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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

MR. MATTHEWS: We begin tonight with Governor Eliot Spitzer's reversal on giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses. Tonight we have Representative Peter King of New York, who's going to introduce legislation to make sure no other states do the same thing. And we're also joined by Fred Dicker of the New York Post, who covers the state for that newspaper, and he's been covering that story from Albany. First I want to go to Fred Dicker.

Fred, what is going on up there? Why did the governor switch? Why did Hillary switch so fast afterwards? Was this coordinated?

MR. DICKER: Well, we don't know if it's coordinated, Chris, but we know why the governor switched on this one. He had lost virtually the entire support of the New York Democratic establishment. He had lost New York voters on this one. He had become politically radioactive to a point where Democrats were abandoning him left and left. And in terms of Hillary Clinton, I think she probably too did some polling, as Governor Spitzer has done here in New York, and found the overwhelming number of voters are against this plan.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, Hillary Clinton moved awful quick, didn't she? She moved so quick.

MR. DICKER: She sure did.

MR. MATTHEWS: I mean, I've got a statement from her tonight that says not only did she go along with the governor's decision not to give illegal people, people in this country illegally, driver's licenses, quote -- she adds this gratuitously, which tells me she was really ready to move here -- "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people." So she went beyond saying she agrees with Spitzer's switcheroo, his U-turn. She took a big U- turn herself, Fred.

MR. DICKER: Chris, I think this points to the fact that a lot of politicians on the national scene and on the state scene are still underestimating how significant an issue this is with the voters. Spitzer was caught by surprise by the reaction to his proposal. And I think it's pretty clear that Senator Hillary Clinton was as well.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Peter King of New York State.

Congressman, you have a proposal. What will you do with this issue?

REP. KING: Chris, basically it's very simple. It would prohibit states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Now, it has a lot of preambles and "whereas" clauses, but the bottom line is it says states are prohibited from giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens. It's very simple, it's very clear, and it's very necessary. And actually it was drawn up yesterday. I'm introducing it tonight. We have 145 original co-sponsors already.

MR. MATTHEWS: Did you know Hillary was going to move on a dime, this fast?

MR. DICKER: Maybe Hillary Clinton will sponsor it.

REP. KING: No, but I --

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think she will?

REP. KING: I pretty much assume that once she saw the way it was going, the reaction to the debate she had two weeks ago, that it was only a matter of time, and once Governor Spitzer decided to turn, that she was going to follow him.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, she not only followed him. She said that if she gets elected president, she will not do it as president. She will discourage this from happening as president.

Let me ask you, what are the consequences of a state like New York giving out driver's licenses? I just remember one thing. In your state -- you're close to New York City -- dozens of those driver's licenses, those phony driver's licenses -- maybe they're real ones, actually -- in the hands of people in the country illegally, the killers of 9/11. That tells me that they used them for bad reasons and they shouldn't have had those driver's licenses.

REP. KING: There's no doubt about it.

MR. DICKER: That's what's so surprising about the reaction of Governor Spitzer. I thought you were asking me, Chris. I'm sorry.

MR. MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Peter -- Congressman.

REP. KING: Yeah, I was going to say there's no doubt that the 19 hijackers -- I think they had a total of 28 forms of driver's licenses, some of them illegal. And also these licenses can be used as breeder documents to obtain other forms of identification.

No, this is definitely not just an immigration issue, not just a social issue, but it was also clearly a homeland security issue, which is why so many Democrats wanted to get away from this in a hurry and why it's bad politics; it's bad government. And Eliot Spitzer unfortunately lives in this liberal echo chamber where everyone he speaks to speaks the same language. Unfortunately, the real people on the street, real Democrats and Republicans, are totally against this.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let me show you the real number. We've been telling you the big number every night. It's one of our features on "Hardball," one of our franchises. Well, tonight the big numbers couldn't be more relevant. It's 88. That's the percentage of Iowa Republicans who say illegal immigration is a serious problem, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll. That's 86 percent; I'm wrong. Eighty-six percent of Iowa Republicans say that illegal immigration is the top issue.

By the way, it's the hottest single issue in that state among Republicans. Also 59 percent of Democrats, Fred, in Iowa say it's a huge issue, a very serious issue. So it seems like that people are wrong about it. You were right. Politically these guys are slow on the draw. Now you've got Fred Thompson out there coming out against amnesty. You've got Hillary Clinton doing a U-turn.

Why were they so slow on picking up on an issue that has made the career of people like Michael Savage on the radio?

MR. DICKER: Well, a lot of people would say that American politicians, to a considerable degree, are out of touch with the American people. Certainly here in New York, Governor Spitzer was totally out of touch with the sentiment of New York voters. And it may very well be that's why Mrs. Clinton is doing this flip-flop today, where a few weeks ago she was endorsing the governor's plan, and now she's saying as president she would sign Pete King's bill.

MR. MATTHEWS: Will she do that, Congressman? Do you have that information that she will sign your bill?

REP. KING: No, but --

MR. DICKER: Well, I'm making a joke.

REP. KING: No, based on what she said today, she should. But we'll see. You know, it's a long way from now till next November. But Fred Dicker is right, though. Eliot Spitzer and too many other people in politics and in the media and in academia are just cut off from what real people are thinking, and they try to write it off as being racism or bigotry. It's just untrue. These are real people having real concerns. And unfortunately Governor Spitzer didn't see it until it hit him right between the eyes. And even then, he had to be hit again.

MR. MATTHEWS: I'd just like to know -- we're going to have a debate on this later in the show. I'd like to know anybody in the world that believes a country doesn't have the right to decide who comes into it. I've never heard of a -- nobody wants to actually say that, but that is the implication of certain people, which is, "Oh, you have a right to come in this country if you want to. If there's a job you can grab illegally, fine; you have a right to do that. Anybody who gets in your way is a bigot."

I mean, that attitude is unheard of in the world, but for some reason it's caught on here. And the other thing is this notion of nationality. I don't know why anybody wouldn't be offended by somebody moving into their country and not even thinking it's important to establish nationality. Simply move in and live here and laugh at the whole notion of American nationality. I think, at a time we're fighting overseas about protecting this country, it's a normal thing.

Let me go back to Fred. Do you know if Hillary Clinton had anything to do with Governor Spitzer's decision to do his 180?

MR. DICKER: Yeah, we believe she did. We were told -- I was told at a very high level in New York politics that Mrs. Clinton's campaign, some of her top people, signaled to Governor Spitzer's people that he had damaged her. They were wondering what the heck was he up to, why did he bring it to the fore now, and made it clear that the governor was hurting her and that he ought to back down if he wanted to help her, which he says he wants to do.

MR. MATTHEWS: Is anybody in his office saying that, or are you getting that from a third party?

MR. DICKER: No, he's coming from a very high level --

MR. MATTHEWS: Is anybody in Spitzer's camp -- no, but is anybody in Spitzer's office saying that the governor got the word from Hillary to cut it?

MR. DICKER: In his camp, not his office.


MR. DICKER: But at the highest levels.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. Well, how does it work? Did she send word through New York politicians that this was hurting her?

MR. DICKER: Well, first of all, Spitzer's a very smart guy and he's aware of what happened. But secondly, they travel in similar circles. High-level consultants talk with one another. The governor's political consultants and advisors were advised as to the damage done here. That's how it was relayed.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think Mandy Grunwald or Mark Penn called their colleagues in the media consultants' world up in Albany and told them -- or New York City -- and told them to tell the guy to get off the dime? Can you report that?


MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, that's pretty close.

MR. DICKER: No, we haven't, but you asked me if I thought it.

MR. MATTHEWS: Peter -- Congressman, you're laughing, because you know how this is done.

MR. DICKER: If I could prove it, I would report it.

MR. MATTHEWS: This is grapevine. You're not going to report the grapevine.

Peter, are you willing to say that Hillary Clinton was able to move the governor on this?

REP. KING: I don't know that for a fact. I've heard from people in Democratic circles that there was real anger among the Clinton people toward Governor Spitzer and the message was being sent. But I'm like Fred. I'm hearing it second-hand from Democratic operatives.

MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Well, I can tell you --

REP. KING: I have no doubt it's so.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- as I've been saying, Hillary's got a switch on this for a couple of days now. And I'll tell you, she has finally switched when she got the okay; she got the green light from Spitzer. It looked like she had to have that happen before she made her move.

But I found it gratuitous, ladies and gentlemen, that Hillary didn't just go along with Spitzer. Look what she said: "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people." She is off the dime. She has made her move; the first big case of damage control by Hillary Clinton. And I have to tell you, it's smart politics. When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Peter King --

REP. KING: Thank you, Chris.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- who's got the bill, and Fred Dicker, who's got the story.

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