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MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews - Transcript

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MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews - Transcript



Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Three years ago today President Bush top gunned a jet and landed on an aircraft carrier decked out with the banner "Mission Accomplished."

Since that day 2,258 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq and over 17,000 have been wounded in a war that seems increasingly like a mission impossible.

In a British interview this weekend, General Colin Powell said in planing for war with Iraq he made the case for more troops to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, General Tommy Franks and President Bush himself. On Sunday Secretary of State Condi Rice said that she did not remember specifically when Powell pushed for more troop strength.

And today hundreds of thousands are protesting across the country against politicians who are looking to crackdown on illegal immigration. Polls show most Americans are sympathetic to illegal immigrants. Could the boycott backfire? More on this later.

What to do about George Clooney? Ace from "American Idol" and George Bush. They all have one thing in common. They all showed up for a meal at this weekend's White House correspondents' dinner. We'll have some highlights of that event. First, Senator Ted Kennedy, he's running for his eighth full term in 2006. He is the author of a new book called, "America, Back on Track." Congratulations with your new book you'll probably get reelected again.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Hopefully. Greatest public honor of my life. We're working hard.

MATTHEWS: Do you think you might end up being the senator with the longest ever.

KENNEDY: That isn't a statistic I'm enormously interested in. I'm young and looking forward to the future. I'm a future candidate. That's what I am thinking about.

MATTHEWS: Are you going to have opposition?

KENNEDY: Yes, there are two Republicans that are running. The final closing date is next week and you never know what is going to happen at the end. So we take it seriously. We've been the target of Republicans in domestic and foreign policy issues and always run for the office, not against the candidate. We've worked over these last six years and we're working hard at the present time. We've got a full good campaign in place and every hope of being successful.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the big issue of our time, Iraq. Let's take a look what General Powell had to say over the weekend.


COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I made the case to General Franks and to Secretary Rumsfeld before the president that I was not sure that we had enough troops. So the case was made it was listened to, it considered. And those responsible for the troop levels, Mr. Rumsfeld and General Franks and the joint chiefs of staff, including the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, believed that they had the troop level. It was not anything that was ignored. It was considered and a judgment was made by those responsible for making military judgments that the troop strength was adequate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the benefit of hindsight that is a pretty big strategic failure.

POWELL: Hindsight is a wonderful sight to have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From your perspective—

POWELL: I would have preferred more troops. This conflict is not over.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Senator?

KENNEDY: We never should have gotten into a war. The best vote I cast in the United States Senate was for not going to the war. This was the wrong war at the wrong time. America was uniquely divided after 9/11. All Americans were for the invasion in Afghanistan. We had Osama bin Laden on the run and suddenly this administration deflected that and went to war in Iraq.

Now we will have been battling in Iraq longer than we have been battling for the Korean war. At the end of this year, our servicemen and women will have been fighting a war that was longer than World War II. They have performed superbly. If they can't find a military solution in that time, it's time to by those American servicemen home.

It is political understanding, there has to be the will and decision to make political decisions. That hasn't been apparent until now.

MATTHEWS: The name of your book is "America: Back on Track." How did your party get off track. Only 23 of you in the Senate opposed the war when it came up for a vote in October of 2002. Why did so many Democrats abandon your ship?

KENNEDY: First of all, there is no question in my mind that we had misinformation, the wrong intelligence. We were misled in terms of the facts going in to the war. I had the benefit of being in the Armed Services Committee, virtually every one of the combat commanders that appeared before the Armed Services Committee expressed the kind of reservations for the reasons that we see today, that this was for the reasons that they didn't go to Baghdad in Gulf One, were the reasons they knew we shouldn't have had war in Iraq.

I had that benefit. There's no question why we got into this conflict. We are less secure today than we were at the time that we had Osama bin Laden on the run. It is a catastrophic mistake and we are going to continue to pay for it, 47 brave young men and women have lost their lives and it continues to go on.

MATTHEWS: Are you happy with your party leadership? Hilly Clinton, who everybody sees as the party leader now, still supports the war. Chuck Schumer, who is chairman of your campaign committee, he supports the car. Daschle, who was the leader during the vote, was for the war. Gephardt was for the war. Your leaders all went with the president and Hillary Clinton to this day is with the president on this war.

KENNEDY: First of all, I've given what I think is the answer by there was so much around the flag particular time. And today. I think there is a general agreement where there are some differences, the general agreement within our party that this is the transition year.

There's a general agreement within our party that if the Iraqi government is not going to shape up, there's going to be a faster withdrawal of American troops. That is the general sense. There are individuals who have expressed other views. That is the general understanding.

And there is a general agreement that we ought to be having a regional kind of a meeting, similar to the kind of meeting that president Clinton had at Dayton, in order to try to bring the countries together in the region so that they have the full understanding of the security implications of whatever is going to be the future of Iraq. And there is a general agreement that we have to have realignment of our forces in that area and region.

I keep talking about a withdrawal from the region, but there is going to have to be a realignment. There is also a general agreement that it has been this administration who's failed policy in Iraq has emboldened the Iranians and emboldened the North Koreans.

There is a general agreement within the Democrats that because we have the requests for additional nuclear weapons, which this defense department has asked for in the last two years, there is some additional recognition that we are ambiguous when he tell the Iranians you can't go nuclear and we are building additional nuclear weapons. There is lot of areas where the Democrats are united. They are united on national security and also they are united on a range of other issues.

MATTHEWS: On the nuclear issue, do you think because, talk to the press today, not just Iran getting nuclear weapons but if they get them there will be a chain reaction. The Saudis will want them. They have the money to pay for them. Perhaps the Egyptians, should we have a regional ban on nuclear weapons which would include Israel? How else do you stop Iran from doing it?

KENNEDY: First of all the rattling of the nuclear saber was not helpful and useful. The United States never takes a military option off the table but rattling—

MATTHEWS: You mean by us?

KENNEDY: By the United States. The fact is, we have emboldened Iran.

We have refused to talk to Iran on issues of, on selective issues we're willing to do this. Look, Iran contributes to terrorist organizations. They present a real danger as a nuclear power. We have to understand that.

We don't take the military options off the table.

What we do do is to try and work what would be effective sanctions against Iran if they with going to act in an irresponsible way. We are emboldening the hard-liners in Iraq, in Iran every time that this Defense Department rattles the nuclear saber. It is unwise. It is wrong, and it only inflames the situation.

MATTHEWS: Do you support Joe Lieberman for renomination in Connecticut? He is very much for the war, very hawkish.


KENNEDY: I'm not in Connecticut. I'm in Massachusetts. Let me tell you this. Joe is an able and gifted and talented person. And we work very closely with him on the immigration. I've worked with him on a range of civil rights issues and economic issues. I have a lot of respect for him. I differ with him on the issues of the war I and understand people having a difference.

MATTHEWS: Can a good Democrat support the war?

KENNEDY: I would rather have them against the war than support.

That's my own position. But I've been a member of the Democratic Party long enough to know that we have enormous diversity in the Democratic party. The great comments Mark Twain said that I don't belong to any organization I belong to the Democratic party. We're made up of a lot of different kind of groups.

But we are Committed and concerned. If you look at the great march of progress that this nation has made on civil rights, disabilities rights, women's rights, on education and health, it's been the Democratic Party. And they are also the ones that are leading for a more sensible, responsible national security and economic policy.

MATTHEWS: But this isn't like 1968 when your brother helped topple a very hawkish administration and now you've got some hawks in the Democratic Party. Do you think you could support Hillary Clinton if she ran as a hawk because she's been very hawkish on this war?

KENNEDY: I understand and I have differences with her on that issue.

MATTHEWS: Could you back her when it came down to it?

KENNEDY: That is a very important—I intend—look, I'm looking forward to one, my own reelection and the Democrats capturing control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

I think we will. And I think we'll win in 2008 and I intend to support the Democratic candidate. I would expect and hopefully by the year 2008, we will not be following what President Bush has stated and that is we will settle the war and what's going to happen in Iraq after my term of office. I believe by that time we are well beyond the path towards ending that conflict.

MATTHEWS: We'll be right back with Senator Edward Kennedy. You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We're back with Senator Ted Kennedy. His new book is called "America Back on Track." What took America off track?

KENNEDY: I think the appeal to negativism, darkness, the appeal to the dangers of the United States losing its way on national security all after 9/11.

That was really the policy of Karl Rove and it was the policy of the Republicans. And what Americans care about national security. They care about security generally. And when the effort was made about constantly threatening the security of the American people in each of these elections.

And if you look back historically, if you look back to George Washington, whether we were going to win the American revolution or look to Abraham Lincoln in the height of the Civil War or look at John Kennedy at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. They all talk about the politics of hope.

They all talked about the sense of optimism that was part of the American people. The way of coming together. That is—we've had the politics of division of darkness and divide during the period the last years and we have effectively lost our way.

Americans do best when they're individual and challenged and we always did well when we call came together and try and deal with common issues.

MATTHEWS: You served in the military, you're an enlisted guy in the army back in the early ‘50s. Do you think we need a draft to bring back that sense of—I mean, your brother Robert used to talk about common shared sacrifice. The rich kids, the pre-meds, they should kick in too. Do you think that's something that should be looked at?

KENNEDY: It certainly ought to be looked at. Right now, I think it's

it wouldn't be—for what we're facing right at this very—on the Iraqi situation, I don't think it's the answer.

But you're going to have to overlook at it. We're going to become engaged, where we're going to be involved and engaged along...

MATTHEWS: ... Do we have a credible Iranian threat if we don't have enough soldiers? Are we a credible threat to them?

KENNEDY: Of course we are. We have pressures on the military, but we have an enormous capabilities. We have enormous capabilities in our American military here today. But we're going to have to—we have to also understand the pressure that has been put on the military, particularly the National Guard, particularly on the Reserve, on equipment in the Iraqi war. This has been a matter which has been enormous pressure on terms of the service.

MATTHEWS: There's two sides to this fight over immigration, it seems. There's the tough guys like Tancredo who's going to be on this show, who want to really close the door and get the illegals out of the country. There's guys like you on the liberal side who want to give them a break and a chance to become citizens. Why don't you put it all together? Slam the door in illegal immigration. Allow people to come in as guest workers, but also legalize the people here and get tough on business that hires cheap labor. Why can't you do it all?

KENNEDY: I'm for it. You just described the McCain-Kennedy bill as modified...

MATTHEWS: ... Including tough on illegal hiring?

KENNEDY: Absolutely, absolutely. We are a strong support. We recognize that there are three issues. One is a national security. We have over 400,000 coming in here, we don't know who they are. So you have to do something there.

Secondly, you need to be tough on employers who are going to hire undocumented because they are driving wages down and exploiting and creating an underclass. And you're also going to have to recognize that the people that are here, the 10 or 12 million, by and large, are the people that care about the kinds of thing that you and I care about, that most Americans care about.

Working hard, devoted to their religion, devoted to their new country, 70,000 of them in the armed forces of this country.

And we're saying, "Look, you pay a tax, you pay a penalty, you go to the end of the line. You obey the law, you learn English. And if you can demonstrate all of that over an 11-year period, then you have the opportunity to earn citizenship."

MATTHEWS: So you're for requiring to learn English to become a citizen?

KENNEDY: That's part of our McCain-Kennedy bill.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the Star Spangled Banner, the new Spanish version. The lyrics are a bit different. In English, I looked at the translation, they're not quite the same, the spirit's there. Do you think the president was right when he said the other day we ought to have an English language Star Spangled Banner and we'll take that?

KENNEDY: The Star Spangled Banner ought to be sung in English, period. I think this is very basically a side show. I mean, I've gone to different events where they've sung it in different languages. But, your specific question, there's a specific answer. Should it be sung as the representation of this country in English? The answer is yes.

MATTHEWS: You've made news. Senator, the name of the book deserves our mention. The book—it's a good book, lots of stuff. It's the Democrats answer to everything that is going on right now. The Ted Kennedy answer, "America Back on Track."

When we return outed CIA officer Valerie Wilson made her first public appearance since her undercover status was revealed and her career ruined, Saturday night at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Up next, we'll hear from her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson. You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


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