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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" Interview - Transcript


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MR. BARNICLE: So is there a perceived overconfidence in the Obama campaign? Is he acting like he's already president? Some critics say so.

Joining me now, MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson and Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, a primary backer -- incidentally, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and primary author of the huge housing bill President Bush signed this morning.

Congressman, I understand he signed it at 7:00 a.m. and that you weren't invited. Is that accurate?

REP. FRANK: That's accurate. I think I was represented by Barney the dog.

MR. BARNICLE: (Laughs.) So the bill, an important bill, a crucial bill; a lot of homes in foreclosure. A lot of Americans are worried. What does this bill do for the average American?

REP. FRANK: Several things. The most important thing, we think -- and we've talked to a lot of the banks about this, who have told us they're going to take advantage of it -- it says, in those cases where the borrower owes more money than the house is worth, that the banks, if they choose to -- it's voluntary on their part -- but if they believe they can lose less money by writing down the loan than by foreclosing, if they do that, the borrower can then go to the FHA and get a loan guarantee.

Now, people have said, "Well, you know, these people got in trouble. Why do we deal with it?" And the answer is very simple. Foreclosures don't just hit the people who are being foreclosed upon. If they did, we'd have the option of saying, "Hey, you made your mistake and live with it." But it's hurting the whole economy.

It hurts cities, which suddenly now -- not suddenly, but which don't have houses paying property taxes but have houses eating property taxes because of police and fire. The whole neighborhood deteriorates. So we believe, the Congressional Budget Office believes, that several hundred thousand foreclosures will be averted.

It also creates a program for an affordable low-income housing trust fund that didn't get a lot of attention. One of the problems we've had is we had people buying houses who shouldn't have bought houses, who couldn't afford to economically, who frankly weren't socially ready to take on owning a house, which is not a slam dunk. Part of the problem was there wasn't rental housing for them. So we are now going to create a fund to subsidize affordable rental housing so they can move in there instead.

And then two other quick things. The Federal Reserve, with our full support, has now put out rules that will prevent the kind of bad mortgages, irresponsible mortgages, from being made in the future. And there was irresponsibility both on the lenders and the borrowers.

The question then is, well, what about working people who aren't making a lot of money? Can't they get a chance to own homes? The answer is yes, because we've also expanded the Federal Housing Administration, the FHA, so it will be available for working people, people in the lower-middle-income category. They can go there. If they can qualify, as many of them will be able to do, they won't have to get a subprime loan with adjustable rates, et cetera. They'll be able to get a 30-year fixed income (sic/means fixed rate) with a guarantee, which will lower their interest rate and allow them to get a home without having the problems we've seen in the last couple of years.

MR. BARNICLE: Well, switching to politics now -- and Tucker Carlson is here -- we have a young man from the state of Illinois. He's looking for a home for the next four years. It's government- subsidized. It's called the White House. And there's been a lot of chatter on programs like this and a lot of stuff in print media that Obama's candidacy sometimes verges on the presumptuous.

Tucker, you first. Do you think it does?

MR. CARLSON: Of course it does. All candidacies do. You wake up in the morning and you decide, of 300 million Americans, you're the most qualified to be president; you're arrogant by definition. They all are. And he is too. I think it's bad manners. It's the kind of thing your mother would spank you for, if she had good manners. But it's pretty good politics.

It's what Bush did, by the way, during the recount in 2000. Like Obama, he had very little experience. It was up in the air as to who was winning. And he declared himself president at this famous press conference you'll remember, and a lot of people were offended by it. On the other hand, it worked. People looked at the television. There was Bush calling himself president. And people thought, "Well, I guess he is." And it'll probably work for Obama.

MR. BARNICLE: Hey, Congressman, did you get a chance to go to the Cannon House Office Building Caucus Room yesterday?

REP. FRANK: To be technically accurate, I had a chance, but I didn't take advantage of it. I did not go to that caucus.

MR. BARNICLE: So Senator Obama again, off of something he reportedly said at the caucus, that, you know, he has become the symbol for a lot of people around the world looking for America to change. He spoke before 200,000 people in Berlin. He met with heads of state in France. He met with Palestinian leaders, with Israeli leaders.

I guess the question is, isn't this what candidates do?

REP. FRANK: Yes, it is. And I have to say this. Look, we have a question. The next president is going to have to decide what happens in Iraq. Do we pull out? And, if so, at what pace? He will appoint justices to the Supreme Court. There will be questions of the economy.

I think the overwhelming majority of Americans really aren't worried about whether or not he is presumptuous. They're not planning to have dinner with him. They're not planning to hang out much with him. They are talking, I hope, about what the public policy decisions will be. And I think Tucker Carlson put it accurately. Yeah, look, there's a certain arrogance in declaring yourself a candidate for public office, not wholly unlike being a media pundit, in which you assume that much of the world is very interested in your opinions.

MR. BARNICLE: (Laughs.)

REP. FRANK: We're all in that business. But I think what you have is, I hope, a focus on public policy. John McCain and Barack Obama have some strong differences on public policy, and I would hope that's what the campaign would be about.

MR. CARLSON: Well, I think the exact Obama quote was, "I am the life, the truth and the way; no one gets to the father except through me. Drop your nets and follow me; I will make you fishers of men."

REP. FRANK: Well, you're talking --

MR. CARLSON: I mean, there's a messianic quality in some of his rhetoric. I mean, of course it is, by definition, self-referential. And again, I give him a pass on that, because they all are that way. But it does remind you a little bit of Bush. I mean, this is a guy who almost seems to believe he's anointed to usher in a new era of consciousness in the world, to change human nature. I mean, that's -- you know, I don't know. I'm more comfortable with modest goals like shorter lines at the DMV; you know, a FEMA that shows up within a month of a hurricane. Start small, maybe.

REP. FRANK: Well, let me start with I don't think the president is going to have much to do with state motor vehicle departments.

Secondly, you know, this isn't about, frankly, what people in media feel comfortable with or not. As to the quote, you know, I wasn't at the caucus, and I'm by birth not an expert on the New Testament, which I believe that quote came from, so I get a double pass, I think, on that one.

But the answer, again, I think the average citizen doesn't care as much. Look, I understand -- and part of it's a problem you guys have. You're good people. You've got work to do. You've got hours to fill. There isn't always hard news. But whether or not he was too arrogant or not arrogant, I think, pales according to -- besides, you know, what do you do about Iraq? What do you do about the Supreme Court? What do you do about taxes? What do you do about energy conservation?

Those are the issues that I really do believe most Americans are focused on, not whether, well, he was a little too presumptuous or he wasn't presumptuous. What's he going to do about the economy, about jobs, about gas prices?

MR. CARLSON: Well, I think that's a solid point. No, I think actually the congressman makes a solid point. And that's why the McCain ad, writing off Obama as a celebrity, might not be as effective as an ad saying, "Look, this guy wants to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens." Now, that ad would work.

MR. BARNICLE: Well, back to the aforementioned meeting in the Cannon Building yesterday that Congressman Frank couldn't attend -- Congressman Clyburn from South Carolina, he did attend it, and he had something to say. He had some reports indicating that Obama said one thing. But Congressman Clyburn of South Carolina had this to say. Take a listen to this.

HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): (From videotape.) What he said was -- and quite frankly, it was in response to what one of the members prefaced a question by -- he said, "I wish I could take credit for that, but I can't, because it's not about me. It's about America. It's about the people of Germany and the people of Europe looking for new hope, new relationships, as we go forward in the world."

MR. BARNICLE: So Congressman, let me ask you a question. Do you think there'd be all this chatter on programs like this and in the newspapers about Barack Obama saying what he has supposedly said, going where he did indeed go, if he were a white guy?

REP. FRANK: Yes, I think, because it's a presidential campaign and you have to talk about it. It's a big thing people want to talk about. And I guess, at least until the Olympics start, we won't have much relief from it. And again, part of the problem is this. There's a compulsion to fill the time and to tell people more than people know. It may also be that, frankly, debating the specifics of a tax plan or a housing plan or what you do about "Should we or shouldn't we have a second economic stimulus?" that may not be good TV. That may be boring to people. I'm not expert on that.

MR. BARNICLE: (Laughs.)

MR. CARLSON: Well, not all of us are as deep as you, Congressman. But I think it matters if the man who would be president, you know, has an inflated sense of himself. That's a significant character flaw if it's true.

REP. FRANK: Well, Tucker, you just began by saying that all people who want to be president have an inflated sense of themselves. So I'm a little bit puzzled by why that's a problem.

MR. CARLSON: Right. But, well, because there's --

REP. FRANK: (Inaudible.)

MR. CARLSON: There's a threshold beyond which it's egomania.

REP. FRANK: I'm trying to quote you, and you even interrupt me when I'm quoting you. The fact is, you said they all have inflated senses of themselves. The man's been around for a while. There's no sign that he's got any kind of distended ego that makes him unreasonable. And I also think this kind of pop psychological analysis, which is not worth a great deal, is no substitute for talking about the economy, about joblessness, about the environment, and about what you do about America's role in the world. Should we be shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan?

MR. CARLSON: Oh, spare me, Congressman.

REP. FRANK: Excuse me. That's much more --

MR. CARLSON: The guy's been around for, like, 20 minutes.

REP. FRANK: Oh, come on.

MR. CARLSON: It's valid for us to know who he is, don't you think? We can't just elect him without knowing who Barack Obama is. You don't know who he is. I don't either. We have to learn. That's the process.

REP. FRANK: What is this diatribe? Your diatribe, Tucker, is totally unrelated to anything I just said.

MR. CARLSON: (Laughs.) It's not a diatribe.

REP. FRANK: Look, what are the ground rules, Tucker?

MR. BARNICLE: Two seconds, Barney.

REP. FRANK: All right. The point is, no, I don't think this psychoanalysis is a big deal in terms of relevance. Whether or not we have troops in Iraq or Afghanistan is what we ought to talk about. And the other thing, by the way -- let's be honest about it -- there's an element of partisanship. There is a tendency for Republicans and conservatives to look negatively at the one guy, liberals and Democrats to look negatively at the other. None of it makes any real difference, I think, to the average voter.

MR. BARNICLE: There you go. I'm with you there. Congressman Barney Frank, Tucker Carlson, thanks very much.


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