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updated 2/24/2010 11:30:31 AM ET 2010-02-24T16:30:31

Guests: Howard Dean, Michael Smerconish, Steve McMahon, John Feehery,

Cynthia Tucker, Steve Kornacki

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Let's have a straight up-or-down vote.

Elections matter.

Let's play HARDBALL.

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

Priming the pump. Has Barack Obama just shown the country how a government

can work? Last night, Senator Scott Brown, the new Republican lawmaker

from Massachusetts, the one that won Ted Kennedy's old seat, joined with

the majority of Democrats to overcome a filibuster and pass a $15 billion

jobs bill.

Is this the start of something big? Is it a sign of how the Democrats

can pass health care? Or is it a stark timely notice that the only way to

get a bill through the U.S. Senate is either to get Republicans to break

their own party's filibuster or ram it through in a straight up-or-down

vote, whether the Republicans complain or not? We'll ask Governor Howard

Dean what the lesson is at the top of the show.

Plus: Is it a summit or a showdown? Both sides are gaming out

Thursday's health care gathering, and the HARDBALL strategists are here on

HARDBALL to tell us what Democrats and Republicans ought to do heading into

the big event.

And here's a big one for the HARDBALL home team. Drive time goes

independent. That's what radio talk show host Michael Smerconish says

about his new affiliation and what he thinks of his old one, being a

Republican.

Also, "Don't ask, don't tell." Army chief of staff George Casey says

he's concerned about what might happen if it's dropped. Well, we'll see if

he gets on base.

And Newt Gingrich insists on calling President Obama a socialist.

Does Newt Gingrich even know what a socialist is? We'll check out the

dictionary and see if he ever did. Check out the "Sideshow" with us

tonight.

We start with Scott Brown and the Republicans who helped Democrats

pass that jobs bill. NBC News political director Chuck Todd is our chief

White House correspondent. So what did you learn, as an analyst, watching

those five Republicans-Scott Brown, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of

Maine, George Voinovich and Kit Bond of Missouri-all joined the

Democratic team and passed that jobs bill last night? Is this a lesson?

And if so, what's the lesson?

CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all,

it's deja vu all over again. You know, this was sort of the group of about

five of about nine Republican senators that voted, for instance, on

children's health care way back in the spring of 2009. This was always the

group that was going to be open to wooing by the White House. And of

course, when it came to Olympia Snowe, it sort of stopped sometime in

October on the issue of health care.

So I guess what I learned is two things from this vote. Number one,

Scott Brown would like to be a United States senator past 2012. And number

two, that is this idea of putting small pieces of legislation through is

probably going to be the story of 2010. This idea of trying to do big,

comprehensive packages is going to be very difficult, but if you do smaller

bites at the apple, which this jobs bill was a big-much smaller bite

than they originally talked about, you're going to have an easier time

getting it through the Senate...

MATTHEWS: You know what it...

TODD: ... if you go by this 60-vote-if you go by this 60-vote

idea.

MATTHEWS: OK. Yes, that's what I-you just hit on it. What it

told me is on every damn bill that goes before the United States Senate

now, they're going to pull the filibuster number. It's not just on the big

issues of Civil Rights or landmark legislation. They're going to jam it

and force the Democrats to come up with 60 votes, no matter what they want

to do.

And isn't this or couldn't this be an object lesson to the American

people, if you want American elections to count for president, if you want

your vote to count, why are you sitting around and letting the Republican

minority say every time an issue comes up you're going to take 60 votes to

get it done? I'm just asking. This, to me, teaches the lesson.

Let's go on to Thursday. What do you think Obama is up to? What can

you read in what his plan is, the president, for when he goes into Blair

House Thursday morning and how he comes out?

TODD: Right. Well, look, his new health care plan seemed more

focused on trying to get 218 Democrats to support it in the House, rather

than trying to find Republicans to get on board. I think Thursday is as

much a political event as it is a policy event. It's about the White House

trying to get political cover so that when they go the dual routes-and

remember, there's two tracks here.

They've already passed a health care bill in the United States Senate

and the House. In order for that health care bill to become law, the

easiest thing for them to do is to take that Senate bill, pass it in the

House. Well, some House folks want some, quote, unquote, "fixes." That's

what they're talking about doing under the reconciliation, or the 50-vote

budget process, using this idea of saying if it's connected to the budget,

it shouldn't be held under the filibuster rules. And it's those fixes that

they're talking about putting together.

My guess of what happens on Thursday is there will be a Republican

idea or two that the president grabs onto, could be medical malpractice

reform, could be something else, and he'll throw that in his package of

fixes that is what the bridge that they're going to pass in the Senate

under this 50-vote scenario.

MATTHEWS: Right.

TODD: And they'll try to get this thing done probably in the next

couple of weeks. I can't imagine that they really want this thing to go

through April and May and this or that.

MATTHEWS: Well, they're talking 60 days, though.

TODD: I hear the 60 days. But you would assume they could move this

stuff a little quicker than that if they just want to get it done.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me run this scenario by you because you're the

expert (INAUDIBLE) It seems to me they're going to have this meeting. The

president's going to preside. It's going to be a meeting. We'll know what

it's going to be, a kabuki kind of thing. We'll know the Republicans will

come up with some alternatives. The president'll say, But that won't meet

the needs of 30 million people who are uninsured right now. You don't have

a plan for that, so you don't have a plan.

He then goes back to the White House. He dumps the Republican

Congress people and senators over at Blair House. He goes back to the

White House at 5:00 o'clock Thursday afternoon, holds a press conference

where he has access to the press and they don't. He then declares he's

tried it with these bozos, as he'll suggest they are. They don't want to

play ball. And therefore, he's going to move ahead with an up-or-down vote

in the Senate following House action on the Senate bill. Is that the way

it looks?

TODD: I-you know, look, we've all been trying to press them on

figuring out, like, Whoa, OK, what is your post-summit strategy, what are

you up to here, what's coming out of all this? And they are remarkably mum

about this. They won't even play these hypothetical games behind the

scenes.

You know, I think you're right in this respect, Chris. I think

they've learned the lesson and that we will see him pretty quickly after

the summit so that he has as much chance to spin what happens in there as

the Republicans do.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he's not going to let the Republicans stand next to

him. He's going to do what Reagan did to Tip O'Neill in my day. He's

going to come around and say, Look, I had a nice time with you, boys and

girls, but I'm going back to the White House, where I'm president and I

have the White House press corps, and I'll be talking to Chuck and the

other guys over there on my terms after having presided at this meeting.

By the way, how does he get to preside at a meeting where there's a

negotiation, in effect? In (INAUDIBLE) he's SEIU and the other guys on the

other side of the bargaining table-how does he get to preside and also

be an advocate? How did he get away with that at Blair House?

TODD: Well, look, he's the president. I mean, you know, he's the one

that invited them to this summit. So this is-you know, this is what

they call the bully pulpit. I mean, you know...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... he's the-he is the lone representative of American

government when it comes-that's what the presidency is, whether

everybody wants to acknowledge that or not. So I guess, why wouldn't he be

the person that would preside over the meeting?

MATTHEWS: OK...

TODD: Now, of course, Republicans say, Hey, we want to be able to

concoct a deal together here. Well, that is-and I think you're right.

I think he said, Well, cover 30 million people and then come talk to me.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think that's going to be his bar for-they have to

reach. Let me ask you this. Is it your sense, talking-listening to

Pfeiffer and those guys at the White House, the press people-who's job

it is to tell you what the president's thinking. Are you getting a pretty

clear signal he's going up for an up-or-down vote, after this summit, in

the Senate, he's going to try to get a vote which will be 50 votes plus Joe

Biden to get this through the Congress, the health care bill?

TODD: Yes. In fact, that phrase, Chris, they have used it now

publicly. Pfeiffer, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director,

put it on a blog post, Robert Gibbs at that podium, up-or-down vote. That

is not an accident. And I think that some would argue-there's some

Obama supporters, sort of outside advisers, who would argue that, you know,

they didn't-they set the bar on the 60-vote thing too high from the get-

go.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: And they allowed that to be defined as nuclear option, when

they believe that the filibuster...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... that the fact that they're filibustering this should be

viewed this as a version of the nuclear option, as well. And they feel

like that that's one of the...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: ... among the many spin things that they've lost, that that's

one of them, as well.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes, I think they probably suffered for the fact they

ended up getting 60 votes with the help of Arlen Specter shifting, that

they were about to think about getting 60. And once they fell into that

trap...

TODD: Well, right. And...

MATTHEWS: ... they were saying they could do it. And by the way, no

party's ever going to get 60 without getting 70 because once you get up

into that area...

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... of trying to get 60, you know the history, you've got

to get a bunch of Republicans to go with those conservative Democrats...

TODD: But you know...

MATTHEWS: ... or they won't join you.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Right. The irony in this, on that phrase "nuclear option"-

remember who started using it first? It was Senate Democrats when they

were worried the Bush White House was going to use the, quote, unquote,

"nuclear option" to get...

MATTHEWS: Right.

TODD: ... their judges through, those conservative judges. So this

is a case where some words that they used are biting them back a little

bit.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it's like "voodoo economics," one of those terms they

use, and then it catches on. But I think you're right, they're going back

to up-or-down vote. No more ramming it through, none of that...

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... Latinate ridiculous word "reconciliation," which is

actually the opposite of reconciliation. It's fighting words. Anyway,

thank you, Chuck Todd.

TODD: You got it. All right, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK, thanks. Let's bring in Democrat-former Democratic

national chairman and former Vermont governor, Dr. Howard Dean. He's now a

health care consultant for the law firm McKenna, Long and Aldridge (ph) --

I'm sure it's a white shoe firm-as well as a consultant for Democracy

for America and a contributor to CNBC.

So you've been sitting here, Governor-thank you for listening to

this-as I've been trying to figure out with Chuck, who's the expert, on

what the scenario is. It look like they're going to go to the summit with

the expectation that Republicans will not propose a plan that covers 30

million, 40 million more people. They'll be able to say they tried.

They'll go back to their Democratic liberals and try to get it through the

House with the 217 they need now. They have a couple vacancies. No

Stupak. They're going the hard way. They're going to the liberal side.

Do you think they'll get the liberals to go along with what they have now?

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER VERMONT GOVERNOR: If they don't have Stupak

in there, I think they definitely will.

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN: I still think there's one huge flaw in this bill, and that is

the president is going to sign the bill, hopefully, and then it doesn't go

into effect until 2013. I still think in the House, in reconciliation-

they're going to have to use reconciliation one way or the other. They've

got to put an expansion of Medicare under 65 in there. That allows people

to start getting insurance as soon as the president signs it.

MATTHEWS: Bring it down to 60...

DEAN: Yes, and...

MATTHEWS: ... or 55?

DEAN: ... 55. Get real people insured. That's the end of story in

the election of 2010.

MATTHEWS: But don't you lose Lieberman on that and a few other guys?

DEAN: You don't need Lieberman.

MATTHEWS: You don't...

DEAN: Had we had Lieberman, we would have had that with 60 votes.

MATTHEWS: So that's all part of the strategy of going for majority

vote.

DEAN: That's what I would do.

MATTHEWS: So you'd sacrifice a couple votes to get-to get the

earlier...

DEAN: You've got to have some kind of public choice. You've got to

have choice for these folks. Right now, you're forcing them all in with a

big mandate...

MATTHEWS: Who's with you on that in the Senate right now? Who's

willing to say, Put that in?

DEAN: The last I knew, we had 23 people, 22 sign on...

MATTHEWS: Who are for a public option, but how many are for this

particular thing of reducing Medicare eligibility to...

DEAN: Well, the Medicare eligibility is kind of a compromise.

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN: You'll get more people there. We almost had it before.

MATTHEWS: That's a smart...

DEAN: We had Joe Lieberman for a while, and then he backed away when

he figured out that this might actually...

MATTHEWS: Well, he's from Hartford.

DEAN: Yes, he's from Hartford, and he also...

MATTHEWS: Well, it's the insurance capital.

DEAN: ... doesn't like Democrats very much.

MATTHEWS: The other insurance capital is Nebraska, Omaha. It's no

surprise where these people are coming from, right?

DEAN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: You know, let me ask you this. Do you have a sense that

the president has finally realized that he has to write the bill?

DEAN: Yes. I think that's what he did. And I think...

MATTHEWS: This week.

DEAN: Yes. It's-you know, there's-this bill is not an earth-

shaking bill, but it's a decent bill. And I think-I hope it passes.

It's going to be a problem...

MATTHEWS: That's why I wanted you here, to say that, whether you

would or not.

DEAN: Yes, I do. You know, the problem is, it's got some stuff in

there that's going to cause some trouble. Individual mandates, probably

not necessary. That's going to cause trouble. No public option, that's a

big problem because it means we're going to be battling insurance companies

for the next 30 years. But what you get...

MATTHEWS: How do you get the young and healthy to share the cost of

medical care if you don't have a mandate?

DEAN: You don't have to do that. They contribute so little to it.

Look, we did this stuff. The reason I know so much about this is 16 years

ago, when I was governor, we put in all this stuff. We don't have a

mandate.

MATTHEWS: Well, how many 25-year-old insured people did you have,

healthy people?

DEAN: We have lots of uninsured 25-year-olds. We...

MATTHEWS: No, insured.

DEAN: I have no idea. I mean, what's the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I mean, how do you get those people to buy insurance?

DEAN: We don't. If they don't want to buy it, they don't want to buy

it. Now, we have a great deal for people under 18.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DEAN: Almost everybody-I think it's 96 percent have insurance if

they're under 18. That works great.

MATTHEWS: Because their parents are paying for it.

DEAN: For 480 bucks a year.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Right.

DEAN: We do it through Medicaid expansion. But we discovered that

you could regulate the insurance companies, force the insurance companies

to give insurance to anybody who wanted it, no preexisting conditions bans.

No-you can only charge 20 percent above your base rate to any patient or

any client, and that that does not destroy the insurance market even if you

don't have an individual mandate.

MATTHEWS: So it looks like-Governor, it looks like the president's

going to push hard after he gets this summit through on Thursday to get a

health care bill through the Congress, get it through the House, get it

through the Senate, and now we get to the November elections, the outlook.

What is your outlook?

DEAN: Well, it's tough without...

MATTHEWS: Do they lose the House?

DEAN: They could without a public option. The reason...

MATTHEWS: No, you know the numbers. Could they lose 40 seats in the

House?

DEAN: They could.

MATTHEWS: What will happen one way or the other to affect that? We

have 9.7 percent unemployment rate right now. Could they lose if that rate

hangs up there around 10 percent?

DEAN: They could. I happen to think the odds are against losing the

House. I think we're going to lose a bunch of seats, more than I'd like,

but I think we'll maintain our majority.

MATTHEWS: What's your bet, 30?

DEAN: I'm betting 25.

MATTHEWS: Twenty-five. How about...

DEAN: See, I think this gets better, Chris. Look, you've been in

Washington a long time. Here's the deal. Whenever-you know, Washington

automatically is compelled to be cyclical. We just hit the bottom.

MATTHEWS: I understand.

DEAN: The whole base is demoralized in the Democratic Party. No

place to go but up. Really important poll indicator, haven't heard anybody

talk about it at all, 70 percent of the arm people think better times are

ahead. Things are going to get better for Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think they're better ahead, but unfortunately,

they're ahead at the end of the year economically. And then later on, it's

going to take us a couple years to get back down to low unemployment, a

decent (INAUDIBLE)

DEAN: That's true. But you don't have to get down to 4 percent.

MATTHEWS: Everybody watching the show...

DEAN: If you get down to 7 percent.

MATTHEWS: ... wants to know that that arrow is going from 10 down to

7 as fast as possible.

DEAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: That means their job's secure.

DEAN: Let's see what it's going to be this month because it went down

under 10 last time, and that was pretty good.

MATTHEWS: Governor Howard Dean, thank you, sir.

DEAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Looks good. I think the White House will be glad to hear

what you just said, that you support the president on this bill right now.

Coming up: Radio talk show host Michael Smerconish does not support

the Republican Party. He's leaving it. He's left it. He's coming here to

talk about why he's decided to become an independent, which is a new thing

in a state like Pennsylvania, an old state where most people say they're Ds

or Rs. He's saying he's an I. He's going to tell us why.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. After endorsing Barack Obama in

the 2008 presidential election, my friend, Michael Smerconish, made it

official this week he's no longer a Republican. Here's part of what he

wrote in the great "Philadelphia Inquirer," the nation's oldest daily

newspaper. "The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests

dominated by social issues, by the religious right, with zero discernible

outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn't fit neatly within its

parameters."

Welcome Michael Smerconish. So your drive time commuter in that huge

metropolitan area of Philadelphia, the fourth largest media market in the

country, and you're driving to work one of these days this week and you

discover that your compadre in the Republican Party, who you thought shared

the deepest values with, has flipped. What do you make of it?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I don't know that

there was really any surprise for people who have listened to me for a long

time. You know, Chris, this doesn't sit so well in certain quarters of

traditional conservative talk radio. But anyone who's listened to me

carefully has known that for a number of years, I've been dissatisfied with

the direction of the party. And you just read from the column that I

wrote, and I think that it summarizes how I see things.

We live in a world of media fiction, where in talk radio and your

business, everything gets presented in black, white, red state, blue state,

left, right terms. And I don't think that's the way the real world is.

It's not the way that I carry about my life. It's not exemplified by the

people that I meet on a day-to-day basis. It only exists in the world in

which you and I work. And I've had enough of it. And I frankly think that

stirring the pot at the ends of the political spectrum has been terrible

for the country, and I want no more of it.

MATTHEWS: Well, my problem-and I want to ask you about this-is

I think a lot of the problem with becoming a Republican or Democrat-I

think some of the tea party stuff is related to this in another way-

nobody wants to buy the blue plate special. You walk into a diner, you

want to pick out what vegetables you want. They tell you, you have got to

be pro-pro-life and you have to be against stem cell, and you got to be

for the war in Iraq, and you got to do-you have go to go through the

whole list of things to be a party loyalist these days.

And, on the Democratic side, you have got to be for card check.

You've got be for the trial lawyers. You've got to go through all the

things in order to be a good Democrat. Well, you may not agree with a lot

of those things. You're ordering off the menu. You're saying, I want to

be able to pick a la carte what you're saying, right?

SMERCONISH: It is what I'm saying.

And, you know, on certain of those issues where you have debated with

me, I mean, look, I'm a guy that you know to be tolerant of harsh

interrogation methods. I think that we ought to be in Pakistan, but out of

Iraq.

I'm for the death penalty. I sound pretty conservative. But I'm for

stem cell research. I thought it was appalling what the GOP did on behalf

of Terri Schiavo in trying to make that decision for her.

And I think most Americans to this day are unaware of the fact that

the Republican platform in 2008 didn't even have an exception for rape or

the health of the mother in a case of abortion. I can't live with that.

So, I'm an independent. What pains me is that I registered to vote in

the spring of 1980, and I have never missed an election in 30 years. And

that means dogcatcher to president.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SMERCONISH: And the idea that I'm going to get out of bed in the

spring and not have the franchise in a primary because we're a closed

primary state, that really stings. And that's what I had to think long and

hard about.

MATTHEWS: It's so interesting, because Saul Alinsky, who I admire in

so many ways-I don't completely identify with his politics, but back in

the old days of Chicago organizing, he used to say to his young people the

opposite of what you just said.

He said, sure there's a lot of complexity and gray areas, and

sometimes the other side has got some good points, but don't recognize

them. Once you take sides, accept completely the right of your side and

pretend the other side has no argument going for it.

But you're saying, I'm not going to play by that rule anymore. I'm

not going to accept the fact that I have to say one side of the partisan

debate is always right. You're not going to live like that.

SMERCONISH: No, I'm not going to-no, I'm not going to live like

that.

And it is the path of most resistance in my industry. You think about

the big names in my business.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.

SMERCONISH: It's Rush Limbaugh, it's Sean Hannity and it's Glenn

Beck. And I'm humored by those who call and antagonize me by saying, oh,

this is about your self-serving career, to which I respond and say, are you

blanking me? The way to get ahead in my business is to just play windup

talk radio to, very rote-like, read the GOP talking points.

That's not where I'm not coming from, and, frankly, it's not where I

have ever been coming from. So, I'm doing this, probably to my detriment.

MATTHEWS: OK.

SMERCONISH: But, you know, that's where I am.

MATTHEWS: Well, then let's toot your horn for a minute, because it

seems to me that the other side has a hard argument to make.

I get along with Sean when I see him. I like the guy. He's a likable

guy. And people like Hannity. And I get along with Limbaugh as well. I

don't know Beck at all. I have more problem with him because I think he is

something else.

But do you think they honestly believe what they say? What is the

connection between a guy or woman who says I don't want to hear about

global warming, I don't want to hear about climate change, I don't care

about the science, I'm against-I don't even believe in evolution, and,

by the way, I'm for a war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and all those others?

Why do you have to sign onto the whole right-wing constituency, the

whole right-wing agenda? Is it just something that comes natural to

certain people to always be right-wing on everything?

SMERCONISH: Well...

MATTHEWS: I don't see a connection between being against stem cell

research, for example, and-and being for the war in Iraq.

You want to protect human life in one-in a form that you find it in

stem cells, but you don't want to protect yourself against wars that may

not be the only way to go sometimes? You're all for killing and war as the

first solution to a problem. But, when it comes to science, you're against

anything that might tread on anyone's notion of human life.

I just wonder, why is it always on one side of the plate, when clearly

they're not consistent views, are they? People are for capital punishment,

but yet they're against abortion.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They're completely for capital punishment, but they're

against abortion, they're pro-life completely, against even rape and

incest, in any situation, against a woman's right to choose.

And yet they're for capital punishment. They're not pro-life, per se,

right? I'm making your case.

SMERCONISH: I think it-I think it-you're making my case and

you're making it better than I am. I think it defies credibility that you

are lining up entirely on the left or entirely on the right, and you are

with a straight face saying, this is how I view the world.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SMERCONISH: At a certain point, I'm surprised that more listeners and

viewers don't say, you know, it doesn't pass the smell test.

Global warming is a great example. How is it that so many individuals

lacking a scientific background have a microphone put in front of them and

become Ph.D.s? I haven't got a clue. I know we have been rocked with snow

in the Northeastern part of the country, so it seems counterintuitive that

global warming is the real deal.

And then I bring on the Ph.D.s and they say, no, it's entirely

consistent, because the atmosphere is holding more moisture and

consequently you get these major storms. And my head spins, Chris.

Now, that's not the popular thing to say in talk radio.

MATTHEWS: Well, just look at Vancouver. Let me help you with that.

Look at Vancouver.

SMERCONISH: What I guess I should be saying-I...

MATTHEWS: Look at Vancouver, where it's warmer than ever out there.

SMERCONISH: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They couldn't get enough snow until recently.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: I know. But here's-but here's my point. I'm supposed

to come on the air and I'm supposed to say, where's Al Gore, you know, in

his igloo? And laugh lines and so forth.

MATTHEWS: I got you.

SMERCONISH: But, me, I want the answer to it.

And I think it's-and here's the bottom line. I want to say this.

People in the middle need a voice. We're under-represented in the world of

talk radio and on cable stations because the bookers, they only look for

those that they can introduce as a liberal or a conservative...

MATTHEWS: I know.

SMERCONISH: ... a Republican or a Democrat. That's not the bulk of

America right now.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.

SMERCONISH: What about the folks in the middle?

MATTHEWS: You know, one of the reasons people left for the suburbs,

where a lot of your viewers-or listeners-are from is to get away from

row house regimentation, where the committeemen told you how to vote. You

know what I'm saying?

They wanted to have an independent voice. And you have given them

one.

Thank you, Michael Smerconish. Congratulations on your liberation. I

want to know how you're going to vote for governor and senator this year,

now that you've come out this far. I want you completely out there now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, coming up: Newt Gingrich calls President Obama a

socialist. But what does it mean, that word socialist? We looked it up.

You can look it up in your dictionary. We did in ours. We looked at

Webster's. You can go to yours. Check out the "Sideshow" coming up next.

We want to check out Newt on HARDBALL-coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

Now for the "Sideshow."

First up; Newt Gingrich puts it on the line. Here he is talking last

night to Bill O'Reilly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR")

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": So, do you think

President Obama's a socialist?

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Sure. Of course he is.

O'REILLY: So, I'm wrong, and you and Rush Limbaugh are right?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: I don't think that President Obama has met a government

program he didn't love and didn't want to dramatically expand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, a socialist, according to Webster's Dictionary, not Newt

Gingrich, is someone who advocates the ownership and operation of the means

of production and distribution by society or the community, rather than by

private individuals, with all members of society or the community sharing

in the work and the product.

So, by that definition, Barack Obama wants the government to own and

run the American economy. If you believe that, you believe Newt Gingrich.

On a happier note, here's former President Bill Clinton talking about

being father of the bride.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, ENTERTAINER: How are the plans coming together for

Chelsea's wedding?

(LAUGHTER)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, that's up

mostly to Chelsea and her mother.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I'm just supposed to walk her down the aisle and pay the

bills. But I'm...

SEACREST: Big or small?

CLINTON: They're having a-they're having a good time doing it.

And I must say, I'm-I'm very happy. I-my daughter's happy. I -

I like and admire my future son-in-law, so I couldn't be happier about

it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was Ryan Seacrest asking the question. It looks

like a great marriage and a very happy father of the bride.

Now for the "Number" tonight.

During this Congress, according to House Democratic leaders, how many

bills have passed the House of Representatives, but are stalled in the U.S.

Senate? You will love this number-or hate it, really -- 292 bills. It

sounds like House Democrats are none too happy with their counterparts over

in the upper body, dare I call it? -- 290 body -- 290 bodies-actually,

290 bills waiting to be voted on up or down in the Senate, still waiting

over there-tonight's "Big Number."

Up next: What are both sides planning as they head into Thursday's

health care summit? Our strategists join us next to tell us what the smart

Democrats would do if they were smart, what the smart Republicans would do

if they want to accomplish something Thursday.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Julia Boorstin with your CNBC

"Market Wrap."

Stocks sinking today on a surprise drop in consumer confidence-the

Dow Jones industrials finishing about 100 points lower, the S&P 500 down 13

points, the Nasdaq off more than 28 points.

Investors rattled by that unexpected plunge in consumer confidence-

the main index falling 9.5 points to 46, its lowest level in 10 months.

It overshadowed some encouraging earnings reports-Home Depot shares

adding 1.5 percent on better-than-expected results and a strong forecast.

Target beating expectations as well, but investors were hoping for an even

bigger improvement-shares falling a little bit more than 1 percent.

Macy's returned to profitability in the fourth quarter, as cost-

cutting measures helped offset a decline in sales. Shares are up about 1

percent. And Toyota shares sliding nearly 2 percent as the company's top

North American executive testified before Congress today on their recent

safety recalls.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: This is going to be wild. Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama's putting it all on the line this week at a bipartisan

summit on health care reform. What does each side have to do to score a

win, or a W in sports terms?

And, for that, we turn to the strategists, Steve McMahon, who is a

Democratic strategist who has-who has political and other clients with

an interest in health care reform-boy, are we honest here-and John

Feehery, who is a Republican strategist.

Up first, pre-gaming the-first, let's pre-game the health care

summit. It's called health care pre-game. And the question I have to ask,

as the countdown to Thursday ticks closer, how would you advise your side

to strategize as we go toward it? You're the president. What should he do

Thursday?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, he ought to go in with a

back pocket full of things that he can accept if the Republicans are

willing to put them on the table. He ought to be pretty vigilant about

pressing them on what their solutions are and getting them to be specific

about what the solutions are.

And, then, once they offer them, he should ask the leaders of the

Republican Party if they will whip their members to vote for that solution

if he accepts it right now. I think he ought to be in a let's make a deal

mode. He's got proposals on the table. He ought to ask the Republicans

for theirs and he ought to start making some deals and get...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That is smart. So, he should go in there with the idea

that he's pre-assessed some of the Republican expected proposals...

MCMAHON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: ... like tort reform, interstate competition for health

care insurance, and be ready to snap it up.

MCMAHON: Right.

I mean, imagine for a second if Mitch McConnell said, you know, Mr.

President, we could support that if you could do something on tort reform,

and the president said, OK, Mitch, what is it you would like us to do? And

he popped something out there and the president says, we will do that. are

you going to support this now?

What does Mitch McConnell do?

MATTHEWS: Well, Mitch McConnell said, I will support that provision,

but not the whole bill. Then what he's do?

MCMAHON: You know, that-you are going to have to make progress by

getting...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What's your idea? Skip what he just said. What would you

say coming in here should be the smart Republican move?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that is what the

president is going to do.

And I think what the Republicans should do is insist on a fair

process, no reconciliation. Take out all of the earmarks.

MATTHEWS: No up-or-down majority vote in the Senate?

FEEHERY: No up-or-down majority vote. Don't-no reconciliation.

Take that off the table. No earmarks, no special deals, no Cornhusker

kickback, no Gatorade deal.

MCMAHON: It's all gone.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: All that stuff, make sure it doesn't have any of it. Insist

on transparency and insist that Republicans get an even shot to have a

brand-new process. This process...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can't the president just come back and say, how about a

deal from you guys, no filibustering, we actually have a vote?

So, what do you say on the Republican side to that?

FEEHERY: Well, if they had a fair process, where they each got a

chance to put their ideas on the table, where they had a chance to vote,

and they had a chance-complete transparency, I think Republicans should

go to that. But the problem is the president is not going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think the Republicans should let the Senate vote up or

down on...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Well, wait, wait, wait, wait. If there is a guarantee that

there's not going to be reconciliation, a guarantee that they have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, that's what I mean.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I'm asking about a majority vote.

FEEHERY: Well, they shouldn't give up that tool.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He wants to reserve the right to filibuster.

FEEHERY: I want the reserve the right...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Let's go to topic two, filibuster busted.

The other day, last night, just recent history here, the Senate was

able to break a filibuster with the help of five Republicans. They have

tried to filibuster everything. What does that tell you, the fact that

Scott Brown and Kit Bond and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and George

Voinovich all joined together with the Democrats, making up for the illness

of Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey Ben Nelson of Nebraska not being for it?

They got a bill passed.

MCMAHON: Yes. Do you know what it tells me? And I...

MATTHEWS: For jobs.

MCMAHON: And I hate to be not a Democratic partisan for a second.

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON: But it says to me that it's still possible to find a place

in the middle where some Republicans will come, which was good news.

Now, the bad news is, there were only five Republicans. Three of them

from New England and two of them were not running for reelection. So, it

wasn't as encouraging as you would hope, but it is progress for five

Republicans to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What's your takeaway from that, John, the fact that five

Republicans joined 57 Democratic senators and passed a bill for once?

FEEHERY: First, this is a-jobs is the number-one issue facing the

voters. When I go back home, that's the only thing people are talking

about.

So, for a lot of senators, like Scott Brown, they have to be for it.

MATTHEWS: I love the way you're talking like a politician. "When I

go back home."

MCMAHON: "When I go home and talk to my people."

MATTHEWS: What a pol you are.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: "When I go back home." I just love that.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I was just back home for the weekend...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: ... my brother's 41st birthday.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, Washington is not your home? So, Washington is not

your home?

FEEHERY: No, Washington is not my home.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: The fact that-Chicago's my home.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What a pol.

FEEHERY: The fact of the matter is that jobs-jobs is the number-

one issue.

MATTHEWS: OK. So, jobs...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: That's why Republicans voted for it.

MATTHEWS: So, if Barack had led-had led with jobs, instead of

health care, he would have gotten a deal?

FEEHERY: Absolutely.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS: That wasn't a jobs bill. That was a giveaway. And it

wasn't a bipartisan process. The other thing about that bill was it was a

very small bill. There's really not much in there to be opposed to.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS: So your message was it was jobs and it was small.

FEEHERY: It was jobs and it was small. There's not much of a bill

to oppose. The fact of the matter is I think most Democrats and

Republicans-

MATTHEWS: Rahm Emanuel, is his job in peril?

MCMAHON: Absolutely not. Should not be. Let me tell you something,

Rahm Emanuel is a pragmatist first. He is the person inside the White

House who has the most Washington experience. And he's the person they

desperately need. I actually thought-I know he's taking flack for the

Dana Millbank column.

MATTHEWS: That was a column that positive of him and he was accused

of having leaked it.

MCMAHON: But the fact of the matter is Rahm Emanuel has been

proposing and advocating inside the White House progressive, centrist

solutions.

MATTHEWS: Was he for the health care focus or not?

MCMAHON: Well, if what you read is true, he was not for the health

care focus. And if what you read is true, there are several others who

were not as well.

MATTHEWS: Should he be letting the word out that he didn't agree

with the president's prerogatives or the president's priorities? Was that

a smart move, if he did that?

MCMAHON: I don't think he did that. I think around town people

understand-

MATTHEWS: Grade the chief of staff. Is he on his way out? Is he a

good chief of staff? Is he in trouble?

FEEHERY: I don't think he's on his way out. I think Steve's right;

he tries to go towards the center more than the left wants him do.

MATTHEWS: What was he like on the Hill?

FEEHERY: He was a tough partisan. But he was a tough partisan in

the sense that he wanted the partisan thing, but he also wanted to elect

Democrats to make the majority. He understood-

MATTHEWS: Does he get along with Rs?

FEEHERY: We were very wary of him. He tried to get along with Rs.

He's a tricky guy. Smart guy, very tricky. He would get along with some

Rs, but-

MATTHEWS: Did he have rough edges?

FEEHERY: Of course he had rough edges. Let me finish this. The one

thing the president needs to do, if he wants to keep Rahm there, he needs

to bring in a gray hair. He needs to bring in a Colin Powell, like Howard

Baker did with Ronald Reagan.

I would bring in someone like a Vernon Jordan or a Colin Powell. He

needs something. The other thing he needs is he needs to bring somebody in

who can actually deal with the Senate.

MATTHEWS: How about George Mitchell?

FEEHERY: No. It was a disaster for the president-

MATTHEWS: You would bump Rahm Emanuel, bring in a gray hair, as you

put it?

MCMAHON: Absolutely the wrong thing to do. That's absolutely the

wrong thing to do. Let me tell you something, Rahm Emanuel was the guy who

built the platform the Democrats ran on that took back the Congress. Rahm

Emanuel's the guy who understands that it's independents-

(CROSS TALK)

MCMAHON: Let me finish, please. It's independents who decide close

elections. When the independents were going 60/40 for the Democrats, which

they were in 2008 and 2006, when Rahm Emanuel was doing policy, Democrats

were winning. When independents turned against the Democrats, as they have

recently, Democrats have a problem.

Rahm Emanuel understands that the key to the future is for the

Democrats to get the independents back.

(CROSS TALK)

 

 

 

FEEHERY: What Rahm Emanuel is good at is winning elections. What

he's not good at is passing legislation. What have they done lately?

They've done nothing in the Senate.

MCMAHON: They have 9 or 10 or 11 or 12 bills early on.

(CROSS TALK)

MCMAHON: They saved the economy. They saved the banking system.

They saved general motors.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, you've got to-you come up with a good

topic. I think the names you come up with are not better than Rahm. I can

imagine there would be somebody. Who is it?

FEEHERY: George Mitchell would be great.

MCMAHON: You think it's Ed Rendell. I know you think it's Ed

Rendell. It's Rahm Emanuel. They should listen to him.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS: I think Ed Rendell was a good deal-maker. I'm not sure he

knows the Hill. I don't think he has any evidence of knowing the Hill.

But he's a smart guy. And I do think they should bring in Ed Rendell for a

lot of political reasons.

It's time to make friends with the Clinton people. I've said that

all along. It's time to end that war and unite the party. Just a thought.

But I'm not supposed to-you know what, it ain't my job to figure that

stuff out. You're tough, but you're smart. Steve McMahon is a smart

fellow. John Feehery is getting there.

Up next, is the military divided over dumping Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

I can't believe the chief of staff of the army, George Casey, says he has

concerns. OK, take your orders, buddy. I think you ought to take your

orders. We'll see. The politics fix is next. This is HARDBALL, only on

MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back. Now for the politics fix, with Cynthia

Tucker, political columnist for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," and

Steve Kornacki of "Salon."

I am amazed at this comment by George Casey the other day, that he

says he has concerns about how well they're going to implement-here he

is, George Casey, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee

today. Here's what he said about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Let's

listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: I do have serious concerns

about the impact of the repeal of the law on a force that's fully engaged

in two wars, and has been at war for eight and a half years. We just don't

know the impacts on the readiness and military effectiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Readiness and military effectiveness." What do you think

he meant by that, Cynthia?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION": I think he meant

will this side track the troops, that they'll lose their focus. I think

the answer to that, however, is no. I think it's easy to over-state

Casey's objections. He's advocating a go-slow approach, the one that the

Pentagon clearly already has in place, that they will take a year, poll the

troops, talk to everybody, and take another year then to implement the

plan.

Quite frankly, I don't think it will take that long, because when I

think they do their polling, I think that they will find that most troops

are ready for it to be done already. I don't think it's that big a deal.

MATTHEWS: Steve, I always said-it's not having been in the

military. I was in the Peace Corps-that there's going to be an

interesting way we see how it develops, with gay people serving openly in

the military, as it occurs, where there will be certain unwritten ways of

behavior, certain codes of behavior that will develop over time. And

people will learn the way to deal with it.

That's my hunch. It won't all be written in the code. Things happen

on campus, the way they deal with each other socially. In office

situations, you learn certain ways to deal with people. It's how society

is society. It's how we civilize ourself.

STEVE KORNACKI, "SALON": Well, I haven't served in the military

either, I should say. We talk about a go slow approach. I think this kind

of feeds into what you're talking about. This is something that's been

building for decades. There have been gay people and their fellow troops

have known that they're gay who served in the military.

MATTHEWS: Of course. My dad talked about it in the Navy in World

War II. It was normal. It was totally acceptable and understood.

KORNACKI: A lot of what you're talking about has already happened.

We look at General Casey, he's behind the times a little bit in that way,

because it's already gone on. A lot of people who maybe weren't

comfortable with it maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago in the military are more

comfortable with it, because, at a certain level, it is open. There are

stories all over the place. There are people who have come out and talked

about their experiences in the military, about how everyone around them

knew. It wasn't a big deal.

The whole country seems to be moving on from this. To draw in the

CPAC conference over the weekend, if you can remember, one of the most

memorable things, to me, to come out of that was when one of the speakers

got up on stage, at a very conservative audience, and started basically

trashing gay rights. He got booed off the stage at CPAC. This is a

totally different country now.

MATTHEWS: I agree. I also think it's a different question not to

take a position-although I'm very supportive of gay rights generally,

and I'm supportive of gay relationships. It's the way we're made in some

cases. The simple question is can you serve your country openly, if you're

a patriotic person?

TUCKER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: That's a different question from can you get married, can

you formally get a marriage license? Those issues are still in debate in

this country. I think people have move towards saying, if someone wants to

serve their country, don't make them lie as their first oath. Don't make

them lie that first day.

TUCKER: Absolutely. The polls show that, Chris. The polls show

that most Americans have already accepted this. I do think, though, it

will take leadership from the very top.

MATTHEWS: Aren't we getting it now?

TUCKER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Look at Mullen.

TUCKER: I think that's one of the things, one of the lessons they

learned from racial interrogation. There are parallels. They didn't-

just because Harry Truman signed a decree didn't mean that troops were

ready to be integrated. The lessons that we learned from Vietnam, when

there was a lot of contention between black troops and white ones, was that

the military has to exert leadership. And absolutely the top brass, I

think, is ready to do that.

MATTHEWS: What do you make, Steve, of the fact you've got General

Mullen-Admiral Mullen, rather, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of

course, from the Navy background, and you've got Odierno, who is the

American commander over there in the field all moving-of course, Colin

Powell already aboard. These are very prestigious people.

KORNACKI: Mullen was the huge one. That's my one concern from a

political sense, when you look at what Casey came out and said. You look

at Mullen, he really sort of changed the nature of the debate. You had all

these guys like John McCain, for instance, who had been resistant to gays

serving openly in the military. His line for years had always been, "well,

when the general tells me it's OK, then I'll change my mind on it."

You had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying, it's OK. You had

Colin Powell saying, it's OK. My concern now is that people like John

McCain, now they found their general, with Casey, who's come out and said,

well, maybe not. Now, they have a talking point to kind of latch on to.

MATTHEWS: Apparently. Did you watch John McCain today? Apparently

nodding his head in agreement, right?

KORNACKI: He found his general.

MATTHEWS: You know, John McCain's got a tough fight out there with

J.D. Hayworth. It's an Arizona Republican primary, a lot of retired

people, a lot of conservative people. It's going to be tough for him.

He's going to be taking a lot of these positions which don't sound familiar

to John McCain fans.

Anyway, we'll be back with Cynthia Tucker and Steve Kornacki for more

of the political fix. We're going to talk about this summit coming up and

what is actually going to happen. I think it looks like the door is open

now for a tough up or down vote on health care. It is going to be up to

the senators now to see how they stand. You're watching HARDBALL, only on

MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Cynthia Tucker and Steve Kornacki. It's

the wild, free form part of the show. Steve, here's your opportunity: what

is going to happen? Today's Tuesday, right?

KORNACKI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Thursday afternoon, we'll know what happened at the

summit. Thursday by 5:00, I think we'll see a press conference from the

president to tell us what happened in his terms. And then I think we'll

see an up or down fight in the Senate on health care. I think it's going

to actually come to a head. What do you think?

KORNACKI: Yes, this kind of reminds me of the build up to a

presidential debate, where you sort of now what's going to happen. As soon

as it's over, everybody's going to rush into that spin room and they're

going to tell why their side won.

In this case, the very specific thing that is going to happen is, as

soon as it ends, everybody's going to go out and talk about how they're

sure this proved the other side doesn't want to cooperate. That's very

important, because from the Obama standpoint, from the White House

standpoint, that gives them the pretense to do what I think, as you said,

it's pretty clear they're going to do with this, which is, hey, look, we

gave the Republicans a chance on national TV. They could have put any idea

in the world they want out there. They didn't do anything that seriously

addresses the issue. So therefore we're left with no other choice but to

have the House pass the Senate bill and then do reconciliation, this big

dreaded thing in the Senate. I think this is where it is ending up.

MATTHEWS: Steve, you brilliantly outlined what is the consensus

among HARDBALL producers today. After having a long discussion about this,

everybody seems to believe, or at least the majority, that that's what the

president's up to. You're view? He's going to go after this, say I tried.

They won't-they will not provide health care for the 30 some million

people out there. They don't have a plan for that. We've get the only

plan in town. We're going to force an up or down vote in the Senate.

TUCKER: He's already said that. He's already signaled, once again,

that he's in favor of reconciliation, if Republicans won't come around.

MATTHEWS: Can you give up that word up for Lent? Because it's not -

it's called reconciliation, but it's really saying our way or the

highway. It really is.

TUCKER: Yes. It's a very bureaucratic term that people outside of

the Beltway don't understand. But it means it won't require an up and down

vote in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: It won't require 60 votes.

TUCKER: The president won't get that. What he will get is a

filibuster. Let's face it, I don't care what happens on Thursday, the

Republicans are not going to cooperate on this bill.

MATTHEWS: I predict there will be an afternoon or a night-time,

maybe about 9:00 at night, Steve and Cynthia, where Joe Biden, sitting in

the chair in the United States Senate, as presiding officer, as president

of the Senate, will cast that vote. It will be 50 votes, Democrats all,

Joe Biden breaking the tie. The president has a health care bill, thanks

to his number two, to Joe Biden. Your thoughts on that?

KORNACKI: Yes. I think that's going to remind us all of 1993, when

Al Gore cast the 51st vote for Bill Clinton's budget.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. You agree?

TUCKER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you, Cynthia Tucker. Thank you, Steve

Kornacki. Join us tomorrow night-we solve all issues here -- 5:00 and

7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL tomorrow night.

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.

END

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