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updated 2/23/2010 9:55:40 AM ET 2010-02-23T14:55:40

Guests: Gerry Connolly, Thaddeus McCotter, Michael Isikoff, Clarence Page, Tom McClusky, Susan Page, Richard Wolffe.

HOST:  Health care showdown.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Going for it.  So now it‘s going to happen.  After months of wooing and weeks of knocking Republican obstructionism, President Obama has settled on a course for health care, democratic victory, victory after all the costs and catcalls, victory to place 30 more millions with health care and the president, Harry Reid and a lot of other Democrats in the history books.

Today for the first time, the president unveiled his own health care proposal three days before the Thursday summit, or showdown, with the congressional Republicans at Blair House.  His goal, give the Rs one last chance to join him in the reform effort, show the public and the Democrats themselves that therefore, their only route to success and salvation is for the president‘s party to go it alone, and finally, within 60 days, force an up-or-down majority vote in the U.S. Senate.  That‘s the Obama plan, and it‘s our lead story tonight.

Plus: It can‘t be too much fun to be Dick Cheney these days, getting publicly rebuked by two generals he had a hand in raising to the top.  Former secretary of state Colin Powell says the former veep is just plain wrong when he says President Obama has made the country less safe.  And General David Petraeus came out against what Cheney charmingly calls “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

And Ron Paul, the Libertarian who took such derision during the 2008 presidential debates, has won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference this weekend.  Does this mean the hawkish crowd is out of favor?  Does this mean the Moral Majority types have lost their sway among conservatives?  Does this mean, dare I say it, that the old Barry Goldwater conservatives are back in political style?

Plus: Guess who just proposed getting rid of “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell”? 

Joe Lieberman.  Does this mean he‘s now allowed to say he‘s a Democrat? 

What is this interesting guy up to?

Finally, it turns out that John McCain was for the bank bail-outs until he was against them.  Funny what a couple of weeks of J.D. Hayworth breathing down your back will do to you.  Talk about torture.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

We begin with President Obama‘s strategy to push through health care reform.  Congressman Gerry Connolly‘s a Democrat from Virginia and Congressman Thaddeus McCotter is a Michigan Republican.  Gentlemen, thank you.

Let me take a look right now at the president‘s proposal, gentlemen.  It‘s largely based on the Senate bill.  First, it gets rid of the so-called “Cornhusker kickback.”  Second, it sends more Medicaid money to the states.  Third, it ends the so-called doughnut hole for the Medicare prescription drug benefit.  And Fourth, it raises the excise tax threshold on Cadillac plans.  And fifth, it creates a federal authority to oversee insurance rates.

Well, gentlemen, the question now is, does the president have a plan -

Congressman Connolly, does he have a position where he‘s going to stand and fight for it, jam it through the Senate, if he has to?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA:  Well, I think he does have a plan.  I think he‘s made a real nod toward the Republican and to the moderate critics of what was in the House plan and some elements in the Senate plan.  I think he‘s laid his cards on the table, and I think it‘s time for everybody else to do the same.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman McCotter, it seems to me that the Republicans are suspicious of what he‘s up to, that this looks more like a public relations event just to make it clear the Republicans won‘t play ball, rather than to cut a deal.

Here‘s one of your leaders, Mike Pence, talking about it.  He‘s from Indiana, of course.  He‘s one of the top Republicans.  Here he is on “Meet the Press.”  I think he lays it out pretty clearly here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Republicans are ready to work, but what we can‘t help but feel like here is the Democrats spell summit S-E-T-U-P.  And all this is going to be is some media event...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Come on.

PENCE:  ... used as a preamble to shove through “Obama-care” 2.0, and we‘re not going to have any of that!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s clearly rehearsed material.  He didn‘t think up that line on the air sitting there on “Meet the Press.”  But that‘s the question.  Does your party think it‘s a setup, that it‘s not really a summit?

REP. THADDEUS MCCOTTER ®, MICHIGAN:  Well, I think we‘re increasingly concerned that when you have the president negotiating with himself what type of bill he can meld between a bad House bill and a bad Senate bill, you see talk of reconciliation, and you hear talk of taking Republican ideas, putting them onto this bill, which still would not render it, in our mind, necessarily helpful, what you‘re looking at is a great concern that we‘re being set up to be blamed for the process of reconciliation, which Senator Reid, again, has already said is likely in the cards.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Congressman Connolly, is it just a plain fact that you can‘t square a circle, that Republicans don‘t really believe in finding a way to cover 30 million more people and insuring them through, basically, a public program?

CONNOLLY:  That‘s right.  I think, you know, I have an old friend Jim Bourne (ph), a humorist, used to say, If you‘re going to be a phony, at least be sincere about it.  You know, the Republicans laid out a bill—allegedly, a bill earlier this year that covered 3 million Americans.  Our bill covers 36 million.  They didn‘t even address the issue of preexisting conditions.

You know, it‘s time for them to show their hand, and frankly, to do what‘s best in the interests of all Americans.  And I don‘t think this is designed—the Thursday summit is designed to embarrass, I think it‘s designed to engage.  The president‘s made a good faith effort to do that.  It‘s now time for the Republicans to make a good faith effort in return.

MATTHEWS:  But was I right in my beginning of the program where I said, Congressman Connolly, that the real goal of the president is to simply get past the Republicans by giving them the formality of a summit, so that he can then go out and have a press conference Friday morning at the White House, where he controls the press pool and—he controls access to them, I should say—and then he just simply announces that, I tried, and now I‘m going to go ahead and push this thing through the Senate?  We‘ll get the House to pass the Senate bill, the Senate to pass a reconciliation bill by a majority vote.  Joe Biden will do his part, pass it, and then we‘ll have a bill.

Isn‘t that what, really, your party‘s plan is right now?

CONNOLLY:  No.  I wish my party had a plan right now.  That may be on some people‘s minds, but the truth of the matter is, we want to work with Republicans for health care reform.  We want them at the table.  We want them participating.  Here is their chance to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman McCotter, I want you to respond to Gibbs.  He‘s

Robert Gibbs, of course, the press secretary to the president.  I think he‘s pretty much laying it out here that they‘re going to go for reconciliation, that 50-50 vote in the Senate.  Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The American people want Republicans and Democrats to work together on health care reform.  That‘s our goal for Thursday.  I think it‘s premature to get ahead of what happens on Friday before Thursday.

HELEN THOMAS, HEARST COLUMNIST:  ... (INAUDIBLE) how many months on this?  Why can‘t you say yes or no?

GIBBS:  Well, I think I answered—I think I answered Jeff‘s question.  But Helen, I...

THOMAS:  No, you didn‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS:  Again, I don‘t think it‘s...

THOMAS:  ... is he for reconciliation or not?

GIBBS:  Well, the avenue exists if one wants to pursue it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve never heard a better statement, Congressman McCotter, than, “The avenue exists if one wants to pursue it.”  He clearly sees the avenue being available to the White House of a majority vote in the Senate, jam it through by reconciliation.  Clearly, they‘re laying out the path, and whether they‘re going to take it or not is a matter of timing, I think.  What are your thoughts?

MCCOTTER:  Well, Chris, as you know, the Republicans were painfully

put in the minority in 2006, a deeper minority in 2008.  And the reason

that a health care bill hasn‘t been signed into law by the president of the

United States is not the Republicans.  It is the divisions within the

Democratic Party itself, both within the House and Senate and both between

and between both chambers.

And more importantly, it is the American public, as we saw in the Massachusetts election.  This is not what you would call a deep red state.  So I think that the message from the American people is they want us to start from scratch, find a common principle that we can build upon, and then take it from there.

So with all due respect to my colleague, the problem is not the Republican Party.  It is the American people do not want it, and individual Democrats in the Congress have voted against it.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Connolly?

CONNOLLY:  Chris, I would just say two things.  One is we have the statement of Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who said before he even knew what the content of the bill was, We need to defeat health care.  It could be President Obama‘s Waterloo.  That‘s about politics, not about substance.

Secondly, the sanctimony one hears about reconciliation is a little bit much.  Reconciliation has been used 22 times.  I worked here in the Senate when Ronald Reagan was president in August of 1981.  He used reconciliation, as did the Republicans, to embrace and to enact his entire economic budget and tax program.  So this isn‘t new.  It‘s provided by statute.  And the Republican hands are not clean on this subject.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Congressman McCotter, is there any plan that the Republicans would ever support, that you‘d support, that would provide health care insurance for the 30 million people, 36 million, 50 million, however you count it, who are not insured right now?  Is there any Republican plan to do that?  Not to get rid of—have tort reform or interstate competition for insurance, but to do that thing that Democrats have set their heart on?  Do you have your heart set on that, covering the uninsured?

MCCOTTER:  Yes, we all have a passionate concern for the uninsured, Chris.  But the problem is, is Republicans believe that allowing the market to increase supply, consumer-driven, patient-centered wellness to reduce the costs, will make it easier for those costs to come down and become accessible to people.  In the alternative, what we have is a proposal that will have government controlling supply in a time of rising demand.  That will lead to either less of a supply dictated by government or it will lead to higher costs.

MATTHEWS:  But—but...

MCCOTTER:  So we do have...

MATTHEWS:  But Congressman, here‘s my problem.  With all due respect, the Republicans have had complete power, like the Democrats at least have informally now—you‘ve had the presidency and two houses of Congress—and you never do what you just described.  You always wait for the Democrats to offer a health care plan, and then say you‘ve got a better one.  But you never offer one when you have the power.

MCCOTTER:  With all due respect, Chris, we did not control the United States Senate.  We did not have a filibuster-proof majority to do as we please.  And in appreciation for their deft maneuvering, it was the Democratic senators that helped to block up much of what we passed over there, such as tort reform or association of health plans.  We never had what was evident with the Senate—what the Senate Democrats had prior to the election of Senator Brown, again, from Massachusetts, a very blue state, which was total control to the pass what you agreed upon.

MATTHEWS:  When did you ever come through with a Republican plan advanced by a Republican president, advanced by Republican leadership, to extend health care coverage to the tens of millions of people who don‘t have it?  When have you ever done that?  I can‘t find—Nixon tried to do something back in the ‘70s, which I really think is great, but nobody went along with that, including the Democrats or the Republicans, which was an employer mandate.  You would probably oppose an employer mandate right now.

MCCOTTER:  Again...

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t you?

MCCOTTER:  I was 8 years old in the Nixon administration...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re against the principle, aren‘t you?  Well, no, no. 

You know the history.

MCCOTTER:  We are for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re against the principle...

MCCOTTER:  We are for the...

MATTHEWS:  ... of forcing people to have health care insurance.

MCCOTTER:  What you want—yes.  I do not believe that the United States, under the interstate commerce clause, the power to regulate health insurance, should be able to dictate that individuals buy a good or service.  I think that‘s antithetical to the Constitution.  It‘s antithetical to the choices that people have around them and are entitled to as American citizens.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCCOTTER:  So no.

MATTHEWS:  We have car insurance, don‘t we?

MCCOTTER:  We have car insurance at the state level.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, we have...

(CROSSTALK)

CONNOLLY:  Chris, can I...

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t drive a car in your state without insurance.

MCCOTTER:  If you want the government to dictate what people will and will not do with regards to their health care, that is your right as an American citizen to take that position.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

MCCOTTER:  I fundamentally disagree with that.  I would like to see free market and empowerment of patients to make their own choices.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CONNOLLY:  Can I—can I just...

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Connolly, last word.  Yes, sir?

CONNOLLY:  That‘s exactly what the current system is, what my good colleague from Michigan has just said.  It‘s not working.  Tell how good that‘s working to the folks who are on Anthem Blue Cross in California who just saw 39 percent increases in their premium.  And more and more, not less and less, Americans are, in fact, losing their health care coverage.  That‘s why we‘re talking about reform.

MCCOTTER:  As Mr. Manhugh (ph) has talked about...

CONNOLLY:  And by the way—and by the way, dictating health care?  It‘s bureaucrats and health insurance companies who are dictating health care in this country, and that‘s wrong and it needs reform.

MCCOTTER:  What‘s dictating and what‘s wrong in the country, as has been pointed out by Rasmussen, is that only 21 percent think they‘re being governed with their consent.  To go around the express wishes of the American people...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MCCOTTER:  ... I would argue on this instance of health care dictation from the federal government, would do very great damage to both the social and political fabric of the country.  Now, I would encourage my colleague to go out and tell his constituents, especially in the senior centers, how he voted to cut half a trillion from seniors‘ Medicare.  I‘m content to...

MATTHEWS:  OK, I just want...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I love this Libertarian view, but I don‘t believe in it because if somebody gets hurt in a car accident, they expect the ambulance to come and pick them up and take them to the hospital without asking for the money.  I‘m telling you...

MCCOTTER:  We do not...

MATTHEWS:  ... in the end...

MCCOTTER:  We do not have a Libertarian view.  What I love is your leftist view that somehow, government can do everything and not raise the cost of anything...

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just saying...

MCCOTTER:  ... and everything is free.

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s not my leftist view, it‘s that we expect the community to...

MCCOTTER:  That is the problem with your point.

MATTHEWS:  ... look out for the individual.

MCCOTTER:  Your argument is with the American people.

CONNOLLY:  No, it‘s not.

MCCOTTER:  They rejected your plan and we‘ll...

CONNOLLY:  The American people don‘t want us to do nothing.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOTTER:  That is not what we are advocating, again.  We have our...

CONNOLLY:  The American people want...

MCCOTTER:  ... proposal.  Go to GOP.gov.

CONNOLLY:  ... something done...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, we have found the center of the hurricane.  The heart of this challenge is the question of whether the federal government should take responsibility for trying to insure all Americans as best as can.  The Republican view is the answer is no.  The Democratic view is the answer is yes.  This couldn‘t be clearer, gentlemen.  You‘ve made it clear.  Thank you.  Congressman Gerry Connolly...

CONNOLLY:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... and Congressman Thaddeus McCotter.  Thank your clarifying.  If you didn‘t get that debate, you didn‘t get it.  That‘s the heart of it.  The Republican Party believes in laissez-faire market solutions.  The Democratic Party believes there‘s a public responsibility to ensure people for their own good.

Coming up: What‘s Dick Cheney thinking about today about Colin Powell?  Well, nothing good, actually.  He‘s going after this guy.  Well, Cheney‘s not too happy with these generals today.  Anyway, we‘ll be hearing more from Colin Powell and from General David Petraeus.  And we‘ll just think about what Dick Cheney feels like today.  I think he knows what torture feels like today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This is going to be fun.  It‘s Powell versus Cheney.  Former secretary of state Colin Powell issued a clear smackdown of Dick Cheney‘s attacks on President Obama, and he said the former vice president is wrong to suggest that President Obama and his administration have jeopardized our national security.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. COLIN POWELL, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE:  My bottom line answer is the nation is still at risk.  Terrorists are out there.  They are trying to get through.  But to suggest somehow we have become much less safer because of the actions of the administration I don‘t know are borne out by the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, General Powell also leveled Cheney‘s arguments for waterboarding and those military commissions.  Here‘s what he said to Cheney‘s recent prediction that Barack Obama will be a one-term president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL:  Oh, we‘ll see whether Mr. Obama is a one-term president or not, but I would caution my Republican friends that he‘s got three years to go.  And in that three years, the American people are going to want to see some progress and not just claims that this guy‘s out of office and we‘re going to do everything to destroy him, or that somehow, he is a socialist taking over the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, so who wins this face-off?  Clarence Page is a “Chicago Tribune” columnist and Michael Isikoff is “Newsweek‘s” investigative reporter and an MSNBC contributor.  Michael, why is—why is this happening?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Why is Powell going after Cheney?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s start with Dick Cheney, the man who I often nicely call the troll.  But the fact is, why is he out—out there trashing so hard?  Why didn‘t he just retire?  He had his eight years as vice president.  He‘s acting like a turret gun guy.  He‘s like a rear...

ISIKOFF:  Right.  He craves vindication.

MATTHEWS:  Tail gunner.

ISIKOFF:  He wants—you know, he wants the world to think that he was right about everything.  He‘s never acknowledged being wrong about anything.

MATTHEWS:  But he was just a dutiful public servant of George W. Bush, right?

ISIKOFF:  No, in fact...

MATTHEWS:  Is he not saying those were his policies?

ISIKOFF:  He went pretty far in the last interview he gave on ABC in making clear that he opposed much of what the Bush administration did in its second term, that he was in constant battle with them.  And as he conceded, he lost quite a few battles on many of these very same issues.  So his real quarrel is with the president he used to serve, George W. Bush, on a lot of this, rather than with Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  General Powell, despite the fact a lot of people, including, I guess me, were disappointed that he wasn‘t able to wield his strength we thought he would have as secretary of state in, you know, what‘s the right word, tempering the hawkish tendencies of that administration, he has certainly come back and tried to rectify that. 

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  You could call this

a duel of two men trying to vindicate themselves as far as their historical

their legacy in history is concerned. 

Dick Cheney wants to distance himself from his former boss, who had already distanced himself from Cheney during his—the second term...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PAGE:  ... the last four years.  Colin Powell, meanwhile, the one big blot on his record is that he went to the United Nations and persuaded people.  He was the most persuasive voice on justifying our invasion of Iraq.  And he has plainly regretted it and has—has of late been showing himself to be once again a man in the sensible center, as he referred to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But also a soldier.  He has reground himself as a general, not as a secretary of state.  If you look at his—well, let me ask you the question.  Fighting to defend against getting rid of water-boarding, opposing water-boarding, opposing Gitmo, making very strong pro-soldier statements that could sound liberal if he were not a soldier, but he‘s basically giving a soldier‘s position on the Geneva Conventions. 

ISIKOFF:  Look, these are positions he took when he was in the Bush administration itself.  I mean, he fought with Cheney on things, and he was a reluctant warrior on Iraq.  He—he expressed strong reservations about it at times, didn‘t take a strong stand.  But he did...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to get to what Powell‘s motive is, because Powell is really out there.  Here he is.  Here he is.  He said the Bush administration actually stopped using water-board.  Let‘s listen—water-boarding. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION”)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I don‘t know where the claim comes that we are less safe.  The point is made that, well, we don‘t water-board anymore or use extreme interrogation techniques. 

Most of those extreme interrogation techniques and water-boarding were done away with in the Bush administration.  And they have been made officially done away with in—in this current administration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michael.

ISIKOFF:  Yes, he‘s absolutely correct about that. 

The last time they water-boarded was like 2003.  But, of course, Cheney always wanted to keep the book open on this.  He always pushed for more of it, more...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  And there were other enhanced interrogation techniques that went pretty far as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Describe some. 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  There‘s a rather graphic description in this Justice Department report that just got released on Friday about sleep deprivation and how they actually accomplished, how they kept people awake, shackling them to—above their heads with chains, forcing them nude, wearing diapers, keeping them on their feet for hours on end.  That is—is was what sleep deprivation actually meant. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And sitting on a stool, that, if you fall off the stool, if you fall asleep.

ISIKOFF:  You lose your balance, yes.  It‘s pretty graphic stuff.  And  if people fully understood what was going on, they might see why...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a hero of a lot of Americans, especially those on the right, or center-right.  Here‘s General Petraeus.  He was opposed to—he is also opposed to enhanced interrogation techniques like water-boarding.  Here he is on “Meet the Press.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. 

And I think that whenever we have perhaps taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside.  Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non-biodegradables.  They don‘t go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility. 

Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given, the force of law by Congress, that that works. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, wow, you can see why he‘s good in a briefing like for the president. 

PAGE:  Oh, yes.  This is General Petraeus‘s philosophy.  As we know, he‘s an expert at counterinsurgency, at what we used to call winning the hearts and minds of the people.  Remember that?

And that means that—that you cannot be cavalier about such—such enhanced interrogations, if you will as—as water-boarding, et cetera.  There‘s a larger argument going on here, Chris, between two philosophies of approaching the war on terror, if you will. 

Is it a war or is an international police action.  And that is something that Dick Cheney is pushing on the war side, to say anything is justified.  As he said—quote, unquote—“I‘m big on water-boarding”—or—I‘m sorry—“a fan of water-boarding.”

And that‘s the sort of thing that can protect him in the international community, if anybody in the future decides to go after him for war crimes, because under certain interpretations of international law, he‘s already committed them. 

MATTHEWS:  Anything goes.

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But, you know, one of the interesting things about how Cheney was very effective in arguing the case that, if you say it‘s just a criminal action, you don‘t get we‘re at war.  I understand the game that is being played there.  And maybe it‘s justified to some extent. 

But I could do it the other way, Michael.  I could say that Dick Cheney, the former vice president, would say, you don‘t get it.  Terrorism‘s a crime, as well as a war—a tactic.  It‘s wrong to kill people in civilian buildings, wrong to use airplanes to kill people, regular civilian airliners.  That‘s not warfare.  These guys aren‘t combatants. 

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re terrorists.  They‘re criminals.  So, why not treat them as criminals once you catch them.  Don‘t glorify them by calling them soldiers. 

ISIKOFF:  As we speak now, Eric Holder is having a press conference at the Justice Department announcing the guilty plea by this guy Zazi who was going to try to blow up the New York City subways last fall on the anniversary...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ISIKOFF:  ... he‘s cooperating now with the FBI, providing important intelligence, being treated as a criminal justice suspect. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  He‘s entered a guilty plea.  It‘s like graphic evidence right there that you can get useful intelligence and make progress by using the law enforcement system. 

MATTHEWS:  These are gripping fights. 

Thank you, gentlemen.  Thank you. 

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  This fight between Powell and Petraeus was so impressive there, Petraeus, General Petraeus, and General Powell going at Dick Cheney.  Boy, what a fight to the finish.  This is a twilight struggle here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Michael Isikoff, Clarence Page.

Up next:  Do all politicians lie?  That seems to be the sophisticated answer people are giving—or pseudo-sophisticated answer people are giving to pollsters.

Please, ladies and gentlemen, if you don‘t know the answer to a poll, don‘t give it.  Don‘t try to impress the damn pollster.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: feet to the fire.  

It was just last week that Evan Bayh, the Democratic senator from Indiana, said he wasn‘t running again because of all the partisan bickering in Congress.  Well, that argument didn‘t sell with the women of “The View.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE VIEW”)

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA:  Congress is so gridlocked these days.  It‘s regrettable.  But, with the brain-dead ideology of the strident partnership, months go by.  We don‘t get anything done. 

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”:  You know, I hate to say this, but you sound like Sarah Palin right now.  Why quit now when we need you?

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”:  Sometimes, when you‘re doing, fighting the good fight, you‘re out there and you‘re going to get hit with the stuff.  Why are you splitting?  I mean...

BEHAR:  We‘re mad at you. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BAYH:   You‘re getting me in trouble with my wife if you‘re mad with me. 

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”:  Why not stay in and fight?

BAYH:  It is possible that the last chapter of my public life has not yet been written.  What that might be, I don‘t know.

But if I ever did conclude that I could make a real difference, a better difference by running for public office again, I might do that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think people in show business know how you just have to put up with rejection.  It comes with the business.  You have got to put up with it, or you‘re not really in the scene.  That scene, which happened today, was a hell of statement.  And I don‘t think you can be helped but be impressed by those women on “The View” today and what they said. 

Next:  What‘s Republican Senator Tom Coburn‘s idea of good governance?  Well, it‘s just saying no.  Last Friday, he told an Oklahoma town hall—quote—“I love gridlock.  I think we‘re better off when we‘re gridlocked because we‘re not passing things.”

How about it if your last election was gridlocked, Senator, and you never got your job?  Would that be good?  There‘s a difference between voting down something and not even voting.  We‘re told to vote, we citizens.  Why don‘t senators vote?  Why do they use the filibuster rule to keep themselves from voting up or down, like on health care?

Finally, revisionism at its finest—today, it comes courtesy of John McCain, who is clearly feeling the heat from primary challenger and party tea-bagger J.D. Hayworth.  Back in 2008, Senator McCain backed that $700 billion bank bailout.  Now that anger over government bailouts has reached a fever pitch, at least among the Tea Partiers, he‘s qualifying his support. 

McCain claims he was misled by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, saying—quote—“Something had to be done, because the world‘s financial system was on the verge of collapse.  Any economist, liberal or conservative, would agree with that.  The action they took, I don‘t agree with.”

Well, that‘s called having your cake and eating it, too. 

Now for the “Big Number.” 

And it‘s a sad commentary on the attitude of false sophistication people take when asked a question by a pollster.  In a new CNN poll, how many people responded that President George Washington lied to the public?  Seventy-four percent, three-quarters.

Now, I have a question for those who told the pollster that.  My question is this.  When did Washington lie?  Name the issue.  Name the occasion.  Name anything, if you know anything, if you know anything.  If not, just tell the pollster the next time, I have no idea, and, therefore, I‘m not going to respond to your question. 

Now, that would be intelligent, honest and dignified.  Seventy-four percent are guessing that America‘s founding father lied in office.  What a big, stupid answer.  That‘s today‘s big answer and “Big Number.”

Up next:  Guess who won the presidential straw vote at the CPAC convention?  Ron Paul.  Now, what does that say about the direction of the Republican Party?  Hmm. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Not a lot of movement in stocks today—the Dow Jones industrials sliding 19 points, the S&P 500 losing just a point, the Nasdaq slipping almost two points. 

Investors are trading cautiously ahead of congressional testimony from Fed Chief Ben Bernanke later this week.  Bank shares rose as investors took last week‘s surprise discount rate increase from the Fed as a vote of confidence in the financial system. 

Health insurers also moving higher today, as President Obama laid out a revised overhaul of the U.S. health care.  The nation‘s number-two home improvement chain, Lowe‘s, finished flat, despite better-than-expected earnings and an upbeat forecast. 

Campbell‘s Soup shares fell 1.25 percent on unusually weak sales during the early winter months.  And Toyota is down a fraction today as the company braces for congressional hearings on recent recalls starting tomorrow on Capitol Hill—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In case you missed it, the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend here in Washington, here‘s a quick recap of what you missed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The sky‘s the limit here.  I think 2010 is going to be a phenomenal year for the conservative cause. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

CHENEY:  And I think Barack Obama is a one-term president. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  By the way, you probably—you probably didn‘t hear the news this morning, late-breaking, that the gold medal that was won last night by American Lindsey Vonn has been stripped.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  Yes, it was determined that President Obama has been going downhill faster than she has.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Take back Washington time.  We have got the fever.  We have got the hope.  We‘re ready for the change. 

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA:  I think we can learn a lot from that situation, not from Tiger, but from his wife, and take a nine iron and smash the window out of the big government in this country. 

(APPLAUSE)

GLENN BECK, HOST, “GLENN BECK”:  I haven‘t seen the “come to Jesus” moment of the Republican Party yet. 

My name is the Republican Party, and I got a problem.  I‘m addicted to spending and big government. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what a show that was. 

Pat Buchanan, it was Ron Paul, who was much-abused during the fight for the 2008 nomination in all those Republican debates, made fun of.  And Ron Paul now has won that straw poll. 

But, getting to our guests now, joining me right now is, of course, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC contributor, and Tom McClusky senior vice president for the Family Research Council. 

Tom, thank you for joining us.

TOM MCCLUSKY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  Three Irish Catholics here.  Real great diversity here again. 

MCCLUSKY:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just kidding. 

Pat, this story, does it mean anything that Ron Paul won this thing, beating out Romney, beating out Palin, killing her, basically, Palin? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Palin didn‘t go.  And I understand why she didn‘t do that well. 

But I will tell you, it does mean this.  I don‘t—I don‘t think you should say Ron Paul is suddenly a front-runner or something like that.  But it does mean, Chris, that the libertarian conservatives, the anti-war conservatives, the anti-Wilsonian conservatives, the anti-interventionists...

MATTHEWS:  You, your crowd. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  They‘re growing in strength. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  That‘s the way I read it. 

BUCHANAN:  There‘s no question about it.

And they will be represented in the politics of 2011, 2012.  For 2010, the whole group, however, will come together.  And it is going to be a good year, as Mr. Cheney—excuse me—Mr. Cheney said. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what, Tom?  I completely buy that, even though I don‘t share his philosophy entirely.  I do appreciate his charm, Mr. Buchanan here, and his congeniality.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I do.  But the fact of the matter is, it seems to me you don‘t hear a lot of hawkish, let‘s go to war.  You don‘t hear Michael Ledeen, let‘s find another country to go to war with there. 

The neoconservative crowd isn‘t there anymore.  I didn‘t see them at the convention, did you, at CPAC, the hawks?

MCCLUSKY:  It‘s—I would—I wouldn‘t disagree.  What you saw...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happened to the crowd?

Did they get abused by blowing it on the war intel, or what?

MCCLUSKY:  Well, I think between all the spending, all the mis—all the abuse that they saw in Washington from both parties, they finally just had it. 

I mean, I‘m sitting here with the original Tea Partier.  I saw his campaign back in 1992, and again in 1996.  And I think those people are—

MATTHEWS:  Which was better, the attempt in ‘92 or ‘96?  Which did you like better?

MCCLUSKY:  I saw closer in ‘92 with my former boss then.  I‘ve got to say ‘92. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened to the conservative movement that it was taken over by a libertarian?  A lot of our kids, whatever their political parents or anything else, love the idea of government off your back, less this, less that, let me be free in my life, let me make the choices in my life.  That has a tremendous sort of primordial appeal to a young person, before they get sick, before they have needs, and before they get old. 

MCCLUSKY:  One thing on the CPAC poll, it also said that people are not satisfied with the choices out there right now.  I think Ron Paul was symbolic of that vote. 

MATTHEWS:  They could have voted for Romney.  They didn‘t vote for Romney.

BUCHANAN:  But Chris, here‘s the thing: what Ron Paul has is authenticity and credibility as someone who will not only really downsize big government at home, but downsize the empire abroad.  This is what a lot of these libertarian folks—they basically are really for reducing the welfare, warfare state. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that a great question?  How can you have a cut in taxes, and fiscal responsibility, if you insist on the empirial view of American foreign policy.  How can you have all three?  Less taxes, less deficits, oh well, and we‘ll spend all the money in the world that we might feel required to spend to dominate world politics, to be number one as people like to say. 

MCCLUSKY:  I can‘t speak for the libertarian view—

MATTHEWS:  That isn‘t the libertarian view. 

MCCLUSKY:  I think the conservative view is that the spending that is being done needs to be done better.  There needs to be less of it in Washington.  And a lot of people who are out there were Tenth Amendment conservatives, ones who believe there are certain power limited to the federal government,  and the rest should be left to the states. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s certainly in the Constitution, so we‘re for it.  You‘re dodging the question here, because you don‘t want to make a choice among the hawk conservatives, the libertarian conservatives and the church conservatives.  I would say there‘s a division here between the hawkish conservatives, who say any war is worth it, and the other conservatives who say, no, we have to US interests first.  Then we have to look at US ability for war.  Then we get to whether we go to war or not.  Some people on the conservative side say all wars are justified, basically. 

MCCLUSKY:  I would disagree with that view, even though Family research Council doesn‘t have a view on the current wars going over there right now.  What needs to be done is supporting the troops that are over there. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course.

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s the fundamental dilemma that comes up in 2011, 2012 for both parties: look, you‘ve got these gigantic deficits, 11 percent of GDP.  You can cut entitlement programs, social programs.  Democrats won‘t do it.  You can raise taxes.  Republicans won‘t do that.  Or you can cut the one trillion dollars we spent on the empire abroad.  That cow is going to be on the chopping block. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s putting it there, the Dems or the Republicans? 

BUCHANAN:  I think the Republicans will in the primaries.  They‘re going to say, look, why in heaven‘s name are we borrowing from Japan, the Arab Gulf states, and Europe to defend Japan, the Arab gulf states and Europe.  Why are we borrowing money all over the world to defend the whole world for heaven‘s sakes?  Why aren‘t there defending themselves?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re here, Tom.

MCCLUSKY:  I would not disagree with a lot of what Pat said, except I would always add in that there‘s a lot domestically that is being spent that needs to be cut. 

MATTHEWS:  Name a program you want to get rid of. 

MCCLUSKY:  The Americorp program. 

MATTHEWS:  What else?  Keep going?

BUCHANAN:  Public broadcasting.

MATTHEWS:  These are small—this is small potatoes. 

MCCLUSKY:  Department of Education is not small potatoes, Department of Labor. 

BUCHANAN:  Across the board, no pay growth for 18 months in the entire federal government, Congress and the president, a freeze on federal pay.  That will save a lot of money.  There‘s a lot of ideas.  But you‘re right, Chris, people are going to have to get up there in 2011 and say, what are you going to cut?  People are going to ask them.  They can‘t say, well, public broadcasting.  That won‘t do it. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got the Veterans Administration.  We‘ve got the Agriculture Department, the Commerce Department, the Labor Department.  Everybody‘s got something they want to spend money on.  They don‘t want to spend money on anybody else‘s stuff. 

I‘ve seen these surveys, by the way.  You ask the voters what they want to cut, you know what they say?  General government expenses and foreign aid, yes, which is about less than one.  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

Are we finished with you?  Thank you, Tom McClusky.  Thanks for coming on and putting up with us.

Anyway, Ron Paul will be Joe Scarborough‘s guest tomorrow morning on “MORNING JOE.”  That‘s a great get for Joe, Ron Paul, the latest victor in the fight for the conservative movement.

Up next, Joe Lieberman gives liberals a reason to like him again.  He‘s the lead sponsor—he‘s out on point on this one, on “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  I guess it‘s OK for him to call himself a Democrat.  What‘s Lieberman up to?  The politics returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the politics fix.  We got a great topic.  It‘s pure fun.  Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman says he will take the lead on the bill to repeal “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”  What‘s he up to? 

Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC political analyst, and Susan Page is a Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.”

Susan, how many times has Joe Lieberman looked for a chance to thumb his nose at the Democrats, to say I‘m not one of you guys, on every issue, it seems.  Here he is on an issue of great social change and he‘s out front. 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  He‘s out front.  He‘s doing it at a time the White House has no interest in talking about “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”

Maybe he‘s trying to get in—maybe he‘s trying to cultivate better relations with Democrats back in Connecticut.  Maybe he‘s trying to get back at—

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s running again for the nomination?  Isn‘t young Ted Kennedy thinking about that race, being talked up as a possible challenger? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He‘s got a few years to build.  Remember that Lieberman‘s numbers—he‘s got 81 percent disapproval among Democrats and 61 percent disapproval among independents.  The guy is going to be out of a job in three years.

MATTHEWS:  Good name ID, though.  They all know who he is. 

PAGE:  People said last time that he was going to be out of a job and he won a three-way race.  He could run as a Democrat.  He could run as an independent again.  He‘s ran and won before.  And 2012 is a long way off. 

WOLFFE:  He could, but he has to do something on health care.  That‘s really killed his numbers.  People saw what he did on health care and thought that was petty politics.  He‘s got to find a way around to being the bridge.  If he wants to be the independent, he‘s got to be like Scott Brown.  He‘s got to find a way to bridge the two. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a guy in the “New York Daily News”, James Kirkchick (ph) -- here‘s what he said, “just when you thought Joe Lieberman couldn‘t frustrate and perplex liberals even further, he‘s going off to become chief sponsor of the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year.”  First of all, is it going to be this year? 

PAGE:  It‘s not up to Joe Lieberman whether it comes up.  It‘s going to be up to the Democratic leadership.  As I said, they‘ve got some other fish to fry before the November elections.  Wouldn‘t you be surprised if they acted on Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell this year? 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think anybody wants to do it this soon, although they‘ve got to do it pretty soon. 

WOLFFE:  Look how the politics of this has changed.  It puts John McCain out in opposition to the chairman of the Joints Chief, or top generals like Colin Powell, and former generals, and now his best buddy and possible one time running mate, Joe Lieberman. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about something very interesting to America.  We‘ve changed as country.  We‘re a protean country.  On the issue of same-sex marriage, I think the country is still in that debate.  I think we agree that debate hot debate, right? 

WOLFFE:  It‘s in flux.

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s moving slightly toward—but very slightly, and sometimes it‘s two steps forward and one step backwards.  But the issue of service, open service in the military, seems like it has moved, right?  It‘s up to 7 some percent now, where people say openly that they want this to be done. 

PAGE:  Most Americans say we should repeal Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell and let gay men and lesbians serve openly in the armed services.  But the people who oppose it feel much more intensely about it than the people who support it.  That‘s why it‘s such a tough issue politically, especially in an election year like this. 

MATTHEWS:  And in a Republican primary, how does it cut? 

PAGE:  Well, mostly—

MATTHEWS:  Is J.D. Hayworth smart to oppose it? 

PAGE:  It cuts both ways, because there are a lot of Republicans who are libertarians on these issues and would support a repeal.  And then there are a lot of Republicans who are very socially conservative, who would support keeping the policy. 

WOLFFE:  And that‘s the fissure line.  That‘s the break in the conservative movement right now.  You see the rise of the Tea Parties, the Ron Paul vote at CPAC—the libertarian wing and social conservatives just diverge on issues like this. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you impressed—I was impressed the fact that a Barry Goldwater conservative, live and let live conservative, who is not a hawk, who does not believe in wars of whatever—wars of empire, whatever you want to call them, the new conservative cause—doesn‘t believe in that—won out over a sort of a mainstay Republican.  You‘re laughing. 

PAGE:  I‘m not sure the CPAC straw poll of 2,400 people who go to a convention and go down to the basement and fill out a—I‘m not sure it means very much.  It means Ron Paul supporters are pretty fervent, which we know.  They‘re willing to turn out and do this. 

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re Ron Paul, it‘s a big deal.  I think it‘s a big loss for Mitt Romney to lose this thing.  He loses it.  Sarah Palin getting wasted—what did she get, six? 

PAGE:  I don‘t think it‘s a loss for Mitt Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  Palin got seven. 

PAGE:  Well, she didn‘t show up.  They were mad at her for dissing them by not showing up.  I think Mitt Romney is in a pretty good place.  I thought his reception at CPAC was pretty warm. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Richard Wolffe and Susan Page for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe and “USA Today‘s” Susan Page for more of the Fix. 

The ice is cracked, not on health care, gentleman and lady, but it has cracked on the issue of that 15 billion dollar maximum jobs bill.  Apparently, four Republicans have now signed on, Scott Brown, the new senator from Massachusetts, Olympia Snow, and Susan Collins, both of Maine, and George Voinovich, the lame duck senator from Ohio, who I always thought would be good on health care, but they never got him, have all agreed to join them, helping them pass the 60 vote.  They‘ve lost Frank Lautenberg, who is ailing, and Ben Nelson, who disagrees with the jobs bill, but it looks like they are going to enough.  So they are going to get something through. 

PAGE:  So creating jobs is more important than reforming health care, which is undoubtedly true. 

MATTHEWS:  But one is temporary. 

PAGE:  And voting—Scott Brown voting with the state.  I mean, if he‘s going to be re-elected in—how many years does he—

MATTHEWS:  Two. 

PAGE:  Two years—he‘s going to need to have a voting record that shows that he‘s not just—he‘s not Jim Demint, that he‘s going to vote with the Democrats some of that time. 

MATTHEWS:  He wants to be a senator.  He didn‘t start wearing that barn coat without wanting to be a senator.  He wears the same coat that John Kerry wears.  He wants to be there for a while.

WOLFFE:  These are exactly the kinds of coalitions of the willing that this administration has to build together.  Retiring senators, retiring Republicans—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I thought.

WOLFFE:  -- and, like Voinovich—

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t they get Voinovich on health care?

WOLFFE:  And people like Brown, because he now there with the Maine women, who is representing a Democratic state.  And that‘s—the pool that has just increased. 

MATTHEWS:  Despite the euphoric sense that I‘m getting from you, they are not going to get Scott Brown on health care, because he promised them he‘d be 41. 

WOLFFE:  Right, health is a problem.  But if they can get Voinovich on this—Fiscal conservative.  He can stand—

MATTHEWS:  OK, so they‘re going to have a jobs bill.  Here‘s the question of health care, Thursday night—let‘s do some pregaming.  Thursday night, it looks to me like the president knows the Republicans won‘t play ball.  He‘ll call a press conference Friday morning after he comes out and says, I tried.  Now it‘s time to go; 60 Days, they‘ll do it through reconciliation. 

PAGE:  That‘s the only way he‘s going to get a health care bill this year. 

WOLFFE:  Yes, if he can get House Democrats to trust the Senate Democrats.   

MATTHEWS:  To do reconciliation.  Well, they‘re working that out with the parliamentarians, but you think that is the plan now? 

WOLFFE:  Yeah. 

MATTHEWS:  Try the Republicans, making it clear there is no one is home. 

PAGE:  And that‘s pretty much what Robert Gibbs signaled from the podium today. 

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t signal.  He said, we‘re willing to go the reconciliation route.  My question is, the president goes to roughing it through, majority vote in the Senate, get the House to go along with it—this is it.  This is the name of the game right now, right?  No Republicans really? 

PAGE:  It‘s hard to imagine. 

WOLFFE:  He may be able to pick up someone if he gets—if he can convince them on the fraud issue, on fiscal responsibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are you saying this? 

WOLFFE:  In the House, not in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  So no more senators?

WOLFFE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  So this Thursday night thing is basically what? 

PAGE:  It‘s good faith -- 

MATTHEWS:  What would you call it as a journalist?  Would you call it a set up, as Mike Pence calls it, the Republican leader?  Would you call it a summit?  What would you call it? 

PAGE:  I would call it theater. 

MATTHEWS:  Theater, thank you very much, Richard Wolffe.  Thank you, Susan Page.  That‘s  why she‘s on the front page of “USA Today.”  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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