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updated 3/18/2010 12:49:40 PM ET 2010-03-18T16:49:40

Guests: Bertha Coombs, Marjorie Margolies, Rep. Gerry Connolly, Cynthia Dunbar, Wayne

Slater, Mike Pence, Ron Brownstein, Bob Baer

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Three days and counting.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Happy St. Patrick‘s Day.  Leading off tonight: From no to yes.  Count Dennis Kucinich in.  He became the first Democrat to switch his health care vote from no to yes, thanks in no small part to the lobbying of President Obama himself.  The president‘s inching towards 216 yes votes.  Tonight, we‘ll ask—well, we‘ll talk to a fence-sitter, a Democrat who voted yes the first time but isn‘t so sure now.  And we‘ll also talk to a former member of Congress who learned the hard way what can happen when you‘re the last vote the president needs.

Plus, should we all study like Texans?  What happens in Texas doesn‘t stay in Texas when it comes to schoolbooks.  The Texas school board has just made big changes to make their schoolbooks and yours more conservative.  The state buys such a large number of textbooks that it makes their selections cheaper for other states to assign.  If you like the Moral Majority, you‘ll love what they‘ve done down in Texas.  We‘ve got a Texas school board member coming on the program.

Also, why did Attorney General Eric Holder say Osama bin Laden will never be captured alive?  We‘ll talk to a former CIA officer about that provocative declaration.

Also, “March Madness” starts tomorrow, and we‘ve got President Obama‘s picks for the final four and for the overall tournament champion in tonight‘s “Sideshow.”

And finally, I‘ll finish tonight with a word about why this “deem and pass” strategy on health care reform could mean big trouble for the Democrats down the way.

We start with the vote on health care.  Back in 1993, Pennsylvania congresswoman Marjorie Margolies cast the deciding vote—the deciding vote in the House favor of President Clinton‘s budget that year.  That vote cost her her seat in Congress.  She‘s now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a founder of—and president of Women‘s Campaign International.

Marjorie, it‘s so great to have you on.  You‘re such a great person, and you sacrificed your entire political being back in ‘93 as the Republicans, led by Bob Walker, a Republican from Pennsylvania, cheered on the fact, Good-bye, Marjorie, you‘re gone, because you voted for that budget of President Clinton.

Your feelings about what‘s facing other members like you in the three days between now and the vote on health care.

MARJORIE MARGOLIES (D-PA), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN:  It‘s tough.  What‘s being said out there is that the sky is falling and that there will be an extreme depression.  That‘s what was being said then.  And you may note—although we do live in different economic times, you may note that most economic experts say that‘s where the richness, the economic richness of the ‘90s started.

But it was tough to go through.  You know, you don‘t hear from your constituents when they‘re happy.  You hear when they don‘t like something.  So you walk back in your office and they say, Oh, 9 out of 10 voters say vote against it.  But—and you‘ve heard this ad nauseam.  If you take the bill apart and you tell people what it‘s all about, for the most part, people want it.  And we found the same thing then.

It was just very difficult.  I happened to be in the most Republican district Democrat by the country.  So that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, my brother‘s county chairman up there, Montgomery County.  I‘m well aware of the fact that he‘s a Republican.

MARGOLIES:  I know!

MATTHEWS:  I know all about that.  Let me ask you this about—now I‘m going to pump you up here as a great person.  In ‘93, that big vote on the budget, was the predicate for that rock-em, sock-em economy of the 1990s.  It‘s what allowed the Fed to lower interest rates.  It set monetary and fiscal policy on a course towards balanced budgets.  It was later helped along, I must say, by Newt Gingrich and his conservative colleagues.  But it really got started, the good economy of the ‘90s, by sensible budgeting, which really didn‘t raise the taxes of anybody, really.

And I wonder, do people ever come up to you and say, Thank you, Marjorie, because you were the decisive vote of getting us the 1990s economy?  I‘m just being sarcastic because I know they didn‘t.

MARGOLIES:  They do.  I mean, not—not often.  And a lot of it—a lot of it is kind of nonsense, frankly.  You know, Why did do you it?  Especially today, I‘m getting a lot of, you know, pushback.  But by and large, it was—according to what you were saying and most people say, it was a good vote.  It was the right thing to do.  And I think that‘s the reason we are sent down there.  Not me, but those—those members who are still there.

MATTHEWS:  OK let‘s take a look at a piece of tape that I think tells people pretty clearly the emotions on the different sides of this.  This was taken by a “Columbus Dispatch” reporter early in the week out in Ohio.  It was at a health care rally, with advocates and opponents on both sides. 

It was in Columbus, outside of the office of Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy.  Boy, does this stick in the memory, once you‘ve seen this once.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At one point, a man whose sign said he had Parkinson‘s sat down in front of health care opponents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you‘re looking for a handout, you‘re in the wrong end of town!  Nothing for free over here!  You have to work for everything you get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll pay for this guy.  Here you go.  (INAUDIBLE) the pot.  I‘ll pay for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want a handout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There, here‘s another one.  There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No more handouts!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you see that, those people in the rally mocking that guy who‘s got Parkinson‘s?  He‘s on the ground.  He‘s in a terrible position of almost supplication saying, I need this health care bill, and they‘re deriding this guy, physically throwing money at him.  You know, I don‘t know what your reaction is.  This is a pretty nasty crowd of people out there.

MARGOLIES:  It‘s awful.  It‘s just—I‘m—I was stunned then, but I‘m also stunned now by the nastiness.  I‘m stunned by the partisanship.  It‘s not what people want.  But we are kind of—we‘re—we‘re just getting people into such incredible anger.  I mean, we‘re working people up into this incredible anger.  And a lot of it just doesn‘t make sense.  Most of it‘s just so darned unkind, as you just saw.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, let me show you a bit of nastiness.  This is in our new poll that just came out yesterday.  These are the numbers that drive men and women crazy and probably have discouraged them from ever running from office.  This is an NBC poll.  It asks people, If your a congressperson, your representative, votes yes, what would (INAUDIBLE) in November?  And it basically says they‘re more likely to back you 28 percent, say they‘re more likely to vote against you 36 percent.  So you‘re in no good shape if you vote for the bill.  If you vote no on Obama‘s health care plan, if you vote against the bill, it‘s still bad, 31 percent say they‘re going to vote—more likely to vote for you, 34 percent they‘re less likely to vote for you.

So the polling shows that no matter how you vote, at least on the bottom line, that people are going to vote against you, if you even took a vote, if you even showed up on the floor that day.

MARGOLIES:  That—we found that.  After that controversial vote in 1993, we did a poll and it was split 50/50.  We just heard from the people who were negative.  People are angry.

What usually happens, though, in the end, is they‘ll throw the bums out, except not my bum.  So you get a lot of the same people back.  It‘s—this is very, very tough.  This is where, you know, Pericles comes in.  You got to show leadership.  Stop being led.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARGOLIES:  Show leadership.  And that is not easy.  And you hear from your constituents, We want you to represent us.  Sometimes, that‘s right.  But an awful lot of times, especially now, that isn‘t right.  I mean, you really have to lead.  And this is...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re with Edmund Burke.

MARGOLIES:  ... a very tough one.  I think to do...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re with Edmund Burke.

MARGOLIES:  I think to do...

MATTHEWS:  And the electors of Bristol.

MARGOLIES:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got to—I give you my judgment.  I offer you my judgment.  That‘s what I give you as a member of Congress.

MARGOLIES:  Well, thank you.  No, you‘re right.  But I do think that this is a time where doing nothing is not acceptable.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at history and what history‘s going to be made here, for or against this bill, if it goes up or it goes down.  Here‘s more from Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Jack Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Clinton, all pushing for national health care along the lines that we‘re talking about this weekend.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.  As examples we should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

HARRY S. TRUMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This administration has proposed a program of improved medical care.  Our medical program will mean happier homes, healthier children, greater opportunity for useful lives for all the people.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The fact of the matter is that what we‘re now talking about doing, most of the countries of Europe did years ago.  The British did it 30 years ago.  We are behind every country, pretty nearly, in Europe in this matter of medical care for our citizens.

RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As a fourth great goal, I will offer a far-reaching set of proposals for improving America‘s health care and making it available more fairer to more people.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  All of our efforts to strengthen the economy will fail—let me say this again, I feel so strongly about this.  All of our efforts to strengthen the economy will fail unless we also take this year—not next year, not five years from now, but this year—bold steps to reform our health care system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it stuns me, besides the fact of how young the Clintons look in those pictures, that Richard Nixon—you know, and you go back and study it, as I have done over the years, Nixon, a Republican, sort of a mainstream Republican—he was pushing for a requirement by the federal government that if you own a business, you‘ve got to give your people health care.

MARGOLIES:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  If somebody did that today, the employer mandate, they‘d be called far-out progressive.  And yet this isn‘t unusual for American politicians of both parties to say, you know, you ought to have health care.

MARGOLIES:  We are very used to telling people what they want to hear.  We‘re very used to telling people that they can have it all without paying for it.  You know, you can balance the budget on waste, fraud and abuse.  Nonsense.  We‘re going to have to look at entitlements.  We‘re going to have to look at the things that we don‘t want to look at, or we‘re socking our children and our grandchildren with things that they will never be able to figure out.

The bill that I helped pass in 1993 at least tackled the deficit.  And you well know, at the turn of the century, we had—we had some surpluses.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MARGOLIES:  I was sitting there when Clinton delivered this—that message, and we are still looking at this problem.  And this bill—this bill is only a start.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.  Thank you very much.  Marjorie Margolies, professor at University of Pennsylvania—I‘ve got to get my daughter to sign up for your class!  Anyway, thank you so much, Marjorie...

MARGOLIES:  Yes!

MATTHEWS:  ... for coming on and being a great teacher of history.

MARGOLIES:  You‘re welcome.

MATTHEWS:  You know, the college of hard knocks I think is the one you went to, anyway, because you learned the hard way what happens in these votes.

MARGOLIES:  True.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Gerry Connolly‘s a Democrat from Virginia who voted yes back in November for health care and now says he‘s not—

Congressman, everybody respects you and your thinking on this.  What is it? 

Where are you on health care right now as the vote comes up on Saturday?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA:  Well, first of all, let me wish you a happy St. Patrick‘s Day, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir.  Same to you...

CONNOLLY:  The holiest day of the year for (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  With the name Connolly, it‘s appropriate.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s appropriate.  Thank you.

CONNOLLY:  What gives me pause and what I want to see is, I want to see the Congressional Budget Office numbers, and I want to see the language of the text before I commit to another health care bill.  Quite frankly, the bill I supported was quite different than the Senate bill, and the Senate bill certainly gives me some heartache.  So before I vote for something, I want to see, you know, the whole picture.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you sound like you‘re not convinced the Senate‘s going to make the fixes with reconciliation that the House makes.

CONNOLLY:  I think we have reason to be concerned given the fact—you know, the Senate was originally the cooling plate for legislation.  Now, that cooling plate has been taken a little too seriously.  It‘s now, you know, a glacial ice shelf...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CONNOLLY:  ... and I think they take their role just a little too seriously -- 290 pieces of legislation we passed last year are still awaiting action in the other body.

MATTHEWS:  Well, (INAUDIBLE) tell you.  I know you‘re a skeptic and you‘re a member of Congress and you have a right to be skeptic, given the way the Senate behaves, with 290 bills sitting over there the House has passed.  But if they don‘t pass the reconciliation that you pass, if they don‘t do it, I think it‘s the end of the Democratic Party as an organization.  They have to do it.

Here, by the way, are the members who‘ve decided today on the health care bill.  Big news today.  Dennis Kucinich at 10:00 o‘clock in the morning called a press conference and said he‘s going to vote for the bill, with its imperfections.  Dale Kildee, a pro-life Democrat—he‘s going to stick with the bill, even if it‘s the new version.  He‘s going to try to get the modifications, obviously, through reconciliation.  Jim Oberstar, another pro-lifer—he‘s with the bill now.  Lynn Woolsey voted for it I believe last—against it last time.  She‘s switching and is going to vote for it now, with its imperfections.

So you‘re seeing people coming in from left, right and center here.  Let me show you—here‘s Kucinich, a progressive, speaking today.  He‘s, of course, from Cleveland, Ohio.  Here he is, talking about why he‘s finally come down for the bill this morning.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  I have doubts about the bill.  I do not think it is a step toward anything I‘ve supported in the past.  This is not the bill I wanted to support, even as I continue efforts until the last minute to try to modify the bill.  However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife, Elizabeth (ph), and close friends, I‘ve decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation.  If my vote is to be counted, let it count now for passage of the bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Connolly, some people have said that if you vote against the president on this bill which he‘s invested so much in—in fact, his whole credibility—it‘s a no-confidence vote, like in the British system.  You‘re saying no to his leadership.  Is that how you would see it if you voted no in the end, as a no confidence in his leadership?

CONNOLLY:  I don‘t know that I would see it that way, Chris.  But I certainly am aware of that as a factor, and that‘s something that weighs, you know, among one of many factors on you as you try to make up this decision.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.

CONNOLLY:  Clearly, that—clearly, that weight on Dennis Kucinich when he made his decision.

MATTHEWS:  Well, everybody‘s—everybody‘s looking at your decision. 

Everybody‘s got a lot of respect for you, Congressman.

CONNOLLY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Happy St. Patrick‘s to you, sir.

CONNOLLY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

Coming up: Can anything be done to stop conservatives in Texas from rewriting those textbooks down there to emphasize—well, these are public school textbooks—Christianity, to promote conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, to completely ignore the name Ted Kennedy in recent American history?  Texas uses so many textbooks that these conservative changes will affect students nationwide because they make the textbooks cheaper because they buy so many of them.  Is it time to mess with Texas?  We‘ll get to that one next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Students in Texas will likely soon have a new angle on what they‘re taught in social studies classes.  The Texas Board of Education has endorsed curriculum changes, some of which include ensuring students learn about the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and ‘90s, including Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.

In January, the board voted down an amendment to include Senator Ted Kennedy in a list of important historic figures.  It will include the unintended consequences, in quotes, of the Great Society legislation.  It will replace the word “capitalism” with the words “free enterprise system” throughout text, and it will cut Thomas Jefferson from the list of people whose writings inspired revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries from the curriculum of world history courses.  That last amendment, by the way, was put forth by Texas school board member Cynthia Dunbar, who joins us right now.  Also joining me right now is Wayne Slater of “The Dallas Morning News,” who‘s been with us so many times before.

Ms. Dunbar, thank you for joining us.  Why do you see—well, explain that last one.  We just want to get to some of these particulars so people know what we‘re talking about.

CYNTHIA DUNBAR, TEXAS SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS: Why isn‘t Thomas Jefferson seen as a leader of revolutionary thinking in the 18th and 19th century?  He wrote the Declaration of Independence. 

DUNBAR:  Right. 

Well, actually, I‘m really glad that you even put that forward, because it‘s been misrepresented in the media a lot that Thomas Jefferson was actually stricken from the TEKS, which is the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which is not accurate. 

He‘s actually listed in several places within—throughout the document, including the political philosophies of the founding fathers.  And part of, I think, what people don‘t understand is, this is not a curriculum.  This is just essential knowledge and skills.  It‘s not an exhaustive list, but it can become overburdensome.

And, actually, what was listed in the final motion that was adopted was the underlying political philosophers, from which Jefferson was one who derived his political ideologies, and so it was just an issue of keeping it germane, because it listed the political philosophers of Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke. 

And it was from those writers that Thomas Jefferson did derive his political philosophy, and that that political philosophy is specifically listed with—among those of the founding fathers. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let me go to Wayne on that. 

What‘s your thought?  Is that your reading of the document in Texas? 

WAYNE SLATER, COLUMNIST, “THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  Well, yes, I mean, that‘s basically what it was. 

But this is an important document.  It‘s going to determine what the curriculum is.  The other thing is that you get rid of Thomas Jefferson, and you include John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas.  Nothing wrong with Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, but I think we see the fingerprints here of the ideological push against someone like Jefferson, who, although I‘m sure Ms.  Dunbar wasn‘t voting this way, there are other Christian evangelicals who think, among the founding fathers, he‘s their least favorite, because he was not really as Christian as many of the others. 

MATTHEWS:  You want to respond to that? 

DUNBAR:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it because of—a lot of them were deists back then, as we all know, at the time of the American Revolution.  They believe that God sort of set the clock and then didn‘t really intervene in our lives.  You know what—you know the religious issue here. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you—is that—there was discrimination against Jefferson because he wasn‘t sort of a fundamentalist Christian? 

DUNBAR:  Absolutely not.  I mean, I can only speak for myself directly, but I know about the conversations that I have had with the other conservatives on the board. 

It had nothing to do with striking at Thomas Jefferson.  The reality is, if we take—if we leave Thomas Jefferson in this list of political philosophers as one founding father, then it becomes glaringly obvious that we‘re leaving out other founding fathers, including the impact that Benjamin Franklin had on the French Revolution. 

And we don‘t want to do that.  I mean, it is an issue of germaneness. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DUNBAR:  And, so, it was not at—striking at Thomas Jefferson, although that seems to be—make sensational news. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your—what was the—what was the—what was the invocation of Thomas Aquinas about?  How did that fit into your textbook guidance?

DUNBAR:  Well, actually, because what was presented originally was the enlightenment theories that led to the revolutions, and although that is one of the theories of the political philosophers, including Voltaire and Rousseau, there were other political philosophies that were presented, especially at the time of these revolutions.

And to show the disparity, there was—Montesquieu and Locke were listed, which are the first and the third most quoted, but Blackstone, who is the second-most quoted of the founding fathers, was left out.  And Blackstone‘s ideology, along with Calvin and others, would have not been in enlightenment theory.  So, it was really more coming back as a balancing act. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what was Aquinas to do with the American Revolution? 

I‘m missing this.

DUNBAR:  Well, Aquinas actually was one of the original political philosophers that came forward, and some of his writings were actually what was brought forward with Blackstone and Locke and others as far as the ideology of just the laws of nature.

And those ideologies and those political philosophers actually led up...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

DUNBAR:  ... to generation after generation...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

DUNBAR:  ... to what the viewpoint of the founding fathers was. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your—what is your viewpoint, as a school board member?  You wanted to get on the school board.  Do you believe we should have prayer in public school, for example?

I want to know what your—what your ambition is as a school board member in Texas.  Do you think we should have prayer in school? 

DUNBAR:  Well, actually, I would take probably a very unique position.  And, having sat on the board, what I have seen is, time after time, we end up with the ideology of the majority faction over the minority faction. 

And I actually, as a strict constructionist, have a little bit of a problem with that—well, actually a big problem with that, because I don‘t think we should use taxpayer dollars to promote anyone‘s particular ideology over another. 

Even if I fall into the majority faction, I can‘t rejoice in that, in knowing that the minority rights are being trampled on using taxpayer dollar.  So, actually, I mean, my whole viewpoint with this has been something that‘s been brought to light.  Having served on the board, seen that issue after issue...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DUNBAR:  ... that‘s brought up, we actually have to make one decision that quite often tramples the rights of the minority. 

MATTHEWS:  Wayne, do you see that as the—as the guide—as the sort of the theme of this new document in Texas that‘s guiding the—the printing of these—publishing of these schoolbooks?  Do you think there is an attempt to push religion or conservative philosophy, and can you look to examples of that? 

SLATER:  Well, there—there certainly is. 

I mean Ms. Dunbar has said in her own book that this government of ours is an exceptional Christian government.  And there are representations all through this about the founding—the Christianity, the religious upbringing of and the underpinnings for our founding fathers. 

And it‘s represented throughout.  The key thing here is that, if you look at one or another of the changes that were made in the school board, I think they‘re really justifiable.  You can say let‘s add Jefferson Davis and give him equal standing with Abraham Lincoln. 

You can say, raise questions about the civil rights movement, specifically the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and say there were unintended consequences, whatever that means, that children should—should study. 

But it‘s the pattern, a series of things, that really underscore a—a Christian world view and a world view, I think, that—that some people in Texas believe is exclusionary.  But, as Ms.  Dunbar said, it was not minority who ruled here.  It was the—it was the...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SLATER:  ... 10-5 Republican majority who ruled. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK. 

Thank you, Ms. Dunbar.  Thank you.  We will have you back on this.  This is a interesting topic.  I‘m fascinated by this whole question of how we‘re educating our children and to what extent are we using traditional beliefs to guide our kids, and to what extent are we getting a little bit away from them?  But, also, we have got to deal with facts and not with ideology. 

DUNBAR:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much. 

DUNBAR:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Wayne.

As you suggested you agree. 

DUNBAR:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Wayne Slater.

And, thank you, Cynthia Dunbar of the Texas School Board. 

Up next:  On the eve of March madness, President Obama reveals his NCAA Tournament picks.  He‘s got time do this stuff?  We have also got the Final Four next coming up in the—in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  

He‘s going to tell us who is going to win this whole thing. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL town. 

Time—now to the “Sideshow,” tonight‘s top of the morning. 

Here‘s President Obama today at the annual Saint Patrick‘s Day Luncheon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Someone actually discovered my Irish lineage when I was running for president, and my first thought was, why didn‘t anyone discover this when I was running for office in Chicago? 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  You know, I would have gotten here sooner. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And it‘s also a day to thank the Irish people for all that they have done for America.

The truth is, they weren‘t always welcomed.  There were times where the Irish were caricatured and stereotyped and cursed at and blamed for society‘s ills.  So, naturally, it was a good fit for them to go into politics. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, not a lot of people know it now, especially young people, but there used to be a deep prejudice in this country against the Irish.  My mother used to tell me about the anti-Catholic prejudice back in her day that lasted right up to World War II. 

Anyway, the president also set aside today time to another big-time American tradition, March—March madness.  Then he gave ESPN a look at his NCAA presidential picks for the Final Four teams.  They are Kentucky, Villanova, Kansas State, and Kansas.  So, you got those four?  His pick to go all the way? 

Well, here is the president breaking it down on “SportsCenter” himself. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SPORTSCENTER”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right, so let‘s bring it home into the final game? 

OBAMA:  The final game, we have got Kansas...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, Kansas beating K State...

OBAMA:  ... and Kentucky. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  That would be a rematch in the coaching department from 2008, when John Calipari was coaching Memphis against Bill Self. 

OBAMA:  Against Bill Self.  And I think, once again, Self wins. 

That‘s the game right there.  All right? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right. 

Thanks. 

OBAMA:  You bet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, so, the president‘s putting his money on Kansas.  I‘m, of course, rooting for Villanova to go all the way. 

Up next:  Republicans keep fighting against health care reform.  It‘s helped them politically, but how long will they just keep saying no, and how long will it work?  We will talk to one of the House Republican leaders, Congressman Mike Pence, one of the leaders.  He‘s from Indiana.  And he‘s coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And keeping with Saint Patrick‘s Day, a lot of green on the boards today, the Dow Jones climbing 47 points, extending its winning streak to seven days in a row, the longest streak since last summer.  S&P 500 added six.  The Nasdaq was up 11. 

A surprisingly sharp drop in the producer price index, easing inflation fears and helping fuel the market‘s momentum today, prices paid at the farm and factory falling 0.6 percent. 

Energy costs, in particular, seeing the biggest decline, with gasoline prices plummeting more than 7 percent in February. 

And Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke on Capitol Hill today fighting to maintain the Fed‘s power to regulate small banks.  Bernanke said the insight this process provides is crucial to setting monetary policy. 

In stocks, materials were the big winners—aluminum manufacturer Alcoa and chemical giant DuPont finishing at top of the Dow, while International Paper and semiconductor-maker LSI Corp. led the S&P.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

“The Columbus Dispatch,” as we said before, has this amazing video of health care reform advocates and opponents protesting earlier this week outside the office of U.S. Ohio Congresswoman  Mary Jo Kilroy. 

Let‘s listen as the reporter describes this incredible scene of Americana. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At one point, a man whose sign said he had Parkinson‘s sat down in front of health care opponents. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you‘re looking for a handout, you‘re in the wrong end of town.  Nothing for free over here.  You have to work for everything you get. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, no, I will pay for this guy.  Here you go. 

Stir the pot.  I will pay for you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want a handout.

(SHOUTING)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... give you money. 

(CROSSTALK)

(SHOUTING)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... the other one.  There you go. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You love a communist. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Communist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No more handouts!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Indiana Congressman Mike Pence is the House Republican Conference chairman. 

Mr. Pence, thank you for watching that, really, I think disgusting picture of some pretty nasty people. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I—I kept thinking—and this isn‘t partisan at all.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think Ronald Reagan would have said, those people are awful.  Ronald Reagan would have sat down with the guy and talked to him, and found out his situation.  Now, maybe he wouldn‘t have handled it the way a Democrat would, but I don‘t think he would have been that dismissive of that guy‘s plight.  He wasn‘t faking it.  That guy had a problem, health-wise. 

Your thoughts? 

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Well, I—I think it‘s despicable.  A man sitting on the street with Parkinson‘s, to be berated by that, in that kind of a setting, is—I think that is awful.  And I would denounce that in the strongest terms. 

But I do think it gives you a glimpse, Chris—not to excuse that behavior, but I had a constituent ask me at a town hall meeting out this week—he said, out in Washington, D.C., do they know how upset we are?  Do they know how angry are that they continue to drive this government takeover of health care and now begin to twist the rules of the House and Senate into a pretzel to pass it? 

And I—I had to tell them, I—I—I didn‘t think so.  I didn‘t think the majorities out here in the House and Senate or the White House really just understand just how frustrated the American people are.  But it doesn‘t excuse that kind of behavior for a second. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think of that guy‘s idiom when he said, “We don‘t give handouts over here”?  Was that sort of in a reference to fact we in America, as opposed to socialist Europe?  I was trying to figure out what that meant, over here. 

It sounded like, in this country, we don‘t do it the other countries do did.  So, your thoughts on that? 

PENCE:  Yes, I don‘t—I don‘t—I really don‘t know what he was talking about.  Frankly, it just seemed—it seemed very mean to me, quite frankly. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

PENCE:  And I—I—I just would share with your revulsion at that kind of a confrontation. 

You know, I saw that kind of stuff during the demonstrations over the war in Iraq.  You know, people would, you know, act in ways that I didn‘t think reflected well on them or really reflected the character of this country.  And that looks like another one of those cases. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got a new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out.  As you know, these are pretty darn nonpartisan.  We got—it finds that a 14 point swing has occurred favoring Republicans on handling health care.  Look at this, 35 percent now approve of Republicans‘ handling of the health care.  It‘s not exactly going through the roof, but it‘s a lot better than it was.  It was in the 20s.  Fifty nine percent disapprove.  But back in January, as I said, it was 26 percent positive, 64 negative. 

So in this game of difficulty, where nobody‘s loved in politics, it looks like you‘re picking up a beating or two. 

PENCE:  Well, I don‘t know that Republicans are picking up.  I think it‘s a combination of two things.  I really do believe the public is rejecting this massive government takeover of health care. 

And I think, as a result of what happened at the Blair House, what happened at our retreat, I think the public is starting to take a look at Republican ideas.  You know, the idea that we ought to allow Americans to purchase health insurance across state line, the idea of medical malpractice reform, covering pre-existing conditions with the savings from that. 

I don‘t know if it‘s being attracted to Republicans, as much as

being attracted to Republican ideas that I believe—if we can scrap this

bill, I believe we could achieve some incremental, step-by-step reforms, on

a bipartisan basis, that would reflect those ideas and be broadly accepted

by the American people, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t you do that when you had President Bush—I mean, President Bush—the second President Bush—and you had control of both houses?  You speak positively of the need for reform.  And yet when the Republicans controlled both houses and the White House, you never do this stuff. 

PENCE:  Well, and I would—but I would add that what we did do was in the wrong direction. 

MATTHEWS:  But you didn‘t do the things you just ran through. 

PENCE:  Yeah, well—

MATTHEWS:  But you didn‘t do what you said you would do.  It‘s would have could, should of, it sounds like to a lot of Democrats.  Every time a Democrat tries to do health care reform, you guys, very logically, come along and say, here‘s a more modest package.  But you never offer that more modest package when the Democrats aren‘t in power, because you don‘t have to do it. 

PENCE:  Well, no, actually, I think Republicans actually kind of doubled down on big government solutions.  I was one of the 25 Republicans who opposed the prescription drug entitlement on the floor of the Congress during that famous three-hour vote. 

Frankly, the Republicans didn‘t bring solutions based on limited government and free market alternatives to the public to deal with this.  We did the big government solutions.  I think it‘s part of the reason Republicans were shown the door 2006. 

But this new government takeover of health care takes the big government ideas of the Bush administration on health care and puts them on steroids.  And i think—I think the public, apart from, you know, liberal Americans, who are entitled to their opinions—I think decisive majorities across this country are rejecting the big government approach. 

They know it‘ll result in more deficit and debt and higher taxes.  And they want us to do the incremental, step-by-step approach, that gives them in more power, it gives them more economic freedom.  And I think we could do that if we stop the bill, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, you may get a chance, if they stop the bill.  Then maybe you can push the Republican proposals for the first time.  Thank you very much, Congressman Mike Pence, for joining us from Indiana.  He‘s on the House—he‘s up there on the House rights now. 

Ron Brownstein‘s political director—you know that is pretty—I saw you shaking your head positive.  I know that you are a straight arrow here.  But the fact is, it is a fact.  Republican offer these wonderful sounding, moderate alternatives, but only in the face of a Democratic progressive suggestion. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  The story‘s a little bit more nuanced.  The fact is that these are ideas that Republicans had during—when when they unified control of the House and the Senate and the White House, under Bush.  Some of them did pass the House.  Their idea of association health plans did pass the house.  Medical malpractice, at one point, did pass the House. 

The interstate health insurance never did pass the House because that is a much more controversial idea that it is usually explained to be, because it essentially allows the states that regulates least to set the rules for everyone.  

MATTHEWS:  You go state shopping.

BROWNSTEIN:  But fact is that all of these ideas were never able to achieve consensus when Republicans controlled government.  They could not get them out of the Senate.  They could not get 60 votes.  And in—

MATTHEWS:  You know why?  They really didn‘t want to do it. 

BROWNSTEIN:  They‘re asking Obama to accept ideas that they could not pass when they had unified control of government.  That is—that‘s a key point here, in terms of looking at the alternative. 

MATTHEWS:  New numbers here in the “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll. 

It shows that 36 percent now say that the president‘s plan is a good idea;

48 percent say it‘s a bad idea; 46 percent say it would be better to pass it; but 45 percent say it would better to keep the current system. 

That last number hangs up there.  After months and months of ridicule, of individual parts, of the sausage-making of this fight over the public option, of all of this negative and yet you have a slight -- 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah. 

MATTHEWS:  -- one-point advantage for passing this

BROWNSTEIN:  They‘re back to even, you know.

MATTHEWS:  What happened?

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, Gallup, ABC, “Washington Post,” AP, the overall Pollster.com, my colleague, Mark Blumenthal, they‘re assessment are all about the same now, where you have somewhere around 45 percent saying yes, do it, maybe slightly more or about the same saying, don‘t do it. 

What you‘re seeing—by the way, in your poll today, I think probably for the first time, on that question, that 45/45 question, a plurality of independents say, do it.

MATTHEWS:  But if you‘re a Democrat, bottom line—be prescriptive; you‘re a Democratic member, you have to vote for it?

BROWNSTEIN:  I think you have to vote for it, looking at those numbers, especially when you consider the ancillary costs if this goes down and what it says about the overall ability for Obama to govern, what it might mean for Obama‘s approval rating, what it might mean for Democratic turnout on November.  On balance, politically, this is an argument for doing it, although, you know, it‘s not a slam dunk. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s one reason why Lynn Woolsey of California is sticking with this bill.  There‘s a big push to be solid on this thing, show some solidarity, and be with your constituents.  Anyway, Ron Brownstein, thank you. 

BROWNSTEIN:  It‘s an up or down almost parliamentary vote now. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s a no-confidence vote—up next—if you vote against it.

Up next, Attorney General Eric Holder says there‘s no way we‘ll ever get Osama bin Laden alive.  Why is he making these assumptions, these declarations?  They are so provocative.  How does he know how we‘re going to catch this guy?  That‘s coming up.  We‘ll talk to former CIA officer Bob Baer about that, a very provocative statement by the attorney general.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Attorney General Eric Holder, as most people know now, has made a provocative statement.  He dismissed the idea of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice in a courtroom, because he said we‘re never going to capture him alive. 

Bob Baer is a former CIA field officer, and he also offers new details, hot stuff, in this month‘s “GQ” about the suicide bombing at a CIA base in Afghanistan, that killed seven Americans in December, making that one of the deadliest attacks in the agency‘s history. 

Let‘s try to get to that.  But first, Eric Holder, why does he make these statements?  What do they say to agency people, in the company right now, when they hear, we‘re going to kill him?   

BOB BAER, FMR. CIA FIELD OFFICER:  You know, in fact, we are going to kill him.  He‘s up in the tribal areas and the only way to get to him is with a missile fired by UAV. 

MATTHEWS:  So it won‘t be close engagement?

BAER:  No, we‘re not going to send troops up there.  It‘s impossible.  It will never happen.  We‘ll never send Delta up.  We‘re going to have to kill him with a missile.

He‘s going to get on a phone one day, and we‘re going to send a missile down that signal. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that one of those things like you see the satellite photos, and you see them brining up the pictures, blowing it up, blowing it up, blowing it up, until they finally actually see the guy in the picture?  Is that how they do it? 

BAER:  They just need the signal.  All they need is that—

MATTHEWS:  They GPS it right from the phone? 

BAER:  GPS right down the signal, missile goes right down to the signal. 

MATTHEWS:  To whoever has the phone in their hand. 

BAER:  They‘ll pick up a voice and they‘ll say, the sheikh is next to us, next door, fire it down.  They know this. 

MATTHEWS:  They know this.

BAER:  They make mistakes.  Somebody always makes a mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  Throws him a phone? 

BAER:  No, doesn‘t throw him a phone.  Somebody makes a mistake.  They can‘t keep their mouth shut.  They‘re bragging, somebody in the village. 

MATTHEWS:  Your view is forget the jurisprudence her and whether we should be talking about knocking people off before the trial, it‘s probably right? 

BAER:  It‘s probably right, but we shouldn‘t be talking it.  We‘re a nation of rule of laws.  We shouldn‘t be talking about assassinating people. 

MATTHEWS:  Last one; what went wrong with those seven people that got killed over in Afghanistan, that horrible case where the CIA blew it?  They brought the guy in with a bomb on him.  They never frisked him.  What happened? 

BAER:  They didn‘t know what they were doing.  There were three rings of security coming into that base in Afghanistan.  When the first ring, they came to it, the car, they should have pulled the guy out.  They should have searched him there, because we would be talking about one or two dead, not seven.  They failed to do that. 

They met him in front of this motor pool, and they were going to greet him.  It was a big deal.  This guy was important. 

MATTHEWS:  He was a friendly. 

BAER:  He was a friendly.  This was the big breakthrough.  This was going to get us to bin Laden or Zawahiri.

MATTHEWS:  Who makes the call on these security decisions?  The CIA are the toughest, most skeptical people in the world.  They trust nobody.  Why did they trust him with their lives and lost their lives as a result? 

BAER:  You know, Chris, that was not supposed to be an operational base.  It was supposed to be analysts running that base.  That was a base the CIA didn‘t want to open, because it doesn‘t have enough people, as many as the military would like.  So they put those people to help the military to target, not to meet assets, like this Jordanian. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s like “Three Days in the Congo,” where a guy doing analysis ends up being an operations—

BAER:  Exactly.  The CIA didn‘t want to open that base, because it‘s controlled by Haqqani (ph).  But it was the military said, no, we need people there. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The CIA that‘s now run by Leon Panetta, the long-time congressman, former OMB director.  Is it up to the game?  It‘s a brutal game of life and death.  Can we win this battle against terrorism with the CIA we have now? 

BAER:  No, we can‘t.  The CIA is over-extended.  We don‘t have enough linguists.  We don‘t have enough operators.  We have too many people confined to the Green Zone in Baghdad.  The same in Kabul.  There‘s too many people without—

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t they have the lobbying power to come up and demand what they need to win this war?  Because this war‘s probably not going to be won by Patton‘s army.  It‘s probably going to be won in the dark areas, as Dick Cheney likes to call it. 

BAER:  I can‘t say for sure.  But I‘d say the secretary of defense, Gates, gets in to see the president a lot more than Panetta.  He‘s calling the shots. 

MATTHEWS:  He would rather have fire power and ordnance and weaponry than this kind of more power to the CIA? 

BAER:  He‘s got to go along with the generals.  And the generals want as many people as possible.  That‘s the military mentality.  They say, if we 150,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, the CIA‘s got to have 1,000.  But that‘s way beyond the CIA‘s manpower. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the reason we won initially in Afghanistan, it was the agency guys? 

BAER:  Yeah, but it was a few guys.  It was a few guys, using technical sources, run remotely from Washington.  They were doing fine. 

MATTHEWS:  Now back to the question, where is bin Laden? 

BAER:  If he‘s alive, he‘s in the tribal territory. 

MATTHEWS:  Northwest territories?

BAER:  Northwest territories.  We can‘t get to him, though. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

BAER:  It‘s too tough up there.  You would have to fight a major war to get into those areas. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s between him and us? 

BAER:  Tribal people protecting him. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Bob Baer.  Why aren‘t you still in this thing? 

You‘re a smart guy.

When we return, I‘ve got some thoughts about why this deem and pass tactic the House is talking about could be big trouble for the Democrats.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with the possibility that the US House of Representatives will approve the giant Obama health care bill without actually voting on the bill itself.  Something about the House merely deeming the bill to have passed in the US Senate. 

My question is fairly simple: how do you demand an up or down vote in one chamber, and deny one in the other?  You insisted on the right of the Senate to pass the reconciliation measure by an up or down majority vote.  How can you refuse to have the co-equal House of Representatives to do the same?  

If a majority vote is good enough for the Senate, shouldn‘t it be the minimal requirement for action by the House?  I‘ve heard the argument for having the House avoid an up or down vote on the bill passed by the Senate.  It‘s that it will prevent the Republicans running TV ads saying that the Democratic members of Congress voted for the Senate bill as if they are not modifying it, cleaning it up, which, in fact, they are doing.

That you would stop Republican ad writers from blasting Democrats unfairly for voting for a bill that has problems, such as the notorious Cornhusker Kickback, even though the member already voted to eliminate such provisions in the reconciliation bill, that‘s paired along with this bill. 

But I think avoiding a direct up or down vote on the Senate bill would expos the Democrats to a worse charge, that they pulled a fast one.  There‘s really only one reason not to have a direct vote on the health care bill in the House; that‘s to let a member claim he didn‘t vote to support it. 

But if any political consultant or staffer or member of Congress believes that he can use legislative slight of hand or confusion to protect themselves, they‘re courting more trouble.  This vote to deem the health care bill to have passed the Senate would not only be noted by a Republican opponent, it would surely be weaponized.

Worse yet, it would be taken to the Supreme Court, a bold step that would really impeach this process of creating health care for all Americans. 

Again, the bottom line, you cannot demand an up or down vote in one chamber, the US Senate, and deny one in the House of Representatives, a body of men and women, Democrats, Republicans and independents, which has prided itself long before this health care fight, and will wish to do so years after it, as the people‘s House. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Catch us against tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Again, happy St.  Patrick‘s Day. 

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

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