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MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews - Transcript

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MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews - Transcript

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Did the shakeup shake out the problems in the West Wing or is the White House in need of an extreme makeover? Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening everyone. I'm David Gregory in tonight for Chris Matthews and reporting from the White House.
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Congress, as you know, is coming back to Washington this week after getting an earful about gas prices, illegal immigration and of course the war in Iraq during its recess.

And it's make it or break it time for President Bush as he directs his new chief of staff to shake up his second term. Plus, the president is trying to flex his political muscle on the issue of immigration reform, but can he reboot his second term in time for the midterm elections? More on all of that in just a moment.

And later "Newsweek" Managing Editor Jon Meacham and the author of "American Gospel" talks about how President Bush can get his religious base from the pews to the polls for the upcoming elections, both the midterms and the 2008 campaign.

But we begin tonight with the politics of oil. The Republican leadership is calling on the Bush administration to investigate possible price gouging. Does the Justice Department need to look into this? What can politicians do to get the price of gas down, if anything?

I'm joined right now by Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts and Republican Congresswoman of Tennessee Marsha Blackburn. Welcome to you both.



GREGORY: Congresswoman, let me start with you. Your leadership is calling on the White House to direct the attorney general to investigate price gouging at the pump. What do you suspect is going on that's driving up prices?

BLACKBURN: Well, you know, we can go back and look at what has happened over the past 30 years. To look at three decades of an environmental...

GREGORY: No. No. I'm asking you, is there price gouging? Why do you suspect there is price gouging?

BLACKBURN: Is there price gouging? You know, I would hope that there is not, but that is the reason to call for the investigations, and actually David, had the Senate joined us in passing the gas act, that we passed in the House last fall, which federalized price gouging as a crime, put in place penalties, then we would not be having to have this discussion right now.

GREGORY: Are you aware-or is there any evidence to believe that an investigation is necessary?

BLACKBURN: Well, let me say this. Where I am from in Tennessee, we have not seen any instances in my congressional district of what we feel is price gouging. What we are concerned about is that individuals, service stations, units do not take advantage of the situation that we find ourselves in and participate in price gouging.

GREGORY: Congressman Meehan, is there a role for Congress here, is there a role for the administration overall?

MEEHAN: Well, first of all, the FTC frankly should have been conducting this investigation months ago. The fact is I've been in Massachusetts for the last two weeks, and it seems over the last few days that the price is increasing by the hour at the pump, so there needs to be an aggressive investigation.

Part of the problem is that Congress passed an energy bill that frankly gave more breaks to the oil and gas industry. What's interesting is there are $12 billion of breaks in the energy bill that passed, yet we see that the sixth major oil companies in America last year made $1.1 trillion. So another thing that Congress ought to do is tax this huge, excessive windfall and get it back to the consumers, where it ought to be.

GREGORY: And Congresswoman Blackburn, I mean, there's certainly a lot of Republicans who have said that the oil companies should have their feet held to the fire here. Do you believe in some kind of what is called a windfall tax, as a way to try to punish the oil companies?

BLACKBURN: You know, that is an easy thing to say, but I'll point out that Mr. Meehan voted against the gas act that would have federalized price gouging as a crime. The price at the pump is something that we are very concerned about. I'm concerned about it, my constituents are.

And I will tell you this, one of the things we need to be certain we do is follow through with energy policy going forward that will keep this from happening again.

GREGORY: All right. I want to get to that, but Congresswoman Blackburn, I asked you a very specific question, do you believe in any kind of windfall tax, which is being discussed in both chambers?

BLACKBURN: No, I do not. We have tried that. It does not work.

Windfall profits tax does not work.

GREGORY: Should the oil companies be held responsible in any fashion for this drastic run up?

BLACKBURN: I would like to see them do some more investing in exploration, domestic exploration. That is a certain way, opening up existing oil fields, drilling in Anwar. I don't know if Mr. Meehan is in favor of that or not. I certainly am. Domestic exploration, putting some energy there, that is a place that we can make a difference.

MEEHAN: Can I just respond?

GREGORY: Congressman, will you pick it up now on what should be done. In other words, how did it get to this place where it's so bad and what should be done?

MEEHAN: First of all, I'm in favor of making price gouging a crime, and in fact, one the reasons I didn't vote for the Republican House version was because there were too many breaks for the oil companies. This administration and the Republican leadership in Congress has given break after break after break to the oil and gas industry, without ever holding them accountable.

I hear the congresswoman talk about letting them drill.

BLACKBURN: But you can have it both ways.

MEEHAN: Hold on, I gave you your shot.

She talks about letting them drill. We're letting them drill in federal lands, and they're not paying any royalties. It's estimated that that's going to cost $20 billion to the federal government in over 25 years, could be as high as $80 billion. How much are we going to lay over and roll over for the oil companies in this country?

It's time for the Congress and the president to stand up to the oil companies with an investigation, number one, holding them accountable with taxes and getting the money back to consumers, and finally I think it's incumbent upon the president of the United States to bring in his big buddies from big oil and say look we have a crisis in America. Americans cannot afford $3, $3.50 a gallon of gasoline. It's at $73 a barrel at the pump now. We need action on the part of the federal government.

GREGORY: All right. Congresswoman, go ahead, have your piece with it.

BLACKBURN: Yes, I tell you, liberal double talk is easy. It is easy. They create a problem, then they want to tell you how they're going to go and solve the problem. What we have seen, as I said earlier, 30 years of environmental extremists energy policy. We've let the environmental extremists the EPA, OSHA, folks like that shut down the ability to put in new refineries.

We've gone from 324 refineries in 1981 to 148 today. We need 21 million barrels of oil a day, and we have the capacity to refine 17 million barrels. I mean, this plus we've had Katrina and Rita. Plus, we have a booming economy, so we have a need that is there for increased consumption and tight supply lines.

GREGORY: Congresswoman, let me interject on this point. Given how high the demand is in this country, to say nothing of other countries around the world, namely as the president likes to talk about, India and China tremendous demand for oil, do you think it's appropriate for the American people to start to conserve on gasoline? Should they consume less right now to try to drive prices down?

BLACKBURN: Are you directing that to me, David?


BLACKBURN: Because I-listen, I am all for conservation efforts. I think that there are plenty of things that we can do in our daily lives that will help us to save home heating fuels. I think there are so many things we can do to look forward to alternative fuels, to look not only to the conservation, but look to the alternative uses.

And those are exciting opportunities that we should be engaged in. We have plenty of companies that are working on some of the alternative uses and on the conservation efforts, and there are also companies that are beginning to look at how we use those fossil fuels. Do we need to use fossil fuels as we are generating electricity? What are more effective means of generating electricity? And those are worthy debates.

GREGORY: Congressman, let me ask you this question. Let me ask you a political question here, which is aren't both parties looking for some degree of cover here? It's easy to blame Republicans who have been in power, but experts I've talked to say there was plenty of complacency on the Democratic side as well when Democrats were in control and didn't see the prices ratcheting up to the degree that they have been.

Is there an attempt in Congress at political cover when there's really nothing that can be done in the short term?

MEEHAN: Well, I think there is something that can be done in the short term. All you have to do is look at the profit margins of these oil companies, look at the CEO leaving Exxon-Mobil with a $400 million retirement package. Why is it that this Congress, the Republican leadership and the administration, has continually passed energy bills? The latest energy bill, $20 billion in tax breaks.

So there is something that could be done here. We should provide investments in alternative fuel, alternative energy...

BLACKBURN: And we did, $800 billion worth.

MEEHAN: There are a lot of things that we could do. But the fact of the matter is as long as this oil and gas industry buy and pay for their policies in Washington, the energy bill, then we're never going to hold people accountable.

GREGORY: Congresswoman, I'll give you the last word, but I want it to be on my question, which is, is this just an attempt at political cover when there are no practical solutions on the short term for Congress to pursue?

BLACKBURN: David, there are very few things that you can do today or tomorrow that are going to get the gas down at the pump today or tomorrow. One of the things that we can do is to address the permitting, the way these refineries go in, how quickly they go in, the production of that and certainly, certainly, be investigating the price gouging, have Congress to join in, have the Senate join us and make this a federal crime and encourage our Democratic counterparts to join us in, again, supporting the gas act.

GREGORY: There is certainly a lot of frustration around the country as people...

BLACKBURN: Yes, there is.

GREGORY: ...are getting sticker shock every time they fill up. Thanks to both of you, Congressman Martin Meehan and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

GREGORY: And coming up, could high gas prices fuel a Democratic revolt in this November's midterm elections. We'll be back with a look at the strategy session. You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


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