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updated 9/6/2011 12:11:06 PM ET 2011-09-06T16:11:06

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: David Corn, Michelle Bernard, Oriel Morrison, Eugene Robinson, Roger Simon, Ron Reagan, Christina Bellantoni, Frank Pallone, Jim VandeHei


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: The Republicans versus President
Obama. Is it personal?

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight: Dissing the president of the United States. John
Boehner`s refusal to allow a Wednesday jobs speech was more than just the
latest example of Republicans just saying no to anything -- anything --
President Obama wants. What seems obvious is that Republicans neither fear
nor respect this president. It`s not clear all of them even consider him
to be legitimate.

Is it personal? Is it political? Is it in some cases racial? And
what can the president do to turn this around or to push back hard? That`s
our top story.

Also, Rick Perry is about to feel the heat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry doubled spending in a decade. And this
year, Rick Perry`s spending more money than the state takes in, covering
his deficits with record borrowing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, that`s not from the DNC, that`s from Michele
Bachmann`s PAC. And word is that Sarah Palin is about to go after Perry,
as well. It`s not easy being a front-runner.

And speaking of feeling the heat, Eric Cantor is now getting it from
all sides. Democrats and Republicans alike are taking it to Cantor for
insisting that FEMA money for Hurricane Irene victims has to be offset by
domestic spending cuts elsewhere.

And today`s employment report, no new jobs created, reminded everyone
just how tough times are. But as we head into Labor Day weekend, some say
let`s remember who got us here, the two guys who`ve been on TV much of the
week, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

And finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the Catch-22 of the
Republican Party. Anyone conservative enough to be nominated might be
unelectable, and anyone moderate enough to get elected can`t get nominated.

We start with the disrespect shown towards President Obama. Roger
Simon is chief political columnist for Politico and Ron Reagan is a
political commentator.

Gentlemen, I want to show you something from "The New York Times" that
ran today. It says this. "American presidents often have highly
disagreeable relationships with members of Congress from the opposing
party. But while most of those fights stem from deep policy divides, the
relentless acrimony between President Obama and congressional Republicans
also seems strikingly personal, almost petty."

Ron Reagan, a lot of it comes with the territory, but did your dad
ever have to face anything like what President Obama has been through since
day one?

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR No. There was certainly acrimony
during -- as there is under any president, but not -- not to the sort of
level that we see today and not with the tone of disrespect that I think we
see today. I mean, I`m astonished, really, by the level of pettiness on
the part of the Republicans, and again, the tone that they take.

This starts, of course, with, you know, some of the bloviators on
right-ring radio, who virtually call the president "boy," sometimes
literally call him "boy," which is pretty offensive right there. But it
trickles down to the elected officials. You know, shouting "You lie"
during a presidential speech is a pretty good example of this.

No, it was not like this during my father`s presidency.

SMERCONISH: What`s amazed me throughout this time period are those
who openly pray for, request that he fail, all the while congratulating one
another for their relative level of patriotism.

REAGAN: That`s -- that`s quite -- they`ve made this quite obvious.
Mitch McConnell, of course, said right from the outset that job one for the
Republicans was getting rid of Barack Obama. You`d think that maybe they
were interested in national security or improving the economic picture, but
apparently, it`s just all about getting rid of him. Yes, again, this is
virtually unprecedented.

SMERCONISH: Roger, you had yet another terrific piece for Politico
today. You quoted a White House source saying the administration didn`t
think Congressman Boehner`s snub was a trivial matter. Here`s what your
source told you. "It is a big deal that the House said no to the
president. From our end, this confirms what we all know. They will do
anything in the House to muck us up."

Perhaps I was reading too much between the lines, but I said to
myself, if Roger Simon had that highly placed source and got that scoop,
the White House wanted people to know that they were PO-ed.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: Sure, they did. And they`re starting to
identify villains. You go back and you look at President Obama`s speeches
about Congress, he never uses the word "Republican." He says, Congress
hasn`t done this, Congress has been ineffective, Congress refuses to pass
my plans. Well, he doesn`t really mean the Democrats of Congress, he means
the Republicans, but he is very consciously trying to be bipartisan.

And I think some in the White House, perhaps with his permission, have
finally decided to say, Look, bipartisanship is not working, will not work.
It won`t help the country. It won`t get you reelected. And it`s time to
say, Look, it`s the Tea Party who is frustrating us. It is Boehner and
Cantor who are refusing to deal with us fairly. It is ultraconservatives
who are frustrating the will of the people. And I think they`re beginning
to get in place their talking points for the 2012 campaign.

SMERCONISH: And we`re having this conversation about the climate that
exists right now with regard to the president. Given those jobs numbers
that came out, or lack of jobs numbers, this morning, my suspicion is that
his opponents will now feel emboldened to go even further in this regard?

SIMON: Oh, I think they will. I mean, you know, when you have Mitt
Romney sort of really tearing him up today, and Romney is by far not the
worst person or the most vicious Republican in the field. Quite the
opposite. But they all feel that they have a wounded president, a
vulnerable president, and all they have to do is twist the knife a little
more to bring him down.

I think they`re underestimating just how good a campaigner President
Obama was last time. He beat Hillary Clinton and she was pretty tough to
beat. But I really think that they believe they almost cannot lose.

SMERCONISH: And I want to make clear I thought that the atmosphere
that surrounded President Bush`s administration at the end got way too
nasty.

But some specifics of the sort of thing we`re talking about on
President Obama`s watch, here they are. Remember the infamous outburst
from Representative Joe Wilson when President Obama was speaking before a
joint session of Congress about his health care plan? It was this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reforms I`m
proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie!

OBAMA: Not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Here`s another one. Earlier this summer, Representative
Doug Lamborn had to apologize to the president for what he said on a local
Denver radio program.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. DOUG LAMBORN (R), CO: Even if some people say, Well, Republicans
should have done this or they should have done that, they will hold the
president responsible. I don`t want to even have to be associated with
him. It`s like touching a tar baby, and you get it -- you know, you`re
stuck and you`re a part of the problem now.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: There`s another criticism of the president during
congressional debate on the debt ceiling this July. It required
Representative Steve Latourette, who was serving as acting speaker, to
admonish his fellow Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: Disparaging remarks directed at the
president of the United States are inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Only one more because of a time constraint, not that we
don`t have a lot more examples.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: But Tea Party congressman Joe Walsh, who in the past has
accused the president of lying and of being "idiotic," stirred controversy
in a tweet this week saying he wouldn`t be a prop for the president. He
said that he would refuse to attend the president`s jobs speech next week.
And then today he defended his decision in an interview on MSNBC with
Martin Bashir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: I believe that he`s sort of abusing his
position here.

MARTIN BASHIR, HOST, MSNBC`S "MARTIN BASHIR SHOW": He`s abusing his
position?

WALSH: There`s no reason for him -- yes. There`s no reason for him
to call a joint session of Congress, Martin? My Lord! We reserve that for
heads of states from dignitaries around the world, Presidents in moments of
crisis --

BASHIR: Mr. Walsh, this is --

WALSH: -- big, monumental moments.

BASHIR: This is a moment of crisis.

WALSH: This is a political exercise. This is political theater.
This president, respectfully, has made a career out of simply giving
speeches.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Hey, Ron Reagan, why does it go on? It goes on because
it works. I had Jon Huntsman on my radio program today. Here`s a guy who
can`t break out of the pack. And I think why? Because he`s saying Barack
Obama is a good guy. He disagrees with him, but he thinks he`s a good guy.
We reward this behavior.

REAGAN: Yes. John McCain did the same thing last time, you remember,
at a town hall meeting when he was -- you know, Barack Obama was identified
as some, you know, Muslim terrorist or whatever, and he said, No, he`s a --
you know, He`s a good, decent American. He`s just somebody I disagree
with.

But there are many Republicans here who think that any Democrat who
gets into the White House is by definition illegitimate. There are
Republicans who simply feel entitled to the White House.

And I get a chill every time I hear President Obama now say the word
"bipartisan." What is the bipartisan compromise between, I`d like to have
a nice jobs program for America because we`ve got a real unemployment
problem here, and, We don`t want to do anything to help the economy until
after 2012 because we`re really only interested in destroying you? Where`s
the 50 yard-line between those two positions? I can`t find it.

SMERCONISH: Roger Simon, did you get any indication from your highly
placed source at the White House today with regard to their response to
this sort of behavior, that there will be a change in the president`s
demeanor? Will he continue to pursue what I describe as the reasonable
ground, or did they give you that story today because they want people to
know, We`re now drawing a line in the sand?

SIMON: I can`t say for sure as to the president. I think his staff
is tired of what has been going on and would like to see -- not just his
staff, his Democratic base would like to see a tougher Barack Obama.

Now, that may not be in him. He didn`t run a very mean campaign in
2008. He ran a good campaign, but it wasn`t mean. Maybe he`s going to
have to get meaner if he wants to win in 2012 because he certainly doesn`t
have the economy on his side anymore.

SMERCONISH: When you study, Ron Reagan, those numbers about the
president, while his disapproval rating is at an all-time high, you know,
when you look into some of the cross-tabs, you see that many Americans
continue to like -- believe he`s a very, a very decent individual. I`m not
talking about the hard-core opposition that, frankly, will never be
dissuaded from that opinion.

I guess my question is, Does he run the risk of alienating those
people who like him at his core, even if they disagree with his politics,
if he changes his demeanor?

REAGAN: No, I don`t think so in this case. What Roger is suggesting
is true. He needs to be stronger. People vote for the people -- the guy -
- the guy or the woman, who they respect. And what`s not happening here is
President Obama is not getting the respect of the Republicans. If he needs
to make them fear him in order to get them to respect him, so be it. Then
he needs to do that.

But he needs to be much more direct about what he wants to do and be
very clear about what their agenda is, which is not good for America, at
least until after 2012. These are people who are activity trying to stop
him from helping the economy at this point, and he needs to make that clear
and he should start in his speech before the joint session.

SMERCONISH: A far cry --

REAGAN: Forget the bipartisanship.

SMERCONISH: A far cry we are from that scene that you`ve discussed
and written about, where Tip O`Neill comes to pay respects at your father`s
hospital bed, which is really distressing.

REAGAN: Yes. Can`t see John Boehner doing that for Barack Obama, no.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, men. Appreciate Roger Simon and Ron Reagan.

REAGAN: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: And a schedule reminder now. The Republican presidential
debate at the Reagan Library will be right here on MSNBC next Wednesday at
8:00 PM Eastern. And then join us Thursday night for the president`s big
jobs speech. That`s at 7:00 PM Eastern.

Coming up: Rick Perry`s discovering the flip side of being a front-
runner. The attacks have begun, and not from Democrats.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Talk about expectations and confidence in the economy.
Technically, we`re not in a recession, but try telling that to people who
are suffering. A new poll out today shows 8 in 10 Americans believe the
nation is in a recession and one third of those surveyed in the CNN ORC
poll think the recession is serious.

The polls shows that Democrats want the president to focus more on
creating jobs while Republicans want him to take care of deficit reduction.
No surprises there.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s becoming an old story. Texas governor Rick Perry leads the pack
of Republicans running for president. In the new Fox News poll of GOP
primary voters, he`s well ahead of his challengers. Even when you only
poll for candidates who officially announced they`re -- when they`re
running, he still remains number one.

But here`s the new story. With that front-runner status comes
something else, criticism. Tea Party favorites Michele Bachmann and Sarah
Palin are both launching attacks on Perry. Perhaps they feel their appeal
slipping as they try to appeal to the same crowd.

Michelle Bernard is the president of the Bernard Center for Women,
Politics and Public Policy, and David Corn is the Washington bureau chief
for "Mother Jones." Both are MSNBC political analysts.

I`ve got to show you this. A pro-Bachmann super-PAC called Keep
Conservatives United -- by the way, keep that title in mind, Keep
Conservatives United --

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, right!

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good luck!

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: -- has started running an attack ad against Rick Perry in
the early voting state of South Carolina. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry says he`s one tough hombre on spending.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Number one is, Don`t
spend all the money!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But what`s his record? Rick Perry doubled
spending in a decade. And this year, Rick Perry`s spending more money than
the state takes in, covering his deficits with record borrowing. And he`s
supposed to be the Tea Party guy? There is an honest conservative, and
she`s not Rick Perry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Not surprisingly, a Perry spokesman pushed back, saying,
quote, "Governor Perry is a proven fiscal conservative, having cut taxes,
signed six balanced budgets and led Texas to become America`s top job-
creating state. Congresswoman Bachmann`s front group ad is patently and
provably false. Unlike Washington, the Texas budget is balanced, does not
run deficits and limited spending, even as Texas added jobs and population
in big numbers."

David Corn, if I`m Mitt Romney, I`m loving this. This is what I was
hoping for.

CORN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And we`ll talk about Sarah Palin`s attack,
too, on Rick Perry in a moment. So if -- I think he wants -- Mitt Romney
would want Sarah Palin just fully in the race. Right now, Rick Perry has
leapfrogged over Mitt Romney, front-runner status. He is the Tea Party
candidate. That`s getting Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin worried. And
it`s worrying Mitt Romney because he thought he would only have one Tea
Party candidate to worry about, Michele Bachmann.

If he gets a few into the race, if Sarah Palin joins him (INAUDIBLE)
shooting at each other with that saloon music behind him -- I love that in
the ad -- it`s going to help Mitt Romney. He`ll get the non-crazy
Republican vote, which is not a majority, but it may be a plurality and
enough to help him win some primary contests.

SMERCONISH: Michelle Bernard, also, I guess it suggests the debate
next week maybe is going to -- the fireworks are *really going to begin.

BERNARD: I think the fireworks are going to fly. It will be very
interesting to watch the dynamic between the candidates, particularly the
male/female dynamic. This is still new to us. You know, Hillary Clinton
and Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008, and then this year going forward for
2012. It will be very interesting to see how the males and the females
relate to one another in the debate.

And quite frankly, it`ll be very interesting to see how Rick Perry
does. I suspect he is going to do very well, if he is your cup of tea --
and pun is intended there -- if you can get it, hombre. But if he is your
cup of tea, he`s got -- he`s folksy. He is articulate. He`s a good
campaigner. People seem to really, really like him.

As soon as he entered the race, he just jumped ahead of the entire
pack in -- in the (INAUDIBLE) But then again, the question is, you know --
even if he`s a Tea Party candidate, the big question is winning the primary
is very different than winning a general election. And all of this, I
think, personally inures to the benefit of Mitt Romney.

CORN: All right, but, also, if I can add for a second, Michael, right
now, the idea of Rick Perry is what`s polling well.

BERNARD: Yes.

CORN: I mean, he hasn`t campaigned much. He hasn`t done a single
debate. He`s been -- he`s done well in politics. He`s, you know, a
political juggernaut down in Texas.

But when he gets on the national stage, he could (INAUDIBLE) up.
Remember what people said about Fred Thompson before the debates. So he
still has a way to go to prove himself.

SMERCONISH: A lot of time on the clock. A lot of time on the clock.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, you mentioned the male/female dynamic. Let`s
talk about one of those females.

Scott Conroy of RealClearPolitics reports that this weekend in an Iowa
speech -- quote -- "Palin will lean on loaded phrases like crony capitalism
and permanent political class in laying out her view of the U.S. political
system`s deep-rooted ills. Though she will not call out Perry by name,
Palin`s carefully couched rhetoric will leave the impression that she may
soon draw more overt attention to one of the Texan`s potential
vulnerabilities as a candidate."

I`m going to give you the opportunity to call me a sexist.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: I always thought that what really motivated her to
continue to get on the bus was that she couldn`t stand to have Michele
Bachmann getting all the spotlight and notoriety. For her now to go after
Perry if in fact she does it, that will be a surprise to me.

BERNARD: I have got to tell you, I disagree with you. I won`t call
you a sexist. I can understand how you would make the connection, but I
disagree.

Personally, I feel that Sarah Palin has always been motivated by the
same things that motivate male politicians.

SMERCONISH: What?

BERNARD: It`s power, power, power, power, power, crowds --

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: -- out to her. And, frankly, look at all of the money --

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But what about money? Money, money, money, and power.

BERNARD: Look at all of the money she`s making. Sarah Palin -- for
the people who are members of the Tea Party, they love her. They feel that
the moon and the Earth revolve around Sarah Palin.

But she can`t possibly win a general election.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, if it were about power, she would have kept the
job she had and continued to serve in that regard.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: But here`s the question. Isn`t she more powerful, frankly,
running on a national -- running or not running, whatever you want to call
it is that she`s doing, on a national ticket, rather than being governor of
Alaska? She`s got a national voice now.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But right now she has the power of celebrity, which is not the
same thing as the power of government or politics.

I will say this about Sarah Palin. When she attacks someone for being
part of the permanent political class, she has lots of standing, because
she left that class before her job was even over.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Let me ask you if perhaps -- we love playing
Palintologists. I acknowledge it, trying to figure out what motivates her.

CORN: Like dinosaurs.

SMERCONISH: Is it possible -- is it possible that what motivates her
is that she regards herself as the mother of the Tea Party movement?

BERNARD: As the queenmaker.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Yes, well, and the idea that the support from the Tea
Party could so quickly go to Rick Perry, who is a newbie in this regard,
she can`t take that?

CORN: Michael there`s a poll out today on another network, which will
go unnamed, that says that 71 percent of Republicans, of Republicans, do
not want her to run for president.

BERNARD: But it doesn`t matter to her.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Well, it may not matter to her.

BERNARD: Yes, it doesn`t matter.

CORN: But she can get in the race and she can see her standing even
with the Tea Party folks fall, which will be less money and maybe less
power for her.

SMERCONISH: I still say it never happens. I just wonder what it does
to the brand if, going through this whole circle jerk, in the end, she
doesn`t do it.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: This is divide and conquer. This is divide and conquer.
She will split the Tea Party vote and all of this will be wonderful for
Mitt Romney.

CORN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Listen, Dick Cheney weighed in on Sarah Palin on the
Laura Ingraham program today. And here`s what he had to say about the
former Alaska governor.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW")

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have
never gotten around the question of her having left the governorship of
Alaska midterm. I don`t -- I have never heard that adequately explained,
so that I could understand.

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Confusing.

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: Only partway through that first term, she decided to step
down and still be -- I would like to know more about that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, I never understood it either.

BERNARD: No one understood it. Well, actually, I can give you one
very, very simple explanation. She left so she could earn a lot of money,
and that`s what she`s done.

She`s been highly successful, at least when it comes to pocket change
in the purse. And -- but, you know, for a politician, for someone who
maybe aspires to be the leader of the free world, she does have a lot of
explaining to do that goes beyond the power of the purse.

CORN: After she left, one reason she gave in an interview was that
with the media attacking her all the time, it was hard to do her job. So
it was better for the people of Alaska for her to leave.

Now, what would that say about her being a presidential candidate or a
president? You don`t think the media will take a few shots at you once in
a while? I think it showed a real lack of spine, a misjudgment. I don`t
think she`s ever recovered from it, except when it comes to her bank
account.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: I think that it will be interesting to watch all of them,
but in particular, I`m watching Mitt Romney next week, because if there are
fireworks between, say, Bachmann and Perry, then he can sit back and allow
them to do his dirty work.

CORN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: But if they don`t, if they go Pawlenty in the debate,
then I think -- then he`s going have to step up and bring the lumber, or
it`s going to continue to be Rick --

CORN: But you know what, Mike -- Michael? He may not have to do it
just yet. He can wait to see how Perry does in the first debate or two,
but pretty soon, if there`s no change here, and he`s in second place, he`s
going to have to take him on directly, which means taking on the Tea Party.

SMERCONISH: Yes.

David Corn, thank you, as always, Michelle Bernard as well.
Appreciate seeing both ever you.

Up next, Michele Bachmann is joining the ranks of another famous
historical figure. Go figure -- according to her that is. It`s in the
"Sideshow."

And you`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the
"Sideshow."

First up, it`s become pretty common for GOP candidate Michele Bachmann
to invoke classic American heroes to inspire audiences on the campaign
trail, albeit with a few history snafus along the way.

Well, yesterday, Bachmann dug into her history grab bag and pulled out
a heroine from across the Atlantic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Both Ronald
Reagan and Margaret Thatcher contributed mightily to restoring the economic
and military greatness of the nation during their respective time periods.
We`re in a similar time period and we need to have strong, viable
leadership to see that return again today, both with military and with our
economy. They`re both tremendous examples.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Who knew Bachmann was
getting at something much larger when she described her own titanium spine
as part of an interview a couple of weeks ago?

Next up, the struggle to be first in line doesn`t end in elementary
school. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is considering moving up her state`s
primary to the end of January, stepping on the very sensitive toes of
traditional early voting states, like Iowa, New Hampshire and South
Carolina, which guard their early positions like the family jewels.

Well, let the race begin. What did South Carolina`s GOP chairman have
to say about Brewer`s intentions? "I don`t care what date they pick.
We`re going to jump them. We`re going to be the first in the South."

One group that dreads this game of leapfrog, the media. Reporters
would prefer not to spend Christmas and New Year`s in Iowa and New
Hampshire away from their families.

And now, for the "Big Number." "We the People," that`s what the White
House is calling a new feature on its Web site that allows individuals to
create and sign petitions on issues important to them. If, within 30 days,
a petition has reached a certain number of signatures, the White House
guarantees that policy officials will then review and respond on the topic.

So what`s the magic number of backers for a petition to garner some
attention? Five thousand signatures, quite a bit of legwork in 30 days --
5,000 signatures, that`s tonight`s "Big Number."

Up next, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is catching it from both
sides now for insisting that hurricane disaster aid be offset by spending
cuts elsewhere. Are Republicans really going to keep playing games while
thousands are suffering?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ORIEL MORRISON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Oriel Morrison with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Take a zero growth jobs report, a federal agency suing big banks and
mix in some weaker-than-expected corporate earnings, all of this heading
into a long holiday weekend, and here`s what you get, the Dow Jones
industrial plunging 253 points, the S&P 500 tumbling 30, and the Nasdaq
giving up 65.

That bleak August jobs reports left the unemployment at 9.1 percent.
And on top of that, jobs data for June and July were both revised sharply
lower. We also had the Federal Housing Finance Agency announcing lawsuits
against some of the big banks, accusing them of misrepresenting the quality
of their mortgage-backed securities.

Meanwhile, Netflix plunged after its key content provider, Starz, said
it will pull its movies and shows over the service in February.

And tax preparer H&R Block led the S&P lower after reporting a wider-
than-expected quarterly loss.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor handed Democrats an irresistible
issue this week when he said any federal money to pay for Hurricane Irene
would have to be offset by spending cuts.

Listen to Cantor earlier this week on the FOX News Channel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: This is a time and an
appropriate instance where there`s a federal government role. Those monies
are not unlimited. And what we have always said is, we have offset that
which has always been funded.

Just like any family would operate when it is struck with disaster.
It finds the money it needs to take care of a sick loved one or what have
you and then goes without trying to buy a new car or put an addition onto
the house.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: To no one`s surprise, Democrats have seized on those
comments, suggesting Cantor is both heartless and hypocritical since he
asked for similar aid for his Virginia district without offsets in 2004,
but now Cantor is also hearing it from Republicans, who see this as bad
policy and bad politics.

Joining me now to talk about this are Democratic Congressman Frank
Pallone of New Jersey and "Roll Call" associate politics editor Christina
Bellantoni.

Christina, I`m envious of Brian Williams, because I think this would
be a great debate question to ask next week at the Reagan Library of the
GOP candidates: Do you agree with what you just heard in that sound bite
from Congressman Cantor?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, "ROLL CALL": Yes, that`s exactly what the
Democrats are sort of hoping will end up happening. They want to sort of
push a divide between House leadership and Cantor and obviously Speaker
Boehner and these Republican governors who have asked for aid.

Obviously, the biggest difference is Chris Christie from New Jersey,
who is really talking about, we need aid no matter what happens.

But I think it`s important to point out that Cantor`s office has said
multiple times that of course he would support this and that he was talking
hypothetically and that there hadn`t even been a request yet from the
president yet, and walking that back a little bit. But, of course, the
Democrats are wanting to use his earlier statement to get everybody to
cover it and to attempt to drive this wedge within the GOP.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, I get the underlying premise. And it makes
sense. We shouldn`t spend that which we don`t have. I just don`t think
that Americans are going to want to hear that relative to FEMA while people
are still flooded, without power and suffering.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: Exactly.

I think the key here is, is Cantor going to allow the traditional
process when we have disaster aid? And that is to have an emergency
supplemental appropriations bill which appropriates the money without going
through the regular budget process, so that it immediately goes out to the
states and the people in need.

He has not indicated he`s willing to do that. And I think he`s
indicating just the opposite. And that`s not what we do. When we have a
disaster, we don`t hold the budget process hostage, if you will. We say
we`re going to do an emergency appropriation. We`re going to get that
money out right away.

And that`s what we`re going to demand. And the fact he does not --
may not be willing to go along with that is pretty tragic, given the need.

SMERCONISH: And here come now the politics associated with the issue.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee challenged 25 East Coast
Republicans whose districts were hit by Irene to stand with Cantor or to
publicly oppose him.

And we have got an example. "Will Congressman Scott Rigell stand
against his Republican leader Eric Cantor`s outrageous position that
Hurricane Irene disaster relief cannot be funded until after House
Republicans make draconian spending cuts to things like Medicare and
education? Cantor has ruled out ending tax breaks for big oil or the
ultra-rich to pay the costs, but now is demanding more spending cuts before
ensuring FEMA can act."

Christina, it would seem like that`s going to be a successful
political strategy.

BELLANTONI: Maybe. I wouldn`t necessarily say that immediately.

I think part of it is the DCCC press release writers has got to be
very happy, because this has gotten a lot of coverage today. But you
already have -- Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, for example, a Republican from
New York, has already said she wouldn`t support this if it weren`t for
certain offsets.

But most of the other Republican members of Congress are sort of
waiting back and seeing. And I think this is an area where Cantor
specifically can sort of have his cake and eat it, too, because more than
likely, Congress is going to approve disaster aid for this major hurricane,
which has caused so much damage across the East Coast, and is rivaling
costs of some other very major, major tragedies.

And so I think Congress is going to ultimately approve this, and
Cantor`s district could benefit from it, but he may not have to vote for it
--

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Congressman, I don`t think -- I don`t think that Cantor
can -- can stand to be seen as being on the opposite side of the fence from
the governor of your state.

I mean, Republican governors have already expressed displeasure with
the plan to offset disaster aid with the budget cuts.

And here`s Governor Chris Christie earlier this week delivering what
seemed to me to be a message aimed directly at what we`re describing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You want to figure out budget
cuts, that`s fine. You`re going to turn into a fiasco like the debt limit
thing where you`re fighting each other for eight and nine weeks and you
expect the citizens of my state to wait? They`re not going to wait and I`m
going to fight to make sure that they don`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Congressman, your thoughts on the governor`s comments?

PALLONE: Well, I think what he`s pointing out this should bypass the
regular budget process. I mean, you know, keep in mind that under Bush,
the Republicans never asked that in an emergency that we not go ahead and
bypass the regular budget process and have these offsets. Also, the war --
during the Republican -- during the Bush administration, Afghanistan and
Iraq, they were all financed through emergency appropriations along with
disaster aid.

So, the idea that we should wait around until the regular budget
process and have offsets, we`ve never done this before. We always, you
know, even in the case of the war, certainly in any disaster, we always
said we`re going to do an emergency appropriation, and that`s been the
precedent.

So, it`s -- I think now what`s happening is that Cantor has gone along
with the Tea Party agenda which basically says there`s no role for
government, why do we have to do anything special in this case?

And that`s not what we do. We have to get this aid out to the people
in need.

SMERCONISH: Christina, I think this issue transcends typical
left/right, Rs versus Ds. By way of example, let me show you a portion of
"USA Today" lead editorial which says, "It would, indeed, be unconscionable
to hold up aid for victims of Hurricane Irene, both for compassionate
reasons and because it adds up to just a tiny fraction of federal
spending."

The bigger question about Cantor`s pay as you go approach is why he
picks FEMA to make the point which much more costly items, wars, as the
congressman mentioned, health care and tax cuts to name a few, routinely
get a pass and not just from Democrats.

BELLANTONI: Yes. This is why I would venture to say this aid will
ultimately pass, and I think it`s an interesting example how gridlocked
Congress is that there`s even arguments about this when it`s probably
something that the majority of Congress is going to support and it could
probably pass very quickly as the congressman is pointing out. So, it goes
to just show -- I mean, the Tea Party does have an element of this. You
know, they are clamoring against spending. They say that it`s too much.
They`re already trying to petition this new deficit committee that`s going
to start meeting later this week -- next week.

And that is an issue where it`s very difficult for anything to get
done when you have so many competing pressures.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

Congressman Frank Pallone, thank you for your time.

Christina Bellantoni, we appreciate you being here.

BELLANTONI: Have a good weekend.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, why the re-emergence of former President Bush
and his Vice President Dick Cheney might actually be a good thing.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Less than a year after they began distributing private
government documents to select media outlets, WikiLeaks has today published
its entire collection of secret U.S. diplomatic cables without any
redactions. More than 250,000 cables, the entire cache of files downloaded
illegally from the government files are now publicly available and
searchable online. The cables consist of private communiques between State
Department officials and political officers in embassies around the world.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, of course, a lot of you guys are in the
limelight again. Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, talking about Dick
Cheney. This is like your family. Does it bother you?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: No, I`m glad members of my family
are giving their version of what it was like to serve our country. I did
the same thing. I put my version out there. And eventually objective
historians will analyze our administration and will draw objective
conclusions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was former President Bush
on "FOX and Friends" yesterday, and here`s one of the examples of the
family feuding that he was talking about. This is former Vice President
Cheney talking about Condoleezza Rice admitting allegedly that he`d been
right about how to handle fallout from the infamous 16 words the president
spoke about Iraq and uranium in that State of the Union Address.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE GANGEL, NBC NEWS: "She came into my office, sat down in the
chair next to my desk and tearfully admitted I had been right." Was she
crying?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: She was tearful. That`s what I
wrote. If I`d wanted to say she was crying, I would have said she was
crying.

GANGEL: You know that tearfully is a loaded description for powerful
women in high office. It`s going to be seen by a lot of people as
provocative. Could you have left that word out?

CHENEY: It is an accurate description of what happened and what I
saw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Rice fired back yesterday in a "Reuters" interview,
saying, "I don`t ever remember coming to the vice president tearfully about
anything, in the entire eight years I knew him."

"Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson writes, "There might be a
bright side to the re-emergence of our former president and vice president
for the Democrats." In today`s column he says, "Thank you, George W. Bush
and Dick Cheney for emerging from your secure, undisclosed locations, to
remind us how we got into this mess. It didn`t happen by accident."

Eugene Robinson, welcome.

And Jim VandeHei is executive editor at "Politico."

I get the point you`re making, Eugene. But to the GOP base, they`re
thrilled to have them back.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, great. I`m not sure that
independents are thrilled to have them back. I think Democrats probably
are thrilled to have them back.

Look, one figure that`s been pretty consistent in polls is if you ask
people about the Bush administration, who`s responsible for sinking the
economy, for example, they say it was George Bush. They don`t say it was
Barack Obama.

So, from the Democrats` point of view, the Bush administration coming
back, I think, is all for the good.

SMERCONISH: Jim does that get tired between now and 14 months now on
election day? Does what Gene just said, and I read that polling data, do
you think that that`s going to remain true through the November of 2012?

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO: It could remain true. I don`t know if it`s
that relevant to elections right now. I think that President Obama`s
issues are the economy to his own standing, his own standing even with his
own party right now and that`s what he has to deal with.

And when you think about Cheney and Bush, you have to put them in two
different categories. Cheney has certainly re-emerged. He has a book. He
has the same fighting spirit he had a year ago.

President Bush has been very careful to stay out of any political
fights. He is reemerging for these interviews around 9/11. And that`s
probably all you`re going to hear from him.

I have talked it many Republicans who would love to do fund-raisers,
doing speeches, getting them to write letters so they can get small dollar
donors engaged. He doesn`t want to. He wants to disappear from the
national stage.

SMERCONISH: You don`t think that he will in 2012? I mean, as I`m
thinking about this, I`m reminded of being in Minneapolis-St. Paul on the
first day of the Republican convention in `08. And was it Hurricane
Gustav, all of a sudden hit part of the country, and President Bush didn`t
speak at the convention.

The reason that I bring it up, is one wonders what role President
Bush, Vice President Cheney will play in the upcoming election. Gene, what
thoughts do you have?

ROBINSON: You know, I really don`t expect President Bush to play a
huge role. Certainly he may at some point say he supports the Republican
nominee, if indeed he does support the Republican nominee. Or want to give
that sort of support.

But as Jim said, he has been quite careful to act ex-presidential and
to kind of keep his distance from partisan politics in that way.

SMERCONISH: Jim, you remember the debate issue? Or pardon me, the
convention issue that I raised? Because it was an easy out, frankly.
There was a storm, and it was a bad storm, but it also relieving of a
burden that GOP had at the time because his numbers were terrible at the
time.

VANDEHEI: Right. I think what`s different, what`s different now is
that Republicans actually would like him around. Whereas in 2008, they
probably did not. I mean, I think he has not rehabilitated his image.

But I do think there is a slight uptake in people`s personal feelings
towards Bush since he left office. His plan from the beginning is, I`m
going to disappear from the national stage. I don`t want to be engaged in
politics. And I think he authentically does not want to be engaged. It`s
not a hard thing for him to do.

And that over time, history will make his judgment. Heck, he said
that when he was in office.

Cheney has handled that much differently. You know, when he doing his
book, he went silent for a little while. But there`s been different points
in this presidency where he`s come out and made very strong charges, very
strong defenses of Bush policy, particularly on terrorism, and done it
because he wants to pick a fight and believes very strongly in the
righteousness of what he feels they did when he was in office. That`s what
his entire book is about.

SMERCONISH: I think you`re right to say they need to be perceived
separately because my perspective, it seems like Vice President Cheney
relishes this fight. You know, Eugene, I watch these interviews and it
just seems to me he`s having the time of his life.

ROBINSON: He does relish this fight. Although, I`m not sure why he
is picking on Condoleezza Rice in that way. I mean, know Condoleezza Rice.
It`s hard for me to imagine her going tearfully to Dick Cheney about
anything. It`s just really hard for me to fathom.

But I find it interesting that he is not just settling scores with his
political opponents and the other party, but with his fellow cabinet
members in the administration.

SMERCONISH: Your column concludes, "Having Bush and Cheney reappear
as a reminder to step back and look at what Obama is up against. You might
want to cut him a little bit of slack."

ROBINSON: Yes. You know, we have a big kerfuffle for a couple of
days over whether the jobs speech is going to be on a Wednesday or
Thursday. You know, it`s a legitimate story. But we should just keep in
mind, there`s a larger context here. There is a situation that the
president didn`t just inherit, but still exist -- I mean, a potential
economic collapse, and we should keep that context in mind as we cover the
day-to-day back and forth of politics.

SMERCONISH: My hunch is that your column is a preview of coming
attractions as to what we are hearing in the next 14 months. In any event,
thank you both. Thank you, Eugene Robinson and Jim VandeHei. Have a good
Labor Day weekend.

When we return, allow me to finish with the complexity of the Jon
Huntsman presidential campaign.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with a word on the candidacy of Jon
Huntsman. So far, the Utah governor, the former Utah governor, has run a
textbook campaign. Unfortunately, that textbook is a guide to competing in
the general election and not the primary. Everything that distinguishes
him with an electorate looking for balance and moderation is an anathema to
the conservative base that dominates the GOP landscape, that a candidate as
qualified as Huntsman has yet to earn more than 4 percent in any national
poll is the latest proof of the sheer purity that is demanded by the
Republican base.

Huntsman is smart, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He
has executive experience after serving as immensely popular chief executive
in Utah. His stint in the Commerce Department gave him some business bona
fides.

He has extensive foreign policy experience. He served as ambassador
to Singapore when he was just 32. And yes, given the volatility and
emerging super power in the Far East, Huntsman`s time as Barack Obama`s
ambassador to China is an asset, not a liability.

He calls himself a mainstream conservative. That his brand of
conservatism went out long before Sarah Palin and Christine O`Donnell. He
supported civil unions, believes climate change is for real, defended
compromised plans to raise the debt ceiling, and would like our troops out
of Afghanistan quickly.

He believes in evolution. Calling it part of God`s plan. And thinks
that Michele Bachmann`s promise to lower gas prices to $2 per gallon isn`t
grounded in reality. And that Rick Perry`s, quote, "almost treasonous
reference to Ben Bernanke was similarly less than serious."

He would rather cut tax rates for individuals and corporations and
simplify the tax system. And, by the way, "The Wall Street Journal" today
deemed his economic plan, quote, "certainly better" than that of any of the
presidential peers.

He regards his opponents as quote, "all good people." Imagine that.
And worst of all, to the GOP base, he once said that Barack Obama is a good
man who, quote, "failed us on the most important issue of our day." Not
words they want to hear.

Huntsman upstaging by the likes of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann may
be a reflection of his late entry into the race. But more likely, it`s the
latest sign that the GOP base values talking points and ideology over
temperance and electability.

You can follow me if you can spell Smerconish on Twitter.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you, Chris, for allowing me to fill
in. He`ll be back on Monday.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

END
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