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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - The Farm Bill

Interview

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MATTHEWS: It`s a lot of things there. Only 24 Democrats, by the way, voted for the bill because a last-minute Republican amendment to allow states to cut the number of people eligible for food stamps turned off the Democrats.

All in all, it`s a hugely embarrassing episode for Speaker John Boehner. It also doesn`t bode well for the prospects of the House passing immigration reform, because everybody thinks it`s up to the leadership to push this bill through, because the rank and file are really just going to hold up.

Anyway, I want get an expert on here.

Congressman Steve Israel is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a great organization.

Congressman, you are a smart guy. So, I`m going to appeal to you to look across the aisle and tell me who`s calling the shots over there. Is it Boehner? Is it Cantor? Is it McCarthy? It or some guy or woman we don`t even know their name who somehow speaks for 80 or so rambling, uncontrollable Tea Partiers?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, thanks for having me on, Chris. The answer to your question is: it`s a small cadre of extremist right wing Republican who have hijacked their party and hijacked their caucus. You know, we had what should have been a noncontroversial farm bill that should have passed with a bipartisan majority. They managed to take a non-controversial farm bill and turn it into a partisan mess that failed. I cannot imagine what they`re going to do with a controversial immigration bill.

It shows that they continue to be incapable of compromise, incapable of solutions and incapable of progress.

MATTHEWS: Well, the question I do and I`m sure you try to divine this all the time politically as well as in terms of policy, what I`m always trying to divine based again about what latest evidence of Boehner not running the show over there, is there a 50/50 chance or what kind of chance under the Hastert Rule of getting a majority of Republicans to do anything out on the floor. Do you think there`s going to be a bill -- will there be a conference report they can get through the House, something that has a pathway to citizenship in it?

ISRAEL: Well, first of all, I hope so. We need a compromise. We need a solution on immigration.

Democrats are prepared to compromise. We know we can`t have it all our way all the time. The problem is, you`ve got a Republican caucus that really does believe that they should have it all, all the time. We need a compromise. I hope we can get there.

I was optimistic until yesterday`s farm bill. If they can`t even get a farm bill passed on the floor of the House when they are in charge, how are they going to get an immigration bill passed? What`s the strategy? Here`s the bottom line I think: John Boehner is a tactic without a strategy. He lives to survive with the gavel on a daily basis.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

ISRAEL: But he has no long-term strategy to govern the country and it is why we have this political partisan mess on our hands.

MATTHEWS: Oh, he`s not a nut. He doesn`t fit in. Anyway, yesterday, Eric Cantor blamed Democrats for the bill`s defeat. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: What we saw is today was a Democratic leadership in the House that was insistent to undo years and years of bipartisan work on an issue like a farm bill and decide to make it a partisan issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that? Is it -- was it about the food stamps? The fact that there was a poison pill thrown in here?

ISRAEL: You know, I love the finger pointing from the majority leader who`s in charge of getting a majority to pass bills. Here`s what happened. When the Democrats were in the majority, we passed a farm bill with over 300 votes, Democrats and Republicans because it was based on compromise. And compromise was we support assistance to farmers and also support supplemental nutrition assistance programs to poor people. And so, Democrats voted for it and Republicans voted for it. What did Eric Cantor and this Tea Party do with this bill? They cut supplemental nutrition assistance for poor people by $20 billion. They threw in poison pill after poison pill. They treated poor people as if they are guilty of committing a crime and then they said to the Democrats you help us pass this.

That`s not how it works. Compromise works. Poison pill dozen not.

MATTHEWS: OK, thanks so much. I love having you on all the time. Steve Israel, who is, in fact, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

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