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updated 7/5/2011 12:12:47 PM ET 2011-07-05T16:12:47

Guest Host: Chuck Todd

Guests: Howard Fineman, Tyler Mathisen, Richard Wolffe, Eugene

Robinson, Bill Wolff, Steve Israel, Major Garrett, Chris Cillizza, Susan Page

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  Fireworks come early.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, sitting in for Chris Matthews. 

Leading off tonight: Can‘t we all just get along?  The government in Minnesota shut down, lockouts in both the NFL and the NBA, democrats and Republicans aren‘t remotely close to an agreement on the debt ceiling, and cats and dogs still aren‘t living together.  We don‘t seem to be able to agree on anything.

Democrats and Republicans are waiting for the other side to blink on raising the debt ceiling, and the mere prospect of default has real-life implications, oh, for the rest of us, interest rates and the economic recovery.  Are the two parties really willing to play roulette with the U.S. and global economy?

If the U.S. government defaults on its debts, or even comes close, disgust with our politicians may become so great that it could open a door to a serious run by an independent.  Not since Ross Perot have we seen anything like it.  So on this Independence Day weekend, we ask, Could we see a real run by an independent third party candidate?

Plus, did Mitt Romney just put on the flip-flops again?  Talking about President Obama‘s handling of the economy, Romney told NBC News, quote, “I didn‘t say that things are worse”—except that he did just days earlier, quite a few times.  We‘ve got it all on tape.  We put it together.

And an Independence Day weekend panel of experts to look ahead at the Republican field and all those money reports and everything else and the president‘s chances of reelection.

And we mentioned the NBA lockout added to the NFL lockout.  Is it possible?  We could be looking at an autumn and a winter with no football, no basketball—at least on the professional level—because these millionaires and billionaires really can‘t agree on how to divide billions of dollars.

And finally, what‘s wrong with this picture?  Nothing, if you‘re Mitt Romney.  But what candidate‘s son is posing with him?  Here‘s a hint.  It‘s not Romney‘s son, but it‘s the son of another presidential candidate.  We‘re going to have it all in the “Sideshow.”

But we start with the state of the country.  New York congressman Steve Israel—he‘s the chairman of the DCCC and a Democrat from New York and he joins me now.  Congressman Israel, I want to talk about where we are in these debt talks.  It seems to me—I‘ve talked to some Democrats who are involved in it.  They say they got close to an agreement on about $1.5 trillion.  There have been some reports that Republicans were up to $2 trillion in cuts.  The sticking point is these, quote, “revenues” or taxes.

What is the state of play as you understand it?  You‘re a member of the House leadership.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY), DCCC CHAIRMAN:  Well, Chuck, first of all, let me tell you that there is something that a Republican member of Congress and this Democratic member of Congress can agree on, and that is that a Republican freshman from upstate New York today said that the Republicans are playing a dangerous game of chicken with the debt ceiling, and that is something that I agree with.

Let‘s understand what these Republicans have been doing.  They want to end Medicare.  They just introduced a bill to privatize Social Security.  They want to extend tax cuts for people who are making over a million dollars.  They want to spend $40 billion in corporate welfare for oil companies.  And they are willing to bring down this economy and increase people‘s credit card rates by not extending the debt ceiling fairly and in a balanced way to achieve those objectives.

I agree with that Republican congressman.  They are playing a dangerous game of chicken.  The middle class is going to be a victim.  And they need to do exactly what John Boehner promised when he became speaker.  The adults have to begin negotiating in good faith.  Instead, the children are running this thing and it is a disservice to the American people!

TODD:  Congressman, there‘s a lot of “He said, he saids” going on.  Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer speculated that Republicans are simply trying to sabotage the economy just to see President Obama fail.  Let‘s listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  We need to start asking ourselves an uncomfortable question.  Are Republicans slowing down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012?  And now it‘s becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan.

It has a double benefit for Republicans.  It‘s ideologically tidy and it undermines economic recovery, which they think only helps them in 2012.  If the public comes to believe that Republicans are deliberately sabotaging the economy, it will backfire politically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  That is some—that is a harsh charge.  That‘s a member of the Democratic leadership, arguably the second most powerful U.S. Senator in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Do you agree with Congressman Schumer—with Senator Schumer there, Congressman?

ISRAEL:  Well, look, the fact of the matter is that even a Republican economist—John McCain‘s economic adviser, Mark Zandi, said today that if the Republicans do not come to the table and engage in a fair and balanced negotiation that extends the debt limit without—in a fair way that increases revenues and also reduces spending, that we will be thrown back into a recession.

More people will lose their jobs.  People‘s credit card interest rates will be going up.  And so the fact of the matter is that any progress we have made on the economy will be lost by the single act of Republicans failing to negotiate in a fair and balanced way, where the sacrifice is shared and not borne by the middle class.

TODD:  Can you—

ISRAEL:  And I‘ll say one other thing—

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL:  All you have to do is look at Eric Cantor, who quit on the economy, quit on the talks, refused to negotiate.  He‘s the number two guy.  I mean, Chuck Schumer may be the number two guy in the Senate.  Eric Cantor‘s the number two guy in the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives.  He not only quit on these talks, he quit on the economy!  So that tells me everything I need to know about the—

TODD:  But it sounds like—

ISRAEL:  -- how these Republicans are negotiating.

TODD:  -- you‘re not—it doesn‘t sound like you‘re ready to sign on with Senator Schumer‘s theory here, that the Republicans are deliberately trying to sabotage the economy.

ISRAEL:  I am more interested in outcome than input, and the outcome we need is what every small business and every American who has to balance a budget goes through.  We need to reduce debt.  And the way to do that is to decrease spending.  Democrats are willing to tighten our belts.  We understand—

TODD:  Right.

ISRAEL:  -- we need to do that.  We‘ve already come up with a trillion dollars in cuts.  And we need to ask big oil companies and people making over a million dollars to do their fair share by increasing revenues.

TODD:  All right, let‘s talk about a short-term deal.  Are you willing to vote for something that is six to eight months, simply the trillion, trillion-and-a-half dollars in cuts that have been agreed to among—among the Biden group to raise the debt ceiling temporarily?  Can you sign onto something like that?

ISRAEL:  Chuck, I prefer not to.  I wasn‘t elected to kick the can.  And the fact of the matter is, we don‘t need to kick the can.  Everybody knows what needs to be done—tighten our belts, reduce spending, increase revenues, deal with entitlement reform.  Those are the elements of a long-term deal that will help our economy grow and prosper in the future.

TODD:  Right.

ISRAEL:  We‘ve done it before.  We can do it again.  It would be nice if we had some Republicans to negotiate with in good faith.

TODD:  And Congressman, one of the things that supposedly is going to have some trims in it in this—that has been agreed upon, according to Democrats that I‘ve talked to, is some cuts in Medicare.  I know you guys have been making a big deal about the 45th anniversary of Medicare just past.  Are you going to sign onto something that does have some trims in Medicare as long as you don‘t feel like it hits beneficiaries directly?

ISRAEL:  Well, we passed the affordable health care bill last year that provides for nearly $500 billion in efficiencies.  The Republicans attacked us for those efficiencies.  I‘ve said before, I‘ll say it again, Chuck.  We will strengthen Medicare.  We will improve Medicare.  We will reform Medicare.  Ending Medicare is of the table.  We will not agree to it.  And we will not negotiate it.

TODD:  Congressman Steve Israel, have a good 4th of July weekend.  And we‘ll see you all of you guys—

ISRAEL:  Big Mets-Yankees—big Mets-Yankees—big Mets-Yankees series—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  You know what?  I‘m always rooting for the National League.  You always got to stick it to the big guys (INAUDIBLE) the Yankees.  All right, Congressman Israel, thanks.

ISRAEL:  Thank you.

TODD:  All right.  Joining me now, Major Garrett, chief congressional correspondent for “The National Journal.”  I just want to quickly react to something that—that Congressman Israel said.  Doesn‘t want to kick the can down the road.

MAJOR GARRETT, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Right.

TODD:  Doesn‘t want to support some things.  Sounded like a guy who had—all right, if that‘s the deal that‘s cut and there‘s this temporary deal, and it‘s sometimes—right now, that‘s what smells like what‘s coming.

GARRETT:  Yes.  He would have said, I will vote against that.  He didn‘t say that.  He did not.

TODD:  And it‘s always important.  That‘s why these—what they say and what they don‘t say matters.

GARRETT:  He didn‘t say, I will vote against it.  That‘s important.  But it‘s going to have to be up to the House Republican leadership to bring that to the floor, to agree to a short-term resolution of this absent a huge deal.

TODD:  You know—

GARRETT:  Eric Cantor told me this week—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Check this out, a great column about Eric Cantor.  So if we look at it in four—four—five pots (ph) here, right, five negotiating, right, the White House, Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Democrats, all would reluctantly support the short-term deal.  The one who wouldn‘t right now—House Republicans don‘t want to vote twice on a debt ceiling.

GARRETT:  They don‘t want to vote twice, and there is a substantial number, the House Republican majority, which now totals 239, that want this to be the moment of decision, that don‘t want to have a moment of indecision.  They want this, all of this, to come to a head now, with all the implications that come with it.

The only way, Chuck, I see a short-term agreement passing is if implied in that, implied—I mean, written almost in blood—that the short term is all spending cuts, no revenues.

TODD:  Right.

GARRETT:  Zero.  And you agree preemptively that the second stage of negotiations will include tax reform, and the president commits publicly to lower individual rates, lower corporate rates.  Then you take a look at all these other subsidies the Democrats have been talking about.  Republicans might sign onto that.  But we‘re a long, long way away—

TODD:  OK—

GARRETT:  -- from any kind of deal like that.

TODD:  And the thing that I‘ve just never bought into is, who the heck

I‘m going to fast forward seven months from now—

GARRETT:  Right, is going to have more political courage than they do now.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  -- when you‘re in the middle of an election year.

GARRETT:  Unless—unless you figure out, unless you believe, as the Republicans might, that the president will be even more willing to lower rates and do other things because he‘s so desperate about the economy.

TODD:  All right.  Let‘s talk about this—

GARRETT:  That‘s one possible scenario, but I share your skepticism.

TODD:  We‘re in the middle of here, like, who‘s got leverage, right?  So on one hand, you had President Obama this week, who decided to do something he hasn‘t done in a while—

GARRETT:  Right.

TODD:  -- which is go publicly and—

GARRETT:  Call them out.

TODD:  -- call them out.  That clearly got under the skin of Senate Republicans.  They were really ticked off.  They fought back.  Everybody thinks they now have some leverage.

GARRETT:  Right.

TODD:  Who ultimately—

GARRETT:  Well, not only leverage but entrenched positions that must be defended.  Republicans believe, with a slack economy, if they give in on tax increases, their base, which isn‘t in love with them in the first place, will defect.

TODD:  How fragile is that?  You were telling me beforehand that

they‘re afraid of losing 100 members if they‘re not careful, on a vote like

--

GARRETT:  They lost 57 on the CR deal to keep the government open.

TODD:  Is that House Republicans?

GARRETT:  Yes, House Republicans.  They are—they are—I think have reasonable fears of losing up to 100 to maybe 120.  If you lose that many House Republicans on the biggest domestic deal of the year, possibly of this Congress, that‘s a borderline crisis.

Democrats similarly don‘t believe they can go anywhere farther than where they‘ve gone on spending cuts with no revenues because if they do, their base will defect.  And when you‘ve got 23 Senate Democratic seats up in 2012 --

TODD:  Right.

GARRETT:  -- plus a president looking for reelection and a base that‘s walking away from you, that‘s also a crisis.

TODD:  I want to talk about this Senate Republican stuff.  Here was their response yesterday to President Obama.  Let‘s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS ®, KANSAS:  So maybe if he‘d just take a Valium and calm down and come on down and talk to us, why, it might be helpful.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO ®, FLORIDA:  It‘s class warfare and it‘s the kind of language that you would expect from a leader of a third world country, not the president of the United States.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  He should be ashamed!  I respect the office of president of the United States, but I think the president has diminished that office and himself by giving the kind of campaign speeches that he gave yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, Major, I‘m sort of surprised that they‘re all shocked.  I mean, at the end of the day, there‘s been a lot of shots fired at the White House, a lot of shots fired at the president, questioning his leadership.  He seemed—it‘s only natural sometimes that the president‘s going to fight back.

GARRETT:  The president‘s about 48 or 49 in the polls.  His economic numbers are more shallow, but he personally is at 47, 48, 49, depending on the poll.

TODD:  And where‘s Congress?

GARRETT:  Congress is at 17, 18, 19, 20.  OK?  Hello?  Let‘s (INAUDIBLE) let‘s just do the basic math there.  The president‘s press conference is about moving the needle of public opinion because both sides are entrenched and—

TODD:  They‘re trying to reframe the debate a little bit—

GARRETT:  Exactly.

TODD:  -- because it was not on the—

GARRETT:  And whenever—whenever, generally speaking, the American public sees Congress defending itself for inaction, they assume they‘re inactive.

TODD:  Right.

GARRETT:  So the president knows he‘s got more to gain, potentially, than to lose by striking this particular contract with Congress.  Now, it‘s also fair to say the president invited them into the negotiations.

TODD:  Right.

GARRETT:  They walked away.  But for seven or eight weeks, they‘ve been talking.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  -- more people say to me, though, Why isn‘t it—you know, they‘ve all watched the movie “Dave” too much, I think, frankly.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  But why is it he‘s pulling a Kevin Kline and is basically saying every day, Come on in.

GARRETT:  Right.

TODD:  Let‘s go.  Four hours.  I got it.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT:  Until that happens—until that happens, which Governor Christie has done in New Jersey, other governors have done, other presidents have done—until we see that kind of engagement—

TODD:  Which we did at the very end, pre-government shutdown.

GARRETT:  -- which told us it can work.

TODD:  Yes.

GARRETT:  All right?  So until we see that level of engagement, we‘re not moving anywhere.

TODD:  Right.

GARRETT:  And I‘m telling you, Chuck, by the middle of this month, the markets will start to price this, and they will not price it rationally.

TODD:  And they‘ll do it early.

GARRETT:  They‘ll do it early.

TODD:  Right.

GARRETT:  But when the psychology begins to take effect, we don‘t know what the psychology is going to do.  And I‘m actually—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  -- and by the way, we‘ll see how big—

GARRETT:  -- unnerved about that potential.

TODD:  We‘ll see what the Tea—we‘ll see what the Tea Party caucus -

how big it really is.

GARRETT:  Yes, we‘ll find out.

TODD:  They say it‘s 83.  We‘ll find out how many there are.

GARRETT:  We‘ll find out.

TODD:  Major Garrett, congressional correspondent for “National Journal,” great to have you on.

GARRETT:  Thank you.

TODD:  Even though you‘re a Padres fan.

All right, coming up: With all this battling over the budget and drama over the debt ceiling, there may be room for a third party candidate for president, especially if Washington continues this gridlock.  Is the (ph) opportunity for some independent candidate to get in the race, like Ross Perot did back in the ‘90s?  Waiting for Perot?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Well, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says he‘s staying on the job for, quote, “the foreseeable future.”  Yesterday, Bloomberg News was the first to report that Geithner was considering leaving his post after the president reaches a deal with Congress on the debt ceiling.  But last night, Geithner said he‘s staying put.

Let‘s be honest.  It would be tough for him to leave before the 2012 election, and here‘s why.  The Obama administration will want to avoid a contentious confirmation hearing that simply relitigated—for a new Treasury secretary—relitigated their entire economic policies just as the reelection campaign is getting under way.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s no secret voters are unhappy with Washington, with the president, with Congress, with the economy.  But could this anger fuel an actual third party or independent candidacy come 2012?  We saw it with Ross Perot.  Could it happen again?

Chris Cillizza‘s managing editor PostPolitics.com and Howard Fineman is senior political editor for the Huffington Post.  Both are MSNBC political analysts.  Good guys to have on this topic.

Howard Fineman, let me start with you.  Look, the direction of the country—just 29 percent right now in our poll.  We got—the president‘s approval rating on the economy is upside down, way over 50 percent disapprove.  Congress‘s job rating is sitting in the teens.  The idea that the Republicans brought change to Congress—majority say no or the wrong type of change.

It‘s all there.  What‘s it going to take?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, there isn‘t any respected figure or institution on the landscape, you‘re right.  I was out in Minnesota last week at a Democratic event, where they were kind of charging themselves up for the big budget fight in Minnesota and the election.  I didn‘t hear—

TODD:  And we know (INAUDIBLE)

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I didn‘t hear anybody say anything particularly nice about Barack Obama.  That‘s on the Democratic side.

TODD:  Right.

FINEMAN:  They didn‘t attack him, of course, but they didn‘t say anything—Yay, Obama.  And on the Republican side, all they‘re doing is not paying attention to their own milquetoast presidential candidates.  They‘re just attacking the president as, you know, the center of all evil.

So what‘s it going to take?  It‘s going to take somebody with big ego and lots of money.  In 1992, that was Ross Perot.

TODD:  He‘s little.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And the only one who fits all of those descriptions now is the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

TODD:  What, just simply because he‘s short?

FINEMAN:  No.

TODD:  OK.

FINEMAN:  Because he has-

TODD:  He does have a billion dollars.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  He has billions.

And he‘s got the ego.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  And he‘s got the organizational gift, by the way.  He built Bloomberg—

TODD:  Yes. 

FINEMAN: -- just the way Perot built Perot Systems and so forth. 

TODD:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  These are guys who know how to build empires in business, who think, some of them, that they can build a temporary empire, which is what a presidential campaign is. 

But I—Bloomberg says he‘s not doing it.  I know who is going to do it. 

TODD:  Chris Cillizza, I want to play for you Angus King, one of the great names of American politics.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  He was on another—another show this morning, one that I‘m very familiar with called “THE DAILY RUNDOWN.”  And I asked him about—and he brought up a candidate.  Listen to who Angus King floats as a potential candidate for an independent candidacy or a third-party ticket.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGUS KING (I), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MAINE:  I think it would be somebody, a guy named Chuck Hagel, for example, who is a Republican senator from Nebraska. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who endorsed Obama, essentially. 

KING:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

KING:  And he‘s a terrific guy.  And I could see a guy like that and maybe a slightly disaffected Democrat coming together and forming a team that could change American politics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Chris Cillizza, this goes to this idea that, because the business community isn‘t very well thought of, frankly, these days, you‘re not going to get a businessman, a la a Perot or remember back in the Lee Iacocca floating days, or Warren Buffett is probably too old to be running for president.  There‘s no other figure like that, so it would have to be a disaffected pol.  That was the Angus King theory. 

CILLIZZA:  First of all, first of all, who was that handsome guy interviewing Angus King? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Bring it on.  I know.  I know.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  He looked better-looking this morning than he is right now. 

Anyway, go. 

CILLIZZA:  Man.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Chris, I thought he was going to mention Chuck.  When he said Chuck, I thought he was going to say Chuck Todd. 

TODD:  Yes, well. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  You know, Chuck, you bring up a good point, look, the Wall

Street business tycoon type is going to wear a little less well after every

you know, the bank bailout and everything that we have seen with the economy.  The rich guy coming in and spending a bunch of his own money because he‘s interested in office doesn‘t sell as well. 

Hagel is an interesting idea.  You know, the thing that I always feel like this—and Howard touched on it.  Yes, there is clearly disaffection.  Remember, in 2010, Chuck, people voted for Republicans in Congress, but they didn‘t like them. 

TODD:  Right. 

CILLIZZA:  They voted for them even though they disapproved more than they approved of their conduct. 

There is an idea out there, yes, we want something different.  It‘s just the people underestimate how powerful the two parties are.  There are minute things that matter and costs lots of money, getting on ballots in all of the states, collecting signatures. 

TODD:  All right. 

CILLIZZA:  That‘s why you need a rich guy and—or gal.  And I just don‘t see anybody out there. 

TODD:  All right. 

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t see—yes, Chuck Hagel in theory, on paper, yes.

TODD:  Sure.

CILLIZZA:  But is he going to put in the money and do all the collecting?  It‘s just—it‘s too much of a pain.

TODD:  Howard Fineman, he brings up the ballot access.  Everybody brings up the ballot access.  Angus King was talking about this group called Americans Elect, which is sort of the—there was another group four years ago.

They‘re trying to get on the ballot in all 50.  If there is a group that basically says, here you go, we got ballot access, there‘s a lot of politicians whose egos will say, oh, well, if you—if you build it, maybe I did come. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

Yes.  Well, I think that‘s true, and Chris is right.  That‘s the way it would work this time.  I‘m a little unclear as to how the new campaign laws and how the freedom to have super PACs and so forth that can spend unlimitedly would allow big-money people who, if they didn‘t run on their own, could help fund making sure that one of those parties could get ballot access—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  When I first started in this in the ‘80s, getting ballot access was nearly impossible. 

TODD:  But there‘s been some—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  There‘s been a lot of lawsuits that have loosened it.  It‘s now possible to do it.  You do need a lot of money, but you can do it.  And you can get on in all 50 states. 

So I think that would be the way it would have to happen. 

TODD:  Chris Cillizza, I want to put up one more poll, from NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll. 

CILLIZZA:  Sure.

TODD:  And this is something, it‘s been inconsistent -- 31 percent

believe the two-party system is so broken, the country needs a third party

52 percent say the system has problems, but still can work well with improvements with the two-party system. 

So I guess the question is, when this happens, when Perot rose up, you saw the two parties respond.  And Bill Clinton suddenly became interested in fiscal issues.  He hadn‘t been before that.  And you saw the Republicans suddenly try to talk about less government, things like that.

This case, I don‘t see the two parties talking about trying to look like they‘re going to get something done and fix something. 

CILLIZZA:  No. 

And, you know, Chuck, I think what you point to is, it‘s possible a third-party candidate comes out who drives the discussion.  Look, there was clearly at time—you remember ‘92.  Howard remembers ‘92.  I remember ‘92.  There was a time when Ross Perot looked like he might win that thing. 

TODD:  He won the message war.  That‘s what I have always believed. 

CILLIZZA:  Right.  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  He actually did win the message.  He shaped the election.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  He shaped the race.  He clearly shaped the race.

TODD:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  The question, is there a space for an independent to do that?  And does that person who gets in, if he or she does, are they OK with shaping the race and losing? 

TODD:  And losing, right.

CILLIZZA:  Or does—and that‘s the question, is, can you be influential and lose and feel like that is OK?  Because, like you said, I do think the two parties would react and try to close you out almost immediately.  Now, Perot had his own money and was able to fight back. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Right. 

Howard, my theory has always been, you do that, and Obama sweeps the South, gets 400 electoral votes.  You start doing the math and if 40 percent is all he needs to win, his base is more with him than with Republicans. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Also—also—also, the route for an independent candidate or third-party candidate seems to me, in this era of lockouts in sports and no—

TODD:  Yes, polarization, yes.

FINEMAN: -- polarization, nobody dealing with anybody else, would be the messenger of sweet reasonableness in the middle. 

TODD:  The unity. 

FINEMAN:  The unity. 

TODD:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  And Barack Obama, stylistically, his press conference the other day notwithstanding, it‘s going to be hard to out-reasonable the president. 

TODD:  And if Romney‘s the nominee, Romney likes to be that guy, too. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, exactly. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  The question is, where do you go?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Stylistically, it would be hard.

TODD:  Where do you go?  And that‘s tough.  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Right.  The question is, where do you go?  That was always the Bloomberg thing, Chuck, just quickly, in ‘08. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Yes, very quick.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Where do you go against a Barack Obama?  Where is the running room for an independent?

TODD:  It doesn‘t.  It‘s why he didn‘t run. 

CILLIZZA:  Right. 

TODD:  It‘s why he didn‘t run then.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Chris Cillizza, Howard Fineman, we could keep talking, because

--

FINEMAN:  Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: -- it always is fun to speculate about third-party. 

All right. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Up next:  Maybe Sarah Palin really is a momma grizzly.  Wait until you see this.  Find out what she demanded of fans seeking her autograph at a book signing next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: a two-for-one special.  “The Minneapolis Star-Tribune” reports that at a Wednesday joint book signing, Sarah Palin fans were told they had to also buy Bristol‘s book in order to get the ex-governor‘s autograph.  Momma grizzly?  You betcha. 

Speaking of political children, Jon Huntsman‘s college-age son, Will, went to a campaign rally last week.  The hitch?  It was Mitt Romney‘s rally.  “The Salt Lake Tribune” snapped this priceless shot of him reaching over to pose with the candidate.  The Huntsman camp says, Will simply wanted to see another campaign event.  He meant no disrespect. 

To who, his dad or to Mitt Romney? 

Finally, new on the books.  It‘s July 1, which means hundreds of new state laws go into effect.  Here are some of the more noteworthy ones.  In Virginia, dead people can vote.  Starting today, if someone sends in an absentee ballot, and then dies before Election Day, that vote is still good.  How about that?  Forget that, Chicago. 

Over in Maryland, have trouble leaving your dog?  Good news.  Dogs are now allowed in restaurants with outdoor patios and tables, provided they‘re on a leash—good luck with that—in Annapolis.  You also got to bring your own shovel. 

And starting today in New York State, it‘s mandatory for schools to allow kids to opt out of dissecting frogs in biology.  They can instead watch interactive films.  Come on now.  No dodge ball anymore.  You can‘t get your hands dirty with a frog.  You have got to learn what the guts of an animal looks like.  But whatever.  You have got to do the real thing. 

All right, up next:  Is Mitt Romney flip-flopping again?  Talking about President Obama‘s handling of the economy, he now says he never said that things are worse.  Trouble is, he did, and he did it a couple of times.  We will get to Romney‘s latest walk-back and the rest of the 2012 news with our Independence Day weekend panel of experts next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I‘m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another explosive rally heading into the Fourth of July weekend, the Dow Jones industrial up 168 points, the S&P 500 climbing 19, Nasdaq surging by 42.  Stronger-than-expected reading on U.S. manufacturing and growing optimism about sort of a solution in that Greek debt crisis giving the markets their best week in almost two years. 

American factories picked up the pace in June for the first time in four months, but analysts say, digging down, the details are not as robust as that main figure seems to indicate.  In stocks, the U.S. automakers gained on better-than-expected sales in June, Ford and GM up about 10 percent, Chrysler 30 percent jump thanks to surging demand for its line of jeeps. 

The online video site Hulu started courting potential buyers, including Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!

And the owner of Olive Garden restaurants delivered in-line earnings and plans for more cost cutting and a marketing overhaul. 

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

HARDBALL. 

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

From Tim Pawlenty‘s spin on his home state‘s government shutdown to Mitt Romney‘s walk-back on what the Obama economy has done to the economy now, we have got the very latest on the Republican field with our special Independence Day panel, “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, and “USA Today”‘s Susan Page. 

Hello to you all. 

I want to start with the Minnesota government shutdown, because it does have potentially an effect on the presidential field.  There is a former governor of Minnesota who is—by the name of Tim Pawlenty—yes, he‘s still running for president. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Susan Page, let me play for you what he said about the shutdown and why he believes he actually has a good story to tell on the shutdown. 

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Both in ‘05 and now, you had Democrats demanding that we raise taxes and raise spending.  And that‘s not what the people in this country need.  It‘s not what our government finances need.  We have to get government spending under control. 

The Democrats won‘t do it.  I applaud the Republicans for standing strong and encourage them to keep standing strong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Well, they had a shortfall, and that shortfall was on Pawlenty‘s watch. 

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the Tim Pawlenty for president campaign? 

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”:  I think it‘s got the potential to go both ways, not to be a little bit weasel-worded about it. 

But he had a shutdown in 2005 and he said he stood up for his principles. 

TODD:  And he got reelected overwhelmingly. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  And he got reelected. 

On the other hand, he used, like many governors, some accounting gimmicks to get out of Dodge before he had to face the shortfall that Minnesota is now struggling with.  So I think there is kind of both a defense on his part, but also some ways in which he would be vulnerable. 

TODD:  Gene Robinson, she talked about this.  He left a $6 billion budget shortfall.  He had to use—he used, oh, those dreaded stimulus funds that came into all of the states last—to plug some holes.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  And one of his critics, a former governor, a former Republican governor, who is now an Obama supporter, but Arne Carlson, who said, it was nothing but gimmicks and he never really did any balancing there.  That‘s where this is trouble for him, isn‘t it?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.  It goes to credibility.  It goes to the sort of death by 1,000 cuts. 

TODD:  He can‘t afford another problem, yes. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Exactly. 

TODD:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  He‘s got that problem.  He had the debate that was that was a disaster for him.  He‘s got fund-raising numbers that aren‘t looking so great for him the second quarter.  I mean, it‘s just—it‘s not so great for T-Paw. 

TODD:  It‘s not.

And, Richard Wolffe, there‘s another Minnesota candidate.  Minnesota is producing presidential candidates left and right. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Here‘s what Michele Bachmann said about this. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right. 

TODD:  She said: “I applaud Minnesota Republican legislators for standing up to reckless spending and higher taxes.  Hopefully, Governor Dayton will realize that fiscal restraint is what is necessary to strengthen the Minnesota economy and create jobs.”

Bachmann has got the luxury, though, of:  Hey, I‘m not in state government.  I don‘t have to deal with this.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  Doesn‘t have the record, doesn‘t have a legislative record, but yet her positioning is right for where this whole fight is playing out, which is, if you want someone who‘s going to stand up to the Democrats and have the fistfight, you go for a Bachmann.  You don‘t go for a Pawlenty. 

The contrast makes it that much harder for Pawlenty.  He was in the sort of initial branding the purple state conservative—

TODD:  Right. 

WOLFFE: -- the guy who could bring people together -- 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE: -- fix the problems—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: -- Republican.

WOLFFE: -- fix the problems, be competent government.  And here it‘s a mess, and he‘s trying to pitch in on her turf or Perry or Palin‘s turf.  It just doesn‘t really square up. 

TODD:  It‘s been really tough for Pawlenty. 

But with success when you run for president comes a little more scrutiny.  I want to play for you a Marcus Bachmann sound bite.  He is a therapist and it‘s some things that he said about gay Americans that is making the rounds on the Internet, making some people very unhappy. 

Here is what he said on a radio program last year.  It was unearthed by some Democratic groups.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MARCUS BACHMANN, HUSBAND OF MICHELE BACHMANN:  We have to understand barbarians need to be educated.  They need to be disciplined.   And just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn‘t mean that we‘re supposed to go down that road.  That‘s what is called a sinful nature.

And we have a responsibility as parents and as authority figures not to encourage such thoughts and feelings to move into the action step.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TODD:  Susan, that is the type of language that‘s going to make swing voters uncomfortable.  They‘re not going to want to hear something like that.  Whether having the conversation about this idea of somehow as being gay is not—is, you‘re not born gay.  That is—that is language that barbarians, that‘s rough language.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY:  We‘ve seen a revolution in this country towards attitudes towards gay and lesbians.  And it‘s been just in the last couple of years that we‘ve seen really seismic shifts in people‘s attitudes towards gay marriage, toward employment discrimination, towards gays in the military.  Look at the changes here.

I think this kind of language makes not just swing voters comfortable, I think a fair number of conservative Republicans who would be uncomfortable.

TODD:  Let‘s remember, Republicans put gay marriage over the top in New York state.

ROBINSON:  Yes, they did.  And this is a terrible moment for this sort

of thing to come out.  And I think if people just kind of think of that

conversation taking place inside the Bachmann household, for example, it‘s

it‘s not good, and it‘s going to make a lot of people think twice.

           

TODD:  All right.  We said that with success comes extra scrutiny.  Mitt Romney had things to say about President Obama and his policies, about the economy, and then he was asked about it this week.

So, here‘s what he had said about President Obama and his policies, that he said had made the recession worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When he took office the economy was in recession, and he made it worse.

What this president has done has slowed the economy.  He didn‘t create the recession, but he made it worse, and longer.

And the president‘s failed.  He did not cause this recession, but he made it worse.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

TODD:  All right.  Last night, an NBC producer asked if the economy was really worse than it was in 2009.  This is what Romney said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I didn‘t say the things are worse.  What I said was, that the economy hasn‘t turned around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Richard Wolfe, that didn‘t take long to put the sound bites together.  I mean, now, look, the Romney campaign says, no, no, no.  He thought the question was about the stock market, and the stock market indicators.  That‘s tough sound to sit there and back and forth.  We know what the question.

WOLFFE:  Yes.  And for those of us who had the great, good fortune and misfortune to cover the John Kerry campaign, this is flashback territory, OK?  You can spin it anyway you like, you can explain it, the context may well actually be reasonable.  But the take is really hard to overcome.

And here‘s the problem, which is—does he believe the sound bites or does he actually believe his economic judgment?  And I suspect, really, he knows the recession ended, and that the president was there for a couple of months when the economy was falling off the cliff—but really, he‘s in the sound bite.  He‘s stuck with it.

TODD:  And, you know, Susan Page, I‘m sort of taken to that and I remember the comment he made about Afghanistan during the debate.  It does feel like it‘s almost as if we‘re going to find out—well, he misspoke.  That‘s—you know, that‘s—right now, this is not hurting him too much but over time, this could accumulate.

PAGE:  And, of course, this goes right to a core vulnerability for Mitt Romney, which is all the flip-flops we saw last time around on social issue.  He cannot afford to be seen again as somebody who‘s changing positions.  He, especially more than, if Michele Bachmann said something and had to come back and explain.

TODD:  All right.  Susan Page, Eugene Robinson, Richard Wolffe—guess what?  We‘re coming back.  You get to say something right after the break.  I promise.

This is HARDBALL—a two, two-segment panel—only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Well, it isn‘t enough—the Republican presidential field is adding yet another candidate.  Five-term Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter is getting into the race.  He officially announced tomorrow.  McCotter is a conservative but he says the auto bailout was necessary.  In fact, he was very critical of Mitt Romney in recent weeks for being against the bailout.  We‘ll see if he can catch fire.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  We are back with “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, and “USA Today”‘s Susan Page.

OK, we just showed you a bunch of Republican candidates not having a good week.  Well, President Obama does not exactly having a good month either.

Richard Wolffe, there‘s a pattern developing with Barack Obama.  We‘ve noted it going back to 2007.

Yes.  Since he has announced for president, his summers have been politically tough on him, whether it was not catching fire fast enough with supporter in ‘07.  In ‘08, it was sort of looking to be coroneted.  In ‘09, the health care town halls.  In ‘10, the midterms.

This time, they‘re trying to stop, stop the summer madness here.  Are they going to pull it off?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  Except it‘s only going to worse with the whole debt crisis, debt ceiling.

You know, his best part of the summer is when he goes away.  You know, the polls rise when they get out of the news and people think about other things.  It‘s true.

TODD:  Right.  There‘s a bit of pattern there.

WOLFFE:  But, look, his only position has got to be that he‘s the adult in the room.  Yes, he came in pretty forcefully with that with a press conference.

We‘re moving into election season.  So, the fact he‘s getting more confrontational and firing up his base is how he‘s got to go.  But there is a cost to that, which is the independent voters that he‘s trying to get back, who don‘t like it.

TODD:  Well, you know, said that—and, Susan Page, I want to play for you, and it‘s I think the sound bite of that press conference.  It‘s the one about Malia and Sasha.  Let‘s hear it again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time.  Malia is 13.  Sasha is 10.  It is impressive.  They don‘t wait until the night before.  They‘re not pulling all-nighters.  They‘re 13 and 10.

You know, Congress can do the same thing.  If you know you‘ve got to do something, just do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, Susan Page, you know, the president has got this way, here he is stinging you, but it didn‘t—it didn‘t feel harsh at the time.  But, boy, Republicans took it harshly.

PAGE:  Well, it didn‘t feel harsh to you, maybe.

TODD:  He‘s doing it in a sing-song way, very calm, all this stuff. 

But, boy, it didn‘t go over well.

PAGE:  So, do you want to get a deal or make a point, score a point?  And he clearly decided to score a point, not make a deal, because this has just to make it harder.  To compare members of Congress unfavorably to his daughters—and, by the way, Malia is 12.

TODD:  Well, but she turns 13 tomorrow, I believe.

And fair enough, as a parent, three days before, you‘ve got to call your kid the age they‘re going to be.  You know that, Susan.

PAGE:  She‘s 12.

TODD:  You can‘t refer to her as a 12-year-old anymore.  I defend him on that, as a father.  I get it.

ROBINSON:  I do, too.

TODD:  But maybe make it hard or make a deal?

ROBINSON:  Well, he made it harder to make a deal.  But, you know, most of what he does is deliberate.  He got under their skin.  He—you know, he needled them in a way that sounded to me deliberate and provocative.  And clearly he was appealing to the base.

But I think he wanted to shake things up a bit on the Hill.  I think he did it, the way he reacted with the kind of (INAUDIBLE) of anger.

TODD:  They feel good right now.  Are they going to feel good about this in two weeks?  Richard, you know these guys well.

WOLFFE:  You know, if this—if what it takes to get to a deal is not just the sort of tongue-lashing but the market whiplashing, the Congress, no one is going to feel good.  My—I think the concern inside the White House is this looks like the top vote, which is no one want to do it.  Market tanks 700 points.  And then they go, that was serious, the Wall Street guys are serious.

TODD:  They weren‘t making this up.

WOLFFE:  You know what?  There are no winners in that.  And that‘s why

you got to apply the pressure now.  Nobody looks good.  They got to

TODD:  With a nuclear bomb going off, everybody is going to get affected.

Susan Page, Eugene Robinson—Richard Wolffe, happy Independence Day, your first one as an American citizen.  Congratulations.

WOLFFE:  Very proud of it, too.

TODD:  We‘re proud of you.  Welcome to citizenship.  Very good.

Coming up, it‘s not just the public sector that‘s having issues with unions and management.  Two sports leagues, the NBA and the NFL, are also locked out.  Believe it or not, there‘s a trickle-down effect from the government issues here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Is it possible that pro football and pro basketball could be dark next season after players and owners couldn‘t reach a deal last night?

The NBA decided to do what the NFL did and lock out its players.  NFL, of course, did it in March.  So, we‘ve got high unemployment, the debt ceiling fight threatening to tank the U.S. economy and now, even our entertainment portion of our lives is being taken away from us.

Bill Wolff is vice president of primetime programming here at MSNBC. 

He‘s executive producer of “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”

But if you read the incredible book about the history of ESPN, Bill Wolff is all over it.  This man knows sports and business as well, which is why he and I are going to rant about this for five minutes.

Bill—

BILL WOLFF, VICE PRESIDENT OF PRIMETIME PROGRAMMING, MSNBC:  Yes.

TODD:  -- what is it—it‘s millionaires and billion airs, everybody in the squeeze.  But in this case, in both cases here, we have owners who are suddenly panicked about their bottom lines and looking to take more money from players, what‘s going on?

WOLFFE:  Well, it seems to me it is just an opportunity, Chuck.  It is a little bit of shock doctrine.  They come to the end of a collective bargaining agreement.  It is time to reset.

And there are some questions about the troubles of the owners.  I don‘t think anyone is arguing that NFL owners aren‘t still really profitable.  They might be a little less profitable than they used to be.

And while the NBA is claiming that it‘s not profitable, there is a lot of reporting that says that‘s nonsense, too.  That they are profitable, they‘re just less profitable.

I think this is the ownership recognizing they have the chance to reset the paradigm for another three or four years with a new collective bargaining agreement that will set them up in a better position and that‘s what is happening.  They just see that the next three or four years of business depends on what contracts they sign now so they are taking the hard line looking at the long-term, or the midterm bottom line.

TODD:  When it came to basketball, there used to be a way for owners to basically get cheap money, right?

WOLFF:  Yes.

TODD:  And that is they would somehow convince a major state or city that they were going to move unless they got a free arena.

WOLFF:  Football, too.  Football, too.

TODD:  Right.  Football did it as well.  And all of a sudden now, hello, city governments and state governments are woken up.  They‘re not doing this anymore.  Owners that actually want new stadiums have to build it.

But is that part of this?  Suddenly, their waive finding free money and being bankrolled by the federal taxpayer and the state taxpayer and the local taxpayer is gone?

WOLFF:  I think—I don‘t think that has to do with the problems or the announced problems of successful or stable teams.  Like the Boston Celtics don‘t need a new arena, that‘s done.  The Pittsburgh Steelers, it was financed about two thirds by public financing.  That‘s done.

Who it hurts is a team that wants to move to a new town and is using that as their source of profit.  So the Sacramento Kings basketball team or Minnesota Vikings football team—they want to move to L.A. or they want to move to, name your town, that doesn‘t have a team -- 

TODD:  Yes, like Las Vegas with the sac (ph) guys.  Yes.

WOLFF:  Right.  And they can‘t get an arena.

So, I think it has a limited effect.  It has an effect on teams which are unstable and looking to get stable by fleecing the public with a—don‘t get me started, on publicly financed stadiums, the greatest waste of money in the history of U.S. government.

TODD:  That‘s right.

And there‘s the psychological effect on Americans.  You know, we always say, are things going in the right direction or the wrong track?  And I always—you know, we always look at it through a political prism.  But I‘m sorry, you look at all their stuff and you think, boy, nothing is on the right track.  Not even the sports world.

By the way, movies stink and TV is not the same any more.  I‘m mad always at journalism.  This does have a psychological effect on the public, no?

WOLFF:  Well, it‘s a big bummer.  I mean, it‘s a big bummer.  And I think NFL football particularly.  I mean, NFL football is a ritual.  It is Americana.

I mean, Sundays around the TV with your betting slip or your fantasy team or whatever, that occupies a huge proportion of the population.  If there‘s no football, it really will be a huge bummer.  The NBA doesn‘t—the business of NBA I don‘t think benefits quite as much from the national obsession.

But you‘re right, it‘s a total drag.  I mean, it‘s—in a right track-wrong track way of understanding things, it‘s a wrong track.  It‘s a bummer.

But the St. Louis Cardinals wept the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore . 

So, I‘m on the right track.

TODD:  Well, and baseball doest realize the problems they have right now.  But who know?  Still figure that out.  Bill Wolff, you know what time cues are all about.  I‘ve got to go.  And you‘ve got a show to work.

WOLFF:  It‘s all true.

TODD:  Thanks for doing it.

WOLFF:  You got it.

TODD:  That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Have a great 4th of July weekend.  It‘s always one of the best holidays of the year.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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