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  1. Headline
updated 5/11/2011 11:17:40 AM ET 2011-05-11T15:17:40

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Chris Cillizza, Simon Hobbs, David Sanger, Tyler Drumheller, Joan Walsh, Clarence Page, Kathy Hochul

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Breakout.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York. 

Leading off tonight: commander-in-chief.  Here‘s another blow to those who argue that President Obama doesn‘t have what it takes to protect our country and its armed forces.  “The New York Times” reported just today that President Obama demanded an extra chopper and troops so that if the assault force that got bin Laden was attacked by Pakistani forces, they‘d be able to fight their way out of the country.  Let‘s hear the neocons now who say they love a muscular foreign policy complain about that decision.

Also, let‘s remind ourselves what many Republicans were saying before the Pakistan raid, that President Bush saying bin Laden is marginalized, how wrong that was, John McCain saying you can‘t just move in without Pakistan‘s cooperation.  Wrong.  Dick Cheney saying, I have serious doubts about whether President Obama is prepared to defend the nation.  Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Plus, President Obama‘s big immigration speech today in Texas.  Here‘s my question.  Do the Democrats actually want to do something about illegal immigration and reform, or do they just want the issue so they can bash the Republicans?

And we may be seeing the first real political consequence of the Republican plan to axe Medicare.  An open seat in a conservative western New York district was supposed to be an easy win for the Republicans, but the Democrat has pulled even by bashing the GOP candidate‘s support for the “kill Medicare” proposal.  This is a race with national implications.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with what we‘ve learned in the past week about our president as commander-in-chief.

We start with President Obama.  David Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for “The New York Times” and Tyler Drumheller, of course, is the former chief of operations for the CIA in Europe.

David, congratulations for this story.  You got it.  “The Times” had

it.  Explain it to me.  Here‘s the headline before you start—I‘m sorry -

“Bigger raid unit braced for fight with Pakistanis,” “Obama feared trouble.”  Here‘s the lead paragraph.  “President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday.”

David, explain.

DAVID SANGER, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well the initial plan, Chris, had been for the two attack helicopters, the two that actually landed at the compound, to come into the compound and for two back-up helicopters to remain in Afghanistan, to lower the American footprint and the violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

As it was described to us, when President Obama looked at the plan, he ended up concluding that it would take about 90 minutes for those helicopters to come in and be of any help if, in fact, a firefight broke out.  And so he pressed for adjustments to the plan, and that ultimately led to the decision to bring in the four helicopters, one of which, you may recall, was used because one of the attack helicopters, of course, had that hard landing and had to be destroyed, ultimately.

They didn‘t get into a firefight, but I think the importance of the story is that it indicates that President Obama was willing to risk what would have been a pretty huge blow-up with the Pakistanis, even larger than what you‘ve seen now, in order to get those troops out of the country.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about what you know from reporting about how justified that decision was.

SANGER:  Well, I think it was a precaution that was built into an assumption that if they had called the Pakistanis to say, after the attack began, Don‘t worry, these helicopters are American, the U.S. is going after Osama bin Laden, that they might not be able to get through to the right officers, that the word might not get passed on to the area of the compound.  Remember, the Pakistanis were completely in the dark about this operation.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Were we prepared to fight Pakistani troops, or even local militia or local prefix (ph) types, like police, if they got in our way and said, Turn over that prisoner to us?  Would we have fought our way out then?

SANGER:  I suspect so.  The instructions that the Americans were given were, avoid a confrontation at all costs with the Pakistanis.  But they also didn‘t want to be in a situation where the American units were either in a firefight or captured by Pakistani troops.  And remember, this is a garrison town.  I mean, there‘s—the equivalent of Pakistani‘s West Point is about—a little under a mile from the site of this house.  So the possibility that the Pakistani units could have responded more quickly, I think, was pretty high.  As it turned out, the Pakistanis responded very slowly.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tyler on this.  I can‘t imagine this in many other countries that we have good relations with, that we have diplomatic relations, even, to say, We‘re going to go in there against your sovereignty.  You get in our way—this is our guy.  We‘re taking him out.  You get in our way, we‘re going to shoot.

TYLER DRUMHELLER, FMR. CIA EUROPE CHIEF OF COVERT OPS:  Yes, it would be—I mean, this is an unusual situation because you‘ve got relations with Pakistan, but you‘ve also got the—what the goal of the operation was.  And the fact was that the president took responsibility for this, which is really admirable, and then having gone in, realized that going into something like this halfway is more dangerous than not going in all the way and having the risk of SEALs being captured or worse.  Once you commit to something like this, you‘ve really got to push very hard to make it come through without any disaster.

MATTHEWS:  Did we at any—is there any evidence—I don‘t want to get too pushy on this because I think we did exactly the right thing.  Most Americans—we‘ll show you a poll—believe that, too.  But was there any attempt to bringing this guy home alive?

DRUMHELLER:  I suspect no.  I mean, I don‘t know, but I—frankly, it‘s—I don‘t think you send the SEALs to arrest people, so—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It sounds rough, but it sounds like—

DRUMHELLER:  (INAUDIBLE) the circumstances.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t send the SEALs to arrest people.  That‘s pretty rough.  Your sense of this, Tyler, the same question.  Is this something that the SEALs or any government force would do in a situation where a guy is behind this thing?  David, your thoughts.

SANGER:  Well, Chris, the instructions that they had are—my two colleagues, Tom Shanker (ph) and Eric Schmidt (ph), reported back from the Pentagon, were if he surrendered, they had a unit in place outside of Pakistan, of course, to go interrogate him, and so forth.  And they had a separate unit for if he was killed in the operation.

I think there was a presumption going in that he would likely be killed, that he would likely arrest—be arrest—that he would likely not sit around to be arrested and that there would be no interrogation, but they were certainly prepared for that possibility.

MATTHEWS:  Why were they prepared to interrogate him right away, not bring him back to someplace in the United States or some other place to interrogate him?  Why would send a team in to interrogate him after picking him up right away?

SANGER:  Well, I think the shock value would be something they‘d want (ph) something right away.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the NBC poll numbers backing up what I said -- 80 percent now say, of Americans, it was the right decision to kill bin Laden.  I really don‘t know who these other people were.  Anyway, 64 percent say President Obama was right to not release the photos.  I found that heartening and thoughtful.

Let‘s take a look at this one.  Here‘s the public‘s opinion of President Obama‘s leadership, how it‘s improved since December based upon this.  We‘re looking at those numbers.  They‘re all in the low 50s right now, nothing dramatic.  I guess this isn‘t really a question for you folks because you‘re experts on the question of doing it or not—but this thing about the bin Laden photo—I want to start with Tyler on this.  My sense has been you don‘t wave this in the front of—in the face of your enemy. 

If you want the war on terror—it really is a bad term, “war on terror” -

if you want the terrorism against the United States to subside, don‘t try to ignite more of it.

DRUMHELLER:  Yes, I don‘t—I didn‘t really see the use in releasing it.  The people that are going to believe it are going to believe it.  The people that don‘t believe it are going to believe it‘s an altered photo anyway.  So it doesn‘t really serve a purpose except maybe to inflame some people that are in between.

But in fact, having made the decision, the important thing is to stick to it, and that‘s good they didn‘t equivocate in the end.

MATTHEWS:  What can you report on that, David?  Is—what was this in the paper—I read one of the papers today, “USA Today” or somebody, there‘s some new discussion of it.  Why are people discussing something that‘s been decided?

SANGER:  You know, in the end, I think the important fact here is that al Qaeda bailed them out on this—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SANGER: -- because by last Thursday, at least one al Qaeda affiliate was reporting, yes, Osama bin Laden is dead.  And you haven‘t heard since that announcement came out a whole lot of doubts expressed.  I‘m sure there are some in Pakistan, but you haven‘t seen very much pressure on the White House to release that photo ever since the president made the decision.  And I think that‘s because there seems to be an acknowledgement among the terror groups, or at least among some al Qaeda affiliates, that, in fact, that was Osama bin Laden.

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised by that?

SANGER:  I was surprised that they admitted it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s what I mean.  Your thoughts, Tyler.  Are you surprised that they didn‘t seize upon the—oh, the propaganda goal of sort of creating the notion that he‘s mythically still alive somewhere, that this was some sort of trick?

DRUMHELLER:  No, I think—I think the people that announced it, they

I think they were stunned or they were ready (INAUDIBLE) the other story going around Pakistan right now is that Ayman al Zawahiri set him up to be killed and that‘s—so there‘s an alternate story going around.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

DRUMHELLER:  So that he could take over.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s wonderful.  Well, yes, honor among thieves, or whatever the opposite of that—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Pakistan‘s prime minister on Monday.  Let‘s listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YUSUF RAZA GILANI, PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER:  No other country in the world and no other security agency has done so much to interdict al Qaeda than the ISI and our armed forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, David Sanger, their claim that—by the prime minister there that they have done a noble (ph) effort—although I notice it sort of skirts the question of whether they tried to pick up Osama bin Laden.  It simply said they‘re working hard against—the ISI is working hard against al Qaeda generally.  I didn‘t like that.  I didn‘t think that was a very clear answer to the challenge put to them.

SANGER:  Well, you know, the remarkable thing about the ISI over the years is that they have been allied with the U.S. in the hunt for al Qaeda on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, but Tuesdays and Thursdays, they‘ve been off on their own agenda, particularly in alliances with the Taliban, or at least implicit ones.

So, yes, I thought two interesting elements to the prime minister‘s statement.  The first was to make the case that Pakistan itself was great at hunting terrorists, but obviously, he never answered the question of how Osama bin Laden could live in a garrison town this close to the capital for this long.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SANGER:  The second thing he said was, If you ever try this again, with our strategic weapons—meaning the nuclear weapons—there‘ll be not only a big breach but a big reaction.  And this gets to the central paranoia that this has brought about in Pakistan, which is a United States force that could get in under the radar and get Osama bin Laden might be able to get in under the radar and seize or immobilize some portion of the nuclear force, which is their biggest single fear.

MATTHEWS:  Your thought, Tyler, on that question.  We have to end with this.

DRUMHELLER:  Well, I agree, I think it‘s—the long-term fear is the security of the nuclear weapons, but also, remember Pakistan is a democratic country.  They have elections.  He‘s speaking to the people of Pakistan, he‘s not speaking to the world there, and so he‘s trying to answer the question without answering the question.  And this is—this is not an unusual way to handle this.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DRUMHELLER:  He‘s addressing some of the issues without answering.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s great news tonight to hear once again that there was a clear thinking behind this raid by us and by our people and by the commander at the top, that the president was wise enough to set the precaution ahead of time this wouldn‘t be an undermanned force and even if we were threatened by local constabulary, at least, we‘d be able to bluff our way out of there with force.

Thank you so much.  I‘m so glad it didn‘t go to a fight.  Thank you so much, David Sanger, for great reporting for the “New York Times.”  And Tyler Drumheller, thank you for your wisdom.

Coming up: President Obama got bin Laden while the Republicans—wait until you hear this—got it all wrong.  George W. Bush, John McCain, Dick Cheney—everything they said is wrong, everything they warned about was unnecessary.  The president came through, and they didn‘t look too good, again.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s some good numbers for President Obama from our own NBC News poll just out.  More than half of suburban woman, 55 percent, say they approve the job he‘s doing overall.  That‘s suburban women, by the way, the so-called “soccer moms,” whatever that term means these days.  Well, it‘s been a key demographic group in the last few presidential elections, of course, the independents, the suburbanites, the women especially.  Fifty percent of those suburban women say they‘ll vote for the president next November, versus 29 percent who say they‘ll vote for the Republican, whoever it is.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is going to be an amazing segment.  President Obama not only owns the commander-in-chief mantle after his successful mission to kill bin Laden, but his decision to get the most wanted terrorist in the world has now proven several prominent Republicans—namely George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and John McCain—wrong in their theories about bin Laden and their charges against the president.

And right now, we‘re going to knock down those charges with glee with Salon‘s editor-at-large, Joan Walsh, and NBC News national investigative correspondent, the best in the business, I always say, Michael Isikoff.

Here‘s what then President Bush said about bin Laden just seven months after the 9/11 attacks.  This is George W. Bush, president of the United States, talking about our number one enemy.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Who knows if he‘s hiding in some cave or not.  We haven‘t heard from him in a long time.  And the idea of focusing on one person is—really indicates to me people don‘t understand the scope of the mission.  And he‘s just—he‘s a person who‘s now been marginalized.  So I don‘t know where he is.  Nor—you know, I just don‘t spend that much time on it, really, to be honest with you.  I wouldn‘t necessarily say he‘s at the center of any command structure.  And again, you know, I don‘t know where he is.  I—I repeat what I said.  I truly am not that concerned about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Joan, I‘m not a Bush hater, but that was wiseass behavior there, just wiseass.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, this is the rich kid acting like, I don‘t care about that old girlfriend that dumped me.  I mean, that was behavioral weirdness right then.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  We all knew that this guy was the John Wilkes Booth of our era, the Lee Harvey Oswald, the James Earl Ray.  We knew he was in that category of hated by Americans.  And to say, Oh, I don‘t really think about him anymore—what kind of talk is that?

WALSH:  Well, you know, it‘s really—it‘s very hard to listen to that.  It‘s very hard to listen to that chuckle.  But you know, I think—

I think what we should talk about, an interesting thing, and Michael can fill in blanks here, I‘m sure—but one of the things that‘s come out, Chris, in the last week or so are the opportunities that we may have had, maybe not slam dunks, to get bin Laden or to get closer to bin Laden that didn‘t happen because we were already deploying troops and equipment to Iraq.

So if you listen to that with a certain kind of hindsight and you listen to that remembering that they were making the case, they decided it was bigger than bin Laden—you know, they were going to blame the whole thing on Iraq and lie about it—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes!  You‘re always ahead of me.  Well, you are this time.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  In other words—

WALSH:  Not always.

MATTHEWS: -- don‘t make it about we were attacked 9/11, don‘t make it about Afghanistan, don‘t make it about al Qaeda, make it about your favorite topic—

WALSH:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- which is, I got to get in and get even for the old man and go into Iraq, or whatever the motive was.

WALSH:  He was starting—he was laying the groundwork to shift the focus from bin Laden as the mastermind and the bad guy—

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

WALSH: -- to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  So listening to it like that is kind of enlightening—

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

WALSH: -- the more reporting about that comes out.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Michael, this is—this is strategic, but you know, we thought we had an enemy after 9/11, which was the person that he said, We‘re going to get the people that knocked down these buildings.  In his grandest iconic moment, when we all were behind him, President Bush said, We‘re going get the people that knocked down these buildings.  And here he is saying we‘re not going to get the people that knocked down these buildings!  What an asinine comment!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  How can you say, We‘re not going to do what I swore we were going to do at Ground Zero—

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- with my arms around the firefighter—Oh, by the way, I was—my fingers were crossed behind the guy‘s back.  I‘m not going to do this thing, Michael.

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Look, Joan is exactly right.  The—that comment—

MATTHEWS:  Well, aren‘t I right, too?

ISIKOFF: -- that you just played—

(LAUGHTER)

ISIKOFF:  Well, yes.  You‘re right, too.  But you‘re always right, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

ISIKOFF:  Look, that comment was March of 2002, exactly the moment when we now know that they had begun serious planning for the war in Iraq, and it‘s just a few months after the fateful events at Tora Bora, which was really the last time we had a shot at bin Laden.  And you know, he was in the mountains there, and—and U.S. intelligence operatives were pleading for military support to prevent bin Laden from escaping through the mountains of Tora Bora, to block a corridor, for ground support to block his escape.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ISIKOFF:  And General Tommy Franks turned those requests down.  And we know that those requests in large part came because it was a week or two after he had been ordered by Rumsfeld to dust up the war plan for the invasion of Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

ISIKOFF:  And his people were working full-time around the clock on developing that war plan for the invasion of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.  I know. 

ISIKOFF:  One thing we—you know, I—the last time, one of the last times I was on, we were talking about Rumsfeld‘s book.  And one of the points that really leapt out at me in Rumsfeld‘s book is he kind of dismissed the claims that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and—which was really startling, because we know—there is just a mountain of evidence.

WALSH:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  And some of that has emerged even in the last few months in some of these detainee reports which we have seen from WikiLeaks, showing detainee after detainee describing bin Laden having been at Tora Bora.

There was intelligence intercepts at the time showing he—he was at Tora Bora.  There really was no doubt that that was the chance to get him, and we blew it. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, even by absolutely objective standards, not a question of policy, whether it was better to go to the Iraq war, which I was totally against, but just objectively, we shouldn‘t go after the guy who attacked us, they don‘t fail the—they don‘t pass the test. 

Here‘s John McCain, by the way, criticizing President Obama when he was a candidate on the campaign trail three years ago for saying he would take unilateral action in Pakistan if he had actionable intelligence on bin Laden in Pakistan, the very scenario we just saw carried out.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2008)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Well, we would risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally Pakistan. 

Well, the best idea is to not broadcast what you‘re going to do.  That‘s naive.  You make plans and you work with the—with the other country that is your ally and friend, which Pakistan is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, he nailed it, didn‘t he, Joan? 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  Yes.  He said exactly—exactly the right thing to do.  And that inexperienced guy really wasn‘t up to the task, was he, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  You know what? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Joan.

WALSH:  Well, no, it‘s just—it‘s ridiculous to listen to.  And—and they were either mocking him for being too much of a dove or mocking him for being too much of a hawk.

And it turns out that, as far as we know at this point, he was ice cold about this.  He made all the—he made all the right decisions.  He made all the right precautions.  He was prepared for everything and he couldn‘t share what he was doing with—with our alleged ally, Pakistan, for a lot of sad reasons. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WALSH:  And so he pulled it off. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, now more of the gang that couldn‘t think straight.

In August of 2009, Dick Cheney questioned President Obama‘s commitment to project the country as commander in chief—protect the country as commander in chief.

Let‘s listen to Cheney. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 2009)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I wasn‘t a fan of his when he—when he got elected.  And my views haven‘t changed any. 

I—I have serious doubts about his policies, serious doubts especially about the extent to which he understands and is prepared to do what needs to be done to defend the nation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I guess he‘s waiting for more torture. 

Anyway, a month later, Cheney himself went after the president, accusing the president again of—quote—“dithering”—I love these words—“and waffling”—it‘s all about manhood—when it came to crafting a military strategy in Afghanistan.  Let‘s listen to Cheney again. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 2009)

CHENEY:  It‘s time for President Obama to make good on his promise.  The White House must stop dithering while America‘s armed forces are in danger. 

(APPLAUSE)

CHENEY:  Make no mistake.  Signals of indecision out of Washington heard out allies and embolden our adversaries.  Waffling while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy endangers them and hurts our cause. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Joan, I—should Richard Dreyfuss should play all these guys, when he plays the bad guys in the movies. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, this is perfect, the little snarl, the big bow tie from the black-tie dinner, the supreme arrogance of:  We know better.  We know how these things should be taken care of.  These weakling Democrats, they don‘t quite know this commander in chief responsibility.  We do. 

WALSH:  And—and instead of just thanking him for finishing the job they couldn‘t—they couldn‘t complete, Chris, instead, we had Dick Cheney this weekend insisting that, well, we‘re really, unfortunately, probably, we have abandoned some of the fantastic tactics that have gotten—that got us this far, rather than just giving him credit, just—just—talk about being a man, being a woman, being a mensch, and just saying job well done, sir.

They can‘t do it.  They‘re incapable of doing it. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you putting together, Michael, on all this thing about the differences between these two administrations?  Have we ever figured out why they went off the course?

We‘re watching now our president—and he‘s not perfect.  I‘m going to argue with him about immigration later today.  But they at least did what they said they were going to do.  This president came into office, said, I‘m going to get bin Laden.  He put a purpose together, and he put a plan together.  He put a team together.  And then he doubled down, made the team was even stronger, as we learned tonight, even if it went up against the Pakistanis.

The other administration came in and said, we‘re going to get the people that knocked down the buildings on 9/11 and then went Wrong Way Corrigan—

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS: -- a totally different direction, followed some totally off-the-wall agenda.  Why?

ISIKOFF:  Well—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will we ever know why? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I mean, yes.  We discussed it before.  It‘s—the one affirmative decision they made that was sort of out of the mainstream, didn‘t have to be made was the decision to invade Iraq. 

But, that said, to be fair, look, a lot of the work that led to the killing of bin Laden was done by intelligence community professionals and military professionals that transcend both administrations.  The piecing-together, if you follow how the trail was put together, how they developed the information on the courier, piece by piece, pebble by pebble, as former CIA Director Mike Hayden came—it took—it took years. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, OK.  Let me try this by you, Michael.  OK.  Before you go soft on these guys, let me warn you of something.

ISIKOFF:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  2005, when they were building this McMansion over there out in their equivalent of Chappaqua—

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS: -- when they were building this big castle for this guy, do you think, if we had had him in our crosshairs, like this president did, we have noticed it?  In other words, if we had him really in our target zone, were really putting the best people on it, like this president has done, do you think they could have built that McMansion in their equivalent of Chappaqua, and we wouldn‘t have noticed they were housing him there? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I mean, look, it is not—what—what we have been told the last week is, we didn‘t really find this mansion, if that‘s what you want to call it, the compound, until August of last year. 

So—and the story of how we found it by following the couriers is—

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ISIKOFF: -- really a fascinating intelligence detective story.  I‘m just not so sure that it links to particular political decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think it does.  I think when you put a focus on something, you might catch it.

Anyway, thank you, Isikoff, very much.

ISIKOFF:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Isikoff, you‘re still the best. 

ISIKOFF:  Thanks, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Joan Walsh.

Too soft tonight.

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Speaker of the House John Boehner is the top Republican in Washington, and even he doesn‘t seem thrilled by the Republican candidates.  Wait until you hear this guy‘s list.  The “Sideshow” is coming up.  This guy‘s not a booster for the current list of candidates. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  Forget me not.  Top Republican John Boehner was asked by “Today Show”‘s Matt Lauer about his 2012 picks.  Well, more interesting than you would have thought—here he is—for who he didn‘t mention. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I understand my good friend Newt Gingrich is about to announce. 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Right.

BOEHNER:  I think he brings an awful lot to the debate. 

LAUER:  Do you think Chris Christie would make a great candidate for president? 

BOEHNER:  I do.  I know him pretty well.  I think he‘s done a great job.  And he speaks English, which the American people like, English, like in plain talk. 

But I think Mitch Daniels is looking pretty seriously at this, the governor of Indiana, another person who‘s got a real track record of reform in his state, the kind of reforms that we need to have in Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, no mention at all from the speaker there of the establishment front-runners, no mention of Mitt Romney, no mention of Tim Pawlenty.  It sounds like Speaker Boehner is none too happy with the current choices. 

Next, it‘s no secret that Governor Chris Christie is being courted, as you just heard, to jump in the race for president.  So, is he trying to tamp it down?  Not one bit.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  How self-important would one have to be to become tired and annoyed—

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: -- by people asking you to run for president of the United States? 

I think that anybody who has serious, bright people asking them, would you consider running for president, if they are so pompous that they say, oh, oh, please stop, please stop, I‘m tired of this, I‘m growing weary of the fact that you would ask me to be the leader of the free world, please let me move on to something that‘s less tiring, I mean, come on. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Governor—

CHRISTIE:  You know, it‘s ridiculous.  I‘m a kid from Jersey who has people asking them to run for president.  I‘m thrilled by it.  I just don‘t want to do it. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this could be a real live draft.  We haven‘t had one in years, maybe decades, way back to about the ‘50s.  But you never know.  They might find the field so weak, they really do try to get this guy in it. 

Finally, there he goes again.  Last night on FOX, Donald Trump said he now understands why fellow businessman and billionaire Ross Perot dumped out of that presidential race back in 1992, at least once, came back in.  It‘s because he was too successful.  Catch this twist of logic. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS:  I have heard over a lifetime that, if you have really accomplished a lot and done a lot, you cannot run for high political office.  And I can see why.

I can see now why Ross Perot dropped out.  You know, he dropped out of the race, and then he went back in a week later.  But he dropped out of the race.  And I heard from people that were involved that he was just getting hammered because he did it a lot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ross Perot was of course certifiable, after talking about the North Vietnamese chasing across his lawn and ruining his daughter‘s wedding. 

Well, Donald Trump has the choice himself, no matter what he says, or running for not running for president.  He has a choice of whether to risk defeat, getting beaten or not, whether to take the risk or not.  It‘s all his choice and it‘s got nothing to do with Ross Perot.

Stop trying to change the subject, Donald.  It‘s about your decision whether to go in or get out. 

Up next:  President Obama goes to El Paso for a big speech on immigration.  Do Democrats really want to fix immigration—illegal immigration, or just use the issue to slam their Republican opponents?  I think it‘s politics now. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening. I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another solid day for stocks today, making it three in a row.  The Dow Jones industrials added 75 points, the S&P gained 10, and the Nasdaq was up 28. 

Utilities were the big movers, for a change, today, after Citigroup and Wells Fargo boosted their rating on utility holding company FirstEnergy.  But, of course, it was the tech sector in the spotlight after Microsoft‘s $8.5 billion purchase of Skype.  Microsoft shares slipped, but eBay, which owns a 30 percent stake in Skype, packed on another 2.5 percent.

The Wendy‘s/Arby‘s Group reported progress in trying to sell off the Arby‘s side of the business.  They‘re also thinking about raising prices to offset rising food costs. 

And in earnings news, Dean Foods shares soared on blockbuster earnings boosted by big demand for its organic milk.  But, after hours, Disney—

Disney shares tumbled on weaker-than-expected earnings and revenue, as a result of “Mars Needs Moms” disappointing as a film.

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today in El Paso, Texas, President Obama laid out his view for immigration reform, resetting an issue that could play an important role in 2012.  But will anything really get done?  That‘s my question.  And what are the politics at play here?  That‘s easy. 

Clarence Page is a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune,” and Chris Cillizza is managing editor of PostPolitics.com and an MSNBC contributor. 

Let‘s take a listen, gentlemen.  Here‘s President Obama on removing the incentive to come here illegally.  I read this to be, he‘s going to stop illegal hiring.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The most significant step we can now take to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole, so that fewer people have the incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s my question.  I want to ask you gentlemen for a gut check here.  Is this president, who many people like—and I like him generally—going to get serious about putting together a real immigration package which will actually pass because it has teeth, as well as generosity? 

Clarence? 

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, it‘s one thing to propose a package, another thing to get it through.  You see how much trouble he has had trying to get the -- 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: -- budget reform.

MATTHEWS:  Will he have teeth in that thing, or is it just going to be more B.S.? 

PAGE:  I think—I‘m not going to say the president—it‘s going to be more B.S.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  He has sincerely good reasons to want to push immigration reform.  It plays well for Democrats politically.  It plays badly for Republicans, among Hispanics, especially, if they block it. 

But, at the same time, though—

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s all obvious.  I want to know, is he going to try to get a bill passed, meaning a bill that has the teeth in it that Simpson-Mazzoli didn‘t have, that all the previous talk is—this is like the Middle East.  It never gets done because both sides disagree. 

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The Hispanic community doesn‘t seem to want a bill with teeth in it.  The business community doesn‘t want to have a bill with teeth in it.  The Republicans would like to throw all the Hispanics out of the country who are here illegally. 

So, you never really have a deal.  Is there going to be a deal here?

PAGE:  I don‘t see signs of a deal.  Democrats are reluctant to want to put forth any kind of enforcement that is going to result in more deportations.  They have already seen more deportations under Obama than under Bush—some 400,000 Mexican Americans I understand.  And that‘s one of the reasons why President Obama is being pressured by the Hispanic community to do something.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry, Clarence, you‘re missing my point.  If you reform the bill and people can sign up to stay here legally, you won‘t have deportations.  It has to go hand and glove, teeth, carrying stick, you say to person, you can‘t say here illegally, but if you want to say here legally, we have a plan for you to become a citizen, or to become a guest worker.  Why don‘t they agree to a deal, Clarence?  We‘ll stay on you for a minute.

PAGE:  As I said, I thought it was very clear, what part of no don‘t you understand, OK?

MATTHEWS:  The part when you said there‘s going to be all these mass deportations.  There wouldn‘t be any deportations.

PAGE:  There‘s already mass deportations.

MATTHEWS:  No, not under reform, it would be.

PAGE:  Well, also, President Obama can tell his own Justice Department to do a slowdown, the way he has slowed down arresting medical marijuana folks out in California.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re missing my point.  Let me try with Chris.  I‘m not getting anywhere with Clarence.  I know.  I don‘t want to talk the politics, I know what everybody wants and doesn‘t want.

Chris, will there be a deal here?  A real deal?

CILLIZZA:  No, no.  But I think I‘m agreeing with Clarence has said.  No, there won‘t be a deal.  You know, I don‘t want to just talk about the politics, but I will tell you, like go and look at any poll in which people are asked what should be the priority of the government works on?  Economy, health care, jobs, some foreign policy.  Immigration is way down that list.

And I‘ll be honest, you know, Chris, you know this—the 2012 campaign started the day the 2010 campaign ended.  I do not see President Obama expending significant political capital and that‘s what this would take, expending significant political capital to try and craft a grand bargain, look, to the extent he‘s going to craft a grand bargain, he‘s going to try to do it on debt and spending issues.  He‘s not going to do it on immigration.

MATTHEWS:  So, why is he talking in El Paso to give a speech?

CILLIZZA:  Because there‘s politics in it, Chris.  The Hispanic community is a hugely influential and growing community.

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s going to be (INAUDIBLE) by not really do anything?

CILLIZZA:  Well, I think he‘s going to say I‘m doing more and doing things better than your alternative.  Remember, this is you know, elections tend to be binary choice.  You get A or B.  And I think President Obama is going to say, look, here‘s what I‘m doing.

MATTHEWS:  And, Chris, let me explain my position here because I‘m not getting it through here.  If you care about people in this country without documentation here legally, who have been here because they came here to work here.  They didn‘t come to commit crimes, they came to work here.

If you want them to become Americanized legally so they can vote, they can have all the opportunity of Americans not worry about being picked up, the only way to do this is with a reform bill.  The only way to get a reform bill is through, Clarence, is if it has teeth in it.  It stops the flow of people coming across the border.  That‘s all I‘m saying.  Your thoughts?

PAGE:  Well, you heard his speech today.  He wants to get a conversation going.  He listed all the good reasons that you‘re talking about, and also the obstacles.  But we are nowhere near, actually, being able to say, yes, we‘re going to have comprehensive immigration reform.  You saw how much trouble there was last time and John McCain has yet to recover from it politically.  It‘s still a hot potato.

But now is the good time for President Obama to spend some capital on it, certainly shift the conversation away from reducing spending and balancing the budget, and over toward an issue that plays well for him politically, as well as having the virtue of doing some social good.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—let me ask you both quickly.

CILLIZZA:  And, Chris, I agree with everything you said—I agree with everything you just said about you need to have both sides give if you really care about this issue.  I don‘t think Clarence is questioning whether President Obama cares about the issue.  It‘s can you find a way to have a policy with teeth in it that people will get behind?  Can you have a find a way to have comprehensive reform that has a path to citizenship that people will get behind?

You know, ultimately, the president can‘t do this by executive fiat. 

This has to move through Congress.

MATTHEWS:  No, I just think you‘ll get anywhere unless you say you

think it can be done.  If you say to people, look, everybody wants to have

everybody reasonable understands you‘re not going to send 11 million people out of the country who have lives here.  But they‘re not going to have full American lives until you legalize—or you actually and basically create a system where you can actually become an American, you‘ll never get that until you outlaw future illegal immigration.  It seems to me.  That‘s just my view.  I guess I‘m trying to come down into a middle space here that‘s really American.  And nobody seem to want to come with me.

           

Anyway, thank you, Clarence.

PAGE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris Cillizza.

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, there‘s a special election for Congress for western state—western New York right now in two weeks.  And the Democrats coming on strong in what is a Republican district, and the issue is Medicare—the Republicans plan to try to kill it.  We‘re going to talk to the Democrat in that race.  She looks like she can win this.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, Newt Gingrich is going to announce for president tomorrow.  He‘s going to make it official.  And one Republican who won‘t support him is former New York Congressman Guy Molinari.  Molinari who was for years the borough president of Staten Island said this about Gingrich.  Quote, “I detest the man.  He screwed me.  He has not morality.”  Wow.

Well, Molinari‘s beef is back to the 1980s when Gingrich bumped him for a prime committee post, after promising to do so.  Molinari‘s daughter Suzanne also had a bad relationship with Gingrich when she served in Congress.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Washington Democrats are hoping they can steal this election so they can continue to move their agenda, which is more taxes and higher spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Steal this election?  Is that how you win elections?

We‘re back—as House Speaker Boehner Monday, that‘s this week, campaigning for Republican candidate Jane Corwin in that special election up in New York.  It‘s a congressional seat that happens, by the way, it races in two weeks.

Here‘s more of the speaker.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER:  Jane will work with us to stand up to Nancy Pelosi and the liberals of Washington, D.C., and say no to the bailouts, say no to the stimulus and say no to the continued tax and spend crowd that‘s down there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, guess what?  This is an actual election, not about theft (ph).  Corwin faces Democrat Kathy Hochul and Tea Partier Jack Davis, in a real election for Congress.  The race is rapidly receiving national attention because Hochul is taking Corwin to task for supporting that House-passed budget bill that kills Medicare.

Here‘s one of her ads, let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Jane Corwin said she would vote for the 2012 Republican budget that would essentially end Medicare.  Seniors would have to pay $6,400 more for the same coverage.  But the plan Jane Corwin supports would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  The budget would overwhelmingly benefit the rich.

Kathy Hochul says cut the deficit but do it the right way, protect Medicare, and no more tax breaks for multimillionaires.

KATHY HOCHUL (D), NY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Kathy Hochul and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

Kathy Hochul joins me right now.  She‘s the county—she‘s the clerk of Erie County.

Thank you.  Good luck in the race.

Let me ask you about this: What‘s this attack on Pelosi?  And where do you stand on former Speaker Pelosi?  Do you like the work she did as leader?

HOCHUL:  You know, she‘s done a great job for this country.  But I also want people to know that I‘m a very are independent Democratic.  We‘ve gotten very far just being out here talking Republicans and Democrats in this district.  And I‘m willing to—you know, work with everybody.  And I think that‘s a real hallmark of my candidacy that I‘m willing to work with both sides of the aisle when it comes to the important issues.

But I do draw a line in the sand.  I will not support the Republican plan to decimate Medicare while giving huge tax breaks to the very wealthiest in this country.  So, I‘m happy to be on the Democratic side of that issue for sure.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—how do you win a district that‘s—that was Jack Kemp‘s district, it was Jack Quinn‘s district.  It‘s not really a Democratic district.  Can you be a Democratic congresswoman from a Republican district?

HOCHUL:  Well, I expect to be in about two weeks.  So, we are—again, my hallmark is that I bring both sides together as a county clerk so I know how to work with both sides of the aisle.  I think people up here know me.  They know that I‘m a fighter and they know that I will go to Washington to protect them.

So, whether you are Democrat or Republican, you just want somebody who is looking out for you who‘s got your back.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about—

HOCHUL:  And that‘s what I‘m hearing from seniors, even Republican seniors are supporting me.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to hear about.  I‘m fascinated, because you‘re

the sort of the canary in the mine—you‘re going out as the first test of

this Republican plan to kill Medicare.  What are seniors like Republicans -

my dad was a big Republican but he loved Medicare, he loved it, because it was the first time in his life he got something, you know?  You know, he paid into it when he was working, but he really like it when he retired at 65.

           

What are people up there talking to you about when they hear about

this Boehner-approved, Republican-approved plan to basically get rid of

Medicare and give you some sort of—something from borders, some of these

you know, what do you call them, little—gift cards, supposed to buy health insurance at the age of 75 with it?  It‘s such a joke.  Your thoughts.

           

HOCHUL:  Well, basically, people up here are talking about the fact that this is not charity to them.  As you mentioned your father, he paid into the system since your high school job.  So, this is something that you‘re entitled to when you hit 65.  The idea that we‘re going to break the contract that we have had with our seniors since 1965 is wrong.  And the seniors up here, no matter what their party affiliation, think it‘s grossly unfair.

If you are claiming that there is such a huge deficit and we need to get costs under control, why do you do it on the backs of the senior?  Why aren‘t we looking at other sources?  Again, big oil getting continued tax breaks, the absolute mega-rich in this country going to continue getting tax breaks.  I think it‘s not an intellectual argument that I‘m going to buy, and nor do the people in this district.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me give you—

HOCHUL:  The problems that—

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you an easy way here.  Professional politician, you‘re clerk of Erie County.  Let me give you an easy one, right?  You‘re going to think this is hard but it is easy.  You said you are an independent Democrat.

Well, maybe I am, too, intellectually.  Pick an issue where you clearly are going to disagree with the Democratic leadership in Congress, just pick one issue—one issue out of a million where you will take on Steny Hoyer and you will take on Nancy Pelosi.  Just to prove your bona fides as an independent Democrat.

HOCHUL:  Oh, I‘d be happy to.  I don‘t think that the plan that‘s on the table by the Democrats should be increasing taxes on people making $200,000 or $250,000, because when I‘m talking to people in my districts on Main Street and Brockport, in Genesee, small communities, those are also small business people and a tax on them would hurt them and their ability to create jobs in this district which this area needs jobs.  We don‘t—we‘re not doing well.  Our unemployment is higher than the national average.

So, I‘m not going to do anything to make it harder on small business to expand.  So, I disagree with that level.  So, that‘s a huge difference right there.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s an easy one.  How about a hard one?  Ha!  You are not for raising taxes that take a lot of nerve.  But where are you—

OK, you‘ve answered my question.

Let me ask you, the odds right now are, what, in this case race?  Is this going to be a big headline when you win or what?

HOCHUL:  Well, since we‘re the underdogs coming into this, again, I‘ve been outspent by two multimillionaires.  My Republicans‘ net worth is upwards to $60 million to $160 million.  My other opponent, the Tea Party candidate, is worth $18 million to $20 million.  And as you mentioned, I‘m a public servant, you know—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you raise taxes on these people?

HOCHUL:  Pardon me?

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you raise taxes on these zillionaires you run against?  You‘re saying you won‘t raise taxes on them.  Why not?

HOCHUL:  No, no, I didn‘t say that.  I said I would not put the burden on the middle class and small businesses.  I have no trouble with making the wealthiest people in this country pay their fair share.  When times are tough—

MATTHEWS:  Over $1 million then?

HOCHUL:  I‘d say I‘m looking at over $500,000.  I think that‘s fair.

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.  Thank you.  I nailed you down.

Thanks so much.  Good luck in the race.  Kathy Hochul running for Congress in the Jack Kemp district.

HOCHUL:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what we have learned lately about our president as commander-in-chief.

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a big story about President Obama and Pakistan.

What we have learned is that the president made sure that there would be no one in the way if we got bin Laden—no local police demanding territorial jurisdiction, no army unit saying we were violating national sovereignty, no one would be able to stops us because the Americans were apparently under orders to shoot their way out of there.

This is cowboy stuff—none of this coalition of the willing.  Obama didn‘t care if Pakistan was willing or not.  This guy killed our people, bin Laden, he was ours.

Normally, I‘d like to see a multilateral approach to life and death matters.  We have no more right to tell another country what to do than they do us—certainly not on the other guy‘s territory.

But this was different.  This was pursuit—not hot pursuit—but pursuit nonetheless of the worst villain in our history—well, certainly up there with John Wilkes Booth, or Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray.  And we had the right to go get them.

           

The fact that we didn‘t trust Pakistan to deliver, that the president prepared for trouble, that he demanded we send in a strong enough team to break out of there no matter what tells you something about the quality of this alliance between these two countries.  The more we learn about this, the better, the smarter, the tougher America looks.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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