MSNBC "HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS" INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR JOE BIDEN (D-DE), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE INTERVIEWER: CHRIS MATTHEWS
MR. MATTHEWS: Sir, thank you.
SEN. BIDEN: Hey, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: You saw the teleprompter going nuts there, so I've got to go right to you.
SEN. BIDEN: (Laughs.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
This is a tough, uphill fight. Let's talk about a victory for you today, Senator. The U.S. Senate passed your resolution today by three to one that the new government of Iraq ought to be broken up by group -- Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd -- and we should end this hopeless campaign of trying to unite those people.
SEN. BIDEN: That's exactly right. I think it's the first ray of hope, Chris, in the sense that there was a total refutation of the president's strategy of a strong, central, unified government. And secondly, you know, I got 26 Republicans to cross the aisle. And we can't get this done unless you're going to be able to cross the aisle, unless you're going to be able to get a consensus. And I think that's where the hope lies.
And if we do what we propose in this resolution, you're going to be able to bring troops home. You're going to be able to bring troops home. You're going to be able to not leave chaos behind and a war behind.
MR. MATTHEWS: What happens if we don't do this? Because it looks like the president still tries to unite the Iraqi people as if they're one country.
SEN. BIDEN: What's going to happen, Chris, is there's going to be -- as our foreign friends point out, there's going to be a complete splintering of that country. You used the phrase, I think -- I wish I had thought of it -- that we're using American troops as a cork in a bottle here, keeping this venom from spreading out to the region and have a regional war.
The rest of the world knows we're not going to keep that cork in the bottle for another two years. And when we leave without a political solution, that place is going to splinter and there'll be chaos like we haven't seen. And we'll be back there for a generation.
MR. MATTHEWS: Somebody told me the other day that although we walked in there and said, "Have a democracy here" -- that means the Shi'a run the show, because there's more of them than there are of Sunni or Kurds -- that the Sunni are not going to stand for that; that the minute we leave, they're going to try to reclaim power.
SEN. BIDEN: I don't think so. I met with the number one Sunni leader, the vice president, Hashemi. I spent three hours with him in a town called Fallujah. We sat out there because there was a sandstorm. Our helicopters couldn't get off.
And he looked at me and he said, "Senator, explain your plan to me again," the one that won today. He said, "I support it." He said, "I tell you what." He said, "For the last three years, I've had a battle between my heart and my head. My heart told me we could control the country again. My head tells me we'll not do it. Our best bet is to have a fair share of the oil and some autonomy in a united country." And I think that's where everybody's figuring out their interests lie. But the Sunnis have to get a fair shot.
MR. MATTHEWS: So you have an exit strategy.
SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely. This is the exit strategy.
MR. MATTHEWS: Does the president have one?
SEN. BIDEN: The president's exit strategy is to hand it off to the next president. That's the exit strategy. You know, as that old song goes, the earth moved beneath our feet a week ago when he spoke. He made it absolutely clear what you've been saying for two years, if I'm not mistaken, and that is he has no plan but to hand this off to the next president. And that's the plan. He doesn't know how to finish it.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, let's talk about this election tonight. You've got a big debate tonight up here at Hartford -- up here in Hanover; Hanover, New Hampshire, not Hartford. And Tim Russert's going to moderate the debate tonight. All you Democrats will be here. Apparently Barack Obama is feeling sick, but he's going to play hurt tonight.
How does this change things? I was reading The New York Times. I'm sure you were disheartened by it. The New York Times on Sunday said Hillary's going to win.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, you know, they said that Dean was going to win this time. Almost exactly four years ago today, Dean was leading Kerry by 19 or 20 points -- or 27 points.
MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
SEN. BIDEN: And, look, this is early. It's going to get down to electability, Chris. I was in -- I did one of your sister shows, "The View," this week, and they have a big audience. And I --
MR. MATTHEWS: They sure do. (Laughs.)
SEN. BIDEN: No, they do have a big audience in there.
MR. MATTHEWS: I know.
SEN. BIDEN: And I got asked the question, "Well, Senator, you're qualified. Why aren't you doing better?" by one of the hostesses.
MR. MATTHEWS: Who was that, Whoopi Goldberg? Who asked you that?
SEN. BIDEN: No, by Joy; I can't think of her last name.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
SEN. BIDEN: And I said, "Let me make a point." I said, "Pan to the audience." And my staff nearly died. There were a couple of hundred people in the audience; I think 300. And I said, "How many of you have made up your mind so far?" Three people raised their hand.
This is going to get down to electability. Mark my words, all those senators, congressmen, contenders in those border states, they're going to look at who they want at the top of the ticket. That's going to reverberate back through Iowa and New Hampshire. And that's why I think this is wide open.
MR. MATTHEWS: But how do you beat the champ? I mean, Hillary Clinton's coming in here, leading in all the polls by 20 points, up here in New Hampshire by 20 points, nationally by 20 points. She's even ahead in Iowa. Don't you have to -- let me be blunt -- bring her down?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think two things are going to, in a sense, bring her down, and that is that what's going to happen is she's going to have to make the case that she's electable nationally, number one. These Democrats -- well, I don't know how many live in New Hampshire, but these Democrats here, they want to win more than anything else. They want to win. Mark my words, whether it's me or not, it's going to be about electability by the time January rolls around.
The second thing is, the New Hampshire -- I hate to use the University of New Hampshire here on Dartmouth's campus, but they're the poll of record. They did a poll not long ago. They asked the question, forced people to make a choice, and then asked a follow-up question; Dr. Smith, I think, was his name. "Do you really have any choice, any preference?" Forty-eight percent said no; 42 percent said they're only leaning. This is a long way to go, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask everybody here. How many of you want a big change in this election? (Cheers, applause.) How many of you believe that bringing back the Clintons is a big change? (Scattered cheers, applause.) How many of you don't think that's a big change? (Scattered cheers, applause.)
I didn't sense a real consensus there. I'm not sure we got a lot of clarity on that. Is that the reaction? I noticed everybody wants a change.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, that's the reaction you get everywhere.
MR. MATTHEWS: A little bit divided on the opinion as to what the change ought to be.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, there is division. That's why this is still wide open. Look, you go out there and, again, just look at the internals of those polls, Chris. You know how to read them. There are no strong preferences right now.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. How does a candidate like you get past Obama? Now, here's my problem with Obama. He's inspiring. He's great. If he ever won, it'd be historic for the whole world. But he isn't fighting with Hillary. He just lets her get away with everything. She's raising all this money. She's doing her thing. She's getting these endorsements, one after another. And he won't throw a punch.
But he's in the way between you and her. He's the dog in the manger. He's keeping you guys from getting at Hillary. And I include you with Edwards. How can you get to her if he's standing in the way and says, "I won't fight"?
SEN. BIDEN: Initially by making the point that he won't fight even with ideas. Look, ideas matter in these races. You know, what are they going to say tonight, Chris, when they all were against the Biden plan and now 75 senators voted for it and they voted for it? Are they going to say, "This doesn't matter"? Are they going to say, "These ideas don't" -- look, this is about ending the war.
Here's where it's going to get down to, in my view, whether it's me or not. When power is handed from Bush to the next president, everybody gets it; no margin for error for the next president.
MR. MATTHEWS: None.
SEN. BIDEN: I don't think Obama is going to meet that test in the meantime, and I think Hillary is going to be viewed as more divisive, fairly or unfairly, than they're ready to take. So I think it's wide open. I think I can still win this.
MR. MATTHEWS: Can Hillary win the general if she gets the nomination?
SEN. BIDEN: I'm going to say any Democrat can win the general, because -- but I think -- put it this way. The idea that we're going to win the general without having someone who the American people believe on national security and homeland security, physical security, anybody who thinks that's still not the fundamental underlying concern of the American people, who thinks all we can do is move to domestic issues, is making a gigantic mistake.
And I do not discount, I do not discount the Republican contenders. Everybody's saying, "Well, anybody we nominate can beat them." Let me tell you something, man. Mark my words. Watch this race. People are still concerned. They want out of Iraq, but they want someone to manage the world. They know the world is at stake, in addition to at home. And I just think that's the test that they're going to be applying.
MR. MATTHEWS: You have said that you should not have supported the resolution in 2002 to go to war with Iraq. Hillary Clinton has yet to recant. Is that a problem for her?
SEN. BIDEN: I don't know. But I'll tell you, my --
MR. MATTHEWS: This Sunday with Tim, she wouldn't take it back again.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, my concern is this. I said I would -- if I had known how absolutely incompetent this administration was going to be, if I knew they were going to misuse the resolution we gave them, I would have never given them the authority, which, at the time, everybody forgets, was designed to force the international community --
MR. MATTHEWS: But Senator, at the time you voted to give the president the authority to go to war, 80 percent of the American people believed he was taking us to war. Weren't you part of that 80 percent?
SEN. BIDEN: No, I wasn't part of that 80 percent, because he personally told me that's not what he was going to do. And look at his reaction, how he responded to Afghanistan. Everybody was giving him high marks. This was the guy who did it the right way. He went in; he worked the international community. He did everything.
MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
SEN. BIDEN: So the idea that everybody knows, from The New York Times on, talking about how they all should have known, guess what; you may have known -- you may have known --
MR. MATTHEWS: (Laughs.)
SEN. BIDEN: -- and you should have been running.
MR. MATTHEWS: I did know.
SEN. BIDEN: I know you did know. You said it.
MR. MATTHEWS: All right. Well, let me ask you this about the issue tonight. Is Hillary Clinton vulnerable to the charge that she's been sloppy about taking money from this guy Norman Hsu, from dealing with this guy Fiorella (sp)? Is she too loose when it comes to the people she hangs around with and lets her people hang around with?
SEN. BIDEN: Look --
MR. MATTHEWS: Is there a problem of corruption in the front- runner's campaign?
SEN. BIDEN: There is a problem of a perception that she's going to have to deal with, because some of the people who did give to her campaign were corrupt. So, you know, and whether she knew it or not --
MR. MATTHEWS: Do you know this guy Norman Hsu?
SEN. BIDEN: I don't think I do.
MR. MATTHEWS: (Laughs.)
SEN. BIDEN: No, I'm serious.
MR. MATTHEWS: This is an amazing business.
SEN. BIDEN: No, it is amazing.
MR. MATTHEWS: Is he the Phantom? Does he wear disguises?
SEN. BIDEN: No. Remember Jimmy Carter? He stood there and had his picture taken with Wayne Gacy. Who the hell knows? You know, if I ran into him, I'm unaware of it.
MR. MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. Thank you. You're a great man. Thank you, Senator.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you very much.
MR. MATTHEWS: Good luck tonight. We'll have you on afterwards, hopefully.
SEN. BIDEN: All right, good.
MR. MATTHEWS: Good luck in the debate tonight.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.
MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator Joe Biden.