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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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Gentlemen, I`m going to start with you, sir, because you`ve been there. You know what we don`t know. You know how prepared Joe Biden is.

Is he?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: He`s ready to go. He`s looking forward to tonight and he understands the stakes are high and he`s looking forward to talking about the choices in this election. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: How is he different? I`ve been comparing him to middleweight fighters. It`s always faster, more punches are thrown than the heavyweight division. Does he have a different role he knows than running for president?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, he`s got -- as you know, he`s got working class roots from Scranton, Pennsylvania. And you know Pennsylvania --

MATTHEWS: Will he Scranton tonight?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, he may be because -- you know, but he has it in his gut and that`s the issue with Joe Biden. He is a fighter for the middle class.

MATTHEWS: Will be a street corner guy tonight?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, he`s a fighter for the middle class. And this election is about whether you have policies that are going to help middle class or whether you`re going to do what Romney and Ryan want to do, the old trickle down, help the folks at the very top, and pretend it`s going to somehow help everybody else. We know that was a bust for the middle class so --

MATTHEWS: Remember Rocky and his eyes closing up and he yells, Adrian, cut me, cut me, so Mickey has to cut his eyes open.


MATTHEWS: Does he know the weak spot of the -- of the Romney team that he`s got to hit?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, he -- look, he knows what the Romney-Ryan plan is.

And if dissect it it`s very weak. Look. We saw Paul Ryan the other day. Remember when he was asked to explain his plan, what did he say? Well, you
know, I don`t have enough time to do that. That, as we all know, was a clear cover for the fact there`s nothing there.

Look, it`s just like Mitt Romney. He didn`t want to provide his tax returns, right? He wants to hide the ball on his tax returns. He wants to hide the ball in his tax policy. They want to hide the ball --

MATTHEWS: It`s working. I forgot about his tax return.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there you go. But the reality is, that here`s a guy who talks about tax reforms. Why are you going to tell us whether you are going to benefit from all those tax deductions you claim you want to take?

MATTHEWS: Is this going to be like a xylophone tonight? He has to hit all the notes tonight, Joe Biden. Forty-seven percent, vouchers, personhood, E.R., we`re going to throw all those people in the E.R., that kind of stuff?

MATTHEWS: That`s the way I look at it.

HALPERIN: Look, the vice president has his detractors in the country. His biggest advantage to me tonight is the very issues that the president and the vice president want to run against. Joe Biden feels them in his gut. They are not abstract to them and he`s great at explaining them and he`s -- he`s been studying for months. You go back and look at his speeches about Mitt Romney going back to last year. He knows Mitt Romney`s record. He knows how they contrast in issues. And he feels it.

Now he can make mistakes, he may not performed perfectly. But he goes into this at peace with what he wants to do and I think that`s a big advantage.

MATTHEWS: Well, what does the other guy do? What does Mr. Ryan do if Biden keeps trying the human aspect of these numbers of his?

HALPERIN: Paul Ryan has lots of strengths, too, but I have rarely seen him display the kind of humanity. The guy gets excited talking about quantitative easing and passionate about big issues and abstract concepts.

He`s got a great touch on the trail. It will be interesting tonight because there`s no doubt Joe Biden is going to play that Scranton card.

It`s going to be interesting to see if he can do that effectively as a matter of performance in the debate.

MATTHEWS: You think -- you said neither one of you guys are Catholic.

Right? But I am a Catholic. I get the feeling, because I`ve been reading those A.J. Fiona stuff, he`s a smart columnist, that this may end up being one of those philosophical debates tonight.

If you`re Catholic where the other guy is pro-choice and you`re pro-life, it merely raises the issues of values. So you say, yes, yes, I`m pro-choice and I`m not very happy about it but I do think it`s up to the individual woman to make that decision and family, not for me to make that decision. It`s just never an easy argument because it`s always conflicting.

But then he has to say, but you should be listening to your church when it comes to issues like social responsibility and that you`re not exactly consistent to the beliefs of the church. You`re cutting every poor person`s program. That fight will be fascinating. Any chance it`ll happen?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I don`t know --

MATTHEWS: A philosophical debate.

VAN HOLLEN: I don`t know whether that will happen. But we all do know that the bishops, the Catholic bishops, wrote a letter saying that there are parts of the Ryan budget that did not meet -- meet the royal standards.

MATTHEWS: Right. I know that.

VAN HOLLEN: And that`s -- so -- and that`s because they look at what he did for folks who are on food and nutrition programs. In addition to that, you`ve got his Medicare plan and his whole idea of Medicare is to offload rising health care costs on to the backs of seniors. I mean that`s the Republican plan for Medicare.

So these are all issues that you talk to what you care about, what`s in your -- what`s in your gut. And in his gut, Joe Biden beliefs in making sure middle class families have an opportunity for success in this country and it`s not the trickle down theory of Mitt Romney where you just give people like Mitt Romney another tax cut and hope that it will work out for the rest.

MATTHEWS: If you -- if you had to predict, would you predict that it will be a wonks night or a philosophical night?

HALPERIN: I`d say it`s going to be both. It`s going to be --


HALPERIN: I think both of these guys talk about wonky things in philosophical ways. I think the vice president a little bit more with his gut. Congressman Ryan a little bit more with his head and his intellectual passion. But my sense from the body language of both -- both camps is they`d -- their hope is not to lose this. Neither one of them wants to come out of here having to say at the top of the ticket, sorry about that, we put you --


MATTHEWS: They don`t want a gaffe.

HALPERIN: They don`t want a gaffe. They don`t want to come up having made a mistake that should -- changes the contours of the race.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s try what`s really fun. Suppose you play -- you play Ryan. Why do you want to get rid of the estate tax? Why do you want to get rid of capital gains? Why do you want to raise the corporate rate from 35 -- why do you want to reduce the top rate from 35 to 28? Why do you want to do nothing but give rich people more money and screw the poor people on Medicare?

HALPERIN: We`ve got the world`s --

MATTHEWS: Why do you want to do that?

HALPERIN: We have the world`s leading expert at playing Paul Ryan sitting right here and you`re asking me to do that?

VAN HOLLEN: I`ve got to deprogram myself after this. I`m not sure if I can answer. No, but I --

MATTHEWS: Will he get that tough?

VAN HOLLEN: What`s that?

MATTHEWS: You`ve been sparring with him. Will he get that direct?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look --

MATTHEWS: And say, you`re not cutting the debt. You`re taking money from poor people and giving it to rich people. You`re not reducing the debt for, what, 20 years?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, all we -- what we do know, for instance, is that`s exactly what the Ryan budget does. Right? He pretends to talk a big game in debt but when it comes to asking the wealthy to put in one penny, just one penny to help reduce --


HALPERIN: If I -- if I could guess -- if I could guess what Ryan is going to do, everything is going to be turned to their mantra now. We just -- why would you expect the next four years to be any better than the last four?

MATTHEWS: OK. Great, it`s so macro. OK, what about the voters tonight? A lot of people are going to be voting in the next week before even next Tuesday. Are they thinking about that, Congressman, that Joe Biden`s actions, his success tonight will affect how people vote over the weekend through Tuesday when the presidents meet again?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there`s no doubt. I mean this is a big night and that`s why the choices are going to be plain and very clearly tonight. So the American people are going to understand exactly what the president and Joe Biden want to do and the fact that Mitt Romney, those guys want to do a U-turn. Back to the same policy that --


MATTHEWS: You`re my congressman. You`re my congressman. And someday, if this all I`m going to ask you what happened.

VAN HOLLEN: All right.

MATTHEWS: I demand service as a constituent. Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.


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