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updated 2/7/2011 10:06:14 AM ET 2011-02-07T15:06:14

Guests: Ron Allen, David Corn, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Lindsay Czarniak, Ed Rendell, Edward Walker, Peter Bergen, Abderrahim Foukara, Todd Harris

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  D-Day.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The calm after the storm.  Thousands of anti-government protesters were back in the streets of Cairo today, this time with little interference from the pro-Mubarak supporters who stormed them the last two days.  And while the unrest continues in Egypt with no end in sight, a debate has broken open on this side of the Atlantic.  Is the Obama administration pushing too hard to show Mubarak the door?

Plus, what are we to make of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is angling to step into the breach over there?  The Brotherhood has renounced violence and promises to play by the rules, but is it just waiting for its moment to seize control and short circuit the democratic process?

Also, bad news, good news.  The economy only created 36,000 new jobs, but the unemployment rate in this country dropped from 9.4 percent down to 9 percent last month.  That number may be more important for President Obama because that‘s the number public pays attention to.  I think he needs to get the number down to 8 in order to win reelection.

And I‘ve been saying that this is the Scranton to Oshkosh election, Scranton Wis—Pennsylvania, actually, to Wisconsin.  Well, Sunday‘s Super Bowl has the same theme, Pittsburgh versus Green Bay.  Politics and the Super Bowl later in the show.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with a major American president who was born 100 years ago this Sunday.

We start with Egypt.  Joining me right now from Cairo is NBC News‘s Ron Allen.  Ron, I guess the best question is what happened today in this ongoing saga?

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  We‘ve been asking ourselves that question today, Chris, what does all this mean?  Where are we right now?  The opposition has just declared that next week will be a week of resistance.  We had a day of departure, a Friday farewell today, and none of that happened.  And so the opposition is now in a position where they have to try and find ways to rally the troops, their troops.  There‘s certainly a lot of passion, a lot of energy.  Out in the streets tonight, there in the square tonight, there are still thousands of people, tens of thousands of people, perhaps, who are vowing to stay there through the night and stage what is becoming a sit-in, essentially.

The question is, can they maintain that, especially as the work week begins here on Monday?  We understand now that the opposition leaders are telling people that they should perhaps go to work on Monday and then protest on Tuesday to try and deal with the reality here that a lot of people in this community need to get back to work to earn money.  They want their kids to go back to school.  Students want to go back to school.  And they need to get this country running again because these protests have ground the entire place to a halt.

On the other hand, the government is remaining steadfast.  The prime minister again tonight said that there is no intention by President Mubarak to leave.  It‘s very unlikely that‘s going to happen, he said.  And that remains their position.  Hosni Mubarak is digging in.  He keeps making concessions, making gestures that he hopes, I guess, will give him more time because, again, at the end of the day today, there‘s no indication that he is going to step down—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the latest offer, as I understand it, from the president‘s palace is that he won‘t run for reelection in September.  His son, Gamal, will not run.  They‘re going to have dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood.  What is the demand from the streets?  This is what I have never figured out.  Are they willing to accept the army taking over, putting Suleiman or somebody in the place of Mubarak and holding free elections, real elections this September?  Is that good enough?

ALLEN:  Well, this gets complicated, Chris, because the opposition demand has always been that Mubarak step down, pure and simple, bottom line, you got to do that.  And that, apparently, is not going happen.  It hasn‘t happened yet.  That‘s not to say it won‘t happen, but there‘s every indication from the government that they‘re trying to play the situation in a way that Mubarak does not have to do that.  He may do it in a way that where he does—becomes a ceremonial leader.  But we start getting into semantics.

The other question, as a practical matter, is what has to happen in this country in order to have a free and fair election, and how quickly can that happen?  The elections are scheduled for September.  Can the apparatus of state, can the media be altered?  Can the real nitty-gritty of an election happen free and fairly?  The dynamics change between now and September.  Some say it can‘t.  So what do you do in the interim?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.

ALLEN:  You know, we‘re talking about a seven-month period.  And some people will say to the opposition, Look, you know, you‘ve gotten enough.  You know, chill out.  It‘s only seven months.  And they would say the same thing to Mubarak.  It‘s only seven months.  Why can‘t you step down?  It‘s been 32 years.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Great reporting.  Thank you, Ron Allen.  Have a nice weekend—although that seems like an absurd thing to say in Cairo.  But hope you get through everything all right this weekend—Ron Allen in the streets of Cairo.

President Obama was asked today if Mubarak needs to step down in order for reform to begin.  Here is what the president said here in America.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Once the president himself announced that he was not going to be running again, and since his term is up relatively shortly, the key question he should be asking himself is, How do I leave a legacy behind in which Egypt is able to get through this transformative period?  And my hope is, is that he will end up making the right decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ed Walker served as ambassador to Egypt and Israel during the Clinton administration.  He‘s also the former assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.  Can‘t have a better guest than you, sir.  So you‘re watching the streets are all week long.  What do you see it heading toward?

EDWARD WALKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT:  I see it heading towards a stronger military position, taking the role of guarantor of the state, guarantor of the constitution, if you will, or the changing constitution, and the desire to maintain the credibility of the military with the street.  And clearly, it has credibility.

MATTHEWS:  If the military comes out in full uniform on a place platform somewhere and declares to the street, with all the television power they have over there, and says, Mr. Mubarak is going to Sharm-el-Sheikh on permanent leave—he‘s not going to be our active president, he‘s not leaving the country, he‘s under our protection, we are going to rule until the open elections are held in September, Mr. Suleiman, the designated VP, will be the head of government—will that stop the rioting?  Will that stop, I should say, the protesting?

WALKER:  It‘s going to put it—yes, I think it will stop the rioting by all but the most committed rioters.  But there has to be some guarantees in there.  People are fed up with the promises of government in Egypt.  They want to have concrete steps taken, such as changing the constitution so political process can take place, opening the door for all parties to have discussions and be a part of the decision-making process.

MATTHEWS:  What about this country and our decision-making process?  I don‘t think I‘ve ever heard of this happening before.  The U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, apparently openly says, We got to get rid of Mubarak.  Meanwhile, Tom Donilon, the head of the National Security Council, director, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, both say, No, slow down on this.  Stop pushing this guy so publicly.  Let him make the move.  How did that leak?  How can you leak out the Situation Room?  Isn‘t that supposed to be the high-security room?

WALKER:  Well, yes, it is and it isn‘t.  It‘s only high security until the participants walk out the door and then purvey—let their stories be known.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WALKER:  Susan is correct.  Mubarak—I mean, there‘s no way you can solve this thing with Mubarak in place.  What the secretary of state is saying is that, Let‘s try and make this so it‘s a rational transition and you‘re not going to turn the place over to chaos.  I don‘t believe it will go into chaos, but they‘ve got to be a little bit more forceful in the kinds of states that they take now to prove to the people of Egypt that Mubarak is not coming back.  This is not—this is the end of this particular regime.

MATTHEWS:  You know, my concern, trying to figure out what‘s best for

us, best for Egypt, best for our relationship with that part of the world,

like most Americans, I‘m thinking, could it be that Mubarak has one point -

You don‘t let a mob pick a government?

WALKER:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  This is no environment—when he says, You don‘t know the culture of this—don‘t let the mob—this isn‘t the French revolution.  Let‘s make this the American revolution, where we actually have a constitutional process, we actually prove to have a better government than the one we‘ve dumped in London.  OK, that‘s the goal, have better than what you had before, not worse.

WALKER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Most revolutions, it seems, in third world countries—

WALKER:  Turns out worse.

MATTHEWS:  -- go to worse.

WALKER:  Right.  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  So—right?  So let‘s not cheer for the mob to make the decision.  Let‘s cheer for the mob to maybe get the government to make the right decision.

WALKER:  But isn‘t—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s different.

WALKER:  Isn‘t that what the president was saying?  You‘re not cheering for the mob, he‘s cheering for transition.  He‘s cheering for the military to have—step in to—

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.

WALKER:  -- have an orderly transition in which steps are taken, one, two, three.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it seems to me cooling it down, get the people off the street—

WALKER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- have a military sort of hammer that says, We‘re going to have calm for six months—

WALKER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- that‘s the protector of the peace, and then a clearly open door to a new kind of government.

WALKER:  Open door and a few—a number of immediate steps that are taken that gives credibility to what the military (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we got to figure out what those are.  Appreciate you coming on, Ambassador Edward Walker—

WALKER:  Appreciate it.

MATTHEWS:  -- who had all those posts over in the Middle East, Israel and Egypt, as well.

Coming up, we‘ll talk to a lot—we talked a lot about the Muslim Brotherhood were ready to—well, are they willing to walk into this power vacuum?  Of course they are.  The question is, is that good for us?  They say they‘ve renounced violence.  OK.  That‘s what they‘ve said.  But once they get some power, would the Brotherhood really support democracy in Egypt or simply turn it into an Islamic state like Iran?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  How‘s President Obama doing?  Well, it depends who you ask.  According to the Gallup poll, the president‘s approval ratings are the most polarized of any president two years into his presidency.  Democrats think he‘s great -- 81 percent approve of the job the president‘s doing.  But only 13 percent of Republicans approve of the job he‘s doing.  That‘s a wide gap, 68-point gap, actually.

It‘s the biggest of any president at this point in his term and the fourth largest in history.  Only the fourth, fifth and six years of the George W. Bush presidency had bigger gaps between the parties.  We‘re getting used to this gap, ladies and gentlemen, between Democrats and Republicans and what they think of a president.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In the post-Mubarak Egypt, the country‘s largest opposition force, the Muslim Brotherhood, would have new power.  Although the group now renounces violence, some of the world‘s most dangerous terrorists, including Osama bin Laden‘s second in command, were once members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  What would an empowered Brotherhood mean for the United States if it got into power?

With me now is Peter Bergen, the great author of “The Longest War:

Inside the Enduring Conflict”—there it is—“Between America and al Qaeda,” and Abderrahim Foukara, who‘s Washington bureau chief—and he‘s been great for us—for Al Jazeera, as well.  That‘s his main work.  In fact, it‘s your employment.

Here we are.  Let me go—here‘s what—your reporting, first of all.  Muslim Brotherhood—bad news for the United States if they get a chunk of the power over there?

PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR, “THE LONGEST WAR”:  Indifferent news.  Certainly not bad news.  I think these are—you know, this is a group that‘s engaged in conventional politics in Egypt for decades now.  Their attitude to Israel is going to be different probably than Mubarak‘s.  But I think, you know, writ large, they have participated in elections in a peaceful way for a long time, something they‘ve been criticized for by al Qaeda.  And they‘re going to be part of Egypt‘s future because they‘re part of its present.

MATTHEWS:  Do they route for al Qaeda?

BERGEN:  No.  In, al Qaeda‘s number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, who was, as you pointed out in the introduction, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has written a book-length denunciation of the Muslim Brotherhood—

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s my problem with your argument, and I think you‘re accurate because you know your material.  But who killed Anwar Sadat?

BERGEN:  Well, it was the Islamic Group and the Jihad Group, which are, like, you know, shoots off the Muslim Brotherhood.  But you know, anybody—

MATTHEWS:  Did they root for that?  Were they part of that?  When they got gunned down in that parade by the people who dressed in military costumes, were the—in uniforms, were they cheering for that?  Were they happy for that, the death of Anwar Sadat?

BERGEN:  I think there were a lot of people who were unhappy with the fact that Sadat had made peace with Israel, but they weren‘t involved in the attack and—

MATTHEWS:  Did they cheer his death?

BERGEN:  I actually don‘t know, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the kind of thing I want to know.  I know where your heart is, where your sentiment is, because in the end, that‘s who you end up backing, who you‘re rooting for.

BERGEN:  Don‘t forget this is—this group also has played ball with Mubarak for a very long time.  So I mean, it‘s not like they‘re looking for some sort of revolution in Egypt.  And I would just make the point that anybody who bombs an abortion clinic in this country is a Christian fundamentalist, but very few Christian fundamentalists bomb abortion clinics.  So the Muslim Brotherhood may have spawned some people that are militant, but this is a very, very large group, and the militant groups are very, very small.  So—and the Muslim Brotherhood—

MATTHEWS:  No.  Let me draw a distinction there.  I would say the Republican forces in Ireland who support—in the old days, supported the actions of the IRA, the provisional IRA.  You don‘t want to have people that will give cover, give protection, give secret hiding places to a terrorist group.  And my question is, does the Muslim Brotherhood—would they be out there giving refuge, support, economically, support morally, to terrorists?

BERGEN:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, we also have to look at the nature of Egyptian society.  Don‘t forget that these militants completely destroyed themselves with their actions in the ‘90s.  They killed more than a thousand Egyptians.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BERGEN:  They—with the Luxor massacre in ‘97 --

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Your view?  Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, AL JAZEERA:  Well, I—

MATTHEWS:  Are they a danger to the United States?

FOUKARA:  I—when I look at—first of all, when I look at what‘s happening in Tahrir Square, it‘s not about the Muslim Brotherhood.  It‘s about—what started it off was young people who were disaffected, socially, economically and politically.  They just want political freedom.  They‘re done with this regime.

The other political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood—in a way, it‘s a good thing that they didn‘t get involved right there because this thing would have been over a long time ago.  They finally jumped on the bandwagon.  It was expected they would jump on the bandwagon.  If there‘s a new government in Egypt, as Peter said, Muslim Brotherhood would in one way or another be part of it.  Would the Muslim Brotherhood be calling the shots in that government?  A lot of people would think that it‘s insanity to think that.  As far as the Israelis are concerned, yes there is a lot of concern inside of Egypt and even in the wider Arab world about the Muslim Brotherhood—

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t the Hamas group that took over the Gaza area of the Palestinian—potential Palestinian state—aren‘t they offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood?

FOUKARA:  There are a lot of people who see very strong connections between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.  And basically, they would say that the problem is a problem of violence that the Israelis and Hamas would have to sort out.  But focusing on the Muslim Brotherhood to try to stall change in Egypt I think is creating more problems for Egypt and for relations with the United States than actually solving them.

MATTHEWS:  So in other words, don‘t let the people in the street who are secular be stopped by fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.

FOUKARA:  Well, one of the things—one of the slogans we actually heard today from the demonstrators—many of the demonstrators in Cairo is that, We‘re not Muslim Brotherhood.  And I think people are aware that they may—that line may be used, but—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s hear from someone who is.  A Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson told NBC News, quote, “We‘re not going for revenge.  If he does leave and there are no more victims, he can step down peacefully.  But if Mubarak continues to cling to office and there are more victims, then he could be put on trial by a new Egyptian government.”

That I think was a clarification of a statement put out by someone associated formerly with the Muslim Brotherhood, who‘s living in exile, or an expatriate in the Alp8ine region of Italy, who put out a statement out of nowhere, I thought, saying, We‘re going to put this guy on trial, which to me is fighting words, one more reason for Mubarak not to give up, if he knows he‘s facing some Islamic court somewhere.

BERGEN:  Well, no doubt.  But I think—yes, I mean, I think that statement spoke for itself.  You know, I‘ve interviewed quite a number of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.  These are not Molotov cocktail-throwing revolutionaries.  These tend to be doctors and lawyers, and you know, middle class people who‘ve been—you know, feel that the Mubarak regime hasn‘t performed.  And one of the reasons the Muslim Brotherhood has risen up is precisely because the Mubarak regime didn‘t perform.  So if there was some sort of natural catastrophe, the government did nothing about it, but the Muslim Brotherhood would be out doing charity.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

I have got you gentlemen here, both.  Call the shots.  What do you think is going happen now?  Do you think Mubarak may hang in there for another couple months? 

FOUKARA:  I think he will hang in there, prediction—it could be right, could be wrong, predicated on the fact that anything could happen, as we have seen with this whole thing -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, based on today, does he have the strength to hang in there?

FOUKARA:  I think—if I were to make a prediction, I think he will hang in there for a few more days. 

But now bigger and bigger and bigger chunks of the international community, including the United States, seem to be cutting their bridges with him.  He has real reason to think about his next step, if the street, if the protesters stay on the streets.  And I think we have seen enough will and enough organization on the part of the demonstrators to be able to put it off. 

MATTHEWS:  Peter, your thoughts? 

BERGEN:  He hasn‘t been able to employ total repression.  And for dictators, that is problematic.  If you can‘t do total repression, you‘re out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I get the sense he is hanging in there.  I have been watching this guy 30 years.  He is a strong man.  He thinks he is a pharaoh.  He thinks he is Egypt.  I don‘t see how he sees anybody in the streets he wants to turn it over to.  So it‘s a question whether he turns it over to Suleiman and he believes that will quell the rioting. 

And if he doesn‘t believe that will quell the rioting, what does he gain by stepping out of office? 

FOUKARA:  One thing I—one quick thing I would say, that regardless of whether he steps or he stays, remnants of the regime, the current regime, will stay.  But his departure would be a major symbol to the protesters -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Departure to Sharm el-Sheikh or out of the country?  Where would he go? 

FOUKARA:  Well, stepping down in one way or another. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he wants to go to Montenegro. 

FOUKARA:  But if—

MATTHEWS:  That story was out today.

FOUKARA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean—

FOUKARA:  But if the protesters managed to get him to step down, that would be a strong symbol.

MATTHEWS:  OK, step down.  It‘s getting—I think we‘re finding people moving to something here in the center.  We will see.

Peter Bergen, thank you for your expertise.  Good luck with the book. 

It‘s called?

BERGEN: “The Longest War.” 

MATTHEWS:  “The Longest War.”

And, of course, my new friend Abder Foukara, thank you for joining us again from Al-Jazeera.

Up next:  Senator Rand Paul, well, he is unleashed.  The Tea Party favorite has already cast some noteworthy votes in the United States Senate.  Now he wants to cut off aid to Israel.  His reasoning?  You will get it in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First: Rand Paul, a man with a mission.  The Tea Party senator offered up his own budget last week.  Not only does the proposal cuts $500 billion from the current budget.  It goes somewhere Republicans, even the strictest deficit hawks, are loathe to go. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL ®, KENTUCKY:  I want to be a friend of Israel.  I think it‘s—they are an important ally.  But I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world. 

Should we be giving money to a—free money or welfare to a rich nation?  And I don‘t think so. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, cutting aid to Israel, the proposal will get more attention than support.

Senator Paul has also made a stand during yesterday‘s vote to criminalize aiming a handheld laser at an aircraft.  Straightforward, right?  Not to Mr. Tea Party.  Senate Paul was the one and only nay vote on that bill.  His reasoning?  The states ought to take care of it. 

Is he saying airplanes are not interstate commerce?

Next, ever wonder what a Rick Santorum presidency would look like?  Well, here‘s a preview.  The all-but-declared candidate for president offered the following at a Tea Party event in South Carolina—quote—“I would sign a bill tomorrow to eliminate the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  That court is rogue.  It‘s a pox on the Western pox of our country.”

A pox?  The 9th Circuit Court is the largest appeals court in the country.  Santorum‘s real issue?  The court is based in San Francisco and is known for issuing decisions that rile conservatives.  Maybe you would like to eliminate the city of San Francisco. 

Finally, Mike Bloomberg looks in the mirror and likes what he sees.  This week, the “New Yorker” magazine cover featured Gotham‘s mayor in this not-so-flattering pose, unless you are Mike Bloomberg.  His reaction to the caricature?  Quote: “I thought I was great, it was great.  I have said this a thousand times.  I like what I see in the mirror.  I hope everybody here does.”

Hmm.  Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the richest mayor of them all?

Now for tonight‘s “Number.”

Sarah Palin‘s lawyer filed applications with the United States Patent Office to trademark the name Sarah Palin and that of her daughter, Bristol Palin.  In short, they‘re looking to protect the Palin brand.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Number”—patent application number 85170226 -- Sarah Palin trademarks Sarah Palin, tonight‘s “show me the money” “Big Number.” 

Up next:  The unemployment rate drops sharply, down from 9.4 down to 9.0, but the economy is not creating many jobs.  Where does the economy need to be for President Obama to get reelected?  I say 8 percent. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closing out their best week in two months with modest gains, the Dow Jones industrials climbing 30 points, the S&P 500 up three.  The Nasdaq finished with a gain of 15 points. 

Investors digesting a rather tepid jobs report.  The unemployment rate fell from 9.4 percent to 9 percent in January, but only 36,000 jobs were added.  And that was well below the 145,000 that economists were expecting. 

Semiconductors some of the strongest performers today after Bank of America, Merrill Lynch delivered a bullish roundup on the sector.  You can see the big moves there.  Optical component maker JDS Uniphase was the standout on surprisingly strong earnings, thanks to blistering demand for tablets and smartphones.

Health insurer Aetna another standout on blockbuster earnings, an upbeat outlook and a dividend bump.

And retailers advanced on strong January sales, despite signs that much of the spending is going on in the upper-income brackets. 

Overall, a solid weekend for the markets.  All of the major indices gained between 2 percent and 3 percent for the week. 

That is from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Depends who you‘re talking to.

Welcome back on HARDBALL.

Look, January‘s job numbers are out, and they look genuinely good.  They are down from 9.4 percent down to 9 percent.  But how many thousands of jobs?  Only 36,000 jobs, which is less than economists expected the last month to produce.  Everyone is rooting for our economy to keep getting better, at least in this country, but how important are these numbers for President Obama‘s chance to keep his own job in 2012? 

We‘re joined right now on that hot question, perhaps the hottest, by “Mother Jones”‘ -- I love the way I said it—“Jones”‘ David Corn, who is an MSNBC political analyst—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- and Republican strategist Todd Harris, who has so much money, he doesn‘t need to be an MSNBC analyst.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Todd—

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: -- break it down.  Nine percent employment looks better than 9.4 percent employment, right? 

HARRIS:  Absolutely. 

And if—obviously, if the numbers keep trending that way, it‘s going to be better for President Obama.  I think it‘s hard to extrapolate too much about what anyone—is it 8?  Is it—whatever the number is going to be—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But Michelle Obama is going to bed tonight with her husband, and they‘re chatting, how did the day go?  Well, we got the unemployment number down to 9. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I‘m serious. 

HARRIS:  Yes.  It‘s good for news for them.  When Bill Clinton—

MATTHEWS:  I will talk to my wife about it tonight.  I think it‘s the kind of conversation everybody has who is in to politics.

HARRIS:  When Clinton was reelected—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  When Clinton was reelected in ‘96 and when Bush was reelected in ‘04, the unemployment number exactly the same, 5.4 percent.  When Reagan was reelected in ‘84, it was 7.2.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

So, you can—if you want to know what a number is going to be, maybe somewhere in that range.  So, they have got a lot of work to do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Before you put the complete spin on that, and you may not notice this, but in March of ‘09, what was it?  What was he dumped with?

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Yes, it‘s heading the right—

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  It‘s heading the right direction.  You‘re right.  But you‘re the one who is trying to pick a number.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Let me be the pessimist, because while the unemployment number at 9 percent is really a good drop, and if you get to the 8 range, you get to low 8s, or below 8 by Election Day, that is going be very good for Barack Obama. 

But we‘re supposed to create 120,000 jobs a month to keep up with population levels.  We‘re supposed to create 200,000 jobs a month to get back to the 5.5.

MATTHEWS:  Who is out producing these jobs for this job -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- of yours?  Who is doing this?  Business doesn‘t want to do it.

CORN:  No, they‘re not.  And we still have a hollow economy.  The Dow is over 12000.  It‘s sort of a jobless recovery.  And so I think there is sort of the—a lot is going to depend on whether he is running against a Republican candidate who can address the structural problems with the economy or not. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is the reset button going to be around 8?  In other words, we have to struggle to get down to that, and it looks like we‘re never going to get any lower.  That could be bad. 

So, let me ask you about the president this weekend.  You‘re a PR guy. 

You know how to handle a candidate.  You got this Rubio guy elected, right?

HARRIS:  Single-handedly.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know how to do this.

Here‘s the president going to be on Sunday, the biggest audience ever maybe in history, worldwide even.  And he‘s going to give an interview pregame to Bill O‘Reilly. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s part of the deal.  Whoever gets the Super Bowl coverage, whoever gets the broadcast gets—and in this case, FOX broadcast is doing it.

So, fair enough.  They pick their guy, their number-one tent pole, and they put him in there, right? 

Is that smart for Obama to do this interview?

HARRIS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

HARRIS:  Because, look, the president is not trying to win over Bill O‘Reilly or even win over the hard-core O‘Reilly audience.  What he‘s trying to do is mitigate some of the—whether it‘s the anger, the dislike that exists for him in that audience.  

MATTHEWS:  So he shows up looking causal, wears a baseball cap or something, comes off as, you‘re saying, somehow—

CORN:  He looks like an American. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  And he‘s going to surprise them.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s eating a pizza or whatever, right. 

HARRIS:  And for people who are not in that audience, maybe just people in the middle, they like to see the president go and address his critics and confront them and actually have a debate and a dialogue.

CORN:  I would like to see and ask Bill O‘Reilly, Bill, do you watch your own network?  What do you think of Glenn Beck, what he‘s saying about Egypt?  I‘m just curious. 

There are a lot of ways he sort of can do a jujitsu on this as well.  But I think, by and large, he‘s going to go out there and be a football fan.  And people like that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s see.  If you want to get into Howard Beale vetting of these—

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- I think Bill O‘Reilly is mad as hell, and he‘s always angry.  And I can‘t figure out why.  But he‘s not crazy. 

CORN:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Beck, on the other hand, I think he has to be looked at. 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you have to look at the guy when he‘s talking about the caliphate and how we are involved in it.  And the two Bushes, by the way, he incriminated the other day.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He said they‘re—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They are protecting that secret of ancient Babylon targets, so it can be the future of the evil empire. 

HARRIS:  I saw it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he OK?  Do you think Glenn Beck is OK? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not into—

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  I‘m not allowed to discuss these things.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  But is he OK? 

HARRIS:  I‘m not allowed to discuss these things. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You can‘t talk about that.  That‘s a no-comment, Todd. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, this question—then he‘s going to go on to the Chamber of Commerce now.

Tom—what‘s his name, Tom Donohue, the head of—

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Donohue.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I get along with Tom Donohue, but he‘s a real, total right-winger on this stuff, totally trashed him in the last election. 

CORN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not your local chamber of commerce.  It‘s totally a lobbying operation.

CORN:  Ideological.

MATTHEWS:  Totally big corporation.  They trashed President Obama. 

He‘s going to speak with them on Monday.  Is that smart?

HARRIS:  Smart, yes, absolutely.

Look, he‘s—right now, he is as far as he is going to possibly ever be from the date of his reelection.  So, let‘s start checking off some of those boxes now.  He is not going to probably meet with the Chamber a year from now.  Let‘s go do it now.  You get to say that you did.  You get to—he‘s going to invite them for a dialogue, and then, if nothing comes out of it, he gets to say, look, I tried. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think there‘s a strategy going on here.

And I was asking you guys during the break, is there somebody new calling the shots at the White House?  It used to be, they reacted, reacted, and reacted.  Axelrod and Gibbs, what did he say?  Oh, here is what I say. 

This week, he did the thing on American exceptionalism in the State of the Union.  He did the thing on religion this week, about his own religious commitments, which I‘m troubled by, because I don‘t think a president should have to talk about religion for a political reason.

And now he is doing this meeting with the right.  Is he now—what is he doing—like they used to say in baseball, if you can win the games at the beginning of the year, you don‘t have to win them in September?  Is that what he is doing?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  But you know what he‘s also not doing?  He‘s also not legislating.  The first two years, he was bogged down legislating and dealing with the Hill.  That‘s not going to happen now. 

He‘s going to fight with them on the debt ceiling and other issues, but he‘s not going to be legislating.  So, that leaves him—what does that leave?  Fighting and determining what the message is. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CORN:  So, when he goes and he meets with the Chamber, he talks to Bill O‘Reilly, he goes back—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Chamber?  Are you on that—

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  The Chamber, yes, the Chamber. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  I love the way you said that.  It was so—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- coaxing.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  He‘s back to the Obama of ‘08, when he said, listen, I‘m going to rise above these bitter partisan fights, and I‘m going to be the type of guy you want to see in Washington.

HARRIS:  Yes.  David is right.  I would far prefer for him to go get bogged down in Congress again.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what are you going do?  How are you going to beat this guy?  You can‘t seem to pick a candidate.  Romney has been terrible lately, by the way.  He is so unimaginative.  He talks like a robot. 

HARRIS:  Well, look—

MATTHEWS:  This guy Pawlenty leaning so far to the right, he is trying to prove he is a Tea Partier, which he isn‘t, saying he is going to bring back DADT and all this wacky stuff just to stir up the crazies. 

HARRIS:  Two things.

Number one, I know you like—lately, you‘ve been talking a lot about the president‘s approval ratings and are they rebounding.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why not?

HARRIS:  OK.

CORN:  OK.

HARRIS:  Even right now, in a generic ballot against just generic Republican candidate, the president is only winning by three points. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are you going to find that generic guy? 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Generic—generic is often—generic is often better than the real thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why they keep talking Jeb Bush.  You are so desperate for a candidate, because you know.  What is this guy Huntsman doing?  He walks out there.  And every minute he talks about running, he is basically saying Romney ain‘t going to make it.  I‘m another Mormon rich guy.  I‘m another guy from Utah, basically.  And I‘m better than him. 

CORN:  And I used to—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If Romney was doing well, then he wouldn‘t have to come into this thing. 

HARRIS:  I‘m going to—I‘m going to give you one other number before you guys start patting yourselves on the back too much.

George W. Bush, at this exact time—or—I‘m sorry—George H.W.

Bush, at this exact time in his first administration, had an 82 percent

MATTHEWS:  Because he won a war.

CORN:  He won a war.  That‘s right.

HARRIS:  And look what happened to him.

MATTHEWS:  He was Winston Churchill.

HARRIS:  My point is, all of this is very fluid.  So, comfort yourselves.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to talk about the Super Bowl in a minute.  Who is going to win this thing?

CORN:  I‘m a Jets fans.  So, I‘m rooting for the Packers.

HARRIS:  The Packers are going to win.

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  That‘s a pretty smart pick.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think that was a smart pick.

Todd Harris, thank you very much—and David Corn.

And we‘ll be right back.

By the way, this Sunday‘s Super Bowl and the two teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, represent—well, they are basically what the election is going to be about.  The real battleground.  Remember?  From Scranton to Oshkosh—how about from Pittsburgh to Green Bay?  Same terrain.  That‘s what it‘s about.

Coming back: we‘ll have Eddy Rendell come here and our own best sportscaster in the Washington area.  They‘re both coming back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, NASA has announced that Mark Kelly, the husband of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will command the final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour.  Kelly, who has been by Giffords‘ side since she was shot in the head in Tucson last month, will lead the mission scheduled to lift off on April 19th.  U.S. Congresswoman Giffords was moved, by the way, last week to a rehabilitation center in Houston where Kelly lives.  Kelly says he absolutely intends for Giffords to be there at the launch where he lives.  By the way, they both live in the same place.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve been saying for weeks now that the 2012 presidential election coming on is going to be win or lost in those Rust belt cities of Scranton and Oshkosh, all the way across from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin.

Well, this weekend, look at it.  That‘s where the big Super Bowl is being fought between, of course, the Packers from Green Bay and the Steelers from Pittsburgh in Super Bowl.  Believe it or not, 45, it‘s numbered.

For more on the big game and the Rust belt politics, I‘m joined by Lindsay Czarniak from our own NBC station.

Lindsay, we were chatting the other day.  You don‘t have to make a pick again because we did it in the hallway.  But, you know, I think it‘s great.  You know, they named the teams the Atlanta Braves and all this and -- all this.

And here‘s two teams named after working people.  The Steelers, the guys who make steel.  You got guys who make—the meat packers from Green Bay.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, NBC SPORTS:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  This is working folks with big parkas on cold weather and I love it because I think that‘s America.  And what are the cultures of these two teams?  Tell us.  You‘re the expert.  What‘s the feel of a team like—go ahead.  Go ahead.

CZARNIAK:  First of all, I‘m glad you didn‘t hit me because I thought

you thought I lost my mind when I said that I thought that Green Bay was going to win when I saw you in the hallway yesterday.

           

But the culture really is just what you said, Chris.  These are both blue collar teams.  These are both cities that really wrap their arms around these two football teams.  Obviously, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won the Super Bowl six times.  The Packers have done that three.

But, you know, these are cultures that football is everything in these towns.  For example, I don‘t know if you heard about this.  It‘s very interesting.  There‘s a hospital in Pittsburgh that just this week began wrapping all the newborn babies in terrible towels—of course, one of the symbols of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They tweeted about that image.

And then there‘s a hospital now in Green Bay that has decided to place cheese heads on all their newborns.

So, it‘s a rivalry that really crosses cities obviously.  But in Pittsburgh, man, if you‘ve been there for other games, even hockey games, you can see how ravenous those fans are.  Green Bay, basically, their town is the Green Bay Packers.  So, you can‘t get a rivalry that really means closer to the same thing in both of these places.

MATTHEWS:  You know, you said it about Green Bay.  And all my life, I‘ve been rooting against Green Bay.  We beat them in Philadelphia.  The Eagles beat them back with Lombardi, not Lombardi, when they had Lombardi, we had Dan Brocklin (ph).  And I think back, our quarterback was Sonny Jurgensen.  It was a hell of a team.

But anyway, it seems to me—it seems to me that Green Bay is a football team.  The whole town supports it.  Isn‘t it like Notre Dame is a football team?

CZARNIAK:  No, exactly.  And actually, that‘s the only publically-owned football team in the NFL.  So, then you‘ve got great ownership as well for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, you can‘t say enough about both of these teams supporting—both of these towns basically supporting the teams the same way.  But then when you look on the football field, both of these teams match up so well.  I mean, they both have incredible defenses.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CZARNIAK:  Their quarterbacks, though, to me, are the bigger story. 

Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowls already.  He is going for a third.  And then you have Aaron Rodgers, who really, you could argue, was the hottest quarterback in the NFL towards the end of the season, including into the playoffs.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

CZARNIAK:  And I think when you got somebody that‘s on his game in the zone as much as he was, it‘s really tough to compete about that.  But then also, you‘ve got Roethlisberger who was out at a piano bar on Tuesday.  Did you hear about that, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  No.

CZARNIAK:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I did.  I heard all about it.  Drinking beer and breaking the rules, but apparently got back in time for the curfew.

Anyway, thank you very much.  Lindsay, you‘re the best.  And I mean it.  You‘re the greatest.  Thanks for joining us.  I know your pick.

Le‘s move.  We‘ve got an expert on football coming up here.  Ed Rendell, of course, does color commentary for the years—for years for the Eagles, pronounced I-G-G-E-L-S, the Eagles.

By the way, Governor, I just found out today that the Eagles got their name from the National Recovery Act of the New Deal.  They weren‘t named after a bird, they were named after a political event, the New Deal, which is fascinating.

FMR. GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Jeez, I didn‘t know that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, now, you know.

Let‘s talk about the game here in these Rust belt teams.  How important is football to the town of Pittsburgh, your second city?

RENDELL:  Well, I think it‘s part identity of the city of Pittsburgh.  Remember, Pittsburgh originally was a steel town.  It‘s undergone a tremendous transformation into a high tech town.  But it was a steel town.  That was its heritage and the Steelers are named after us being a steel town just like the Packers named after the meat packing industry in that part of Wisconsin.

And in that respect, Chris, this is a great Super Bowl.  These are two original NFL teams—two teams that were named for their industrial greatness and their cities.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RENDELL:  And it‘s terrific to same them play.  And they are two similar teams in terms of what they bring to the table of football-wise.

MATTHEWS:  Well, now, you‘re a political commentator.  I want you to tell me what you would recommend to the president of the United States say when he gets interviewed by Bill O‘Reilly in the pre-game on Sunday.  He has a chance to talk to the most vigorous fans in this game, not just the country but those partisans out there in the industrial areas, you know, the ice bowl people, the people the North always vote for.

I always vote for any eastern team and then they vote for the non-expansion teams because I don‘t believe in the expansion teams.

RENDELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I like the basic list who we started with, but that‘s big city.  What does he say to these guys?  Because, you know, the election is going to depend on Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.  It‘s going to depend on them.

RENDELL:  Well, I think he should just say what you and I said, that this a great game because it‘s the heritage of the NFL, it‘s the heritage of industrial America.  And he should say that neither Green Bay or Pittsburgh would have ever canceled a football game because of snow.

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  No way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask—OK, let‘s talk about who‘s going to win this thing?  Who‘s going to win?

RENDELL:  Well, I think the Steelers are better—

MATTHEWS:  Can you speak now that you‘re not governor of Pennsylvania? 

Can you speak freely as a political expert and as a sports expert?

RENDELL:  Sure.  I think—I think the Steelers are a better balanced team.  I think Green Bay has some problems in the secondary and Green Bay has more weaknesses.  The Steelers have virtually no weaknesses, great defense, great offense.  But on the other hand, Green Bay is a hot team.  Aaron Rodgers has had the magic touch that he won three on the row against three pretty tough teams.

So, a lot of people would say let‘s ride the hot horse and the hot horse is Green Bay.

But let me tell you, Ben Roethlisberger, I heard you talk about him, he knows what it is to win.  And I have a hunch this is going to be a very close game.  It‘s not going to be as high scoring as people expect.  It‘s not going to be a zero-zero game either.

But I think, in the end, Ben Roethlisberger will do what‘s necessary for Pittsburgh to win.  And that‘s what I believe.

I saw Green Bay play the Eagles, Chris, in the first round of the playoffs.  The Eagles played a lousy game, and yet we were a foot and a half—if Michael Vick had lobbed that last pass a foot and a half more, Eagles won the game.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Vick coming back strong next year?

RENDELL:  Awesome.  He‘s the most impressive athlete in the NFL, bar none.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s turned the quarterback position into an athletic position, which is pretty amazing stuff.

Anyway, thank you very much, Governor Ed Rendell.

RENDELL:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I want to go back.  Is Lindsay still there?  We‘re going to stay with you, Ed.

Let me ask you about this whole question of your part of the country in Pennsylvania.  I look at this election, if it were held today for president, if we had this election moved up 18 months, I‘d be worried for the Democrats.  I worry that they would not win Wisconsin, they would not - - based on what just happened in November.  Would probably not win Indiana, I think definitely not win Indiana.  Would have a real hard time carrying Ohio and would probably squeak Pennsylvania.

Is that a good assessment right now where they stand?

RENDELL:  Well, sure, except for one thing, Chris, you don‘t know who the opponent is.  And if it was referendum, yes or no on Barack Obama, your analysis might be right.  But I think Barack Obama showed real leadership in the lame-duck session.  I think the State of the Union speech, although the typical soaring Obama rhetoric was also a good leadership vision speech.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RENDELL:  And I think people are starting to think of him as a leader.  And who‘s he going to run against?  You can‘t tell me how hard it‘s going to be in an individual state until you tell me who their opponent is?

MATTHEWS:  What‘s their problem?  Why are the Republicans have this 50/50 shot at the presidency?  Why are they unable to come with a star?  Why—they look like they‘re still pining for Jeb.

RENDELL:  Well, I think the problem is there‘s a huge split in the Republican Party.  If I were in charge of the Republican Party—by the way, this will be the kiss to death to the guy I‘m going to mention—Mitt Romney would be the candidate, no ifs, ands and buts about it.  He‘s got the best credentials to talk about the economy and job creation.  But Mitt Romney, I don‘t think can get the nomination because of health care.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks so much.  Thank you very much, Governor Ed Rendell -

rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

           

When we return, let me finish with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan.  We have some thoughts on that.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight in what I believe is an important statement on the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

I should start with a pair of complaints.  I think the stewardship of this planet is vital, literally, to the living things upon it.  And that includes us.  Since we‘re the only thinking beings on the planet, we have the innate duty to protect it.

I don‘t think Ronald Reagan took that duty to heart.  It got in the way of his belief of unbound free enterprise—and honestly, I don‘t see how you can call free an activity that destroys the very environment in which freedom lives.

I also don‘t think Reagan grasped what it‘s like to be a regular, working American.  I‘m not talking about success stories like him.  I‘m talking about regular people who worked for a paycheck, live with the vicissitudes of cutbacks and layoffs, and get stuck in places where there are scant options for making it.

I don‘t think he had a bad heart.  He just didn‘t open his eyes to the fact that some people need that safety net—need Social Security, need Medicare, need help with tuition bills or other breaks in life and the government is the one institution there is there to ensure those things.

Those two powerful impediments taken into consideration, I have three good things to say about Ronald Reagan, which will place him high in our history books and should.

His personal story is magnificent.  He took the hits that came with life—a bad first marriage that was not his fault, a Hollywood market for stars that can be short lived in its favors, a TV business can be almost as tough, and a political world that can be very tough, extremely tough on those who don‘t chart their courses in familiar channels.  He surmounted all these challenges to build a great life and career, and most important, to offer America the leader it needed and has come to revere.

For what he did in bringing the Cold War to a close, there can be no denials, no tut-tutting, no but-butting.  He saw the opportunity.  He saw what was happening in the Kremlin.

He took the measure, personally, of a Soviet leader, and that made all the difference.

He saw the galloping horse of history passed within range and he leapt upon it when no one else on the right had the daring to do it.  And let‘s be straight here, it had to be someone on the right jump into that particular saddle, just as it took Charles de Gaulle to hop aboard that plane to Britain in 1940, leaving Vichy and the others of his country who didn‘t see history‘s arrival.

President Reagan did something else.  He was a tremendous chronicler, not of the details of our history, our American history—no—but its theme, it‘s character.  Through the Great Depression and World War II and great, long struggle against communism, he heard our music even when it faded.  He saw the beauty in what we believe of ourselves—a country of freedom and opportunity that can be—has been when it counts this past century, a land of courage.  It‘s an American legacy to be deeply, deeply proud of all in all.

And Ronald Reagan, the man made us feel this pride because he felt it himself.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uyghur.

           

           

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