MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As you can see there, the president wasted no time in getting back on the road after yesterday`s strong and much-hyped speech in Illinois about the American economy, a speech which condemned Washington`s dysfunction and accused Republicans of an agenda of obstructionism. Fair enough.
The White House continued its get our groove back tour in Jacksonville, Florida, today, its third stop in just two days. While today`s speech may have focused on America`s infrastructure, it`s not just bridges and roads Obama is looking to mend. It`s his legacy, obviously, which Republicans are out to destroy with a wrecking ball of brinkmanship.
How far will this take it? We`re threatening -- they`re threatening a government shutdown and U.S. default if Obamacare is not defunded and Obama`s budget priorities slashed. Well, today is about Obama fighting back, a recognition that this is a political war.
U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is also the chairman of the Democratic Party. She`s from Florida, of course. And Michael Steele is a former -- he`s a former Republican national chair and a political analyst here and a great fellow to have.
Let me ask you, since you are the guy here enjoying all of this, it seems...
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t know about that.
MATTHEWS: ... that your party, not your regular party, not your part of the party, the regular old Republican Party...
MATTHEWS: ... but the right wing of your party is now saying the following.
Unless Obama, the president of the United States, agrees to no revenues at all in a new package on the budget, agrees to no paying off of the national debt, if there is one, just not agreeing to any kind of debt extensions, and killing Obamacare, there will be a government shutdown and probably a default on the loan -- on the federal government.
What kind of a statement is that by responsible officeholders?
STEELE: Well, it`s basically saying, look, we`re not going to go down a road where we continue to spend without some idea of where the end point is. We gave -- you got the tax increases at the beginning of this year.
MATTHEWS: For who? Who got taxed?
STEELE: Everybody got taxed, Chris. Everybody`s taxes went up in the beginning of the year. So don`t sit in this little bubble and act like it didn`t happen.
MATTHEWS: I`m talking about income taxes. They went up for the top 2 percent.
STEELE: Income taxes, payroll taxes, everybody got a hit to their bottom line at the beginning of the year, OK? Republicans signed off on that at the beginning -- at the end of last year.
MATTHEWS: They signed off -- they were for it.
STEELE: They signed off on the tax cuts. We have not seen the spending cuts.
STEELE: And that`s part of the conversation going forward.
Look, this president went out to Illinois to a place where he said -- he gave his first economic speech in 2005. We just didn`t expect him to give the same speech. We have heard this before, we have been in this room.
What is different from yesterday than what we have seen before?
MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, what is going on?
Why did he, out of nowhere, come out with this strong tactic of political
offense? He hadn`t been doing it for months. He just said, oh, we`re at war, let`s face it.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Because a president has a few tools available to them at their disposal to try to shake things up.
Clearly, what you outlined is that the Republicans in Washington have only one interest. That is being obstructionists. And they`re even willing to be obstructionists and stop him to the point of harming the economy. And that`s deeply disturbing. So, the president has the bully pulpit.
And the bully pulpit is diffuse, so over the next two months, President Obama, beginning with yesterday, is traveling the country, talking about the importance of deepening our recovery, of making sure it takes root, and making sure that we grab some Republicans by the lapels in Washington and encourage the American people to grab their Republican...
MATTHEWS: So, what`s going to happen?
Michael, first. Look, Republicans...
MATTHEWS: You have just laid it out. The Republicans are basically saying no deal unless you don`t raise taxes, unless you don`t raise taxes, unless you raise the -- don`t increase the debt, the extension of the national dead limit, and that you -- and you somehow get rid of Obamacare.
Do you actually think he`s going to ever sign a piece of paper that says getting rid of Obamacare?
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what your party is asking for.
STEELE: He`s not going to sign a piece of paper getting rid of Obamacare. We understand that .
MATTHEWS: Have you listened to Ted Cruz lately?
STEELE: I have heard Ted Cruz and I have heard a lot of others.
MATTHEWS: And Rand Paul and Mike Lee?
STEELE: The bottom line, though, Chris, is that we have to start somewhere, Chris. The president is giving yet another speech. The reality of -- how many speeches can he give on creating jobs?
MATTHEWS: ... speech from your side every night on this show, a speech from one of your right-wingers saying, we`re going to kill this...
STEELE: There are two numbers that tell you how President Obama is doing on the nation`s economy.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: There are five things.
STEELE: Let me give you the numbers. The two numbers are the positive rate, which has doubled, OK? And the...
MATTHEWS: What are the Republicans doing about the poverty rate?
STEELE: And -- let me finish the other one -- and the median income of households in this country has gone down from $52,000 to now $50,000.
So the reality of it is Americans are financially still hurting. All of this wonderful show and flutter out here...
MATTHEWS: The flutter is that the Democrats passed a budget.
STEELE: Where are the jobs? You keep talking about it. Where are they?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I`m trying to be polite.
MATTHEWS: Just a minute, Michael. This government can`t even set up a fiscal policy, because the Senate that is run by Democrats has passed a budget.
STEELE: First time in five years.
MATTHEWS: But the right-wing guys won`t even let them...
STEELE: Spare me.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Why aren`t we in conference?
STEELE: Why did it take you five years to pass a budget?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Now you wanted -- you wanted us to pass a budget. We passed one. Now you`re arguing about how long you took us to pass it?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Let`s do what the legislative process is designed to do, have both sides, two chambers, sit down and hammer out a conference report and send it to -- and send it to the president.
But what we shouldn`t be doing, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, is ignoring the targets and artificially even cutting below the sequester, cutting the heart out of education, health care, housing, investment in infrastructure, decimating people`s retirements and ability
to live comfortably with a safety net in place. That`s what the Republicans are hell-bent on...
STEELE: All that is a discussion point.
STEELE: Let`s put it on the table and see -- and see what the...
MATTHEWS: Well, why don`t you want to have a meeting with the two sides?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We need a balanced...
STEELE: Oh, I do want to have a meeting with the two sides.
MATTHEWS: No, you`re opposing a conference between the two.
STEELE: No, I`m not complaining.
MATTHEWS: Look, your party --
STEELE: My problem is this holier than thou because you passed a budget in five years.
MATTHEWS: Would you recommend your party meet for a conference? They`re not doing it.
MATTHEWS: OK, that`s good to hear.
In a speech late today, President Obama took dead aim at Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot and if the Republicans don`t agree with me, I want them to lay out their ideas. If they`ve got better ideas to make sure every American knows the security of affordable health care -- well, share it with the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right.
OBAMA: You know, Repealing Obamacare and slashing our budgets in education and research and infrastructure, that`s not an economic plan. Threatening you won`t pay the bills in this country when we have already racked up those bills, that`s not an economic plan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.
OBAMA: You know, that`s just being a deadbeat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, before the president even addressed the crowd down in Jacksonville, Republicans had already issued their prebuttal, if you will.
This is House Speaker John Boehner speaking to reporters today about Obama`s economic speeches.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You know, the president pivoted the jobs, as he`s been known to do on occasion. And under the president`s leadership, our country has fallen into the new normal of slow growth, high unemployment and stagnant wages. I think it`s unacceptable, but the speech turned out to be all as you sizzle with no steak. That`s assuming that there is any sizzle left after he did these things so many
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, that`s language, boring. But --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That`s adorable, and nice fodder for the base, but it doesn`t make sure that we can continue this recovery. We`ve had 7.2 million jobs over the last 38 months in the private sector created.
We know that the public feels much better about the economy, but wants us to focus together on a balanced approach to deficit reduction. They absolutely want us to make sure we replace the sequester and take away the pain that the Republicans are hell-bent on continuing.
I mean, Chris, in my home state, President Obama was in Jacksonville today, where the National Guard in the middle of the height of hurricane season have 11 furlough days, every Monday from now until the end of the fiscal year.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And what`s going to happen when in Hurricane Alley, a category 4 hurricane comes bearing down on us, and the National Guard is going to struggle to be there. That`s thanks for the Republicans.
STEELE: If it happens on a furlough day, the governor is going to call them in anyway because he`s not going to sacrifice the folks who --
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: How about the seniors?
STEELE: And states will take care of business the way they always do.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So, it doesn`t matter?
STEELE: The fact of the matter is no one in the country is talking about sequester. That`s a red herring.
MATTHEWS: I just saw "Lone Ranger." It`s not a greatest movie in the world. Johnny Depp plays Tonto, OK? He`s not a great movie, but the whole thing was the lone ranger should have known and may have known that his posse, the Texas Rangers, was heading into a box canyon, and the cabin (ph) was waiting for, the cabin this gang was waiting, to slaughter them.
I think the president is the lone ranger now. He says, you know, we`re going into a box canyon this November, December. We`re going to face a government shutdown over the national debt. They`re going to screw us.
They`re going to shut the government down. They`re going to bring the economy even lower. We`re going to have an even slower economy, and then they`re going to declare a victory. So, he said let`s start to fight now.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The bottom line is -- it doesn`t have to be this way.
We need to come together and focus on --
MATTHEWS: Reform to that plan.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on.
Madam Chairman, please come back as on which as you can, as often as he comes back.
Thanks to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Michael Steele, as always.