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updated 6/1/2010 11:18:03 AM ET 2010-06-01T15:18:03

Guests: Hampton Pearson, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, Eric Smith, Bernard Charbonnet, Chris Cillizza, Ben Bradlee, Quinn Bradlee, Sally Quinn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The buck stops with me.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight: President Obama visited the Louisiana coast today and took official control of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis.  I‘m the president, and the buck stops with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But on day 39, BP still hasn‘t stopped the oil gush.  It resumed its “top kill” operation after an 18-hour delay, but now we don‘t know, won‘t know until Sunday, if the project will succeed.  We‘ll get a report on whether we‘re any closer to capping the massive leak right up front.

Plus, the president spoke directly to the people of the Gulf Coast and promised they wouldn‘t be left behind.  Has he managed to convince the public that he‘s firmly in command of this crisis?  And if top kill does fail and oil continues to flood the Gulf of Mexico, who will pay politically for it?

Also, we now know the story behind those whispers that the White House offered Joe Sestak a job to keep him from running against Arlen Specter.  Late this afternoon, Sestak confirmed that Bill Clinton approached him at the request of the White House.  Sestak says he was offered a position on a presidential advisory board but not a paid job.  More on that coming up.

And Rand Paul has managed to stir up a whole new controversy.  It looks like he wants to change the U.S. Constitution so that children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. don‘t become citizens.  More on that in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with some thoughts on the history behind Memorial Day.

Let‘s start with day 39 of the oil spill crisis.  Eric Smith is associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute in New Orleans.  Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Smith.  Do you have confidence in “top kill”?

ERIC SMITH, TULANE ENERGY INSTITUTE:  I do.  I think it‘s a reasonable approach to the problem.  I think it‘s worked in the past.  I think there‘s a lot of concern about doing it at 5,000 feet, but since we regularly drill wells at 8,000 or 9,000 feet, this doesn‘t strike me as being too much of a push, or at least not as much of a push as the press has made it out to be.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve got 13,000 feet below the earth, at the bottom of the ocean, the bottom of the gulf down there.  Do you think you can push this drill mud all the way down that amount of piping?

SMITH:  Right.  I think this—remember, the drilling mud weighs about twice what water does, and just the weight of the column of drilling mud from surface to the BOP is going to exert about 5,000 pounds per square issue of pressure, plus whatever pumping they do.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think they‘ve had this problem?  They have suspended it now for 18 hours when they began it.  They suspended it at 11:00 o‘clock last night, apparently, Wednesday night.  It was really shut off yesterday.  Why did they stop, do you know?

SMITH:  I think they‘re very concerned about exceeding the pressure tolerance of the casing.  The casing is the pipe that lines the well all the way down, and it‘s in telescoping sections of pipe.  And the bigger the pipe diameter is, the less pressure it can take.  So the bottom of the well can take 10,000 to 15,000 pounds per square inch, but the top of the well probably can‘t take that much.

So I think they‘re going slow, trying it.  If they see any anomalies, they‘re coming to a stop to figure out, assess the situation, and then starting up again.  I—that‘s speculation.  That‘s what I think is going on.

MATTHEWS:  Let me try something outside the box.

SMITH:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not a pipeline engineer.  My brother was for many years.  And I‘m trying to figure out what would work.  You need to have counterforce to jam that oil pressure, that gas pressure down in 13,000 feet of dirt and pipeline.  What would be the plausibility, the workability, of taking an old oil tanker, a big one, an old ship, and just sinking it right on top of that rig, what‘s left of it, and just jam it all down in under tremendous weight of iron and steel?   What would be- what would not work in that regard, if you tried something like that?

SMITH:  Well, I think the...

MATTHEWS:  To repress the whole thing.

SMITH:  I think that‘s somewhat akin to the idea of, Why don‘t we just nuke it?

MATTHEWS:  No.

SMITH:  I think you would end up distributing the weight and it would certainly collapse the BOP stack, and you know, make some effort towards sealing it.  But what would, I think, tend to happen is that you would have ruptures in the casing, possibly in the BOP itself, and the oil would leak out around the tanker, and now we‘ve got to clean up the effluent coming from three or four locations, rather than just one.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  So there‘s no way, like, to take off what‘s the superstructure there left above the ground and then put something heavy on top.  That wouldn‘t work, either?

SMITH:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting you say that, Chris, because that‘s basically what they‘re talking about doing with cutting off the old lower marine riser package, you know, buffing (ph) the pipe stub that exists, and then actually either installing a cap on it that feeds into the drill ship through a riser, or the more elegant solution is putting the BOP—a new BOP stack, actually a hydro-stack that‘s part of the other vessel, on top of that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMITH:  And I think, you know, in those sort of cases, that‘s essentially what you‘re doing.  You‘re getting rid of this busted-up pipe that‘s leaking and unstable and bringing in undamaged equipment.  And you—basically, at that point, the old BOP just becomes a conduit.

MATTHEWS:  Gotcha.  Thank you very much, Professor Eric Smith. 

We‘re going to keep exploring this until we have a solution down there. 

Thank you—from Tulane Energy Institute.  Sir, thanks.

And then we have Bernard Charbonnet, who‘s a former chairman of the New Orleans Port Authority.  Let‘s talk about—Mr. Charbonnet, let me ask you about what‘s going on down there.  Give me a sense right now of the damage being done in your world down there in Louisiana.

BERNARD CHARBONNET, FMR. NEW ORLEANS PORT AUTHORITY CHAIR:  Oh, Chris, it‘s incalculable.  We can‘t determine the extent of this damage, number one, until this pipe is closed off.  And we can‘t calculate it because, initially, we think about oystermen and shrimpers and fishermen, but the damage is unquantifiable.  I mean, you‘ve got shipping interests that‘s going to be affected if the oil continues to spew and ships have to be diverted.  You‘ve got tourist interests that‘s affected because of the cancellation of rooms and condos all across Louisiana to the panhandle of Florida.  I mean, there are no accurate assessments of this as of yet.

We encourage tourists to come, but we don‘t know.  We don‘t know if ships are being diverted or bookings are being dropped.  There‘s also the interests of the gaming interests.  You know, there‘s big gaming interests on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Whether or not they‘re canceling bookings there, we don‘t know that.  And those are just some of the small things.

If you take—if you take the river itself, 90 percent of all the stuff that comes into the port of New Orleans goes up the river somewhere else.  You know, that means St. Louis, Memphis, manufacturers all along the river up to Cincinnati and Cleveland.  We don‘t know if ships are being diverted and that cargo is going a different way.

I represent the longshoremen in New Orleans, local 3,000.  They‘re anxious and concerned as to whether or not they‘re going to have ships delayed that they can‘t work on and stevedores won‘t be able to make their daily wage.  So we don‘t know at this point.

MATTHEWS:  What are you—what are you hearing down there in the scuttlebutt, in the world where—you‘re closer to this?  What is the sense of how—what kind of job the president‘s doing?

CHARBONNET:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Or not doing.

CHARBONNET:  The back channel on the president is this.  His speech was wonderful yesterday, and it was warm to receive him.  If he had anything wrong with his speech, it was that he should have said it a week ago.  People want a comfort level, and they don‘t have it, frankly.  Right now, I think if the president or the government knew how to stop this leak, they would have done it.  They‘re relying on the technology of BP—it‘s just that simple—because the government obviously doesn‘t have the technology.  I‘m no technician.  I‘m a lawyer.  But you know, common sense tells you, if you could stop it, you would have.

The other side of this thing, as I read it and as I see it, the technology of production is far ahead of the technology of maintenance.  In the old days, you drop a well, as I read it, you send a guy down, to dive down, fix the pipe, and it‘s over.  That‘s been done for years.  But we‘re digging so deep now and the technology is so advanced, the technology of repair has not caught up with the technology of production, as I see it.

MATTHEWS:  You know what it sounds like, Mr. Charbonnet?  It sounds like the damn situation on Wall Street, “too big to fail”—too big to fail, these complicated derivatives markets you and I can‘t—or I can‘t figure out, the government can‘t figure out, the chairman of the Banking Committee can‘t figure out, they‘re so complicated, these games going on in finances.

And now we have an oil company that‘s digging 5,000 feet below the surface of the water, 13,000 feet into the ground.  You‘re talking about an object that‘s almost on another planet in terms of distance from us.  And nobody in the government has any of the tools to deal with it.

CHARBONNET:  I think, Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

CHARBONNET:  You‘re on to something, Chris.  I didn‘t think of it that way, but you‘re on to something.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do we do?  Are we just going to have to—we‘re going to keep drilling offshore.  Does that mean we have to build a parallel safety unit that‘s capable of shadowing companies like BP and able to, when they screw up, as they‘ve done here historically, jump in, take over and fix it?  Or otherwise, we‘re going to have another situation where we‘re sitting back and waiting for them to fix their own mess, which is what—which our president, who a lot of people care about, and I certainly do -- - it seems like he‘s watching them solve the problem, and the best he can do is be a hall monitor, and he doesn‘t know what‘s going on in the rooms.

CHARBONNET:  Good point, Chris.  I think for years, you have to keep in mind in Louisiana, oil and seafood and shipping all went together.  It was always in sync.  Now I think we‘re like a football team.  We‘ve got to reassess at halftime.  We‘ve got to recalibrate how we all can live and work in the same environment.  There‘s got to—as you would know in football, make some adjustments.

MATTHEWS:  You know, maybe you can make a living teaching Cajun down there or something.  I don‘t know.  You got a great accent, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

CHARBONNET:  You know, I...

MATTHEWS:  I love your voice.

CHARBONNET:  My family...

MATTHEWS:  I just love it!

(CROSSTALK)

CHARBONNET:  My family‘s been in Louisiana since 1791.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  OK.

CHARBONNET:  So I don‘t have any other voice.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘ve had at least one charming experience this week. 

It‘s from you, sir.  Thank you, Bernard Charbonnet...

CHARBONNET:  Thank you very much, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... for coming on.

Coming up: Much more on the politics of the spill.  President Obama travels to the Gulf Coast today.  He‘s been criticized from me and others—a lot bigger people than me—for his handling of this crisis.  So does today‘s trip change things?  I‘m thinking he‘s listening to the “Ragin‘ Cajun,” Carville.  That‘s one of the reasons he‘s down there—get in touch with the problem and stop being hands-off.  A little too elite here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Will the Republicans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Nevada?  Senate majority leader Harry Reid seems to be making a comeback against the three Republicans fighting to take him out.  In a general election matchup against Sue Lowden, for example, Reid is now only 3 points back.  Against Danny Tarkanian, he‘s only 1 point behind.  And Reid‘s running ahead of Sharon Angle, a tea party candidate who‘s got the mo out there on the Republican side.  Countdown—well, anyway, bottom line, don‘t count Harry Reid out.

HARDBALL we‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama visited the Gulf Coast today, hoping to show he‘s in full command and control of this oil disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis.  I‘m the president, and the buck stops with me.  So I give the people of this community and the entire gulf my word that we‘re going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, to defend our natural resources, to repair the damage and to keep this region on its feet.  Justice will be done for those whose lives have been up-ended by this disaster, for the families of those whose lives have been lost.  That is a solemn pledge that I am making.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Has the president beaten back his critics and put an end to charges that he‘s been passing the buck on this horror?  NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd is in Louisiana with the president, and “The Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza is managing editor of Postpolitics.com and the author of “The Fix.”

Chuck, you‘re down there.  Have you got a sense that he‘s put his feet on the ground now, the president, this is chapter two of this crisis, he‘s now in command?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s not clear if he‘s now in command as far as the folks down here are concerned, but he‘s—the folks I‘ve talked to, they appreciate that he‘s now engaged.  Look, even his friendliest people—one supporter—person who said they‘re a supporter of the president, they‘re rooting for him overall, they voted for him—they said, You know what?  The last two days, they‘ve been great words out of the president‘s mouth and it‘s great to have him down here.  It all felt about a week or two weeks too late.

And so that‘s the sense you get down here.  They‘re not—they‘re not angry, they‘re frustrated.  You don‘t hear venom.  You don‘t hear the—you know, Where‘s the—you know, Where‘s he been?  It‘s not personal to President Obama.  It‘s more out of this frustration.

Chris, behind me, this whole marina of shrimp and oyster boats, they haven‘t moved all day.  That isn‘t what‘s supposed to happen here.  They can‘t do their job.  You‘ve got guys that—and you know, this is their livelihood, so this—it‘s a—it‘s a—it‘s a—it‘s fear and desperation that creates this frustration for these folks.  And again, not personal to the president, but more of, like, Hello, this is pretty bad, because as one person told me, Look, Katrina shut us down for a month.  We don‘t know how long this going to shut us down, but we know it‘s going to shut us down for more than a month.

MATTHEWS:  Well the president spoke directly to the people of the Gulf Coast and made a promise.  Let‘s listen to him there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  To the people of the Gulf Coast—I know that you‘ve weathered your fair share of trials and tragedy.  I know there have been times where you‘ve wondered if you‘re being asked to face them alone.  I‘m here to tell you that you‘re not alone.  You will not be abandoned.  You will not be left behind.  The cameras at some point may leave.  The media may get tired of the story.  But we will not.  We are on your side, and we will see this through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Chuck, I want to go to you again since you‘re down there, and then I want to go to Chris.  I think the president is getting some bad info here.  The media is ahead of him on this story and will be on this story long after he leaves.  This is fundamentally a television story.  It‘s a great newspaper story.  “The Journal”—“The Wall Street Journal” has been doing magnificent work on this.  NBC and all our affiliates and all our various platforms are all over it.  Every program on this network is all over it.  And we‘re going to stay on it as long as that stuff‘s coming out of that pipe.

What is he talking about when he says, The cameras are going walk away and I‘ll still be here?  We were there before he got there.  We‘ll be there after he leaves.  What‘s he talking about?

TODD:  Well, I think what he—I think what he‘s trying to say is that a lot of times—and the thing is, there is a pattern with this, Chris—a lot of times, you do see a story—because it‘s the same thing every day—that you don‘t see as much attention.

But you‘re right, you don‘t have to go far to find this oil.  You know, we walked on the—there was—the beach he went on was closed to the public and the press today.  But you go to the other side of this peninsula here in Grand Isle and you just see it and it‘s coming in.  And you see the clean-up crew.  And frankly, you know—and you‘re glad there‘s a clean-up crew there.  But as they‘re picking up this tar, these little tar balls—and they‘re coming in—they‘re quarter and nickel-size, OK?  They‘re not these giant globs.  There are some that are giant globs, but they‘re quarter and—and they‘re just coming in as fast as you can see.

You know, you‘re sitting there and you‘re watching, essentially, the tide roll in.  And as it brings in these tar balls, they‘re picking them up, let‘s say, you know, a dozen every 30 seconds or whatever it is in the sand and trying to pick it up and put them in these containment bags.  And by the time they walk away, the dozen has been replaced by another dozen of these tar balls.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my point.

TODD:  And that‘s the thing.  We don‘t know how long that‘s going to keep happening, and we don‘t know if this is just the beginning.  And as the president pointed out, you know, you have this boom that‘s out there already.  This is oil that‘s made it through this so-called containment boom.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know, let‘s go to Chris Cillizza of—let‘s give him some equal time here.  Chris, the same point here.  The president has, seems to me, started—opened up the chapter two.  It‘s no longer a question of will he show up and take responsibility.  He said today, The buck stops with me.  I‘m in charge.  I‘m the president.  This is me.  I‘ve never seen a president so clear in accepting responsibility.  But (ph) the chain of command, as you reported, coming out of the White House, is he really instrumentally and executive-wise running the show, or has he passed it down to the Homeland Security department and then passed it down to the Coast Guard?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, here is what is hard, Chris, is, yesterday, at the start of the press conference, he tried to make the point, the government is in charge, essentially saying that there is this misnomer out there that somehow BP is leading this, but the government is in charge, they‘re making the calls.

But, in the next sentence or two, he said, but on a technological front, the BP folks know better how to fix this, so we‘re kind of deferring to them on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CILLIZZA:  It‘s just a nuanced argument that is hard.

People want—whether or not this has a solution, people want to feel as though the federal government is working to fix this problem.  And I think one of the problems—somebody said this to me in the office today—I think it‘s true—it‘s so simple in its way, but so complex—it‘s just a hole.  And I think people say, well, why can‘t we plug it? 

Well, it‘s obviously not that easy.  But I think, just from a

regular political calculus, people look at it and they say, why are we -

why is this not a done deal?  The split-screen, by the way, I think really works against the president.  You see him speaking.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, it‘s on right now.

CILLIZZA:  And then you see the—you see the pipe. 

You know, he‘s saying, we‘re doing everything we can.  This is a problem.  We‘re putting all the resources for it. 

But, of course, you know, with your other eyeball, you‘re watching stuff spew out of this pipe. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CILLIZZA:  It‘s just—it‘s a hard situation to get your arms around politically.  And I think that‘s why you see the president a little bit frustrated about it, because he knows this isn‘t great for him politically.  But he also knows he‘s—there‘s not much else he can do, except be more present.

And, to Chuck‘s point, I think that‘s what the last two days have been about. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, back to Chuck, in terms of the White House staffing this thing, the president has often—I mean, I have made fun of it, because I think it sounds kind of screwball, but he keeps talking about Secretary Chu being a Nobel Prize winner. 

Well, the president is a Nobel Prize winner.  That‘s useless, credentializing—credentialing right now.

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Who cares?  The question is, what are they doing right now?  Why does he keep doing this, talking about what a high-level, highly-credentialed crowd he has around him, when it‘s clear that this is in the hands of the admiral of the Coast Guard? 

TODD:  Well, I think that‘s right.  I think he‘s trying to say, hey, look, we‘re—we‘re putting our best minds at this, and, you know, we know that it may not work. 

And he was referring to the top kill.  But I have to say, you do start to question—there‘s been so much anxiety, I think, in the government about showing some progress, particularly this week, that you do wonder, have they gone too far?

And I—you have to say this.  Admiral Allen—we saw it this morning.  So, BP‘s CEO, Tony Hayward, sits there and says—very cautious about this whole top kill thing, you know, we‘re pushing mud through.  We‘re checking the pressures.  We have stopped the pumping for now.  And we got to see if this is—it‘s going to take another couple of days before we know if it works. 

Admiral Allen has been sort of pushing the envelope a little bit.  being optimistic.  There‘s nothing wrong with optimism.  But it may end up setting the bar too high.  And then Admiral Allen did it again this morning. 

So, the president today came down here, and, by the way, said—announced something that had to be of particular concern to all of the governors and local leaders, when he said, guess what, we‘re running out of this boom.  And, in fact, we have to go back and start manufacturing more. 

Well, this morning, Admiral Allen was asked this very question.  Hey, do we have enough boom?  And he says, yes, we have enough.  The question is how to get it in all the right places. 

So, you know, are—is he going out there too far?  In this haste to sort of get back—get their arm—to look like they have got their arms around this thing, they have got to be careful not to overpromise.  And the president himself seemed to ratchet back.  He almost was pleading for patience, saying, look, this is unlike a catastrophe we have ever seen, and it‘s going to be a very long road ahead of us.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CILLIZZA:  And, you know, Chris, just real quickly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did anybody tell—why didn‘t anybody tell—I got to go back to tell—did anything—why didn‘t anybody tell Admiral Allen when he was on HARDBALL last night that they had stopped the top kill operation the night before at 11:00. 

He was on 5:00 this show last night, 5:00 Eastern, talking about how the thing was ongoing.  We find out later that it had been killed the night before at 11:00, had been suspended.  He wasn‘t informed.  That, to me, is a little scary, Chuck.

TODD:  Absolutely.  And they have got—they have got to be careful here.  You can‘t sit there and have the person who, rhetorically and atmospheric-wise, has been the best spokesperson they have got, right, better than Salazar, better than Napolitano, anybody else they have been putting at this thing—Admiral Allen has got this sense of command about him, and that is great.

Except, if he‘s going to come out there and come across maybe over optimistic or overpromise, and then quickly you find out what you just said, he didn‘t know that the mud had stopped, or he didn‘t know that—where BP was at that moment in testing the pressure, testing that they‘re doing...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... because they have to stop every—you know, at different moments, it‘s going to undercut Admiral Allen‘s credibility.  And they can‘t afford to have his credibility be questioned, because they need this sense of command down here. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  He seems like a good I guy, a real public servant.

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.

Thank you, Chris Cillizza.

Up next:  Kentucky‘s Republican Senate candidate, Rand Paul, stirring up controversy again.  This time, he wants to change the Constitution of the United States so that immigrants‘ children in this country, if they come here illegally, are not Americans, even though the 14th amendment says, if you‘re born in this country, you‘re an American.  This is very tough stuff for him.

You‘re—hard—tough to sell. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The hits keep coming from Rand Paul.  Kentucky‘s libertarian candidate has opened another can of worms.  Just a week after the firestorm surrounding his views on the Civil Rights Act, this time, Paul gave an interview to Russian TV, for whatever reason, saying he opposes citizenship for children born in the U.S. to parents who are here illegally. 

Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAND PAUL ®, KENTUCKY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m not opposed to letting people come in and work and labor in our country.  But I think what we should do is, we shouldn‘t provide an easy route to citizenship.  We‘re the only country I know of that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby, and then that baby becomes a citizen.  And I think that should stop also. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Just stop. 

Well, we can expect Rand Paul, a purist, to stand by that view.  I don‘t think many Americans are with him on this one.  It‘s also unconstitutional, of course.  The 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to everyone born in the U.S.

By the way, Rand Paul‘s controversies are also being thrown at Republicans outside of Kentucky.  Sue Lowden, one of the leading candidates to replace Senator Harry Reid in Nevada, was pushed repeatedly this week to say if she agreed with Rand Paul‘s initial statements critical of the ‘64 Civil Rights Act. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think that Rand Paul is right, that the Civil Rights Act shouldn‘t extend into private businesses?  You should be able to...

(CROSSTALK)

SUE LOWDEN ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  And this is—this is what I say.  I‘m more interested in what we‘re doing here in Nevada.  I haven‘t...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a simple question. 

LOWDEN:  I haven‘t—it‘s a simple question, but it‘s a gotcha question.  And, frankly, I haven‘t—I wouldn‘t even know Rand Paul if I saw him on TV. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m not asking about Rand Paul.

LOWDEN:  I haven‘t been watching that race.  I haven‘t been watching it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think the Civil Rights Act should apply to private businesses? 

LOWDEN:  I think you want to change the subject from what is really happening here.  Nobody is asking that question, John (ph). 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, you‘re not going answer it? 

LOWDEN:  No.  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  All right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, obviously, Rand Paul has become the ugly stick to use against—every time you have got an interview with a Republican now.  Ask them if they agree with him.

Now for the “Number.”

A new “USA Today”/Gallup poll asked Americans whether they would rather vote for a candidate who has been in Congress or a condition who has never been to Congress.  How many would opt for the candidate who has never served?  Wow.  Sixty percent, three in five Americans, say they want to vote against all the incumbents in Congress.

Well, let‘s see, if—this November, if they really actually mean it.  Sixty percent, tonight‘s big, very big throw-the-bums-out “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Bill Clinton talked to Joe Sestak last summer to try to keep him from running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, at the request of the Obama White House.  Sestak says the former president offered him an advisory position on a presidential board, but not a paid position.  So, how is that going to play?  We will get to that next when we come back. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

An afternoon rally evaporates, bringing an end to a miserable May, the Dow Jones industrials losing 122 points, the S&P 500 sliding 13 points, and the Nasdaq falling by 20. 

It was an ugly month for the markets.  Blame it on the European debt crisis and lackluster economic reports, all the major indices losing around 8 percent, the worst May since 1962.

A rotten month for oil prices as well, tumbling 16.5 percent.  And you can blame that on a stronger dollar and lingering concerns about Europe‘s economic stability. 

A credit rating downgrade for Spain adding to those concerns today.  Fitch is lowering the rating, but saying the Spanish economy is still stable. 

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the Commerce Department saying incomes were on the rise again in April, but consumers aren‘t ready to loosen the purse strings, not just yet.  Consumer spending remained flat.  Analysts are looking for much stronger spending in the second quarter. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Yes or no, straightforward question, were you—were you offered a job?  And what was the job? 

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  I was offered a job. 

And I answered that. 

GREGORY:  You said no, you wouldn‘t take the job.  Was it the secretary of the Navy?  Was it the secretary of the Navy job? 

(CROSSTALK)

SESTAK:  Anything that goes—goes beyond that is others—for others to talk about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, not for long. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was U.S. Congressman and Senate nominee Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania stonewalling on “Meet the Press” last Sunday.  He said former President Bill Clinton offered him a top White House advisory job if he didn‘t run for the Senate.  He didn‘t say that last Sunday, but he said it today.

President Obama was asked about it yesterday.  Here was his response.  Boy, rolling disclosure.  Oh, we don‘t have it now.

You know, what‘s the worst thing in the world of politics?  Rolling disclosure.  Why do you put stuff out at your—anyway, I got some more here.  And, sure enough, White House counsel Bob Bauer today released a two-page memo defending the administration‘s activity and declaring—quote—“We have concluded that allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack of basis in the law.”

But the big headline today is the man on the middle, none other than former President Bill Clinton.  Bauer‘s says—quote—“The White House chief of staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton, who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a presidential or other senior executive branch advisory board.”

And here‘s Sestak himself reacting today.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  He called last summer.  And during the conversation, he talked about how tough this Democratic primary might be if I got in. 

And he also said, you know, “You‘ve done well in the House, and your military background can really make a mark there,” and then brought up that during—a conversation Rahm Emanuel had brought up about a presidential board of something, you know, if I were to stay in the House. 

And I almost interrupted the president and said, “Mr. President, I am going to decide to get in this or not only depending upon what‘s good for Pennsylvania‘s working families, not—not an offer.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God.  If he would spend that much time on cleaning up the MMS, the Minerals Management Service, we wouldn‘t be in the trouble we‘re in now. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But there you have it.  Is this the end of the affair? 

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell is the host of MSNBC‘s “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS.”  And NBC‘s David Gregory is the moderator of “Meet the Press.”

Well, you started this thing.  You tried to get him to talk.  Do you know why they waited until now to come clean on this—apparently clean?

GREGORY:  Yes.  I have talked to people in the White House who are involved in this thing.  And there are several reasons. 

One is, they didn‘t want Sestak to contradict what the White House was saying.  And they certainly didn‘t want that in the course of the primary.  Second, they knew then that this was not a big issue.  It wasn‘t a big issue on the campaign trail.  And, thirdly, they thought, if Specter wins, nobody is going to care anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  So, why make a big issue out of this?

MATTHEWS:  So, they did a dumping on Friday afternoon.  This is so Washington. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  This is “take out the trash” day.

MATTHEWS:  They held the thing—the president said:  I will tell you tomorrow, Friday.  I will be out of town. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We will get Bob Bauer, the counsel nobody has ever heard of.  He will put it out.

MITCHELL:  He will put it out on Friday, the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend.

MATTHEWS:  And Rahm is out of the country.

MITCHELL:  Rahm is...

MATTHEWS:  The president is...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... in Israel...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  ... for his son‘s bar mitzvah.

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.

MITCHELL:  God bless him for that.

And nobody is going to bother Rahm Emanuel, the president of the United States, or anybody else, and we will all forget about it by next week. 

Darrell Issa, of course, the Republicans are not forgetting about it.  The point is, they have two loose cannons.  They didn‘t know exactly what Bill Clinton, the intermediary, had said.  And they certainly didn‘t know what Joe Sestak was going to say. 

So, not coincidentally, Bill Clinton is having lunch with the president of the United States yesterday at the White House.  That‘s another little side drama here.  They obviously...

MATTHEWS:  Did they have to—did they have coax him into admitting his public role, his role, make it public, what he did here? 

MITCHELL:  Well, they had to certainly clear it with him to admit that role.  That was one of the...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... problems.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just ask the politics.

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We all know that the issues here.  This is a very small offer.  And it was apparently totally legal.  You‘re allowed to offer a non-paying position.  In fact, the whole thing is politics.

But that‘s kind of a small, paltry offer.  I will put you on the advisory commission, the intelligence advisory, not to run for U.S.  Senate, a guy who has put his whole life on the line to say he‘s going to run?  What were they thinking?  And then to have Bill Clinton deliver it.  It‘s small potatoes.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  That makes sense, though, because Bill Clinton and Sestak worked very closely together... 

MATTHEWS:  I know they‘re close.

MITCHELL:  ... in Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why, David—why such...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... such a petty offer?

GREGORY:  Yes, number one. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Number two, I think that what ought to be the focus, perhaps, if this was politics as usual, why wasn‘t it done any better?.  The White House intervenes here; they use a very big gun in Bill Clinton to do it.  And the guy says he almost didn‘t want to interrupt him, but he did to say no thinks.  I‘m going to rely—do you think he really said I‘m going to rely on the working families?  Does he have the working families there to say—

MITCHELL:  And the jacket over the shoulder.

GREGORY:  But anyway, the point is that they intervened.  They backed the wrong guy.  They didn‘t get what they wanted out of this.  And the orchestration within the White House, down to yesterday—they obviously knew what the conclusion was.  They didn‘t want the president to say it out loud.  They didn‘t want to release a statement from the Council‘s Office before the press conference.  Why?  They didn‘t want question at the press conference about this.  They wanted to keep their message on oil.  This is how Washington works.  This is a what a lot of people don‘t look about how—

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, they made a point, couple of points.  First of all, they dumped it on Friday.  Number two, they took it out of the president‘s mouth.  So yesterday, the only thing we have on videotape is him saying there will be a report issued tomorrow on paper.  So he‘s never going to be on tape.  They can never use a bit of tape of President Obama admitting there was a deal in the works, which he authorized apparently. 

MITCHELL:  Assuming that he will never discuss this publicly in answer to a question again. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘ll never be tied to it on television. 

MITCHELL:  But the point that David is raising is a point that we‘ve been making today.  Why is this White House so bad at ordinary politics?  Why do they get involved in trying to muscle out the governor of New York in a stupid way?  Why do they get involved in—

MATTHEWS:  Why did the president—let me be naive here.  Why did the president of the United States, who is commander-in-chief and the head of the Democratic party, right, invite a Democratic congressman into the White House and say, you know, we‘d rather not have two Democrats running for the same job?  These primary fights always cause trouble for the general. 

MITCHELL:  They want to keep his fingerprints off of it.

MATTHEWS:  Is there something you‘d like to do in this administration.  Is that illegal? 

GREGORY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Is there something you‘d like to do in this administration that would also further your goals for public service? 

GREGORY:  You don‘t use the president if you don‘t know the answer is going to be yes.  So they used a former president. 

MATTHEWS:  But they didn‘t really—it looks to me, was there a negotiation, do you know, with Bill Clinton?  Did they offer him that, say, that‘s our starting offer, but if you really want to keep pushing, we‘ve got something better for you? 

MITCHELL:  I doubt that very much.

GREGORY:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know either way.  But it appears that it stopped there.  And added point to this, the fact that in the middle of all this oil politics business that the White House counsel‘s office had to get involved is just not something that the White House wants—

MATTHEWS:  It makes it sound illegal.

GREGORY:  I was told today was, again, they didn‘t just want the press secretary issuing a statement saying this was all above-board, because there were criminal questions raised by Republicans and others, and they thought that the counsel -- 

MATTHEWS:  Once having brought in Bob Bauer, they basically laminated the issue as a legal issue.  Let‘s take a look at Rush—I have to do this—Rush Limbaugh today impersonating Bill Clinton and assessing the situation.  Let‘s listen to Rushbo. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I‘m going to kiss your (EXPLETIVE DELTED) if kiss your my (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  I‘ll make sure that you—if you come groveling to me, I‘ll be happy to help you out here. 

Look at what has happened here, they go to Bill Clinton.  He‘s famous for getting people jobs.  Monica Lewinsky offered a job at Revlon.  She was offered a job at the United Nations.  She didn‘t take any of them.  But they‘ve got Bill Clinton.  Isn‘t it great, folks, that they found a guy who they know will commit perjury to carry the water here? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well sometimes even he can get it right.  That was pretty good lampooning, I‘ve got to say. 

GREGORY:  Again, the fact that on your show at 5:00, before the polls were closed, when people were just beginning to vote last Tuesday in Pennsylvania, they were dissing Arlen Specter and separating themselves from him before even his vote could have came out. 

GREGORY:  Can I raise a point for Sestak that‘s not good?  First of all, he was very evasive on this. 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.

GREGORY:  After having said initially—starting this whole thing by saying he was offered a job.  So the White House had to—

MATTHEWS:  They have that tape to run with. 

GREGORY:  They have that tape to run with.  But then he completely shuts down.  So here‘s a guy who says he‘s running against the establishment, running against Washington, running against this White House.  And yet, frankly, he‘s in concert with them all along the way.  And once they clear it, he comes out. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you one more bit of information.  We just got a new poll out today.  They‘re two points apart with Sestak ahead.  So this campaign is going to be run on points, very close.  You can see, look, there it is, very close, two points there, with Sestak ahead.  So, therefore, what we‘re seeing is this kind of thing could make a difference with a three-point margin.  That‘s what we‘re looking.  They think they can beat him with this story, right? 

MITCHELL:  Sure.  That‘s why they‘re dialing it up. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t run this when you‘re 25 points behind. 

Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, thank you.  David Gregory, who is your guest. 

GREGORY:  Carol Bronner (ph), more on oil, immigration debate too.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, we‘ll be joined by the great Ben Bradley and Sally Quinn and their son Quinn Bradley.  We‘re going to talk about an interesting book about, well, what some of us are, fathers.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Ben Bradley is the legendary American journalist.  Now he‘s written a memoir with his son, Quinn, called “A Life‘s Work, Fathers and Sons.”  The new book includes observations from his wife Sally Quinn, who is sitting here.  The whole family is here today.  We don‘t usually do this.  This is an exceptional program for us.  Father‘s Day is coming, Ben. 

BEN BRADLEE, AUTHOR, “A LIFE‘S WORK”:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I want to start with you.  No, Ben.  Most people when they write about their family brag.  You wrote about your father never saying or doing anything of distinction.  You talk about your grandfather as a guy who had a Swede who looked after him.  And all he did was keep his scotch glass filled.  That was his only job.  Ben, you‘re—

BRADLEE:  He was a lawyer, had a law firm, his own law firm, with his name in it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are you so unsparing in your journalism? 

BRADLEE:  He was not a great friend of mine, that grandfather.  My dad was fantastic.  I loved him.  But he was unemployed for a while and the Depression.  And he had a lot of trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about dads.  I want you, Quinn, on this.  There‘s something about working with your dad.  I used to work with my dad when he was a bricklayer outside.  He worked in an office.  But on weekends, he loved laying bricks.  I don‘t get it.  Winston Churchill used to love laying bricks.  He loved it.  I mixed the cement.  I liked helping him.  What‘s it like for you with this guy? 

QUINN BRADLEE, SON OF BEN BRADLEY:  I guess you could say laying bricks is like laying foundations of the world.  Cutting down trees and vines is kind of taking the problems away from the world that need to be taken away from.  We pulled down vines that are the size of our arms and twice the size of our arms and bodies.  And it‘s great.  It‘s mind clearing, as my dad says.  There‘s no other better way to put it. 

MATTHEWS:  Ben, outdoors life.  You‘re a man who‘s made his name indoors at a newspaper desk, in a city room.  Why do you like to be outside working on weekends?  My dad was just like that.

BRADLEE:  Something with you can shed all the little day-to-day stuff and worries about the 100 deadlines a day and all that stuff.  You can think of no thoughts or big thoughts. 

MATTHEWS:  Sally, you envy these guys, because fathers and sons have a—I know daughters and mothers are scary from the outside.  Every guy knows that.  There‘s nothing scarier than that thing that goes on, that telepathy between mother and daughter.  You‘re outside that all the way, right? 

SALLY QUINN, JOURNALIST:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have that deal going, because you only have a son, right?

QUINN:  Right.  But mothers and daughters talk to each other.  They don‘t, but they bond in this very interesting way.  And it‘s more—it‘s not about talking.  It‘s about being together.  And that‘s what I think is so important about this book and why every woman should give it to her husband, to learn how to deal with her—his son, because it‘s about quality and quantity of time. 

Most people talk about quality of time.  It‘s about quantity time.  Ben and Quinn will go out in the woods for hours, eight hours at a time, and they‘ll cut down trees and clear vines and burn brush and I‘ll come back and I‘ll say, what did you all talk about?  They‘ll say, nothing.  But it was that time that they spent together, that bonding time that I think is so amazing.  And you know, Ben talks about the way to get rid of all the little clutter in the day.  When he‘s talking about Watergate.  Before Quinn was born, we were together during Watergate. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s when the “Washington Post” was crusading on the Watergate story. 

QUINN:  Right, he would disappear into the woods.  We had a log cabin in West Virginia.  He would come back refreshed at the end of the weekend.  I mean, he would leave so stressed that his whole body was like this.  And then—I‘m sorry, Ben.  Then he‘d come back after being out.  It‘s a form of meditation in some way for them.  Although Ben is very uncomfortable with words like meditation and spirituality.  Quinn is not.  But it is a way—

MATTHEWS:  Your dad, does he ever tell you war stories when you‘re out there chopping wood and stuff like that, about being a young pilot on a destroyer when he was 21 in Japanese waters, and he‘s out there getting the ship through? 

Q. BRADLEE:  He never really talked about it.  I wanted to go in-depth about it, so I Googled the USS Phillip and it said it was bombarded six times a day, you know, every day in the South Pacific.  And then when the Kamikazes came out, there were about five Kamikazes a day bombing it.

MATTHEWS:  Your dad was a pilot. 

B. BRADLEE:  I wasn‘t a pilot. 

MATTHEWS:  You were a pilot.  You told me the stories.  You didn‘t make that up.  No, not an airplane pilot—pilot of the ship.  That means like steering.  You don‘t remember? 

B. BRADLEE:  You don‘t call that a pilot. 

MATTHEWS:  What to you call the guy who is piloting the ship?

B. BRADLEE:  Officer of the deck, skipper.

MATTHEWS:  The guy who is at the wheel, what do you call him? 

B. BRADLEE:  Helmsman. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this, Father‘s Day is coming up.  Big message for this out of this, these two guys.  I always wondered why Reagan was always out there with a chain saw, president of the United States, every weekend he‘d get up there in the mountains and pull the chain saw out.  Why do you like chain saws?

Q. BRADLEE:  I like chain saws because I can have a little power over something. 

QUINN:  They‘re not as scary. 

Q. BRADLEE:  They‘re note as scary—

MATTHEWS:  The kid that can—when you were a young man, the first day with that chain saw scared the hell out of your parents. 

Q. BRADLEE:  They‘re not as scary as women. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said for a young man.  I don‘t think of you being so dainty. 

Q. BRADLEE:  Not to be sexist.

(CROSS TALK)

Q. BRADLEE:  If I could say one more thing, it lets me do one thing that only—unless you‘re Native American, you probably don‘t do it.  It lets you listen to nature.  It lets you listen to what the Earth is telling you. 

B. BRADLEE:  She has a chain saw. 

Q. BRADLEE:  But it‘s electric. 

MATTHEWS:  I saw.  It‘s pink.  Thank you, Ben, Sally and Quinn.  What a great family.  Remember, Father‘s Day is June 20th.  This book “A Life‘s Work: Fathers and Son.”  This is great.  By the ay, I read it all in like an hour and a half last night.  That‘s the best Father‘s Day gift.  You can read it in an hour and a half, get the damn thing done.  Not one of these doorstops you get around here.  Ben and Quinn Bradlee, the perfect gift for your dad.

When we return, let me finish with some thoughts about the history behind Memorial Day.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with this day we honor Monday.  Memorial Day set up at a tribute to those who fell in the American Civil War.  It was to honor the men who died on both sides of that struggle. 

What‘s stunning about that war is that both sides were American.  Sure, there was a different accent, but we spoke the same language, shared the same religions, revered the same founding roots of the same country.  Not only that, so many of the fighting men, especially officers, knew each other, had gone to school together to West Point with each other.  They went to class together, drilled together, went to dances together, prayed together. 

I have mentioned before the story of U.S. Grant and Simon Buckner. 

Grant had been bounced out of the Army before the war on drunkenness.  When he worked his sad way home, humiliated, out of money, down on his prospects, his friend Simon Buckner met him in New York and gave him money to get him back to Illinois. 

When the war came, General Buckner commanded Ft. Donaldson, Grant the Union forces attacking it.  It was the first real Union victory of the war and began that long bloody march towards Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. 

At the surrender, General Grant met another old friend from school, from West Point, Jim Longstreet.  Imagine what that was like, four years of Americans killing each other, all the time knowing the men on the other side, being actually friends with them.

The unity of this country is a great thing.  We‘re fortunate to have the same language and culture that is fairly unified across our 50 states.  Our disagreements today are reasonable and negotiable and, let‘s admit it, tolerable.  We can fight them out on shows like this, like on HARDBALL, and not battlefields like Shiloh and Gettysburg.  Even in the midst of this horror in the Gulf, we share the same homegrown American optimism. 

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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