Guests: Pat Buchanan, Robert Gibbs, Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Steve Israel, Sal Russo,
Eugene Robinson, David Corn, Mark Halperin
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: It‘s the economy, America. Let‘s play
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews, up in New York.
Leading off tonight: the president‘s speech. What I‘m telling you right now had to be held for release until late this afternoon.
Today, I was at the presidential briefing with President Obama at the White House to preview tonight‘s State of the Union address, which begins two hours from now.
I can tell you now the main themes: number one, the president will push a significant progressive agenda on government spending on education, basic research and development, and infrastructure spending, on things like highways, bridges, and rapid transit. He will also discuss long-term deficit reduction.
The administration‘s focus will be on the economy, and on job creation, both public and private investment. The president will encourage Congress to make decisions that reflect what he calls “smart spending”—spending that will produce jobs and greater economic growth in the future.
Well, despite that progressive agenda, some liberals in the party are nervous, or say they are at least. They‘re concerned that the president is courting the political center at the expense of the party‘s progressive base. Are they right to worry? We‘ll see.
When President Obama talks about winning the future, he‘ll also be thinking, of course, about winning in 2012, and facing a resurgent Republican Party dedicated to one thing, and we all know what it is, stopping him in his tracks.
What‘s at stake for the president tonight?
And then there‘s Michele Bachmann, bigfooting Paul Ryan‘s GOP response with her join online speech of her own Tea Party loyalists, just what Republicans don‘t need.
Keep in mind, this is a woman who just told Iowa Republicans, I‘ll never forget this one, that the Republican Party is—I‘m sorry, that the Founding Fathers eradicated slavery. Remember that? Remember that?
George Washington got rid of slavery. So are Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and the rest of them. All got rid of slavery. We didn‘t have a civil war in 1860, didn‘t need one. They got rid of it way back then.
This is crazy talk, and she‘s their spokesman tonight.
Finally, they‘re calling it congressional prom night, Democrats and Republicans sitting together in pairs. Well, let‘s face it. They‘ll be sitting together, they won‘t be standing together on the issues.
On a program note, I‘ll join MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Eugene Robinson for complete coverage of the State of the Union speech. Our coverage begins with the speech at 9:00 Eastern.
We start with this big night with President Obama, with Robert Gibbs at the White House. He‘s the press secretary of the president.
I didn‘t expect to start with this tonight, but this development tonight is incredible. The spokesman for the Tea Party, the spokeswoman in this case, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, is starting to go against the president tonight. She began this week by saying that slavery was eradicated by the Founding Fathers. We never had the Civil War. We never had the history of slavery.
I don‘t know what she‘s talking about. Here it is. I want to show you this, Robert. Maybe I‘ve been privileged not to see this. Here‘s the horrendous speech itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began. We know that was an evil, and it was a scourge, and a blot, and a stain upon our history. But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.
And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbears who worked tirelessly, men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This is beyond any discussion I‘ve ever had. Here‘s a woman who reports—purports to be a member of the Republican Party, which was formed in the 1850s to fight the expansion of slavery into the territories saying there was no slavery by then, it was all eradicated by the Founding Fathers.
What is it in the DNA of these Tea Party leaders—I think the regular people in the Tea Party includes some normal people. What is it in their senior people‘s DNA that says the Founding Fathers were somehow God-like, they didn‘t believe in slavery, they didn‘t have slaves, and here we are ignoring our own rooted history.
Robert, you‘re going to have the president of the United States speaking tonight and this is going to be the retort from this person. Your thoughts.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, Chris—
MATTHEWS: I want an official White House comment on the most massive example of American history ignorance I have come across in a long time.
GIBBS: Yes. Well, look, maybe—maybe this is a good time for the president to talk about education reform, and the step—the steps that we need to take to ensure that we have the workforce that meets the challenges that we have and the jobs of tomorrow. How is that? Was that a pretty good segue?
MATTHEWS: That‘s pretty good, pretty clever way to get to what you—
GIBBS: Not bad.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, we need education. Of course, I think people who lead the country should have sort of—go on “Celebrity Jeopardy” at least once to prove they know American history.
Here‘s an excerpt from you tonight I want to comment on. Quote, this is the president, “Half a century ago, when the Soviet beats us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we‘d beat them to the moon. Well, the science wasn‘t there yet. NASA didn‘t even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn‘t just surface the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation‘s Sputnik moment.”
I speak to you, Robert, as a person who went to college on National Defense Education Act loan money, a lot of us did because of Sputnik.
GIBBS: Right. Well, look, I think what the president will do, and you hear it in that excerpt, address and set forth the great challenges that we have. But time after time, whether it was Lincoln in building—starting to build a railroad, and addressing our land grant colleges, even as he fought the Civil War, whether it was Kennedy addressing the Soviet space challenge, we‘ve always risen to meet those challenges. That‘s what‘s most important.
The president will share a very optimistic tone tonight about how he knows and he believes that this country will meet those challenges again by investing in research and development, investing in innovation and education reform, ensuring that the jobs that are created in this world are not just in China or in India, but they‘re created here.
MATTHEWS: Is this a more important part of the speech tonight than what we‘re hearing about a spending freeze?
GIBBS: Well, look, I think they go part and parcel. Look, we are—we are going to have to make some changes in the amount of money that government spends. People agree on that.
While we do that, the money that is spent we should prioritize. Let‘s reform government. Let‘s not fund wasteful programs and projects. Let‘s work on education reform. Let‘s work on technology, research and development, and innovation, and put people back to work.
MATTHEWS: You know, this is what Clinton called his future budget that he had going into the White House back in 1992, at the end of that year, and didn‘t go ahead with because of fears of higher interest.
How are we liberated from those concerns this time around so that a Democratic president can do what Bill Clinton set out to do, have a budget of R&D, education and infrastructure?
GIBBS: Yes. Well, look, obviously, there are differences in the economic situations that the two countries faced, or the two presidents faced. But what we‘re going to have to do is take seriously the amount of money that we‘re spending that we don‘t have, that creates our deficits, that create or debts, and we‘re going to have to prioritize what we are spending our money on. And I think that‘s the discussion that the president wants to start tonight.
And, you know, Chris, I think the president believes it is important that members of each party are sitting together tonight. The truest test, though, will be whether or not we can—not just whether we can sit together tonight, but can we work together tomorrow? That‘s the truest test, and I think that‘s what the president will challenge both parties to do.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary.
With us now, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Hi, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Senator Schumer, I know you‘re a big believer in rapid rail, and rail period, and you want to see this country moved ahead and catch up to the French, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans and actually having a rapid rail system as well as everything else.
Do you think this is going to grab the interests of progressives like you, this kind of progressive spending on education, R&D, and infrastructure?
SCHUMER: Yes. I think this is not just going to appeal to progressives; it‘s going to appeal to Americans. Because as Gibbs said, this is about the future. You know, we believe in the American Dream, which says that you‘ll do better 10 years from now and your kids will do even better than you.
In the last few years, people have begun to doubt it.
This speech says the American Dream is alive and well. We are cutting back on waste, no question about it. And we‘re not going to spend profligately like maybe was done in the past, over the past 20 or 30 years.
SCHUMER: But we are going to invest in things that make sure your kids have a better life than you. And that‘s what the American people want. I don‘t think they want a dour, sour, everything is wrong, cut everything message.
MATTHEWS: You‘re going to be sitting with Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
MATTHEWS: What could you guys cook up that actually you could agree on, the two of you, as you date tonight?
SCHUMER: Well, we‘ve just done two things. We did the 9/11 bill, remember?
MATTHEWS: That‘s right.
SCHUMER: Coburn was blocking it. I sat in the room with him and we got that done.
And a few years ago—and this is actually relevant to the tragedy in Arizona, a priest, Father Pences (ph), was killed by a mentally ill man, who had gotten a gun, and Coburn and I actually worked together to tighten up the law so it would be much harder for people to adjudicate mentally ill to get guns. So there are lots of things.
And my guess is, as members sit next to members, you might even find a few ideas being talked about tonight that would germinate into legislation. So, it is symbolic, but, you know, symbols have a way of influencing reality. And let‘s hope.
MATTHEWS: Well, a guy who was bipolar called me up after the show and said he could get a gun. I‘m not sure that‘s tight enough. Are you sure we got tight enough gun laws that keep—
SCHUMER: We don‘t. We don‘t.
MATTHEWS: -- the screwy people from getting guns?
SCHUMER: We do not have laws that are tight enough, for sure, and hopefully, there can be change. Even the law for mental illness is tighter than it was, but it‘s not tight enough. What about people who are drunk?
SCHUMER: You know—not drunk, but adjudicated drug addicts? These kinds of things, it should be tightened up. And it‘s going to be hard. That one is going to be hard to do. There‘s no question about it.
But if we ask for small and reasonable things, we might get it done.
MATTHEWS: How does somebody get in to the U.S. Congress where you served before coming up to the Senate who doesn‘t even know that slavery existed until the Civil War? Who believes the Founding Father, the Adams family, had eradicated slavery? That‘s Michele Bachmann‘s speech coming into tonight.
I am stunned by this, this ignorance.
SCHUMER: Well, I think, you know, a lot of the people who are coming in don‘t have much experience in government. My classic is, they say they hate government, get government out of everything, but don‘t touch Medicare. And then you say, well, Medicare is a more government-oriented health care system than even Obama‘s bill. No, it isn‘t. They don‘t have any knowledge.
MATTHEWS: But, Senator, Lincoln is the head of the Republican Party. He founded it to stop the expansion of slavery into the territories. It‘s the most fundamental fact of American history. We fought slavery in the Civil War.
And this woman goes on national television, and we‘re going to play this over and over again until they can‘t even stand it anymore—
SCHUMER: Yes. I haven‘t seen it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: -- until they say they don‘t know what they‘re talking about. She said the Adams family got rid of slavery, the Founding Fathers did it. Remember the Constitution which she waves around with Justice Scalia?
SCHUMER: Yes, I thought you were joking and talking about the Adams family—
SCHUMER: -- and all of that.
MATTHEWS: No. Well, it‘s frightening close in this case to what we‘re talking about.
Anyway, thank you. Keep guns off the hands of crazy people and try to keep political office out of hands of people that don‘t know our history.
SCHUMER: I‘m with you. But it will all catch up with them, Chris.
That‘s what happens when you don‘t know history.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think she‘s a balloon head.
SCHUMER: Ye of little faith.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE), I know the phrase. Thank you, Senator.
Coming up: why some progressives are nervous about what the president will say tonight. Or are they? We‘re going to get to the reason why they might be worried. It seems like he‘s being progressive. Maybe not enough.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Total recall at Omaha, residents there are voting today on whether to recall their elected mayor, Democrat Jim Suttle. Recall advocates are citing, quote, “excessive taxes, broken promises and union deals that cost taxpayers millions that threatened Omaha‘s economic future,” close quote. But the mayor says he‘s rescued the city‘s troubled finances and turned a $12 million surplus or deficit rather into a $3 million surplus.
This is how voters are channeling their anger over budget shortfalls?
Look out. It could become something of an epidemic in other cities.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Liberal Democrats in Congress, some of them are concerned President Obama will abandon them tonight in search of the political center. They know his poll numbers have definitely spiked up recently, along with the perception he‘s more of a centrist than people said he was.
Joining right now is Democratic Congressman Steve Israel of New York, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a fine organization. I once worked for it.
Let me ask you, Congressman, about this. Now, your job, just to let everybody know, is to rebuild the majority, to find a way back to 218-plus so that Nancy Pelosi could be speaker again or somebody again in your party. What‘s the smart move for the president if he wants to begin that quest?
REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, the smart move is to do exactly what the president is going to do. He is going to galvanize Democrats and talk about the need to strengthen America‘s position in the global economy, to out-innovate, to out-educate, to out-build the rest of the world. And that‘s the position that Democrats are absolutely united with.
Now, the other deal is for those Democrats who may be concerned about the president‘s message, just listen to Congressman Ryan‘s response to the State of the Union or to Michele Bachmann‘s response—
MATTHEWS: You can‘t listen to Michele Bachmann. You‘re asking too much.
ISRAEL: That‘s right. We‘re not the ones privatizing Social Security.
MATTHEWS: -- knowing less about American history when you‘re done that when you start with her. She thinks slavery, by the way, went away in the federalist period back in Washington‘s day. She never took one of those bus trips in the high school of Mt. Vernon and saw the slave quarters, she never saw.
Let me ask you about—back to this serious world. What do you think the fight between the president and Paul Ryan? Now, we know Paul Ryan is respected by the president as an adversary. Is there going to be any common ground out there on the floor besides the hand holding between the couple sitting out there on the floor? Will there be any common politics out there tonight?
ISRAEL: Look, you know, tonight, Democrats and Republicans may be sitting together, but what really counts is what we stand for. And tomorrow, Democrats will be the ones who are standing against privatizing Social Security, something that Paul Ryan wants to do, against forcing seniors off Medicare and on to vouchers and against raising taxes on middle-class families. Those are issues that really—that‘s the contrast between Democrats and Republicans.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you to do something that‘s going to bother people if you answer it the wrong way, which says I was asked this question.
ISRAEL: That‘s why I love coming on your show, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Are there some people who have safe seats, who don‘t face general elections, Anthony Weiner, the people from the Bay Area, and San Francisco. I know them well. I like a lot of them, but they don‘t know what a general election looks like.
You‘ve got to win on general elections. Does the president have to think more about people who have to face general elections in your party than people from safe seats?
ISRAEL: Well, I respectfully reject your premise.
MATTHEWS: I know you would.
ISRAEL: This year, everyone understood what a general election was. I don‘t care how safe you just, including Anthony Weiner. It was a tough deal this year. My job as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is to focus on one thing: to drive to 25. We got to win 25 seats to take this back, and we‘ve got to plan to do it and a path to do it.
MATTHEWS: Knowing what you know and the president‘s speech, once more, it looks like he‘s going to do what he calls some smart spending. He‘s going to do things like education, R&D, infrastructure—I love all that stuff because I think it does spell economic development down the road.
He‘s also going to cut some stuff apparently to keep the people, well, to do what he thinks has to be done long term. Will that balance sell with your party left?
ISRAEL: Well, look, we‘ve got to live within our means. Everybody understands that. But what really matters is how you privatize within those means.
And one of the things that I think we should all be excited about in this speech is the president‘s going to redefine this as a Sputnik moment. In 1957, the Soviets beat us to outer space. We had a Sputnik moment. Then what did we do? We out-educated. We out-built. We out-engineered the rest of the world.
The president is going to say this is a Sputnik moment, we‘ve got to do the same thing, and all Democrats can get behind that.
MATTHEWS: OK. Steve, I don‘t know. I‘m going to call you Steve, because this is a personal message.
ISRAEL: Please do.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t forget those districts you lost. The people in those districts like Bucks County and upper around Scranton, they would like to have an option next time, too. So, don‘t just—you know, those are the people you‘ve got to talk to. That‘s the American—
MATTHEWS: That‘s the fighting zone right there.
ISRAEL: I‘ve got you.
MATTHEWS: You know you have those back there‘s going to be a Democratic Congress. Thank you, sir.
ISRAEL: We may have to have you come to a next DCCC meeting.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not allowed to, but I can speak openly on television about what I think the smart move would be.
Thank you, Congressman. Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the
Joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst, Patrick J. Buchanan.
Patrick, your knowledge of history I think succeeds well beyond that of Palin. Not Palin, what‘s her name? Bachmann. Bachmann is out there saying that the Founding Father has dealt with slavery. We didn‘t need a Republican Party back in 1850s. Aren‘t you thrilled to know that?
PATRICK J. BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the Founding Fathers knew it was a real problem. Hamilton was militantly anti-slavery. President Washington freed his slaves on his own on Martha‘s death.
BUCHANAN: John Quincy Adams, as you know—
MATTHEWS: But that was a bit later. Yes, go ahead.
BUCHANAN: Yes, he threatened to secede from the Union if they brought in Texas, which was a slave state.
BUCHANAN: By the time we got to the Civil War, slavery was reduced to 15 states and the District of Columbia, but there were more slaves in the slave states in the Union, Chris, than they were threat Confederacy when the Confederates—
MATTHEWS: Right, and the problem was we had to get rid of slavery through the war. I just wanted to nail that down because there were a lot of advocates for extending slavery out into Texas, out into the western territories. And that‘s what the fight was about.
And, by the way, that‘s what your erstwhile political party was formed to fight, the expansion of slavery to the territories. Michele Bachmann is unaware of the origins of her political party, which is stunning.
BUCHANAN: Well, you do know, though, that the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural offered a constitutional amendment to make slavery permanent in those 15 states.
MATTHEWS: The deal with, what he dealt with, which was to know eventually the circle you guys. Let‘s talk about today, I‘m just being advised that it‘s not all about this crazy revisionism of Michele Bachmann.
Do you think she‘s competent, by the way, to be speaking for the Tea Party people tonight?
BUCHANAN: Well, the Tea Party people won 63 House seats.
MATTHEWS: No, does she competent to speak for them, knowing her knowledge of history is so limited?
BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, they‘re the ones that choose their speaker, not Pat Buchanan or Chris Matthews. They put her forward.
MATTHEWS: Well, but we can—we can offer up an opinion.
BUCHANAN: I‘ll wait until after her speech to give you my opinion of it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the president tonight, can he thread the needle between the Tea Partiers and people on the left, on the far left?
BUCHANAN: I think the president is going to have a good speech tonight. I don‘t think he can, Chris, for this reason. This is not a Sputnik moment. What this is, is the United States of America is going to have to slash back the welfare and the warfare state, or we‘re headed for bankruptcy court. We both know it.
This isn‘t a glorious moment where we‘re going to the moon. It‘s going to be pain, sweat, toil and tears to get this done. It‘s going to be very rough. But I do think an inspirational speech by the president, which I expect tonight, is a good idea. The country wants us to be united. I think the Republicans will respond in that vein.
MATTHEWS: Do you think this president would gain by coming on television, and doing what Mitch McConnell wants him to do, just slash?
BUCHANAN: No. I mean, I don‘t think he—
MATTHEWS: Would he benefit from such a strategy? That‘s what they‘re saying. That‘s what they want him to do.
BUCHANAN: But let me tell you, let‘s take the issue of education, Chris. We really have—we‘ve spent trillions of dollars, and we haven‘t been able to close the racial gap? The United States test scores are falling down among the world‘s test scores. They‘ve been failing.
I wouldn‘t give another hundred billion dollars to education until we know why we‘re failing in these schools. But I do think, look, I don‘t know where you‘re going to get much more money, fresh money for new programs. I do agree with those congressmen on both sides who said, look, we‘re going to have to reallocate when we chop here and move it there, because what we‘ve been doing hasn‘t been working.
MATTHEWS: I think that‘s what he‘s talking about doing tonight, squeezing out some of the maintenance money and going into capital, that‘s actually is dynamic. It‘s going to help the economy, not just take care of needs. I think that‘s what he‘s going to do.
When you said, Pat, ironically, I think you‘ve nailed what I think he‘s going to do. Squeeze the money out of the programs where he can and put it to something that‘s going to create jobs. That‘s how he‘ll sell it.
Patrick J. Buchanan, an expert on history of a certain kind, thank you very much for joining us.
Up next: more Chicago-style politics, Rahm Emanuel‘s saga, boy, it continues. It just keeps going. Will he or won‘t he be able to run for mayor? He‘s on the ballot. The question is: will he stay there? You‘re watching HARDBALL, on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, time for “The Sideshow.”
How do you get a better “Sideshow” than Michele Bachmann beats me?
First, Rahm Emanuel catches a big break. The Illinois state Supreme Court today issued a stay on yesterday‘s appeals court decision that ruled that Rahm did not meet the residency requirements for office. Well, the higher court Rahm‘s name should still be printed on the February 22nd mayoral ballots, a crucial decision for the Rahm team, which also got today an unexpected boost from the conservative “Wall Street Journal” editorial page. Quote, “It‘s tempting to enjoy Mr. Emanuel‘s ballot troubles, because he‘s a darling of rich Chicago liberals, and it‘s a rare misstep for the Daley machine, which is backing him. But we don‘t think Mr. Emanuel should be penalized or Chicago voters denied a chance to vote for him because he chose to serve his country.”
Well, the state Supreme Court says it will expedite the hearing on Rahm‘s eligibility for office. Stay tuned on this one. It‘s like a TV show.
Next, Tim Pawlenty for president, coming to a theater near you. T-Paw‘s PAC just came out with a video that could easily be mistaken for an action movie trailer. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: If prosperity were easy, everybody around the world would be prosperous. If freedom were easy, everybody around the world would be free. If security were easy, everyone around the world could be secure. They are not.
None of this is going to be easy, but this is the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, wait until you meet Pawlenty. He is not as exciting as the ad.
By the way, we‘ve got an early indication that Pawlenty isn‘t as mainstream as you might think, or he‘d like you to think. The would-be president from Minnesota said earlier this month he said he would reinstate “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” And now, he‘s going back to that, a policy that a majority of the American people wanted to repeal, it has been repealed. He wants to go back to the culture wars over gay service, open service in the military. Smart move.
Coming up: speaking to the right, let‘s take a look at Mitch McConnell‘s idea of bipartisanship. This morning, the Republican leader was asked to give advice for the president in moving forward.
Here‘s McConnell‘s amazing answer, quote, “If the president is willing to do what I and my members want done, we‘re not going to say no.”
Well, there‘s an offer the president can refuse. Does Senator McConnell want to place the president on his payroll? Because doing what you‘re told to do what to do is a definition of being an employee.
Now, for tonight‘s big number. Gallup did a study on whether the State of the Union speech has affected presidents‘ approval ratings. Well, it turns out there‘s just one president in recent memory who consistently got a boost out of these speeches like tonight. Who was it?
You guessed it. Bill Clinton—an average of three percentage points every time he gave a State of the Union. At the time, people said Clinton talked far too long and got too much in the weeds. Well, it turns out people liked him getting into details about programs that affect them personally.
Guess who‘s laughing now? Bill Clinton, three-point boost every time he spoke at the State of the Union. Tonight‘s historic big number.
Up next: I have to say it, Michele Bachmann will provide her own version of the GOP response, having giving her own non-version of why there was a GOP. It was to stop slavery from expanding into the territories. She said this weekend there wasn‘t any slavery by the time the Republicans came along. Balloon head. She‘s a balloon head.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELE BACHMANN, MINNESOTA CONGRESSWOMAN: We haven‘t heard specific cuts so far. In fact, we‘ve heard that the President may be referring to investments—meaning more spending yet again. Spending that this country simply cannot afford, because, as we know, Mr. Speaker, we are falling off the cliff in terms of debt increases and that is not good for the next generation of Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST OF “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS”: Welcome back to “Hardball”. That was republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota previewing her speech tonight. Also talking about the President‘s State of the Union address, which is coming. Bachmann will be giving her own response to the President tonight on behalf of the Tea Party Express.
Is she going to trump the official GOP response by republican Paul Ryan? I doubt it. Are Bachmann and the Tea Party pushing republicans further to the right and threatening to divide the right? Well, for more on this, I‘m joined by Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo.
Sal, thank you for joining us. I want you to look at something here.
There‘s John Walsh as well. Thank you for joining us.
Let me—Sal, I want you to look at something that was said over the weekend in Iowa by Congresswoman Bachmann. Here she is:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began. We know that was an evil and it was a scourge and a blot and a stain upon our history. But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States. And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly—men like John Quincy Adams—who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t know what to make of that, Sal. That‘s balloon head, that‘s not what our history was founded on. We founded it on the Constitution, which includes treating slaves as three-fifths of a person. It went on all the way to the Civil War. We had compromise after compromise trying to avoid a war. We went to war and lost 600,000 people in the worst catastrophe in our history because slavery continued through the 1860s and only ended because of that war.
And here‘s this woman you‘ve made your spokesperson saying that somehow the founding fathers dealt with it. That‘s the one thing they did not deal with. That was the horrible compromise that was at the heart of our constitutions. Why do you put someone like this forward, who is a balloon head? Who knows no American History? It‘s a ridiculous decision you guys have made. Do you know how little this woman knows about our history?
SAL RUSSO, TEA PARTY EXPRESS CO-FOUNDER: I think Michele Bachmann is one of the—been one of the best—
MATTHEWS: Did you just hear that stuff? Did you just hear her? Do you want me to play it again? We could rub it in, Sal. It‘s horrendous.
RUSSO: I heard it. I heard what she said—
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it? What‘s she talking about?
RUSSO: I think what she‘s trying—I think what—I think what
she‘s talking about is that we cannot continue to spend money as recklessly
MATTHEWS: What? That‘s not what she just said. She said the founding fathers got rid of slavery.
MATTHEWS: Why would you say that? Why—every high school kid has been to Mt. Vernon and seen the slave quarters. What are you -- Jefferson had slaves. All those guys had slaves. I know they were great men in other regards, but they never got rid of slavery. It‘s right in the Constitution.
And here‘s this woman waving the Constitution around, palling around with Scalia, and she doesn‘t even know what the Constitution had in it. The treatment of slaves, African Americans, as three- fifths of people. That‘s in our history. You can‘t take it out. Explain to me what this woman‘s talking about.
RUSSO: I think she‘s just using that as an illustration to point out that --
MATTHEWS: Of what?
RUSSO: I think—I think Americans are—
MATTHEWS: Balloon head thinking? What do you mean, sir?
RUSSO: I think Americans are concerned today that their children and grandchildren are not going to have the same opportunities of the American Dream, because we‘ve increased our debt to a dangerous—
MATTHEWS: Why are you talking like this? You‘re talking like her. That‘s how she talks. She goes on this tape, no matter what you ask her, she goes on a tape. I want to ask you about slavery, sir.
Sal, you know when slavery ended. It ended with the Civil War, right?
RUSSO: Well, some kind of slavery ended with the Civil War. But, you know, we thought—
MATTHEWS: What do you mean “some kind of slavery”? Why are you hedging?
RUSSO: No, I‘m not hedging on it. I‘m saying that our racial—
MATTHEWS: When did slavery end in America? When did it become illegal? When did the 13th Amendment get passed?
RUSSO: Well, sure, I mean, that‘s a different question from when we‘ve had to deal with our racial issues in this country. I think we still deal with them.
MATTHEWS: No, no, the simple question to you, sir, and I know you have an IQ—
RUSSO: I don‘t think that‘s what she‘s talking about.
MATTHEWS: She said slavery ended under the Founding Fathers.
RUSSO: I don‘t think that‘s what she meant. I mean, I think she
meant that if we don‘t get control of our government now, the opportunity -
MATTHEWS: OK, you‘re just covering. You‘re covering. You made a terrible decision. You put a person out there that has no concept of American history. I‘m reminded of what Steve Schmidt said about Sarah Palin—she doesn‘t know anything. This is worse. This is claiming something that never happened. Slavery and race are the San Andreas Fault of American history, and you‘re denying it was there.
RUSSO: I think she was using that to -- No, I think she‘s—
MATTHEWS: Let me go Joan. Joan, you take over this witness. I find him hopeless. I know he knows better. He‘s covering for somebody who knows nothing. Go ahead, Joan.
JOAN WALSH, SALON EDITOR AT LARGE: You know, Sal has hitched his star to the Tea Party. Sal is a longtime republican entrepreneur out here in California, who‘s worked for mainstream republicans. He decided a few years ago he was going to go with the Tea Party and ride the Tea Party. And now he‘s kind of stuck, you know. The other thing, Chris—I want to point out one more thing that Michele Bachmann said that‘s related to her thoughts on slavery.
She also said that we were a country that it didn‘t matter your economic status, it didn‘t matter what county you came from. That‘s ludicrous too, Chris. I mean, even for white men there were property requirements to vote in the early States. Up until 1830 we had—some white men had property requirements. We know that immigrants were bashed. Catholics—
RUSSO: I think you‘re—I think you‘re both—I think you‘re ignoring the reality of what the Tea Party movement‘s all about.
WALSH: Don‘t interrupt me. You had plenty of time to talk. You had plenty of time to talk. I‘m now talking. Nativism attacked Irish Catholics, German Catholics—burned down churches and convents. We had the Chinese Exclusion act for 60 years—kept Chinese people out of this country. So, this happy garbage version of history—I love our country, Chris. I know that what we‘ve fought to do is make it better and better and better and we are trying to do that.
But to say that it‘s always been easy and always been equal—that lets them propose policies that profoundly hurt black people, that hurt immigrants, that hurt poor and working-class people—because they have this notion that everyone‘s always been equal, which is garbage.
MATTHEWS: OK, I want to give Sal all the time he needs. Sir, explain the history of American slavery as you know it.
RUSSO: I—This is not about that. I mean, why do you want to keep changing the subject?
MATTHEWS: Because we‘re talking about your spokesperson tonight that you have designated.
RUSSO: Well, that‘s right and what our spokesman is talking about is the fact that our spending is unsustainable, our national debt is skyrocketing, and we‘ve got to get on top of that. Yes, we‘ve had opportunities—
MATTHEWS: No—you‘re trying to teach some kind of new religion of America that has to do with the infallibility of our Founding Fathers—some sort of new, almost scriptural notion of American history that somehow goes back to some perfection time that we‘re trying to recover. You guys are trying to sell that everything was perfect back in the Federalist Period, back in the late 18th century so that you can keep saying we‘ve got to go back to that. Where everybody had a musket and everybody had a small farm and everything was perfect—
RUSSO: No, I don‘t think that‘s what anybody is saying—
MATTHEWS: That‘s what you‘re trying to sell, but even so—and what
you‘ve scrubbed our history of slavery. I think it‘s a desecration.
RUSSO: No, I don‘t think that‘s what—I don‘t think that‘s—I don‘t think that‘s what anybody is saying.
MATTHEWS: I‘m going to give you a chance, one more chance. Thirty seconds: What‘s the history of slavery?
RUSSO: I don‘t think that‘s what anybody is saying. I think our Founding Fathers—
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you what you think, Sal, of slavery. What was it? Just describe it.
RUSSO: I think our Founding Fathers developed a document—the Constitution of the United States—that served American and has served the world for freedom for two-hundred-and-something years.
MATTHEWS: Why do you guys talk like you‘re on hypno—hypnosis? Why can‘t you answer a question? Are you hypnotized? Can you answer a question? What‘s the history of slavery in America?
RUSSO: No, because your question—your question is irrelevant to what the issue is of the day. And that‘s why we have to—
MATTHEWS: The issue of the day is decreed by this speech by your candidate, is slavery and its history. She set the mark here. Joan, last thought—we can‘t—poor Sal is under the same kind of rule, apparently, that a lot of Tea Party people—it‘s look at the camera and repeat the speech.
WALSH: Well, and also, you know, if people really cared about debt—
RUSSO: We‘ve been on the same issue from the beginning, Chris.
WALSH: Really? Well, then why did you not have a tea party movement when George Bush was spending down the Clinton surplus, $200 billion a year surplus, and George Bush left behind a $1.2 trillion budget deficit—
RUSSO: We wouldn‘t have a Tea Party movement if it weren‘t for the fact that people were dissatisfied with the republican and democratic party. That‘s why—
MATTHEWS: I think you‘ve got to find another horse, Sal. You‘re a smart guy.
WALSH: It came when we had a democratic President.
MATTHEWS: Just get another horse, this one‘s terrible. Anyway, thank you Joan Walsh, thank you Sal. I know you‘re 10 times smarter than this person you put up there.
Anyway, up next, the President will talk tonight about winning the future. Does he mean 2012 first? Well, of course he does. He‘s a politician like all the other guys in that chamber tonight and all the other women. This is “Hardball”, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. What an exciting night made more exciting by the crazy talk of Sarah Palin—or rather, her acolyte, I‘m sorry, Michele Bachmann.
A little more than an hour from now, President Obama will give the State of the Union address. So, what‘s at stake tonight? I want to talk with a couple of smart people—Mark Halperin of “Time” Magazine—he‘s an MSNBC political analyst. And, of course, the Pulitzer Prize Winning Eugene Robinson. And by the way, you‘re always a Pulitzer Prize winner once you‘ve won it. David Corn, by the way, also joins us with a Mother Jones—that‘s a liberal newspaper, right? Isn‘t it some, like magazine? He‘s also a columnist for politicsdaily.com.
Gentlemen, all three of you, let‘s start in order. Let‘s start on the left. It was said positively. Eugene first, then David, then a man of the middle, right? Each one of you -- will the left be satisfied with the President‘s proposal tonight to do a lot of aggressive progressive spending on education, R and D, and infrastructure. Will that be enough to push—
EUGENE ROBINSON, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER: Not satisfied, but not dissatisfied, not violently dissatisfied or overly dissatisfied. I think the left will accept and go along with it.
MATTHEWS: God, you‘re on, whatever—not too big, not too small, just right. OK, so will this make it with you, David Corn and the people represent—you represent, I should say. The people from Mother Jones?
DAVID CORN, COLUMNIST MOTHER JONES: Well, no one elected me anything. I should say that, Chris. But I think this is a speech in which the President—
MATTHEWS: But you are a persuasive voice in progressive circles.
CORN: Well, thank you. This is a speech in which the President‘s going to try to do two things at once. He‘s going to come out for spending less and spending more—with investments that are generally progressive. They‘re not, you know, over-the-top progressive, but, in terms of clean energy, education, having the high-speed internet for 98%. But the interesting thing about the spending—
MATTHEWS: OK, that‘s Paul, who‘s he robbing that‘s Peter? Who‘s getting sacked here to pay for that.
CORN: Well, we won‘t know—I was at the briefing today at the White House. And they kept saying over and over again, we‘ll give you the budget numbers in a couple of weeks when they come out with a budget. They‘re going to have to squeeze other programs. So, will they be squeezing the E.P.A. to do more on education? Will they be squeezing the S.E.C. on Wall Street reform enforcement to do something else? Until we know the details, we won‘t know what the fight really is going on within the administration.
MATTHEWS: You know, this sounds complicated, but it‘s how everybody lives. I grew up this way. My parents didn‘t buy steaks. They didn‘t go to night clubs. They didn‘t waste money, they spent it on education and clothes and the basics and orthodontists and people like that. You know, the basics.
CORN: A lot of orthodontists.
MARK HALPERIN, TIME MAGAZINE SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We‘re less than three months away from the midterms—past the midterms, and I think we‘ve not fully unpacked all the ways in which the President—this sort of conventional story line—is the President‘s better off now by a lot than he was on election day.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a new term, “unpack”?
MATTHEWS: I thought Gregory owned that one.
HALPERIN: I‘m borrowing it.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘s going to do it tonight? Do you have a clear picture of tonight?
HALPERIN: I think one of the ways he‘s—to go to your question—that he‘s better off with the left than he was—is now the left has somebody they‘re more angry at than Barack Obama, which is Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. I think the republicans controlling the house gives the President a lot of leeway. He‘s their warrior leading them into battle against the republican controlled house. That buys him a lot—
MATTHEWS: Smart. Let me go back to Gene. Let me ask Gene this. I want to ask Gene, and then you, David.
It seems to me that you could always say—as long as the democrats had 60 senators—
MATTHEWS: And, as long as they had a majority in the house, the left was right to push. Here‘s your chance, push. Now what do they do? What‘s the left push for?
ROBINSON: Well, first of all, they push to defend what they accomplished in the first two years. And that‘s Nancy Pelosi‘s bottom line and I think Harry Reid‘s bottom line. And then, it‘s frankly more incremental than it was before. I mean, these grand gestures, these great works that they went after for the first two years are not possible the same way for the next two years.
MATTHEWS: You know, David, it sounds like a position coming from the
left, like Reagan did coming from the right. He did his big stuff the
first year—the big tax cuts, defense hikes and all that he wanted done -
his “Reaganomics”—and then, he basically sort of had to correct and back and fill most of the rest of his first term.
CORN: But I think what you‘re going to see from now to November 2012, is a fight over message—over, you know, over politics. And I think people on the left want to see Obama get out there and really fight for their values and their principals. I think they realize that the way the Congress is situated now, there won‘t be grand bills passed. There may not even be small bills passed in the next year and a half, but they want to see Obama defending progressive values. And I think in that regard, this speech may be a little disappointing.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘ll make John Boehner cry by saying nice things about him?
I‘m serious. I‘m Machiavellian. I say nice things about him. About how he‘s worked his way up the hard way and then he cries that he‘s won the moral advantage.
HALPERIN: I think if he mentions the American Dream and kids, there‘s a 50 percent chance Boehner will be weeping.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Gene? You‘ve got too much of a heart to go into this area. This is cruel and unusual.
ROBINSON: Yes, I have a heart. I don‘t think John Boehner will cry.
CORN: The President has a plan. He‘s going to mention Boehner—his hardscrabble life growing up working in the tavern. When Boehner starts to tear up, he‘s going to turn around and hand him a handkerchief with a picture of a puppy on it. And that‘s—
MATTHEWS: I think Biden, David—I see him reaching over with a big, clean handkerchief at that moment.
HALPERIN: Maybe he‘ll put his arm around and say “this is a pretty big deal, isn‘t it?”
MATTHEWS: You are so wise-guy, you know, BFD, is that what you‘re saying? I know what you‘re saying.
HALPERIN: Listen, I think the President is going to be very gracious to John Boehner. In fact, we have a copy of the speech at the National Journal—got them put out—in which he says some very nice things about John Boehner. And his language is very inclusive. It‘s not very combative. And it‘s not—I think Reagan and Bill Clinton, in some ways, were more confrontational after taking shellacking than Obama‘s going to be tonight.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, we‘ll see tonight. I think he‘s going to try to get the progressives behind him on a very aggressive economic program like Bill Clinton wanted to do, but couldn‘t because of high interest rate concerns. I think it‘s going to be an interesting thing. I think it‘s a Rorschach test. If you like Obama, you‘re going to see good in it. If you want to cause some trouble, you‘ll probably see some bad.
And you can bet Mitch McConnell—I can‘t make fun of him. I won‘t. It‘s already obvious. I‘m not saying a word against the guy. Mitch McConnell is so tight on anything for America in terms of his hopes. Is he the American Dream, Mitch McConnell? I don‘t think so. We‘ll be right back with our panel to talk about the right, Paul Ryan, and Michele Bachmann—the inimitable historian.
You‘re watching “Hardball” on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Wow, it‘s like election night. We‘re back with Mark Halperin and Eugene Robinson and David Corn. Gentlemen, I want to have, just for a little frisky moment here—the President‘s up against two people on the right now. On the near right or nearest right, he‘s got Paul Ryan—a somewhat analytical gentleman there talking about budget cuts and how to do it. On the fringey end of the world, he‘s got someone near the end of the world, I think, Michele Bachmann.
David Corn, I want to give you a slice at this. This incredible statement by this member of the United States Congress—that slavery was basically eliminated during the time of the Founding Fathers, therefore, not necessitating the compromises of Henry Clay‘s period, the Civil War, the loss of 600,000 lives—none of that ever happened. The republican party wasn‘t necessitated, her party didn‘t have to exist, because all this was taken care of in the Federalist Period.
Where does a full-mooner like this get elected to Congress? What kind of a District—I hope you‘re all watching, ladies and gentlemen—to elect someone of such limited historic knowledge.
CORN: I‘m sure the “X-Files” play very well over there. I mean, it‘s unfathomable. She even didn‘t get John Adams right. She called him John Quincy Adams. But she , sort of, you know, she talked like she came from the south. Maybe her numbers will go up in the Deep South, now that she‘s gotten rid of the Civil War and the southern defeat because of slavery.
MATTHEWS: I mean, I just wondered, Gene—She must have a speechwriter, because she was looking at notes—Imagine somebody being so benighted as to write something like that professionally—paid for by the taxpayer. There wasn‘t a Civil War, there wasn‘t a 100 year fight over slavery. It never was a problem because the Founding Fathers dealt with it in their infinite original intent, which they fall in love with.
ROBINSON: Right, well, George Washington, after the victory at
Yorktown, recovered from the British camp at Yorktown two slaves—two
women who had run away from Mt. Vernon earlier to the British lines because
in search of their freedom. And he recovered them and took them back to Mt. Vernon.
MATTHEWS: Yes, Lewis and Clark still had slaves. I don‘t know what happened. I mean, didn‘t she see “Glory”? Didn‘t she know anything?
HALPERIN: Why are you so opposed to a parallel universe?
CORN: Or “Gone With the Wind”, even. Come on.
MATTHEWS: I mean, even “Gone With the Wind” had “Mammy” in it and, you know, Butterfly McQueen. What was all that a. Anyway, serious point, because you‘ve been so non-partisan.
MATTHEWS: Are you equally nonchalant about this vast ignorance?
HALPERIN: I like a good parallel universe.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it?
HALPERIN: You know, first of all, as you know—
MATTHEWS: You‘re going to have to write about this in your book—what‘s going on in this country?
HALPERIN: You‘ve spent time with members of Congress in the past. Not all of them are well-educated. And look, a serious point—and you talked to Sal Russo about it and he didn‘t answer you—that movement has done a lot to get people to focus on deficit reduction. They do not have strong leaders. And it‘s going to lead them short of their goal unless they decided to gravitate more towards serious, strong people.
MATTHEWS: But the weirdness of this—I‘m going to get to poll Ryan in a minute—David Corn, one last shot—They called Justice Scalia—a learned man of the right, to educate them on the Constitution, and they never got to the part that said that African Americans were three-fifths human beings.
CORN: This is not about facts. It‘s more about feelings and if it sounds right—this is Sarah Palinism—if it sounds right, it‘s good enough for me. So they talk about the Constitution, the worship at the threshold of the Constitution, but in some ways, they just don‘t understand it. And, to them, it doesn‘t matter.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk about a smart adversary of the President, Paul Ryan. Is he going to get stuck? Is the third rail of politics still there? If you touch Social Security, are you in big trouble?
ROBINSON: Yes. The third rail is still there. He scares people when he talks about Social Security and when he talks about other entitlements. And I think he will tread very carefully—
MATTHEWS: But Social Security is not causing our national deficits.
MATTHEWS: So why are they going after it?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, they want to start with Social Security and a great argument could be made that there‘s not a Social Security crisis.
MATTHEWS: OK, why are they going after Social Security?
HALPERIN: They‘re not. They‘re going after everything. The republicans have no plan. They have no way to balance the budget without raising taxes. They are going to have to—the smartest thing—the best thing Obama has going for him is republicans are caught in that trap, and he‘s laying it deeper tonight.
MATTHEWS: OK, you know what I learned this weekend—why Michele Bachmann was not elected to leadership in the republican party—there is some filter there somewhere that says if you‘re an absolute full-mooner balloon head, you‘re not getting into councils of leadership.
Anyway, that‘s “Hardball” for now. Thanks for being with us. “The Last Word” with Lawrence O‘Donnell starts right now.
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