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updated 11/15/2010 9:41:39 AM ET 2010-11-15T14:41:39

Guests: Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, Ed Rendell, Gerald Blaine, Clint

Hill, Barbara Lee, Marcy Kaptur

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Rush Limbaugh‘s pirate radio.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Road kill.  Rush Limbaugh has committed another hit and run.  If you caught him on the radio yesterday, you heard him once more use race as a crowd pleaser, deriding Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leader James Clyburn, saying that the Democrats are racist, that Clyburn‘s getting bumped down from the leadership to the job of Pelosi‘s driver.  “Driving miss Nancy,” he calls it.  Question for the country.  With all this stuff Rush has to throw at the Democrats, the bad economy and all of it, why does he keep going back to race?

Plus, the threat from the left.  If President Obama accepts tax cuts for the rich and the deficit commission‘s recommendations, will he face a challenger for renomination?  Will the progressives mount a candidate against him?

And a new poll shows the president‘s dropped an average of 18 points in a half dozen states he carried in 2008.  We‘ll take a look at how tough 2012 could be for him.

Also, remember, November 22nd will mark the 47th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.  Everyone at that time remembers the Secret Service agent who jumped on the back of the president‘s car after he was shot.  And now he and another agent who was by JFK‘s side on that tragic day are breaking their silence on what happened.  They‘ll be here tonight.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with why it‘s time to end “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and time to let all Americans serve their country with pride and honesty.

Let‘s start with Rush Limbaugh‘s comments about Congressman Jim Clyburn.  Joining me are two of Clyburn‘s Democratic colleagues, Ohio congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and California congresswoman Barbara Lee.  Thank you both for joining us.

Let‘s listen to Rush Limbaugh, if you dare, of what he said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  The white racist leadership of the Democratic Party trying to ace out Clyburn!  Clyburn started to demand respect, and all hell seems to break loose in the Democrat Party.  Hey, I have a suggestion.  You know, I like to mediate these things.  I like to bring people together.  I like to unify people.  I don‘t like seeing this kind of strife.

Clyburn‘s worried about not having the car.  Clyburn‘s worried about not having the perk of a big office, a driver, so forth.  The way this can all be worked out, Clyburn‘s new position, driving miss Nancy.  He gets to keep the car.  He gets to go everywhere she goes, parties and everything else.  He‘s not in the back of the bus, he‘s in the driver‘s seat, and she‘s in the back of the car being chauffeured.  Solved problem!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me start with Congresswoman Lee on this.  You know, I wonder if people—well, I don‘t have to wonder anymore, they still think like this.  And one of them‘s on the radio.  His name‘s Rush Limbaugh.  The imagery there—back of the bus, “Driving Miss Daisy,” pretending that Jim Clyburn‘s Morgan Freeman, the whole number here—what do you make of it?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA:  First, as my mother would say, consider the source.  I don‘t believe this is the attitude of the majority of Americans.  But clearly, we‘ve come a long way in terms of racial healing, but we have a long way to go and there are still people who believe as Mr. Limbaugh believes.

But you know, I don‘t think that‘s what‘s important.  I think what‘s important is that we have to move forward, have a dialogue about race and just really consider the source.  Nothing‘s going to change Rush Limbaugh and what he says.  He has to act responsibly.  He hasn‘t.  He should.  But I don‘t think that he is.  And so we have to move forward.

I think what‘s important, Chris, is to look at this race and look at the background and qualifications of Mr. Clyburn, his experience.  He comes to the leadership with a wealth of understanding of all of the issues that affect all Americans, north, south, east, west, urban, rural.  And so that‘s one of the reasons that myself and the Congressional Black Caucus...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

LEE:  ... are supporting Mr. Clyburn.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not going to let this opportunity pass, despite the high-mindedness of your comments right there.  Let‘s go right now and take a look at Rush Limbaugh‘s greatest hits and nastiest hits.  This is not a new subject for him.  And then we‘re going to get back to this leadership race here.  Here‘s Rush Limbaugh over the years and what he‘s had to say.  And let‘s listen so we can judge him and see the pattern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  We‘re witnessing racism all this week that led up to the inauguration.  We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president!

Obama is the greatest living example a reverse racist, and now he‘s appointed one—you getting this, AP? -- Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S.  Supreme Court.

What they don‘t know is that Obama‘s entire economic program is reparations!

That‘s exactly the same thing you can say about Obama.  He wouldn‘t have been voted president if he weren‘t black!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Kaptur, thank you for joining us, as well.  I want your view on this, and then we‘ll move on to the more high-minded subjects.  But I‘m not going to let this pass.  This guy has an audience out there, and he has tasted a victory, perhaps, in being able to once again—look at—well, there he is.  You‘re not missing this, this crazy performance here.

This issue of this fight—since there is an African-American involved and since there‘s a Caucasian American, to use that term, involved, Steny Hoyer, Jim—he has seen an opportunity to once again see it all in terms of race.  Is that the issue, or is it the issue of how the Democrats deal with the fact they lost an election, they‘ve got to reassemble a leadership team and somehow find the best possible way to represent themselves to the world?

REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO:  Well, first of all, Chris, let me just say that if Mr. Clyburn has his hands on the steering wheel, I can guarantee you it‘s a firm grip and that car is headed in the right direction.  And I just wish that Mr. Limbaugh would use more of his power to make sure that American cars get into the Korean market and the Japanese market and the Chinese market and the European market so we can start creating more jobs in this country.  I know Mr. Clyburn would drive the car in that direction.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, let me go back to this question of the leadership fight.  I want to find out about this—Congresswoman Kaptur you have asked for a delay.  You‘ve circulated a petition.  Now, what happened is the Democrats lost the speakership.  That means Ms. Pelosi‘s lost the speakership, means she goes down to the level—she‘d like to—as Democratic minority leader, leader of the minority.  And that would mean that Steny Hoyer goes back to number two and that James Clyburn from South Carolina moves down to number three position.

Now, the question is, it‘s not that neat, and you want to have a further examination of this before you vote, is that right?  You want to look at—you want more time on this to think about it.

KAPTUR:  Yes.  Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon and I are circulating a letter, asking members to sign on—and we‘re doing very well, we just started to two days ago—saying that we really need to assess what‘s happened, listen to our members as they return from all regions of the country.  We don‘t need to have leadership elections immediately.  They‘re all running for these different offices.

The real question is, what can our party do now to help to move this country in a positive direction, to change the economic practices that have just been hemorrhaging jobs from coast to coast.  The president‘s original advisers, I think, were ill-advised.  He‘s gotten rid of a couple of them, thank goodness.  And I think it‘s really incumbent upon the Democrats that remain to help correct the ship of state.

This election was about the economy.  Byron Dorgan‘s book, “Take This Job and Ship It”—I have constituents giving me this book, talking about what‘s happened to their jobs.  I think it‘s the responsibility of the Democratic caucus to put forward an economic program, and to do it as members of the House, not because somebody in the economic office at the White House wants something, but because we, as the Congress, stand up for the American people.  That‘s what this election was about.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Lee...

KAPTUR:  And by the way...

MATTHEWS:  ... it seems to me there‘s a differential between the...

KAPTUR:  ... if I might just mention...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KAPTUR:  I was just going to say, if I might just mention, I look forward to alliances with some of the Tea Party Republicans that have just been elected because when NAFTA passed in 1993, we only had a 12-vote margin that would have made the difference.  And look at the terrible hemorrhage of jobs that occurred because of that.  I‘ll tell you, I think that there‘s a real Democratic/Tea Party Republican alliance to be born in this new Congress.  And if it doesn‘t happen, the people who don‘t support jobs in this country won‘t be reelected two years from now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Congresswoman Lee on that question.  It seems to me there‘s a divide in the Democratic Party, in the country, between the coasts, the California coast out west, Washington state, back east, New York, the sort of the—we might call them the port cities, the coasts.  They‘re better off economically.  They‘re doing well in the Democratic Party, by the way.  The Democratic Party did great in New York state.  They won all the Senate races for both Senate seats.  They did great in Massachusetts again with Deval Patrick and all the members of the House getting reelected.

You get into the middle of the country, starting in Pennsylvania and all the way across the Midwest, the industrial part of the country, the Democrats got wiped out.  Marcy Kaptur just spoke for them.  She is concerned that the Democratic Party, as currently put together, is not in a position to win the hearts and minds and keep the jobs and win the jobs of the people of the middle of the country.

You‘re out there in Berkeley on the West Coast.  Do you think you can speak for the people in the middle of the country?  Isn‘t this a problem, that Nancy Pelosi‘s from San Francisco?  She doesn‘t understand the problems of the middle of the country.  Is that a decent argument or not?

LEE:  That‘s not a decent argument, Chris, because when you look at the unemployment rates in California, in New York, throughout the country, when you look at unemployment rates in communities of color, for example, in the African-American and Latin community, double digits, twice the unemployment rates of the national average.  When you look at what has taken place throughout the country, the issue is jobs.  The issue is economic recovery.  We have unemployment rates out here again that are off the scale.

And so we have to come together as Democrats and continue to work on our job strategies.  And I‘m going to tell you, Chris, we sought single-handedly—and I think Marcy will confirm this—how the Republicans at each and every stage of the game in the last couple of years have...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you don‘t have a two-party system in Berkeley. 

You don‘t have...

LEE:  No.  No, no, no.  I‘m talking...

MATTHEWS:  ... a two-party system in New York.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking politics.

LEE:  I‘m talking about in the Congress.  I‘m talking about...

MATTHEWS:  Well, but you say...

LEE:  ... how Democrats put forward an agenda for jobs and economic recovery...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

LEE:  ... how each and every step of the way, Republicans voted against that...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

LEE:  ... how we extended unemployment compensation.  Republicans even voted against that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The trouble is, you come from a one-party area of the country, Berkeley.  Nancy Pelosi comes from a one-party district.  New York state is now dominated, basically, by one-party districts.  California has all one-party districts, it seems to me.  Nobody ever has a general election fight out there anymore.  Everything‘s gerrymandered.  You get in the middle of the country, you have Democrats getting wiped out because they face general election opponents.  Congressman Lee, you don‘t have a general election opponent.  You don‘t know what it‘s like to face one.  Ms.  Kaptur here has to face one every two years.

The middle of the country faces challenges from the Tea Party, from the conservatives who are getting beat—or beating them because they‘re facing the issue of job loss.  Isn‘t that a different issue?  I want to let Ms. Kaptur get in here because it seems to me the Democratic Party has a real issue on its hands.  If you want to cede the whole middle part of the country and just hang onto the two coasts, cling to the left and the right coasts and the East Coast, it seems to me you‘re going to end up being a minority party for a long time.

My thoughts, Ms. Kaptur.  Now your thoughts, please.

KAPTUR:  Well, thank you very much.  The Great Lakes states, the Midwest, really doesn‘t have a foothold in the Democratic leadership in the House.  It‘s no secret that the Republican leader who will rise to Speaker now comes from the state of Ohio.  We have very competitive races out here.  In our own race, we were outspent 4 to 1 this time.  And if you look at all the adjoining states, Chris, that you have outlined, we are production platforms for the country in industry and agriculture.  There is an immunity to understanding this in Washington, D.C., where most people work for the government.

And in many of these communities—let‘s take Boston, for example.  You know, it‘s a finance center.  New York City‘s a finance center.  They trade in what we grow and make.  But they really don‘t have respect for the work that‘s done here.  We‘re ridden over.  We are flyover countries so often.  Not for Barbara Lee.  She understands this.  She‘s fought with us for jobs.

But I have to tell you, we have a problem inside of both parties in leadership positions relative to what it‘s going to take to restore jobs in this country.  And that‘s what the public was voting for this year...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

KAPTUR:  ... to get greater understanding.  They expect us to produce jobs.

MATTHEWS:  I want to (INAUDIBLE) Congresswoman Lee to respond.  Is there a problem of geography here, that is the middle part of the country‘s getting hollowed out economically, and the Democratic Party‘s getting hollowed out politically in the middle of the country.  I look—if you look at the—well, you know the results like I do, Congresswoman Lee.

LEE:  Chris, I think when you look at the results, we know exactly what is taking place.  But I also have to say it‘s up to Democrats to unify and to make sure that those of us in California, in New York, throughout the country come up with an agenda that speaks to the aspirations of the American people.  And it‘s the economy.  And it manifests itself in a heck of a lot of different ways in Marcy Kaptur‘s district, for example, versus in my district or other districts.  But when you look at the pain that is being felt by the American people in the Midwest and throughout the country, this is pain and this is an unbelievably difficult time for everyone.

And yes, we have to look at...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

LEE:  ... how our party moves forward to make sure it‘s unified.  And I just have to say once again that is why I am supporting Jim Clyburn for whip because he has worked on a plan, our economic recovery efforts with the rural South, with middle Americans.  He‘s been north, south, east and west.  He‘s from the rural South.  And so we have to have our leadership, who really understands all of these parts of our country...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LEE:  ... so that we can move forward and make sure that Americans are afforded the American dream that they so deserve, that the Bush administration destroyed.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m only arguing—I‘m only arguing that the only thing worse than bleeding is not knowing you‘re bleeding.  I want to thank you both for being here, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Congressman Barbara Lee.  Thank you both for what I think is an important discussion.

Coming up: President Obama‘s path to reelection is getting tougher.  The 2012 map is narrowing, if you will.  Only certain states he can carry, certain states he can‘t carry.  And if he supports the deficit commission‘s recommendations, would he face a primary challenge in the states he needs to carry?  That means a challenge from the left.  And that‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you just heard the news here in HARDBALL.  Democratic congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of Ohio wants to form an alliance with members of the Tea Party, an alliance between Democrats in these areas in the Midwest with Tea Party people from those areas.  And Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul wants to form a Tea Party Caucus over in the Senate.  He wants it to be bicameral, with members from both sides of the House and the Senate.  Paul says he wants to involve the grass roots in his caucus, the Tea Party groups from around the country that helped energize the Republican base this past year.

Paul also plans to reach out to Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who founded a House Tea Party Caucus last summer.  That group already has more than two dozen House Republicans in its membership.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How serious is the threat from the left to President Obama?  Progressives are pushing the White House to reject Republican demands to extend tax cuts for the rich this lame duck session.  And “The New York Times” reports today that some riled up—or so riled up are some liberals about the early recommendations of the deficit commission—the commission‘s chairmen that, privately, several suggested if Mr. Obama were to embrace its major parts, he would invite a primary challenge in 2012.

Well, Mark Halperin is an MSNBC senior political analyst and John Heilemann‘s with “New York” magazine.  Both are authors of the book “Game Change.”

Mark, you start with this thing.  Is this a possibility?  Let‘s talk about the tax cuts.  It seems to me everybody in America knows that their taxes are going up this next January, coming January, unless action is taken by Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts, at least for them.

And the president‘s problem is he‘s unlikely to get a vote in the Senate to extend tax cuts just for the group he wants them extended for, people under $250,000 a year.  So he may well be facing a choice come mid-December of whether to let this thing go back to January, with the tax cuts not in effect—in other words, people facing a tax increase—or—and it‘ll all be blamed on him.  So what‘s he do?

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, “TIME”:  Well, look, this is a test case for a lot of what the next two years are going to be like.

The president has—is going to have a choice.  All presidents face crosscurrents.  On this issue and almost everything else the president wants to get done, he can either get stuff done or alienate part of the so-called professional left.  The key for him is to show that he can get stuff done and keep enough Democrats on board that he doesn‘t destroy his coalition on the left. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the definition of the problem.  How does he do it?  I mean, it seems he has to choose.  He has to choose between facing the hellish situation of not approving the tax cut continuation and having the Republican Congress come in next January and jam it past him like the U.S. cavalry attacking and saving the settlers and getting all the credit for it and having something to run in on 2012, or doing it himself. 

John—you want to take a crack at that, John?  What‘s the better choice for him, be the cavalry or let the Republicans be the cavalry? 

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK”:  I just don‘t think there‘s any choice here at all. 

And I think David Axelrod, when he gave that interview to The Huffington Post a couple days ago was speaking the truth, that the world has changed around him.  And he‘s going to have to accept a short-term extension of all the tax cuts, and not allow himself to be put in a position where, in addition to all of his other political liabilities that he‘s taken on over the last two years, and particularly since—in the context of the midterms, he can‘t allow himself to be cast as a tax-raiser, on top of everything else.  It‘s just not a plausible scenario for him.

MATTHEWS:  Back to Mark. 

Can he get the Republicans to agree to anything short of a complete extenuation of the tax cuts, even for the wealthy?  Can he get them to agree to anything short of that, or they will just say: “No, Mr. President, we‘re not going to give you the vote in the Senate.  You‘re not getting the 60 votes.  You‘re not going to get to give it just to people who make $250,000, and give us a short-term extension.  You got to give it all to us or we won‘t approve the vote”?

Suppose they do that. 

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN:  I think he‘s lost the possibility and the leverage to get them decoupled, to have an unequal extension. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HALPERIN:  I think the best he can hope for now is a short-term mirrored exemption—extension for everything. 

And if he gets that, that‘s just a placeholder.  He needs to fight another day.  But he can‘t be all about battle.  He has got to use this as an opportunity to figure out he‘s going to deal with this new political normal with Republicans not in the majority in the lame-duck session, but effectively with the upper hand now and in the majority in the House in January. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to this other question.  The other day, guys, the debt commission, run by a Republican, of course, Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff to President Clinton, came out with a set of very, very tough recommendations.  They have to do with extending or raising the tax base for Social Security, where you make up to almost $200,000 a year, you‘re going to be paying a ton of money into the payroll tax you will never get back, also getting rid of capital gains preference. 

But what I think has grabbed all the attention is the fact that the retirement age is going to go up to 69 in the year 2075. 

And, John Heilemann, I know we‘re all spring chickens here.  But I just wonder why in the world do people worry about 2075, and why are those fighting words for people?  Why are the Democratic—I guess it‘s the progressives.  Some of them are very young, and they are thinking about 2075.

HEILEMANN:  Well, I think it‘s more, Chris, that Democrats have just -

that the preservation of Social Security in its current form has been a touchstone for Democratic politics, not just for the progressive side, but for the mainstream of the Democratic Party, for a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HEILEMANN:  And I think they feel as though any—to give anything on that front is letting the nose—the camel‘s nose get into the tent. 

And so they feel as though they have to keep up an absolutely staunch opposition to tinkering with Social Security, no matter how fiscally insane that position is. 

MATTHEWS:  But this is basically a two or three for one, perhaps a three for one.  It is tilted towards the Republicans.  There‘s very little tax increase.  Is that the problem, that the balance is wrong for progressives, Mark? 

HALPERIN:  I mean, that‘s part of it.  I think there‘s more in there that the progressives don‘t like.  And I think some progressives are kind of stunned and offended, like Paul Krugman of “The New York Times,” that a commission formed by a Democratic president would tilt that way.

I think the thing is in some ways extraordinarily timid, the plan, the Bowles and Simpson plan.  But it does a brilliant job of spreading the pain around...

MATTHEWS:  I think so.

HALPERIN:  ... of deferring things that need to be deferred, of taking things on that can be done in the right order, the gas tax.  There‘s a lot in there.  I think this is a great opportunity for people who want to get things done.  That includes the president.  We will see if it includes Republicans in Congress. 

It‘s a great opportunity to build on this thing.  And the progressives who are squeaking and squawking—I think John is right—they don‘t want to let a camel‘s nose under that tent, but they are going to be left behind if there is this coalition of Obama, centrist Democrats, and Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, John, about the whole question.  Do you thing public really cares about debt?  Are they really willing to take it on and say, look, I‘m willing to accept a shared sacrifice, meaning some tax increases on the right, some benefit cuts for the left, and it‘s the only way we‘re going to deal with this?  Because, obviously, there wouldn‘t be a debt problem if it was easy to get rid of it. 

It exists because it‘s always been the preferred solution.  Rather than raise taxes, have a higher deficit.  Rather than spend less, have a higher deficit.  And it is always the solution.  Big debt has always been the solution to paying current pain. 

HEILEMANN:  Right.  And these things are third rails because people have touched them in the past and been electrocuted.

And there‘s strong public constituencies on almost all of these issues.  People say that they are in favor of deficit reduction.  And then when you actually try to take something away from them, they squeal. 

But, look, it‘s absolutely clear that this will never fly unless the president and Republicans are all willing to lead on the issue.  There is no—this will not happen just...

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

HEILEMANN:  ... because the debt—if the deficit commission can even get to the point where they have agreement on the commission, because they don‘t have anything like that right now, but, even if they get to that point, that is not going to be anything close to enough. 

The only way for this—for the public to accept it is if they are led to accept it, and they‘re led by the president primarily, but also by Republican leaders, where everyone is going to have to hold hands and appeal to...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HEILEMANN:  ... people‘s better natures, their patriotism, and the future of their children and grandchildren. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder, guys—you are the experts as well as anybody—and it may be one of those arguments for a one-term, six-year (sic) presidency, because some things you have to do as president that just are not aimed at getting you reelected.  They‘re just things that you have to do. 

Thank you very much, Mark Halperin.  That‘s a thought for—food for thought perhaps for both of you gentlemen.  Thank you, gentlemen.

HALPERIN:  Thanks, Chris.

HEILEMANN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Like ending wars.  It‘s never popular in our country. 

Thank you, John Heilemann.  Have a nice weekend.

HEILEMANN:  You, too.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Joe Miller is facing an uphill battle—I would call it that—in his quest to be a United States senator.  By the way, he‘s organizing a spelling bee up in Alaska.  If you can‘t spell Murkowski, you don‘t count as a voter, it looks like.  Well, wait until we see what happens with those write-ins up there.  He‘s trying to challenge everything up there.  He doesn‘t believe anybody knows how to spell properly. 

I thought Tea Partiers are regular people, not elitists.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First, the Duke is back.  In November 2005, U.S. Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham resigned from office after admitting to receiving over $2.5 million in bribes.  His farewell press conference was one to remember. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY CUNNINGHAM ®, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  The truth is, I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office.  I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, five years later, the Duke is still in prison, but singing a different tune.  “The San Diego Union-Tribune” is reporting that Cunningham now says the hundreds of thousands of dollars he got from a defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, weren‘t bribes at all, but merely gifts from old friends.   Wilkes, who was convicted in 2007, is seeking a new trial in federal court. 

Next: a big chill up in Alaska.  Tea Partier Joe Miller has been busy all week filing lawsuits and challenging ballots during the counting of some 92,000 Senate write-in votes.  Well, an “Anchorage Daily News” reporter snapped photos of some of the ballots the Miller team is contesting.  They say these ballots are not clear votes for Senator Murkowski. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  They are clear as hell for Murkowski.  Look at them.  Catch this, by the way.  Guess who is now advising Miller—the Miller campaign on the write-in count?  Floyd Brown.  He is the guy that made up those Willie Horton ads back in the 1980s that tarred Michael Dukakis‘ reputation and destroyed his presidential campaign. 

Whatever you think of the decision to hire this guy, to bring him in, Miller is a little late with his campaign effort. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

How many new incoming members of Congress have never served in elective office before of any kind?  Well, according to “The New York Times,” 39, 35 House members and four U.S. senators, making this the most, if you want—if you think about these things, the most inexperienced crowd in over 50 years to take office. 

Thirty-nine members of the next Congress have zero experience in governing—tonight‘s who-knows “Big Number.” 

We will be right back. 

Up next: President Obama‘s Pennsylvania problem.  He won the state by double digits in 2008, but now a new poll shows the president down big in six key battleground states.  What‘s happening in P.A. and across those other—well, across those other Great Lakes states?  That‘s Scranton to Oshkosh.  Governor Ed Rendell joins us next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Another sell-off to close out the week, the Dow tumbling 90 points and the S&P giving up 14, the Nasdaq falling 37 points. 

Disappointing blue-chip earnings and a stronger dollar giving us four negative days this week, the market‘s worst weekly performance in three months.  Bellwethers Boeing and Cisco taking a beating again today after that downbeat forecast from Cisco midweek and testing problems with Boeing‘s new Dreamliner. 

Commodities getting crushed on concerns China may hike interest rates to stem rising inflation there.  Gold coming off record highs to settle below $13.65 an ounce.  Oil falling from a 25-month high to near $86 a barrel. 

But it‘s not all bad news.  Intel is seeing a bump on plans to raise its dividend to 18 cents a share.  Computer hardware-maker Nvidia soaring on a killer forecast, despite a 21 percent drop in profits last quarter.  And Disney turning it around today, as investors dug down into those earnings, finding strength in theme parks and films like “Toy Story 3”—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

What does the road to reelection look like for President Obama, now that the Republicans are shaping up for—to run?  And what do the midterms show about the map he should use to get there?

Joining me is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and MSNBC political analyst Pat Caddell (sic). 

Well, I put this unlikely duo together because I have no idea what you are both going to say. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But one thing I am sure of, Ed Rendell, Governor, is that there is no way for a Democrat to be elected president without Pennsylvania.  It is the Keystone State in more ways than one. 

He‘s down—I look at these numbers.  They‘re the top—these top six states we‘re looking at in this new poll shows that in these states, all of which he carried, including P.A., he‘s down 18 points on average.  We‘re looking at them, California, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, right across the country. 

These countries—these states, rather, show an incredible drop in popularity for the president.  He has to get back up.  And I‘m wondering, if the economy gets a little better, is that enough? 

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Governor Rendell? 

RENDELL:  Well, look, first of all, Chris, I want to say real quickly, John Heilemann and you were exactly right.  We have got to do something with the deficit, and we have got to act together.  And if we do it together, Democrats, Republicans, the president, Congress, then you avoid the third rail.  And the country needs it. 

Now, to answer your question, generic tests are always the toughest for politicians.  No one can beat a generic candidate.  Some—it‘s easier to beat a live flesh-and-blood candidate.  Substitute Sarah Palin for the generic, and those numbers change.  That‘s point number one. 

Point number two, the Sestak result in Pennsylvania, I think, is the more accurate result.  Were President Obama on the ballot a couple of Tuesdays ago, he would have lost about a point-and-a-half, the same margin that Joe Sestak lost by. 

That‘s easily reversible between now and then.  And if you look at where President Clinton—if we had done a study like this at the midterm for Clinton or President Reagan, you would have found that they would have been down, too. 

So, I‘m not worried about it.  If the president leads, if he does the type of things that show a strong leadership and a willingness to bring us together, he will carry Pennsylvania. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I agree with the governor in this sense, Chris. 

This was a heavily white turnout, 80 percent white, which is extraordinarily high.  In 2012, it‘s not going to be there.  The white vote will be down about 75, 73.  Who will come out?  The Hispanics who didn‘t come out, the young people who didn‘t come out, the African-Americans who didn‘t come out, that will go up. 

Secondly, between now and 2012, you are going to have the Republicans no longer united behind an anti-Obama, basically, agenda, but fighting with each other to win the nomination for the presidency. 

So, I think that—and look—take a look at what Obama did.  I mean, the Democrats—Harry Reid is extraordinarily unpopular.  He won Nevada.  The fellow Bennet is not a great candidate.  He won Colorado.  Obama is a much stronger candidate than those two. 

RENDELL:  Good point.

BUCHANAN:  And if the Republicans lose Colorado and Nevada, they lose the election. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me run it by you another way that would be tremulous for the president, more nervous—make him more nervous.

He got—Governor, he got 53 percent nationwide last time. And I would argue—you would know this, I mean, you‘re better at knowing that I, your home there.  Fifty-three percent, I‘ve been—I think a chunk of that 53 percent, maybe 3 percent, 4 percent at least were sort of high-minded Eisenhower Republicans who wanted to give the first African-American a shot at the presidency.

And they are not going to be there next time, are they?  Those moderate Republicans?  Will they be with him against a guy like Mitt Romney or against a guy like somebody else, this sort of generic Republican as opposed to Sarah who‘s not generic at all?

RENDELL:  First of all, the Republicans aren‘t going to be smart enough to field Mitt Romney.  They‘re going to give us somebody a lot easier to beat.  That‘s number one.

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  That‘s number one.

MATTHEWS:  You are selling Romney when you said that.  That is the best page.

RENDELL:  Yes, that‘s number one.

Number two, there‘s a lot of time between now and then.  And I think President Obama can recover the moderate Republicans and the conservative Democrats by leading, by being—tacking a little to the center and by telling the American people the truth.  The American people want to hear the truth.

And I think it goes back to the discussion you had before Pat and I came on.  If he leads and shows himself to be a strong leader, that‘s what the presidential elections are always about.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk leadership because I think—I think you are—

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Let me tell you what‘s going to cost the president, though.  I think he‘s lost the conservative Hillary Democrats, those folks in West Virginia, Kentucky and western Pennsylvania.

RENDELL:  Correct.

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s lost them for good.

MATTHEWS:  Why for good?

RENDELL:  I don‘t know if he‘s lost them for good.

BUCHANAN:  Because I think it‘s culture.  They took a chance on the guy and they said he let us down.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s get back to that question of tilting.  It seems to me if you are ever a Democrat—as you are, Governor --- you have to have a coalition to the center and the left, if you will.  You have to have that coalition alive.  It has to be excited—both the center and the left have to be excited, not just the left.

If you are president of the United States, you are facing this tax issue.  Would you go into the—would you make the charge of the light brigade and say, I‘m not—I‘m not bringing the Bush tax cuts through next year no matter what, I‘m only going to do it for the people that make less than $250,000 a year?  Or would you say, darn it, they‘re going to have the votes next January to beat me, why do I want them to be the good guys or the middle class and give everybody the tax cut when I can give it to them now if I give them the whole thing?  Would you do—would you go now or fight it out?

RENDELL:  Well, first of all, I would try to find some middle ground.  And there is middle ground.  You make the middle class tax cuts permanent and you sunset the tax cuts on the wealthy Americans.

MATTHEWS:  You think the Republicans will allow a vote on that in the Senate?  They‘ll give you 60 votes on that?  Let you vote on that?

RENDELL:  I think they‘re going to look awfully bad if they don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE)

RENDELL:  Another approach I would take is create another bracket for millionaires—another bracket for millionaires and see if the Republicans can turn that down.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that, politically?

BUCHANAN:  Ed is very close to the truth here.  What you do is you sunset everything below $1 million.

In other words, not $250,000.  Take it up to $1 million, and say, look, all the tax cuts go through to 2013.  Only a tax on those over $1 million dollars goes after that.  And make the Republicans kill that.

I think that‘s the strongest thing Obama can do.

RENDELL:  Yes.  And if you say millionaires, let them line up.  Let the Republicans line up.  I challenge them tonight and vote for millionaires.

MATTHEWS:  I like the thinking here because I think—I can‘t use the right phrase.  We might use on street corner.  But it‘s a smart way of making Republicans decide.  I think Jack Kennedy used to use it.

Here‘s the other question: How do you deal with debt reduction?  I mean, I heard this announcement the other day that the debt came out—the debt commission report.  I got to say, my daughter is a volunteer from the University of Pennsylvania.  She‘s volunteering on that, not make nickel on it.

But the fact of the matter is, they‘re coming out with tough stuff.  They‘re getting rid of capital gains preference.  Drive you crazy.  Drive a lot of people crazy.

BUCHANAN:  No, no, necessarily if you—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They are forcing people to make—put about your taxes.  You make an income up to $200,000, it‘s all exposed and you have to payroll tax on that.  So, a lot of tough stuff there for upper (ph) income people.

BUCHANAN:  Well, there‘s a three-year freeze on federal salary increases which is a good thing.  They‘re going to cut back foreign aid.  They‘re going to cut back one-third—

MATTHEWS:  Governor, how do you sell it to the left, right and center when it‘s got pain for everybody?

RENDELL:  That‘s the way you sell it.  The only way—we‘ve got to tell the American people the truth—the only way we‘ll get the deficit under control and it does matter because the deficit means higher debt service and debt service is a contributing to our higher taxes or need to cut spending.

You say everyone has got to suffer.  Entitlements have to suffer. 

To tell you the truth, and I love Erskine Bowls and I love Alan Simpson—

I‘m not sure they did enough on Social Security to be honest.  You‘ve got Marco Rubio down there in Florida getting elected saying we might have to raise it to 70.  No, I‘m not so sure they did enough.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they say it‘s 69 by 2075.  By the way, who‘s worried about 2075?

RENDELL:  Well, that‘s the point.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not going to have to worry about it.  You‘ll make a ton of money by then.

RENDELL:  That‘s the point.  That‘s the point.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t get it.

Anyway, thank you, Governor Ed Rendell.  You‘ve been wise, as always.  Thank you, sir.  And politically smart.

Anyway, thank you, Pat.

Amazing agreement here from the senior fellows here.

RENDELL:  Well, I love that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

New information about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated from the men who there were, the Secret Service guys.  We‘ve got two former Kennedy Secret Service agents coming here next.  Their new book is called “The Kennedy Detail.”  It‘s filled with new details we‘ve never heard before about the—well, I think the darkest day we‘ve had, right after 9/11.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with more on the Kennedy assassination that we‘ve never heard before from two Secret Service agents who were there by the president‘s car on that bad day.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On November 22nd, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated.  Here‘s a news reel report from that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, UNIVERSAL NEWS REEL)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At 1:25, the motorcade moves into the downtown area.  Death is six minutes away.  In a warehouse, a sniper with a rifle poised waits.  The cheers of the crowd almost muffle the three shots.  The assassin‘s aim is deadly.  The area is a sworn with police, rangers and Secret Service men.  The murderer slips the net.

But a few blocks away, man is captured after he is reported to have killed a policeman.  That man is a 24-year-old pro-Castro Texan who once sought Soviet citizenship.  He is charged with murder.

Meanwhile, the president had been rushed to a nearby hospital where life lingered as a waiting world prayed.  A half hour later, he was dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

Well, the Secret Service agents who worked to the Kennedy family share their stories in a new book, “The Kennedy Detail,” by former agent Gerald Blaine and agent Clint Hill, who was Mrs. Kennedy‘s detail that day and appears in this iconic photo as he climbs onto the car.  He also wrote the book‘s foreword.

Welcome to both of you.  Agents, thanks so much for your service to our country.

This is a story that I‘m always been fascinated with, as so Americans, because who does not remember that day, who‘s alive that day.

Let me go to Clint Hill and share these questions, both of you, gentlemen, as I put them to you.  Is there something that you‘ve had—been enabled to put in the book that would be new to the person who cared so much about President Kennedy and cared about what happened to him that day, Clint Hill?

CLINT HILL, FMR. W.H. SECRET SERVICE AGENT:  Well, I think what‘s new in the book is that the agents decided to reveal what they knew and what happened—what actually happened, not theory, but fact, as to the activities that day beginning from Fort Worth over to Dallas and continuing on through the day.  Everything that happened today is relatively new from the agent‘s point of view.

What you‘ve heard before is other kind of reports but nothing really from these agents.  These agents have never discussed this with anyone before, not even among themselves.  So, from that point of view it‘s all new.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—let me go to Gerald Blaine on this and maybe we should just let him know this question or begin to answer it.  The whole question of—is there anything that could had been done to stop this from happening?

HILL:  Anything could had been done to stop this from happening? 

Anything that could had been done to stop it?

GERALD BLAINE, AUTHOR, “THE KENNEDY DETAIL”:  No, there was nothing that could had been done to stop it.  Clint Hill performed a superhuman feat.  The automobile was going about 11 miles an hour.  And Clint had to catch up with 80 feet, which meant he was running 15 miles an hour, and he couldn‘t get there in time.

MATTHEWS:  What about the story, gentlemen, that the president was wearing a corset at the time because of his bad back and that that kept him from responding instinctively after that first shot that did not kill him, and a normal person would have crouched down onto the seat and he wasn‘t able do that because he was held up by this corset.

Is there something to that, do you know?

HILL:  No, there‘s nothing to that.  He could have moved down if—you know, natural impulse was what he—what I saw him do was grab at his throat and lurched to his left and he was in upright position and then another shot came and that shot didn‘t hit him, but shortly thereafter the third shot came and hit him in the head.  I don‘t think that the corset had anything to do with whether or not he reacted in a certain way or not.

MATTHEWS:  Was there anything to—talk about the bubble top.  I was always taken reading about this that he decided to get rid of the bubble top.  Would the bubble top if any way if he had it up there would have deflected the bullet, would it have prevented the vision that Harvey Oswald had from the window, the book depository, would it had a harder time getting a beat on the president?

HILL:  I doubt that.  We don‘t know if it would have diverted the bullet.  But, you know, we‘ve had no idea what would have happened when you hit that.  It was made out of Plexiglas.  It was not bulletproof.

The normal procedure was to use the car without a bubble top.  That was the president‘s really—that is what he wanted done.  And the only reason we would have used the bubble top is if it were raining or if the situation was such that it would have caused Mrs. Kennedy a problem with her hair, something of that nature.  But other than that it was going to be wide open.

MATTHEWS:  Something new in the book I was struck by.  I thought that I knew a lot of this.  Tell us about what happened in Tampa that Monday, the president took an earlier trip that very week and he had a situation where you had a lot of agents surrounding the car, effectively—well, basically covering on foot around the car.  What happened and what was his statement to you guys at the time about what he thought of that approach to your job?

HILL:  Well, Gerry did the Tampa advance that he was in the elite car in the Tampa motorcade.  So, Gerry, what happened in Tampa?  What did the president say?

BLAINE:  The president was concerned because going—this was the first trip he‘d made to the South.  And he was concerned about taking Florida and Texas.  And he told us in Tampa to get the Ivy League charlatans off of the back of the car in his joking fashion.

MATTHEWS:  What did that mean to you guys?  I didn‘t know the Secret Service guys—

BLAINE:  That he didn‘t want agents on the back of the car in Texas on the coming trip.

HILL:  What did that mean, this Ivy League charlatans, what did that mean, Jerry?

BLAINE:  You know, I had to look up charlatan myself and I knew that it didn‘t come from our agent in charge Floyd Borne (ph).  So, it came from the president.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

BLAINE:  It was just his form of humor.

MATTHEWS:  Well, guys, thank you.  I know what—I know what the first lady thought about you, Clint Hill, and how much appreciated it.  Read so much about.  How much she appreciated you guys gave them.  And what a horrible day.  And it‘s still in our hearts.

Anyway, thank you, gentlemen for this book.  I hope people read it.  It‘s called “The Kennedy Detail.”  You guys put it together.  The inside of what really from a Secret Service agency‘s experience.  That‘s Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill.

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming on our program.

HILL:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  When we return let me finish tonight when it is time to end this “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and just get rid of it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with a matter the United States Congress should finish.  It‘s called “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  It‘s the law that tells the U.S. military to allow gay people to serve like everyone else.  They could be gay, as long as they do not say they are gay.

We have to wonder about the constitutionality of a law that requires people to refrain from admitting something that is true about themselves.

Would it make sense to require that someone deny he or she is left-handed, refuse to allow anyone to know he or she is left-handed?  It was, I‘ve heard, at one time imaginable.  Teachers would tell the left-handed people to write with their right hands, insisted they do it.  Go back further in history when we refer to people as left-handed as sinister.  That‘s the word where the word “sinister” comes from.

What I don‘t understand is why an entire political party‘s against letting gay people serve openly in the U.S. military.  Why can‘t a couple of Republicans senators—at least a couple—step forward and say it‘s time for the to do the right thing and let the all able-bodied Americans who want to serve their country to do so with pride and yes with honesty?  Is there a problem?

The secretary of defense—the secretary of the defense says it it‘s better for the Congress to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” than wait for the courts to declare it unconstitutional.  It would make for a smoother transition.

So, under Article I of the Constitution, Congress has the constitutional right to raise an army.  It‘s Congress that has the right and the duty to end “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”

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

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

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

END   

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