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MSNBC Hardball-Transcript

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MSNBC Hardball-Transcript

We begin tonight with Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Senator, McCaskill, When did you learn about the horror stories over at Walter Reed and the way our guys with amputated legs and arms and everything else being treated over there?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: I was actually in Washington Sunday morning because we had been there for the vote on Saturday afternoon and read the paper and physically felt ill. And, you know, I don‘t think Americans should be distracted by this story that came out today about somebody in charge of fund-raising.

Bottom line, if we can‘t get this right, then we‘ve got something terribly wrong. These men have—and women have—have been seriously injured on the battlefield. They‘ve fought a war for us. They shouldn‘t have to come home and fight a war for care.

MATTHEWS: It‘s an Army hospital, Walter Reed. You‘d think the Army would be the best possible institution to look out for the Army.

MCCASKILL: Well, if you look at what happened...

MATTHEWS: What happened?

MCCASKILL: Well, it‘s not the hospital that‘s the problem. It‘s the outpatient. And I think their system has been overloaded. I don‘t think they were prepared for the number of outpatients that they have, the serious injuries that are occurring, the loss of limbs, the need for social workers, the reintegration. They‘ve overwhelmed these men and women with paperwork and bureaucracy. And they didn‘t have any place to put them. So they start putting them places that they shouldn‘t have put them.

And hopefully this will get fixed before any legislation will be passed. Frankly, they ought to have helicopters in there today taking these men and women away to better places if these facilities are sub par.

And I hope the president—you know, I am really tired of "Support the Troops" as a political slogan. Every Republican and Democrat on the Hill ought to join together and say, "We must fix this, it‘s a moral imperative."

MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re the new kid on the block. You can‘t be blamed. But aren‘t you amazed that all the senators working around you haven‘t done anything about this? They go out there to visit, they‘ve got staff people hearing complaints. Apparently, the names of staff—Senate staff people on the walls over there at Walter Reed of who to call up and get some action, and yet nowhere along the line did somebody come out and look at the place and tell the boss what it looked like out there at this Building 18, which is really sort of a one-star motel, where they‘ve put these people.

MCCASKILL: Well, you know, if there have been members of Congress who have toured Building 18 with mold and rotting ceilings and—and rodent and insect problems, I‘m disappointed.

I know that a member of my staff will be out there on Thursday to look around. And I will, you know, personally get out there when we get back next week.

But it shouldn‘t take a member of Congress to tour a facility to get it right, Chris. These are—these are valiant warriors. They have left limbs on the battlefield for our country. We shouldn‘t have to be hearing these horror stories. This should be the highest priority within the military.

And part of the problem here is you‘ve got so many bureaucracies, you‘ve got the bureaucracy that‘s ready to shut down Walter Reed because of base closings, then you‘ve got the bureaucracy that wants to move these people from active duty into the veteran system, and you‘ve got al of these bureaucracies swirling around.

Meanwhile, these poor men and women and their families have just been left out in the cold. Literally.

MATTHEWS: What I don‘t understand is everything‘s a surprise, senator. The war in Iraq was a surprise. It was supposed to be, you know, a cakewalk. Then we faced insurgency and opposition to our involvement—our occupation. What country wouldn‘t have opposed an occupation? Then we had engaged in counter-insurgency with all of the torture and everything else. That all comes with counter-insurgency.

All this stuff has been done a million times by European colonial powers. And one thing we know, if you go into a third world country, you‘re going to get shot at.

And because of modern medicine, the guys are going to survive most of them, but with legs missing, arms missing, torsos basically there all alone. And everybody acts like it‘s a damn surprise that we needed hospital space. We have almost 40,000 wounded coming out of that war and it‘s a surprise. Everything is a damn surprise. That‘s what I don‘t get.

And everybody knew when we went into this war that the chief—the decider says he decides everything. Well, he decided to go into a war with this level of casualties predicted.

And, by the way, what‘s with the surge? That means more casualties coming. Is that going to be a surprise out there at Walter Reed, more casualties? That‘s a surprise?

MCCASKILL: I would like the president to speak to the nation about this problem. I would like him to explain how in his budget he‘s asking for the veterans of this country to give billions of dollars for their care while he‘s continuing to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest in America.

There is an awful lot of explaining that needs to be done. And, frankly, I—I am so disappointed that they have this story out there that supposedly—you know, and maybe this...

MATTHEWS: Why did you bring up tax breaks? That‘s irrelevant.

MCCASKILL: It is. It‘s relevant because we‘re talking about veterans‘ care, Chris. We‘re talking about...

MATTHEWS: No, this guy‘s willing to run any size deficit. You think

have you seen any evidence that George Bush won‘t borrow money if he wants to spend it somewhere? Do you think he really would fight one less war because he didn‘t have the money?

It‘s not about the tax base. Democrats shift the topic to favorable territory.

The issue here is treatment of the guys and women who fight for us and give their lives and limbs for us. That‘s the issue. Let‘s stay on it.

MCCASKILL: I couldn‘t agree more...

MATTHEWS: Let‘s stay on this issue, senator.

MCCASKILL: I couldn‘t agree more...

MATTHEWS: OK. What are you going do to make sure this gets changed?

Now, you say they‘re going to go to some better facility. What‘s the name of that facility, other than take them over to Bethesda Naval? Where are they going to take these guys?

MCCASKILL: This freshman senator is going to put legislation in next week to require more I.G. inspections, to require standards of care, to require more social workers, less paperwork. This—this is somebody who agrees with you, Chris. I am amazed at the lack of accountability within the Department of Defense, whether it‘s the way they spend money and within the veterans administration.

And the point I was making was not about the tax base, it‘s about this president saying "Support the troops" while he gives the back of his hands to veterans and wounded Americans. That‘s what this is about.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the people on Armed Services Committee, people like McCain and Warner?

I respect those guys. They‘re guys who fought for their country. You know, I respect them as people. But isn‘t it the Armed Services Committee‘s job to look out for these people?

MCCASKILL: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: What about the Veterans Committee? These committees meet all the time. They have field trips all the time. How come they never had a field trip out to Walter Reed?

MCCASKILL: That‘s a good question.

MATTHEWS: I mean, these guys travel all around the world going to interesting places. I don‘t blame them. But they should have visited Walter Reed. It‘s in Washington, where they work.

MCCASKILL: I agree. And I think many of them have and I think in the "Washington Post" story, it talked about how fine the hospital was. This was like the dirty little secret across the street.


MCCASKILL: This was a problem that was out of sight, out of mind. And that was all these men and women that are outpatients—we‘ve got nine Missourians there right now. I want to make sure that they get the best we can possibly give them.

MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s great having you on. I‘m taking you on because you‘re the only senator I‘ve got in front of me tonight. But let‘s face it, there‘s a lot of activity out there now that wasn‘t there three days ago. And with all the bashing of the press, once again, it‘s the press that brings the news to the politicians so they can act because they have to at that point.

MCCASKILL: And by the way, my congratulations to the journalist who wrote this story...

MATTHEWS: It‘s Dana Priest, she‘s about—I‘m sure she deserves it and she‘s coming on.

MCCASKILL: ... she deserves it.

This is what this is all about. This is what journalism is supposed to be about in this country.

And we should have done this better and thank goodness we have a free press that—that points out how badly we‘re doing something so we hopefully can get it fixed.

MATTHEWS: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, thank you very much.

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