Guests: Julia Boorstin, Chuck Todd, Mary Landrieu, Billy Nungesser, Nick Rahall, Steve Scalise,
Chris Cillizza, Joe Solmonese, Aubrey Sarvis
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The gulf of British Petroleum.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight: “Plug the damn hole.” That‘s what a frustrated President Obama allegedly said at a staff meeting. Whatever happened, by the way, to “Failure is not an option”? Whatever happened to our Apollo 13 can-do attitude? I‘m not sure the president ought to be traveling to California tonight, for example, for a Democratic fundraiser. What he needs is a bullhorn moment right now in this country. Our first guest tonight says that what we‘re suffering from is a failure of national imagination.
Then there‘s this story from “The New York Times” today. A yet-to-be released inspector general‘s report from inside the government documents the cozy relationship between the oil industry and government regulators. One charge—catch this, and never forget it—that regulators allowed industry officials from the oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports in pencil and allowed the government regulators to simply trace over their findings in pen.
Think about that—the pencil written by the industry, and then the government regulators, so-called, covering it over in ink to make it look like they‘re doing their jobs, when they‘re just doing literally the bidding of the oil industry.
Also, happy days may not be here again, but Democrats are beginning to see a glimmer of hope this November in the elections. Why? It may be because the tea partiers are slowly becoming the face of the Republican Party. Let‘s figure that one out tonight.
And if you close your eyes and listen to this one, this GOP candidate‘s campaign speech, you might think you‘re listening to Barack Obama 2004 Democratic convention. That‘s because, simply put, this Idaho Republican stole his words verbatim. Check out the “Sideshow” tonight.
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with this question. Why aren‘t all the oil companies being told—not being asked, told—to go to the gulf and clean it up now?
We start with the mess in the gulf. Senator Mary Landrieu is a Democrat of Louisiana. She‘s a member of the Energy—or Natural Resource Committee. And Billy Nungesser is president of Plaquemines parish down in Louisiana.
Billy, I want you to start. Let me ask you this. Why aren‘t all the oil companies involved in this? Why just BP? Why isn‘t everybody involved in this country in the oil business trying to clean up this mess?
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LA: That‘s a good question. When the head of the Coast Guard said, We have no other option than BP, who else, the first one we thought of. We‘ve got good companies like Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips that have been very responsive in similar smaller instances throughout the country. And why not bring some of their expertise to the plate and task them with different aspects of this clean-up and recovery? Because obviously, BP can‘t handle it.
MATTHEWS: Do you have any sense that there‘s a national effort going on right now? I just keep thinking this is a BP business challenge we‘re looking at now being met, rather than a national challenge that‘s going to affect our lives for years and years to come in that part of the—the “redneck Riviera” is going to be a tar pit. The eastern—the western coast of—we don‘t even know what‘s going to happen to Florida at some point. I mean, all the states down there getting killed by this. And yet you have the president sitting there, watching, like The Thinker, like Rodin‘s “Thinker,” watching BP do its business. That‘s what it looks like from up here. Your thoughts. You‘re down there, you‘re feeling it.
NUNGESSER: Well, let me tell you, BP points the finger at the Coast Guard. And you‘ve heard the head of the Coast Guard, when he‘s asked, Are you doing absolutely everything possible you can, he says not yes, not no—he says, BP—BP‘s responsibility. You ask BP, they say the Coast Guard is in charge. It‘s like a couple of 7th graders pointing the finger at each other. It‘s absolutely ridiculous.
And we‘re hoping the president will come down this Friday and put his foot down because we‘ve got to have somebody in charge. We have no leadership.
MATTHEWS: You‘re going to be down there with the president late this week after he‘s done with the fundraiser in California. What are you going to tell him to do, Billy?
NUNGESSER: Well, let me tell you, I hope he steps up to the plate. Last visit, the Coast Guard didn‘t want to put the jack-up (ph) boats out there. He said, Make it happen. It happened. Hopefully, he‘ll hear our plea for our coastal plan, our plan to clean up the marsh. We do have a plan. The governor of Louisiana, all the parish leaders, we‘ve put together a plan. All these people you‘re talking to with ideas and products, there should be a line—good ones go to the left, bad ones go to the right.
There‘s an opportunity to use some of these products. Some of these products can make a real difference in saving our marsh. But we‘re spraying one chemical that‘s absolutely ridiculous, unacceptable. You know, there‘s many products out there that could be used that are safe to use, and we‘re not even considering them.
MATTHEWS: Senator Landrieu, you get in here. The president of the United States is coming down there late this week, after his fundraising in California. What are you going to tell him to do?
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Well, we have a lot to do. The president was down about a little over a week ago. He‘s coming down Friday, I understand. And he couldn‘t come down often enough, Chris, for us because everyone on the Gulf Coast is very worried. I know the number one object is to get this well shut in.
And I want you to know, even though it doesn‘t seem this way, and I understand why it doesn‘t—but every scientist available in this government is on this job of closing this well. It is heartbreaking and aggravating that they haven‘t gotten it closed yet, but if they do it wrong, it could explode and cause even more oil to spill, which is why I understand it‘s taking some time. And it‘s very frustrating.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the decision today to postpone the top kill?
LANDRIEU: I think it‘s a technology problem. I think that they‘ve got scientists—I know—I don‘t think, I know they have scientists from our labs. They have one of the best scientists in the government in that office with BP. And I think they‘re going through a series of testing of the pressures on this pipe. As you know, this kind of accident has never happened in the offshore this deep. So they‘re testing all sorts of new ways to do it because if they do it wrong, this well could flow more than the 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 barrels it‘s flowing every day.
MATTHEWS: Does it strike you as a serious, perhaps—well, I‘m not sure it‘s criminal—it‘s a business decision—when they decided not to put drill mud into that well as they were drilling it, instead putting seawater in, which is only half as heavy, therefore not providing a counter-force to all the oil coming up. And that‘s apparently what caused the explosion, according to the Bob Bee (ph), the expert out in Berkeley. Do you think that was a decision which was negligence? How would you describe that decision to save money and time, rather than safety?
LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, I have a lot of respect for Professor Bee, I met with him myself yesterday. He was a great help—or a couple of days ago. He was a great help to us in Katrina. But there will be investigation and lawsuits and lawsuits. We will, at one time, at one point, figure out what exactly happened, and it‘s not going to be pretty, no matter what the details are.
But right now, we have our eyes on protecting this coast, and we‘ve got to do a better job of coordinating between BP and the government about how to get protection out there, whether it‘s rocks or sand or the curtain thing, you know, idea that I just thought—you know, heard, or whether it‘s Kevin Costner‘s idea that he‘s got on the centrifuge system that he‘s developed, $24 million of, you know, his money that he‘s invested. And there are hundreds of companies that we‘ve heard from.
So we‘ve got to do a better job of that. And BP has got to step up to the plate and expedite these claims to these fishermen and businesspeople.
MATTHEWS: OK. Who is in charge, if anybody, Senator, of bringing all the oil companies in America into this process and not just BP? Or is it just a BP challenge? I‘m wondering, we‘ve got all these oil companies that do business in this country. They have the tankers. If there‘s any technology out there, they have it. Maybe they‘re competitive in their technology. Is there anybody in the world that can come in and collect petroleum that‘s out there in the gulf right now? Anybody that can collect it?
LANDRIEU: OK. Well, first of all, Chris, let me say this. If a Delta Airlines plane goes down, I don‘t think we necessarily call all the airlines to come in and help in a very specific way.
Now, I will tell you that all the oil companies have been helping since day one informally. They‘ve sent people to the BP office. I‘ve asked because I‘ve personally asked them and they‘ve done it, and so has the president, I understand. So they‘re trying to do what they can. But BP has to pay for this, but the government needs to make sure—the federal government needs to make sure that BP is doing what they‘re supposed to do every day, from keeping this oil off of our shore, and we‘ve got to push the Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers to do more, as well.
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m asking you if this is a four-alarm fire or not. My question is, why do you limit it to the one locality, the one BP? Here‘s the—I guess you don‘t have the answer because I‘m not anybody does. Maybe it‘s not a fair question. Is there technology to collect the oil in the water?
LANDRIEU: There is technology...
MATTHEWS: The senator first.
LANDRIEU: There is technology to collect the water—I mean, to collect the oil in the water. As I said, I‘ve been given some information, as has Billy Nungesser, who is sure right there—and he‘s doing a fabulous job right on the battle lines. But there are many small and emerging companies that are coming forward with this technology.
I‘m going to hold a hearing to try to highlight it. I hope the Commerce Committee can do that, as well. We‘ve got to get some new technology out in the gulf because we believe it exists, but it hasn‘t been purchased yet by BP or the Coast Guard. And that‘s what we need to do.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me take those two questions to Billy Nungesser.
Billy, my question to you, is there technology...
NUNGESSER: Chris, there‘s technology...
MATTHEWS: ... to collect the oil? And why don‘t we bring all the oil companies in the country involved? They do business with the government. They do business in this country.
MATTHEWS: You know, when you have a fire in a locality, all the surrounding areas come to their help, not just the locality. That‘s called a four-alarm fire. They go all—they get drawn into this. I don‘t know what the legality is, but the president of the United States has got this challenge, not BP. BP‘s got a business challenge. We have a national challenge. North America, that we inherited and would like to pass on to our future generations, is in big trouble. Go ahead. Your thoughts.
NUNGESSER: Absolutely. Chris, first off, we were told that the dispersants would sink it to the bottom and break it up so small that it would be eaten offshore. That was a straight lie. There was absolutely no facts that proved that would happen, and we see the oil continue to come ashore.
Secondly, we have a company right here in Plaquemines parish, Versabol (ph), that has a plan to put an upside-down barge over the oil, when it fills up, move it aside, put another one, lift that barge up. They have the equipment. They have the ability. My beliefs is this company wants to do it. They want to put that technology, and that would capture the oil.
My belief is, they don‘t want to do that because then we‘d know exactly how much oil is in that barge as we lift it up and pump it into a tanker. They‘ve presented it to BP. It‘s been squashed at highest level. Why wouldn‘t they use that opportunity, and we wouldn‘t have any oil leaking? That company has 60 specialists...
MATTHEWS: Why wouldn‘t BP want—why wouldn‘t—why would someone want to keep secret the amount of oil that‘s in the gulf right now and coming into the gulf every second?
LANDRIEU: Chris, can I—go ahead, Billy.
NUNGESSER: ... this company—this company has agreed...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Senator. You want to get in here, go ahead.
NUNGESSER: ... if it didn‘t work...
MATTHEWS: The senator wants to get in here. Let me get the senator in here.
NUNGESSER: Go ahead.
MATTHEWS: Senator, your thoughts?
LANDRIEU: Chris, as mad as I am at BP, I don‘t think they‘re trying to be secret about the oil that‘s in there. I think they‘re trying to focus on plugging this well, and that‘s what the need to be focused on right now. And they haven‘t done it yet, and they need to do it.
LANDRIEU: And so we will know how much oil has gone into the water, and there are technologies that we think will work. But right now, there are some things that we can do. The president needs to get down there. Ken Salazar is on the job. He‘s with BP almost every day personally—the secretary of the interior. And he‘s working with them to try to plug this well. And then there‘ll be ways that we can clean up this coast.
And Chris, our entire coast is not shut down for business. We don‘t want that word to get out because that will hurt us even almost more than the oil. We have some areas closed down. We have lots of tar on the beach and oil on the beach. We need to clean it up. But south Louisiana‘s open for business, and we‘re going to fight this and keep our industries going as well as we can.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Senator Landrieu, and thank you, Billy Nungesser.
LANDRIEU: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: The regulators were not...
NUNGESSER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... regulating. Is the government partly to blame for the oil spill disaster? The government. We‘ll get two representatives on the spot to talk about that brand-new “New York Times” report just out today that, apparently, the so-called regulators were simply writing pen marks over the pencil marks put there by the oil companies. In other words, they were working for the oil companies.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Quote, “If you vote for that stimulus package, I‘m going to kill you. Simple as that.” Well, that‘s just one of many threats against lawmakers recorded in the first few months of this year, according to FBI documents provided to Politico. The Senate sergeant at arms says threats are up 300 percent this year, and the Capitol Police say they‘ve had to dramatically increase their security efforts. The FBI documents reveal that those arrested for threatening violence are mostly men who own guns, and several have been treated for mental illness. We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. President Obama will go to the gulf, as we said, down to Louisiana, on Friday to see firsthand the devastation from the oil spill. We got more insight into this frustration from “The Washington Post” today. Just one week after the oil rig explosion, he told aides, the president, “Plug the damn hole.”
Well, we‘re in the fifth week since the explosion now, and Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia is chairman of the National Resources Committee and Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana—he‘s on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well—he‘s in a district that‘s been affected most by the disaster.
Congressman Rahall, first I want you to look at the highlights from a new report from—about the MMS, the Minerals Management Service, which supposedly regulates the oil industry and its safety. Number one item, industry officials filled out their own inspection reports in pencil, and then the regulators traced in their pen—using their pen before submitting them as inspectors.
Number two, inspectors accepted meals, tickets and gifts from at least one oil company while overseeing the industry. And the agency supposedly regulating the oil industry conducted four inspections while negotiating for a job, one of these guys did, with the drilling company.
Congressman Rahall, what do you make of that report? Do you buy it? It‘s in “The New York Times” today, inspector general‘s report, not yet publicized.
REP. NICK RAHALL (D-WV), CHAIR, NATURAL RESOURCES CMTE.: I‘m aware of this IG report, Chris. It does follow up on previous inspector general reports about ethical lapses at the MMS office in Denver. This one is more recent, although it did occur under the previous administration.
But I think one thing is perfectly clear here, Chris, and that is the MMS is a deeply dysfunctional agency. If this Deepwater Horizon crisis is a game-changer in terms of the way in which we manage our offshore energy resources, then this inspector general‘s report about alleged misbehavior at MMS has put MMS in the penalty box indefinitely. And it‘s our duty now to help pull MMS out of this penalty box, to try to sort out just what went wrong not only in this disaster, going up to it, in the policing functions of MMS, but as far as the American people, as well. They, after all, are the true owners of these energy resources, and it‘s important for us to determine whether what we have here is the Wall Street of the ocean that is privatizing profit at the expense of the American people.
MATTHEWS: Well, who are these regulators? I‘ve gotten a little whiff of this. Apparently, there‘s a lot of revolving door stuff going on in that agency, a lot of industry oil people. What‘s your—you‘ve got oversight over this. Who‘s—who works in that agency?
RAHALL: Yes, our Committee on Natural Resources, of which I am chair, has had hearing after hearing, investigation after investigation, about these problems that conflict MMS. As I say, you have it, on the one hand, supposedly collecting royalties from the oil industry that go to the American taxpayer. And on the other hand, they‘re responsible in the same office for the environmental and safety concerns that afflict these leases.
So it‘s—in our committee, we‘ve passed numerous reform efforts in the past, only to see it go nowhere. It passed out (ph) to the full House of Representatives as soon as the Democrats took control in HR-6, the Clean Energy Act.
MATTHEWS: Well, what is it, the on deck circle for jobs in the oil industry? I mean, do you work on the MMS so you can prep yourself and get free tickets and sports tickets and meals (INAUDIBLE) so you can then move on and apply for a job with the oil industry? In other words, you‘re there to suck up to those guys on your way to a nice job. That‘s what it looks like.
RAHALL: There‘s—well, there‘s no doubt there‘s been a cozy relationship that exists here between the MMS and the oil and gas industry.
Unfortunately, that has occurred in other in...
MATTHEWS: Well, why couldn‘t you crack it, as Oversight Committee?
Why couldn‘t you crack it, break this system?
RAHALL: We have tried is what I‘m saying. We‘re aware of it. We have been aware of it, Chris, through the inspector general‘s report.
But, unfortunately, we find this—that goes on in too many agencies responsible for worker safety, where they‘re also perhaps looking for a job in their own futures with the same industry they regulate.
MATTHEWS: I know.
RAHALL: So, this is something we have to do our best efforts to try to eliminate.
Now, can we legislate 100 percent purity? Heavens no, we can‘t.
We know that. We don‘t live in a perfect world.
RAHALL: But it‘s still important to make the best effort we can and expose these types of conflicts.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to—let me go to...
RAHALL: Unfortunately, it takes a disaster of this nature to expose it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Scalise.
What do you think of this mess? I mean, I—it is—I‘m like everybody else, watching our North American continent get destroyed. You want to call it the Dead Sea, you call it anything you want, it‘s not funny. I think this is a bigger than anything that‘s happened in American politics for years.
We have got a government that looks impotent in the face of the oil industry. It looks like BP has a business challenge, and the American people are watching it meet its business challenge while they‘re destroying our continent. Your thoughts, Congressman?
REP. STEVE SCALISE ®, LOUISIANA: I‘m angry, Chris.
You know, if you look at the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, this is America‘s energy coast. But it‘s also a living, working coast for so many fishermen, people who make their livelihoods right there. And their livelihoods are in jeopardy.
Many of them can‘t work today. They haven‘t been able to work for weeks. What we have been saying for weeks now, though, is that we have needed approval from the federal government to go and put a barrier plan in place to try to protect our marsh. This is a plan that was put forward by our governor and our local leaders and our responders on the ground. They put that plan on the president‘s desk.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s stopping you from putting up a defense against you—of this oil spill into your territory? What‘s stopping you from doing it?
SCALISE: The thing that‘s stopping us from doing it is the federal government. We need permits from the Corps of Engineers. In fact, two weeks ago, our governor asked for that approval to the Corps of Engineers. We heard nothing for 10 days.
Last week, I led a delegation. Our entire congressional delegation, all nine members, sent a letter saying we need to get this acted on immediately. I actually forwarded that up to the president last week. We have still yet to hear from the president on this. He could do this today. He could make this happen today. Instead, two weeks have gone by with not a single word from the president about this plan.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you an engineering question. Can you put up a berm, can you put up a barrier by mankind effort, by men‘s efforts, can you build a barrier that keeps the oil from the side—from the beach?
RAHALL: What you can do is, you can get dredges out to start dredging the sand and putting a barrier in place in front of the oil in front of the marsh, so that you can keep—at least you can defend it if it‘s in front of a sand barrier before it gets into the marsh. Once it gets into the marsh, it‘s a whole lot more destructive and maybe even long-term damage has been done.
MATTHEWS: So, there‘s enough sand out there to create these manmade dunes? There‘s enough sand out there to do it?
SCALISE: There‘s sand.
And, in fact, the governor‘s office identified a number of borrow pits where they can go get that sand. But it‘s got to—we have got to get that permit approved. And, in fact, I think the governor said he got tired of waiting, and so we‘re just going to go do it.
The problem is, we lost two weeks, Chris, two vital weeks, where, two weeks ago, there was no oil in our marsh, and today the oil is permeating through the marsh.
SCALISE: And we lost valuable time because of government‘s inaction.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Congressman Rahall, and I will be back to you in a minute.
Final thoughts here. It seems to me there‘s two challenges here, Congressman Rahall. Number one is to cap this well, to cap it. I don‘t know. It looks like they have given up on this plan, the short-term plan for a kill, a top kill. They apparently can‘t put that together in the short run.
They have got a two-month outline of planning to get another well dug down there, another outlet for the well they can regulate. Then we have the cleanup of what looks to be between seven million and 70 million gallons of oil in the Gulf. What‘s the federal government role in both of those jobs, Congressman Rahall?
RAHALL: Well, I was—I was briefed today, Chris, by BP on these various alternatives that they‘re going to try as a last-ditch effort.
It‘s also very clear here, that we have a responsibility on our Natural Resources Committee to find out what happened here. We‘re going to do that in a series of hearings starting tomorrow morning.
It doesn‘t take a rocket scientist, Chris, to figure out that something went wrong here. But it may very well take a rocket scientist to help us cap this well.
RAHALL: And it‘s important that we work together on this, both the government and BP.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the federal government responsibility for capping and cleaning up both? Congressman, one more try.
Congressman Rahall, what is the government‘s responsibility? What
or is it just waiting for BP—BP to do it?
RAHALL: No, no, it‘s not just waiting. The government has a responsibility to help here, where they can offer help to BP and all the parties that are liable. They have been doing that.
Secretary Salazar has been on the scene. We have seen equipment offered by the government...
RAHALL: ... and government equipment put to work here. So, the government is not standing idly by. But we‘re beginning to lose a little patience with BP, as—as everybody is, the fact that it‘s not yet been capped.
RAHALL: But let‘s bring in all the experts we can,. engineers, everybody, scientists. NOAA is on the scene. The federal government is on the scene. I had staff members down there immediately after this disaster occurred. They have reported back.
Congressional committees have been investigating. You will see more of this. Is it too much? No, it‘s not too much, because we don‘t have any answers yet. And so, the more hearings we have, the better.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Congressman—OK. Let me go to Congressman Scalise.
Again to you, the two questions: What‘s the government‘s role, to clean up and stop?
SCALISE: If you look at the actual law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 governs what happens during an oil spill.
And the law says the president shall mitigate this disaster, not BP. Unfortunately, the president has ceded this responsibility to BP, and they have proven that they can‘t get the job done. We thought, after day three, that the White House should have taken over and said, BP, you‘re not capable of handling this. You‘re going to have to pay for it.
And we all agree BP pays for this mess.
SCALISE: But, in the meantime, we have got to get somebody in there that can actually get something done.
SCALISE: And they‘re not doing it right now.
Congressman, you‘re talking like an American, not a Republican, in this case. I will tell you, this is a public solution to a private problem created by the private sector. The public has to deal with it. I agree with you completely in this regard.
Thank you, Congressman Rahall.
And, thank you—thank you, Congressman Scalise.
SCALISE: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: A Republican House candidate is caught plagiarizing from a speech by Barack Obama. Get this: House Republican plagiarized verbatim from Barack Obama‘s big speech in 2004. That‘s in the “Sideshow.” Unfortunately, this guy is not in the sideshow.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow.”
First: tale of the tape. Idaho Republican House candidate Vaughn Ward may be running against Barack Obama‘s policies, but it turns out he‘s running with his speeches. An Idaho blogger posted this side-by-side of Obama‘s 2004 convention address and a Ward campaign speech from this January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D) ILLINOIS: Stand on the crossroads of history.
VAUGHN WARD ®, IDAHO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: And we stand on the crossroads of history.
OBAMA: We can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us.
WARD: I know we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that lay before us.
OBAMA: If you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do...
WARD: If you feel the same urgency and the same passion that I do...
OBAMA: ... then I have no doubt...
WARD: ... then I have no doubt...
OBAMA: ... the people will rise up in November.
WARD: ... that our voices will be heard in November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s one way to save on speechwriters. It goes on like that. Check it out on line.
Here you have got a Republican critic of the president lip-synching President Obama‘s words verbatim. Does this guy know he‘s a joke?
Next up: eating their own. North Carolina‘s Republican chairman has declared a Republican House candidate, Tim D‘Annunzio—quote—
“unfit for public office at any level.”
What does it take to earn that kind of talk from your own party? Republican officials actually leaked D‘Annunzio‘s divorce papers, which show him to be—quote—“a self-described religious zealot who smoked marijuana almost daily and told his wife he found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona.”
And this is the guy who won that primary, and therefore has a chance in the runoff. I wonder what the losers feel like.
On to Minnesota, a tempest within the Tea Party. Regular watchers of this show know Congresswoman Michele Bachmann—there she is—isn‘t one to shy away from controversy. After all, she made her name on this show by issuing a fatwa against what she called anti-American Democrats in Congress.
Well, what is one topic Bachmann won‘t touch these days? Fellow Tea Party darling Rand Paul and his personal views on the civil rights bill. She told a group of reporters yesterday—quote—“I‘m not commenting on Rand Paul. I have got to focus on my race.”
Cat got your tongue, Congresswoman?
For tonight‘s “Big Number,” a sign of the times. In August of 2008, 52 percent of Americans said they strongly favor increased drilling for oil off American shores. Now, amid the horror in the Gulf, a gushing oil leak that has no end in sight, how many Americans strongly favor more offshore drilling, according to a new CNN poll? Twenty-seven percent, half of what it was two years ago.
Just 27 percent of Americans still strongly back offshore drilling
tonight‘s big bad number.
Up next: Are Democrats about to go on offense to defend their majorities in the House and the Senate?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks clawing back from early losses to finish only slightly lower, the Dow Jones industrials losing 22 points after being down nearly 300 points this morning, the late rally pushing the S&P 500 to a fractional gain, and the Nasdaq slipping 2.5 points.
This morning‘s drop coming on the heels of a sharp decline on the Asian markets. Investors there are concerned about geopolitical friction in the Koreas. A weak euro wasn‘t helping. It feel to a four-year low against the dollar, before bouncing back to finish just about where it started.
Consumer confidence rose for the third straight month in May to its highest point in two years. A breakdown shows consumers feeling slightly better about the jobs market in particular.
And housing prices fell in March, despite a last-ditch push by buyers to take advantage of federal tax breaks.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Democratic victory in the Pennsylvania special congressional election and Rand Paul‘s high-profile stumbles have raised the Democrats‘ hopes of surviving in November. But can the party overcome one big looming threat, anti-incumbency fever?
Chuck Todd is NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director. There he is at the White House much. And “The Washington Post”‘s Chris Cillizza is managing editor of the postpolitics.com and editor of “The Fix.”
Gentlemen, great respect for both of you. Let‘s go into this thing.
Do you have any reason to worry if you‘re a Democrat right now less than you would have say a month ago about the fall and the possibility of a tsunami against you?
First of all, let‘s start with Chuck.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I would say this.
I think the lesson that lot of Democratic incumbents took out of Pennsylvania 12 is that there is a way—a couple of things. I think what they have learned is that Democratic enthusiasm, while there‘s an enthusiasm gap in the polls, it‘s not demoralized this Democratic base. It‘s just not engaged.
And the lesson out of Pennsylvania 12 and maybe in a couple of these other special elections that took place in New York, at least that Democratic incumbents are taking away, is, if you engage the Democratic base, they will come out, and you can—you can be competitive. This isn‘t going to be what happened to Republicans in 2006 and Democrats in 1994, where there was a depressed, demoralizing base for the two incumbent parties.
The evidence about that isn‘t there yet. There‘s an enthusiasm gap, but the demoralization issue isn‘t there. And that‘s something that some Democrats are taking heart in.
MATTHEWS: That is very psychological.
Do you look at it, Chris—I‘m just still looking at the prospect for Delaware going Republican, Illinois going Republican, North Dakota going Republican, Arkansas going Republican. States like Connecticut I never thought could possibly go Republican could possibly go Republican.
MATTHEWS: Even—I think about all that. And then I put that up against this macro political thing that Chuck talks about. Aren‘t there still obvious defeats coming the Democrats‘ way this fall?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes. Chris, yes.
And, Chuck, you and I all know this. Midterm election, first midterm of a president, since World War II, the only time the president‘s party hasn‘t lost seats in the House and Senate was 2002. Obviously, that was kind of feeling the effects of September 11, 2001.
But you mentioned psychological, and I think that that‘s important in terms of the impact. Look, I think, before Pennsylvania 12, there were lots of Democrats who thought there‘s no path. The president is not particularly popular in a lot of these swing districts and swing states. I can‘t talk about what I have done for the district or the state because people don‘t like that. We have seen appropriators like Bob Bennett in Utah, Alan Mollohan in West Virginia lose.
And they thought, what can I tell people that will help me get either elected or reelected?
CILLIZZA: I think that Pennsylvania 12 win says, you know what, talk about local stuff. Talk about creating jobs. Talk about the stuff that matters in the district. And that worked in that district. Remember, that was one House election on one day. November, we‘re going to have a lot more...
CILLIZZA: ... might not work.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at that race. Let‘s look at what Critz did over that race.
He won. This is the Democrat who won last week in Pennsylvania in that race out in Western Pennsylvania for Jack Murtha‘s seat. He ran by running with guns, with life, against the pro-choice people, against cap and trade, against health care.
On every issue that signals where you stand politically, he‘s a Republican, even though he‘s a bread-and-butter Democrat. Is that what you have to do, Chuck, to survive this possible tsunami, is to turn tail?
TODD: Look, this is not new among some of these Democratic House candidates. You know, Rahm Emanuel, when he was over at the DCCC, at the Democratic Campaign Committee in 2006, was recruiting guys like Heath Schuler, like Jason Altmeyer, like Joe Sestak, who were supposed to run locally, not to be running as national Democrats, but, quote, fit the district.
So this isn‘t new. And so what Pennsylvania 12 tells you is that Democrats can still win a fit the district model here. And what Republicans—the question is, you picked out some Senate races. Mike Castle fits the district, or in this case fits the state when it comes to winning there. Mark Kirk in Illinois fits the state.
We really don‘t know yet about Linda McMahon, whether she fits the state in Connecticut, but clearly she‘s trying to run a little more as a moderate Republican. In those cases, that‘s where the enthusiasm gap that‘s there could really benefit the Republicans. The question is what about these places where maybe they‘re nominating candidates that don‘t fit the state or fit the district?
MATTHEWS: Chris, one of the interesting things you‘ve set up here is the probability—I think it makes sense—that to survive as a majority party, the Democrats have to re-elect people who are moderate to even conservative on certain issues like cap and trade or health care. And this is what drives the net roots crazy, and SEIU labor types. It drives the progressives, if you will, crazy, the fact that the Democratic National Committee and the DCCC and the others, the Senate Campaign Committee, are out there shopping for guys and women who don‘t make the Obama dream.
CILLIZZA: Chris, there‘s no question about that. I think, you know, the bases of both parties would like to elect people that are ideologically pure. The center and the establishment of both parties say—you know, it‘s the Ronald Reagan, my 80 percent friend isn‘t my 20 percent enemy. That said, there‘s probably an argument to be made that President Obama might benefit from a smaller majority—and they wouldn‘t say this—but maybe not even a majority in the House. He might be able to get more done. He‘d also, frankly, be able to create a foil.
Remember, Bill Clinton setback in 1994 runs against Washington and Newt Gingrich in 1996 and gets reelected. There‘s a case to be made that losses in the House and in the Senate actually may accrue to President Obama‘s benefit.
MATTHEWS: What are you saying? it‘s better to lose the moderate seats or hold them?
CILLIZZA: I think it‘s probably better for President Obama to lose some of them, in truth. He‘s going to lose—
MATTHEWS: Doesn‘t want—you buy that? Chuck, do you buy that culling the herd theory? It‘s better to cull the herd, left with the core? Kind of sounds like Benedict XVI in the Catholic Church, cull the herd down to the true believers and then fight from the phalanx, if you will.
TODD: I‘ll tell you what they don‘t want to do is they don‘t want to lose majorities for two simple words, subpoena power. That‘s what they don‘t want. I‘ve talked to some Democrats about this, you know, this idea that somehow maybe, like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama for ‘12 would like the Republicans to own a piece of governing. Maybe it‘s controlling the House or the Senate or both.
But I tell you this, they say, guess what that got Bill Clinton? A lot of subpoenas, a lot of what they believe was a lot of wasted time. He couldn‘t do what he wanted to do in his presidency?
MATTHEWS: Did you learn that from me? That was one of my—I had forgotten my old religion, which was—I learned this back in the ‘72 race, watching Nixon, in the middle of the night, when had just won 60 percent of the country, said, yes, but we lost subpoena power again. What brought him down? Subpoena power. It‘s everything in politics.
Thank you for reminding me. I will now repeat that again and again for the rest of the season, because Chuck is so right, as he often is. Chris, you must remember this, you don‘t want to loss by a single vote, because you can give up the airplanes, you can give up the committee chairs, you can give up all the perks, give up the staff proportions, but if you lose subpoena power, the other guy‘s got it. And he goes to town on you. Boy, it‘s powerful stuff.
CILLIZZA: But can you get anything done anyway in an election year? That‘s the only question. In 2011, 2012, would you get anything done, anyway. But I make it a point to never disagree with you or Chuck.
MATTHEWS: I think if Darrell Issa gets ahold of the subpoena power, and that‘s all he has, that‘s a lot. That guy doesn‘t have it and look at the noise he‘s making. Thank you very much, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Chris Cillizza. I just gave him a reelection point.
Up next, the White House, the Pentagon and Congress find a compromise on repealing—this is going to be interesting—Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell has a sliver of a chance to go right away. It may go in December. It may go now. We‘re going to talk about it with some experts who care deeply. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. Congressional leaders reached a compromise of sorts on Monday night—that‘s last night—with the White House and the Pentagon on how to end the military‘s Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell policy. Under the deal, the House and the Senate will move this week on votes to repeal the policy. But if those votes succeed—or even if they do succeed, the repeal would not go into affect until after the Pentagon completes its review this December 1st, and after President Obama and the Joint Chief of Staff, and the secretary of Defense, if they do, certify that a repeal wouldn‘t hurt military readiness.
The big question right now, do Democrats have the votes? Aubrey Sarvis is the executive director of the Servicemen‘s Legal Defense Network and Joe Solmonese is the president of the great Human Rights Campaign.
Aubrey, you first, where do you actually stand now? Do you have a chance to end this before December? Or do you have to wait for the military to decide?
AUBREY SARVIS, SERVICEMEN‘S LEGAL DEFENSE NETWORK: First we have to get the vote in the next day or two in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chris. And that vote is very tight. Tonight, we‘re probably one vote short. So everyone needs to weigh in right now.
MATTHEWS: Who you after? Can you tell me?
SARVIS: Sure. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and we haven‘t given up yet on Scott Brown.
MATTHEWS: Those first two are real hipsters. They‘re not exactly state of the art on these things, I wouldn‘t say.
SARVIS: They vote, Chris, and we need their votes.
MATTHEWS: I know. I‘m watching Scott Brown from Massachusetts, who certainly is the most politically quick guy around. He‘s watching you guys. Joe, what do you think is happening? You going to get these votes?
JOE SOLMONESE, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: I think we will. Aubrey‘s right. We have to direct the full resources of this community to getting this done towards the end of the week. We have a House vote that I think is in good shape. But we‘ll also be close.
Aubrey‘s right. The targets are Ben Nelson, Robert Byrd. I do think Scott Brown is an interesting situation. He said no; 80 percent of the people in Massachusetts think he ought to—
MATTHEWS: look at this poll. This is the key thing that must hearten anybody who wants liberalization on all fronts; eight out of ten Americans now support openly gay service in the military. That is one area. Marriage is still an issue in this country, a debating point. Joe, it seems like people have really moved on open service.
SOLMONESE: Absolutely, they‘ve moved significantly.
MATTHEWS: What do you think has moved the public so rapidly on that one question, on gay rights?
SOLMONESE: I think on any measure of gay rights, we move when people feel comfortable being out and open about who they are.
MATTHEWS: Why the military issue more than marriage? Why has it moved so much further so much faster?
SARVIS: Chris, I think it‘s because the American people aren‘t comfortable with the reality that gays and lesbians have to serve in silence. Everyday—
MATTHEWS: They think it‘s fraudulent.
SARVIS: They think it‘s fraudulent. Every day, these people put their lives on the line for this country. And the American people have said enough. Enough of 14,000 service members discharged just because of their sexual orientation. This is a huge loss for our country, a huge loss for our military. And the Senate Armed Services Committee can fix it this week.
MATTHEWS: Who do you trust in the executive branch? The president? Do you think he‘s leading well enough, Joe?
SOLMONESE: I think this has been a complicated situation. I think he had to resolve two issues, the commitment he made to the community to get this done against, you know, the desire by the secretary of defense and others to go through—
MATTHEWS: Do you think the secretary of defense is out there in good faith, Robert Gates? Is he really trying to get this done?
SARVIS: Today, Chris, the headline was “Secretary Gates Gives a Nod to Repeal of Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.” A nod is not good enough. The secretary is a part of this administration. The reality is we need to hear from everyone tonight and tomorrow, including the White House. The White House needs to be weighing—
MATTHEWS: Do you have a fear—I think you do. I‘m just guessing. My intuition tells me the Marine commandant, for example, the most resistant I would guess.
SARVIS: He is, indeed.
MATTHEWS: Will he stand up and stop the service heads from doing this, Joe? You‘re in the military. You were in the military.
SARVIS: I was in the military, Joe—Chris. The reality is, if I‘d like to go back, only the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has to certify here, with the secretary of defense and with the—
MATTHEWS: You don‘t need the Marines?
SARVIS: We don‘t need all of the Joint Chiefs. The policy people here are the service secretaries, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen, and the president. They certify. This can happen with a successful vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee. And we can have open service by the end of first quarter of next year.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Joe, about the gay community generally, which is politically involved here. You know them all. Are they happy with this president‘s leadership on this issue?
SOLMONESE: I think, on any measure, we would like to see things happen faster than they have. And we‘ve seen—
MATTHEWS: has he been true to his word or not? Yes or no?
SOLMONESE: He said he would work with Congress to overturn Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.
MATTHEWS: Is he?
SOLMONESE: He‘s working with Congress to overturn Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.
MATTHEWS: With this proviso. With the proviso of waiting to hear from the military.
MATTHEWS: If Harry Truman waited to hear from the military on equal opportunity service in the military for African-Americans, what would he have gotten? I hate to be tough here. Are you confident you‘re going to get a yes from the military and from the services?
SOLMONESE: Oh, yeah. I mean, Aubrey‘s right. There‘s a path here and it does require chairman of Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense and the president to sign up. I‘m confidant that will happen.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of General Shalikashvilli writing that editorial this weekend?
SARVIS: It‘s remarkable. Extraordinary.
MATTHEWS: He‘s all for it right now.
SARVIS: He‘s all for it right now. The reality is the president will not meet his commitment on repealing Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell until repeal has been signed into law. Joe‘s right. He‘s working on it now, but we have to keep working harder.
MATTHEWS: OK, gentlemen, thank you.
SARVIS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Aubrey, thank you. Joe, as always, the Human Rights Committee, a great organization. I‘ve known this guy for 40 years.
When we return, why aren‘t all the oil companies being told, not asked, told to go to the Gulf and help clean it up. This is a national effort, not a business proposition. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the situation we face. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an on-going catastrophe. The president of the United States is the one person with the authority to act on the two fronts on which this horror must be confronted.
First, he needs to enlist all vessels and all the available technology to begin minimizing the damage. That means collecting the oil from the Gulf with whatever means all the oil companies possess, not just BP, but all the petroleum companies that wish to do business in this country. We can‘t wait for the disaster to end before beginning the Promethean effort of sucking this oil aboard tankers and getting it out of our water.
I think about Winston Churchill called all the boat owners of England to get the men of those beaches in Dunkirk. This is a continental horror, not a BP business challenge. Why are the other oil companies not sending tankers into the Gulf to forge a wide-ranging effort to collect the oil? Why hasn‘t the technology of the private sector, all that can be utilized, not been drafted into the service of the country?
Jack Kennedy once said at American University, right across the street from here, the problems of man are manmade; they can be solved by man. Does our president believe this or does he believe the problems of BP can be solved by BP?
BP has a terrible record in safety. Seriously, why are we trusting this company or its supposed regulators? We just learned that the Minerals Management Service, that‘s supposed to be regulating safety in the oil industry, has been letting the oil companies, like BP, fill in their own inspection forms in pencil, so that the government regulators, after they get their fat meals and free tickets to sports events from the oil companies, could then trace over with their pens what the oil companies wrote in pencil on those supposed inspection forms.
That‘s from the government‘s own inspector general‘s report that just came out, the latest evidence of what we get when government counts on the oil industry is do its thing. It‘s time for the country to act like a country, before we have to rename the Gulf of Mexico the Gulf of British Petroleum.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Right now it‘s for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any
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