1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 10/12/2011 10:27:57 AM ET 2011-10-12T14:27:57

Guests: Mark Penn, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ron Reagan, John Heilemann

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: So how does Obama beat Romney?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Beating Mitt. First it was Donald Trump, then Michele Bachmann, and then
Rick Perry. Now it`s Herman Cain who`s leading in the polls as the darling
of the right. But the one constant has been Mitt Romney hanging around as
(ph) the Republicans, Mr. Right now, if not, it`s (ph) Mr. Right. Romney
clobbers President Obama in our new poll in New Hampshire and is neck and
neck with him in Iowa, two states Obama won in 2008.

If Obama`s going to beat Romney and win reelection to his second term
in these very challenging times, he can`t totally blame Bush. He can`t
focus on the past. He`s going to have to make a case for the future. Can
he do it? That`s where we start tonight.

Plus, we`ve been talking about it for days here on HARDBALL, and now
it`s gone mainstream. Can the Democrats embrace the Occupy Wall Street
protesters? Should they? If they jump in, as one person pointed out, what
happens if the protesters start throwing garbage cans through the windows,
or worse?

Also, the president`s jobs bill. We know it won`t get 60 votes
tonight to overcome a filibuster. The question is, will it get enough
Democratic votes to avoid embarrassment for President Obama? Will he get,
say, 50?

And a story right out of Robert Ludlum novels. Federal authorities
say they`ve foiled a plot by men linked to the Iranian government to use
Mexican drug cartels to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and to bomb
the Saudi embassy here in town. We`ve got some fascinating details on that
story that just broke.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the case for a really big jobs bill.

We start with how President Obama can beat Mitt Romney. We`re going
to ask the question. Michael Steele`s the former chairman of the
Republican National Committee and now an MSNBC political analyst. And Mark
Penn is a Democratic strategist and a former Hillary Clinton campaign
strategist.

Mark, Hillary`s not running this time, I don`t think. President Obama
is running for reelection. He has to make the case for a second term. He
has to probably -- we`re just going to propose this now -- beat Mitt
Romney, the way it looks right now. Romney`s got some great numbers.

Let me show you why we`re proposing that, just came in from the new
NBC News and the Marist poll up in Iowa and in New Hampshire. In the Iowa
caucuses, Mitt Romney leads among Republicans, but Herman Cain is right
behind him. Ron Paul and Rick Perry are both well behind -- well behind
them.

In the New Hampshire primary, Republicans overwhelmingly now go for
Mitt Romney. More than 30 points behind him are both Herman Cain and Ron
Paul, with Rick Perry down to fourth place up there.

By the way, in head-to-head matchups -- and that`s what we`re going to
talk about right now, a possible head-to-head matchup, in fact, a probable
one now between President Obama and Mitt Romney -- the president narrowly
defeats Mitt Romney in Iowa by just 3 points, while Mitt Romney beats the
president in New Hampshire by a pretty impressive 9 points, 49 to 40.

So given all that, we`re just proposing tonight it`s time for the
president`s -- because I know the people in the White House, as you know,
are thinking about this. How do they beat Mitt Romney?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know that they`ve got to
occupy the center. The problem with Mitt Romney is that he is the most
centrist possible Republican candidate, and the conservatives are
fragmented. So that means there are two things. Is Mitt Romney a
conservative or is he a centrist? I think the president`s got to push him
to the right. It`s got to use Mitt Romney`s primary answers to show that
Romney, the old Romney, might have been in the center, the new Romney is to
the right. The president is mainstream. Give him a chance. His policies
will work.

MATTHEWS: So say he`s not good on immigration, he`s not good on
abortion rights, he`s not good on all the issues where the center tends to
be more in the center. Put him over on the right.

PENN: Put him on -- over the right so that he can`t have access to
the women voters, to the Latino voters, the kinds of voters that make up
not just the Democratic base but that go beyond the base into the center.

MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, former RNC chair, what happens if you see
the Republicans doing -- I`m sorry, the Democrats doing that, beginning to
craft Mitt Romney as a right-winger, as basically a Rick Perry?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think that
there are -- there are a couple dangers in there for the left in doing
that. Number one is that as 2010 showed us, that there are a lot more
people who tend to hew more to the center-right of the spectrum politically
and will support conservative candidates. And Romney, I think, can stake
that ground out very comfortably, particularly after the nation sees him go
through this primary process.

MATTHEWS: So you`re saying that their strategy, if it becomes the
strategy, to jam him over on the right, isn`t going to hurt him?

STEELE: It`s not going to hurt him that much. No. I think it`s
probably ultimately an OK place for him to be, as this cycle has shown
itself over the last, you know, seven, eight, nine months.

PENN: Well, look, I think that, also, is it a Massachusetts miracle
or a Massachusetts mess that Romney created? You`ve got to go after his
record as governor. You`ve got to go after his record with big business,
favoring big business. And you`ve got to show on the social issues and the
issues of values, he`s to the right. It`s a three-part strategy.

STEELE: But the problem that the Obama team has is the last three
years. And so--

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s stay off--

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: No, but I`m just saying--

MATTHEWS: That`s the counterargument. But I want to -- what do they
do if they make this guy on the right? Suppose they make him Gordon Gekko?
Suppose they say, He`s one of the pigs on Wall Street, one of the big
investment bankers, one of the equity people, who`s been making tons of
money through lobbying in Washington and keeping their taxes from having to
be paid--

STEELE: Bring it on.

MATTHEWS: Suppose he portrays him as a bad--

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Bring it on because then that clarifies and lays on the table
what we`ve been saying, that the Obama administration and the Democrats
have been nothing more than class warfare. So it etches -- it puts it up
to that level. If you`re going to look at a Romney and you`re going to
look at his success and what he`s done -- he`s not -- he was not part of
the debacle over the last five years or the last two years--

MATTHEWS: You think the public likes the people that brought us
through financial hell--

STEELE: But that`s the--

MATTHEWS: -- in `07, `09?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: You`re saying that`s Romney? Are you equating Romney to
that? Is that what you`re saying? Because if that`s what you`re saying,
bring it on because everyone knows that`s a lie.

MATTHEWS: They know he`s a big business equity guy,

STEELE: He`s a business guy who`s--

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: -- not been in that business the last three years when all
this--

MATTHEWS: Your argument?

(CROSSTALK)

PENN: You`ve got to defeat the three parts, that he`s moved to the
right, that he`s big business, that his record`s not as good as it
(INAUDIBLE)

STEELE: And I say bring it on and let`s have fun doing that, and
we`ll win on that. We`ll win on Obama`s record against that argument.

PENN: Those are -- those are--

MATTHEWS: Do you think the public is rooting for the people
protesting in Wall Street or Wall Street?

STEELE: I think the republic right now is rooting for itself. And
the protests--

MATTHEWS: OK, well, I`m asking if they have to choose between a
Romney--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- a Gekko type and a regular person.

STEELE: No. Well, you know, first off, I don`t accept your analogy
that Romney and Gekko are one and the same. So let`s take that aside.

MATTHEWS: So greed`s not good?

STEELE: That has nothing -- Romney has not--

MATTHEWS: You`re saying--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Will you say greed`s not good?

STEELE: I`m not -- what I`m saying is, Chris, what you`re trying to
do is disingenuous.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) strategy.

PENN: There`s frustration throughout the country.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: But if Romney is beating Obama by 9 points in New Hampshire,
clearly, that`s not reflected in the voters` attitude.

PENN: Yes, but Romney`s not well known. They don`t really know much
about Romney--

STEELE: Romney`s not well known? He`s been running for president for
five years!

PENN: He`s been keeping out of the controversy. I think the voters--

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: If this is the strategy, bring it on!

PENN: -- they will say, Where`s the record? They`ll say he`s big
business. And they`ll say, Hey, we liked you when you were to the center,
but not when you move--

MATTHEWS: Let me -- let me--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- go through some stats here to firm up -- in fact, I don`t
think it needs firming up. Every poll that`s taken by every legitimate
organization shows that the American people believe our tax system is
totally unfair. They believe the rich should pay a higher percentage.

The reason the Democrats are going after millionaires plus is because
that`s a very popular position to take. You say it`s not popular. You say
it`s fine. You think the millionaires would win the argument against the
regular people.

STEELE: Oh, I`m not--

MATTHEWS: That`s what you`re saying right here!

STEELE: Chris, no, that`s not what I`m saying! That`s what you`re
saying I`m saying--

MATTHEWS: He`s a plutocrat--

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Listen to my words and don`t reinterpret them!

MATTHEWS: You were saying--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- go over to the right, and it`s OK.

STEELE: What I`m very clearly saying is, if the strategy is as you
set it up--

MATTHEWS: He set it up.

STEELE: -- as you set it up, then that`s a great argument for us to
have. And I think the American people, as they`ve shown since 2010, are
more inclined to not disabuse themselves or dismiss a Mitt Romney just
because you, Chris, says--

MATTHEWS: OK--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t matter. You`re basically saying -- let me
clarify definitions. Because you shock me, Michael, because you say it
doesn`t matter whether you run Rick Perry or Romney, as long as you`re on
the right, you`re right where it belongs.

STEELE: That`s -- no, I`m not saying that!

MATTHEWS: You said that!

STEELE: No, I did not say -- I`m addressing your supposition that if
Romney is running, that he`s going to -- as Mark said, we`re going to force
him to the right. And I`m saying that`s not necessarily a bad place to be-
-

PENN: Force him? The Republican Party is moving to the right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- saying not necessarily.

STEELE: No, that`s what I just said!

MATTHEWS: A minute ago, you said it was fine.

STEELE: It`s the same thing. It`s OK.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me take a look at how the Republican field is
shaking (ph) up right now, and the reason we`re talking about Romney right
now, how it shifts. Remember the familiar sight of front-runners Mitt
Romney and Rick Perry sparring in the center of the pack in those fall
debates beforehand?

Well, tonight Rick Perry has been upstaged. In perhaps one of the
truest signs of his surge in the polls, Herman Cain will be standing there
next to Mitt Romney in the center. And the people who organize these polls
(SIC) say they don`t do it -- these debates -- but they do it. They put
the front-runners in the middle. And you can see the full seating
arrangement in this chart. So you see Herman Cain there in the center, or
I guess the left over there at the top, and Romney on the right at the top.

Are they the two front-runners in your party right now?

STEELE: Who`s that?

MATTHEWS: Is Romney ahead, or is Cain really a threat to him?

STEELE: No, I think Romney`s ahead, and I think Cain is in the hunt,
if you will. Perry`s still a gamer. And then, of course, you still have
someone like a Rick Santorum and--

MATTHEWS: OK, but Romney has positioned the fact -- isn`t Romney
responsible for Herman Cain winning that straw vote in Florida? We`re
reading that he -- you`re laughing because he put him -- he got his people
to push him so he`d be his alternative.

STEELE: Well, maybe that`s true. You have to ask those guys--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is he using Herman Cain as a tackling dummy?

STEELE: No (INAUDIBLE) tackling dummy. I think he sees him as
someone who he can work with, should this thing progress and he becomes the
nominee, and you`re looking at a Romney/Cain ticket.

MATTHEWS: Let me set up the guy for you. Here`s yesterday, Romney
touting his business credentials and his service as Massachusetts governor,
but he was also quick to say nice things about Herman Cain. Here he is
setting up his favorite sparring partner, whom he clearly sees as -- not as
a threat. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was able to
find ways to use my skills in a public sector setting. And that`s probably
something if I were Herman, I`d say, I wish I had that, too, because you
don`t want to necessarily learn that for the first time as the president of
the United States. He`s a great guy. Vote for either one of us, and
you`ll be happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that amazing language? He was able to use his skills
in a public setting, a public -- in other words, he was governor of
Massachusetts, and he`s acting like -- don`t blame me for being in the
government -- a public setting.

PENN: Look, it`s very clear what`s happening, Cain surging, Perry
collapsing. Cain`s a conservative with some economic credentials. The
conservative vote is being split. It`s allowing Romney, because Chris
Christie didn`t get in, to run away with the moderate Republican vote.
That`s what`s happening.

STEELE: And to run away with what Chris Christie brings to the table,
as well, with this announcement today, that that grass roots activism, that
sort of Tea Party effect, I think Romney right now is the tortoise that`s
looking at the finish line and feeling pretty good about it.

MATTHEWS: I still think there`s a problem in your party, and I think
it`s been addressed by Mark, that in the end, the only way you win the
Republican nomination is rhetorically going to the right. You can`t win as
a centrist. And by the time he`s done--

STEELE: How do you win the Democrat nomination?

MATTHEWS: -- doing that--

STEELE: How--

MATTHEWS: -- Obama has him in the corner.

STEELE: Well, let me -- how did Barack beat Hillary? Hillary was
considered the conservative in that race.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: So you know, she -- Obama spoke to the liberal wing of the
party. Why do you act like this is somehow some new political revelation--

MATTHEWS: Because McCain--

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: -- newest thing in politics?

MATTHEWS: Because McCain was eight years too late to the fight,
that`s why. And you know it.

PENN: It`s not just the social issues. It`s the Republicans in
Congress are at 12, and Romney is backing the Republican congressional
position--

STEELE: OK.

PENN: -- which means he`s going to be out of step on the social issues
and then out of step on the economic issues.

STEELE: Yes, but it`s a whole different dynamic--

MATTHEWS: Let him finish his point.

STEELE: OK.

MATTHEWS: You`re overwhelming this guy--

STEELE: I`m sorry!

MATTHEWS: -- with your verbosity here!

STEELE: No, no. But go ahead. Finish your point.

PENN: No. No, that`s it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you both, then. Thank you, Michael Steele, and
thank you, Mark Penn.

Coming up: Can the Democrats embrace the Occupy Wall Street protests
themselves? They could use the anti-Wall Street fervor, but they won`t
want to be associated perhaps with those protests should they get ugly.
And that`s their conundrum right now. They don`t know whether to join this
crowd or to watch for a while more.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Build, baby, build. The White House singled out 14
projects around the country for expedited permitting and environmental
review, a move the administration says will help create jobs.

Topping the list, the big New York Tappan Zee Bridge, a deficient
bridge over the Hudson -- there it is -- just north of New York that was
built in the last 50 years, but is already older than that and needs to be
replaced. Sure like to know that when I drive over there.

Other projects include light rail in Los Angeles and Maryland,
highways in Utah, and airport improvements in Houston.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Occupy Wall Street protests began 25 days ago in a New York park,
but the anger has grown and the protests have spread across the country
now. Today, protesters in New York were hopping -- hoping to highlight how
much less the wealthy pay in taxes by carrying giant checks and protesting
at the homes of some of the Big Apple`s richest residents.

With the protests growing in number by the day, Democrats have merely
been expressing support for the groups in statements and letters like this
one from the Progressive Caucus. However, yesterday the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee sent an e-mail, asking its supporters to
sign this on-line petition to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street
protesters and to send a message to Republicans, who`ve been critical of
the movement.

If the Democrats are trying to join or lead this Occupy Wall Street
parade, it`s a strategy that comes with considerable risk, of course.

U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the chair of the
Democratic National Committee. She joins us now.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining -- are you, as a leader
of the party, still trying to figure out the cut of their jib up in New
York, whether it`s a group you want to get identified with or what? Where
are you with the protesters in New York and across the country now?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (FL), DNC CHAIR: No, I`m not still
trying to figure it out. As both a leader of my party and also as a
representative of my congressional district in south Florida, I think the
Occupy Wall Street movement represents a reflection of the callous
indifference that for years under Republican leadership in this country
really ignored the needs of the middle class, gave all the benefits and all
the advantages in the terms of a regulatory scheme in the financial
services industry to corporations and to Wall Street and to the wealthiest,
most fortunate Americans.

And this is the pushback. This is the point at which that middle
class folks say, No more, it`s time for some balance. And I think the
worst of it is reflected in Mitt Romney`s unbelievable -- within 24 hours,
saying two sides of the same coin, in one day going from calling these
protesters dangerous to being able to the next day say that he identified
with the 99 percent.

I haven`t ever seen anything that Mitt Romney`s done that`s shows a
sensitivity or an orientation towards the 99 percent of Americans who are
struggling to make sure that they can put food on the table and have some
balance in their lives economically.

MATTHEWS: Let me show you three top political leaders, allies of
yours, colleagues in the Democratic Party, extending their hands to the
protesters. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think people are
frustrated, and you know, the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-
based frustration about how our financial system works.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American
people do not think the system is fair or on the level. That is the core
of what you`re seeing on Wall Street.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I support the message to
the establishment, whether it`s Wall Street or the political establishment
and the rest, that change has to happen. We cannot continue in a way that
does not -- that is not relevant to their lives. People are angry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: When do you believe, Congresswoman, that Democratic
officials will begin to meet with the people who are protesting, the way
that Republicans in the last election certainly met with Tea Partiers and
used them to get elected to control the Congress?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I think many of my colleagues would be
willing to sit down and meet with them.

I know that I have not had requests in my congressional office to meet
with the Occupy Wall Street protesters in South Florida, but I would be
glad to meet with them. I agree that it is a reflection of the frustration
of the middle class and working families, who feel like the policy under
the Republicans gave -- put the wind at the backs of the wealthiest and
most fortunate, and that, thanks to President Obama, now we do have an
orientation and a pressing forward of trying to put some balance in there,
focus on the needs of consumers, add some weight to the scale on behalf of
consumers.

And Occupy Wall Street protesters are pushing for that advocacy to
make sure that we can even the scales up. That`s what President Obama`s
doing on the policy side as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, can you list the things that you would do as a member
of Congress and a leader of the party that`s going to make them happy?
What are you doing to win the support? From what I understand, the people
in the streets are so alienated right now, so angry, they don`t like either
political party.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, for starters--

MATTHEWS: It`s not a place where President Obama, for example, could
go up and get a big -- a big applause from showing up, or he`d be there
now. How do you make them see you guys as the good guys?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, for starters, we`re pushing to get Richard
Cordray, the president`s choice for the Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau, to be approved by -- as his nominee by the United States Senate.
The Republicans are blocking that.

So continuing to advocate for the full implementation of the consumer
protections of the Wall Street reform legislation, that`s a way to help
address the concerns of Occupy Wall Street, but we have already
accomplished quite a bit, the credit card holders` bill of rights law that
passed and was signed into law by President Obama, that really makes sure
that credit card companies can`t jack up interest rates arbitrarily and
focuses on the needs of consumers that are credit card holders.

And there`s more that we should do. But we have got to balance the
scales here. The Republicans want to put all the weight on the side of the
wealthy, most fortunate Americans and corporate America. Mitt Romney even
said that corporations are people.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Democrats believe that people are people.

MATTHEWS: Well, well-said. Thank you much. Thank you for joining us
up in New Hampshire--

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: -- scene of the somewhat-less-than-interesting debate, I
think, tonight, because I haven`t even figured out what channel it`s on.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman
from Florida--

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: -- and chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Joining me now is the political commentator Ron Reagan, who is also
author of "My Father at 100."

Ron, what are your impulses when you watch those people up in New
York. I mean, we have gotten different pictures of them. Do you feel for
them? Do you think -- do you wish like, in the summer of `67, we all felt
we were all out in San Francisco? Is this something you wish you were a
part of?

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, actually, I can be part of
it myself if I just want to stroll a few blocks from here, because an
occupy Seattle movement started over the weekend. I think it`s at Fourth
and Pike here in Seattle. I just got back from overseas, so I haven`t had
a chance to go down there.

But the impression I get is -- and I think Joe Biden even mentioned
this in one of the clips you just played -- this is a movement that has a
broad-based anger.

And the challenge, it seems to me, for the Democratic Party, if they
want to somehow join the movement or co-opt the movement, or however you
want to put it, is that these folks are just as mad at them as they are at
the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REAGAN: The Republicans may be more egregiously in the hip pocket of
the Wall Streeters and the bankers, but the Democrats are too. There are
plenty of Democratic congressmen and senator who have staked their whole
careers on providing tax loopholes for the richest 1 percent.

They`re not the natural allies of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, let`s not forget the Democrats controlled
both houses of Congress and the White House numerous times in our
lifetimes.

REAGAN: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: And they didn`t fix the tax system when they had all the
power in the world.

Let`s take a look at the "New York Times" reports today, reports that
some of your party, actually, the Democratic Party, are nervous about
getting involved with these protesters. Democrats are nervous.

Here`s Eric Lichtblau writing -- quote -- "They see the prospect of
protesters pushing the party dangerously to the left, just as the Tea Party
has often pushed Republicans farther to the right and made for intraparty
run-ins. Some officials in the party remain wary of their potential
impact, especially if the protests were to turn more disruptive or even
violent."

Do you sense there`s a downside for the Dems if this stuff gets more
rowdy, if you will, rougher up there and other places besides New York?

REAGAN: Well, yes.

Imagine -- imagine what would happen if people at these Occupy Wall
Street groups should start showing up with assault-style weapons and
talking about Second Amendment solutions. Yes, then I`m sure the roof
would come off, wouldn`t it?

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: But the problem for the Democrats isn`t that this might turn
violent. I suppose it could, but I don`t see any signs of that so far.

The problem is, again, that these people are angry at a system that
has been rigged by both parties to serve moneyed interests. The Democrats
have been complicit in that, just as the Republicans have been complicit in
that.

Your question to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, what are you going to offer
these people, is exactly the question. What are the Democrats going to
offer these people? They going to throw some bankers in jail? Are they
going to close the loopholes for the richest 1 percent? I`m not so sure
that all the Democrats are on board with that.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I wonder if both parties aren`t hoping for colder
weather to come soon--

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- because then they can say, what a great demonstration of
happiness and how wonderful it`s over so we don`t have to worry about it
anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ron, as always, Ron Reagan. Thanks for
joining us tonight.

Up next: another awkward campaign moment, no surprise there, for Mitt
Romney. Catch the "Sideshow," where he`s getting a real home right now.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up: He may be the GOP front-runner, but Mitt Romney`s more
spontaneous attempts at humor are often more spontaneous than humorous.
And, yesterday, he gave us just one more instance to add to the list, when
he was joined by his wife, Ann , at a New Hampshire town hall. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I am -- I`m thrilled to let people
also know the other side of Mitt, which you might not all get to see, and
that`s--

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Oh, dear.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Oh, dear."

Is this the return of the Cleavers?

And speaking of Romney, remember a few weeks ago when he stood side by
side with former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty? Well, it seemed like
Pawlenty`s endorsement meant that he had moved on from his White House
ambitions, his own, at least, but as it turns out, Pawlenty`s still stuck
on the what if.

Yesterday, Pawlenty pointed out that he regrets putting so much
campaign cash into his early campaign days in Iowa, saying -- quote -- "We
were out of money. To go forward, you have to have money. Hindsight`s
always 20/20."

And then, speaking about the decision to actually drop out of the
race, Pawlenty said -- quote -- "Based on what we knew at the time, we
thought it was the right call," to drop out.

Pawlenty also pointed out that he would have remained a contender if
he -- quote -- "knew then what I know now."

Well, isn`t this odd timing, don`t you think, given Pawlenty`s new job
as a national co-chair for Romney`s campaign, and he`s still talking about
what he could have done, would`ve, could`ve, should`ve?

And now for the "Big Number." There may be a total of eight
candidates in the GOP roundtable debate tonight, but in reality, the field
of candidates is a whole lot larger, on paper, anyway.

According to the FEC, the presidential findings are still coming in
and show no signs of slowing down. So what`s the all-inclusive tally of
2012 presidential candidates on the Republican side? Well, as of Friday,
239 people, and an overwhelming majority of them got their paperwork in
well before the ones we will see at tonight`s debate -- and on the 2012
ballot, for that matter, 239 candidates. Wow. They`re all running for
president. That`s tonight`s "Big Number."

Up next: President Obama`s jobs bill faces a big vote tonight. In
fact, it`s coming soon. And while it won`t pass, the big question is
whether enough Democrats will support the jobs bill to spare the president
embarrassment.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Amanda Drury with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Stocks finishing mixed after bouncing around in a narrow range all
day, the Dow Jones industrial slipping 16 points, the S&P 500 adding half-
a-point, and the Nasdaq is up almost 17.

Well, let me start with some news out of Europe breaking just after
the closing bell, with Slovakia`s Parliament rejecting an expansion of the
European bailout fund in a first of two votes. They are the last of 17
E.U. nations that has to approve it. It is expected to pass on the second
vote.

Meanwhile, Eurozone inspectors gave tepid approval for another round
of aid for Greece in November, despite the fact that it has already missed
strict deficit targets. And Alcoa here in the United States kicking off
the earnings season with solid revenue, but weaker-than-expected profits.
Shares are moving lower in after-hours trade.

And Dollar Thrifty left at the altar by Hertz Global after a long, but
rocky takeover courtship. Dollar says it will continue on as a stand-alone
firm.

And that`s it from CNBC. We`re first in business worldwide. It`s now
back over to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, today, the Senate
of the United States has a chance to do something about jobs right now by
voting for the American Jobs Act. This is a moment of truth for the U.S.
Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A moment of truth for the U.S. Senate. Well said.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama was in Pittsburgh today, as you saw, for a meeting of
his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and he made sure to let voters
know there was a jobs bill vote today, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell described the jobs bill as a political stunt. Well, that`s what
he says. Let`s hear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Democrats have designed
this bill to fail. They have designed their own bill to fail, in the hopes
that anyone who votes against it will look bad for opposing a bill they
mistakenly refer to as a jobs bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

The upcoming procedural vote requires 60 votes to keep the jobs bill
alive. That looks mighty unlikely right now. But will the president get
enough Democrats to support his bill to save his face and to look strong?

Howard Fineman is editorial director of The Huffington Post Media
Group and an MSNBC political analyst. And John Heilemann is a national
affairs editor of the "New York" magazine.

You folks are both up there watching that Republican debate tonight.
But let me ask you about this vote.

Howard, it seems to me that based upon the latest tally, they could
get as many as 52 out of the 53 Democratic coalition. They could also get
less -- perhaps less than 50. We`re going to watch that and come back in
our second edition tonight of HARDBALL to give you the results of the votes
this evening, but how high are the stakes, sir?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the stakes
are high and it`s no accident that this vote is happening today in parallel
with this Republican debate here at Dartmouth College, Chris, because in
talking to White House people, what the strategists there are telling me is
that they like the contrast.

They want to be able to say that this Congress down in Washington
isn`t just a do-nothing Congress, it`s a prevent-anything Congress, and
that Republicans in the Senate, in particular, are blocking this jobs bill
on the same night that Republicans are up here in New Hampshire claiming
they want to talk about how to create jobs in America.

That`s a contrast that the White House says it likes, even if they
don`t get every Democrat to vote for this bill.

MATTHEWS: OK, Heilemann, John, the question to you is how many votes
they need tonight. There`s 53 Democrats in the coalition, including two
independents. So, the question -- Lieberman, of course, and Bernie
Sanders, but that includes -- that`s 53. They have already lost Bill
Nelson -- or Ben Nelson, rather, of Nebraska.

They`re up to 52 possibles. Do they need at least 50 to say they won
tonight or what? What`s the number?

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK": Chris, that sounds about right to me.

You know, look, I think, from the president`s standpoint, as you have
acknowledged and as we have talked about over the course of the last few
weeks, they have know that this bill was not going to pass. And as Howard
pointed out, what they want is the contrast with Republicans. It`s not
good for them to lose a lot of Democrats, because that allows it to no
longer be a party-line thing and they can`t paint Republicans as the only
obstacle to progress.

But, at the same time, the president`s going to end up running against
the do-nothing Congress. And that`s going to include some number of
Democrats. He`s going to run against them as much as he`s running against
Republicans. He`s going to have to -- he`s going to have to save his own
skin more than he is being a party leader as he goes forward towards
reelection.

MATTHEWS: So let`s take a look. President Obama called on voters to
support his jobs bill and actually reprised that "Pass this bill" mantra.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Let Congress know who they work for. Remind them what`s at
stake when they cast their vote. Tell them that the time for gridlock and
games is over. The time for action is now. And tell them to pass this
bill.

If you want construction workers on the job, pass the bill. If you
want teachers back in the classrooms, pass the bill. If you want tax cuts
for your family and small business owners, pass this bill. If you want our
veterans to share in the opportunity that they upheld and they defended, do
the right thing. Pass this bill.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard, my big question to you both right now, is this big
enough? Is this big enough, this difference between Democrats and
Republicans, for the president to be able to say, with a $175 billion
infrastructure bill -- is he able to say, this is a turnaround proposal,
this is the difference between economic hell and economic heaven, this is
the good guys` position; the other guys are the bad guys?

FINEMAN: No, I don`t think the numbers are big enough, Chris, for
that kind of thing. He had his one shot at that in the original stimulus
bill, when he had more political clout. Some would argue that he didn`t go
big enough, but be that as it may -- no, I don`t think the numbers here are
what turn it.

He`s really making a sort of political and procedural argument, which
is that this Republican-controlled or at least Republican-frozen Congress
just won`t move at all. That they won`t listen to reason, that they`re on
another planet, politically, and in terms of economics. And no matter what
reasonable package he proposes, not the biggest in the world, but a
reasonable, decent package, as he describes it, they aren`t even willing to
consider. That`s what his argument is, not, as I said, not just do-nothing
Congress, but stop-anything Congress.

MATTHEWS: Same question to you, John. I`m looking at the violence --
not violence, the activity on the streets of New York. I hope it doesn`t
turn violent, the frenzy of passions at work in this country right now.
For everybody that`s on the street, there`s probably 1,000 people who have
that same kind of anxiety and anger about what`s going on.

Is this president meeting that zeitgeist, if you will, that feeling in
the country head-on, or is he doing it small bore?

HEILEMANN: I think he`s doing it small bore, Chris. And I think it`s
a mistake, for two reasons. You know, you have a goldilocks approach here,
what`s supposed to be a goldilocks approach, and you end up with a bill
that for people on the left, it`s not big enough. It`s not bold enough.
It actually won`t fix the problem.

And I think as a matter of substance, even if you pass this, no one
really believes that this would fix the problem with joblessness. And
among those who think that all stimulus is wasted government money, this
looks like another liberal boondoggle.

So, I`m not sure who this wins with. It doesn`t win with people who
want big spending. It doesn`t win with people who are skeptical of
spending. It ends up in the middle ground that doesn`t satisfy anyone.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at Chuck Schumer, the senator from
New York, here he is with Chuck Todd on what happens after the bill doesn`t
get 60 votes. Of course, it always takes 60 to break a filibuster.
They`re just trying to get 50 to look good as Democrats.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: What is the plan after today? The whole bill
does not make it, doesn`t get to 60 votes. Then, it`s piecemeal?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Yes.

TODD: You start doing it piece by piece?

SCHUMER: Piece by piece. I mean, each of these pieces has broad
support among the American people. As we draw the line on the specific
issues, I think you may find the kind of coming together that we`re not
going to find on the vote today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So what`s going to get through if this doesn`t in terms of
pieces? Will we get a payroll tax cut for workers to make hiring workers
cheaper? Will we get an unemployment benefits extension, which they`ve
always fought? Will we get infrastructure?

What`s it going to be, Howard? What gets through after this?

FINEMAN: Well, I think payroll tax, probably. I think they`ve got to
do it, having cut it twice, they`ve got to do it again. Otherwise, you
know, we could be tipped back into a second recession, because of cuts and
consumer spending and consumer confidence.

That`s probably number one. After that, who knows? I don`t know what
else will get passed.

And the question you asked is the right one, Chris. This isn`t
something that is going to do much more than preserve the status quo --
extend unemployment benefits, continue a payroll tax cut. Yes, the
infrastructure piece is a big piece, but I seriously doubt that the
president`s going to have the muscle to get that through.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I wonder if this administration is the last one for
President Obama, will he look back and say -- I tried to do too much on
jobs, or I didn`t try enough. I think we`re getting to the answer.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, John Heilemann.

Up next, we`ll be back with you in a second edition tonight at 7:00 to
talk about what happened on the Senate floor tonight and the jobs bill
fight. Great question tonight, coming up.

By the way, the administration busted up a terror plot by Iranian
agents today that would have targeted a Saudi ambassador to the United
States. This is really Robert Ludlum stuff. We`ll tell you what just
happened here in Washington. Big attempted assassination, it looks like.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is
denouncing those comments by Pastor Robert Jeffress that Mormonism is a
cult. Huntsman, who like Romney, is a member of the LDS Church says, "The
fact that, you know, some moron can stand up and make a comment like that,
you know, first of all, is outrageous. Second of all, the fact that we`re
spending so much time discussing it makes it worse."

Jeffress, a Perry supporter, called Mormonism a cult at the Value
Voters Summit Friday and did so again last night on HARDBALL.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back.

FBI Director Robert Mueller today said it read like a Hollywood
script, an alleged Iranian plot to hire assassins from a Mexican drug
cartel to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador here in Washington. Two
men have been charged with the plot and one is a dual American/Iranian
citizen. The other man, who has not been apprehended, is a member of Quds
Force, Iran`s special operations unit.

There are still a lot of questions about this, not the least of which
is how high up in the Iranian government this plot goes.

To help us understand what`s going on, we`re joined by NBC national
investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff, best in the business.

Michael, what do we know about this plot? It involved the restaurant
here in town, almost like a gangland style assassination attempt, like you
do in the mob days.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS: Look, the restaurant is something that was
the FBI informant`s suggestion. It was a fictional restaurant. There was
no real restaurant. And that`s one of the problems in sorting out this
case. Clearly, there was something real there. And this is a wild case,
you know, from the Mexican Zetas cartel to the, you know, Saudi ambassador,
the Iranian ambassador --

MATTHEWS: But the Iranian agents paid $1.5 million to knock off
somebody.

ISIKOFF: Allegedly. Although, if you read the complaints closely,
it`s not clear that they were willing to put up $1.5 million for this, that
that was the suggestion of the informants. And as I was trying to say --
that`s one of the difficulties in sorting through this here.

What we know is this American Iranian in Corpus Christi, a used car
salesman, apparently, makes contact with a federal drug informant out of
Texas. And says he wants to plan an attack against the Saudi ambassador in
the United States. Now, in the original conversation, according to his
confession, all he talked about was a kidnapping the Saudi ambassador, Adel
Al-Jubeir.

At some point in the conversations with this informant, it becomes a
much more elaborate and deadly plan to bomb, to assassinate and carry out
other attacks.

MATTHEWS: How does the Iranian official from the Quds Force get
involved? That`s what interests me.

ISIKOFF: This guy, the chief suspect, the used car salesman, is
traveling back-and-forth between the United States and Iran and is
allegedly meeting with Quds Force commanders. And just late today, the
Treasury Department announced designations against some of those high level
Quds Force commanders who they say were coordinating the attack and
supervising, and it clearly go, according to the Treasury Department
announcement, high up in the Quds force. One of them had been previously
designated by the Treasury Department for plotting a mass attack on U.S.
soldiers in Iraq and had been previously designated. Another Quds force
command her been previously accused of human rights abuses in Syria,
suppression of protesters there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISIKOFF: So, this clearly, according to the U.S. government
allegations, goes high up in the Quds Force. Now, does that mean that the
Iranian government itself --

MATTHEWS: What about the Iranian government itself and the Quds
Force?

ISIKOFF: There are a lot of factions in Iran. And --

MATTHEWS: But these are public officials who are getting paid.

ISIKOFF: These are clearly public officials, these are clearly people
who are in positions of responsibility in the Iranian government, but
what`s not clear is whether they were operating on their own, you know, for
instance, take an analogy, was this -- if this was the United States
government, was it a rogue operation by the Quds Force, or was it
sanctioned by the Islamic country?

MATTHEWS: Look, if we knock off or trying to knock off somebody
inside Iran who is an ally of Iran, that would be a huge international --

ISIKOFF: Of course, and it is.

MATTHEWS: And would make the biggest stink about that in the world,
at the U.N., right?

ISIKOFF: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: So what are we going to do about it? In terms --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Will they just make it a criminal case?

ISIKOFF: Well, they have certainly made it a criminal case.

MATTHEWS: What about the government of Iran? Are we going to hold
them responsible as an enemy or just talk about a political -- rather, a
criminal investigation, that this is a Dick Tracy case in.

ISIKOFF: Look, we`ve been squeezing the government of Iran for some
time over their nuclear program. We`ve been imposing sanctions against the
government of Iran. You know, they have gone pretty far in what they think
they could do without provoking some sort of military conflict with the
Iranian government. I think this ratchets it up, but how far are they
going to take this? I don`t know. It`s going to be interesting to see.

MATTHEWS: When these two guys, one of them are go to court.

ISIKOFF: And he`s confessed.

MATTHEWS: And he will confess and he`s the one who nailed the other
guy, he`s fingered the other guy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, he`s already talking.

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: So, this could -- he will continue to talk, I assume, to
get his sentence down.

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: So they will continue to negotiate with this guy, a rough
looking customer. They`re going to bring him -- they`re going to bring him
into the old Dick Tracy interview room.

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: And they are going to get him to tell everything, right?

ISIKOFF: Right, and I think he already has told quite a bit. The
question is how much, if you read the complaint closely, it is not entirely
clear how much the Quds Force commanders who were supervising him and who
were running him were approving -- were directing to him and how much the
federal drug informants, they understand --

MATTHEWS: OK. Somebody shows up with a promise of $100,000 and a
down payment.

ISIKOFF: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Perhaps a longer promise of $100 million. Where`s that
money coming from? It comes from Iran.

ISIKOFF: It`s coming from the Iranian government. Right.

MATTHEWS: Well, follow the money.

ISIKOFF: Don`t get me wrong. There is something clearly here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISIKOFF: There`s real meat here. I don`t think this is made up or
concocted. What I`m saying is there`s a lot of ambiguity --

MATTHEWS: OK.

ISIKOFF: -- about what exactly --

MATTHEWS: Remember how World War I started, assassination of an
official in a foreign country.

Thank you, Michael Isikoff.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a bold way to get the economy
moving again, and why I think we deserve to hear what President Obama
thinks about this bold plan. You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this: what to do. What to do
to save this economy of ours from another downturn, that new recession that
seems to be creeping our way. What would you do?

I`m not asking about ways to reduce the deficit or diminish the
overall national debt, nor do I want political flourishes gestures that
give joy to the left or the right. No, I`m asking about what we, the
people, can do that will avert another recession, that will act on the
economy in a way that cuts the unemployment rate, puts money in the pockets
of consumers and gets this country moving again, gets business investing in
products that have a market out there of American people who are able,
willing and stirred to spend money.

What would you do?

Today, a columnist for the "New York Times" offers us an answer. It`s
a prescription for meeting the great malady of the American economy:
unemployment -- or if you want to put it more brutally, the oversupply of
labor in this country.

Call it what you want, the simple fact is there are more people
looking for work here than there are people looking to put them to work.
Nobody has to be told that. It`s the condition we`re living in.

Part of the proposal suggests in "The Times" today is to create 5
million new jobs a year with a five to seven-year infrastructure program at
a cost of $1.2 trillion in government and private sector spending, but
mostly government spending. This drives us right to the point of decision,
doesn`t it?

You can support such a proposition which goes well beyond anything
President Obama is pushing, or you can oppose it, saying the government
ought to be cutting spending. I think the president ought to make it clear
where he stands, that even if he doesn`t have the votes right now to get it
passed. If he thinks this bigger program is called for, he ought to say
so.

People ought to know where their leader wants them to be led, don`t
you think? Don`t we have a decent claim on knowing that our president
agrees with the need to do something this vital, this big, even if he can`t
get the votes for it?

Nothing would dramatize the ideal of a second Obama presidential
administration than him himself simply laying out where he would like to
take the country in meeting its imminent economic challenges -- 5 million
new jobs a year, or continued deflation, continued decline in investment,
consumption and overall economic activity. Get the country moving again or
stay the course that course that`s headed right now for the second
recession of this presidency.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


END


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>


More on TODAY.com

  1. Nicole Tung / freejamesfoley.org via AP file

    Journalist James Foley's parents 'haunted' by how he died

    8/20/2014 7:35:14 PM +00:00 2014-08-20T19:35:14
  1. Cindy Ord / Getty Images

    6 things I wish I knew before getting a dog

    8/20/2014 5:25:06 PM +00:00 2014-08-20T17:25:06
  1. Savannah Guthrie via Twitter

    Savannah Guthrie, baby Vale send adorable birthday wishes to Al Roker

    8/20/2014 6:43:47 PM +00:00 2014-08-20T18:43:47
  1. Getty Images

    Dear celebrities, please stop straightening your hair!

    8/20/2014 8:31:41 PM +00:00 2014-08-20T20:31:41