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updated 3/12/2010 10:08:31 AM ET 2010-03-12T15:08:31

Guest: Andrew Romanoff, Jonathan Martin, David Sanger, Luis Gutierrez, Jeff Zeleny, Josh Green

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  So it‘s official.  Harry Reid tells Mitch

McConnell he‘s using reconciliation.  In other words, Harry Reid‘s playing

HARDBALL, and so are we.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews, who‘s

traveling with the vice president still in the Middle East, in Jordan

tonight.  Leading off tonight here: Reconcile this.  Harry Reid takes off

the gloves and plays his own version of HARDBALL.  The one-time boxer

turned Senate majority leader formally notified his Republican counterpart,

Mitch McConnell, that he will use a Senate ruled called reconciliation to

get those fixes to health care passed.

The move allows Democrats to avoid any Republican filibuster against

any of those fixes the Senate wants to make on their already-passed health

care bill that‘s, by the way, still got to get passed in the House.  For

Republicans, the move is nothing short of a Senate declaration of political

war.  We‘ll get to the bare-knuckle fight that lies ahead in just a moment.

Plus: Just when you thought the Massa saga couldn‘t get any messier,

some of his former Navy shipmates say they were subjected to his unwanted

advances.  And if that‘s not enough, now there are questions about whether

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn‘t take an early warning about his erratic

behavior more seriously.

Next, a look at two hot Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate. 

We‘re going to talk to the establishment guy in one race, Pennsylvania‘s

Arlen Specter, and the insurgent guy in another race, Andrew Romanoff,

who‘s challenging the sitting senator out in Colorado, Michael Bennet.

Also, more trouble for John Ensign.  Just when Republicans think they

have Democrats in an ethics bind, back comes their own ethical problem in

the form of the junior senator from Nevada.  Previously undisclosed e-mails

appear to show that he tried to direct lobbying gigs to the husband of his

former mistress.  Forget the Senate Ethics Committee on this one, by the

way.  Does this put him in hot water with the FBI?  We‘re going to get to

that in the “Politics Fix.”

And finally, our friend there, ousted Illinois governor and soon to be

“Apprentice” contestant Rod Blagojevich sure does loves cracking jokes at

his own expense.  He delivered Letterman‘s “Top 10 List” last night, and

which was all about himself, and he loved it.  We‘ll have part of it for

you in the HARDBALL “Sideshow,” which is what Rod Blagojevich has become.

But let‘s start with the big business here of reconciliation and the

health care bill.  We‘re joined by Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. 

He‘s headed to the White House right after this interview to sit down with

President Obama about his own problems that he still has with what‘s left

with health care.

And in fact, Congressman, let‘s start with an issue that I‘m pretty

sure you‘re going to bring up with the president, and that has to do with

immigration and what illegal immigrants can or can‘t do in the health care

bill.  What is it about the Senate bill that you don‘t like, that you want

to see changed?

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS:  A couple of things.  First, Chuck,

if I could, just say that, so that we frame this correctly, when the

president first came to me and others, we accepted reluctantly—and we

thought it was bad public policy, but we accepted that for the bill to move

forward, undocumented immigrants, illegals, here in the United States,

would be excluded.  That wasn‘t easy to do, but we did it.

But then the president kind of doubled down, right?  Then he said, But

even if they go to the exchange with their own money, they can‘t buy health

care for themselves and for their families.  And I‘m kind of, like, Well,

they collect the money from the IRS and their taxes, and they go to the

store to shop.  Why can‘t they pay?  Especially since they‘re younger, less

likely to use health care, and the premiums will go to helping support the

system.  So we want people to pay, but he said, No, not even then can they

come.

And secondly, I think it‘s very important for people to understand

that in the Senate version, which looks like the way we‘re going here...

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  ... I mean, every indication is that‘s the way we‘re

going...

TODD:  Absolutely.

GUTIERREZ:  ... they‘re going to exclude legal permanent residents for

the first five years.  That is to say it‘s a mandate that they go out and

purchase health care, but they can‘t get any subsidy.  They‘re required—

and you know, we want immigrants—we‘re always saying, Why don‘t

immigrants play by the rules?

TODD:  Pay their own way.

GUTIERREZ:  Well, they want to play by the rules.  But then we‘re

saying, But you‘re not really part of the rules.  So those are a couple of

issues and...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... brass tacks.  Let‘s get down to brass tacks.  Are those two

issues enough for you to say, You know what, I can‘t support this bill?

GUTIERREZ:  They are enough to say, I can‘t support this bill.  I‘m

looking forward to talking to the president and see if he can‘t give us

some kind of holistic explanation of what we‘re doing because health care

and immigration, housing, immigration, banking system, immigration, they‘re

all intertwined.  Let‘s deal with it in a comprehensive manner so the that

president doesn‘t have to be, I think, really demeaning the stature of his

office and himself by going after immigrants, by saying they can‘t—

because I don‘t really think he believes that.  I just think somebody at

the White House told him that might be a good way to go to gain some

leverage among the American public.  So we want to talk to him...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Wait a minute, you said somebody at the White House.  Who at

the White House specifically...

GUTIERREZ:  I don‘t—I wouldn‘t know.  I wouldn‘t know who at the

White House.  But I would suspect—I don‘t really think it‘s him.  I

don‘t think he woke up—you know, I don‘t think he came and had that

altercation with Congressman Wilson, and then the next day woke up and

said, Well, I‘m going to double down.  Not only did I say yesterday that

illegals—and by the way, he used to call them...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... Joe Wilson.  Let me just remind viewers the “You lie” from

that speech had to do with when the president said his health care plan did

not give health care to illegal immigrants, correct?

GUTIERREZ:  And he was—and I‘m going to tell you something. 

Because he had to convince me and others to exclude them, I‘m telling you,

the president wasn‘t (INAUDIBLE) But it was, like, the next day, he doubled

down, right, and he said, You know what?  Not only—not even that.  Even

at the exchange with their own money will we not allow them.  That‘s bad

public policy.  So I think...

TODD:  You—you...

GUTIERREZ:  I just think that the president‘s being...

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  ... being advised poorly.

TODD:  You brought up immigration and talked about how it‘s

intertwined with a number of issues, not just health care.  You brought up

financial reform.  We know that the issue of comprehensive immigration

reform came up earlier today at the White House.

GUTIERREZ:  Yes.

TODD:  I guess my question is, if the president says to you,

Congressman Gutierrez, here‘s what I‘m going to do, you‘re going to have to

live with this Senate language.  However, I‘m taking on immigration this

year, I‘m not putting it off to next year, I‘m taking it on next year.  I

had a good meeting with Senator Graham, with Senator Schumer, who were both

at the White House today.  Would that be enough to get your vote?

GUTIERREZ:  You know, it would be enough—to be quite honest with

you, it would be enough to enter into a conversation with the president of

the United States.  I think we need to deal with this in a macro way.  I

want to be helpful.

But quite honestly, you know, understand, I‘m from Chicago.  I still

remember December of 2006, when I got the call from my junior senator and

he said, Come on down, Luis, and I‘m going to Hawaii...

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  ... I‘m going to be with my wife, and when I come back,

I‘m thinking I want to run for president.  Will you help me?

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  And I said, Go have a good time in Hawaii, Barack.  Enjoy

yourself.  And when you come back, I‘ll stand with you.  And I did.

You know what?  If we could have a little more of that 2004 Barack

Obama, who just thrilled us all at the Democratic convention...

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  ... and he applied some of that enthusiasm and charisma to

the issue of immigration, I think we can get—I want to see him come

back.  I want to see candidate Barack Obama be President Barack Obama.

TODD:  Sounds like it‘s going to be a dynamic conversation tonight. 

Very quickly, Congressman, while I have you, are you going to run for mayor

of Chicago next year?

GUTIERREZ:  No.  I‘ve already—I called the mayor...

TODD:  OK.

GUTIERREZ:  ... about a month ago and told him I‘m going to be for

Mayor Daly.

TODD:  OK.  All right.  Congressman Gutierrez, thank you for joining

us.

GUTIERREZ:  All right.

TODD:  Good luck tonight at the White House.

All right, with me now, “New York Times” White House reporter Jeff

Zeleny.  Jeff, you heard some of that interview.  It seems like he‘s

mixing, and this is what the congressional Hispanic caucus in general—

they‘re not happy about how the immigration issue has been dealt with not

just in the health care bill but the whole idea of immigration reform.  So

if he gets a pledge—it sounded like to me, if he gets a pledge that the

president‘s going to push immigration reform this year, he‘ll sign off on

what he doesn‘t like in the health care bill.

JEFF ZELENY, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  That‘s what it sounded like.  It‘s

kind of hard to imagine that the president would agree to do immigration

reform this year or would have the support to go forward with it.  I mean,

we‘re already pushing the envelope far closer to the mid-term elections

with this big health care fight.

So I mean, equally interesting, I thought, what Congressman Gutierrez

was saying is—he said, We want to see some of that old Barack Obama. 

What happened to that 2006 Barack Obama?

TODD:  Yes.

ZELENY:  This next week or two-week period here really is a lot of

more infighting among some of President Obama‘s close allies than they ever

had hoped to get at this point.  The immigration thing—I somehow think

President Obama will be able to talk his old friend from Chicago off the

ledge on this one.

TODD:  Well, it certainly sounded like he was willing—you know, at

first—he wasn‘t willing to put his vote on the line, it didn‘t sound

like, at the end of the day.

I want to move on, speaking of this trip a little bit—in the press

room today, take a look at how many people asked Robert Gibbs about this

trip.  As you know, the way the schedule is laying out, right, he‘s

supposed to leave a week from today, March 18th, which was a deadline that

Robert Gibbs and some at the White House had publicly said they would like

to see the House deal with health care.  And so now a lot of people are

wondering, is this trip in jeopardy either in whole or in part.

Take a listen at the battery of questions he got today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Is the president still planning to launch his Asian trip on

time?  Any chance of delay?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  If we have any changes in

the schedule, we‘ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION:  Does the president still want this thing passed by—that

Senate bill passed by the House before he gets on the plane?

GIBBS:  Again, if it takes a couple of days extra, Chip, we‘ll be

happy to have it pass then, too.

QUESTION:  Is there anything about the trip that couldn‘t be delayed? 

Could you put it off a couple of weeks to finish up health care?

GIBBS:  The trip won‘t be put off a couple weeks.

QUESTION:  The president doesn‘t have a concern about leaving here if

it hasn‘t been completed?

QUESTION:  Are you aware of any contingency planning to move it back

even a day or two?

GIBBS:  I don‘t have any announcements on today‘s trip.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, we‘re used to having to parse Robert, you know?  You

know, you take words for it, but at the same time, you look and wonder, is

there wiggle room?  Did you hear wiggle room?

ZELENY:  I think there is wiggle room on this, perhaps not what Robert

Gibbs was saying today, but what the White House, what advisers are hearing

from House Democrats.  I was talking to one sort of senior House Democrat

yesterday who said, You mean to tell me we have to do this vote, the

timeline for his is because the Obama girls, the daughters, want to go on

vacation during their spring break?

The White House says, you know, this trip has been planned for a long

time.  It‘s about more than that.  But I think if the White House gets

enough pushback from House Democrats, they will think very strongly about

reconsidering this trip.  So it is really one of the many things that is

rankling House Democrats right now.

TODD:  Well, it‘s interesting that you brought up the fact that he is

bringing his family with him.  In fact, one of our colleagues there asked

in that way, that is this more vacation than it is a serious—and Robert

seemed to bristle at that.  But you‘re hearing from Democrats on Capitol

Hill saying, Hey, don‘t make your deadline a vacation deadline?

ZELENY:  I mean, you heard Steny Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi have both

pretty sharply pushed back on this March 18th deadline.  What is happening

behind closed doors is really a furious sentiment from some House Democrats

that they feel that they‘re being pushed too much on this.  Some of them,

of course, want the vote to happen sooner, rather than later, just to get

it over with.

TODD:  Sure.

ZELENY:  But others feel that this deadline is more about the

president‘s schedule.  And you know, it‘s not the most pressing foreign

trip that he‘s had since taking office.  So right now, they say they‘re

still going forward with it.  The White House has advance people in

Australia, in Indonesia.  But we‘ll see.  It could definitely be

rescheduled.  We‘ll find out how the White House reacts to this criticism.

TODD:  All right, Jeff Zeleny, on top of it there for “The New York

Times” and for us, thanks for joining us.

ZELENY:  Thank you.

TODD:  All right, coming up, it‘s the Eric messa mass, or is it the

Eric Massa mess?  It got a whole lot messier.  Turns out some of the ex-

congressman‘s Navy shipmates are now speaking out, and they say they were

subjected to his unwanted advances years ago.  And it get worse from there. 

We‘re going to get into it next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Just when it looked like the Eric

Massa saga was winding down, guess what?  It didn‘t.  Today, with the

exception of a couple of votes, the House unanimously passed a Republican

resolution calling for the Ethics Committee to investigate what Democratic

House leaders knew about the Massa mess and when they knew it.  What will

happen next, and who‘s this going to hurt or help in November?

Kelly O‘Donnell covers Congress for NBC News and MSNBC.  Josh Green is

the senior editor for “The Atlantic.”  And he‘s also been covering this

story from a salacious way, and we‘re going to get into that in a moment.

Kelly, bring us up to date on this resolution.  Obviously, this is—

the Republicans are kind of feeding the story, trying to give the story

legs a little bit.  But what is the news nugget that they‘re hanging this

on, that they put this resolution on today?

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they thought, Democrats

did, that Eric Massa‘s resignation would be enough.  It wasn‘t because

there was some confusion about when did Democratic officials know of some

kind of problem happening in the office of the former New York congressman.

So how does the story go?  Well, there have been questions about what

did the Speaker know?  Now, senior aides to the Speaker say that their

office was given some information back in October, but not rising to the

level of these sexual harassment allegations.  It was really of a different

tone.  They said they were warned by one of Massa‘s staffers at the time

that the congressman had too many staffers, had been living with some of

his staffers, and there were concerns about foul language.

So today, the Speaker said that she did not know about the sexual

harassment allegations until very late in the game.  And so she is

contending that she and her office were not aware for months.  Republicans

raised that question.  Of course, the obvious implication is that they

might have been hiding it, in political terms.

TODD:  Sure.

O‘DONNELL:  The Speaker‘s office said, No.  No, that‘s not what

happened.

TODD:  All right...

O‘DONNELL:  So now they investigate.

TODD:  Kelly, Josh, I want to play with you a clip for you.  Here‘s

Speaker Pelosi, actually.  She sat down with MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow earlier

today in an interview.  It‘s going to air in full tonight on Rachel

Maddow‘s show at 9:00 PM Eastern.  But let‘s take a listen.  This is what

the Speaker said, what she knew about Eric Massa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:  When was your office first

told about concerns about his behavior?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Well, any report to

our office was in February that there was an allegation against him, and at

the same time, that it was referred to the Ethics Committee.  And that was

the appropriate—I‘m now finding out that there had been a conversation

earlier, but it had nothing to do to—didn‘t come close to any kind of

allegation.  It was—repeated something that had been in the newspaper

the day before.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD:  All right, Kelly, very quickly, that‘s obviously—so what is

she saying that the allegation that she thinks her staff got, that there

was just simply somebody saying, Hey, Congressman Massa‘s—you know, he‘s

walking a line here, he may be getting himself in trouble, but they didn‘t

know what?  Is that what she‘s trying to say?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  At the time, there was no indication that there were

advances being made, but people were concerned about the atmosphere, the

foul language, maybe spending too much time with staffers, all kind of

living together.  Of course, he had a home back in his district...

TODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  ... and sort of had an unconventional way to live here in

the district.

TODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  So that was really the issue.  Was it just kind of some

problems on the horizon...

TODD:  Sure.

O‘DONNELL:  ... different than these more specific allegations?

That‘s her claim.

TODD:  All right. 

Josh Green, you have done some reporting about sort of some unusual

behavior he exerted when he was in the Navy.  But you said in your

reporting, you were tipped off about some Eric Massa allegations when he

was first running for Congress. 

So, if you were tipped off, do we think that other Democratic at least

campaign types might have known something? 

JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR EDITOR, “THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY”:  I think so.  I

mean, Massa has clearly been kind of a powder keg going back to his time in

the Navy.

And I had gotten a tip about a dispute he had had with a former

campaign manager back in 2006, where there was a lawsuit.

TODD:  That‘s an election he lost. 

GREEN:  An election he lost... 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  ... yes, his first run for Congress. 

TODD:  Right. 

GREEN:  But weird lawsuit and contretemps where he made allegations

against a campaign manager that he later retracted about making a pass at

his son, all sorts of weird things. 

When the story cropped up again last week, and I got back in touch

with some of these people, it led to his Navy colleagues. 

TODD:  Right. 

GREEN:  And now we see this whole line of people who have been, you

know, groped, or had strange encounters with Massa. 

TODD:  Now, you got a lot of these Navy colleagues to go on the record

with you about the—about his behavior. 

I guess my question is, what explanation do they give to you?  Why

didn‘t they go to their—to Eric Massa‘s senior officer and say, hey,

he‘s doing this?  Why wouldn‘t they have reported it at the time? 

GREEN:  I think—I think the main thing was fear of retaliation. 

Massa was the number-three commander aboard the ship, a senior figure, a

very aggressive guy. 

He was someone that most people in the Navy at the time—this was

around the time of the first Gulf War—had pegged as somebody really

ambitious, going to be admiral one day.  You know, you cross him at your

own peril.  And, if you‘re a Navy guy...

TODD:  Mm-hmm. 

GREEN:  ... to make homosexual allegations against a senior officer is

a serious, scary thing.  I think it wasn‘t until these congressional start

charges rolled out earlier this week that they really thought it was

time to come forward. 

TODD:  Now, Kelly, I want to go back to you, because, obviously, this

this—House Republicans feel they have hit jackpot here, right,

between Eric Massa, Charlie Rangel, even—you‘ve got John Conyers‘ wife -

John Conyers, the congressman—his wife caught up in a—in a legal

problem as well. 

They think they have hit the ethical mother lode.  What do they say

back, though, when Democrats throw John Ensign at them? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, here‘s one of the interesting things.

I talked to Leader Boehner, the top Republican in the House, a short

time ago, and asked him about that apparent contradiction.  And he said

that Republicans need to be better as well.  And he even acknowledged that

the handling of the Mark Foley issue some years ago, where there were also

these sexual...

TODD:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... connotations to it, that they handled that poorly. 

So, they‘re kind of grabbing onto it now and saying, let‘s do it better. 

We owe the American people that. 

Well, that is perhaps a true view of policy, but it‘s also politically

very expedient, because Nancy Pelosi herself had said this Congress, under

her leadership, would be the...

TODD:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... most ethical.  So, she sort of put this out there as a

standard that might even have been higher than people‘s normal

expectations. 

And if there is something there for them to go after, they‘re

certainly doing it aggressively, keeping that alive, and trying to connect

her to these Eric Massa allegations and saying she should have known. 

TODD:  Josh, go to—go to 30,000 feet here, because it does seem as

if, each—each time a political party in the last 20 years has lost

control of Congress, it‘s—it‘s been the ethical issues that put it over

the top, right?  You had the check-bouncing scandal of ‘92, which led to

some shenanigans in ‘94, led to that thing.

And then we—we saw what happened in ‘06, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff. 

Are Democrats extra sensitive to this?  Do they see this coming? 

GREEN:  Well, I think they ought to be. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  I mean, these things move faster and faster and faster.  It

was only two years ago that it was Republican scandals and Mark Foley that

were causing all this.  And now you have this whole succession of scandals. 

You have this—this—this spectacle, really, in the whole Massa

thing...

TODD:  Right.   

GREEN:  ... and this race to kind of answer questions about who knew

what when, and now the House voting today to start a special investigative

subcommittee that is presumably going to issue a report on June 30, much

closer to the midterm elections.  So, you really can see kind of a wave

building where—where Democrats could run smack into the same thing

Republicans did. 

TODD:  All right. 

Quickly, Kelly O‘Donnell, how quickly would the Ethics Committee—

this was not a formal—it‘s not as if this vote passing means the Ethics

Committee has to start an investigation.  But one would assume it—they

probably would start one, just for political reasons.  How quickly would it

start up? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, with the overwhelming vote in favor of this, that

would certainly suggest that they would do it.  They‘re not compelled to. 

But there would be an indication.  They had only barely begun before Massa

had resigned. 

TODD:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  So, they could actually get going quite quickly.  But

these things usually take a long time.  So, as Josh mentioned, the June 30

deadline is actually pretty quick in the pace of how the Ethics Committee

would typically work. 

TODD:  We shall see.  It‘s been quite the week for Kelly O‘Donnell up

there on Capitol Hill. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Once again, it‘s why it‘s the best beat in Washington. 

Kelly O‘Donnell, thank you. 

Josh Green, quite the week for you, Tim Geithner, a huge profile. 

It‘s still a must-read.  And then there‘s Eric Massa.  Thanks for joining

us.

GREEN:  Good to be with you.

TODD:  All right. 

Up next:  Outgoing Congressman Patrick Kennedy has something to say

about the Massa scandal, too.  He went off on the 1 floor.  And we‘re going

to have that next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Well, there it is.  It‘s back at HARDBALL here.  And it‘s time

for the “Sideshow.” 

First up:  Stop the presses.  Retiring Congressman Patrick Kennedy had

a bone to pick with the media during yesterday‘s empty-floor debate on

Afghanistan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND:  If anybody who wants to know

where cynicism is, cynicism is that there‘s one, two press people in this

gallery!

We‘re talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV.  We‘re talking about

war and peace, $3 billion, 1,000 lives.  And no press?  No press.  You want

to know why the American public is fit?  They‘re fit because they‘re not

seeing their Congress do the work that they‘re sent to do. 

It is because the press—the press of the United States is not

covering the most significant issue of national importance.  And that‘s the

laying of lives down in the nation for the service of our country.  It is

despicable, the national press corps, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The gentleman‘s...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  That had to do with a resolution about Afghanistan and a—and

a withdrawal issue.  It went—what—what Congressman Kennedy was

supporting went down to dramatic defeat, over 300 votes against his

position on that. 

By the way, it was an empty chamber he was speaking to as well.  And,

again, he‘s retiring, and the outrage he is showing post-retirement. 

Next: Blago time.  He‘s back in action.  Actually, when does he ever

stop?  Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the once and future star,

probably, of Donald Trump‘s “Celebrity Apprentice,” showed up on

“Letterman” last night to deliver the top 10 list. 

It was a good one. 

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

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Here we

go.  Top 10 questions Rod Blagojevich asked himself before appearing on

“Celebrity Apprentice.”

Number 10:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  Can I get paid in

shampoo? 

LETTERMAN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) 

LETTERMAN:  Number six:

BLAGOJEVICH:  Is there any chance NBC will replace me with Leno? 

LETTERMAN:  Mm-hmm, yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  I think there‘s an excellent, excellent possibility. 

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number two:

BLAGOJEVICH:  How come I‘m not a governor, and Paterson is? 

LETTERMAN:  Yes, well, that‘s...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) 

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one question Rod Blagojevich asked himself

before appearing on “Celebrity Apprentice”: 

BLAGOJEVICH:  Will my hair get along with Trump‘s hair? 

LETTERMAN:  Yes, there you go. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  So, what do they?  It doesn‘t matter how—how you say my

name.  Just make sure you spell it right, or put me on TV.  It does seem to

me that‘s all Blagojevich cares about. 

Publicity tour aside, Blagojevich has a corruption trial that is

slated for later this year. 

And now the “Big Number.”

When “The New York Times” bestseller list comes out the week of March

21, which politician will be on top?  Well, according to Politico, Mitt

Romney for his book “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.”  Romney

strikes publishing gold.  He‘s going to be number one on the upcoming “New

York Times” bestseller list, not number one for politics, number one. 

I have to say, a lot of people didn‘t think he could get there with

that.  It says a little something. 

And, finally, a personal note, just because I‘m getting the chance to

do this.  I got to mark the passing of the great Merlin Olsen.  I feel like

this guy was all over my childhood, a football great, member of the Los

Angeles Rams‘ Fearsome Foursome back in the ‘60s.  I will admit, not—I

wasn‘t around to watch him play so much football. 

But, later, he joined the NBC family.  He was a football commentator. 

He was also an actor on “Little House on the Prairie.”  Sadly, it may be

how I was—knew him—best known him—knew as there.  He also played

Father Murphy on another show. 

Olsen early this morning at a hospital in California.  He was 69.  He

was also the spokesperson for FTD, just the nicest man who everybody said

was one of the meanest defensive lineman.  So, go figure. 

Merlin Olsen, rest in peace. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

“Market Wrap.”

Stocks finished picking up the pace in the final hour of trading to

finish moderately higher, the Dow gaining 44 points, the S&P 500 climbing

four points, and the Nasdaq adding on nine points. 

Investors keeping a close eye on China today, after it reported a jump

in inflation.  A decision to raise interest rates there could slow the pace

of economic recovery. 

Citigroup growling again on fresh optimism for its financial future. 

Investors are interested in the bank‘s strong base of capital and sky-high

earnings potential.  Regional banks also doing well for the second day in a

row on speculation overseas banks are looking to snap up some bargains here

in the U.S.  

Shares of energy giant British Petroleum are up after inking a $7

billion deal to look for oil off the coast of Brazil. 

And video game retailer GameStop leading the S&P with a 6 percent gain

on rumors of a possible takeover on the horizon. 

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

HARDBALL. 

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Chuck Todd.  I‘m in for Chris

Matthews, who‘s in Jordan with Vice President Biden. 

Well, it‘s time to talk about some races we‘re loving to cover this

spring.  In a few minutes, Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff will

be here. 

But, first, someone Chris is sorry to miss and hopes to have on again

soon, and I‘m soon he will, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who faces

Congressman Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, which

is on May 18.  We‘re almost two months away from that. 

Senator Specter, before I get to that race, I want to go to Senator

Reid‘s decision to formally inform the Republicans that he‘s going to go

this Senate rule, reconciliation.  What is the—are you concerned about

any of the long-term fallout on how the U.S. Senate runs if and when you

guys vote on some health care fixes this way? 

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Chuck, there are many

precedents for using reconciliation in analogous circumstances. 

For example, on SCHIP and COBRA, Medicare Advantage, welfare reform,

all used reconciliation. 

TODD:  OK.

SPECTER:  And many of the Republicans now who say, don‘t do it, it‘s

wrong, were firm advocates in the past.  It‘s all over the congressional

record in their words. 

TODD:  Where are you on the filibuster in general?  Are—Senator

Reid has talked about reforming the filibuster.  Senator Bayh has a

proposal out there to—quote, unquote—it does seem like about, every

20 years, the Senate does try to change the filibuster rule, some time,

when—when it went from 67 votes down to 60 votes. 

Where are you on this? 

SPECTER:  Well, there was a major crisis in 2005 where the shoe was on

the other foot and Democrats...

TODD:  Right. 

SPECTER:  ... were filibustering President Bush‘s judicial nominees. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  And you were ready to go reconciliation, right, when you were

chairman of the Judiciary? 

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER:  No, no, I wasn‘t.  It wasn‘t reconciliation.  There was an

issue of what was called the nuclear constitutional option. 

TODD:  OK.

SPECTER:  And we were able—we were able to avoid that, so that the

filibuster remains at 60, unless there is a rule change.  And that‘s pretty

tough to get. 

TODD:  All right. 

Well, I‘m going to go to your Senate primary.  We‘re two months away. 

It‘s campaign season. 

SPECTER:  Go ahead.

TODD:  Here was Congressman Sestak talking about you on Monday‘s

HARDBALL.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Some strong, dare I say salty language.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Criminal—did you accuse him of some sort of criminal

behavior? 

SPECTER:  Well, the statute says, if you don‘t pay the minimum wage,

you can go to jail.  And it is on record...

TODD:  This has to do with his campaign staff, having to do with

contractors, instead of putting them on salary, correct? 

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER:  His—his campaign workers are required to be paid the

minimum wage by federal and state law.  And it is documented, by document -

by what Congressman Sestak‘s campaign has filed, that he paid them about

$2.50 an hour. 

And that is a violation of law.  And when he says that I‘m using

language unfairly that makes him out to be a criminal, I would ask him to

define what he has done when he has violated a statute which provides a

punishment, including a term in jail.  Ask him what he would call himself. 

That‘s a fact.

TODD:  We haven‘t seen the TV ad.  But I want to go to, very quickly

last question here—why should Democratic voters in Pennsylvania trust

you now that you west from being a Republican to a Democrat?  Why should

they trust you now? 

SPECTER:  Because I have a long record of supporting democratic

Values.  In my tenure in the Senate, I have voted perhaps more often with

Democrats on key issues, like a woman‘s right to choose, opposing wireless

wire tapping, opposing war.  I have faced the Democrats.  We had a state

committee meeting, and I got an overwhelming endorsement from the State

Democratic Committee, of 229 to 69 votes.  Seventy seven percent of the

Democrats voted for me to be the nominee, because they trust me.  And they

trust me based on a very solid record. 

TODD:  Senator specter, the good news is about our democracy, the

voters are going to decide.  May 18th, the big day in Pennsylvania.  I‘m

sure we‘ll be talking to you again. 

SPECTER:  I‘m ready. 

TODD:  All righty.

I want to turn now to another Senate race.  This one is in Colorado. 

We‘re going to talk to the insurgent here of sorts, where appointed

Democratic Michael Bennett, he faces a primary challenge.  This one is in

August.  And it‘s against our next guest.  He‘s the former state house

speaker, Andrew Romanoff. 

Mr. Romanoff, thanks for joining us here.  Simple question, why -

what‘s the fireable offense with Senator Bennett?  Why shouldn‘t Senator

Bennett be returned to the US Senate?  What has he done that you are making

the case, fire him, hire me? 

ANDREW ROMANOFF (D), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE:  Well, nobody in

Colorado, other than the governor, has had a chance to vote here.  There

are three million registered voters in this state.  The governor filled a

vacancy that was created when Senator Salazar joined the cabinet in 2008. 

I believe I‘ve got the strongest record of legislative leadership,

the deepest knowledge of our state.  I‘m the only candidate in this race,

on either side of the aisle, who is refusing to accept the corporate cash

that is corrupting Congress.  I think one of the reasons so many voters in

our state and across the country have been disgusted with the United States

Senate is because too many folks in that chamber have become wholly-owned

subsidiaries of the special interests that bank roll their campaigns. 

I think you can see it on health reform, on financial reform, on

climate change.  We‘re not getting the reforms we need.  That‘s a big part

of the reason why.

TODD:  I want to show you had a forum already, where you appeared

with Senator Bennett.  There was an interesting exchange you had.  I want

to play a quick clip from it.  It happened last month.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANOFF:  I appreciate the accord that‘s breaking out on the stage. 

And I welcome you to join our team. 

SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT (D), COLORADO:  I love you.  I wish you were

running a primary against one of the people that is causing the problems

we‘re talking about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Hard to say; I go from Congressman Sestak and Senator

Specter, who are accusing each other of being criminals, apparently, or

going back and forth on that issue.  It was a virtual love-fest.  So I

guess I go back at you, at this time, when the Democratic party is under

siege here, what is the fireable offense that Michael Bennett has done,

that says no Michael Bennett; he‘s got to get out of there; Democrats, fire

him? 

ROMANOFF:  Sure.  Let me give you a couple of examples, Chuck.  Last

Spring, the Senate Banking Committee had a chance to protect Americans from

foreclosure by allowing them to go to bankruptcy court and renegotiate the

terms of their mortgages.  You can do that under the law today if you‘ve

got a yacht, a second home, an investment property.  You can protect it

from foreclosure. 

But if you‘re like most of us, with just one home to your name, you

can‘t do that.  It‘s an especially important problem here in Colorado,

which has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.  The Senate

Banking Committee, including my opponent, killed that bill.  And the

members of the committee, including my opponent, were rewarded with

hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the banking

industry. 

In fact, the fellow I‘m running against is the fifth biggest

recipient of Wall Street cash in the entire Congress.  And number one in

the freshman class in the Senate.  That‘s a conflict of interest that I

will avoid by turning down those special interest contributions in the

first place. 

TODD:  We‘re going to have to leave it there.  I know our time is

short.  Mr. Romanoff, thank you for joining us.  We‘re going to be talking

about this race a lot, I have a feeling, going up until the August primary. 

ROMANOFF:  Thanks, Chuck.

TODD:  Up next, more hot water for another senator.  This one

Republican John Ensign of Nevada.  “The New York Times” is reporting that

investigators have new evidence that Ensign may have tried to find lobbying

work for the husband of his ex-mistress.  It‘s a scandal that may prove

more damaging, even if it‘s not as salacious than this Massa mess.  This is

HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  Last year, I had an affair.  I

violated the vows of my marriage.  It‘s absolutely the worst thing that

I‘ve ever done in my life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  That may be the worst thing he‘s done in his life as far as

person, but he now has some professional issues.  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the politics fix.  That was Nevada Senator John Ensign, of

course, last June.  Since then, things have gotten worse.  The Senate has

been under investigation by both—not just the Senate Ethics Committee,

but the FBI. 

The “New York Times” reports that investigators think they have

evidence that the senator tried to get lobbying work for a former aide who

just happens to be the husband of Senator Ensign‘s former mistress.  How

much trouble is he in? 

Joining me now I have David Sanger of the “New York Times,” and I‘ve

got “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin.  We‘re going to a little bit about

Ensign.  We‘re also going to get into Middle East and Joe Biden and that

rough trip over there.  Nobody a good week. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  We are. 

TODD:  Other than the press, that‘s right.  This seems to be, in an

odd way, a much more serious charge than anything Eric Massa is dealing

with.

MARTIN:  Well, the first—the obvious reason, he‘s still there. 

Massa resigned.  That sort of stops the bleeding for Democrats in the

House.  Ensign is not going to resign, apparently.  He‘s made that clear

over the past few months.  But further, it‘s the use of his office, too. 

It‘s not just the fact that he --  

TODD:  For the record, the Ensign folks have put out a statement and

they said—they‘ve denied that he has done anything illegal or against

the law, which includes this allegation of using his office to get—

MARTIN:  If proven true, the assertion that he used his office to

get his former chief of staff lobbying contracts, it looks really bad. 

It‘s basically using your office to cover up for your own indiscretion. 

It‘s sort of the caricature of Washington corruption. 

TODD:  Right, it‘s just like that.  David, you‘re seeing this—

just go for 10,000 feet for me, a minute.  All of this Democratic mess that

the House Democrats are dealing with, and House Republicans today, they are

pretty giddy about it, did these resolutions.  How do they handle this John

Ensign thing?  And what does the average voter think?  

DAVID SANGER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  I think when the average voter

sees this, they don‘t necessarily consider these Democratic scandals or

Republican scandals.  Remember when the Republicans had so many ethics

problems prior to the 2008 election cycle.  At that time, you saw President

Bush, later on, actually blame the problems they ran into—sorry, this

was 2006. 

TODD:  Karl Rove, to this day, he doesn‘t blame Iraq. 

SANGER:  He blames the scandal.  And President Bush, I remember, one

evening when he was meeting with reporters said, it had nothing to do with

Iraq.  It had everything to do with the scandals. 

Now, I don‘t actually buy that argument.  But I think the more that

these break out, they do have an affect of sort of canceling each other

out.

(CROSS TALK)

MARTIN:  -- it could muddy the waters on the Eric Massa scandal, on

the Rangel scandal.  It could really blunt their ethic charges against

Democrats because they have problems in their own house. 

TODD:  You made an excellent point at the bidding.  Eric Massa is

out.  There is no investigation anymore. 

MARTIN:  Right. 

TODD:  Walk me through Nevada politics right now.  And why isn‘t

John Ensign out? 

MARTIN:  Because you have a governor out there that, to put it

charitably, is embattled.  Jim Gibbons, whose is a Republican, would

appoint somebody if Ensign was to resign.  He has his own—

TODD:  Nobody trusts this guy. 

MARTIN:  Has his own issues.  Divorced his wife amid allegations of

adultery out there, is really held in contempt by the establishment out

there in Nevada, the Republican establishment.  And so there‘s a concern,

kind of like in South Carolina, by the way, what is worse, that he stays or

he goes?  Because what‘s next?  

TODD:  And the trickle down has been any of the Republicans that the

party would like to have run against Harry Reid are all waiting for John

Ensign to leave, right? 

MARTIN:  It‘s a pretty short line there.  And the only folks out

there running right now are challenging Harry Reid.  Who could actually

take that Ensign seat?  Again, nobody trusts Gibbons to appoint anybody. 

SANGER:  When was the last time that we were all this focused on

Nevada politics on a national scale?  It is pretty remarkable.

TODD:  It‘s used to be—it‘s supposed to be what happens in Nevada

stays in Nevada. 

(CROSS TALK)

TODD:  All right.  We‘re going to let that stay in Nevada.  You guys

are killing me.  Jonathan Martin, David Sanger, we‘re going to come back

and talk Joe Biden, Middle East, and a little Israeli domestic politics,

right after this.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  And we‘re back with “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin and the “New

York Time‘s” David Sanger with more of the politics fix.  David, let me go

to your love and your beat here, foreign policy, Middle East peace.

What is going on?  The vice president of the United States makes

this—what needed to be an important trip to try to fix the Middle East

peace process.  Israelis just virtually slap him. 

SANGER:  Right.  You know, what is amazing to me about this story is

it has played out so many times before.  There are secretaries of state

that go back to Jim Baker‘s time, who would land, and the Israelis would

announce settlements that would get in the way. 

TODD:  De ja vu all the time. 

SANGER:  This movie has run before.  It sort of makes you wonder why

it was that they weren‘t better prepared for this.  Now, the State

Department will tell you, the White House will tell you that they believe

Prime Minister Netanyahu‘s contention that he didn‘t know this announcement

was coming while the vice president was there.  Now, he must have known—

TODD:  But they apologized for the timing, not for the announcement,

right? 

SANGER:  So it would feel a whole lot better if Biden had left town

first, OK?  But the fact of the matter is that the Obama administration,

last year, declared that the settlements had to freeze as a way of getting

the talks started.  Then they began gradually to back away from that last

September.  And they have been backing away. 

But this is a real back away that has happened.  And that‘s why the

fascinating issue, to my mind, was that when Vice President Biden issued

his a statement, he didn‘t say I‘m disappointed by this.  He didn‘t say, I

wish this didn‘t happen.  He said, I condemn this decision.  That‘s the

kind of language that the United States uses when North Korea—

TODD:  Right, condemn.  Jonathan, you were on some of these road

trips with us, the White House press corps. Remember all of the bravado

they had; we‘re going to start the Mid-East peace process in our first

term.  We‘re not like Clinton and Bush.  What happened?

MARTIN:  What happened?  David is right.  This does happen in past

administrations.  That‘s not going to stop the Republicans from ceasing on

this and saying, look, this administration abroad is not only not feared,

they‘re respected.  Foreign governments are going to have the temerity to

do these kinds of things because this administration is not sort of viewed

in a way like past administrations.

TODD:  So Republicans—you think they can make that a valid

argument? 

MARTIN:  They‘ve been trying to for the past year. 

TODD:  As you just pointed out, Jim Baker did it. 

SANGER:  But memories short.  I think the core of the political bet

for President Obama is that his new approach, which is engagement with both

adversaries and allies, will, over time, pay off.  His problem, 14 months

into this, is that the record of payoff is pretty slim.  The Europeans have

not—

TODD:  He doesn‘t have that big thing.

SANGER:  Right.  The Europeans haven‘t given him more troops for

Afghanistan.  The Israelis haven‘t played along on this.  And Iran hasn‘t

worked out so hot. 

TODD:  David Sanger, Jonathan Martin, until we meet again, thank you

both.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more

HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

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

BE UPDATED.

END   

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