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updated 8/13/2010 11:42:35 AM ET 2010-08-13T15:42:35

Guest Host: Chuck Todd

Guests: Pete Williams, David Gregory, , Lawrence O‘Donnell, Savannah Guthrie, Maria Teresa Kumar, Joe Solomonese, Carlos Gutierrez

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  By the power vested in California?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd in New York, sitting in for Chris Matthews, and trying not to make Dylan‘s life miserable by talking too loud. 

Leading off tonight: On hold for now.  Gay marriage proponents in California are going to have to wait at least until next week.  Dozens of gay couples gathered outside of the city hall in San Francisco today, anticipating that a federal judge would lift his stay on gay marriage.  But Judge Vaughn Walker put his decision on hold for one week.  Still, unless another court intervenes, gay marriage will be California law as of 5:00 PM next Wednesday.  We‘ll get into the details and the political implications at the top of the show.

Plus, the forgotten war is quickly becoming remembered, and not in a good way.  Our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows a significant drop in support for the effort and a huge increase in pessimism about the outcome of that war.  NBC‘s David Gregory is on the ground with General David Petraeus in Kabul, and he joins us on the administration‘s attempts to resell this war to America one more time.

Also, is it good politics for Democrats to bash former president Bush heading into this fall‘s elections?  Republicans are warning them not to.  Even some Democrats are warning the administration not to do it.  We‘ve reached back into the archives and found examples of Republicans running against Jimmy Carter for more than a decade, right up until it stopped working.

And how‘s this for a shot across the bow?  Senate Majority Leader Reid said this.  “I don‘t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican today, OK.”  In fact, while Republicans are seem to be headed towards big gains this fall, their stands on immigration and on changing the 14th Amendment could cost them the Hispanic vote for generations.  How the fastest growing demographic in this country could change politics forever.

And there‘s a new chapter in America‘s strangest long distance love affair between Senator John McCain and “Jersey Shore‘s” Snooki.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

But let‘s begin with the judge‘s ruling on gay marriage in California.  Pete Williams is NBC‘s justice correspondent.  OK, Pete, explain why there is a one-week delay before gay marriage is legal in California.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the simple question (SIC) is we don‘t know because the judge didn‘t say.  But the guess is that he wants to give a little time for the people who favor Prop 8, who wanted the stay to stay in place, to run over to the other courthouse in San Francisco, to the federal court of appeals, and try to get them to put a hold on gay marriages while this is sorted out in the appeals courts.

And I must say that this is sort of what the—some of the lawyers involved in the case thought the judge might do, realizing all that‘s at stake here, that it wouldn‘t be good to have the on-off switch repeatedly cycled while this thing works through the courts.  So this gives the Prop 8 folks some time to see if they can get their own stay.

TODD:  So you—

WILLIAMS:  His stay will definitely expire on August 18th.

TODD:  OK—

WILLIAMS:  The question is whether another one will come in place.

TODD:  I got—so the concern was that, somehow, he would immediately legalize—

WILLIAMS:  Right.

TODD:  -- and then a week later, somehow, proponents—

WILLIAMS:  Exactly.

TODD:  OK.  So that‘s the case.

WILLIAMS:  Right.

TODD:  Now, what is it that proponents of Prop 8 -- what is going to be their argument for a stay?

WILLIAMS:  Well, you know, I think this is, frankly, a little tricky

for them because this case is now in a sort of a weird posture.  The state

it‘s a state law, Prop 8.  It was enacted by the voters.  It‘s part of the constitution.  But the state itself rolled over and played dead here.  The governor and the attorney general both thought Prop 8 is unconstitutional, so they declined to defend it.  And it was the proponents of Prop 8 who came into court and said to Judge Walker, Can we please defend it?  And he gave them the legal authority to do so.  But there‘s some question about whether they have the same legal authority to appeal it.  So that‘s thing one.

Thing two is, generally speaking, to get a stay, you have to say to a court, you know, If you don‘t do this, I and people like me will be irreparably harmed.  And in the federal courts, that usually means some sort of concrete harm to you individually—

TODD:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  -- not just the fact that you, as taxpayer, don‘t like this or that you think this is an outrage.

TODD:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  That‘s not generally enough.  So it would be one thing for the state to say, You know, if you don‘t issue the stay, this will be an administrative burden for us.

TODD:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  But they‘re not the state.  The Prop 8 people have—you know, it‘s going to be a problem, I think, for them to show how they‘re irreparably harmed.  Certainly, that‘s the basis on which the judge today said, I‘m going to dissolve the stay as of next week, because he didn‘t think that the Prop 8 folks could show harm to themselves.  So that‘s the trick for them, is to come up with an argument like that that would persuade the 9th circuit.

TODD:  I guess I‘m confused, Pete.  Why is it that the attorney general of California, or the office, isn‘t forced to defend a referendum that was passed by the voters in the state?  I mean, states that allow referenda—I—shouldn‘t they be almost mandated to do this?

WILLIAMS:  Well, their position is, We cannot—you know, We‘re—We take oaths of office to uphold the state and federal constitutions.  And their argument has been, We cannot—we are legally duty bound not to defend a law that we believe is unconstitutional, and that—

TODD:  So that‘s how they get around it.

WILLIAMS:  -- we believe—right, We believe, the government and the attorney general have said, that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, and that‘s why they didn‘t defend it.

TODD:  And how—OK, just very fast.  So the appeal made to—we assume made to somebody and that it would be just one judge would decide—

WILLIAMS:  No.

TODD:  -- whether to do (ph) the state?  Explain it very quickly.

WILLIAMS:  Three-judge panel.  The first thing you go to in a federal appeals court is three-judge panel.  Luck of the draw, so you don‘t know who you‘re going to get.

TODD:  OK.  Pete Williams, NBC‘s justice correspondent, on top of this for us.  Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS:  You bet.

TODD:  Joel Solomonese is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, and he joins us now.  First, are you happy about this court ruling?  Are you happy that there is a stay?  Pete Williams was making the argument that proponents of—of trying to get this law overturned wanted the week-long stay in order to force this—make sure there wasn‘t going to be an on-off switch.

JOE SOLOMONESE, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN:  Well, I‘d be happy, obviously, if couples could be married in California today.  But as Pete pointed out, I think that Judge Walker recognized just that, that there was the likelihood that at some point, probably next week, the 9th circuit would be hearing this question anyways.  And so this notion of people being married today, being not married next week, was something that the judge obviously took into consideration.

I mean, the most important point here, I think, is that this is going to continue to be a complicated and rocky road forward, but we certainly have the trajectory on our side.

TODD:  Right.

SOLOMONESE:  I was looking at a poll this morning that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, support marriage equality.

TODD:  Well, you brought it up.  Let‘s pop it up.  It‘s a CNN Opinion Research poll.  Let‘s pop it up -- 52 percent—it‘s the first time we‘ve seen any reputable poll come out that showed a majority nationwide favoring gay marriage.  But let me ask you this.  Should public opinion matter here?

SOLOMONESE:  Well, certainly.  I mean, I—you know, I think that the road to marriage equality for our community really is three-pronged.  It is about moving this fight through the courts, which we are experiencing right now.  It‘s about moving this fight through state legislatures, which we have an opportunity to do this year in places like New York and in Minnesota.  And of course, it‘s about moving hearts and minds and moving public opinion, you know, which this CNN poll demonstrates.

It all matters in terms of moving this country in the direction of

fully recognizing and embracing full marriage equality for same-sex

couples.  And what I think is important is that as this legal case moves

forward—and I think one of the great things about our community is that

--

TODD:  Right.

SOLOMONESE:  -- we‘ve got the stamina and the determination to see this through—

TODD:  Sure.

SOLOMONESE:  -- is that we not lose sight of these other two challenges that we have before us.

TODD:  Well, I only say that on public opinion because there‘s been an argument—and in fact, on “Fox News Sunday,” Ted Olson, one of the two lawyers who is on the side of trying to overturn Prop 8, was asked about this issue of the fact that, basically, it was public opinion in the state of California that said they wanted to ban same-sex marriage.  Here was Ted Olson‘s response to Chris Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED OLSON, PLAINTIFF‘S ATTORNEY, CA PROPOSITION 8:  We do not put the Bill of Rights to a vote.  Forty-one states once prohibited interracial marriages, so that in Virginia, when the Supreme Court finally struck that prohibition down, the president‘s parents could not have been married.  Our fundamental rights—part of our Constitution is a separation of powers and an independent judiciary.  We ask judges to make sure that when we vote for something, we‘re not depriving minorities of their constitutional rights.  And that‘s what the judge did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  In fact—and let me just go back.  It was June 12th, 1967, that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Virginia statute, which at that time, there were 16 states that banned whites from marrying non-whites.  And look at this poll, because we‘re talking about public opinion, and clearly, public opinion had no influence on that Supreme Court.  This is a Gallup poll from 1968.  “Do you approve or disapprove of interracial marriage?”  Only 20 percent of the country then approved of it, 73 percent disapproved.

So I guess my question to you—and I wasn‘t trying to set you up here, but this was a case—public opinion was squarely against the idea of interracial marriage, and the courts completely ignored it.  Are you—are you hopeful that public opinion at least might have some influence on the Supreme Court, or at this point, do you hope public opinion is drowned out at this point?

SOLOMONESE:  I think that it‘s an inevitability that as this moves forward—you know, Justices pay attention to the world around them and they certainly pay attention to shifting public opinion.  But as I mentioned, I think what they will also pay attention to as this case moves forward is where in this country can same-sex couples be married?  So if we‘re going to put more states into the pro-marriage column, be it Minnesota or Rhode Island or New York—

TODD:  Right.

SOLOMONESE:  -- or Washington, then public opinion in those efforts certainly matters.

TODD:  Now, let me ask you this.  Are you concerned—and I‘ve talked to some folks in the gay rights community who are concerned that this case that David Boies and Ted Olson, the two sort of—the super-lawyer team here that successfully got Prop 8 overturned in the federal courts and it inevitably is going to go to the Supreme Court—that there is a concern this is maybe too-high risk, and this Court—you know, it‘s a coin flip.  It‘s going to be a 5-4 decision, all depending on Anthony Kennedy at this point.  And if—and if they uphold Prop 8, it‘s going to be a generation, and it‘s actually going to set back the movement in the gay rights community to make gay marriage legal.

SOLOMONESE:  Well, when I was first asked this question—it was actually Chris Matthews on this show who asked me if I thought it was a good idea, and I said, Look, the simple answer is it‘s a good idea if we win and a bad idea if we lose.

(LAUGHTER)

SOLOMONESE:  Having said that, we are on this trajectory, and I think that one victory and one ruling, and the historic nature of the one that we heard both last week and again today, really sets us up for the next.  And so this is the trajectory we‘re on, and the language and the sentiment that came out of last week‘s ruling and what Judge Walker had to say—

TODD:  Right.

SOLOMONESE:  -- you know, I think really speaks a great deal to the prospects moving forward both in the 9th circuit and then before the Supreme Court.

TODD:  And very quickly, I know there‘s some efforts in Massachusetts that you believe could be a good way to way to fight the Defense of Marriage Act and potentially get that overturned.  What is the—where does that stand at this point?

SOLOMONESE:  Right.  Another case that is before the courts, which would essentially undo one aspect of the Defense of Marriage Act and allow federal benefits to flow to the state of Massachusetts, and effectively, other states where there is marriage equality.  So a lot of people don‘t realize that while you can be married in Massachusetts and pay into something like Social Security for your entire life, at the end of your life, your married partner—

TODD:  Right.

SOLOMONESE:  -- in Massachusetts at this point still would not have access to those benefits.  So it‘s an attempt to overturn that restriction.

TODD:  All right.  Joe Solomonese with the Human Rights Campaign, thanks for coming on HARDBALL.  We‘ll see you another time.

SOLOMONESE:  Thanks Chuck.

TODD:  Coming up: On the ground in Afghanistan.  NBC‘s David Gregory, moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” is there and will join us when we return for a gut check on how the war is going.  He‘s already been interviewing General David Petraeus, flying around Afghanistan, getting a firsthand look himself.  And how, just how, is General Petraeus going to resell this war to the American people?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right, a little update for you on that Rod Blagojevich corruption trial.  The jury has only reached agreement on 2 of the 24 counts against the former Illinois governor, meaning they‘ve got a long way to go before they reach a verdict. 

The jury‘s been deliberating for 12 days, and today the judge in the case told them to go back and deliberate some more.  There‘s no word what decision the jury reached on the two counts, but legal analysts say the fact that they‘ve only reached consensus on two counts is good news for the defense. 

We‘ll see.  Hung jury coming?  We‘ll find out soon maybe.

This is HARDBALL.  Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  NBC‘s David Gregory has the first interview with General David Petraeus since he took charge of the war in Afghanistan.  The interview will air in full on this Sunday‘s “MEET THE PRESS.”  But here‘s a preview of one part of the interview that took place today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Are you in lockstep with the president, who will still stick to a July 2011 deadline to begin that transition?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN:  Yes.  Absolutely.  He has been very clear on this, I think, and I think there was greater clarity even after the replacement, and so forth.  What the president very much wants from me and what we talked about in the Oval Office is the responsibility of a military commander on the ground to provide his best professional military advice.  Leave the politics to him.  Certainly, I‘m aware of the contest within which I offer that advice.  But that just informs the advice.  It doesn‘t drive it.  The situation on the ground drives it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right, David Gregory is live in Kabul tonight. 

Very interesting response there to your question there, David, in that he says he‘s aware of the politics of this but that the president‘s supposed to handle that.  He‘s going to be, basically, the chief military adviser to him on the ground in Afghanistan.  Does General Petraeus realize he‘s sort of either—he‘s the president‘s way out of this war?

GREGORY:  Well, before I address that question, let me just parse a little bit, I think, the importance of what we‘re hearing from General Petraeus.  For the first time, we‘re hearing from him since he‘s assumed command.  You heard what he just said, also what he didn‘t say.  I had asked him at another point whether or not he‘s trying to slow that Washington clock down, which is terminology that was used during the debate about a surge in Iraq.

TODD:  Yes.

GREGORY:  And that‘s essentially what General Petraeus said then, We want to slow that Washington clock down.  I said, Is that what we‘re trying to do here?  He said, What we‘re trying to do is show our decision makers that we‘re actually making some progress.

So if you couple that with him saying here, Look, the president‘s committed to beginning that withdrawal in July of next year, what I‘m going to do is look at what‘s happening on the ground, that will determine the advice I give him, and then he‘s got to figure out the politics—he is saying that this is a conditions-based withdrawal, in his mind.  That is the decision that he will make.  That‘s the advice that he will give.

So to your point, Chuck.  I think that what General Petraeus recognizes is that the great pressure that‘s on him is to demonstrate progress as a way of fending off that pressure to accelerate—

TODD:  Right.

GREGORY:  -- a withdrawal of troops.  And it is in that way similar to what he faced in Iraq.

TODD:  Well, that pressure seems to have only been ratcheted up.  Whether it was WikiLeaks, whether it was—it‘s been just the extra coverage of the—of the—of the more—of the deaths that we‘ve seen in Afghanistan, the Afghanistan numbers in our most recent NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, “More or less confident the war in Afghanistan is going to come to a successful conclusion”—the fact that we‘re close to 70 percent, with 68 percent are less confident that this thing can be a successful conclusion—I know General Petraeus said he‘s supposed to leave the politics to the president, but does he believe—I guess does understand that maybe he is responsible for reselling this war to the American people?

GREGORY:  Well, I think he does recognize that.  And I think he‘s got a good piece of politician in him, as well.  He understands the statecraft involved in all of this as he moves forward.

And it‘s very difficult because he doesn‘t have a great deal of time.  And yet, the strategy he‘s pursuing requires on a lot.  It requires the time to nation-build, to build a counter-insurgency.  It requires a host government, the Afghan government, to deliver itself.  And at the same time for U.S. forces to do what they can do to actually make the country more secure.  To deal somehow with the sanctuary problem in Pakistan from which attacks are launched. 

So there are a lot of pieces to this.  And I think what you‘re starting to hear from General Petraeus, and it will begin with our interview, his first since assuming command, as I mentioned, it is to reframe what the goals are, what success is. 

I asked him, are we winning or losing here?  He said, well, we‘re making progress, that‘s winning.  You know, the American people have heard a lot about making progress.  Nine years in that‘s very difficult to sell in this war. 

TODD:  And is he aware that maybe the president‘s own national security team, look, this seemed to bite General McChrystal, the person that General Petraeus replaced, General McChrystal couldn‘t handle the fact that there were people second-guessing him in Washington.  It seemed to get under his skin.  But already we‘re seeing a lot of second guessing again. 

This was in The New York Times, sort of anonymous quotes from August 1st, quote: “While several officials said Mr. Obama remained committed to the strategy he set out at the end of last year, they conceded that the counter-insurgency part of it had lagged while the counter-terrorism part had been more successful.” 

How is General Petraeus managing the politics of this himself sort of with the diplomats who frankly were never 100 percent into the strategy from the first place, whether we‘re talking about Vice President Biden or Even Ambassador Eikenberry?

GREGORY:  Right.  Well, it‘s very interesting.  And I think on that particular point, General Petraeus would be lightning fast in his response, which is to say, hey, look, if you‘re talking counter-terrorism, that is a piece of the overall big idea, which is counter-insurgency. 

It‘s just a piece of the overall picture.  So of course we‘re going to do counter-terrorism.  But that‘s not all you can do.  What that really gets to is a bigger debate, which is, how much nation-building can and should the United States be involved in in Afghanistan? 

I‘ve spoken to civilian officials here who say that‘s really the nub of the debate right now.  That debate goes on.  And that assumes and gets to the point of how much Karzai can deliver.  Is he going to crack down on corruption?  Is he going to be able to show results in governance here and have better government, something that we can leave the country to?  Wants security, makes greater gains.  That debate is going to go on. 

And I don‘t think it has been completely resolved yet.  But I think one thing that General Petraeus will be clear on is that these things have to move together.  You‘ve got to fight the terrorists.  You‘ve got to do the counter-terrorism.  But you‘ve got to build the rest of it as well. 

TODD:  What is—look, you were covering President Bush very closely during this point in the Iraq War when General Petraeus took over.  What are you seeing similar in David Petraeus here and what he has got to do in Afghanistan to what he did in Iraq, and what‘s different? 

GREGORY:  It‘s very interesting.  The point you made a moment ago, people taking shots at the strategy and at him, remember, during the surge, he did not have support from the chain of command. 

TODD:  Right. 

GREGORY:  He had people up and down, both on the civilian side and the military side questioning what he was doing.  That‘s a big difference here, even if he does get some people questioning what he‘s doing. 

The conventional wisdom then in the darkest days of 2006, before the surge happens, is that the war was lost in Iraq.  That‘s similar here.  I think in both cases, what you hear General Petraeus saying is, look, let‘s push back this notion of a deadline for withdrawal driving everything we‘re doing.  Let‘s try to create some space for some progress. 

If we can take the eyes, the very close watching of this war, if we can avert people‘s attention a little bit, we can have a little space to do all of the things we‘re trying to do, which is, you know, to hand off something that‘s reasonable. 

He said before that the Iraq model is something he would like to see here.  That that would be defining success, something that looks like Iraq down the road.  We may be a long way away from that here. 

TODD:  All right.  David Gregory, I know it‘s the middle of the night over there.  We‘ve got to let you go.  David‘s full interview with General Petraeus this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS.”

Thank you, David. 

Up next, there‘s a new chapter in the strange long-distance love affair between Senator John McCain and naturally “Jersey Shore‘s” Snooki?  Well, that‘s next on the “Sideshow.” You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right.  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” First up, another chapter in America‘s new favorite friendship between Senator John McCain and “Jersey Shore‘s” Snooki. 

They‘ve already bonded over tanning bed taxes.  But when Snooki got arrested last month for disorderly conduct, Senator John McCain had some thoughts on that this week. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I‘ve got a question for you I thought about on the way over.  Should Snooki go to jail? 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  A question for our listeners.  Is Snooki too good-looking to go to jail? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good looking?  Wow. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  . has given a whole new meaning to our justice system.  You‘ve got to admit.  And I‘m kind of leaning towards Snooki being too good-looking.  I don‘t know. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Wow.  Next up, like father, not like son.  Here‘s what Jeb Bush today told today‘s New York Times about Congressman Paul Ryan‘s ideas for the economy.  Quote: “He‘s not saying the world is going to be full of butterscotch sundaes.  He‘s saying eat your broccoli and then maybe you don‘t get to eat at all for a few days.  You don‘t get steak, well, ever.” 

There was lots of food references in there.  But one item definitely stands out when spoken by a Bush.  Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington.  My family is divided.  I do not like broccoli.  And I haven‘t liked it since I was a little kid.  And my mother made me eat it.  And I‘m president of the United States.  And I‘m not going to eat anymore broccoli.  For the broccoli vote out there, Barbara loves broccoli.  She has tried to make me eat it.  She eats it all the time herself.  So she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that‘s coming in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Well, that was back in 1990.  Guess that means Jeb sides with his mom on this one.  She tried to smooth things over with the broccoli folks back then. 

Anyway, next up, birthday bash after his instantly infamous House floor whatever you want to call it this week.  Embattled Congressman Charlie Rangel held his 80th birthday celebration last night in New York City.  And like the old Beatles hit, he is getting by with a little help from his friends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY:  I know a few people couldn‘t be here tonight because, as they tell it, either they had to get a haircut unexpectedly or they were sure they would have a headache. 

(LAUGHTER)

BLOOMBERG:  But, Charlie, as you know, they were with you as long as they could be. 

(LAUGHTER)

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  Don‘t turn your cameras off.  Don‘t put your notepads down.  You have started and executed the political crucifixion.  But stay tuned for the political resurrection. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  If only I had a path.  You know, I‘ve been to a lot of funerals where they worked it out.  But this damn sure ain‘t no funeral, is it? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Well, there are some analogies. 

Finally, lock-up.  We just talked about Governor Rod Blagojevich‘s situation.  Well, here are some other lock-up headlines on our political crime blotter today.  New York Governor David Paterson‘s close aide David Johnson turned himself into the Bronx district attorney today to face assault charges.  Johnson‘s case played a role in Paterson‘s decision not to seek reelection this fall. 

And out in Arizona, former California Congressman Randy “The Duke” Cunningham, who is halfway through his prison sentence for corruption, tells The San Diego City Beat that he‘s teaching classes to fellow inmates and learning about prison life.  He says, quote: “Maybe that‘s why God put me in here, to bring about much needed prison reform.”  It‘s amazing what a little prison time does for people to suddenly become prison reform advocates. 

Anyway, up next, President Obama and the Democrats are campaigning on the idea that the Republicans would take the country back to the Bush years.  Should the Democrats bash Bush?  Is that a good strategy?  Will it work?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They haven‘t come out with a single solitary idea that is different from the policies that held sway for eight years before the Democrats took over.  Not a single policy difference that‘s discernible from George W. Bush.  Not one.  So what they‘re really betting on is amnesia. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama last week at a fundraiser for Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.  The president frequently talks about the problems his administration inherited from the Bush years.  And lately he and some other Democrats are ramping up their Bush talk.  In fact, here‘s President Obama the very same day at another fundraiser is Chicago. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  They have not come up with a single solitary idea that is any different from the policies of George W. Bush, the policies that they had in place for eight years before with had a crisis.  What they were betting on is amnesia.  They are betting that you don‘t remember that they were in charge all of this time. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right.  So is it smart for the president and his party to run against President Bush again?  Savannah Guthrie is NBC News White House correspondent, and, of course, my co-host on some show called “THE DAILY RUNDOWN.” And Lawrence O‘Donnell is the host of MSNBC‘s new show debuting September 27th called “THE LAST WORD.”

And since he insists he‘s going to get the last word, Savannah, I‘m giving you the first word. 

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s dangerous.

TODD:  Look, there is a lot of chattering class conversation about this issue.  Why—should the White House be running against Bush again?  Should the Democratic Party be running against Bush again?  What does the West Wing tell you in response to that chattering class advice? 

GUTHRIE:  Well, look, they say you have got to look at this, it‘s a little more nuanced than people are saying.  We‘re not trying to re-litigate the 2008 election.  We aren‘t trying to run against George W.  Bush, per se.  What we‘re trying to say and frame an argument that this is a choice between the policies of the past and the policies of the future. 

They‘re trying to put more of a spin on it that looks forward by saying, you know, we don‘t have to guess what Republicans want to do if given back control of the Congress or the White House.  We know because they don‘t have any new ideas. 

That is the argument that they‘re making.  But it is a little bit nuanced.  And we have seen a sharper message out of this White House.  I mean, last week the two sound bites you played, the president started saying George W. Bush by name.  That isn‘t something we heard a lot of. 

He didn‘t do it, by the way, when we were with him on Monday in Texas right in George W. Bush‘s backyard.  He didn‘t explicitly use the name of George W. Bush.  I asked a very senior official here, are you trying—is this something overt you‘re really trying to mention his name to make this argument more explicit? 

And they said, no, in fact one aide said, you‘re being co conspiratorial, we‘re just trying to frame this as a decision between the past and the future.

TODD:  All right.  Lawrence, well, here‘s what Karl Rove wrote today in The Wall Street Journal.  It‘s almost as if—and in many ways I feel like I‘ve seen more conservatives talk about this frankly than anybody else. 

But he says this: “To save themselves in the midterm elections, Democrats are counting on selling two things: the state of the economy is all George W. Bush‘s fault; and Republican policies will take us backwards.  Nice try, but it won‘t work.” 

He‘s factually correct on what the choice that the Democrats want to make in this.  Do you think it‘s good strategy? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST, “THE LAST WORD”:  Well, you know, I mean, guys like Rove have a vested interest in protecting Bush, which makes a lot of sense.  But I think  this works depending on who the character is.  I mean, we have not—we‘ve seen these reach-backs before.

TODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  They did it to Jimmy Carter for a long time.  But they tended to do it to Jimmy Carter as an object of ridicule, as a kind of societal agreement that he was absurdist president.

TODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  And it depends on how that character plays in the public memory.

I‘m not sure how the character George W. Bush is playing in the public memory right now.  He has been an extremely dignified former president.

TODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Leaving the stage and staying totally silent, staying out of—

TODD:  Not being a criticizer, right.

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s right.  And so, when you see President Obama make that choice, as Savannah points out, to specifically use his name, I‘m not sure it‘s going to work.  I‘m not sure Bush has served himself up this year in a way to make that work.

TODD:  It‘s interesting.  Look, you brought up the Jimmy Carter stuff.  Let me show you, I got three clips here.  They ran against—Republicans ran against Jimmy Carter for over a decade.  Here is the keynote speaker at the 1984 Republican Convention, Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE KIRKPATRICK, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.:  Jimmy Carter looked for an explanation for all these problems and thought he found it in the American people.  But the people knew better.  It wasn‘t melees we suffered from.  It was Jimmy Carter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right.  That‘s four years removed from Jimmy Carter.

Here‘s John McCain at the 1988 Republican convention, eight years removed from Jimmy Carter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  In this presidential race, George Bush alone has the experience and the knowledge to continue a policy of a strong defense coupled with a willingness to negotiate.  Michael Dukakis, like Jimmy Carter before him, clearly doesn‘t understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  OK—successful re-election for Republicans in ‘84 and ‘88. 

Here‘s Pat Buchanan in 1992 at the Houston convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT BUCHANAN ®, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Out of Jimmy Carter‘s days of melees, Ronald Reagan crafted—Ronald Reagan crafted the greatest peacetime economic recovery in history -- 3 million new businesses and 20 million new jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  OK, Lawrence, to your point.  It is a way to ridicule and belittle.  Now, finally, by 1992, it didn‘t work.  And then we haven‘t been hearing a lot of Jimmy Carter bashing.  Isn‘t this a case where as long as it‘s working, Democrats are going to keep using it?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, if there‘s evidence that it works, absolutely.  And this is going to be the first test.  You know, can you reach back, you know, just those two years.  You‘ll notice they were using that quote, that melees quote.

TODD:  Which he never said, by the way.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  But there isn‘t—I‘m not sure what the phrase would be for Bush.  You know, I guess some sort of “mission accomplished” variant or something like that.  But I think it‘s trickier to use this kind of glue on Bush.

TODD:  So, Savannah, to go to Lawrence‘s point that they seem that they do walk that line.  And you brought up the Texas stop where they seem to go out of their way not to mention Bush by name because they—it‘s almost as if the president thought it would have been rude.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CO-HOST, “THE DAILY RUNDOWN”:  Yes, you get the feeling because actually, he used almost precisely the same line.  The one you played where in Chicago he said George W. Bush.  Well, he repeats the line, it‘s basically a stump speech, but he omitted George W. Bush‘s name in Texas.  So, it did seem overt.  It seemed as a way that somehow his backyard would be unseemly.

I mean, the real question here is: when does the statute of limitations run out on bashing a predecessor, whether it‘s Republican or Democrat?  I mean, is this argument like a fine wine that gets better with time, or is there a point when voters are sick of it?

I think the line that they‘re walking here is that poll after poll—and, Chuck, you know this better than anybody else—will show that, right now, Americans do place more blame on Bush for economic policies, certainly for the war in Iraq than they do on Obama.  So, there‘s this reservoir of understanding that the polls reflect.

If the president continually harps on it, then you‘re walking into the territory where some voters might be turned off saying is he whining?

TODD:  Right.

GUTHRIE:  Is he complaining?  Hey, you wanted this job.  What are you going to do about it?  And I think that‘s the real threading of the needle that the White House is trying to do.

TODD:  All right.  Since we got to promote a show, I promised him the last word.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s in my contract, “THE LAST WORD.”

TODD:  Yes, it‘s in your contract, I understand it.

We‘re going to hear the name Bush a lot on policy arguments over the next three months.  The Bush tax cuts.  And then, of course, he‘s got his first book out coming up just after the election.

Does the fact that Bush is going to be, quote, “out there” in the bloodstream of the American political debate—does that change how the Democrats should do this?

O‘DONNELL:  I think it helps the Democrats.  If his book comes out soon enough, it makes him relevant again.  It makes it seem to make sense why they‘re talking about him again.  But also, this is an indication that the Democrats don‘t think they have much.

Remember, this was the party that was go—they were promising us in February, we‘re going to be running on health care.  They‘re not running on health care.  They‘re running on Bush.

TODD:  All right.  Savannah Guthrie and Lawrence O‘Donnell—“THE LAST WORD” debuts Monday, September 27th.  Savannah, I will see you tomorrow.  I promise I‘m coming back to Washington.  We‘ll see you at 9:00 a.m. on “THE DAILY RUNDOWN.”

GUTHRIE:  Chuck, get some sleep.  You‘ve been living on television. 

Come on.

TODD:  That‘s all right.  Sleep is optional.

Up next: Harry Reid says he doesn‘t understand how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican.  Well, Marco Rubio has something to say about that.  The Reid-Rubio smackdown, and whether Republicans are turning off Latino voters for a generation?  That debate is next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  We had a lot of nuggets in that new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, including this interesting finding—the only region of the country where Republicans lead in that all-important generic ballot.

Ready for this?

In the south, Southerners overwhelmingly want Republicans to control Congress, 52 to 31.  In the Northeast, voters prefer the Democrats 55 to 30.  In the Midwest, it‘s 49-38 for the Democrats.  And the Democrats have a slight, very slight lead, 44-43.

But before you write off the Republicans chances to win the House, consider this—many congressional districts they‘re targeting outside the South look a lot like southern districts where they‘re strongest—with older, whiter voters.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA:  I don‘t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK?  Do I need to say more?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Well, that was—welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a campaign stop Tuesday, pretty blunt comments there.  It didn‘t take long for those comments to get a fiery reaction from Republicans.

In fact, here‘s Republican Florida Senate candidate, a Cuban-American, Marco Rubio.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCO RUBIO ®, FLORIDA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  But let me explain to Harry Reid why Hispanics and Americans of Hispanic descent would want to be Republicans.  And it‘s a pretty simple concept.  The number one issue in the Hispanic community in America is economic empowerment.  It‘s the desire to leave children better off than themselves.  It‘s the reason why my folks, like my parents, worked two jobs and sacrificed throughout their lives so that I would have the opportunity do things that they never could do.

Let me tell you where that was possible.  It was possible because of God, it was possible because of their sacrifices, and it was possible because of the American free enterprise system.  And the agenda that Harry Reid supports is trying to destroy and dismantle the American free enterprise system.  And so, that‘s why Hispanics should be Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right.  Carlos Gutierrez is the former commerce secretary in the Bush administration, and Maria Teresa Kumar is an MSNBC contributor and executive director of Voto Latino.

Secretary Gutierrez, let me start with you first.  It seems as if we know that Harry Reid and Marco Rubio are not really debating, but they‘re having two separate arguments here.  Harry Reid is making the argument about immigration with Hispanics and Marco Rubio is basically not taking—not wanting to talk about the immigration debate and instead talking about other reasons why Hispanics should be Republicans.

But given the immigration debate and where it is right now, where do you see Harry Reid‘s comments through that prism?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, FMR. COMMERCE SECRETARY:  Well, Chuck, let me just say one thing, because I actually—as a Hispanic American and as a Republican—I actually reacted to Senator Reid‘s comments in a similar fashion.  And I found it to be quite insulting.  What he was saying to me, what I heard is: Hispanics can‘t make it on their own without the help of big government programs.  That‘s what I heard.  And I found it very frankly, to be an insult.

In terms of immigration, I think Democrats, no question, have the rhetoric on immigration.  But they have done nothing.  President Obama promised reform in his first year.  I think he‘s given one speech.

The reality is that the Democrats find as much problems with an immigration reform bill as Republicans do.

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  The problem is the perception is that the Democrats are in favor and the Republicans are against.

TODD:  Maria, were Senator Reid‘s comments a little bit offensive?

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think it was silly.  I think we can all agree that there are 46 million Latinos in this country, some of them are Democratic, some of them are Republican and some of them are undecided.  I think what he was trying to say is: what is the Republican Party doing by marginalizing the Latino community by speaking with such awful rhetoric and divisive rhetoric.

Perfect example is the Arizona law S.B. 1070 that basically condoned

racial profiling.  And that‘s one of the reasons why a judge struck out of,

you know, gutted that language because he was trying to say why are they

dividing a growing voting bloc when it‘s not smart?  Karl Rove has been on

the same page.  He‘s been trying to cultivate the Latino community and

those Latino votes for a long time because, again, we‘re a new bloc.  We‘re

you know, sometimes, we‘re Republicans and sometimes, we vote more Democratic and it‘s a swing vote and how do you cultivate it.

           

And, I think, fundamentally, the Latino community is squeezed on two sides.  One, Marco actually pointed out very well, as did the secretary, we have really high unemployment rate and we have the highest foreclosure rate.

TODD:  Right.

KUMAR:  So, how we—but at the same time, we have a Republican Party who‘s basically saying, you know what, it‘s your fault.  And it has very little to do, I think, with immigration, but much more the rhetoric and tone that‘s really affecting the community right now.

TODD:  All right.  I got to squeeze in to break.  I want to come back and continue these discussions.  We‘ll be right back with Carlos Gutierrez and Maria Teresa Kumar to talk about whether Republican efforts—some Republican efforts to talk about the 14th Amendment and re-amend it, if that‘s going to hurting them in the long-term.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Most Americans are offended that you can buy a visa, come over here and have your baby in America, turn around and leave, and you get citizenship through that process.  I don‘t think that makes sense.

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  There is a constitutional provision in the 14th Amendment that has been interpreted to provide that if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen no matter what.  The question is: if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO:  I do think that it‘s time for to us secure our borders and enforce the law, and allow this conversation about the 14th Amendment to continue.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Carlos Gutierrez is the former commerce secretary in the Bush administration; Maria Teresa Kumar is an MSNBC contributor and executive director of Voto Latino.

As a Republican and as a Hispanic, Secretary Gutierrez, is this a conversation that should go forward on the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship?

GUTIERREZ:  I find this—actually, and I‘m a great fan of Senator Graham and Senator Kyl, who, by the way, worked very hard on the 2006 immigration reform bill.

TODD:  Right.

GUTIERREZ:  I find this to be great distraction.  And all these adjacent fires and adjacent debates that are going on—the Arizona law, the lawsuit against the Arizona law, the 14th Amendment—the problem we have to solve is to get immigration reform.  Once we get immigration reform, that is going to be our best enforcement method, our best enforcement opportunity.

But I do find all of these different debates very distracting, and until the president decides to confront the issue of immigration through real reform, we‘re just going to continue having these problems and these debates.

TODD:  Maria, is this—does the president need to step in here because this is getting out of hand, this talk of the 14th Amendment?

KUMAR:  I think the rhetoric is dangerous as Secretary Gutierrez has mentioned.  It‘s dangerous and it‘s not fruitful.  And we need real solutions.

But he mentioned two senators, both Kyl and McCain, where are they? 

Lindsey Graham, up to, you know, up to June—

TODD:  Right.

KUMAR:  -- he was part of that conversation.  And, unfortunately, they need to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  Both the Republicans and Democrats need to roll up their sleeves.

TODD:  Well—

KUMAR:  The fact there‘s 60 -- you know, 60 Democrats that have the vote, that‘s a problem.

TODD:  I had to leave there.  I wish I had more time.  Carlos Gutierrez and Maria Teresa Kumar, we need to continue this debate again.

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

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

END   

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