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updated 8/16/2010 11:47:54 AM ET 2010-08-16T15:47:54

Guest Host: Chuck Todd

Guests: David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Tom Andrews, Dan Senor, Mary Tillman, Richard Trumka, Jon Ralston, Liz Sidoti

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  War and politics.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, in for Chris Matthews here in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Reselling the war.  Military officials are pushing to minimize the expectations for a planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan next summer, but polls show voters are turning against this war in a hurry.  So what does this mean? 

The clock is ticking for President Obama to reframe the war in Afghanistan, our goals there and what success looks like.  Tonight, we‘ll debate the president‘s counterinsurgency strategy and whether the mission in Afghanistan, as defined right now, is worth the blood and treasure.

And on our other war front, the commander of American forces in Iraq, General Odierno, said, quote, “it is still yet to be determined,” unquote, if that war was worth the sacrifice, a stunning statement from a top general no less, and a top general in that war.

We‘ll also take a closer look at what happened to pro-football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman.  He was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2004, and a new documentary chronicles his parents‘ fight to uncover the truth about what really happened.  Pat Tillman‘s mother will be here tonight.

Also, we‘ll get into how the fight over the 14th Amendment is playing on the campaign trail.  And we‘re going to find out how labor can guarantee its own supporters to vote Democrat this November.

But let‘s start with the mission in Afghanistan and the selling of this war.  NBC‘s David Gregory asked General Petraeus about the looming withdrawal deadline next summer.  Here‘s what the general said in an interview to be broadcast in full on “MEET THE PRESS” this Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  How stifling is the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you‘re trying to do here?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN:  Well, I don‘t find it that stifling.  I‘m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there.  In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden‘s been very clear, as well, more recently that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions-based.  And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Dan Senor served as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.  He‘s now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  And former congressman Tom Andrews is the national director of Win Without War.

Congressman, let me start with you.  The July 2011 deadline—when the president announced that deadline, what did it mean to you?  How did you interpret it?

TOM ANDREWS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN, WIN WITHOUT WAR:  Well, he said very clearly at West Point, I do not want an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan.  I‘m not into nation building around the world.  The nation I want to build is here in the United States.  So he said, We‘re going to set firm and clear parameters around the U.S. commitment.

But now, of course, we‘re learning that that commitment is not only soft, but how can you have, really, a conditions-based timeframe for withdrawal?  It‘s either conditions-based or we‘ve got a timeframe for withdrawal.  It can be the—it can‘t be one and the same.  And Senator Graham made a speech on the floor of the Senate—

TODD:  Right.

ANDREWS:  -- Look, you‘re trying to have it both ways politically—

TODD:  And you agree with him.

ANDREWS:  I think he‘s right.  I think he‘s right.

TODD:  Dan Senor, I want to go to what General Petraeus just said to David Gregory.  And we‘re going to have a lot more of that interview, of course, this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS.”  But it was interesting—he really seemed to say, Look, this deadline is exactly—I‘m interpreting it as conditions-based, and it could mean we‘re barely withdrawing anybody at that moment in time.  Is that how you heard General Petraeus?

DAN SENIOR, FMR. ADV., COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY, IRAQ:  Yes, that‘s how I heard General Petraeus and it‘s actually how I heard a number of administration officials around the time that President Obama announced the surge, announced the new strategy at West Point, where you had a situation where he was talking about this deadline, and then some of his surrogates, some of the administration officials, were conveying to allies, our allies who we‘re asking to stick it out with us in Afghanistan, Don‘t worry, it‘s conditions-based.  We‘ll be there for a while.

But to the president‘s base, the left-wing base of the Democratic Party, and to members of Congress, he was conveying that the deadline was firm.  And I—as much as I agree with the policy and as much as I agree with General Petraeus that it should be conditions-based and there probably won‘t be a dramatic troop reduction in 2011 --

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  -- I do think there has been some mixed messages here.

TODD:  I want to go to a poll number from our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  We asked specifically about whether they had confidence that the war in Afghanistan will come to a successful conclusion.  Only 23 percent were more confident, 68 percent were less confident.  And this was across the board.  This was 60 -- you know, 71 percent.  I think it was actually Democrats had a little more confidence.

So Dan, I want to start with you.  It was over 70 percent of Republicans were less confident.  I—do you think we will see a legitimate, say, “end the war” candidate—I won‘t say necessarily an anti-war candidate—an “end the war” candidate in the Republican presidential primaries in 2012?

SENOR:  You know, Chuck, you‘re zeroing in on a very important question, and it‘s one of the things I stay awake late at night worrying about.  If you look at—before we even get to 2012, if you look at some of the Republicans that are going to be coming in in 2010 --

TODD:  Right.  They‘re not very supportive of the war.

SENOR:  -- what are they concerned about?  One, many of them characterize Afghanistan as “Obama‘s war.”  Two, they‘re very worried about out-of-control spending, and Afghanistan seems to be a line item in their mind that can be cut way back.

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  And three, when President Bush was making the case for the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war, he framed the debate about the war, about a battle between good and evil, in certain ways that really resonated with the conservative base of the Republican Party.  President Obama doesn‘t talk about Afghanistan that way.  And that may be fine.  That may be not the skin in which he‘s comfortable.

TODD:  Sure.

SENOR:  But he doesn‘t talk about it in that way.  So he doesn‘t get that resonance from Republicans, A.

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  B, he doesn‘t really talk much about it at all!  So there‘s no one actually constantly maintaining the narrative about why this war‘s important and what the stakes are.

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  So I am very worried about—leave 2012 aside.  I‘m worried about what the next Congress is going to look like—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Congressman, what about this for President Obama‘s own politics in his own party?

ANDREWS:  Well, just look at what‘s happening.  The Congress, of course—

TODD:  Right.

ANDREWS:  -- in the supplemental appropriation (INAUDIBLE) 102 members voted against the president getting the money and not a single—

TODD:  Right, about 40 percent of Democratic members.

ANDREWS:  Exactly.  But interestingly enough, not a single member of Democratic leadership took to the floor to support the president‘s policy.

TODD:  No.

ANDREWS:  Not a single one.  And I think, you know, frankly, they‘re out there on the hustings.  They‘re hearing this.  The economy is on its heels, 9.5 percent unemployment, and we‘re nation building halfway around the world.  Now, that‘s never been an easy sell for a member of Congress at a town hall meeting.

TODD:  Even at—even when the economy (INAUDIBLE)

ANDREWS:  Even in the best of times.

TODD:  Right.

ANDREWS:  But $100 billion before we even start spending the interest payments to prop up the most—one of the most corrupt governments on the planet?  Not an easy sell on the campaign trail.

TODD:  You know, I‘m going to need to go to another part of this.  And Dan, I want to ask you about General Odierno‘s comments to our own Richard Engel about the war in Iraq.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  After seven-and-a-half years, do you think that this war was worth it, that it achieved results?  And why?

GEN. RAY ODIERNO, CMDR., U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ:  I would say—my answer to that question is it‘s still yet to be determined.  It‘s important to have an independent, strong Iraq who can stand up for itself.  And I think if we have that and they can be—contribute to stability in the Middle East, it will bring better stability here.  It‘ll improve security for the United States over the long term.

ENGEL:  But it‘s still an open question because—

ODIERNO:  It is.

ENGEL:  If we don‘t get it right—

ODIERNO:  It is.

ENGEL:  -- then it‘s—then it was not worth it.

ODIERNO:  Yes.  The result we‘ll know in three to five years is my—what I‘ve always said.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD:  Dan, you were on the front lines of the provisional government there at the time early on in this Iraq war, when it was incredibly unpopular.  What do you make of the top general saying still yet to be determined?  Do you agree with him?

SENOR:  Well, here‘s what I think.  I think that it was—going into Iraq was a necessary part of our overall strategy, war on terrorism strategy post-9/11.  It wasn‘t sufficient.  It wasn‘t in and of itself going to be the silver bullet.  But I don‘t think you could have had Saddam Hussein in power with or without weapons of mass destruction, I might add.  I just don‘t think Saddam Hussein—the forces that he backed, the terrorist organizations that he backed, his ambitions for weapons of mass destruction—even if he didn‘t have the weapons in place, he had programs that were—that had been active—I think it would—he would have been very much a destabilizing force in Iraq.

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  So whatever—whatever we have right now—

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  -- as dysfunctional as it is—and I‘m immensely frustrated with what—

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  -- is going on there now—it certainly is a more constructive force for us—

TODD:  Right.

SENOR:  -- in the region than what existed.

TODD:  Look, Congressman, very quickly, is the fact that we‘re not sure if the war in Iraq—if we have a general saying that—does that make it that much harder for the president to sell the country on the war in Afghanistan?

ANDREWS:  I think it does.  And Ray Odierno is at least being honest in questioning whether it was worth it.  Listen, it was a complete, unmitigated disaster.  It was based upon a lie.

TODD:  Well—

ANDREWS:  The consequences have been—

TODD:  I don‘t want to restart this debate, but—

ANDREWS:  Well—

TODD:  -- I hear you.

ANDREWS:  But just listen.

TODD:  I know what you mean.

ANDREWS:  How many Americans across this country, if they could roll back the clock, would want us to go in and invade Iraq?

TODD:  And that‘s—there you go.  All right, Dan Senor and Tom Andrews, thank you both very much.

Coming up, football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman.  He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.  Six years later, there are a ton of questions and not very many answers.  When we return, we‘re going to talk to Pat Tillman‘s mother about what happened.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Oh, your favorite long-shot South Carolina Senate candidate, Alvin Greene, has been indicated on two charges, including a felony charge of showing pornography to a college student.  The indictment stems from an arrest last November, when police say Greene approached a student at a University of South Carolina computer lab and showed her obscene photos on line.  Greene, of course, shocked the political world back in June by winning the Democratic primary.  He faces Senator Jim DeMint in the fall.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right, Welcome back to HARDBALL.  There‘s a new documentary out next Friday about the 2004 death of professional football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.  Here‘s a clip from that film.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The reporter received an anonymous leak.  It was a copy of a top secret internal communique known as a P4 memo, sent just seven days after Pat‘s death and a full month before the family learned of the fratricide.

TODD:  The P4 memo states they must warn the president about this because they‘ll be giving speeches and that they shouldn‘t be embarrassed if—if—the circumstances of Pat‘s death become public.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He set aside a career in athletics and—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The warning seemed to work.  In a speech given two days before the memorial service, the president avoided the very details of Pat‘s death that his speech writers requested.

TODD:  It‘s, like, our suspicions in the beginning were very much validated by that P4 memo.  These generals had plenty of time to make sure that we, as a family, were told the truth, but they chose not to tell us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The P4 memo clearly showed that while America was being told the valorous account of Pat‘s death, the entire chain of command not only knew it was a lie, but were urgently concerned about the implications should the truth get out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  So today, more than six years after his death, are there more answers or more questions about what happened?  We‘re joined now by Pat Tillman‘s mother, Mary.  She joins us from San Jose, California.

So I got to ask you this simple question.  Do you know how your son was killed in Afghanistan?

MARY TILLMAN, MOTHER OF PAT M. TILLMAN:  Not really.  I mean, we have

we have several stories, several versions.  We—there‘s several scenarios that we can imagine.  But no, we don‘t know exactly what happened to him.

TODD:  Why do you think you don‘t have the real story?  You think he was a political pawn?

M. TILLMAN:  Well, I think he was used for propaganda purposes.  And I think that that‘s, you know, kind of a frightening, frightening thing to use a soldier and lie about his death to the family and to the country to promote, you know, patriotic feeling about a war.  I think that that‘s outrageous.

TODD:  Well, here‘s more from the film, which has to do with how the military was trying to push for a specific tone of his funeral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Today, three men from Ft. Lewis walk slowly to the house to tell his wife, Marie, they care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In fact, the casualty assistance officers were there to compel Marie to sign off on a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They were sort of pushing for a military funeral, which was not what his wishes were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  During basic training, Pat had a premonition that if he died, he might be used as a public relations stunt.  So he‘d smuggled copy of his final wishes home to Marie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I really had to kind of push back on them.  They were just sort of proceeding as if this was the way things were going to happen, probably thinking that, you know, I was so grief-stricken that I wouldn‘t—that I would just go along with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the first episode, in a way, before Pat‘s body is even cold, the death didn‘t just belong the family, that this is bigger than the family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  So in his own handwriting, he said, I do not want a military funeral.  And he was asked specifically about being buried at Arlington.

M. TILLMAN:  Right.  Yes.  All the soldiers are supposed to plan for their—you know, their funerals—

TODD:  Right.

M. TILLMAN:  -- and you know, what they wish.  And his wishes were to not have a military funeral.  He didn‘t consider himself—you know—you know, that wasn‘t his identity.  And so that‘s not what he chose.

TODD:  Look, you‘ve spent a lot of time on this, trying to figure out what happened.  In the best way that you can explain, what do you believe happened?  What do you think happened on the battlefield to your son?  And what do you think happened behind the scenes at the Pentagon, at the White House, from what you understand after all of this research that you‘ve done?

M. TILLMAN:  Well, first of all, I think it needs to be clear to everyone that there was really no criminal investigation after Pat‘s death.  It was a fratricide.  You know, the medical examiner in Maryland was told before Pat‘s body arrived that it was—that he was killed in an ambush.  And the medical examiner was suspicious as soon as he saw the wounds.  He did not believe that Pat was killed by the enemy because he said, You can‘t shoot that accurately with an AK-47.

So he was suspicious at that point, and he asked for a criminal investigation.  And the adjutant general refused, saying that, you know, they were satisfied with the information that they had.  So there really was no criminal investigation, so it‘s hard to say what happened.  All the evidence was destroyed.  His uniform was destroyed.  They even tried to (INAUDIBLE) burn the Kevlar vest, which, you know, could not be burned.  But they did try.

And evidence is—you know, this is evidence in a fratricide situation, in a homicide situation.

TODD:  Sure.

M. TILLMAN:  You know, Rumsfeld himself had sent a memo in December of 2003 that—

TODD:  The defense secretary at the time, right.

M. TILLMAN:  Absolutely—that he—you know, that the uniforms and equipment of the fallen soldier should go back to Maryland, back to the medical examiner, especially in cases of suspected homicide, fratricide or suicide.

So the fact that they destroyed this evidence is very disturbing, and the fact that the medical examiner asked for a criminal investigation and it was turned down—that‘s very upsetting.

So we really don‘t know exactly what happened to him.  But we do know that the soldiers that were in this canyon were being shot at by—it was a kind of an arrasting (ph) ambush, from what they can understand.  And I believe once these soldiers in this first vehicle got out of that canyon—

TODD:  Right.

M. TILLMAN:  -- they were no longer afraid and they were no longer frightened.  I think they were simply excited and they wanted to be in a firefight and they wanted to shoot.  And they shot up that ridgeline.  They could have potentially killed all of the soldiers on the ridgeline—

TODD:  Right.

M. TILLMAN:  -- along with civilians. 

So I think it was probably a lust to fight, absolutely pure negligence, and no one in that situation was ever held accountable. 

TODD:  Have you spoken with any of the other soldiers that were with your son that day? 

M. TILLMAN:  Yes, I have.  And they all are appalled.  In fact, there are statements in the—in some of the investigations, these soldiers, the vehicle behind this particular vehicle that shot at Pat and the others, they were shooting so irresponsibly and so wildly, they nearly shot the soldiers in the vehicle behind them. 

And one of the soldiers that was shot, he was the radio operator.  He was wounded, seriously wounded.  And he saw them shooting at him.  And he tried to, you know, get them to stop by waving his arms and, you know, to no avail. 

And after he was taken to the hospital, he was—there were armed guards put around him so he wouldn‘t talk.  Because he saw that he was shot at by his own men. 

TODD:  More of my interview with Mary Tillman after this, including her thoughts on John McCain and General Stanley McChrystal.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  And we‘re back.  More now with my interview Mary Tillman, mother of Pat Tillman, and the author of the book “Boots on the Ground by Dusk: Searching for Answers in the Death of Pat Tillman.” And here‘s another clip from the new documentary about Pat‘s death, and it has to do with a letter that Pat‘s father sent to the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)  

PAT TILLMAN SR., FATHER OF PAT TILLMAN:  It was my understanding at the time that this investigation is over.  That this has been closed, they are not going to give me the truth.  It‘s a done deal.  And that being said, there‘s not much I can do to force the issue. 

So I wrote him a letter.  I just went through and blew out just about everything they considered to be a fact, and explained to them why that is a lie, and concluded by telling them that I have low regard for them.  I just wanted to tell somebody off. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Unbeknownst to Pat Senior, the Army considered the wording of his letter to be a formal accusation of criminal misconduct.  This automatically initiated a new investigation by the inspector general‘s office. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thank all of you for being here today. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  What‘s the next step of an investigation that you would like to see?  Do you want to see Congress step in again?  I know you have testified before on Capitol Hill.  I know that Senator John McCain tried to get something more done.  What more do you want to see done today? 

M. TILLMAN:  Well, you know, Senator McCain helped us in the early stages of all of this.  And we appreciated that.  But once it became clear that the chain of command was very much involved in the cover-up, and that this cover-up went a lot higher than anyone expected, you know, we didn‘t hear much from Senator McCain. 

I don‘t have a lot of regard for Congress, either faction.  I mean, there were some brave people, of course, on that Oversight Committee.  Harry Davis (ph), I mean, he really stepped up to the plate.  You know, and I think the committee had good intentions.  But for whatever reason, they chose not to hold these individuals accountable. 

And I think the fact that they went—they had our hearing and then they went and had a hearing with, you know, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, you know, retired General Abizaid, Brown, and Myers, I thought that was a mistake. 

I think they should have gone, you know, down—you know, gone from the bottom up, so to speak, to get more information on them.  And they were allowed to lie.  I mean, 82 times or something they all said collectively, I don‘t remember, I don‘t recall.  I mean, this is a soldier that died and Rumsfeld sent him a letter when he enlisted, you know, congratulating him for enlisting. 

And then he wrote a memo to the secretary of the army saying that we need to keep an eye on this guy.  And the idea that he wouldn‘t remember when he was killed by fratricide is absolutely not believable. 

TODD:  I know General McChrystal, who was the general that was leading the war effort in Afghanistan just recently until he was fired by President Obama, was also the general that signed off on the incident report. 

And I know that you‘ve had some strong feelings about General McChrystal.  Just, describe what you thought the day that you found out he got fired. 

M. TILLMAN:  Well, I mean, you know, it wasn‘t joyous.  I mean, it was sort of like, sad, really.  I mean, here‘s a man who—you know, he definitely—it‘s interesting, because a lot of people look at that P4 memo and they—all they see is, oh, he was just trying to warn the president. 

Well, no, if you look at that memo very carefully—and of course we have seen the documents.  The higher-ups knew Pat was killed—or suspected it was a fratricide right away.  So this memo is just language that is being couched.  He‘s telling them, yes, Pat was definitely killed by friendly fire, and you need to be careful about what you say if the circumstances become public.  He didn‘t say when they become public.  He said if. 

And you‘re supposed to tell a family if you suspect fratricide.  I mean, that‘s a protocol that‘s in the books and has been since Vietnam.  You don‘t have an investigation and then tell the family.  You tell the family if you suspect it.  And they did not do that. 

And they could have told us before the memorial service, which was on May 3rd.  That memo was sent on April 29th.  So, you know, it‘s ludicrous that—you know, that these individuals did not know and they chose not to tell us to protect us. 

TODD:  One of the things I‘ve heard from you before, I‘ve read quotes from you about this, and I know one of the motivations that you had in cooperating with this documentary is that you want people to know who the real Pat Tillman was.  Tell us, who is the real Pat Tillman that you think America didn‘t know? 

M. TILLMAN:  Well, I mean, Pat was a complicated person.  You know, he was made to look like a caricature of some sort.  You know, he was a patriotic person, absolutely.  But patriotism takes many forms.  And he was very inquisitive.  He questioned, you know—you know, people put these labels on him.  Oh, he loved Chomsky and he did—you know. 

I mean, he liked to read Chomsky.  He liked to read a lot of people.  He had respect for someone as courageous as Chomsky.  You know, but people are putting labels on him that don‘t necessarily—you know, that are not necessarily true. 

And I think that that‘s really unfortunate.  But I want to make it clear also that another motivation and probably a bigger motivation for the film was the fact that Pat is not alone in this situation.  He had a public persona that gave us a voice that we feel we would be negligent not to exercise. 

And, you know, this type of deception and duplicity goes on all the time.  And it‘s a systemic problem.  And I think that this film is powerful because it points that out.  And I also think that, you know, I—we released the book that I wrote because I think that it has details in there that the film could not possibly address, and I‘m hoping that people will take a look at it. 

Because this could be someone else‘s child. 

TODD:  All right.  Mary Tillman, thank you for joining us from San Jose, California.  It‘s a very powerful documentary.  And it comes out next Friday.  Thank you. 

M. TILLMAN:  Thank you for having me. 

TODD:  Up next, the head of the AFL-CIO is on the offensive.  Can big labor be the difference this November for the Democrats?  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joins us next.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How much help can Democratic candidates expect from unions this November?  And how much can they deliver?  Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO.  He‘s out in California.  He has been campaigning on behalf of the Democratic ticket out there.  And he joins us now.

Mr. Trumka, I want to show you a few poll numbers from our poll.  And we split it out just among union households here, either union members or union households.  The approval rating for the president on handling of the economy, 48 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove. 

On which party would deal with the economic better, Republicans or Democrats, among union households, 34 percent say Democrats would do better, but 28 percent say Republicans would do better.  And the rest say either both, the same, or neither.  And then getting the country out of the recession, union members say Democrats 38 percent to 27 percent better. 

I guess my point to you is, these do not seem like confident numbers among union households about the Democrats or President Obama‘s handling of the economy.  Do you have your work cut out for you among your own members? 

RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO:  Well, I think we do.  I think the president has done a great job.  I think that the Democratic majority in the House and Senate has done a good job against a determined Republican leadership who has voted no on everything except two things.  They say, yes, they would give tax cuts to the rich, and, yes, they would cut benefits for Social Security. 

Our job is to go out and educate our members.  We just started the process.  Come election time, they‘ll be in the high 70s or 80 percent that will be voting for candidates that support workers, support jobs, and will help us get this economy back on track. 

TODD:  So your contention is simply your members don‘t have all of the information yet. 

TRUMKA:  Well, they‘ve been bombarded with misinformation and bad information.  When we give them the facts, which we do, I think you‘ll see us vote in the high 70s or 80 percent.  We‘ve been able to do it before.  We‘ll do it again this time around.

TODD:  I‘ve got to ask, Robert Gibbs, the spokesman for the president, talked about the quote-unquote “professional left” and sort of some of the criticism that the president has been receiving and that he thought it was unfair. 

He, of course, stood by it.  Let‘s take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This wasn‘t a mistake.  It was not something you said in error. 

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Right.  It was borne out of frustration.  But I don‘t think it was—again, I think it was borne out of frustration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Now, look, you were pretty tough on this administration during the argument over the public option, for instance, what did you make of Robert‘s comments, and did you take offense to them? 

TRUMKA:  I think people are frustrated.  They‘re frustrated because more is not being done.  Look, we have 15 million people that are unemployed.  We have another 10 million that are underemployed.  People want action.  They don‘t want excuses.  So they‘re frustrated.

I would imagine he is just as frustrated as well.  This president has done a lot of good things.  He has brought the economy back from the brink of a depression.  He has helped us rein in Wall Street.  He has helped us do something with health care.  He has done a lot of good things that have to get out.  And you‘ll see that happening very soon. 

TODD:  What is it about the fact that you feel as if there‘s—always seems to be this 30 to 40 percent of the labor movement that isn‘t necessarily ready to vote Democratic these days?  Where do you think this message disconnect has been over the last few years?

TRUMKA:  Well, with labor, it‘s like everybody else.  We are part of America.  We have members that are Republicans.  We have members that are independent.  We have members that are Democrat.  We are bipartisan.  We try to support people that support working people. 

Unfortunately, over the last several years, the last decade or so, fewer and fewer Republicans have been willing to step up and support working people.  They want to support the rich.  They want to support corporate America. 

And so we give them the facts.  And they vote, I think, in their own best interest.  And that‘s what you‘ll see.  If you have two candidates running, that one supports workers and one doesn‘t.  They‘ll support the candidate that supports workers. 

TODD:  Very quickly, if by the end of the year you do not get a vote on the Employee Free Choice Act, will that tell you that you feel like you‘ve wasted your support on this Democratic Congress?        

TRUMKA:  Of course not.  This Democratic Congress has done a tremendous job.  They brought us back from the brink of the depression that was given to them.  We have health care.  We have reined in—

TODD:  So, if you don‘t get a vote, you‘ll be upset?

TRUMKA:  We have jobs bill.  We have jobs bill.

TODD:  Right.

TRUMKA:  We think we‘re going to get a vote.

TODD: You do think you‘re going to get a vote even if it happens in the lame-duck?

TRUMKA:  Yes, we do.

TODD:  OK.  Richard Trumka—

TRUMKA:  It doesn‘t matter when we get it, as long as we get it.

TODD:  All right.  Richard Trumka, on the campaign trail for folks out in California, thanks very much for joining me.

All right.  The host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent -- 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  A good

friend.

TODD:  -- and my good friend and colleague, Andrea Mitchell is here.

Let‘s just try to step back a little bit.  I want to start with the Robert Gibbs comment for this reason.  It‘s as if he was expressing a frustration and an exhaustion of this whole White House.  Put it in perspective of when you‘ve seen some other White House almost lash out at some of their own supporters.

MITCHELL:  They have in the past, and I think Robert probably is tired and frustrated.  I think the velocity with the blogosphere and with Twitter and all the other new forms of social media and of attack media—I think it‘s just that much more intrusive and more percussive.  And it‘s tougher on this crowd than it‘s been on any previous president and his staff.  And they haven‘t had a break.

TODD:  And was it they—I mean, are we at a moment that they need—do they need to bring some fresh bodies?  That they need to bring in some fresher faces?  Are we at that moment yet or do they need to stick it out, take a—take a week or so off and get back to work?

MITCHELL:  I don‘t think it‘s that moment.  I don‘t sense that this is like when I was first covering Jimmy Carter and he called everybody up to Camp David and we know how well that worked.

TODD:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  The word melees became part of the political vernacular, even though it was never said, and never stated any of his speeches.  But that‘s the way it was reported.

I think they probably need some rest.  And this has been a very tough summer.  Look at what‘s happened this summer with the BP oil spill and two wars, and the fact that they are looking forward to the handoff in Iraq.  But they had to face the “Rolling Stone” explosion and the command change in Afghanistan.  There has been no rest.

TODD:  All right.  You brought up the command change.  You saw this, frankly, cratering of support for the war in Afghanistan—

MITCHELL:  Right.

TODD:  -- in our poll.  He really, politically, only has a year to show—maybe only three months to show progress.  Is that what you would say?

MITCHELL:  They‘ve got to do something before this December review. 

Now, the December review has become so much more important.

And what General Petraeus is clearly doing in his interview with David

Gregory on “Meet the Press,” and we‘ll see the whole interview on Sunday is

he‘s asking for time.  And he‘s got political space because there‘s no president and no political—no Congress in either party that are going to go up against David Petraeus.

           

TODD:  Well, especially, he fired—the president has already fired two generals.  It would be tough to fire a third general, let alone one named General David Petraeus.

All right.  Andrea Mitchell, host of “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS,” we‘ll see you Monday.  Have a good weekend.

MITCHELL:  You, too.

TODD:  Coming up, the Nevada Senate race takes another ugly turn as Harry Reid still can‘t shake Sharron Angle.  We‘re going to get into that and some of the other hot Senate fights we‘re watching.  Plus, the battle over the 14th Amendment and whether Republicans will lose the Latino voters for decades to come.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right.  It‘s Friday.  So, it‘s hazing time by my producers.  They‘re making me show you this.  Jon Stewart decided to use me as the butt of the joke on how the media covers the primaries.  He had a point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, TV HOST:  I need a theme or I can‘t follow this crap.  I got to be honest.  I‘m freaking out.  Chuck Todd, I gave you my beard.  Give me my theme.

TODD:  The one thing we learned is that the candidates that got the most votes won their primaries last night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So deep.

TODD:  I mean, no, my point is that that like there was no (INAUDIBLE).  There was no big theme.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  There you go.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  And we are back.

Harry Reid once looked like a goner in Nevada.  But now, it‘s a different story and another new “Las Vegas Review Journal” poll shows Senate majority leader hanging in there.  He‘s leading Republican Sharron Angle by just two points.

Jon Ralston is a columnist for the “Las Vegas Sun.”  He‘s host of “Face-to-Face with Jon Ralston” and a big tweeter as well.

Liz Sidoti covers politics for the “Associated Press.”

Both, welcome.

Let me start with the man with a goatee.  I might as well start with you, Jon.  Look, I want to show the two ads.  Harry Reid going after Sharron Angle, and Sharron Angle having to respond.

First, here‘s the new ad from Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL AMES, PRESIDENT, PEACE OFFICERS RESEARCH ASSOCIATION OF NEVADA: 

I‘ve been in Nevada law enforcement for 17 years.  Carrying a gun isn‘t just a part of my job, it‘s a constitutional right that I believe in.  But Sharron Angle goes way over the line when she keeps saying—

SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking towards those Second Amendment remedies.

AMES:  It‘s crazy.  But what she‘s actually talking about is armed resistance.

Look, I‘m a member of the NRA and a Republican.  But that kind of talk is dangerous and way too extreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, Jon, I have to stop there.  We‘ll go to Sharron Angle‘s ads in a moment.  But Harry Reid clearly has decided there‘s not a lot of positive he can say.  He has got to go ultra-negative.

JON RALSTON, LAS VEGAS SUN:  Yes, there‘s not going to be any more positive ads in the race, Chuck.  And you saw that carefully scripted move by the Reid campaign—crazy, extreme, dangerous.

TODD:  Extreme, yes.

RALSTON:  That‘s what they have—yes, that what they have to do to Sharron Angle.  They have to make her into this—you may not like me.  I may have been around too long.  You may think I don‘t have much charisma and say some crazy stuff.  But this woman is really dangerous, extreme, even crazy.

TODD:  I want to bring this nationally, Liz.  We‘re seeing a lot of Democrats use August not to beef up their positives, but to try to raise the negatives of the opponents, try to take advantage of this financial advantage that we know Democrats have race by race.

It‘s about the only card they have to play at this point?

LIZ SIDOTI, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Well, sure, because their unfavorables are very, very high in the Democratic side, and particularly Harry Reid.  I mean, Harry Reid He knows that this is a referendum on him.

TODD:  Right.

SIDOTI:  He is well-known and fully dislike in that state.  And so, the only—the only game he has to play is to tear her down.  And he‘s going to do that.

TODD:  Sharron Angle feeling the heat, by the way, particularly on the issue of Social Security.  It‘s something that the Democrats want to talk about nationally, but Harry Reid began it.

Here‘s her defense on Social Security in a new ad.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGLE:  The real Social Security solutions are to stop Harry Reid from raiding the Social Security Trust Fund.  He needs that money for his own pet projects.  We have a contract with our seniors who have put into Social Security in good faith.  I‘d like to save Social Security by locking the lockbox, putting the money back into the trust fund so the government can no longer raid our retirement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Ah, the lockbox.  The good old days of the 2000 campaign.

Jon, what‘s interesting here is that she has this ad out, but then apparently, yesterday referred to favorably to a system that Chile uses that was a partially privatized system, now, it‘s somewhat public.  Is this a case where the ad makers are trying to fix her issue on Social Security and she hasn‘t gotten the memo yet?

RALSTON:  Well, you can‘t change who Sharron Angle is, Chuck.  And the real Sharron Angle was the one we saw in the primary, who came on my program and said, “I want to phase out Social Security.”  And I asked her, “Could it be fixed?”  And she said, “It can‘t be fixed.”  She said she wants to privatize it.  She said she wanted no government involvement whatsoever.

Then immediately after the primary, Reid started pounding her using her own words and suddenly, she was saying, “I want to personalize it.”  But that wasn‘t good enough.  So, finally, after weeks of hemorrhaging on this issue, right around the 100th birthday of Social Security, the Angle team comes up with this ad.

TODD:  Right.

RALSTON:  It‘s a pretty good ad, right?  It turns it around and says that Reid is a thief who‘s been stealing all the money—

TODD:  Right.

RALSTON:  -- from the Social Security Trust Fund for his own pet projects.  It‘s pretty clever.  But you used the right word—they‘re trying to fix what she said in the primary.

TODD:  And, Liz, this is a—this is now part of a national strategy by Democrats getting a ton of suddenly press releases and e-mails.  It‘s the 75th anniversary of Social Security.  Part of it, you know, it‘s going to be a topic the president is going to bring up this weekend.

I guess my question to you is, so, on our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, Democrats only had a four-point advantage on handling Social Security.  This issue of the deficit is making at least younger voters say, well, you‘ve got to have a discussion about Social Security, correct?

SIDOTI:  But this isn‘t about younger voters.

TODD:  Yes.

SIDOTI:  This is actually about older voters.

And if you look in Nevada, in particular, you got a lot of retirees.  Arizona, a lot of the these states.  This is all about—two things, one is the older voters.

And then, if you‘re Sharron Angle, it‘s not just fixing your position on Social Security, it‘s moderating your stance.  You know, you want to prove you‘re not extreme.  So, you‘re doing this, you know, on Social Security and then you‘re also canceling an appearance before a Tea Party Convention or a Tea Party gathering in Arizona down near the border.

TODD:  Right.

SIDOTI:  You know, this is all efforts by Washington handlers to moderate her.

TODD:  All right.  Well, we‘re going to be right back with Jon Ralston and Liz Sidoti.  We‘re going to talk about another important demographic group in Nevada: Latinos.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(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 Senator Reid and his typical blunt fashion this week.

We are back with Jon Ralston of the “Las Vegas Sun” and the “AP‘s” Liz Sidoti.

Reid‘s remark prompted this reaction from Marco Rubio, a Hispanic American.  Let‘s take a 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 of people to leave their children better off than themselves.  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.  Jon Ralston, it was clear—look, Harry Reid and Marco Rubio are talking past each other, right?  Marco Rubio wants to talk about the economy and claim that‘s what Hispanics are talking about first, and Harry Reid is clearly referring to the immigration debate, in particular, at that point, it was the 14th Amendment debate and birth right citizenship.

What can you tell me about what Hispanics in Nevada care the most about right now?

RALSTON:  Well, they care about the economy, and that‘s the real problem for Harry Reid—and as Liz mentioned, you know, this is a problem for Democrats all around the country.  On the other hand, Sharron Angle‘s positions on the 14th Amendment, her use of the term “anchor baby,” her support for the Arizona law, has turned a lot of the Hispanics off.

Now, what‘s really ironic, of course, Chuck, about his comments—about Reid‘s comments—is his son is running for governor against who?

TODD:  A Hispanic.

RALSTON:  A Hispanic Republican by the name of Brian Sandoval.  And that Hispanic Republican, by the way, is someone that Harry Reid saw was appointed to the federal bench a few years ago.  Why?  Because Harry Reid didn‘t want a Hispanic Republican running against him.  So, this all becomes circular in Nevada.

But Marco Rubio is making the argument that really is damaging for someone like Harry Reid with a certain percentage of Hispanic voters.

TODD:  Right.

RALSTON:  But I don‘t think in the long run this issue is about Reid being hurt with Hispanics as much as the reinforcement of him being—you used the term blunt, which I thought was kind—him being a little clumsy and inartful in how he phrases things.

TODD:  Right.

Well, Liz, this issue of the 14th Amendment coming up and sort of the rhetoric from conservatives to—on the issue of immigration, Democrats think they have a wedge here.  Is there any evidence yet?

SIDOTI:  No, immigration is a minefield for both parties and, you know, neither one of them want to be talking about this issue.  But Republicans, in primaries think, they actually are making some headway in being very hard line on immigration.  In general election, it‘s going to come back and bite them.

TODD:  One wonders when John McCain‘s primary is over what the rhetoric will be like between Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl and John McCain.

Anyway, Jon Ralston and Liz Sidoti, I had to take the last word.  I know.  That was—

SIDOTI:  Normal.

TODD:  Hey, I‘m the one hosting.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

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

           

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