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updated 6/22/2011 2:16:16 PM ET 2011-06-22T18:16:16

Guests: Michael Steele, Hampton Pearson, Ron Reagan, Mark McKinnon, Bill Burton, Joshua Marshall, John Nichols, Chris Van Hollen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  How to end a war.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Obama‘s war.  As we now know, President Obama will address the country tomorrow night at 8:00 o‘clock Eastern.  He‘s going to tell us he‘ll be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

The president has been hearing it from both sides—the old right, Rand Paul and Ron Paul, and the liberty left—or the liberal left, I should say, and that‘s it‘s time to go.  He‘s also getting it from both sides on Libya, where today Democrat John Kerry and Republican John McCain proposed to limit U.S. involvement and tie the president‘s hands.  Well, Obama‘s two wars are our top story tonight.

Also, leading off in opposite directions, two more members of Newt Gingrich‘s campaign team.  They abandoned ship today.  Is anybody still with Newt except Callista?  And Jon Huntsman got in the race today.  But where does he fit in?  Is there room on the Republican Party on the left of Mitt Romney?

Also, buyer‘s remorse.  It‘s not just John Kasich and Rick Scott whose numbers are in the dumpster.  Now every Republican‘s favorite non-candidate, Chris Christie of New Jersey, has seen his good numbers go bad, though I have to say he‘s still popular personally, it‘s just not professionally he‘s doing very well.  Is that the price of going too far?

And republicans say they care about the economy, so why are they willing to turn the American dollar into a junk bond?  That‘s exactly what will happen if they keep up their brinksmanship over spending.  Do they want a solution or just love this issue?

And check out Rick Perry getting a new media award—that‘s for knowing what you‘re talking about—and then saying, quote, “You can always follow me on tweeter.”  I think it‘s Twitter, brother.

Also, start with Obama‘s wars right now.  Ron Reagan‘s a political commentator from out on the West Coast, the East Coast—the left coast, I should say—and Michael Steele‘s the former chair—and always will be here—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- of the Republican National Committee.  He‘s now an MSNBC political analyst.

Ron, this is a weird story.  Look at this now, a number that surprised me today.  The number of Americans killed in Afghanistan, the war, when President Bush was president, was 630.  From 2009 to the present, under President Obama, 1,000 Americans—it‘s a strange number, it‘s exactly on the nail—have been killed there.

This is a strange war in that the activity has increased, the heat of that battle, the engagement, the lethal nature of the war has risen dramatically under President Obama, a man who ran against war, basically.  What do you make of it as a liberal?

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  And yet the reason for that conflict is unclear now.  Apparently, we‘re engaged in an extensive nation-building effort there.  The original reason for going into Afghanistan was to get Osama bin Laden, but of course, he fled to Pakistan rather early.  So we have to ask ourselves, what exactly are we doing in Afghanistan?  And that, of course, begs the question, What are we doing in Libya, as well?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s not change to the other sore spot yet.

REAGAN:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Give me two minutes here.  You‘re obviously slip-sliding away from me.  And I want to go to Michael Steele, the former RNC chair, on this.  This is a tough one.  We used to have a simple politics in America, anti-war Democrat—

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- ever since ‘68 and the Vietnam war, pro-war or hawkish position, Republican, George W. being the most hawkish.  Now we have a situation where guys are going around the bend.  We‘re seeing Romney and Huntsman sort of bitchin‘, if you will—

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- about this war lasting too long.

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And what‘s going on in your party?

STEELE:  I think—I think it‘s not just my party, I think it‘s also the Democratic Party and—

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Democrats have been anti-war before.

STEELE:  Yes, but I mean, I think that you have an administration that has proposed and continued the effort of the Bush administration in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan, shifting, quite frankly, out of Iraq into Afghanistan—

MATTHEWS:  Hey, by the way, putting 30,000 more troops in there.

STEELE: -- with the surge there.  And I think what you‘re seeing now is not just this throwaway line of war weariness, but the reality that we don‘t know what we‘re doing there.  I think Ron is exactly right.  We had one mission statement at the beginning.  We have another one.  We‘re engaging in Libya.  And so the question, I guess—can we now call this Obama‘s war?  I did a year ago—

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you, have you on the—on the—not the skillet here.  I have you in front of me.

STEELE:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  If the word‘s leaking out of the White House that perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 troops will be coming home by the end of this year, according to the leaks coming from the White House—

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- probably purposeful leaks, and maybe, maybe, on an outside chance, all 30,000 --

STEELE:  Right.  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- of the surge will end by the end of next year—

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- is that delivering on the president‘s promise to go in heavy and come out relatively soon?  In other words—

STEELE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

STEELE:  Well, because—

MATTHEWS:  Sounds like exactly—

STEELE:  How many are still left?

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  He said he was going to surge.  That means limited duration—

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- of increasing our complement of troops over there and then bringing—

STEELE:  So what‘s the total number?

MATTHEWS: -- them home at the end of—

STEELE:  What‘s the total number—

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re back to around 70,000.

STEELE:  Right.  So—so that—as far as I‘m concerned, 70,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan says we‘re still engaged there.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re a dove now.

STEELE:  I‘m not a—that‘s not a question—

MATTHEWS:  You were a hawk when you were in power, and now—

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  No, no, no!

MATTHEWS:  I love the way this works!

STEELE:  But it‘s not—no, you‘re taking it to the wrong (INAUDIBLE)

It‘s not a question of being a dawk and a hove—a hove—you got me—a

hawk or a dove.  The point is, why are we there?  If you define the

mission, define the purpose, tell us what the clear objective is—is it -

-

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look—in other words—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In other words, President Obama had to come up with a new reason to fight Bush‘s war.

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  A new reason.

STEELE:  He has to—

MATTHEWS:  Because Bush‘s reason wasn‘t good enough.

STEELE:  Well, he has to come up with his own reason because—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  And it‘s never been the real reason.  That‘s the thing.

STEELE:  Right.

REAGAN:  I mean, it has never been—

MATTHEWS:  What is the real reason?

REAGAN:  Bush‘s reason wasn‘t the real reason, except for going after bin Laden, which he didn‘t really do.  And what is the real reason—

MATTHEWS:  Well, what was the—help me out here!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- mystery?

REAGAN:  Let me—let me—let me posit this.  Who shares a border with both Afghanistan and Iraq, where we will have—no matter how many troops are pulled out of there, will have permanent military bases?  Who shares a border with those two countries?  Iran.  Iran.  Iran.  We surround Iran with military, forward military bases, if we leave troops in both those countries, and we will.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to West Virginia, John—Joe Manchin.  He won just recently, a Democrat.  He sent a letter to President Obama asking for significant troop reductions in Afghanistan.  Here he is from the Senate floor.  Let‘s listen to Senator Manchin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Mr. President, the time has come to make the difficult decision.  Charity begins at home.  We can no longer afford to rebuild Afghanistan and America.  We must choose, and I choose American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s the heat.  Just minutes later, Senator John McCain took on Manchin on Afghanistan.  Let‘s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  In case the senator from West Virginia forgot it or never knew it, we withdrew from Afghanistan one time.  We withdrew from Afghanistan, and the Taliban came, eventually followed by al Qaeda, followed by attacks on the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s where he‘s talking there, Michael, about when we got out of that war after—after—

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS: -- after the fight, with Charlie Wilson‘s war and the whole thing—

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Once the Soviets were out, we got out.

STEELE:  But it makes the point that—you know, my question, is that the objective here?  Tell us, what does Afghanistan look like—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

STEELE: -- when we pull those troops out?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Please tell me this.  If we stay there a hundred years, what will it be like?

STEELE:  Right.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the fundamental—Ron, the problem is—

STEELE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS: -- we could stay there for another year, we could stay another 10 years, another 20 years, and in the end, it will be their country.  It will probably be—

REAGAN:  Absolutely, Chris.

MATTHEWS: -- largely a Taliban country.  It will probably be a country of people that don‘t like the West, of people that don‘t like outsiders.  We‘re not going to change that as long as we live.

REAGAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  John McCain can fight this good fight.  When he dies, when we‘re all gone, Afghanistan‘s going to be frickin‘ Afghanistan!

STEELE:  So you agree with me!

MATTHEWS:  It ain‘t going to be America.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not going to be Washington, D.C.  Your thoughts, Ron.

REAGAN:  We‘re not spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan to make sure that Afghani kids have a good education and health care.  It‘d be nice if we could do that—

MATTHEWS:  No, we‘re building—

REAGAN: -- but that‘s not why we‘re doing it.

MATTHEWS: -- a power grid there.

REAGAN:  We have strategic—

MATTHEWS:  We‘re building power grid—

REAGAN: -- interests in (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: -- so they can get electricity from the former Soviet republics.

REAGAN:  And I‘m sorry.  You‘re breaking up—

MATTHEWS:  Figure that one out.

REAGAN: -- when you‘re talking to me.  I can‘t hear you.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking to Michael Steele right now.

STEELE:  Well, look, I thought—I thought Rand Paul put it exactly right.  He says, I would like to see a full-blown debate in Congress and in the country about what is our presence in Afghanistan—

MATTHEWS:  And you guys are—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You moving over to the isolationist Republican Party.

STEELE:  No, Chris, I‘m not—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are what John McCain is furious at.  John McCain just gave a cris de guerre right now against you guys.

STEELE:  I‘m not—I am where I‘ve always been on this, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

STEELE: -- when I ran for the United States Senate in 2006 and to the present day.  I have no problem with militarily engaging and protecting our interests if you define for me what that is.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, we‘re still waiting for the reason for the war.  Your Republican president couldn‘t do it.  The current president couldn‘t do it.

Here‘s Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman today alluding to what you‘re representing right now, which is the new skepticism about these foreign policy adventures by both parties.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R-UT), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re at war, ladies and gentlemen, and we must manage the end of these conflicts without repeating past mistakes that made our engagement longer and our sacrifices greater than they should have been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ron, there we have the best turned-out, I must say, Republican candidate this year.  He looks great.  He looks nifty out there, where your dad once announced for president, the same exact spot in Jersey overlooking the Statue of Liberty.  But a different message, a more cautious message.  We have to be careful about how we get out of these countries.  We got to do it the best way we can.  That‘s not a battle cry, that‘s a retreat.

REAGAN:  Well, or a cry—

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s an argument about the right kind of retreat.

REAGAN:  A cry of realism, perhaps.

MATTHEWS:  OK—

REAGAN:  It‘s not only how we get out of these countries but why we get into them and who gets us into them.  That‘s, you know, a central argument that‘s going on right now, the tension between the—you know, the right of Congress to—the obligation of Congress to declare war and the president‘s position as commander-in-chief.  There‘s always been this tension, and it‘s being heightened now because of the present situation.

MATTHEWS:  You first.  Do you have any reason to believe that George W. Bush had a clear notion of what we were doing in Afghanistan in the first place?  A clear notion.

REAGAN:  No.  No.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he had a clear notion?

STEELE:  No.  I think aside from the Osama bin Laden approach, no, I don‘t think—

MATTHEWS:  But he left the door open for that guy to escape in Tora Bora.

STEELE:  I think—I think that there—I mean, look, there are a lot of reasons those things went down the way they did, but it doesn‘t go to the fundamental question, why are we there and what will it look like when we leave?

MATTHEWS:  OK, we know one person has a deep gut commitment to the military.  That‘s John McCain, who served in Vietnam, paid the price of his loyalty to the country in the worst way, something like six years of torture over there.  So we know his instinct, which is to back the troops.

The question is have the troops been given the right orders?  Is the mission clear?  These guys are totally loyal to the country.  They do—and women—do what they‘re told to do under our civilian control.  And the toughest question was how do you deploy them and how do you use this courage in the right way.

Here‘s Vice President Biden, who I think has been dead right on this from day one, about the way to use our military power.  That‘s to go get the terrorists.  Here he is in December on what we should have done.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It will not be a token amount.  We‘re starting it in July of 2011 and we‘re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have the commitment by the vice president.  He is more dovish.  He is saying we should have a counterterrorism strategy, not counterinsurgency.  We shouldn‘t be in there defending the capital in Kabul for the rest of our lives.  We should be in there defending the United States in that part of the world—very clear mission, fight the terrorists where is they are.  Don‘t spend your time grabbing and holding turf.

Ron, that‘s clear policy.  Does the president support that policy of getting out of there over the next couple of months?

REAGAN:  Over the next couple of months or the next couple of years? 

He said 2014.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he said—he said—he said not a token departure this next month, July of 2011, begin a significant withdrawal program by then.  Is the president doing that?

REAGAN:  Well, he is going to announce, probably, you know, 30,000 or so troops coming out, I would guess, over the next—but that doesn‘t answer the big question as to what we‘re doing there.  You could have 100,000 or 50,000 troops in Afghanistan.  That‘s still way too many just to combat small numbers of terrorists.  They think there are only about 100 al Qaeda members in the whole country.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

REAGAN:  What do we need 50,000 troops there for—

MATTHEWS:  I know.

REAGAN: -- to fight?

STEELE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t make sense.

MATTHEWS:  I know what we‘re doing, we‘re trying to defeat the Taliban.  And I‘m telling you, I think that‘s like the kid—time to get the water out of the ocean, you know, the whole thing—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- the sand castle.  You‘re just going to—yes, I just don‘t get it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I hope he‘s listening.  I‘m sure he isn‘t listening, but somebody is.

STEELE:  That‘s the—

MATTHEWS:  He has to make a clear statement of mission.

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not question of timetable.

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a mission, understandable, that makes some kind of sense, and probably makes John McCain angry.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s probably what he has to do tomorrow night because I think John McCain is definitely holding out.  And I understand his emotions.  It‘s not about fighting the last fight in Vietnam, Senator.  It‘s about what we‘re doing in Afghanistan right now.  Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan, as always.

REAGAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael Steele.  I hear you have a big job later in the week, by the way.  Get ready.

Coming up: former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is running for president.  But is there really room on the left in the Republican Party?  This is serious.  Here‘s a guy positioning himself to the left of Mitt Romney.  Is there a real center out there for today‘s Republican Party, or is it all tea drinking, tea bag, whatever, Republicans?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a trip I wish I was on.  First lady Michele Bachmann—I mean, Michelle—Michelle Obama‘s in South Africa with her daughters, Malia and Sasha.  What a great trip.  And today they had an unexpected meeting with the great Nelson Mandela.  The Obamas were touring the Nelson Mandela Foundation when the former South African president sent word he wanted to meet them at his home.  It was the first meeting between America‘s first African-American first lady and the anti-apartheid icon who became this country‘s first black president.  What a meeting.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN:  I respect my fellow Republican candidates and I respect the president of the United States.  He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.  But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who‘s the better American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was former Utah governor and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman making it official today at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.  He wants to take down Mitt Romney, but he wasn‘t talking all that tough today.

Guess who was?  Harry Reid, my favorite quote of the year so far. 

Let‘s listen.  Here it comes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  If I had a choice, I would favor Huntsman over Romney, but I don‘t have a choice in that race.  I think that the front-runner in the Republican stakes now—here‘s a man who doesn‘t know who he is.  He was for gay marriage when he was governor, now he‘s against it.  He was for abortion when he was governor, now he‘s against it.  He was—what are some of the other things?  Oh, health care.  We modeled our bill to many—to a large degree about what he did in Massachusetts.  Now he‘s trying to run from that.  If someone doesn‘t know who they are, they shouldn‘t be president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  To me, that‘s the killer question and issue of the 2012 election.  Is the Republican front-runner an empty suit if he doesn‘t even know who he is?  There‘s the guy who knows him well and says he doesn‘t.  I think Huntsman running is another statement.  Romney doesn‘t know who he is, if he‘s anybody.

Republican strategist Mark McKinnon joins us.  He‘s a Daily Beast contributor—what a beast you are!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- and a former campaign adviser for Senator John McCain.  He‘s also the co-founder of No Labels—typical upper-class nonsensical theory.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And Bill Burton is a former Obama White House spokesman who now works for the Democratic fund-raising organization called Priorities USA.  One of these days, we‘re going to run out of those kind of words, those titles.

It seems to me that the Republican Party is so interesting right now because even though you have this front-runner—we got these numbers with Romney way up there, 43 percent, way up in the lead—yet nobody seems to believe it within the Republican Party.  There he is, way up ahead of everybody, with Ron Paul in second.  And Paul will probably stay around 11.

What‘s going on in the Republican Party?  You know, it seems to me—this is my theory—that everybody knows that Mitt Romney is basically an empty suit.  He‘ll pretend to be anything.  He‘s a Massachusetts—just like the senator said, he‘s a moderate Republican.  He goes out and runs for the Republican presidential nomination, he goes hard right.  He‘s talking about the president being awfully European, all this birther nonsense.

And then—I don‘t know what it adds up to.  Will he say anything to win?  Will he wear any suit, any ideological costume, Mitt Romney, to win?

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  He‘s going to try and run differently this time.  He‘s not going to—

MATTHEWS:  Well, will he do anything?

MCKINNON:  He‘s not going to bend himself into a pretzel, like he did last time.  But I think his front-runner status is very, very fragile.  You know, he‘s—

MATTHEWS:  What‘s missing inside?

MCKINNON:  Well, he‘s—well, let‘s just take what he‘s got to do strategically. 

He‘s got to win New Hampshire, where he‘s comfortably ahead right now, but that‘s where he was four years ago.  And I‘ll tell you what is going to happen.  He is going to have Huntsman on his left, where 44 percent of the voters in New Hampshire this time are independent voters.  They‘re not going to be voting in the Democratic primary this time.

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re going to like cut of Huntsman. 

MCKINNON:  They‘re going to like Huntsman.  Then he‘s going to have Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann on his right.  And that‘s going to be a pincer move.

He‘s got nowhere to go but down.  And if he doesn‘t win New Hampshire, then game over. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he‘s going to be Muskie in the old days.  Remember him, the guy that had to do one—And he won‘t even win it, won‘t even have a nominal victory, you think. 

MCKINNON:  Well, he could win it, but he‘s got to win it pretty big.

And I can see Huntsman or Perry really putting the move on him there. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it will be Humpty Dumpty has a great fall?

MCKINNON:  Could be. 

MATTHEWS:  And all the king‘s horses and all the king‘s men can‘t put him back together again.

MCKINNON:  Well, yes.  And that‘s why you‘re seeing—but it‘s just not.  But we‘re—also, in the last couple weeks with the economic ship looking worse and worse, Republicans are sensing that the president, President Obama, is not just vulnerable, but now beatable. 

And that‘s why you‘re seeing people like Rick Perry.  Now John Thune is talking today about maybe rethinking it.  And even Huckabee talking—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the crazy thing.  I mean, Bill, you know the story. 

You worked for President Obama.  You‘re loyal to President Obama, right? 

BILL BURTON, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It seems to me that he has one big problem, the unemployment rate.  And the minute it popped up to 9.1 percent last month, all of a sudden everything went crazy.  All of a sudden, this guy Romney‘s in the lead, the guy who doesn‘t have to have anything inside the suit, just be this guy who is the front-runner. 

BURTON:  Right.  No, it‘s obviously a tough situation for President Obama, and the economy is in a tough place. 

But the election is going to be about a choice, right?  And at the end of the day, people are going to decide, do we like the fact that we have been able to create two million jobs in this recovery and grow the economy, instead of contract it, or are for a guy like Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman or Tim Pawlenty, who are for this crazy Ryan budget, which would—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, you‘re not going to run a negative campaign. 

You‘re not going to play defense.

BURTON:  We‘re going to run a campaign that is about the choice. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, basically, you‘re not going to—you‘re not going to let this election be about the condition of the country, whether you like it or not.  You‘re not going to let people say, do I like the condition of the country, and, if I don‘t, I vote Republican?

That‘s what the Republicans want you to do. 

(CROSSTALK)

BURTON:  I think that what folks are going to be talking about is, what‘s the context?

Look, people—when you do polls and when you do focus groups, the American people understand that the president was handed a very tough hand.  That‘s not what this race is going to be about. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is Romney leading in the polls? 

BURTON:  Well, I mean, at this point, Bob Dole was leading Bill Clinton, too.

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who would you like to run against?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Bill, want to come back to the show after tonight? 

Want to come back after tonight?

BURTON:  Well, let‘s see how it goes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who would they like to run against?  Give me an honest answer, an honest answer.  Who would they—of the field we‘re talking about, who would the Obama people most—you know who they are.  What would they most like to run—would they rather run against a Bachmann on the far right, a Huntsman in the middle, or a Romney that‘s an empty suit somewhere we don‘t know where he is? 

Come on.  Give me the name. 

BURTON:  I think that you could run..

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to give me the name? 

BURTON:  I wouldn‘t say there‘s one person necessarily, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to talk to you, Mark McKinnon, because the great thing about McKinnon is he tells the truth. 

MCKINNON:  Michele Bachmann -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the right answer. 

And why don‘t you just say that? 

BURTON:  It‘s Herman Cain. 

MATTHEWS:  Huh?

BURTON:  Herman Cain.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, no, that‘s—you‘re just being trivial here.  We don‘t do this year. 

Who do you really think would be the toughest opponent for the president?  Be honest.  I will give you a minute.

BURTON:  I think that—I think you could make a case for any one of these folks to give the president a tough time. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are you doing this?  Are you still working for those guys? 

(CROSSTALK)

BURTON:  I don‘t think that there‘s one person that you could point to right now -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I can tell you right now Huntsman would be the toughest, because he would go to the center.  And the center is in play.

BURTON:  Well, if you look at Huntsman, who knows what he‘s for?  You look at his announcement today.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re doing Muhammad Ali on here.  Come on.  Let‘s move on here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re dancing all over the place. 

What do you say?  Who is the toughest opponent from the White House point of view? 

MCKINNON:  Oh, I think Jon Huntsman. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s also your guy, right?

MCKINNON:  Well, yes, which is the kiss of death for him, I‘m sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the big question.  We set this whole thing up. 

There he is going where Reagan started his general election campaign. 

By the way, Reagan had sort of an interesting sort of comfortable, casual costume on then.  He didn‘t dress like this guy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But the fact is—he dresses well, by the way.  But here‘s the question.  Can Huntsman—is he too far left to win?  Is there a problem of the Republican Party?  If they want to be Obama with the strongest person, he would be too left to win the nomination. 

MCKINNON:  Well, not necessarily.  That‘s the interesting thing about Huntsman and why people like me are taking a look at him.

He‘s a real blend and a mix that doesn‘t—he‘s not easily pigeonholed.  He‘s pro-life, pro-guns, pro-business, pro-civil unions, pro-civility, and pro-immigration.  That‘s a new kind of Republican. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Pro-civil union, let‘s start with that, marriage issue.  The president is pro-civil union.  So, they don‘t have an issue. 

MCKINNON:  Right.  But then—

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t have an issue. 

MCKINNON:  But independents who are not happy about Obama would like Huntsman, because he‘s where most of them are on those issues that they care about. 

MATTHEWS:  Which are the economy, jobs.

MCKINNON:  The economy and jobs. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- international business. 

MCKINNON:  But they also like the fact that he‘s where they are on environment, immigration, and civil unions.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it your perspective, Bill, that the Republicans could nominate someone who believes in climate change as a manmade phenomenon we have to deal with, who believes in moving some direction toward gay opportunity, gay rights on the marriage issue?  Can they nominate somebody like that? 

BURTON:  It‘s hard to imagine.  But in this field, you have got Romney, who will say whatever.  Huntsman has already backed away from where he was on climate.  He has backed away from where he was on health care. 

And if you look at that event today, about 100 people showed up.  Also about 100 reporters showed up.  He‘s the media darling right now.  And—

MATTHEWS:  What‘s wrong with that?  You guys benefited from that. 

BURTON:  Well, I don‘t know.  Ask Senator McCain or Senator Bradley or General Clark. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  How about asking former Senator Obama that had the media behind him? 

(LAUGHTER)

BURTON:  I think—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wouldn‘t chuckle having the media behind you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s nothing wrong—

(CROSSTALK)

BURTON:  I was on that—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Good.

So is that your perception, that the media is all going to—I hear this from everybody in the media, when they—not everybody, but anecdotally.  The people who meet Huntsman, serious journalists, when they meet him and sit down with him, find substance. 

MCKINNON:  Well, that‘s what‘s interesting is that people were interested in him.  There was a buzz on him.  But reporters who have actually gone out and watched him campaign, he‘s exceeded the expectations by a lot. 

He‘s also a very—he‘s a very good retail campaigner. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- which made me think.  Is he practicing LDS, just like Romney is?  Or is—he says that—is he really—

MCKINNON:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know.

MCKINNON:  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know if he‘s practicing—if he‘s a practicing Mormon? 

MCKINNON:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Because that issue is sort of interesting.  We don‘t know whether that‘s going to affect or not. 

MCKINNON:  I think Americans have become very tolerant—

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: -- to electing presidents. 

MATTHEWS:  Even evangelicals?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How come we have polls that show 60-some percent have a problem with it?

MCKINNON:  Yes, I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think they‘re telling the truth in polls? 

MCKINNON:  I hope not.  I hope not. 

MATTHEWS:  When in history have the American people admitted a prejudice they didn‘t have? 

MCKINNON:  Well, I think we have come a long way.  Americans elected an African-American last time.  And maybe they can elect a Mormon. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re in the Huntsman—you‘re afraid—

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON:  I‘m open minded.  We will see. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think we learned a lot here.  I think you‘re for Huntsman. 

I think you‘re most afraid of Huntsman, unless you tell me -- 

(CROSSTALK)

BURTON:  Well, on your point on substance, if you read (INAUDIBLE) piece which is coming out Sunday, his whole point was that there wasn‘t a lot of substance there.  And voters actually complained to him about the fact that—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re not willing to say you have a toughest opponent? 

So, Obama can beat anybody pretty easily?

BURTON:  I think it‘s—I think, no matter who it is, it‘s going to be a tough fight. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s the toughest?  Come on!

BURTON:  I wouldn‘t say that—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Last chance.  Last chance. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: -- to run scared and unopposed. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

He‘s afraid to tell me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Burton afraid to tell us who the toughest opponent the president will face.  We are going to get that out of somebody here—probably a better guest. 

Bill, last chance, last chance.  Toughest opponent. 

BURTON:  You are. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next—sorry about that. 

Up next:  Texas Governor Rick Perry wins a new media award, then says, you can follow me on tweeter.  This guy may be more like George W. than we thought.  Catch it in the “Sideshow” coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First up:  It‘s all Greek to me, or all Greek to Rick Perry.  In a media made for the RightOnline Conference, the Texas governor urged fellow conservatives to follow him on Twitter—or did he? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  Until then, if you have had enough, take out our phone and text fed up to 95613.  And you can always follow me on tweeter @GovernorPerry. 

Thanks for this award.  God bless you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, tweeter?  The kicker:  Governor Perry was accepting an award recognizing his use of new media. 

Next: a slight hitch today in Jon Huntsman‘s heavily choreographed rollout.  The press passes spelled the candidate‘s own name wrong.  There‘s that H. there in “John.”  Or, actually, his name is J-O-N.

ABC reports that Huntsman‘s staff eventually caught the mistake and tried to take the passes back. 

Now tell me what you really think.  Bristol Palin, in her new memoir, has a not-so-flattering take on her first meeting with Cindy and Meghan McCain in 2008 -- quote—“I had never seen people with so much Louis Vuitton luggage, so many cell phones, and so many constant helpers to do hair and makeup.”

Well, Bristol, however, saves her harshest for former fiance Levi Johnston, who she deems a “gnat.”  G-N-A-T, she called him.  Levi‘s own memoir “Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin‘s Crosshairs,” comes out this fall. 

What a group. 

Ending on a lighter note:  President Obama just one-upped the tradition of kissing babies on the campaign trail.  Check out this video from last week‘s congressional picnic that was just posted by the White House. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Are you OK, baby?  

(BABY CRYING)

OBAMA:  Oh, no.  Oh, she‘s—

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, yes. 

OBAMA:  You better give her back. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  You better give her back. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can I get a quick picture?  I‘m sorry. 

OBAMA:  Come on, baby.  Come on. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Aww.  There‘s a girl.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, another episode of no-drama Obama.  He‘s so cool, he makes the baby cool.  Wow. 

Up next:  Republicans may think Chris Christie would make a good president, but his job approval rating in his home state hitting a new low.  Is it another case of buyer‘s remorse for a Republican governor?  Is it?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Another midsized rally pushing the Nasdaq back into positive territory for the year, the Dow surging 109 points, the S&P 500 adding 17, and the Nasdaq soaring 57 points, a gain of more than 2 percent.

Looking in now at a live shot of Athens, where the Greek Parliament is in the process of voting.  A vote of confidence for Prime Minister George Papandreou is expected.  There are 300 members in the Greek Parliament—

151 is the magic number.  As we said, he is expected to survive that vote.  It‘s a crucial step in securing tighter austerity measures and the next installment of bailout funds. 

Back here at home, J.P. Morgan will pay $153.5 million to settle charges it misled American investors on toxic mortgage securities. 

Best Buy‘s board approved a $5 billion stock buyback plan and a 7 percent dividend hike.  Walgreens posted solid profits, but failed to renew an important contract with one of its major benefit managers. 

And Barnes & Noble reported a wider-than-expected quarterly loss, as going out-of-business sales at Borders bookstores cut into its profits. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The latest polling by Quinnipiac, a great polling firm, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, someone a lot of Republicans would like to see run for president, is upside-down.  He‘s on the wrong way of this one -- 44 percent approve of his job as governor, climbing to 47 percent the number who disapprove. 

Could this be another indicator that voters who elected Republicans last November are now suffering buyer‘s remorse? 

Josh Marshall is founding and editor of Talking Points Memo.  And John Nichols is a political writer for “The Nation.”

Let me go to Josh, then John.

Look at these numbers, by the way.  There is some good news for Christie on the popularity side.  In terms of personal approval, he‘s up 49-33.  But let‘s talk about job approval here, because that‘s the name of the game.  Is this just a situation of the times are bad, anybody who‘s an incumbent is going to get a bad number, Josh?

JOSHUA MICAH MARSHALL, FOUNDER AND EDITOR, TALKING POINTS MEMO:  I

think that‘s a big part of it. 

In some ways, Christie is actually sort of an outlier.  If you look at Kasich in Ohio, Walker in Wisconsin, Scott down in Florida, there are a lot of extremely unpopular governors who were just elected a few months ago.  A huge part of it, yes, the economy is terrible.  So any incumbent, once they have been around for a little bit, is going to have a hard time. 

I think what is adding to that, though, is that the agendas that they were elected on are not ones that are really doing a lot for the people who are suffering the most with the economy.  They‘re doing things like, you know, they‘re cutting back on the kind of things that would alleviate the pain of the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MARSHALL:  And it‘s—but it‘s not just incumbency.  You look at Cuomo in New York, you look at Dayton in Minnesota—

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me get through those numbers, because you‘re leading me through my numbers ahead of me.  So, let‘s get the numbers on the table.  No, really, you have done a great job, but let‘s run through the actual numbers. 

In Florida, as you mentioned, Rick Scott down.  And the most Quinnipiac poll shows Governor Scott in really a basement territory, 29 percent approval, 57 percent disapproval.  That is not a close call.  In Ohio, John Kasich, 38 percent of Ohioans approving.  Look at this, 49 percent disapprove, another strong disapproval percentage there. 

And, as you mentioned, Andrew Cuomo up in Albany is doing quite well, 61-18.  So, it‘s not all just incumbency. 

Let me go to John Nichols on that. 

Your thoughts.  Why is one governor, who‘s the Democrat, doing incredibly well, 3-1 practically, doing a lot of cutting, deftly, I would argue, deftly, whereas the other guys are taking the meat axe out and they‘re getting hated for it? 

JOHN NICHOLS, “THE NATION”:  Well, you got it exactly right, Chris. 

It isn‘t that these Republican governors just grew horns between January and now.  The fact of the matter is that they implemented policies in a style that seemed to be destructive. 

And a lot of voters are willing to take some cuts.  They‘re not averse to, you know, accepting that things aren‘t going to be quite as easy as they were a couple years ago.  But they want a governor, and frankly I would suggest they want a president who makes those cuts with an eye toward the human side, that you don‘t just go in there purely to slash and burn.

And, also, I think the one constant you see in a lot of these Republican governors is an almost brutal attitude toward public employee unions.  They‘re assuming that public employee unions and teacher unions are very unpopular.  The fact is, polling tells us people actually like teachers and don‘t mind public employees all that much.

MATTHEWS:  You know who learned that the hard way?  Was Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Came in on a cloud of popularity.  We covered it out there, the special election, the recall.

NICHOLS:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  He went after firefighters, who everybody loved since 9/11, especially.  Teachers and nurses.  I mean, I don‘t know what he was thinking.  He picked the three most popular professions.

Here‘s Chris Christie, however, doing something a lot of people like, which is talking back to somebody who seemed to be asking what might have been an invasive question—in fact, not a very nice question.  Here he is.  You judge on his position.

Here‘s a person asking about why he sends his kids to Catholic private school.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t send your children to public schools.  You send them to private schools.  I was wondering why you think it‘s fair to be cutting school funding to public schools.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  What‘s her name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gail.  Talk to Gail.

CHRISTIE:  Hey, Gail, you know what?  First off, it‘s none of your business.  I don‘t ask you where you send your kids to school.  Don‘t bother me about where I send mine.

Secondly, I pay $38,000 a year in property taxes for a public school system predominantly in Mendham that my wife and I don‘t choose to utilize, because we believe, we‘ve decided as parents that we believe religious education should be part of our children‘s everyday education.  So, we send our children to parochial school.

Third, I as governor am responsible for every child in this state, not just my own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  You know, not even commentators are usually that brash.  I mean, that usually gets you into trouble, Josh and John.  Both of you, give me your reviews as critics or reviewers positively of what you just heard.

How does that sell with the public in the current mood?  Josh?

MARSHALL:  You know, it‘s funny because you‘re right, a politician can get in trouble with something like that.  But the public does have a soft spot for candor and un-prepped responses.  And that‘s—at least what that seems like.

You know, so I think—you know, there‘s—a lot of people gravitate

to that because again, it seems that genuine, sort of shooting from the hip

a little.  I do think, though, that, you know, this is—that kind of

blunt talk is what has made Christie so popular with Republicans

nationwide.  But what you can see in New Jersey, even though he‘s not

nearly as unpopular as some of these other Republican governors, he‘s not -

he‘s not that popular in his own state.

           

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARSHALL:  So, it wears a little thin if things aren‘t, you know, turning up on the actual job side.

MATTHEWS:  You know, that kind of Ralph Kramden response, the whole television image there, John, works with men more than women.  No surprise there.  Loud mouths are not popular among women if you want to generalize.  Men can sometimes say, yes, he‘s speaking his gut, yes.

Fifty-three percent of men like him, 36 percent of women like him. 

So, there‘s a real differentiation.

What did you think personally as a male—I must say, John—what did you think of that kind of direct and brash response to a question from a regular citizen?

NICHOLS:  I think—I think it was dead wrong.  And I will tell you that, you know, when we do the political game here, when we‘re talking about, you know, might work and what might not.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he should have said—what should he have said when the woman said, how dare you send your kids to private school?

NICHOLS:  I think what he would—what he should have said is, I love my kids, I‘m looking for the best education for them, I think that‘s where it is.  But I wouldn‘t have said tell me what your name is, Gail, and then start saying—oh, I‘m not going to ask you this.

That was an aggressive response.  Now, it is possible that in New Jersey where people are used to Chris Christie that might work.  If he tried to take that national, take it to a place like Minnesota or Iowa—

I‘ll tell you, that would bomb.

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.  I think there‘s a certain edginess to him that—I think Jersey has a certain toughness, too, to be positive about it.

NICHOLS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Jersey girls, Jersey boys.  They are tougher people.  Anyway, thank—in fact, I love Jersey.  Anyway, I can say it.

Thank you, Josh Marshall.  You gave him a plus.  John gave him a negative.  Siskel and Ebert.

Up next, never mind actually raising the debt ceiling, the mere debate about the debt ceiling is actually hurting the economy.  This is serious business.  This isn‘t just playing chicken with the economy.

The more we put up dealing with the debt ceiling, the more interest rates are probably going to go up and that means paying for $11 trillion in debt at a higher rate of interest.  Figure it out.  It‘s expensive.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, are writing a memoir.  Kelly says the book will chronicle everything from their courtship—here‘s a picture of it—and careers, of course, Giffords‘ ongoing recovery after being shot.  Well, she‘s doing well, I guess, better than anybody could have expected.

Kelly announced the deal with Scribner today, the same day he announced he was retiring as a NASA astronaut.

As a member of the House of Representatives, Giffords will receive no advance and the deal will need to be cleared by the House Ethics Committee.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  Let me underline the word “everything.”  It‘s painful for Democrats because we‘re talking about entitlement programs, painful for Republicans because we‘re speaking of revenue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

We‘re back.

That was Dick Durbin on Sunday on “Meet the Press,” saying everything should be on the table.  But does either party really want to deal with fixing this debt this year?

Let‘s go to Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen.  He‘s been part of these budget meetings led by Vice President Biden.  He‘s the top Democrat in the House Budget Committee.

Congressman, I guess I need two bits of fact from you to get this clear.  When is a date before which it‘s safe to get this deal cut and after which we begin paying higher interest rates because we‘ve gone too far with this discussion?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND:  Well, no one can answer that question precisely, Chris.  But the key is not to play -- 

MATTHEWS:  Well, give me a guesstimate.  Give me a guesstimate.

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, we know what August 2nd is the date the secretary of the Treasury says that we would default on our debts.  So, obviously, we‘re trying to get things done sooner rather than later.  The closer you get to that date, the more jittery the markets get, and the higher the probability as you‘re going to get higher interest rates.

Certainly, if you go beyond that date, you really risk economic catastrophe, as Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, here‘s my point—and I guess it‘s political -

the Republicans seem to be so upset at the prospect of raising revenues in any way to balance this budget problem, that they‘re willing to go to the point of costing this government billions and billions of dollars in higher interest costs to manage the debt, to service the debt.  Am I right about that?

           

VAN HOLLEN:  That‘s exactly right.  They are playing Russian roulette with the fully loaded revolver because the consequences are exactly as we say.

Now, you hear some harebrained schemes that say, don‘t worry, we will pay our bondholders first.  For example, China and other foreign governments who hold U.S. treasury bonds.  We won‘t pay our troops, we won‘t pay Social Security.  And therefore, the markets will be calm because the bondholders will be being paid.

Well, first of all, wrong priority.  We shouldn‘t be paying China and not paying our troops.  Number two, anytime the U.S. government is not making good on its obligations, even whether to our troops or Social Security or anybody else, that will send jitters to the bond market and that will have an impact on interest rate.

So, we‘re going to lose both ways if we do that.  We will all lose both ways of we do that.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Durbin was very courageous on Sunday.  He was courageous before in backing the bipartisan—the president‘s commission on debt reduction, I thought.  He said everything is on the table.

Is that your view?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, we support the framework of the bipartisan commission.  What I mean by that is Simpson-Bowles said that in order to achieve the deficit reduction targets that we wanted, like in the range of $4 trillion, whether it‘s over 10 or 12 years, you have to get a certain amount from cuts and you should get a certain amount from revenue.

And we support that structure in terms of the balanced plan.  We have said in order to get a real plan, you not only need to make cuts, but you also need to close a lot of these tax loopholes for oil and gas companies, for ethanol producers, whatever it may be, in order to have a fair approach.

Now, I should say that when it comes to Social Security, for example, both sides have agreed that that‘s better dealt with on a separate track, where we have to strengthen Social Security, like Tip O‘Neill—you know the story there.

MATTHEWS:  I was there.

VAN HOLLEN:  Tip O‘Neill and Ronald Reagan—you were there—got that done, that that should be handled on a separate track.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the facts.  The American people understand this fight.  Democrats are very jealous of any attempts to cut entitlements, especially Medicare and Social Security.  They built those programs.  They believe in them.

People watching these shows believe in those programs.  Most Americans believe in them, Democrat or Republican.

They also don‘t like taxes.  Now, maybe we‘ve been taught that we can get away with a government without taxes by Reagan and other people, we have been.

Fundamental question: can we get to the solution here?  Can we avoid a bankruptcy, a doubling of, whatever, interests, spike of interest rates, by raising revenues without raising tax rates?  Is there enough loosey-goosey-ness in our tax structure that we can raise the revenues by plugging loopholes alone to meet this need?

VAN HOLLEN:  Chris, I certainly think in the short and median term, we can do that.  In other words, there are enough loopholes on the tax code, both on the corporate side, some on the individual side, that you can close to generate that kind of revenue as part of the balanced package.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

VAN HOLLEN:  In the longer run, in the longer run, you‘re going to have to deal with rates.  And I think the campaign in 2012 that the president will take to the country is one about priorities.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go—

VAN HOLLEN:  He will argue the folks at the very top, just ask them to go back to the rates from the Clinton administration.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You give me—in the short run, we can avoid this crisis without raising rates.  On the Democrat side, in this short run again, can we deal with entitlements without—in a serious way, bringing into doubt the credibility of Medicare, the reliability of Medicare?  Can you find cuts without taking away the people‘s rights at the age of 65 to medical care?

VAN HOLLEN:  You‘re absolutely right.  We are not going to do anything like the Republicans did, getting rid of the Medicare guarantee.  We have said we can build on the things we did in the Affordable Care Act that rewards and incentivizes doctors based on the value of care, they provide not the volume, not the number of tests.

MATTHEWS:  Got you.

VAN HOLLEN:  We‘ve also—we‘ve also said, when it comes to, for example, the prescription drug companies, why shouldn‘t Medicare have the same bargaining authority as we give to the Veterans Administration, to get a good price on drugs—

MATTHEWS:  Got you.

VAN HOLLEN:  -- and go back to the same price we were getting on drugs before the 2005 prescription drug deal.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Sounds like you‘re there.

VAN HOLLEN:  So, there are specific things.

MATTHEWS:  Sounds like you see the light at the end of the tunnel, sir, in terms of avoiding a fiscal catastrophe.  Is that true?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, I‘m hoping, Chris.  I mean, we‘re slugging it out. 

There are some different choices that need to be made.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

VAN HOLLEN:  But the point you made is key, Republicans have to understand that closing tax loopholes for special interest, all that pork barrel spending through the tax code, has got to be part of any solution.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I hope so.  Thank you.  It‘s well—thank you so much for coming on.

VAN HOLLEN:  Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who‘s leading the Democrats in this negotiation.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with something Jon Huntsman said today.  You just don‘t want to hear—well, you do want to hear from a lot of Republicans, you just don‘t hear it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with hope.

There‘s a wee bit of hope on the Republican side tonight.  It‘s only a weak hope, so I‘ll keep this short.

Today, after months of bad, we heard some good.  A candidate declared himself, not as a better American than our president, but as someone who said he could be a better president.

We know this is the right question.  And I have to hope we Americans, when the time comes, will give it the right answer.

Who will be the better president?  That‘s getting it right.

Romney hasn‘t gotten it right.  He‘s still drinking from the birther bottle, babbling about how Obama is a foreigner, how awfully European he is.

Gingrich talks to the president being a Mau-Mau or something, some white-killing revolutionary from British East Africa back in the ‘50s.

Herman Cain said the president was raised in Kenya, which he never was for a second.

So, it came as a relief today to hear former Governor Jon Huntsman say, quote, “I respect my fellow Republican candidates and I respect the president of the United States.  He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love, but the question each of us wants the voters to answer is: who will be the better president, not who‘s the better American.”

As I said, I keep it short—hope, got some today.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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    4/19/2014 2:47:18 PM +00:00 2014-04-19T14:47:18
  1. Dylan Dreyer / TODAY

    The gang is back together! Prove you’re a big fan of Weekend TODAY

    4/19/2014 11:14:33 AM +00:00 2014-04-19T11:14:33
  1. Jacek Turczyk / EPA file

    Busted! 81 percent of parents steal Easter candy from their kids

    4/19/2014 3:12:08 PM +00:00 2014-04-19T15:12:08