Guests: Eugene Robinson, Steve Kornacki, Joe Sestak, Ethan Bronner.
HOST: Shalom from Israel.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Jerusalem. We‘re traveling with
Vice President Biden, who‘s here to enhance good will for the Obama
administration, highlight the start of indirect talks between Israel and
the Palestinians and strengthen Israeli support for the U.S. policy of
pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran and to help deter Israel from
taking military action against the Iranian nuclear threat.
I‘ve got the big story back in Philadelphia, where the president
arrived today with Senator Arlen Specter aboard Air Force One to begin his
final campaign for health care, which now faces its final huge test with
the vote in the House of Representatives on the Senate bill facing a do-or-
die deadline of March 18th, which is the Thursday after this.
Let‘s start with the president in full campaign mode today in
Philadelphia. Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak was at the president‘s
event today. He‘s challenging Senator Specter in the Democratic primary.
Congressman Sestak, you‘re up there in Philadelphia, my hometown, and
I‘m over here in Jerusalem, and I want to know if we‘re going to have a
health care bill in the next two weeks, before Easter. Are we going to
REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We are going to have one. There‘s
no question about it. I just came from listening to the president talk at
Arcadia. And he‘s out there, but he also made it pretty clear that this is
gut-check time for Congress. They better stand up and be courageous and do
the right thing for principle and forget about this political calculation
that really set us off track.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the Democratic Party right now having a
problem, where people on the left are giving the president a hard time,
people on the right are giving him a hard time? Is he having a problem
getting people to realize that if you lose this health care bill,
everybody‘s going to be branded as a loser? Is he going to get that
message across in the next two weeks?
SESTAK: Chris, I don‘t think that‘s the right message he should get
across. This isn‘t about scoring a political victory. These Democrats,
me, we were sent to Washington with an opportunity to lead, not with a
mandate. And it got off track because Ben Nelson grabbed a goody bar.
They thought with the 60th vote from Arlen Specter that political
calculation would achieve the health care bill. It got us nowhere.
No, what the president‘s message has to be is, This is the right thing
to do, Democrats. Stand up and work for working families. And that
message better come through, not about politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s hear him today. Here he is in Philadelphia
today. You were there, and so was Specter. Let‘s hear the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don‘t know how
passing health care will play politically, but I do know that it‘s the
right thing to do.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: It‘s right for our families, it‘s right for our businesses,
it‘s right for the United States of America! And if you share that belief,
I want you to stand with me and fight with me, and I ask you to help us get
us over the finish line these next two weeks! The need is great. The
opportunity‘s here. Let‘s seize reform! It‘s within our grasp!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman Sestak, how do you tell a person who has health
care already in their union contract or at their government job or wherever
that the person out there doesn‘t have health care—how do you tell them
it‘s in their interests that that other person get health care?
SESTAK: Because if you‘re in a family of four and you‘ve got a
private health care plan today, you are paying $1,100 more for the
uninsured when they go into the emergency room. Hospital doesn‘t eat it,
they pass it to the insurance company, they pass it to you. You‘re paying
for it anyway. Second, 700 Pennsylvanians today lost their health care
plan because no action has been taken.
This president has it right. We seized the White House through
audacity, doing the right thing, not political calculation. No. If he had
only had a better group of senators down there who actually would have done
this for the right thing, we wouldn‘t be where we are today. This is,
Chris, as I said, gut-check time. What do we stand for, ourselves or for
people who are hurting, and therefore, we‘re a less productive society, and
harder to compete with China and India? This is the right thing to do.
Let‘s do it.
MATTHEWS: I‘m watching a film there of the president get off the
plane in Philadelphia there with Senator Specter walking behind him. You
seemed to imply a couple of minutes ago that by waiting to get Specter when
he joined the Democratic Party and switched over, that that going for 60
votes in the Senate was a—almost a delusion, a grand delusion, if you
will, that they should have just gone for a majority vote and it would have
been better off not having Specter become a Democrat.
MATTHEWS: No, I—what I said was, when all of a sudden, a deal was
made because Arlen Specter ran from the Democratic Party, that he gave
2,000 votes to George Bush for, and Democrats thought we had a deal, what
they did is found—fell into the same abyss that‘s always been bad about
Washington, and that Massachusetts said, Wait a moment, pox on both your
houses. We asked for a change in policy, yes, but also a change in
So that deal which got us nowhere, as he lost all his seniority, is
97th now, actually was the beginning of not being out there, as the
president so wonderfully did today about saying, This is right, and now,
you Democrats, stand up. It‘s time for you to stand for what‘s needed.
Look, it‘s not about walking down the plane with the president. It‘s
about being down there, willing to lose your job over what‘s right for the
working family. Yes, we got off track. And this president, with
courageous leaders in Congress, will get us at least back on, not as well
as we could have done if we had stood strong at the beginning. Ted
Kennedy, if he had been there, would have shaped this bill differently.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about—let‘s talk about the deals that were
made, the “Cornhusker kickback,” the “Louisiana purchase.” You‘re putting
the Specter deal as one of them. You‘re saying that was part of the dirty
deal-making that led to the problems of the last months and not getting
health care until now.
SESTAK: I said it‘s part of that political calculation, where they
were in an echo chamber down there, thinking you could do another deal,
rather than being out on the hustings in your district and explaining
what‘s right, like the president did today.
Look, if there‘s anything I learned in the United States Navy during
those 31 years, it‘s that as a captain, you sat down with your crew and had
captain‘s calls and explained what was going on, let them get the cut of
your jib. They may not agree with you, but they learned to trust you.
And they‘re not trusting deals with another Republican like Arlen
Specter to say, We forgive you for derailing Clinton‘s health care plan,
now come on over, or for those other deals Ben Nelson and others did. No.
This is about pure leadership, being willing to stand up as this president
And if he had stronger titans in the Senate—because it‘s the Senate
that needs reform, not America—if Senator Ted Kennedy had been there for
principled compromise, not a compromise of principle with all these deals,
we would have shaped that bill better and explained it to the public and
had been farther down the road with a much better bill today. That‘s what
being a public servant is about. Politicians, no. Public servant, yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. The president of the United States was in Philadelphia
today with two Democrats, both running for the United States Senate from
Pennsylvania. And my question to you is, the kind of campaign you‘re
fighting against Specter—he‘s accused you of being AWOL. He says you
should have been court-martialed, if you were still in the service, for the
numbers of votes you‘ve missed in the Congress. What do you make of that
language, you should be court-martialed, that you went AWOL? Is that a
smear? What would you call that kind of campaigning? Your own words,
please, not mine.
SESTAK: He has used language that has made me appear to people as
though I‘m a criminal, you know, and as though I‘m breaking the law. And
you know, that‘s the kind of politics that people are saying, We‘re tired
of that negativity. Yes, he brought it from the Republican Party
leadership. And he‘s doing it again, as he‘s done it in a dishonest way
for many, many times against opponents. But people aren‘t going to put up
Look, here‘s the deal. It‘s a little silly, actually, because he
can‘t defend his 2,000 votes with George Bush, so he has to try to make it
and distract attention. We all know, though, it‘s about right here in
Philadelphia, where they lost 100,000 jobs the last 30 years, to where 50
percent of our youth aren‘t graduating from high school, and to where 66
percent of those uninsured are actually working and they‘re less
Let‘s go ahead, Chris. Let‘s talk about the policies that are needed.
And that‘s the kind of campaign that I‘m running. But I‘m also saying I‘m
in it for conviction. I‘m willing to lose my job over what‘s right. And
you know, just like Massachusetts showed to Washington, D.C., pox on both
your houses down there, we wanted principle to triumph over politics.
That‘s what‘s going to happen in good old Pennsylvania.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak, who
is challenging Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for the Senate.
Let‘s go right now to Richard Wolffe, who‘s also up there watching the
president in Philadelphia do his—I guess you‘d have to call this the
last hurrah for health care. Richard, it seems to me that we‘ve had a lot
of lost horizons over the last several months, lots of deadlines that
disappear. This one, Easter, Passover, the holidays coming up, this seems
to be the real one.
Do you buy the fact that if the president can‘t get the House of
Representatives to come up with a majority vote for the Senate bill by the
break coming up on the 18th of March, it‘s dead? Do you buy that?
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it‘s dead or the
resurrection. I mean, look, everyone‘s willing to write this guy off in
his presidency. If he gets this, everyone‘s going to have been proved
wrong. I think this is a very firm deadline, and it‘s do or die right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about what‘s changed now. Does he
have—is it just turning the screws by Nancy Pelosi? And how does she
avoid cutting those kinds of deals that Joe Sestak was talking about that
were cut in the Senate? Can they afford to have more “Cornhusker
kickbacks,” more “Louisiana purchases,” more Arlen Specter‘s cross-the-
aisle type things? Do they have to keep it really clean as they grab those
last votes necessary to pass health care in the House?
WOLFFE: Yes, they do have to keep it clean, and they have to make it
transparent. And there‘s a recognition inside the White House and among
the folks who advise President Obama that those kinds of deals really hurt
him. It hurt his brand. It hurt what drove him to Washington in the first
place. So the deal-making—look, it‘s not really a factor in the House,
is it, and it‘s not going to be a factor in the Senate when you‘re talking
about the fixes through a reconciliation. But the deal-making did not help
them. The focus on process didn‘t. And what you heard from the president
today was really a forceful argument about principle, about the injustice,
about taking on the insurance companies. It was a very feisty performance.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s listen to more of the president today. Let‘s
listen. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: How many years—how many more years can the federal budget
handle the crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid? That‘s the debt you‘re
going to have to pay, young people. When‘s the right time for health
insurance reform? Is it a year from now or two years from now or five
years from now or 10 years from now? I think it‘s right now, and that‘s
why you‘re here today!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Richard, you covered the campaign. You wrote the book on
it. Do you think the crowd today was back to the old campaign level?
WOLFFE: Oh, yes, very much so. And his performance was. I think
that was the (INAUDIBLE) difference. There are lots of people out—you
go to Pennsylvania or any number of other states, who want to relive the
whole campaign rally thing. But he seemed to want to. And that energy, I
think, has been missing from a bunch of these town halls, from his big
speeches. This was the campaigning Barack Obama, and I think that‘s a
conscious effort from him and from his team.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Richard Wolffe in Philadelphia.
Up next, we‘ve got—we‘ve got the big story in the Middle East. I‘m
over here with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. They‘re going
over here to try to make a deal, it looks like. We‘re trying to get the
Mideast peace talks going again. We‘re going to have the vice president on
tomorrow night to talk about it. We‘re going to talk about that in just a
moment when we come back, the chances for peace in the Middle East and
trying to avoid a war with Iran. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Well, here we are in Israel. As I said, we‘re over here
with the vice president‘s trip here. He‘s over here to jump-start, if you
will, the Mideast peace talks and also to try to avoid a war with Iran on
the part of Israel and to perhaps to push the sanctions efforts against
Let‘s go right now to Ethan Bronner. He‘s Jerusalem bureau chief for
“The New York Times.” Let me go to the first question, this Iran war. We
in America, as you know, sitting at home, we think, Where might there be
the next war? Israel might strike at Iran because they‘re building nuclear
weapons. What‘s the word over here?
ETHAN BRONNER, “NEW YORK TIMES” JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Israel
might strike at Iran because they‘re building nuclear weapons. There are
certainly serious preparations under way. But what has been the steady
drumbeat for several months now from the United States, the chief of the—
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA head, the national security adviser,
now the vice president, all coming to say, Don‘t shoot, work with us on
sanctions. And the Israelis are essentially going along with that for now.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the trip wire? If you‘re Bibi Netanyahu, the prime
minister, and you‘re sitting with this cabinet and his very, you know,
hawkish foreign secretary, Lieberman, and you‘re thinking what we won‘t put
up with. What won‘t Israel live with here in this small country,
vulnerable, close to Iran? What won‘t they put up with?
BRONNER: In theory, what they won‘t put up with is a clear ability of
Iran to build nuclear weapons in a short time. But nobody really knows
when that trip wire is hit. And actually, the failure to know where that
is, is one of the reasons that the United States is able to say to them,
Work with us on sanctions. There is daylight growing between the regime
and the people in Iran. There are reasons to make this work. And you
yourselves don‘t know if this is going to work.
MATTHEWS: We don‘t know whether Ahmadinejad has got his head on the -
you know, on earth. He makes statements like there was never a
Holocaust, which could just be fiery rhetoric just to flame up the people,
or it could be some demented belief on his part. Is there a sense that
he‘s got his head together, that he‘s a rational person?
BRONNER: It‘s a very divided view on that, in this country anyway.
There are people who see him as essentially a messianic, irrational
individual, and there are others who watch Iran—and there‘s a whole crew
of people who watch Iran here, as you can imagine—who think that
decisions are made on a much more rational basis...
MATTHEWS: And the mullahs control the—control the bullet,
basically. They will keep it back. Let me ask you about these peace talks
over here. You and I have spent our lives hearing about peace talks in the
Middle East. These are very strange. They‘re called “proximity talks”
because George Mitchell, who brought peace to Northern Ireland, at least in
the near term, is over here. Now he‘s going to be like a ping-pong ball.
He‘s going to go back and forth under this new arrangement between here and
Jerusalem and his hotel, and then over to Ramallah across the Allenby
bridge, then back and forth every day with a message from the Arab side to
the Israeli side. What kind of—is this for real?
BRONNER: Well, it‘s for real for a period of months. I mean, the
truth is that between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the distance he‘s going to
have to travel, when he travels in his motorcade, it‘s about 15 or 20
minutes. So it won‘t be too bad a problem. Remember, Kissinger did this
kind of shuttle diplomacy. It‘s not unheard of.
The idea is that the Palestinians will refuse to sit down at the same
table with the Israelis as long as settlements are continuing to be built.
They‘re continuing to be built. We do have a right-wing government in
power in Israel. And this was a way to get them to some form of a table,
even though it‘s not a direct talk.
MATTHEWS: Do you expect any hope? Will they ever agree to move the
land—the border around so that there‘s some claim to the capital on the
part of the Palestinians that doesn‘t offend Israeli notions of sovereignty
over Jerusalem? Is there any way to cut a deal?
BRONNER: I think there is a way to cut a deal. I mean, I think that
the way the deal should be structured is fairly clear. The problem is that
neither side seems willing to make the sacrifices to make that deal work.
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton came very close, didn‘t he?
BRONNER: We think he it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about politics. Who‘s more popular over
here, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden? Put them in
order. Who‘s the most popular figure over here in Israel?
BRONNER: I would say Bill Clinton is the—Bill Clinton is the most
popular of those four. And I would say...
BRONNER: Hillary‘s probably next.
MATTHEWS: The secretary of state.
BRONNER: That‘s correct. And then I would say Joe Biden and then
MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of
the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?
BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the
fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I
think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year
ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States
and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was
to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that.
And that made people nervous.
I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to
be perfectly honest.
MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you
know, let me ask you an ideal question.
MATTHEWS: It seems to be the great American presidents—and Clinton
would be one of them in terms of the Middle East—have been able to wear
two hats at the same time: great friend of Israel, trusted as a friend of
Israel, going back to ‘48 with Harry Truman, and also have that credibility
as a peacemaker, as a deal-maker, you know, as an honest broker.
MATTHEWS: Can this president play those roles, both those roles?
BRONNER: I think he can.
I mean, but the—that the trouble is that each failed effort over
the last decade or two has made it much harder for the next person to try
to make the deal, because there‘s so disillusionment over the failed deal,
so that each side now comes to the table, or the pseudo-table in these
proximity talk, with enormous cynicism about the other side‘s actual
interest in peace.
MATTHEWS: Would a middle-of-the-road American, if they were living
over here in Israel, would they be optimistic about peace...
BRONNER: I don‘t think so.
MATTHEWS: Somebody without ideology?
BRONNER: I really don‘t think it‘s a matter of ideology. I think
it‘s a matter of understanding that you can‘t square the circle very
easily. The most Israel has ever offered and the least that the
Palestinians have ever wanted to take have never met. And they‘re getting
MATTHEWS: And the population bomb over here, with so many more Arabs
being born every day than Israelis?
BRONNER: Well, that‘s, of course, the reason that there‘s the strong
demographic argument for why Israel should want to have a—in order—to
have a two-state solution in order to maintain a Jewish democracy.
But the difficulty is that security issues continue to get in the way
and make it very, very difficult for the Israelis to accept the legitimacy
of the other side‘s claims.
MATTHEWS: And it‘s hard to find a strong person on the other side who
can keep the deal.
BRONNER: There‘s also a leadership crisis on both sides...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Right. Thank you.
BRONNER: ... as well as in the United States.
MATTHEWS: Ethan Bronner, I think you have told us how tough it is.
Thank you very much for joining us...
BRONNER: ... pleasure.
MATTHEWS: ... as the vice president comes over here. We are going to
have him on tomorrow night, Vice President Biden, to tell us what hope
there is for peace over here, how we avoid a war with Iran, and, of course,
how President Obama is doing over here in Israel. That‘s all tricky
questions we will get to tomorrow night.
Coming up next: a little lighter subject, the big news out of the
Oscars last night. My predictions were right, but most people had it
wrong. We have got a woman as best director. What a breakthrough. That‘s
also going to be part of our “Sideshow” coming up next. History was made
last night. We‘re bringing it to you in the “Sideshow.”
Come on back and watch.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL from Jerusalem.
Now time for the “Sideshow.”
Last night, a low-budget film blew away a blockbuster. “The Hurt
Locker,” the Iraq war drama, beat “Avatar,” winning best picture. Jeff
Bridges won best actor for playing an alcoholic country singer in “Crazy
Heart.” And everyone in Washington was rooting for our hometown girl,
Arlington, Virginia, native Sandra Bullock.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN PENN, ACTOR: And the winner is Sandra Bullock from “The Blind
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SANDRA BULLOCK, ACTRESS: Did I really earn this, or did I just wear
you all down?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Now for the “Big Number.”
The Oscars made history last night when Kathryn Bigelow, the director
of “The Hurt Locker,” became the first woman to win best director for best
film. And it seemed fitting that Barbra Streisand, who has directed three
films, announced the winner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBRA STREISAND, ENTERTAINER: And the winner is—well, the time
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
STREISAND: Kathryn Bigelow.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KATHRYN BIGELOW, DIRECTOR: This really is—there‘s no other way to
describe it. It‘s the moment of a lifetime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, the film community made history last night.
And the “Big Number,” the “Big Number” is one, as Kathryn Bigelow
becomes the first woman in Academy Award history to be named best director.
Coming up next: President Obama tells his staff to stop paying
attention to news reports about themselves and start doing their jobs.
That‘s coming up next on HARDBALL.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC
Investors taking a breather after last week‘s rally, stocks ending
mixed right around the break-even point—the Dow Jones industrial average
slipping 13 points, the S&P 500 off just a fraction-of-a-point, and the
Nasdaq gaining nearly six points.
Networking giant Cisco Systems leading the Dow on reports that it‘s
about to unveil new suit of tools for its high-speed clients. Shares in
health insurers finishing mostly lower after President Obama‘s speech in
Philadelphia, Humana, WellPoint, and Aetna all ending the day in the red.
But MetLife and AIG seeing big gains on a deal to sell AIG‘s foreign
life insurance unit to MetLife for around $15 billion.
McDonald‘s also moving sharply higher on strong overseas sales—U.S.
sales taking a hit from bad weather and a poor economy.
3M finishing at the bottom of the Dow, after signing a deal to buy a
Canadian aerospace insulation maker.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back over to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Obama has told his staff to stop paying attention to all
those news stories about who‘s doing their job and who isn‘t.
We‘re joined right now to talk about it with Chuck Todd, who is White
House correspondent for NBC News, and Howard Fineman, who is with
“Newsweek” and our political analyst.
Let‘s go to Chuck.
What kind of a meeting was that, where the president had to tell his
staff, don‘t read the newspapers when it‘s about you; get off the—get
off the issue of yourselves and start thinking about the job?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it‘s my understanding
this happened actually a few weeks ago after the very first column about
this that appeared in that “Washington Post,” that Dana Milbank column, and
that the president went to all of these senior aides, almost individually,
and said, look, stay off of this. Don‘t get focused on it. Don‘t get
bogged down on it. And I don‘t want to see any more of this.
He was not questioning the motives of anybody, but it was just like,
knock it off.
You remember no drama Obama from the campaign. That was a perpetual
sort of slogan. They were very proud of it, David Plouffe, David Axelrod,
Robert Gibbs. And so here was the drama popping up.
And—well, of course, he gave that warning, and since then, the
problem is these articles, they almost—they reproduce themselves in many
cases, and the intrigue. And—and it‘s inevitable that the White House
staff starts talking again.
MATTHEWS: You know, I wonder about the readership of most newspapers
and TV programs. They don‘t really care about staff. I know that‘s a bad
blow to a lot of people like myself, who have been staff people.
MATTHEWS: But they just don‘t care. They don‘t elect you. They
don‘t think about you. And when the history books are written, you‘re not
even in the book.
Do you think these newspapers are creating a story that is of no
interest to readers? Or is there a real story there? “The Washington
Post,” for example, ran three stories recently about Rahm Emanuel and the
people around him. And I just wonder whether it‘s a real story or not.
Do you think it‘s a real story, covering every day? Is there a
problem in the White House as to how it‘s being run? And is it a staff
TODD: Well, I think health care will tell us. You know, if health
care gets done, they will get through this. As one staffer told me almost
in those therapist tones, you know, oh, we will get through this. We will
get over it. It‘s a speed bump.
But, if they don‘t get health care, then they‘re going to be—
they‘re all going to stand up and say, OK, what are we doing here?
Obviously, this whole legislative, you know, big bang theory isn‘t working
anymore. It can‘t be done.
So, then you actually do have to lift up and do an entirely different
strategy for governing going forward, because, if health care goes down, it
means that whole idea of that big bang theory of getting legislation
through Congress is dead.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, I—I—I
MATTHEWS: You know, Howard, I guess it‘s like...
MATTHEWS: ... a car. Nobody—nobody looks under the hood, car—
Howard, nobody looks under the hood of a car unless there‘s something wrong
with the car. And if the car‘s not moving, that‘s when you check under the
hood. Is this time to look under the hood of the White House and see
MATTHEWS: ... what‘s wrong or not?
FINEMAN: Well, to—to stick with the automotive analogy, Chris, the
car is—the car is still moving, but we‘re hearing the muffler dragging
on the pavement, and the—the engine is knocking, and the windshield
wipers aren‘t working.
I mean, my first sense of what was going to happen here came right
after the Massachusetts Senate race, where there was all kinds of gnashing
of teeth about how Scott Brown pulled off that upset in Massachusetts.
Big announcement made—was made about how David Plouffe was going to
come back in. He‘s not in the White House, but he‘s going to take over
more of the political operation. That was the first sign I saw that—of
the fissures here inside the White House.
Chuck‘s right. During the campaign, it was unbelievably disciplined
and internally consistent. But, number one, Rahm Emanuel was not part of
that campaign team. There‘s always been the distinction between Rahm and
all the people who were in Chicago with the campaign.
And, after the Massachusetts debacle, and after their stories were
leaked about what the reelection campaign was going to look like—and
Rahm Emanuel‘s name was conspicuous by its absence—I understand he‘s
chief of staff, and he‘s doing substance, not politics, but his name was
conspicuous by its absence.
I think this thing has been brewing for a long time. And I think it‘s
real to the people and of interest to the people who care about Barack
Obama‘s agenda. Barack Obama has lost a lot of altitude in the polls, but
there‘s still a good 40 percent of this country, at least...
FINEMAN: ... who are rooting for him, rooting for him strongly, who
read the blogs, who read the Web pages, who watch cable TV. They want to
know the mechanics of how he is or is not getting things done. And they‘re
looking for people to blame, because they don‘t want to blame Obama
MATTHEWS: Let me go to that question with Chuck Todd.
Here‘s the question. When it—it was said of Adlai Stevenson,
another fellow from Chicago many years ago, that he talked over the heads
of people. He couldn‘t connect with real people, the way that Eisenhower
could, the—the man who beat him back in the ‘50s.
I read a piece in “The New Yorker” today, a big story today about a
congressman in Southern Virginia who does know how to connect on issues
like the stimulus package and creating jobs at the local level. Is there a
sense that this president and his machinery are not able to make tangible
what he‘s doing?
TODD: Well, I think that is—that is among the critiques that I
have heard for months, that—this idea that, you know, they have been so
busy trying to push some agenda items through Congress, whether it is the
stimulus, whether it is health care, whether it is climate change,
financial regulatory reform, that they have—they have missed the feel-
your-pain moments of this economy a little bit.
And that‘s ultimately what this is about, right? This is the fact
that at the gut of the country right now is this pain over the economy.
And while you can sit here and look at what the White House has done and—
and make a plausible argument in their defense to say, hey, they‘re trying
to tackle this from a number of different directions, some of it‘s long-
term, some of it‘s short term, the translation of it, from as simple as the
backdrops that are used at their campaign events—right now, everything
is getting nitpicked at, because it does seem as if there is this
disconnect between the public and the president on how he sells these
And that‘s why we saw him out today. I will say this. This is about
the—the sixth time I have—since the president took office that I have
heard from staff that says, hey, you know what? We‘re going to be
traveling more. We‘re going to get out on the road more. We‘re going to
do these things more.
And every time they have tried to do it, something has kept them from
FINEMAN: Chris, it‘s not the—it‘s not the backdrops, and it‘s—
it‘s not the staging, and it‘s not whether he‘s on the road or he‘s in
With health care, the problem is twofold. Number one, they want and -
and Obama wants to expand coverage by 30 million people, which is a very
worthy goal. But it‘s going to take subsidies to some people to get them
coverage, and it‘s going to take direct federal payments to others to get
them coverage. That‘s 30 million people.
The question that undecided or antagonistic Democrats that I have
talked to on the Hill ask is, can we really cover those 30 million people
and save money at the same time? If so, please explain that to me in
clear, simple terms.
That is something that Bill Clinton would have mastered from the get-
go, but that I think Barack Obama has still never successfully explained,
that plus the federal financing of it, aside from how you control costs
You know, what about all the cuts in Medicare? What about the tax on
Cadillac plans? These are real issues for people. And I think, sometimes,
Barack Obama merely wants to invoke the word reform, and the idea of
forward momentum, without the kitchen table explanation of how the thing
actually works that the American people want to hear.
There was an op-ed page—piece in “The Washington Post” on Friday by
Peter Orszag, the budget director, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, who is in charge
of health care policy at the White House. Read that piece. I defy you to
explain to me how it explains clearly how this plan will save money.
That‘s what the undecided and antagonistic Blue Dog Democrats are worried
about and what Obama has not explained.
MATTHEWS: Very well said, Howard, and very well stated, as well,
Chuck. It seems to me what Howard is saying is, it‘s like the president
is offering himself as almost like a savior who can take the loaves and the
fishes, and have a few fishes and few loaves of bread, and feed thousands
and thousands of people. And there‘s only one guy that could do that. And
he‘s not president of the United States. I guess that‘s the problem.
Thank you, guys.
FINEMAN: And you‘re in Jerusalem, right.
TODD: I was going to say, you‘re clearly in Jerusalem.
By the way, would that guy have been able to pull it off in this day
and age and the Internet? But that‘s OK.
FINEMAN: Good question.
MATTHEWS: I know, 24/7 is a real bad news case. Thank you, Howard
Fineman. Thank you, Chuck Todd.
Up next, the Republican party‘s criticism of President Obama we‘re
going to get back to that in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH: I don‘t agree with that type of stuff.
And the way I understand it, some junior guy there, raising funds, tried
that as a fund-raising tool.
DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS” MODERATOR: I don‘t know how junior
he was. He was a finance director.
HATCH: That‘s junior to me. But the fact of the matter is that it
shouldn‘t have happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow, junior to me. MSNBC political analyst Eugene
Robinson joining us now. He‘s a Pulitzer Prize winner with the “Washington
Post.” And Steve Kornacki also joins us from Salon.com.
Let me ask you about that comment. I thought that was a great
exchange between David Gregory and Orrin Hatch the other day, Gene. This
guy is finance director of the Republican National Committee. There you
have a senator from Utah just saying he‘s some kid over there at the RNC.
I‘m not responsible for him when he puts out this white face on Barack
Obama. And they‘re trying to walk away from it.
EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yeah, I think it
illustrates the disarray that the Republican party is in right now,
ironically, at a time when the party is actually doing quite well compared
to the Democrats, in terms of making gains, at least in party registration,
and in the polls.
But it‘s a mess. Who‘s in charge? A lot of the senior officials—
the senior Republican officials in Congress don‘t have much regard for the
RNC that Michael Steele is running, and don‘t consider themselves to answer
to what‘s happening over there. I guess Chairman Steele doesn‘t exactly
take responsibility for the white face ad either. So who‘s doing it?
MATTHEWS: There‘s that ethnic piece to it, Steve. And there‘s also
this larger question of the Republicans are doing very well in the polls as
the no party. People are unhappy with the economy, unhappy with the
direction of the country right now. So Republicans are benefiting in terms
of poll numbers. But then when you get to the reality of the Republican
party, you get sticky business. Sarah Palin is an extreme polarizer. I of
people think she‘s nowhere near the weight you have to be to even be
thought of as presidential material. And then you have other people in
the party who think she‘s just dandy.
It seems like there‘s a difference between how popular they have
become, because of the unpopularity of the Democrats, and yet they‘re not
ready for prime-time. Steve?
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Yes, I think what we‘re seeing is the
Republicans are really in danger here of falling into a trap. There‘s a
certain reality about midterm election years, especially when the White
House party also controls both chambers of Congress. That is what‘s going
to define, you know, a midterm election is buyer‘s remorse. The only
question is always how much buyer‘s remorse will there be? When you‘ve got
10 percent unemployment and when you‘ve got the president controlling, you
know, both chambers of Congress with significant majorities, there‘s
probably going to be a lot of buyer‘s remorse.
In that atmosphere, parties can do well in spite of themselves. I
think that‘s the thing you have to look at with the Republican party. The
party of Sarah Palin, the party of Glenn Beck, the party of Rush Limbaugh,
the party of these mailers you‘re showing, can win in 2010. But that same
party can‘t turn around, I believe, and win in 2012.
And the trap for the Republicans is, if they have a very good
November, if they pick up 25, 30 House seats or more, if they pick up five
or more Senate seats, they‘re going to take it as vindication for their
strategy for 2009, 2010. And that‘s going to set up for real trouble in
MATTHEWS: Gene, do you think the negative aspect of the far right
will cut as deeply as the antipathy people have in the middle toward taxes
and big government? That‘s hurting the Democrats. Will the Republicans be
hurt as badly because of their association with the wacko element?
ROBINSON: I think ultimately that will hurt the Republican party.
I think the bigger danger right now for the Republicans is the whole party
of no business. Again, an irony, that‘s what‘s got them to where they are
now. And they‘re doing pretty well with it. But my sense is that
inaction, failure to solve problems that are evident to people across the
country, who want results—I think ultimately that‘s not a smart way to
play their hand.
And until they come up with ideas for health care, ideas for
financial reform, ideas for getting the economy started again, that start
to make sense to people, I‘m not sure what sort of long-term momentum they
can possibly build.
MATTHEWS: One of the new ideas that Dick Cheney‘s trying to sell
right now is his daughter, Steve. He reminds me of that Marlon Brando
character in “Superman” up on Crypton. The planet‘s about to blow up. So
he puts his little kid, in this case Superman, in a little capsule and
sends him to Earth. It‘s like Cheney knows his whole world is blowing up,
so he put his daughter in a capsule and is sending her to us. It just
seems like he‘s spending all his time as kind of like a booster rocket,
building one for his offspring. What‘s going on with this family?
KORNACKI: She‘s clearly trying to assume the mantle here, you know,
the political voice of the Cheney family. He is almost 70 years old now.
He just, you know, had another heart attack. Obviously, he is sort of
going to be I think fading from the political stage, although we thought
the same thing two years ago, when he left office.
But the funny thing to me about Liz Cheney, the talk, all of a
sudden, is she wants to run for the US Senate, maybe, they say, in
Virginia, maybe in Wyoming. It is tough to see exactly where she could fit
into the mix in either state. Boy, I look at Virginia and I say, there is
something here about sort of disgraced, you know, figures of former
Republican administrations turning to Virginia to try to, you know, launch
Wasn‘t—Virginia was where Oliver North came in 1994. You
remember Oliver North. In the best year ever for Republicans against the
worst possible—the worst Democrat that the party could have fielded,
Chuck Robb, all the scandals he had, North still couldn‘t win with. I look
at Liz Cheney and I say, go ahead, you can run in Virginia in 2012, maybe.
I don‘t think the odds of her winning are all that good.
MATTHEWS: Speaking—speaking of Virginia, gene, a lot of your
erstwhile colleagues are over at “Politico,” over in Virginia right now. I
swear the Cheneys—Mr. and Mrs. Cheney get up every morning with their
daughter and they cook up an e-mail to send to “Politico” and get some news
for the family. It‘s this little cottage industry children of Cheney—
Cheney creation news over there. What do you make of that, how they just -
they have reforested the country with news from the Cheney family?
ROBINSON: I know. It is like the Daily Cheney Report. You came up
with the image, a while ago, of the basement and cranking the mimeograph
machine. I can‘t get that out of my head. I really think she is kind of -
kind of stepped in it this time, though, with those—those vicious and,
you know, actually baseless attacks on these Justice Department officials
who had the temerity to defend unpopular defendants. I—you know, she is
getting the criticism from the right and the left.
MATTHEWS: I know. Yes, Gene, I agree. Let‘s take a look at her.
Let‘s look at the video. This has been put out by Liz Cheney, the daughter
of the former vice president. And it‘s about Eric Holder, the current
attorney general. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, who did President Obama‘s attorney general,
Eric Holder, hire? Nine lawyers who represented or advocated for terrorist
detainees. Who are these government officials? Eric Holder will only name
two. Why the secrecy behind the other seven? Whose values do they share?
Tell Eric Holder Americans have a right to know the identity of the “al
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Gene, haven‘t we been here before? Wasn‘t there a word
for that back in the early ‘50s?
ROBINSON: There was.
MATTHEWS: When you got people and you accused them of bad things
ROBINSON: Yeah, it‘s called McCarthyism, and that‘s exactly what I
call it in my column for tomorrow. That‘s an appropriate word for that—
including the—this time, I guess, it is updated with the ominous music
in the background, which just adds a kind of creepy touch to the whole
One of—she is attacking the idea—an idea that is one of the
fundments of our legal system, which is that even unpopular defendants
should have representation. It‘s older than the nation, that idea. John
Adams defended the British soldiers who were accused in the Boston
Massacre. But I guess what was good enough for the founding fathers isn‘t
good enough for Liz Cheney when she wants to try to score political points.
MATTHEWS: And even the great Edward Bennett Williams defended Joe
McCarthy. Even Joe McCarthy had to have a lawyer at some point. And
Steve, you‘re a young fellow. This is—this is a rerun, this one. This
is a rerun of bad news from the past, where you go after lawyers and accuse
them all of being terrorists because they defend people accused of
KORNACKI: Well, you know—
MATTHEWS: Why have courts if you can‘t have lawyers? Your thought?
KORNACKI: I mean, Gene is saying what is good enough for the
founding fathers isn‘t good enough for Liz Cheney. Also, what was good
enough for her father, apparently, isn‘t good enough for her, because there
were actually lawyers in the Bush administration Justice Department who, in
former lives, before coming aboard, you know, DOJ, had actually represented
So the Bush administration actually had the same standard, and we
didn‘t have, you know, any talk about the al Qaeda seven in the Bush
MATTHEWS: Well, I will go back to my image of the planet of
Krypton, where Dick Cheney is sending his offspring off to be saved from
the coming explosion. Anyway, back to Earth here. Here I am in the Holy
Land. I have a thought to finish tonight with, as always, the cause of
peace here in the holy land. We all hope for it, all from our different
religions. We want this place to be a peaceful land in the end.
Back from Jerusalem, right after this.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight on a topic of war and peace. I‘m
sitting here tonight in Jerusalem, the holy land, just weeks before Easter
and Passover. I love this city and have loved it ever since I lived here
for a month after getting out of the Peace Corps many years ago. It is a
wondrous place, rich in history, the very home of my religion and of
course, of so many other people‘s in the world.
There‘s a calm here that you can feel in the air. And yet—and
yet, we know that peace is precious for the very reason that it is so hard
to attain, especially here, where religion is the cause of strife and has
been for all these centuries.
Well, we have got a new peace initiative under the way, as we have
announced tonight, and the Palestinians have agreed to meet with the
American negotiator. The Israelis agreed to meet with them as well. The
American, George Mitchell, is a good, even great man who helped bring peace
to Northern Ireland. Perhaps he can do some great good here in this land,
where religion also divides.
Whatever comes of this latest effort, we have to hope, as Shimon
Peres the president of this great country of Israel, said, the only way to
be a realist in this part of the world is to be something of an optimist.
Tomorrow night, we have got Vice President Joe Biden joining us to
tell us what is going on here in terms of peace, and how we can avoid a war
with Iran, and how Barack Obama‘s doing here in Israel. Lots of news
tomorrow night with the vice president. We are here with him in Israel.
See you tomorrow night.
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