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updated 5/3/2010 12:32:27 PM ET 2010-05-03T16:32:27

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Howard Fineman, Norah O‘Donnell, Admiral Thad Allen, Kate Sheppard, Peter Beinart, Mark McKinnon, Mark Silva

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Gulf of oil.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews out in Los Angeles.  Leading off tonight: Eureka!  That massive uncontrolled oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is rapidly becoming a big political story and could deal a crippling blow to “Drill, baby, drill.”  President Obama is reconsidering his position on offshore drilling until this investigation into the spill is complete.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pushing back hard against any criticism.  Nobody wants to hear that word “Katrina” associated with this mess, not while there‘s still a chance to still look sharp.

Plus, you know how the tea bag party whips up fear that America is being turned into a police state?  So where is the outrage over Arizona‘s new immigration law?  Is big not always bad?

Also, Florida, Florida, Florida.  One political analyst predicted that yesterday would be the best day Charlie Crist will have in this campaign.  Why?  Because eventually, Democrats and Republicans will come home and reject Crist‘s independent bid for the Senate.  But the fact is, he‘s turned a boring two-way race into an electoral menage a trois.

Plus, Rielle Hunter‘s tell-all interview with Oprah.  You‘ll get the highlights here.  Nora O‘Donnell has a post-game report.

And “Let Me Finish” here in Hollywood tonight with a tribute to an actor and an icon who helped define an entire generation.

Let‘s start with the spreading oil spill down in the Gulf of Mexico.  Joining me now from the White House is Admiral Thad Allen.  He‘s commandant of the Coast Guard.  Admiral, thank you very much for joining us at this very difficult time.  Who‘s in charge overall of the clean-up of the oil spill in the gulf?

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, COAST GUARD COMMANDANT:  At this particular minute, it‘s Rear Admiral Mary Landry, our incident commander down in Robert, Louisiana.  Obviously, she has a reporting relationship back to me and I have one to the secretary of Homeland Security.  She‘s assisted in her job by what‘s called the national response team, which is a collection of federal agencies that assist and oversee when we‘re doing a federal response.

MATTHEWS:  So this is a Coast Guard job right now, the clean-up.

ALLEN:  I would say it‘s a Coast Guard lead, Chris.  By regulation, if it‘s a spill on water, we lead.  If it‘s a spill on land, EPA leads.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have the equipment to go down 5,000 feet and cap this well?

ALLEN:  The Coast Guard does not, no, Chris.  And we share responsibility at both ends of that pipe.  Minerals Management Service on the floor of the ocean and Coast Guard has equities at the top, and we‘re all committed as far as recovering the oil.

MATTHEWS:  But how do you get down a mile deep into the Gulf of Mexico and stop that loss of 5,000 barrels a day?  How do you cap it off?

ALLEN:  We‘re trying a couple of things, Chris.  First of all, when the incident occurred and the mobile drilling unit sunk, there should have been an actuation of what‘s called a blow-out preventer.  It‘s a valve that automatically shuts.  That obviously did not close or it only closed partially.  The challenge is to try and stop the leak around that.  In the long term, they‘re going to have to drill a relief well to relieve the pressure and then cap that well.

In the meantime, we‘re trying to deal with the leakage around the wellhead and the riser pipe.  We‘re trying with remotely-operated vehicles to fix that blow-out preventer, see if we can actuate it.  BP is also engineering what we‘re calling cofferdams.  These are domes to go over the leakage and collect the oil that we then pipe to the surface.  There‘s some difficulties in engineering that because of the depth of water they‘re operating at, and this is kind of unprecedented doing this type of work at that depth.  But they‘re doing that, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take these in order.  First of all, what are the odds of having equipment that‘s able to fix that blow-out preventer right now?  Is it really feasible that you could fix that and stop the leak?

ALLEN:  Well, the remotely-operated vehicles that I‘ve watched the video on this, Chris, are very, very skilled and very precise.  They can pick up very small screwdrivers and things like that.  And they‘re looking for hydraulic leaks and trying to fix the system to see if they can‘t actuate it because that‘s the best possible scenario.

They‘ve been trying for several days.  And what is—what is frustrating for all of us is they have not been able to actuate the blow-out preventer.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ALLEN:  While they‘re doing that—while they‘re doing that, we‘re also putting the cofferdams in place, which is taking a while, to allow us to be able to collect the oil and pipe it to the surface.  But the engineering associated with putting the valves on and putting those things down at 5,000 feet has never been done before.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re operating in, what, three different channels.  First of all, you‘re hoping that you can fix the blow-out preventer.  That would be ideal.  And number two, you‘re trying to redirect the oil that‘s coming out of the well to the surface, where it can be collected.  And let me ask you about this long-term challenge of digging a new hole, a new wellhead.  Is that—that takes two months.  Has that clock started?

ALLEN:  It has.  They‘re moving the mobile drilling units into place.  We‘re doing one other thing, Chris, and this is going to be a prototype or a test that was approved by the interagency team today.  We‘ve used dispersants on the surface, and they‘ve been very, very effective at dispersing the oil, where we‘ve been able to get to it.  We‘re going to try a test in the next day or so where we‘re going to actually put dispersants through a pipe down to the source of the leak and see if we can‘t apply dispersants at the point of discharge and try and disperse the oil before it ever gets to the surface.

This has never been done before, at least at this depth, but we‘re trying everything possible, and these are ideas that have come up through collaboration with BP and their industry partners and we concurred with.

MATTHEWS:  What would be the advantage to the environment of dispersing the oil?

ALLEN:  Well, it‘s a little bit of a trade-off.  And one thing we‘re going to have to do, we‘re going to have to test it and see what the impacts are.  Dispersing the oil disperses it into smaller droplets, and it makes it easier for it to biodegrade.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

ALLEN:  But we have to understand the interaction of the dispersants in the water column.  So we‘re going to do a test first and try and assess the impact.  If we feel that the tradeoff is worth it to remove the oil at the source, versus the impact of the dispersants on the water column, then it will make sense to continue it on a larger scale.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your sense now looking at the idea of offshore drilling?  Is it too dangerous to do it?  Is it something we have to do, but it has more calamity attached to it than we thought?  Or where are you at on this?

ALLEN:  Well, Chris, personally, my responsibility is two things.  One is obviously the response and then the investigation into the performance of the mobile drilling unit, along with Minerals Management Service investigation of their portion, which is on the seabed.  Ultimate decisions about where we go and search for energy, frankly, is above my pay grade, and we‘re pretty much focused on the response here.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, good luck with this.  It‘s a great national effort, and we‘re all behind you.  Thank you, Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard.  Thank you, sir.

ALLEN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Kate Sheppard is the environmental reporter for “Mother Jones” magazine.  Kate, thank you for joining us.  We just heard the admiral, the head of the Coast Guard, go through the four options they‘re pursuing.  None of them sound like they‘re going to work quickly.

What‘s your sense, the idea of dispersing the oil, the idea of putting it in these sort of domes and collecting it as it comes up, the idea of fixing the blow-out preventer, the idea of digging a new hole, which could take two months?  It seems like we didn‘t have a back-up for offshore drilling disasters like this.  Your thoughts?

KATE SHEPPARD, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, I mean, the problem here is that the plan is—is under the control of BP.  And BP, which was operating this rig, didn‘t actually plan for anything nearly this bad.  This is way worse than their worst-case scenarios, so they didn‘t even have a plan in place that could actually adequately address something of this scale.  Nor did they—you know, without that plan, then the Coast Guard and all these government agencies that are now responding—they weren‘t even able to adequately prepare, either, because they didn‘t know how bad it could be.

MATTHEWS:  You know, years ago, back in the ‘70s, I did an investigative piece for “The Washington Post” about the oil industry, and I discovered there‘s no real federal regulation on safety, that they have—there was, like, one person in Washington, one person responsible for 125,000 miles of oil going through the United States in pipes.  Is it that unregulated in the offshore situation?

SHEPPARD:  Oh, it‘s almost all entirely voluntary safety measures.  In this case in particular, in 2003, when Minerals Management Services actually tried to put in place some mandatory rules that would have required some additional safety valves and shut-off switches and precautions that might have stopped something like this, it was the oil industry, including BP, that pushed back.  So they have systematically, you know, fought back against any kind of mandatory regulation, and that‘s why we have a system here that really doesn‘t adequately protect against these kind of accidents.

MATTHEWS:  So everybody has a beef with big government.  So the oil industry says, Hands off, as they make money.  The best money in the world, I guess, is in the oil and energy business.  And they say, Hands off.  And then the minute something goes wrong, they turn it over to this good guy, this admiral, head of the Coast Guard, and it‘s somehow his job.  And he says—I thought he put it beautifully.  I said, Do you think this is worth the risk, given the fact they don‘t have back-up plans for safety?  He said it was “above my pay grade.”

Well, isn‘t that the problem?  The people whose pay grade it is, which

is through the universe—through the ceiling in terms of money they make

they‘re not taking it seriously, whereas this poor guy has to go in there and try to deal with the mess now.

SHEPPARD:  You‘re absolutely right.  I mean, the federal regulators, Congress, they‘ve basically let the oil industry run roughshod over any kind of regulation.  And not only that—not only are they not regulating them adequately, we‘ve, you know, in the last few months, given them even more leeway.  We had the Obama administration just a month ago announcing even more areas would be open to offshore drilling.  We have Congress considering right now how they might actually expand offshore drilling even more.  So we‘re not—we‘re not regulating, and we‘re giving them even more almost by the day here in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there are some pigs in our country.  And that‘s the word I use, particularly the people that don‘t care about the environment, they just want money and they‘re greedy about it.  But most Americans watching this show, I can tell you, care about our environment.  It seems to me this is a teaching lesson, and worse, for how man can destroy his own habitat.

And we‘re looking at the maps now, Kate.  We‘re showing it on the air now, the area covered.  What‘s the worst that could happen, deaths of unlimited amount of wildlife, destruction of shorelands perhaps long-term?  What‘s your estimate of the cost here?

SHEPPARD:  Oh, well, I mean, I think—I think we have no idea what the price cost could be.  I mean, BP says they‘re spending $6 million a day already.  But the...

MATTHEWS:  They have it.  They have it.  They can afford it.

SHEPPARD:  Well, we have no idea what the environmental costs will be.  I mean, along the coast, there are two very sensitive arctic—sorry—wildlife refugees along the shore.  This is a very sensitive wetland area.  There‘s—you know, it‘s blowing further away from Louisiana.  It could be spreading to other states.  And you know, there‘s more—there‘s more oil coming out here than people imagined...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SHEPPARD:  ... even a few days ago.  It‘s five times bigger.  So you know...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SHEPPARD:  ... it very soon could be bigger than the Exxon Valdez.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we did the math.  If it takes two months to clean this up at X many barrels a day, it‘s going to be 12 million gallons of oil now at large in the gulf and throughout the world.  What does it end up eventually being, that oil?

SHEPPARD:  What will it end up being?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, where does it go, the 12 million gallons of oil that‘s now going into the gulf over the next two months?  Where is it going to end up, in globules down on the floor of the gulf, or where does it end up?

SHEPPARD:  Well, some of it...

MATTHEWS:  Does it stay on the surface?

SHEPPARD:  Some of it‘s going to end up in globules.  Some of it‘s going to end up on the shore.  I mean, that‘s the—that‘s the real concern is that it‘s going to end up on the shore and damage these wetlands and destroy coastal industries.  Fishing is big in that area.  Tourism is big.  I mean, it‘s not just an environmental problem here, it‘s also an economic problem.

MATTHEWS:  Well, does it ever go away?  Is it biodegradable?  Does that oil every go anywhere?  Does it just stay somewhere, like the Sargasso Sea?  I mean, what does it become?

SHEPPARD:  Well, they—that‘s what they‘re using these dispersants for, to try to speed up the biodegradation here.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.   Yes.  Hey, Kate, thank you.  Good luck with this. 

Kate Sheppard...

SHEPPARD:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... of “Mother Jones.”  It‘s good to have you on tonight. 

It‘s a bad night to have you on, but it‘s good to have you on.

Coming up: Where‘s the tea party-style outrage over Arizona‘s new “show me your papers” law?  I mean, isn‘t big government bad?  Apparently, not always.

But first, during the commercials: We may be soon getting a new state to our union—maybe.  This is a bit outside (ph) at this point.  They usually vote the other way.  But you‘re going to see about it in one minute.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  For the first time in 12 years, the House of Representatives addressed the political future of Puerto Rico and passed a bill that could set the stage for the island perhaps to become the 51st state.  The original version of the bill would first give Puerto Ricans a chance to decide on their future.  Three options: independence, sovereignty in association with the United States, or statehood.  The bill cleared the House by a significant margin, but its chances in the Senate are unclear now.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, tea party activists and their famous champions out there have a favorite dirty word these days, “government.”  But in the wake of the state government of Arizona‘s very big government decision on immigration, the tea party crowd‘s been largely silent and supportive.

Here‘s how The Daily Beast‘s Peter Beinart put it.  Quote, “For a year now, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and their minions have been warning that America is morphing into a police state.  So where‘s Palin and Beck, those latter-day Paul Reveres, now that Governor Jan Brewer is doing to the Southwest what President Barack Obama supposedly hopes to do to the country?  They‘re blissfully unconcerned.  They don‘t see any threat to liberty at all.”

Peter Beinart joins us now.  He‘s now political—senior political writer for The Daily Beast and a professor at City University of New York.  We‘re also joined by Daily Beast contributor Mark McKinnon, who‘s the vice chairman of Public Strategies and a former campaign adviser to George W.  Bush and to John McCain.

Gentlemen, this is one of those interesting little inflection points where we learn where people really stand.  Peter, are they just against, the people on the right—they‘re only against big government when it‘s not doing what they want or it‘s doing what they don‘t want?

PETER BEINART, THE DAILY BEAST:  Exactly.  That‘s right.  It‘s kind of libertarianism for me but authoritarianism for other people.  I mean, the truth is that for all the talk that it‘s high taxes that tend to lead to government abuse, to government kind of breaking into people‘s homes and stopping people on the street, the reality is the two things don‘t have much to do with each other.  It‘s politically vulnerable minorities, historically in our country, who get roughed up by abusive government.  That‘s what‘s happening in Arizona now, and the tea party people don‘t seem to care.

MATTHEWS:  Mark McKinnon, what will this do to the Republican brand that you‘ve supported off and on over the years?  I mean—I say that admirably.  You do seem to be discreet in when you decide you like the Republican point of view.

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, it concerns me a great deal, Chris.  It‘s remarkable to me the way the nature of this debate and this issue have changed over the course of 10 years.  When George W. Bush first started talking about immigration reform in Texas as governor, he did it in a really immigrant-friendly way, talking about pathways to citizenship.  And it was that kind of message, that “compassionate conservatism,” that drew independents and Democrats like me to support him and the Republican Party.

And to see how that‘s changed now—I mean, George W. Bush was saying, We welcome you with open arms.  The message today is, Go home, we don‘t want you.  And that‘s going to set the Republican Party back significantly.  George W. Bush attracted 44 percent of Hispanics in 2004.  John McCain got, I forget, like, 29 percent.  And that‘s—that‘s going to go south fast if we continue on this path.  And I ask my friends, you know, when they think about this issue to ask—ask about President Pete Wilson in California and what happened to his political fortunes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I just wish we could have a regular system like this, where you bring in a reasonable number of people who want to come to America—we‘re the country of immigrants who—you know, based upon how quickly we can assimilate people and become part of our country, and then bring in others to work periodically and go back home again.  It seems to me a rational country ought to be able to do this rationally, fairly and legally instead of this game that everybody‘s playing.

Let‘s take a look about the rhetoric, by the way.  It‘s gotten completely out of hand.  Here‘s Texas congressman Ted Poe on the House floor last night.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED POE ®, TEXAS:  Now, it seems to me that if we are so advanced with technology and manpower and competence that we can capture illegal grasshoppers from Brazil in the holds of ships that are in a little, small place in Port Arthur, Texas, on the Sabine River, how come we cannot capture the thousands of people that cross the border every day on the southern border of the United States?  You know, they‘re a little bigger than grasshoppers and they should be able to be captured easier!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Peter, I guess you shouldn‘t compare human beings to insects on any occasion.  But here he is, at the hottest moment of the debate, this fellow from Texas refers to immigrants metaphorically, at least, as insects, as grasshoppers.  I don‘t—what‘s going on here?  And the other guy tonight—we had the other guy on the other night, Bilbray, talking about how you could tell immigrants—well, let‘s look at this guy because this guy‘s completely crazy.  Here he is on HARDBALL, saying you can pick out an illegal immigrant by his footwear.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Give me a non-ethnic aspect that would tell you to pick up somebody.

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY ®, CALIFORNIA:  I‘ll give you an example of the -

they will look at the kind of dress you wear.  There is—there is different type of attire.  There‘s different type of—you—right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.  But mostly by behavior.  It‘s mostly behavior, just as the law enforcement people here in Washington, D.C., does it based on certain criminal activity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Peter, the devil wears Prada, I guess, here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We didn‘t bring the camera down to Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez‘s feet to check her out.  I mean, it‘s totally ridiculous, the commentary we‘re getting here (INAUDIBLE) Hispanic person with an Hispanic background or surname or even accent, you can pick them out by their shoe-wear, by their clothes.

Everybody is trying to avoid that dirty word “profile,” clearly.

PETER BEINART, THEDAILYBEAST.COM:  Yes. 

You know, and—you know, Obama got beat up for using the word empathy when he was talking about choosing a Supreme Court justice, but that is really what it has to do.  It has to do with empathy, with the recognition that, if we were in the shoes of these people, with no future in Mexico and no way to provide for our kids and our families, we would do exactly what they‘re doing. 

That doesn‘t mean that we should—that doesn‘t mean that we don‘t have a problem with illegal immigration.  But that‘s where it starts.  That‘s the way the Catholic Church, which has been heroic on this issue, sees it, fundamentally, as human beings reacting the way that we would react if we were there in their shoes, and then you try to solve the problem from there. 

And that‘s what the Republican Party—you know, George W. Bush was to some degree an exception.  But today‘s leadership of the Republican Party just seems completely unwilling to do this. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

And, Mark McKinnon, you‘re the kind of guy I recognize.  I think we‘re somewhere within the 40-yard lines, you and I.  And I just think, politically, that makes—where the answer is going to be, and usually is in this country. 

Inside the 40-yard line, somewhere in the American center, is there a solution whereby you have a progressive program of immigration from the South, especially, from our neighbors to the South, Colombia, Guatemala, especially Mexico, but yet it‘s regulated, it‘s regulated according to the ability of our country to absorb people, to learn English eventually, the whole thing, and yet you can bring people in more easily to do work here and go home again?

Why don‘t we address this, not in the interest of business, not in the interest of Hispanic groups, per se, but in the interests of the country as a whole?  Why can‘t we do it rationally? 

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: 

Well, we can and we should be able to, Chris.  And, unfortunately, you know, President Bush was really close to passing and working with President FOX when 9/11 happened.  And that, of course, put everything off the rails and got us to the point where we are today, where it‘s just gone south from there. 

My worry is that, because of Arizona, that President Obama, Democrats may feel compelled to try to push legislation right now.  And I frankly think that‘s the worst possible time, to do this in an election year, because you‘re going to have the fringes dominating the debate, and it doesn‘t make for good policy. 

My hope is that the Justice Department and the courts will look at the constitutional issues and then hopefully when things quiet down after the election, we can look at this with a sober attitude with a—and look at this in a compassionate way that really embraces American ideals. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at John McCain. 

Peter, you‘re a political expert.  What do you make of John McCain‘s sort of windmill performance here, or weather vane performance, a wind sock, maybe, you might call it?  Why is he shifting over to the hard-line, further-out-than-Tancredo, perhaps, position on this issue of immigration? 

BEINART:  Because he stayed in the Senate too long.  You know, there‘s a time to retire with dignity, when people will look back at the remarkable accomplishments of John McCain, who is a remarkable guy.  Instead, he‘s going to go out without dignity, flipping on something that he actually genuinely cared about to try to save his hide in the Arizona primary.

There‘s a—it‘s a really good case for not staying in Congress too long. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, also, there‘s political winds that change. 

Mark, here‘s the question.  Why doesn‘t the center, I mean all the way to the center-left, center-right, agree we ought to have some kind of immigration to this country?  We can‘t just shut the door.  There are poor people in Mexico, as Peter says, who have to come up here for opportunity.  We also have a lot of jobs to fill.  There‘s a lot of jobs here of a certain kind.  They‘re entry-level jobs, but they‘re here, and they need to be filled.  At the same time, regularize it. 

If you have a Social Security card, it can‘t be a phony one.  And, yet, these crazy people on the right, these libertarians—I include Pat Buchanan—I include the people on the left—who will not allow a businessperson the information to decide whether they‘re hiring an illegal person or not.

Why isn‘t it fair to say to a guy who runs a hotel, or runs a whatever and say this—a restaurant—here, ask for their I.D. card?  It‘s called a Social Security card.  They can‘t fake it anymore.  This is the real thing.  It‘s biometric. 

What is wrong with that? 

MCKINNON:  Well, there‘s nothing wrong with it, Chris.  And I think you‘re right.  I think that the large majority of people in the middle agree.  But politics in America today is dominated by the fringes on the right and on the left. 

By the way, I was surprised the other day to see one of your colleagues, Ed Schultz, you know, agreeing with J.D. Hayworth about militarizing the border.  So, it‘s people on both sides of the aisle that are taking fairly radical positions on this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  The guys who want to put big fences up don‘t want to deal with the employment issue.  The economics is what drives this, cheap labor.  The first guy that gets here, he‘s here 15 minutes, he‘s the cheapest guy or woman you‘re going to—to hire. 

Peter Beinart, your thoughts.

BEINART:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t we have a Social Security card not used for any other purpose, except, if you want to work in America, you have to be who you say you are?  What‘s wrong with that? 

BEINART:  That‘s absolutely right. 

It‘s part of a larger project that probably increases the amount of legal immigration we have and provides a path to citizenship for at least a lot of the illegal immigrants who are here now who are willing to do all the right things. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BEINART:  You know, it‘s funny, because conservatives talk all the time about how much they love free markets.  This is ultimately about a free market. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BEINART:  There‘s a huge supply.  There‘s a huge demand.  No matter how much you militarize the border, if people want those jobs...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

BEINART:  ... enough, and the employers want them, they‘re going to come. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said, Peter.  The market rules, especially here in this country.  And I wish we had a regular system of treating people like human beings, not just factors of production. 

Peter Beinart, thank you.

Mark McKinnon, as always, a sane man. 

Up next:  Would Arnold Schwarzenegger run for president, if he could? 

We will show you in the “Sideshow,” only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Arnold Schwarzenegger for president?  He would run if he could?  Here he is last night on “Leno.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  Who do you think is going to be the Republican nominee? 

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  I think that maybe Romney. 

LENO:  Romney?

SCHWARZENEGGER:  It just dawned on me.  I think that you‘re just asking me this because you know this is painful for me...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARZENEGGER:  ... because I‘m foreign-born, and I can‘t run for president. 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Would you run for it if they would change that law? 

SCHWARZENEGGER:  Oh, without any doubt. 

LENO:  Yes?

SCHWARZENEGGER:  There‘s no two ways about that.  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  You want to make a phone call? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SCHWARZENEGGER:  You make the phone call. 

LENO:  I can make a phone call.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  If only it were that simple.  By the way, everybody in Washington is excited that our friend Jay is hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner this year for the fourth time tomorrow night.  Jay told Politico that he‘s not going to use the gig to push any political agenda.  He‘s just going to give people a great night.

But I got to believe he‘s going to take some shots at people like, I mean, Sarah Palin?  Too fat a target.  Joe Biden?  He‘s going after Rahm Emanuel.  You watch.  He‘s going to make some noise politically tomorrow night, Jay Leno.

There‘s somebody coming.  Oh, no.

LENO:  Hey.  How are you?  Oh, what a lovely studio.

MATTHEWS:  What is this?  What is this?  Jay Leno. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  ... in here.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Actually, Eric Massa told me he‘s tickled to death that I‘m going to be... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... what it‘s like to tickle him.  Anyway...

LENO:  Oh, that‘s right.  But it will be fun.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Oh, rich people that are eating.  What better audience is there than that?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You mean that congressman who is having trouble with his male staff members...

LENO:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... not cooperating with his program?

(CROSSTALK)

LENO:  Having trouble with his male staff members.  There, you said it right there.  That‘s it.  That‘s the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jay Leno, you‘re the best.

LENO:  Well, thank you.

You are going to be there tomorrow night? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to be there.  We‘re going to be—the NBC crowd is going to be right up front.

LENO:  I will see you there.

MATTHEWS:  We have got a big crowd.  We got Bradley Cooper with us.

LENO:  Oh, very cool.

MATTHEWS:  We got Ewan—what‘s his name?  Ewan McGregor. 

LENO:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Got a lot of big stars.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re used to these...

(CROSSTALK)

LENO:  So, it‘s like, what you‘re saying is, who doesn‘t fit in this picture? 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  It‘s all movie stars and Chris.  They‘re going, we got stuck at the Matthews table. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God.  You know what James Carville says.  Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. 

LENO:  That‘s right, show business for ugly people, exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, Jay, thank you. 

LENO:  Hey, thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Break a leg.

LENO:  I will see you tomorrow night. 

MATTHEWS:  You will be getting there by private plane.  I will get back there some other way. 

LENO:  Have fun with those propellers.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, Jay.

Anyway, thank you, Jay Leno.

And we will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A major sell-off to close out the week, as investors unload bank shares, starting with Goldman Sachs—the Dow Jones industrials tumbling 158 points, the S&P 500 losing 20 points, and the Nasdaq plunging over 50 points. 

Goldman Sachs shares plummeting more than 9 percent on word that the company is the target of a federal investigation that could lead to criminal charges.  Other big banks taking a hit as well, J.P. Morgan shares down 3.75 percent, Morgan Stanley shedding 3.5 percent, and Bank of America falling more than 2 percent. 

Chipmakers like Intel and Micron Technology finishing mostly lower on signs inventories could become a bit bloated in the second half of the year.  And, in economic news, a 3.2 percent uptick in the GDP was lower than expected. 

And a slight drop in consumer sentiment shows consumers are getting frustrated by the slow pace of recovery. 

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

HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA:  My decision to run for the United States Senate as a candidate without party affiliation in many ways says more about our nation and our state than it does about me. 

As someone who served the people in Florida more than 15 years, from the state senate to the governor‘s mansion, I can confirm what most Floridians already know.  Unfortunately, our political system is broken. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, making his big announcement last night.  He‘s going all the way to November in his fight.  Does he have a better shot at winning now, as an a independent?  And what does this odyssey of his tell us about his now former political party, the Republicans? 

“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst.  And we also have from the Tribune Media‘s papers, we have Mark Silva.  He‘s a longtime Florida political expert. 

Mark, thank you for joining us, and Howard, as always. 

Let‘s take a look at the latest word from both these fellows.  They were on “The Today Show.”  Here‘s the first bite from Charlie Crist, the new independent, and Marco Rubio, the Republican, well, front-runner right now on “The Today Show.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

CRIST:  If you stay in a primary, only a certain segment of people have the opportunity to make this decision and this choice.  And, frankly, in a primary, it‘s sort of a club within that club.  This is making sure that all the people have the opportunity in my state to make this decision about who their next U.S. senator is.  Nobody should be afraid of that.  Nobody should be fearful of that.  It‘s all in the people‘s hands. 

MARCO RUBIO ®, FLORIDA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Interesting to hear the governor say what he just said.  He just spent $1 million of negative advertising attacking me for a month.  And only when that did not work did he abandon the Republican Party and decide to run as an independent, which is his right.

What I‘m looking forward to now over the next six months is an issue and idea-based campaign.  And, at the end of that, the voters will have choices.  There‘s no doubt about it.  I‘m looking forward to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Howard, one of the theories around our shop is that -

that this guy is playing for time, that Charlie Crist can‘t win the primary, but he might win the general, especially if there‘s some indictment or some action legally that really puts Marco Rubio in the hot seat and makes him an unacceptable alternative. 

Your thinking.  Why is he fighting until November, when he could have gotten out of this thing now? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you cited one reason, Chris, because neither Marco Rubio, nor the probable Democratic nominee, Representative Kendrick Meek, is—is a colossus by any means.

And Crist can play for time, both on the Republican side, to see what happens with Rubio, and on the Democratic side, to see if Meek can build himself up in the polls.  Right now Meek is trailing pretty badly.  He doesn‘t have good name I.D.  He‘s got to win what is probably a nominal primary, but has to win that and get the backing of people here in Washington and Obama, Barack Obama, which he probably will do. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  But that make take some time. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Mark, I got this question here.  And just doing the arithmetic, which I love to do—I‘m a political junkie, as some people know—and I‘m going through the math. 

If...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Howard is laughing—it‘s true—because he is one, too.

But, look.  And you are, too.  So, look, if you give Meek, the Democratic candidate, just 25 percent of the vote—that‘s the minorities, Dominicans, African-Americans, true liberals, real party people—give him just 25, and you give the Republican guy, Marco Rubio, just 40, because he‘s got nothing against him right now, there‘s not enough votes left.  There‘s only 35 percent left for Crist.  How does he win? 

MARK SILVA, TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS:  Well, I think you gave Marco Rubio too many votes out of the box there, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SILVA:  You know, Marco Rubio has a base in South Florida, but he competes for it with Kendrick Meek.  Marco Rubio has a good base in Southwest Florida on the Gulf Coast.

But, you know, when you get up to Central Florida, this is Charlie Crist‘s hometown, Tampa Bay to Orlando.  This is where these elections are won.  This is where Barack Obama carried Florida. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SILVA:  So, it‘s—I wouldn‘t give a big share of the vote to anyone out of the box. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, though—you think, basically—your theory right now is that both the Democrat, who only has got about 23 percent, and isn‘t going to get very much higher, probably, or you don‘t know, and Marco Rubio may have a ceiling lower than 40.  So, there is an opportunity for the other guy to squeak by.  That‘s your bottom line, right, Mark? 

SILVA:  Yes, yes, 35, 36 percent of the vote, right.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Here‘s some more of them right now.  Here‘s Crist and Rubio again on “The Today Show” today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

CRIST:  There‘s no desertion by anybody.  This is an embracing of all the people. 

As I said before, this is supposed to be about the people.  It is supposed to be their choice.  I want to give them that opportunity, that choice, and let their voices be heard.  That‘s why I‘m going straight to November.

RUBIO:  Voters are tired of being manipulated.  I‘m not going to go out there and reinvent myself to manipulate somebody‘s vote.  I‘m going to tell people what I believe in on the issues, and then they can either support me or not support me.  And, either way, you know, that‘s the way our republic was designed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—here‘s Jeb Bush, by the way, to talk about the power of tweeting here.  Here‘s the former governor, probably the most popular politician down in Florida, saying in his tweet today: “I‘m not surprised.  This decision is not about policy or principles.  It‘s about what he believes”—that‘s Charlie Crist—“is in his political self-interest.”

No surprise there. 

Howard, if he has him against him—he apparently is losing some of his staff people, his communication staff, already.  Can this guy mount a centrist campaign?  Or does he have to decide, pretty quickly, are you a Republican-leaning independent or a Democrat-leaning independent? 

FINEMAN:  Well, a couple of things, Chris.  First of all, the people I talk to say Crist is going to have some logistical problems.  He‘s going to have to give back some money that he raised when he was running as a Republican.  He‘s going to have some trouble raising as much money, perhaps, as Rubio, or Meek, if Meek gets the nomination.  So there‘s that.

He doesn‘t have a ground organization to speak of.  What he‘s got is 98 percent name I.D. and a 56 percent job approval rating at this point.  I think he‘s going to inch his way to the left, inch by inch by inch, depending on where the opportunities are.  It‘s kind of like the Kentucky Derby, which is going to be run tomorrow.  You have to decide where you‘re going to run as the race develops. 

If Kendrick Meek can‘t get a head of steam going, then I think Crist drifts ever so slightly to the left.  He does have an avenue with the teachers.  His problem is he‘s anti-abortion, that he didn‘t support the Obama health care plan in the end, that he—you know, that he‘s pro gun.  He‘s got some heritage there that he brings with him. 

But he‘s—he‘s an amazingly popular guy at a time in the country when virtually every incumbent, you know, is about to be thrown out on their ear.  The fact that he‘s as popular as he is gives him some hope to somehow pull this off. 

MATTHEWS:  Mark, do you think his real problem here is almost national, which is, the United States Senate today is no place for a person without strong philosophy.  You can be a governor, you can be a mayor—you know, Mike Bloomberg, who knows what his philosophy is.  It‘s just pragmatism.  But Mike Bloomberg would have a hard time, perhaps, running for the United States Senate, because then he‘d have to decide.  Is that the issue here?  You need an ideology to be a senator today, right or left? 

SILVE:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s necessarily the case.  I thing in Florida, in particular, it‘s been a swing state, which has voted Republican or Democratic as the candidate may be.  And I agree with Howard, money is a question here.  But Charlie Crist has about 10 million dollars worth of name recognition that he‘s already sitting on.  He‘s got seven or more in the bank.

And a position of moderation is not a bad place to be in Florida, particularly if you can run on your image, your personality.  Jeb Bush dismissed this as a self-interested, self-motivated campaign and there‘s no question that Charlie Crist is self-interested.  But in his career, his self-interest has generally been a fairly successful formula.  And I don‘t think he got into this without a lot of careful consideration. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Howard, my buddy, do you think this might be, this menage a trois we have down there, this three-way race—do you think this might be the most exciting race in the country this fall, with this three way option going on here? 

FINEMAN:  Well, given the history of Florida in the last decade or so, the odds are that it will be, because everything always seems to come down to Florida, as Mark said, the I-4 corridor across the central part of the state, which is where the battle ground is going to be here. 

To me the larger question is what you raised, Chris, is whether there is a middle left in American politics, whether really, except for quirks like the mayor of New York, it exists.  Because the Congress is more divided in its voting patterns than any time in 100 years.  Yet you‘re going to have primaries on the 18th of May where you‘re going to see whether the Republicans go right in—farther right in Kentucky, farther left in Arkansas.  It‘s like a giant taffy pull—giant taffy pull.  Is there anything left in the middle?  And that‘s what‘s going to make the Florida race interesting. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so interesting, because if you look at Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter didn‘t just move to the center left.  He moved to the hard left Democratic party when he switched.  He went right across.

Mark Silva, it‘s great to meet you.  Thanks for coming on.  We‘ll be back to you again and again, I hope, this year.  Howard Fineman, as always. 

Up next, John Edwards‘ mistress, Rielle Hunter, in her first tell-all interview. 

But first, during the commercials, guess who‘s coming to New York for what may be a disturbing confrontation.  That‘s in exactly one minute from now on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning to be in New York on Monday, this Monday, to attend an international conference on, of all things, curbing the spread of nuclear weapons.  The Non-Proliferation Conference this week is held every five years, and is usually grabbing little attention.  But Ahmadinejad‘s guest—his quest to speak on Monday‘s opening at the U.N., which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also address, is injecting unusual drama, obviously, into this session.  We‘ll see what happens.  “HARDBALL” will be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Presidential candidate John Edwards‘ mistress gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey today that again sheds light on what was going on behind the scenes in that 2008 presidential race.  Here‘s parts of the interview.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, “OPRAH”:  Home-wrecker. 

RIELLE HUNTER, JOHN EDWARDS‘ MISTRESS:  Absolutely not.  It‘s not my experience that a third party can—wrecks a home.  I believe the problems exist before a third party comes into the picture. 

WINFREY:  So you don‘t think you wrecked his home. 

HUNTER:  I do not believe I wrecked his home.  A lout of people bought into the myth of the marriage, the Edwards‘ marriage as being a story book story, and it was so perfect and so wonderful, and I destroyed it.  People aren‘t property.  You can‘t steal someone else‘s husband. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Norah O‘Donnell is a MSNBC chief Washington correspondent.  Norah, this is a little off our usual course.  But this was a huge political situation for the last two presidential campaigns.  What do we—what are we getting out of this, the ability of a candidate to hood his private life almost to the point of showing off something that totally doesn‘t exist? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  No doubt, and to self-destruct, carrying on an extra-marital affair while he‘s running for president?  And this is truly a remarkable interview that Oprah conducted with Rielle Hunter.  It was the first time she did a television interview.  You can hear that she thinks that she shares no blame at all for the breakup of the Edwards‘ marriage. 

John and Elizabeth Edwards are now separated, likely on their way to divorcing after more than 30 years of marriage.  And yet, Rielle Hunter says that there was this magnetic force that drew her and John Edwards together, that when she met John Edwards, first saw him, they looked across, a chance meeting at a hotel, saw one another.  And then she went up to him and said, you‘re so hot.  And in her words, he lit up like a Christmas tree. 

And then they spoke on the phone, where she offered to help him and he

and Oprah asked him, help him how?  She said, help him become his authentic self.  He wanted to change his life. 

           

The rest is history, Chris, because it did change his life.  He had to drop out, certainly, of the presidential campaign, not because of Rielle Hunter but because he came in third place in Iowa, et cetera.  But then we learn that he was carrying on this extramarital affair for many years, and fathered a two-year-old child.  Truly, it‘s a stunning series of event, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  The interesting thing from our perspective, as reporters, is that we were interviewing these folks all through this thing, watching it through a glass darkly.  Let‘s go through the Edwards timeline.  July 1st, 2007, Edwards renew their wedding vows very publicly at a Wendy‘s.  They had a date for that, for their 30th anniversary.  They played it up big.

January 30th, 2008, Edwards drops out of the race.  February 7th, 2008, Francis Quinn is born.  That‘s the baby.  August 8th, 2008, Edwards admits to affair but denies paternity.  January 21st, 2010, Edwards admits paternity.  January 28th, 2010, John and Elizabeth Edwards separate. 

What I think is this—here they are—take a look at this piece of tape here.  Here‘s John and Elizabeth Edwards celebrating their 30th at Wendy‘s fast food restaurant.  There‘s a picture, a tradition for them.  They played up this sort of on-going image, despite the reality. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Rielle Hunter calls it this myth of a marriage, of this storybook marriage.  What‘s fascinating about that timeline, Chris, is that while they were renewing their 30th anniversary, their marriage vows, July 1st, 2007, Rielle Hunter is pregnant with her child, Francis Quinn, and John Edwards knows that.  He knows that he has fathered a child with another woman, yet he‘s renewing his vows with Elizabeth Edwards, who does not know about this child and this pregnancy. 

Rielle Hunter knows they‘re renewing their vows and Oprah asks her, didn‘t that crush you?  She says, yes, yet she gives no blame to John Edwards.  She forgives him, then continues the relationship.  Stunning really. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe she still has a relationship with John and she doesn‘t want to affect it.  Let‘s be honest about this. 

O‘DONNELL:  She says, and I was pregnant and he was the father of my child.  And she says she was in love with him.  She says today that she is still in love with him.  And she believes that John Edwards is in love with her.  She did not deny that the two are still seeing one another.  It‘s not clear that they are. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the real political impact here, as you and I know, Norah, is the weird thing that he was so close to getting the—he got the vice presidential nomination in 2000 -- 2004.  He was trying to get it again in 2008, trying to get attorney general.  He was very much in the political mix all through what we‘re describing here. 

That‘s another layer of it.  There‘s the proposed relationship between him and his wife, the real relationship going on with Rielle.  Let‘s take a look at Rielle here on tape.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WINFREY:  Did you think you had destroyed—

HUNTER:  I think I had destroyed it. 

WINFREY:  What did you do to destroy the tape? 

HUNTER:  I cut it and I pulled it out of the case.  Then I cut it.

WINFREY:  You know you can put tape back together. 

HUNTER:  I do know you can put tape back together. 

WINFERY:  Did you feel that you had sufficiently destroyed it? 

HUNTER:  Yes, I didn‘t think people were going to go through my personal belongings. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So where‘s this headed, Norah?  It‘s a news story for the political as well as the “People Magazine” aspect of this thing. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, this is now a legal story for John Edwards and Rielle Hunter.  Their, of course, she was referencing this infamous sex tape.  And now Rielle Hunter is suing Andrew Young.  The case is called Rielle Hunter versus Andrew Young, because she claims he stole the tape.  Andrew Young today watched the Oprah interview, calls that baloney, says that she never tried to destroy the tape, that she left it in his possession for him to see. 

This has now ensnarled John Edwards, who on May 13th will have to submit a sworn deposition in this case about a sex tape, and whether there are additional copies out there.  That is what Rielle Hunter is concerned about.  So this drags on.  We‘re still—Chris, we‘re still waiting for a decision from a federal grand jury that‘s looking into whether John Edwards used campaign funds in order to pay off Rielle Hunter while he was having the affair with her. 

We still don‘t have a verdict.  I shouldn‘t say a verdict.  Rather, we still don‘t have a decision whether they‘ll seek an indictment in that case. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.  This is definitely not a good development for this guy.  Norah O‘Donnell, thank you so much for this report and analysis.  By the way, I should note that I‘m here in Los Angeles to do “Realtime With Bill Maher” tonight.  That‘s on HBO tonight at 10:00 Eastern.

When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts about a real American guy.  I‘m very proud to be able to do this tonight.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We finish tonight with this bittersweet tribute to this American guy, this fellow who enshrined the moments of our national upbringing.  By that I mean nothing less than our on-going American revolution, because we, the most dynamic of us, oftentimes, if not always, the most rebellious people on the planet. 

I‘m talking about that icon of the rebel generation, Dennis Hopper.  Dennis Hopper, to say the name to my generation, we the early Boomers, who went wild in the real ‘60s, that 11-year period between the horror of Dallas and the nightmare‘s end, which was Nixon‘s resignation—we who remember those simmering, juvenile delinquent crazed ‘50s, Dennis Hopper was always there when there was trouble, against the establishment. 

You know the crowd that sits and let‘s everything happen, including the bad?  You know the people, they just accept the old ways, the ways that get handed down no matter how bad or how cold or cruel or dull or downright boring?  Well, Dennis hopper, he was on the other side.  He was with the “Rebel Without a Cause,” with the wild catters in the Texas oilfields, challenging the old money, with the kids in the ‘60s trying things in “The Trip,” with Peter Fonda.  And again with Fonda and young Jack Nicholson in “Easy Rider.” 

He was still there, the assistant coach, the unreliable drinking father in the best sports movie ever made, “Hoosiers,” about the possibility of human love and how it, in a perfect storm of human effort and drive, make a comeback and human magic happens.  He‘s still there today in “The Crash.”

And he‘s sick now and getting on.  Dennis Hopper, what a figure.  You know, I‘m lucky to have kids, three of them grown up now, filled with curiosity about the world, including that wild world that I knew growing un, that rebellious world that peaked in the ‘60s, for which we owe a very few people.  And now one of them personifies it all. 

Want to get the ‘60s or those simmering ‘50s or those decades after, when we tried to reach for the sky?  Check out this guy, Dennis Hopper, and try—just try to get your head around him. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

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