a suspected terrorist, turn it in.  Turn them in.  Otherwise.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, the old man says, “My kid is heading to Yemen and he can cause trouble.”

TUCKER:  Call them down.

BUCHANAN:  The Nigerian is headed for a terrorist attack out of Yemen. 

Look, the sky almost fell over Detroit.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan and Cynthia Tucker.

TUCKER:  Almost.  Almost.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to continue this with the “Politics Fix.”  Stay with us for a minute.  We‘ll be right back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  President Obama is leading an extreme, left-wing crusade to bankrupt America.  I stand in his way every day.  If I get a bruise or two knocking some sense into heads in Washington, so be it.  I‘ll keep fighting for jobs and economic growth for Arizona as long as I‘m in the Senate.

ANNOUNCER:  John McCain.  He‘s Arizona‘s last line of defense.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  The straight talk express has become the right talk express.  That was a clip from Senator John McCain‘s latest ad in his campaign Web site.  He is running, obviously, against J.D. Hayworth as it looks like out there.

We‘re back with the “Politics Fix.”

Pat Buchanan and Cynthia, what do you make about left wing extremism, all this stuff?  He‘s clearly got a primary challenge on the right there.

TUCKER:  Well, absolutely.  It is—it is hard to imagine that John McCain is getting a strong primary challenge in Arizona, and to combat it, he‘s taking the route of his vice presidential candidate.  He sounded like Sarah Palin.  He didn‘t sound as enthusiastic about it as she does, but he sounded like Sarah Palin.

BUCHANAN:  He doesn‘t believe like she does.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is this a grudging nod to the right by John McCain?

BUCHANAN:  What did Nixon say?  Run to the right in the primary, to the center in the general, OK?

MATTHEWS:  But John McCain has a reputation for integrity and talking straight.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  Not anymore.

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s been very hard line on Obama, much more hard-line than he was before Obama was elected, and I think he‘s emphasizing what he‘s doing as a conservative and he has been a conservative and he‘s got a tough primary.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s he going to do when your favorite issue comes along, immigration?  He‘s got to talk like a right-winger and push for amnesty.  How is he going to do that?

BUCHANAN:  No, no.  They‘ll make put him on—they‘ll make him take the oath over there.  No path to citizenship and do not support it.  And he will not support a path to citizenship—he will give his word in the primary.

MATTHEWS:  So, take him to a Cambodian reeducation camp to completely change this guy.

BUCHANAN:  He went through that.

MATTHEWS:  I know it.  But do you think he will change—he will switch?

BUCHANAN:  I think he will say—look, I don‘t think he‘ll come out with a path to citizenship.  I don‘t believe it because I think that would be a killer.

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s going there.

BUCHANAN:  I know it but he backed off.

TUCKER:  And what kind of integrity is that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  . collective shoes from that throughout the campaign.

He‘s basically saying that John McCain is correctable to the right.

TUCKER:  Well, it sounds like a guy of no integrity whatsoever.  It hasn‘t been that long ago that he was one of the biggest Senate champions of immigration reform with a path to citizenship.  If he renounces that, he has no principles.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s grown.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what they always say.  That‘s what Arthur (INAUDIBLE) used to say about conservatives.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to the president, this issue of politicking. 

He basically took on Dick Cheney tonight in that briefing.

He basically said, I‘m not going to go hide in a bunker.  I‘m not going to accept the siege mentality.  I‘m not going to be a troll like Dick Cheney.  I‘m not going to let you become trolls.  We‘re going to be positive.  We‘re going to keep our rights.

TUCKER:  Well, one of the interesting things about the complaints from the right that President Obama is weak on terror simply because he‘s not belligerent on the world stage.  He doesn‘t swagger.  Well, we saw a lot of belligerence from Dick Cheney.  We saw a lot of swagger from George Bush.  Where did that get us?  Osama bin Laden is still at large.  Al Qaeda is still in (INAUDIBLE) in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  But, you know, look.

TUCKER:  Thank heaven for a president who doesn‘t believe in that, who says we‘re not at war with the Muslim world.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s been stung.  He‘s been stung badly.  And he‘s reacting.  He did say we‘re at war with al Qaeda.  He did the right thing.

MATTHEWS:  Not the war on terror.

BUCHANAN:  Not the war on terror.  But I‘ll tell you this, Chris, this opens up this whole question we‘re talking about.  If we are at war, then that guy who came into Detroit is a warrior for al Qaeda who wants to kill 300.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I completely agree with you.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s not a criminal suspect.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t accept the fact the president is unpatriotic for giving a guy his criminal rights, he‘s rights to an attorney and all that, but I think you‘re right.  If he is a warrior from another country, treat him that way.

Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Cynthia Tucker.

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00.  This is going to get hotter and hotter, 7:00 and 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL tomorrow night.

“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.

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