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updated 2/11/2010 9:23:09 AM ET 2010-02-11T14:23:09

Guests: Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, Jonathan Martin, Ron Reagan, Harry Thomas, Jr., Jerry Phillips, Ben Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton.

HOST:  Snow 40, Washington 0!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in snowy Washington.  Leading off tonight: Frozen stiff!  As you can see behind me, we‘ve got snow in Washington.  What‘s missing from this picture is a snowplow.  How come the country‘s capital can‘t clear its streets?  Is this giant snowy a metaphor for a government frozen in its tracks?

Also, funny words about Republicans from the head of the NAACP.  Ben Jealous compares Republicans who threaten a health care filibuster to the segregationist Dixiecrats of the past.  Jealous and Al Sharpton met with President Obama today.  We‘ll be with them here in a moment.

Plus: When Republican leader John Boehner told President Obama yesterday that he should scrap plans for key efforts like health care, the president shot back, You just want to kill all these bills.  Will the tough talk get things done?

Also, it was three years ago today that Barack Obama announced for president in Springfield, Illinois, and called for changing Washington, reducing partisanship and improving America‘s image around the world.  So how‘s it going?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix” tonight, a great topic.

Finally, the anti-science, anti-evidence, anti-climate change crowd is out there trying to make the case that the recent snowy weather proves that global warming isn‘t a fact.  We‘ll get to that in the “Sideshow,” where it belongs, and where they belong.

Anyway, let‘s begin with the blizzard here on the East Coast, Midwest and everywhere else in this country.  Right now, it‘s on this Wednesday in this winter of our discontent.  Washington is the city, as we all know, that commands the power of the world‘s greatest country and the resources of the planet, but it‘s a city that can‘t plow its streets.  They can‘t work because they can‘t get to work.  Talk about a metaphor!  Why can‘t a government town do a government job?  We people don‘t have snowplows.  We can‘t control the streets, the government does.

And yet on Monday morning after last week‘s snowfall, the snow was still on the streets right on North Capitol Street and the snow was even deeper in front of Union Station here in Washington.  It looked like Siberia without the Siberian discipline.

John Kennedy once said that Washington had the charm of the North and the efficiency of the South.  Today, we had the weather of Buffalo and the snowplowing capability of Miami!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I believe in government, but where is government in this city of governance?  It‘s a good question.  Why can‘t the people who run this city deal with February?  The people—remember—remember, we went after people down in—we went after President Bush because he couldn‘t deal with Katrina?  How come we can‘t deal with this city?

Anyway, Harry Thomas, Jr., is a councilman here in Washington, and Jerry Phillips with an NBC—WRC-TV, which is in this very building.  We share the very building with you, Jerry.

Let me go to Councilman Thomas.  This city is a government town.

HARRY THOMAS, JR., D.C. COUNCILMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the primary business of this government (SIC).  You can‘t get through the streets of this city today.

THOMAS:  Well, 70 percent of the federal government workforce is what is here in this city, and so I think we should have called for an emergency and our mayor should have asked the president to declare a FEMA emergency here.  We have all the criteria in place.  We did it in 2003.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  The magnitude of this storm dictates to us that a federal emergency—for a number of reasons, resources coming to the city, and an assist from the federal government, who we support.  And so...

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you a more basic question, Councilman?

THOMAS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to the local government.

THOMAS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  First responder—they didn‘t respond.  How come this weekend, we didn‘t get all the snow off the street for Monday morning, before this second snowfall?

THOMAS:  We didn‘t do some fundamental things.  Had we declared...

(CROSSTALK)

THOMAS:  ... plowing those streets, knowing that the emergency was in effect, we could have gotten more resources and more tools and get our neighborhood streets, which many of them have not been done.  And it‘s because we didn‘t take this to the level.  I think we were a little afraid...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  ... because when it snowed that first time, when the president first got here, he said, Wow, we‘re closing.  So we got a little afraid and we underreacted, as opposed to how we overreacted when we had a little bit of snow.

MATTHEWS:  Jerry, I‘m going to have a little fun with this horror story because it was like being in Siberia today in this town.  I‘m lucky, I got a ride to work in an SUV.  You know, they used to joke in this town that the only part of the town didn‘t get its streets repaired was the Republican part of town.

JERRY PHILLIPS, WRC-TV:  Right!

MATTHEWS:  Spring Valley.  I was all over the city yesterday.  In Georgetown, which is liberal as hell, votes straight Democrat, the streets were the craziest streets I‘ve ever seen.  There was four-way traffic coming at each other.  Nobody could move.  There was no—there was no snowplowing.

PHILLIPS:  The only clear street that I saw over the past five days was in Chevy Chase, upper Wisconsin Avenue.  That was the only street.

MATTHEWS:  Well, my—I live in Montgomery County...

PHILLIPS:  I don‘t know what they were doing, but somehow...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can tell you.

PHILLIPS:  ... they kind of cleaned up...

MATTHEWS:  I live across the boundary.  They did it—for some reason, they did a good job on our street.

Let me ask you about this whole question of government.  You cover a government town.  A lot of people look to this government, and this is just a—let‘s look to this as a giant metaphor right now.  The United States Congress—they took the week off.  Why?  They don‘t have anything to do?  I mean (INAUDIBLE) remember, they used to say indispensable workers take the day off?  But—I‘m sorry.  They‘d say dispensable workers take the day off.  Indispensable workers show up.

PHILLIPS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  The United States Congress is now dispensable.  They took the week off.  They‘re gone.

PHILLIPS:  Well, it‘s a different Washington, D.C., on the emergencies than the old days, say back in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  And Harry, I guess you‘ll remember those days.  Your dad certainly did.

MATTHEWS:  You were a—your dad was a councilman.  He was...

PHILLIPS:  He was a council member.  Back then, you had, number one, emergency broadcast systems.  You had emergency preparedness that you don‘t have today.  The whole problem today is planning.  You know, the guys were out there working, and some of them overworked to try to get the plows through the streets and all.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PHILLIPS:  But that‘s not the problem.  The problem comes from basic planning, the fundamentals of basic planning.  And you know, Chris and Harry, I really equate this snowfall this time to almost 9/11.  And the reason why is because the one big problem we have in this town—well, actually, two.  One is communication.  And two, we have a mobilization problem.  Whenever we have an emergency like this, mobilization becomes the key barrier to so many people.

And I‘m not talking about Congress people.  I‘m not talking about the mayor.  I‘m talking about John Q. Public...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PHILLIPS:  ... Miss Jones on Wheeler Road or Mr. Smith who lives on 14th Street.  They cannot get out.  And the bad problem here is after the first snowstorm, all these predictions, we are not planning for the unpredictable.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  A lot of people watch D.C. and they‘re watching pictures right now.  It‘s a national television show.

THOMAS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And I don‘t usually do local politics except when I see it all matching up.

THOMAS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I am a big believer in government.  I think it works.  I think in a democracy, if it doesn‘t work, you got a real problem.  People‘s representatives, like yourself, get the job done.  If they don‘t get the job done, what‘s the alternative?  And I keep thinking, you know, snow is predictable.  We knew it was coming.  It came last week.  It came this week.  Over the weekend, you say no planning.  I see no planning.

THOMAS:  Well, that‘s true.  And I will say this to you.  You know, when the first snowstorm hit, one of my colleagues called on the mayor to close the schools because he understood the magnitude of the snowstorm.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  And it took the public outcry to say, Why are you trying to open schools?  Why are you trying to do something when we know our neighborhood people cannot get—what we‘re going to have, all of our kids walking in the street.  And this is why I‘ve said today—I looked at what my colleague, Councilmember Kwame Brown, called for and said, Mr. Mayor, this is a federal emergency.  FEMA should be called in.  What does that mean?  That means he could have met with us as members and had coordinated plans with the communities.

And Jerry is exactly right.  Not once, as a member, have I been called in.  We met yesterday.  The council had its administrative breakfast.  We talked about these issues.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  The mayor should have coordinated with us and said, What are the resources on the table?  What do we do?  Some of have prior experiences, that understand that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  ... these kind of emergencies, you call in the bigwigs.  You call in the fed, who we support with our functions.  But more importantly, it helps our neighbors‘ relief and make sure our neighborhoods—we have salt domes in every neighborhood.  There‘s no coordinated plan...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  ... for the salt dome in my community to get down to streets that the trucks are coming from.  So they go to the salt dome, and their neighbors see these trucks come by, and they say, Wow, couldn‘t you at least hit my street?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me be mean.  I‘ve watched the big cities where mayors lose their office because of this.  Michael Bilandic in Chicago, remember that, a few years ago?

PHILLIPS:  Right.  Remember that.

MATTHEWS:  He lost his job.

PHILLIPS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor Lindsay may have gotten reelected, but people laughed at that guy because he was, what, in Florida vacation during a snowstorm.  You know all this stuff...

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS:  And Marion Barry—remember the time when Marion was mayor, they criticized him to the hilt because he was in California...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PHILLIPS:  ... at the time it was snowing in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, let me tell you, this time around, we got a very sophisticated mayor this time.  Everybody liked him for a while.  And I‘m telling you, it‘s time for a competition in the next primary around here.  I think somebody got to run.  This city needs a little better effort right now.  I‘d like to see some action.

PHILLIPS:  Well, I think you have competition, Chris.  I think the problem here is the fact that Mayor Fenty, everybody liked him, as you said, in the beginning.  But attitude has come into play here, the whole arrogance of the Fenty administration certainly played out in this snowstorm...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well...

PHILLIPS:  ... the fact that you have people driving around with plows but I don‘t see the shovels down shoveling the snow.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know what I worry about?  I worry about our politicians not responding to elections.  I worry about them not responding to weather.  They‘ve got to get with it.

PHILLIPS:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  And this democracy will work when people who are in it work.  The buildings, the monuments, the statues—they‘re not going to plow the streets.  They‘re not going to make the health care system work.  It‘s live politicians who get elected who have to do it.  Good luck, Councilman.

THOMAS:  Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  Sir, thank you for coming in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... my colleague here, thank you for coming in.

Coming up: The head of the NAACP compares Republicans—boy, this is tough talk—to those Dixiecrats who filibustered all the Civil Rights bills back in the ‘60s, and before that in the ‘50s.  He says it‘s time to hold them accountable.  Well, we‘re going to do that tonight.  The NAACP‘s Ben Jealous is coming here.  Also, Al Sharpton, the Reverend Al Sharpton, is coming here.  They‘re going to be talking to us from across town because they can‘t get here because of the snow!

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  NAACP president Ben Jealous compared Senate Republicans today to Dixiecrats of yesteryear and said it was time to hold them accountable for their obstructionist tactics.  Jealous made those remarks after a group of African-American leaders met with the president today to discuss the economy and job creation.  He joins us now, along with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who also attended that White House meeting.

Mr. Jealous, you first, and then the Reverend Sharpton.  Your sense of your meeting today.  What was your main point?  What was the president‘s main response, sir?

BEN JEALOUS, NAACP:  Sure.  You know, we were there today to talk about the places in this country where people are hurting most, to hear from the president, to be heard by the president about ways we can work together to make sure that people of all races in these places—you know, whether it‘s Dayton, Ohio, whether it‘s the delta of Mississippi—you know, see progress sooner rather than later.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve got 17.5 percent unemployment in the minority community.  What—what—how did that happen?  Were people laid off?  How quickly did—what was the—sort of the phenomenon in the black community, if you will, where these jobs just disappeared?  I mean, we‘re talking about a sixth of the economy, basically, just disappearing here.

JEALOUS:  Well, you know, I mean, you know, you have the kind of first fired, the last hired, you know, trend in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

JEALOUS:  But really, I mean, we can‘t lose sight of the fact that many of these towns—you know, we‘ve been in recession in many places for 40 years, you know?  I mean, if we‘re lucky, we get back to where we were two, three years ago, and that was, you know, 8 percent, 9 percent, you know, of us out of work, still trying to find jobs.

And so part of what we‘re pushing right now is we‘re saying, Look, it‘s not enough to simply go back to where we were two years ago.  We actually have to deal with some of the real structural problems in this economy and make sure that we fix back street, you know, just as we need to repair Main Street.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to the Reverend Al Sharpton.  Sir, thank you for coming on tonight, and thank you for all your help over the weeks and days behind me.  You‘ve always been a good friend.  Let me ask you about this question of jobs.  You know, when I was getting involved in politics, the idea on the liberal Democratic side, the progressive side, was create jobs.  Don‘t talk about it, don‘t do tax cuts.  Damn it, get out there and create jobs—CETA jobs, public service jobs, public works jobs.  Get it done.  Start creating them.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Is there—is that—is that philosophy lost in the Democratic Party, that old-time religion of job creation?

SHARPTON:  I think somewhat.  And I think that‘s why it‘s time for many of us that are impacted disproportionately, impacted in a more negative way, to come forward and say that we must be included in this conversation.  With the meeting about—the president today met with Mr.  Jealous of the NAACP, Marc Morial of the Urban League and myself from National Action Network—Dr. Dorothy Height couldn‘t make it due to the weather—was to say the Civil Rights community must be in the conversation, just like the president and the Congress deals with labor leaders, just like they deal with business leaders, because our communities have specific needs that need to be addressed.

The president very wisely said, I‘m the president for everyone.  I want everyone in the discussion.  And I think that we‘ve got to move forward to create jobs to close the gaps and make it possible for all Americans.  So I think today was about broadening the conversation to make sure everyone is included in the conversation and those that are most affected have an input into where we‘re going in terms of this job creation bill and this new economic strategy to get us out of the recession and regenerate the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to Mr. Jealous.  Do you have a jobs bill on the agenda, something that could create X many jobs?  We‘ve got a 9.7 percent unemployment rate.  I guess the economists will say we‘re lucky to get that below 9 in a year, this year.  Or maybe not lucky, but better off if we get it below 9.  So it‘s going to hang up there, given current economic policy.  What are we going to do to create the jobs?

JEALOUS:  Well, you know, we have pushed for jobs just being funded by this government.  But the reality is, the first thing that we have to do is get a jobs bill through the Senate.  You know, the Senate Republicans have held up 200 bills coming over from the House.  One of them that they‘re holding up right now is the jobs bill.  We‘ve got to get that bill passed so that we can focus on the next, you know, way to get jobs started.  But if that bill is allowed to be held up, if the Senate, you know, can keep on holding up the jobs bill, you know, it‘s just pie in the sky to talk about more.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s pretty strong talk to talk as you‘ve done, apparently, about this Dixiecrat thing.  I mean, we all grew up—I‘m older than you.

JEALOUS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, I‘m older than you, sir, as well.  And I remember the Dixiecrats.  Their tactic always was filibuster, filibuster, filibuster, get out there, bring the bunks into the Capitol, talk all night.  Strom Thurmond, the rest of them, Stennis, the whole gang of them would talk all night against Civil Rights, the ‘57 bill, the ‘64 bill, the ‘65 Voting Rights.  They talk, talk, talk.

Are they playing that same game or threatening to play that game, Mr.

Jealous, right now?  And do you think it‘s got the same motive behind it?

JEALOUS:  We have 200 bills that have been held up.  We have 63 nominations that have been held up.  A this point, President Bush I think had six that were being held up.

We see Southern governors coming out and saying, you know, We‘re going

to get out in front and we‘re going to stop a public option, even when

there‘s no more public option left in the bill.  You know, yes, it‘s the

same tactics.  Sure, the motivation now, you know, is simply to make life -

you know—well, who gets hurt now are working people of all races, struggling people of all races.

You know, what‘s behind it is grandstanding.  You know, what‘s behind

it is politics and trying to win (ph) up (ph) the battle pucks (ph).  They

you know, they know better.  They know that they were sent to Washington to lead.

MATTHEWS:  Do we need majority rule, Reverend? 

SHARPTON:  And, Chris, let me say this.  I think it‘s important, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we need majority rule? 

SHARPTON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Do we need majority rule in this country, a majority of senators get something done?  Should we get rid of this 60 supermajority thing? 

JEALOUS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

SHARPTON:  But, Chris, let met say this.  I think it is important we understand, when you go to Dixiecrat, we will talk, the problem then was about race and civil rights. 

These people are blocking everything.  What they are blocking hurts everybody.  They‘re not just hurting blacks.  This is not—they‘re not just blocking civil rights legislation. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHARPTON:  They are blocking jobs, health care.  They‘re blocking things that hurt their own constituents.  They are saying that they are opposed to things that they proposed, like pay as you go. 

They are the ones opposing their own Republican ideas, because they just want to obstruct, obstruct.  Anything this president says, they say no.  And this is absolutely ludicrous.  We must move the government past just a bunch of obstructionists that only feel that their job is to come to Washington and say no, and that is why they should win an election. 

MATTHEWS:  But why are they so fearless, Reverend?  Why aren‘t they afraid of moderate Republicans and independents saying stop being the brakes and start being the gas pedal?  Why aren‘t they afraid of that?

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  The reason they‘re fearless is because there hasn‘t been a significant pushback, which is why it‘s important civil rights and labor and others come together now.

The rabbit hunting is not fun when the rabbit has the gun.  We have got to start firing back.  We have to quit running from them.  We are the majority.  We on the election.  The American people voted.  The American people, white, black, Latino, Asian, voted.  Why are we running from people that lost the election? 

JEALOUS:  But, Chris, you make a good point, which is that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is a good question, Mr. Jealous.  Can you respond to that?  Why do the Democrats act like they are hesitant, they are polite, when, in fact, they do have a majority, and they do seem, it seems to me, occasionally chicken?

JEALOUS:  You know, that‘s a question that you should ask them. 

I mean, they—they really need to act like what they are, which is the biggest majority that we have seen in the Senate for any party in the past 30 years.  They need to start taking bills to the reconciliation process and just getting it done. 

At the same time, the moderates in the Republican Party need to stand up and get a backbone.  You know, the reality is that civil rights has had a long and proud history in the Republican Party.  But the people who are part of that history need to step into the foreground and assert that, because, right now, you know, it is a crazy situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Anyway, Reverend, even though Elmer Fudd had the gun, he still couldn‘t get Bugs Bunny. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Reverend Al Sharpton.

And, thank you, Ben Jealous.

JEALOUS:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  The anti-science crowd in the Republican Party is saying snowstorms we are having is evidence against global warming.  These guys, these clowns, go to high school.  Check out the “Sideshow” coming up.  You‘re next—you are watching HARDBALL, coming up next on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

You have heard the old expression the show must go on?  Well, here in Washington, this week, it‘s to opposite.  Here, it is the snow that must go on.  It‘s the government that stops.  This week, the U.S. House of Representatives simply gave itself a weeklong snow holiday.  Let‘s catch the comics now catching them. 

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

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  The city became—came to the biggest standstill down there in Washington, D.C., because of the snow.  It is the biggest standstill they have had since the Democrats got the supermajority.  It is the biggest...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

LETTERMAN:  It‘s awful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”:  It was so cold, Sarah Palin had to cancel a speech because she didn‘t want to take her gloves off to read. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

LENO:  It was that cold. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

LENO:  It was that cold. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

AASIF MANDVI, ACTOR:  The House just announced that they are going to be closed all week. 

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”:  The House announced they are going to be closed all week?  What, because of the Shelby thing? 

MANDVI:  No.  It is actually because of the snow. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  What are they, sixth-graders? 

MANDVI:  Well...

(LAUGHTER)

MANDVI:  ... nothing stays these legislatures from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, except either sleet or snow or rain or gloom of night or sun or lack of sleep...

(LAUGHTER)

MANDVI:  ... or they‘re old or “American Idol” is on. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That is great.  Just imagine if there was something really important they had to do this week.  I‘m talking about the Congress. 

Next: hyena time.  Here‘s Sean Hannity on FOX Monday.  Quote—here is Sean talking—“It is the most severe winter weather in—winter storm in years, which would seem to contradict Al Gore‘s hysterical global warming theories.”

Here‘s Senator Jim DeMint Twittering yesterday—quote—“It is going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries uncle.”

And here‘s Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell when asked about passing climate change legislation just yesterday—quote—“Where is Al Gore now?”

Well, here are the facts, gentlemen.  The average global temperature last year was the second highest on record.  The past decade was the warmest ever.  Cold weather in one area over several days doesn‘t change the reality of what is happening to this planet, the only one we have got, by the way.  It is isn‘t something to laugh about, gentlemen, unless you don‘t care what happens to this planet down the road.  And I suspect some of that you folks, sadly, don‘t. 

Now there is something the actually funny here.  Here is Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming yesterday trying unsuccessfully to pronounce the name of the ex-governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL B. ENZI ®, WYOMING:  Finally, there are concerns about Mr. Becker‘s role as SEIU associate general counsel and the SEIU‘s involvement with the scandals surrounding ACORN and former Illinois Governor Rod Blag—Blag—Blagovi—Blagovi—Blagovi. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Blagojevich.

ENZI:  Blagojevich.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, as we all know, I have been there on some other names. 

Anyway, time for the “Number.”  It is a big one.  It‘s a sign of the times.  Since 1993, don‘t ask, don‘t tell, which of course has banned gay men and women from serving openly in the military, well, according to a new Quinnipiac poll just out, how many Americans say that policy amounts to rank discrimination?  Wow -- 66 percent, two-thirds of this country, 66 percent see don‘t ask, don‘t tell as outright discrimination, tonight‘s food-for-thought big, positive number. 

Anyway, we will be right back. 

Up next:  There is trouble ahead for President Obama and the Democrats in a new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll.  This is not good news for progressives and Democrats.  Why have the Republicans closed the trust gap?  And can the president turn things around?  Wait until you hear this number coming back.  The strategists join us next.

This is going to be a good night for Todd Harris. 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Pretty quiet on Wall Street today, with many traders taking a snow day in New York, the Dow Jones industrials sliding 20 points, the S&P 500 losing two points, the Nasdaq dipping three points. 

The Commerce Department reporting a surprise widening of the U.S.  trade deficit.  High-priced oil imports are the primary culprit, but exports rising as well, reflecting an overall uptick in global trade activity. 

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke beginning to lay out a strategy for weaning the economy off the stimulus plan, but indicating the time for such steps has not yet arrived. 

A surprise dip in mortgage applications last week, even as rates on 30-year loans fell to their lowest since December, and Wall Street also pay close attention to talk of a possible bailout for debt-burdened Greece—

France and Germany expected to present a plan at an E.U. summit tomorrow.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, the headline in the new “Washington Post”/ABC poll is a big headline, good news for Republicans, bad news for the Democrats and President Obama.  It reads, on major issues, Republicans gained ground on President Obama. 

So, what do both parties make of the shifting ground? 

I‘m joined by the strategists, Steve McMahon, who is a Democratic strategist, and Todd Harris, who is a Republican strategist.  We know these gentlemen well.

So, let‘s look at these big, bad numbers.  If you are a Democrat, they

these are big, bad numbers.  In February of this year—that‘s this month

or, actually, last month—start with last month—the Democrats were

were trusted by 56 percent of the people, which party do you trust to do the better job coping with the main challenges facing the country.

Now, look at the numbers.  On the right-hand side in the white was a year ago, 56-30, the Democrats were trusted on big issues.  And you have to assume that included unemployment, health care, foreign policy, et cetera.

Now look at the numbers this year, 43-37.  It‘s almost within the margin of error now, with the Democrats only a little bit ahead, six—six points ahead—they were—five points ahead.  They were—well, actually, according to this, six points ahead.

They were 26 points ahead.  And this is a problem.  And it is a good thing for you guys.  What did you—now, this is a trick question, Todd Harris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not going give you an easy ride tonight. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What did the Republicans do in February to February ‘09 to ‘10 to justify this enhanced trust? 

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  We were not Barack Obama, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  That‘s the truth.

MATTHEWS:  And you admit it, you admit this, purely nonactivity?

HARRIS:  Well, look, the Republicans in Congress have put together substantive counterproposals to everything that the White House has put out.  But I‘m not so naive as to suggest that the bully pulpit that they have to get that message out is as big as the president‘s.

I think what this represents is two things.  You know, the promise of Obama was always about something that he was going to do.  It wasn‘t—

Obama wasn‘t elected because he was the most experienced. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the hopey, changey thing?

HARRIS:  The hopey, changey.  It wasn‘t because he was the most experienced.  It was...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m making fun of Palin, by the way.

HARRIS:  I know you are. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

HARRIS:  It was because people thought that he—in the future, they trusted him to get something done.

If you remove that level of trust from Obama, he has got no record in the past to run on.  And now they are not trusting him to solve problems in the future.  It is a huge problem, number one. 

And, number two, I think it represents the total collapse of the Democrat‘s party-of-no strategy, because, if Republicans are running at near margin-of-error parity as far as what party do you trust to tackle these major issues...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HARRIS:  ... and the Democrats have been the ones putting out all these proposals that have gotten the most attention, and the public is saying, well, I‘m not quite sure what the Republican proposal is, but I like it better. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Steve, what—how did you lose your ground?  You were 26 points ahead a year ago.  And now you‘re only six points ahead.

MCMAHON:  It was the act of governing.  I mean, President Obama himself has said...

MATTHEWS:  But you wanted to govern.

MCMAHON:  I know.  I know we did.

But here‘s—he didn‘t choose a financial crisis.  He didn‘t choose to own General Motors.  Those were things that were foisted upon him that he could either ignore, like the Republicans would have done, or do something about and try to save the economy, which is what he did.

He took his lumps for that.  And then health care reform was defined I think a little bit better and more effectively by the Republicans than it was by the Democrats.  The fact is, if you look inside this poll...

MATTHEWS:  So, you are saying it is a lousy time to govern? 

MCMAHON:  I‘m saying it is a very, very hard time to govern.  And I think incumbents that have been getting beaten all over the country, Republicans and Democrats, Mike Bloomberg, a Republican, who spent $100 million and won by five points against a guy he should have trounced...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCMAHON:  ... it is a very, very hard time to govern. 

But there is some news in this poll that isn‘t quite so bad for the Democrats. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You want some worse news I haven‘t given you? 

MCMAHON:  Oh, I know.

MATTHEWS:  Which is you are behind in the generic number. 

Look, before you start giving my poll numbers away, let me ask you this question. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have got a question for you, Steve.  We will talk later, after the show is over, about your ideas. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But let‘s go to this question.  Is it smart for your side, which controls the floor in the Senate of the United States and the House of Representatives—you control the proceedings.  Is it smart for you to dare the Republicans to filibuster, say, OK, we are going to try to get a vote on health care, an up-or-down vote on a compromise between the House and the Senate, you guys, go out and filibuster it? 

Would that be a smart tactic? 

MCMAHON:  I think what the president is doing right now is smart, saying let‘s sit down... 

MATTHEWS:  No, would calling them to filibuster be smart? 

MCMAHON:  But not if—not unless you first ask them to bring their ideas to the table, you turn the cameras on, and you say, let‘s hear and vet your ideas.  They don‘t really have any ideas.

MATTHEWS:  And that is two weeks from now. 

MCMAHON:  That is two weeks from now.

And, then, if the Republicans want to filibuster because they don‘t have an alternative, I think that is a good strategy for the Democrats.  The Republicans need to own their obstinacy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Would you like to filibuster? 

HARRIS:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

HARRIS:  The current...

MATTHEWS:  Every night on television. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  A compromise between—for the health care bill between the Senate bill and the House bill, I mean, this is how Scott Brown got elected in Massachusetts.  He said, vote for me.  I‘m going to be that 41st vote against health care. 

If, every night on television, Republicans are going on TV, going back to their districts, saying, I‘m fighting for you to kill this bill, that is a real winner with independents.  It‘s a winner with...

MCMAHON:  I don‘t want to—I don‘t want to give away your poll numbers, but I will tell you this -- 63 percent of Americans want Democrats and Republicans to keep trying to tackle health care reform.  Fifty-eight percent think Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  That is a great number.  We gave it out last night. 

MCMAHON:  Fifty-eight percent...

MATTHEWS:  We put it out last night on this show.

MCMAHON:  OK.  Good.  I‘m glad I‘m not giving anything up. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  Fifty-eight percent think the Republicans are not compromising enough.  And the Republicans have a net negative approval rating.  Democrats still have a net positive.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to my point, you think a—a filibuster is when senators go up.  They used to just read the Bible or read the telephone book. 

MCMAHON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  These guys would be able to—and women—be able to go on the floor every night and read particular provisions in the Democratic health bill that were a problem for the voters.  Would that be smart, to let them do that? 

MCMAHON:  If they are going to filibuster health care reform, when most people want Democrats and Republicans to work together and do it, when the president is giving them an opportunity, turning the cameras on and saying, “Well, what are your ideas?” I think it is a good strategy. 

They are going to do it anyway, and so the Democrats might...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You guys disagree, but you think it is a good idea.

You think it is a good idea.

HARRIS:  Well, people do want Democrats and Republicans to work together. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HARRIS:  But this health care bill is not an example of that. 

MATTHEWS:  The president met the other day with some Republican leaders, as you know.  Out of it came a quote.  It ran in the “LA Times.”  Somebody came out and leaked that the president said to John Boehner, the Republican leader, quote, “you just want to kill all these bills.” 

Now, you say that is true.  By the way, you did a minute ago.  That‘s what you want to do, kill all Obama‘s bills.  You said it two minutes ago. 

HARRIS:  Read the whole quote.  What the quote was specifically talking about was environmental legislation.  It was cap-and-trade.  It was the health care bill.  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  We‘re on the same page.  You say it‘s smart

is it smart for the public to know—

HARRIS:  Yeah. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s smart for the public to know you want to kill everything. 

HARRIS:  Here is why: there are two issues that matter more right now to the American people: the economy and jobs.  If the Republican party‘s messaging was nothing, from now until the election, other than we are 100 percent focused on the economy and creating jobs, and everything this administration tries to do to take us off that focus, whether it‘s cap-and-trade, whether it‘s this huge government expansion of the health care industry, whatever it is, we are going to block it.  That is a winning message. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, why do you guys trash the stimulus bill as a job killing bill.  But every time the stimulus money reaches the states, your senators and congressmen are all sitting there willing to take credit for it. 

HARRIS:  It‘s a huge difference.

MCMAHON:  And asking for the money. 

HARRIS:  There is a huge difference between saying we should never pass this bill, which they shouldn‘t have.  But then once the money is appropriated, they are all going to fight to get that money back to the states. 

MCMAHON:  Unemployment would be 25 percent today if we didn‘t pass that bill.  That‘s according to the CBO. 

MATTHEWS:  Twenty five percent instead of 9.7?

MCMAHON:  That‘s right, if we didn‘t pass the stimulus.

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard that?  Have you heard that number.

MCMAHON:  He‘s heard it.  He doesn‘t believe it. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t believe it.

HARRIS:  No, and the American people don‘t either. 

MCMAHON:  Todd says the Republicans should be about jobs and the economy.  Let‘s just take that one issue.  There are two jobs bills right now.  One of them President Obama put forward.  Another one Harry Reid is talking about.  They both cut taxes for small business.  They both do tax credits for small business.  They both do all the things Republicans are for, except when it‘s being proposed by a Democrat.  Now the Republicans are up there saying, we don‘t know if we like this jobs bill, because it cuts taxes for small business.  It gives—

MATTHEWS:  That is a good point.  The president is for pay as you go. 

The president is for the fiscal responsibility commission and all that. 

Every time he says he is for something, you guys say you are against it. 

Is that part of your strategy?  You say it is?

HARRIS:  Look it, the president at the summit with House members, just last week, stands up and says, you know what, I love some of these ideas Paul Ryan put forth in his budget. 

MATTHEWS:  Republican from Wisconsin.

MCMAHON:  He is changing the subject.  Jobs.  Economy.  Two bills. 

(CROSS TALK)

MCMAHON:  Within 24 hours, the entire DNC message machine is attacking the hell out of it. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I love it when you guys debate because then we find truth.  The truth is you believe it is smart Republican strategy to be known as the no party, no to Obama. 

HARRIS:  No to bad policies. 

MATTHEWS:  No to Obama? 

HARRIS:  If Obama puts something good forward, we‘ll be for that? 

MATTHEWS:  Has he done it yet, by your standards? 

HARRIS:  I like what he is doing in Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I don‘t.  Thank you, Steve McMahon.  Thank you, Todd Harris.  We should have you guys come on one night, and we will put together a health bill both sides could agree on.

MCMAHON:  We could.  We could.

MATTHEWS:  Can you get the permission to represent your parties?

Up next, Barack Obama announced he was running for president exactly three years ago.  Boy, was that a cold day.  There it is.  Boy, was that one cold day in Springfield, Illinois.  A very glamorous day, in many ways, with that family there.  That was the old capitol where Lincoln used to operate.  Well, he used to work.  His old law office is across the street. 

Anyway, how has he measured up with the goals he set for himself when he launched that campaign three years ago, in that beautiful picture there?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I know that I haven‘t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington, but I‘ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  We‘re back.  That was then Senator Barack Obama, three years ago, on a very cold day in Springfield, Illinois, announcing his run for president.  Are the goals he set forth that day reached so far?  It is time for the politics fix right now.  Joining me is radio talk show host Ron Reagan, and the “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin.  Thank you, gentlemen. 

Let‘s take a look at the first thing he promised.  This was sort of an atmospheric, when he talked about changing Washington.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It was here where we learned to disagree without being disagreeable, that it is possible to compromise, so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised, and that so long as we are willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is a sad question to start with, Ron Reagan.  How are we doing on getting along, the two parties, and working together to solve problems, like snow removal.  Just kidding. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  Terrible.

RON REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  That was the one promise he made during the election that there was no way he was going to be able to keep on his own.  You need a dance partner for changing the system in Washington there.  He doesn‘t have one on the other side of the aisle.  The Republicans, as you have observed, are really more interested in simply breaking this president, as Jim Demint put it so memorably, than anything else. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask Jonathan; is there any way he could have gotten to do—join him in the tango?  It tanks two to tango.  Could he have gotten them into the dance?

MARTIN:  You talk to White House folks, and there is a belief that the GOP had their chance a year ago, actually, when they were pushing through the stimulus.  I think what happened was it became clear the Republicans were not going to engage on the stimulus.  Even if you included tax cuts in the stimulus, they were not going to really engage. 

I think it became clear at that point to the White House that it was not necessarily worth the errand of trying to reach out to the GOP.  But I have to part ways with Ron a little bit.  I think the fact is both sides here are accountable.  And this is not new to President Obama.  This is a problem with Washington.  It‘s been going on now since really the Clinton administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t usually do this with Ron and talk to you about your dad, but there‘s an area here I think really makes sense to talk about.  When your dad first came to Washington, President Reagan, he did something that I think benefits no matter what you ideology is.  He made friends.  He socially hung out with Catherine Graham of the “Washington Post,” who would be an adversary ideologically.  He met with a lot of people that would be on the other side.  He made sure it wasn‘t personal.  He tried to make friends with Tip O‘Neil and succeeded occasionally, the Democratic leader.

Is that something Obama could have done more of, that soft soap stuff, that basic human PR? 

REAGAN:  Probably could have done a little more of that.  But, again, I don‘t think it really would have done any good.  As Jonathan said, it became apparent early on that the Republicans simply don‘t want to cooperate on anything.  Look, they have made a political calculation, on health care and on everything else, we have to stop only from getting anything done.  They are seeing everything through a political lens.  They don‘t want anything to happen, if it‘s going to help him. 

They will have this health care summit coming up on the 25th, but it‘s going to be largely theater.  Who gets the best of the theater we‘ll have to see.  But the Republicans have already made the calculation that our victory has to be his loss.  The only way they are going to vote for a health care bill is if they can somehow spin it as their win and Obama‘s loss.  I don‘t really see the White House or the Democrats letting them do that.

MATTHEWS:  The problem is the Republicans now see a poll number that we just announced tonight—“The Washington Post”/ABC poll—that shows that they are within six points of matching the Democrats on trust and getting problems solved.  So their policy of just say no, of hiding against any chance of a compromise, seems to be bringing the public to trust them.  So maybe their work—if you take this totally politically, their policy has achieved its goal, which is they‘re better off than they were a year ago.

MARTIN:  I think if you talk to some folks in the party privately, they didn‘t see much in the way of political upside in working with the president.  And especially given the ambitious political agenda he was pushing, there was clearly a political benefit there to be seen as opposing issues like cap and trade, like this health care bill.  And I think right now you‘ve seen in the polls them benefiting from that. 

But just real fast, Chris, let‘s be fair to some of the folks on Capital Hill, the Republicans on Capital Hill.  Despite what President Obama said during the course of the campaign, I don‘t think the congressional Democrats had any interest in doing the new politics, post-partisan thing.  That was an Obama thing.  I don‘t think Pelosi and Reid signed off on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to that question.  We have a few minutes before—I want to ask that question, because I think there‘s a real question here: did the Democrats reach out and did the Republicans go with scorched Earth from day one?  No matter what the Democrats would have reached for, they would have screwed them. 

We‘ll be back with Ron Reagan and back with Jonathan Martin for more of the politics fix in just a minute.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Ron Reagan and Jonathan Martin.  Ron, I can‘t avoid this fight.  Your brother, Michael, is out there saying, you‘re wrong.  Here he put out a press release, in part, “I strongly disagree with my brother.”

I‘ve got to give you the bad news.  “I strongly disagree with my brother.”  I never put out a press release on my brothers.  “My brother Ron Reagan‘s assertions that our father, President Ronald W. Reagan”—he put in a W—would not support the Tea Party movement in this country and Sarah Palin‘s”—I love this phrase; it‘s so nice—“activism, if he were alive today.” 

What do you make of this?  You see it as if he would be a little bit against this extreme.  Michael seems to love the extreme.  That‘s not a surprise. 

REAGAN:  No, that‘s not a surprise. 

(CROSS TALK)

REAGAN:  Mike and I will just have to agree to disagree with this—on this one.  I usually preface my answer to the question that was asked there—I‘ve been asked a number of times—that my father is not here to speak for himself and I can‘t speak for him, really, and neither can my brother.  But I was asked about the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin.  And I offered the opinion that I think while my father would be happy about the tax cutting talk you hear at some of these Tea Party events, the vitriol directed at the White House, the Hitler mustaches, the bones through the nose, the he‘s a terrorist, he‘s a traitor, he‘s not a real—

MATTHEWS:  How about the birthers?

REAGAN:  He would find that pretty ugly. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the birthers—Jonathan Martin, I want you to settle this dispute.  Was Ronald Reagan a big believer in checking the birth certificate of his rivals?  I don‘t remember him asking Tip O‘Neil for his birth certificate. 

MARTIN:  Of course, President Reagan offered conservatism with a smile.  That‘s his legacy.  Let‘s be fair to the Tea Party movement.  A lost these folks, Ron, are average Americans that are concerned about government spending, that are concerned about the size of the federal government, that have gotten involved in their community. And those kind of folks former President Reagan would certainly offer a tip of the cap to. 

There‘s no question, those who have gone further, the extremist language, some of the sort of angry signs, that was never what he was about politically.  But I think the idea of citizens getting involved because they were concerned about Washington was very much in the Reagan legacy. 

REAGAN:  Absolutely.  He would support grass roots movements.  As I said prefacing my remarks here, the tax cutting business would have been fine with him.  But the ugly stuff, no.  As far as Sarah Palin goes, he‘d be very nice about it, I‘m sure; well, she‘s a lovely young woman and her heart is in the right place, but she doesn‘t have the capacity to be president of the United States.  I think he‘d be pretty clear on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—Jonathan, do you think Democrats—

Republicans are going to take any heat for being obstructionists?  You know, back when I worked in Democratic politics for Tip O‘Neil, he was opposed to Ronald Reagan on policy, but he never threw up road blocks and used parliamentary tricks to screw him.  He said, OK, you get your vote.  I‘m going to put the debate against you.  But if you‘re going to win because you won the election, it‘s your turn to win. 

The Republicans act like there was no election in 2008; the Democrats didn‘t win; Obama is not really president.  They‘re getting away with it by acting like they sort of won.  Can they get away with that? 

MARTIN:  Look, so far, they are.  If you look at poll numbers, certainly this cycle is shaping up to be much stronger for the GOP than it is for Democrats.  I think we‘re going to see that played out in races this fall.  You‘re going to see that phrase over and over again from Democrats, talking about GOP being obstructionists.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re not going to stop tonight.  We‘re going to come

back tomorrow.  Thank you, Ron Reagan.  Thank you—I always miss you,

Ron, when you‘re not here.  Jonathan Martin, thank you, sir.  Join us again

Jon, you‘re always here.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

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