tv The Chris Matthews Show NBC July 12, 2009 10:00am-10:30am EDT
>> this is "the chris matthews show." >> ask not what your country can do for you. >> a time for change has come! >> fourth seat from the left. how would sonia sotomayor change the supreme court? does she have an activist mission on affirmative action? is she predictable on abortion rights and is she a leader a libel? who's next? obama could make more picks to the court. will he go further left? will he name more women and minorities? which voices does he want to strengthen? finally, rising above it. how does the president deflect trouble? what designs do we see in his self-defense and can he keep it up? hi, i'm chris matthews, welcome to the show. johnny jnny covers the supreme court for "usa today," dan rather, global correspondent for hdnet. helene cooper covers the white
house for "the new york times," and pete williams is justice correspondent for nbc. first up, when president obama picked sonia sotomayor for the supreme court, he sounded victorious. >> when she ascends those marble steps to take the seat in the highest court of the lands, we've realized the highest ideal, equal justice under the law. [applause] chris: though he had known sotomayer well before he picked her, he must believe she'll be in sync with david souter. he's been a reliable liberal, even though he was named by the first george bush. when the senate was confirming the last new justice, samuel alito, joe biden pointed out that the justice being replaced is the key. >> every nominee who comes before us is viewed by all the senators, left, right, center, democrat, republican, at least on two levels, at least in my
experience here. one is the first one is individual qualifications. the other is -- and it always occurs -- who's spot they're taking and what impact that would have on the court. chris: so democrats will be watching to see if sotomayer is liberal enough. experts predict sotomayer is likely to be more liberal than souter in only a few areas of the law, in business cases especially involving class actions and punitive damages against corporations, in civil liberties cases, especially involving searches, and they'll be looking to see whether sotomayer will argue for the liberal side behind the scenes, at left as passionately as souter did. pete, we're looking for the internals. why did he pick her? >> what i'm told is that he wanted to make some history here. he wanted to choose the first hispanic for the supreme court, and that was a very big factor. he had three very qualified women he was looking at, and any one of them could have crossed the i's -- or crossed
the t's and dotted the i's on all the things you said. he wanted to make history, he wanted to choose a woman and the first hispanic, no question about it. chris: let me ask you, judge scalia. you're writing a book about him. everybody knows he's this incredible iconic, anecdotal real guy, leader type. is she going to be leader type in those back rooms? >> well, she'll be a little bit like him in that she'll be much more outspoken than david souter. he's a new hampshire man who wants to return to new hampshire. he never talked outside the marble palace. she's much more out there on the stump already. so i think what you're going to find is someone who's able to get out her message much more than her predecessor and in that way she'll be like justice scalia. but right there in the conference room, i think she'll talk up. i don't think she'll be in any way shy about things. but will she immediately be a leader of the left? right now that's justice john paul stevens and nobody is going to quite dplace him yet, but she'll be a player for sure. chris: that's the question i'm
thinking about. we've seen strong justice owes television, women especially, all day long on daytime -- you're laughing, too. talking about very aggressive personalities and i get the senseñr because she's big city, she'sette sonic, she comes from a tough background, that she's quite willing to challenge. would she challenge a scalia argument on original intent? >> oh, yes. wait, wait, you talk about big city. he's from queens, justice ginsberg is from brooklyn and this woman is from the bronx. and then we've got samuel alito from trenton. chris: your thoughts, helene. >> well, i just think that obama, you know, he's sort of wanted judge sotomayer from the start, even before she went into that white house meeting, and she ended up being at the white house for seven hours, met with obama for an hour. he was already at that point predisposed to -- chris: what happened in the room, do you know? >> they really clicked. but he wanted her to click. i think it was hers to lose at
that point. chris: how many times have we been through these things, these supreme court fights? always a surprise, jack-in-the-box issue. but it seems like her empathy has been the bell-ringer here. >> if you look at her biography, this is the reason she's getting this appointment, aside from the political considerations, a woman of hispanic heritage. but in her background, it indicates to me as time goes along she may very well -- m not suggesting she's going to throw things at scalia, but she's highly capable of taking him on. and i suspect that's one of the things that obama may have had in his mind, president obama may have had in his mind. listen, this woman is smart. say what you want to about her, but everything in her background, th wom did not go to school just to eat her lunch. she's really smart, and he may have sensed in her as time goes along, she may be a scalia who can take on scalia, if you will. chris: well, smart people are also independent people.
pete, is there any chance she'll surprise us on something like rowe v. wade? there's a wonderful case of a liberal activist injurist leader, and we all thought he was another republican governor from california who put the japanese-americans behind fences. frankfort, another big surprise going to the right. >> well, i think the days of the big prices are gone. chris: really? >> yes. because before they're even nominated, their opinions, speeches, everything is so carefully scrutinized, that didn't used to be the case. certainly wasn't the ce with david souter, who did surprise the bush administration. chris: in this case we don't have a paper trail on rowe v. wade. >> that's true. she's made decisions on abortion pro tegs, funding for foreign organizations that provide abortions. the assumption is that the president never asks about abortion, but a the nominee does not want to be put in the position of saying before the nate, well, senator, i told
the president what i think about abortion, but i'm not telling you. chris: by the way, you're not supposed to ask that particular question. war the rules, by the way? >> there aren't any rules. president bush wanted to say the republicans always wanted to say we don't have a litmus test, and this is something the democrats have picked up on and followed through on. they don't want to ask that question because they think they know the answer, and they don't want to know for sure. chris: the president took a while to pick, but he picked among a number of women. more women coming? >> well, there's two women out of the nine members, which is a low percentage, compared to just about every other high court in western countries. so i think that a woman easily could be picked next. justice john paul stevens is our eldest justice, he just turned 89. i think there's a chance that he might retire during obama's tenure. obama might have two years, who knows. and justice ruth bader ginsburg says she wants to stay for
another five years or so. she successfully battled cancer. and then we're acting like the 7-year-olds, but we have two justices who are 73 this year, scalia and kennedy. so, you know, we keep looking at the liberals. one of the conservatives might actually go while president obama is in office, and then it will really change things. >> we have to remember the fact that health plays a role here. we never thought william rehnquist would go when he did. chris: i get the feeling, helene, that he's thinking about representation on this court, not just jurists, but being proportional about our society. there's no african-american male, except clarence thomas on that court and he's a conservative. will he go that way? >> i think he easily could. i think the beauty of this for president obama right now is he can do anything he wants right now with his next seat. he's punched the hispanic ticket and he pretty much has the freedom to go anywhere he wants. i think it's totally likely that he will go with a woman or with an african-american. i'd be kinds of surprised to see if he ends up with a white
male, but he can do that, too. chris: not a completely easy shot. the conservatives are still angry about bourque, 30 years ago. >> his second pick will be much, much tougher, assume egg has a second pick. they've taken their shots at this nominee. but they knew from the start she was going to get through. the next time around, depending on how the economy goes, depending on the obama presidency, could be much tougher and they could get a turndown. >> and the conservatives have been pretty frank about saying that their opposition to her is pro forma. this is practice, this is membership-role building, they're saving it for the next one. chris: before we break, back to joe biden, w we saw at the top of the show. in the same 2006 questioning of nominee samuel alito, biden set a record for the longest question in the history of the planet. take a look. and remember, this is one question. >> i understand, judge, i'm the only one standing between you and lunch, so i'll try to make
this painless. judge, i'd like to say a few very brief things at the outset. the question is sometimes, some of the things you've said and does puzzle -- at least puzzle me, and i'd like to -- and one of the things -- this is not part of the line of questioning i wanted to ask, but, again, this is just by way of, you know, why some of us are puzzled, because if i was aware of it -- and i didn't even like princeton -- no, i mean, i really didn't like princeton. yeah, i was an irish catholic kid who thought it hadn't changed, like you concluded it had. i mean, you know, i admit, i have little -- you know, one of real dilemmas is i have two kids who went to ivy league schools. i'm not sure my grandfather will ever forgive me for allowing that to happen. but all kidding aside, it's just important to understand, at least from my questioning, that's the context in which at least i want to ask you my questions.
can you tell me what the difference is -- explain to me how that test is distinguishable from just plain old discrimination. chris: well, he came in under 12 minutes, actually, a little over 12 minutes. that was all one question. but the good news for justice sotomayer is the vice president of the united states don't get to ask questions in the senate, they only get to break ties. when weapon come back, president obama has proven himself to be a master at deflecting trouble. how does he do plus, predictions with these top reporters. be right back. "the chris matthews show" is brought to you by roundup pump and go sprayer, with up to five minutes of continuous spray. it's hard on weeds, easy on you.
months in office. despite job losses, more job losses at home and trouble abroad, most americans still like him personally. that's allowed him to absorb big political shocks and quickly change or safely elevate the subject. when the news broke about those a.i.g. bonuses that geithner let those people get away with back in march, the white house was initially caught off guard. but the president broadened the subject by hitting the road and giving a big town meeting in order to engage people in the public in his economic planning. and back in may, just one day after north korea conducted a nuclear test, the president trumped that news in a matter of hours by announcing sonia sotomayor as his new supreme court nominee. dan, he's got some nip and tucking abilities. >> big time. and he has some nip and tucking ability behind him in david axelrod and rahm emanuel. he's very quick on his feet. however, if he doesn't begin to mix in some humor into things
like news conferences, he'll be less effecve with this as we go along than he has been up to now. >> chris: do you think he' good at news conferences? i think some people are like they're trying to be you, they're getting very aggressive. yes, helene, they're getting very aggressive and they're something that they can duke it out with this fellow. >> the white house press corps as a wholly did ask questions. you can agree or disagree. most importantly, there was follow-up. one person asks a question and another person. chris: so by june they got their act together on equal terms. i'm just challenging, it's my job. let me ask you about this job. when you see him in action in real-time, do you see axelrod coming in for damage control and rahm? they seem to be very good at keeping him cool. >> i think ax and rahm are very, very hands on.
it's interesting, because you mentioned the a.i.g. thing. i was on the trip with him when we went to kosta mess sarks qualify, and then he went on the jay leno show. and the neck day the white house plentsed a tape to the iranian people and that got everybody talking. it was very, very, very deft the way they handled it. but you are seeing in the sense of the white house press corps, when i asked him buy follow-up questions, i think he's very good on his feet, but i think he does need to get a little bit better in news conferences because he's getting a lot more challenges now from the white house. chris: i watch guys like him and i watch guys like sam donaldsonnd lesley stahl and they were tough all the time, tough, hard-nosed, hard news, get it out of these guys, no b.s. that's what i'm saying. >> i think president obama has definitely gotten a bit of an easier ride from the white house press corps. i think that will change. >> helene created one of those
things like bennifer. i thought she said axel-rahm. you know, he really does change position as president from when he was in candidacy. he's definitely going to the right on things like military tribunals, things that you cover. >> as a matter of fact, i think what's striking is how few of the big things, at least fromñi the justice department's perspective, he hasn't changed. they're staying with the state secrets act. many of the pogs defending doma in court, many of the position that is this justice department has taken so far on the obama administration are strikingly like those under the bush administration. >> he's good at broadening the discussion, but he also takes down the temperature. remember in early february when his attorney general, eric holder, went out and said we're a nation of cowards, and he was a big speech for black history month. and given by the nation's first african-american attorney general. and what does president obama do but take it down and say, well, i don't think i would
have used those words. he has a way of not just broadening the topic, but taking down the temperature. >> chris: he says don't put me in that box. >> he talked about sotomayer's ethnicity, but when he went out on the stump, he talked a lot about her credentials. chris: could he keep this ray mill land thing going, this -- >> yes, he has a good sense of humor. we're told -- president kennedy was marvelous at deflecting questions and changing the mood of the room with a sense of humor. chris: because they called in in wacko reporter. kennedy would get somebody in the back row with a whacky question. >> a lot of people consider that' dunn dantcy. chris: we'll be vo: last year... when companies were laying off hundreds of thousands of workers... walmart was creating 30 thousand new jobs... all right here in america.
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watching on national tv when judge sotomayer will be up there starting tomorrow, will be her eighth potentially new colleagues, because they don't really know her. they'll be watching and trying to pay attention that what she's going to be like. most don't know much about her, and the majority are anxious. this is a small group and they're going to get a new person in their little sandbox and they're a little nervous. chris: so they're going to be watching the game films. dan? >> on the international front, dubai has become the paralysising post and the principal center of intelligence gathering for iran. in dubai a member there, they have about half a million iranians. they've been deeply involved in a long while in helping launder iranian money with the help of british banks. intelligent agents worldwide know if you want to know what's happening in iran, go to dubai and develop contacts in dubai. chris: wow, the new casablanca. >> we were in latvia in the
cold war, a station there, which was known as a good listening post into the old soviet union. dubai is mh the same thing now for iran. >> the new "casablanca" has better hotels. afghanistan and pakistan, the administration is getting really, really worried that in these refugee camps, the ones who fled swat, the taliban is starting to infiltrate and they're in there and they're passing themselves off. there are a lot of taliban members passing themselves off as refugees. there's a growing concern in the intel community and also in the administration of the pakistanny government and the afghan government how they're going to distinguish but also, if it could lead to further radicalization among these refugees. chris: pete? >> the obama administration's review of the detainees at guantanamo bay has yet to find a single detainee who needs to be held indefinitely, and the feeling now is they may only have two categories, those to be released and those to be put on trial. this third category of people who have to be held forever,
that may simply not exist. chris: i love it. in other words, you can either prove a criminal case against somebody or we let them go. >> yes. chris: i thought there was a third world category for dangerous characters. >> they've held out that possibility, but in their review so far, no one they've found meets the test. chris: when we comback, the big question this week -- nearly six months into his presidency, is barack obama more clearly a radical, like f.d.r., or more like a true conservative? there are moments in time
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>> closed captioning provided by -- chris: welcome back. our big question today -- does president obama's temperament strike you more as a radical, like f.d.r., or like a true conservative, wants to find a smooth course and retain what's valuable? joan? >> i think much more of the latter, if you look at what he's doing not just with his supreme court choice, but his appeals court choices. none have caused a big problem. you couldn't name one of the those judges, they're sort of middle of the road folks, not taking a page from ronald reagan in terms of seeking lightning rods. chs: dan rather? >> we know he's studying f.d.r., so he'll do some of both. conservative insofar as he wants to keep those things worth preserving and holding on
, but wants to be known as a bold transforming president at the same time on a few things, such as health care and moving the country to new policies concerning energy. chris: helene? i think conservative. i think a lot of the underlying things that he has done, for instance, guantanamo bay. he's announced that he's going to shut it down but retain renditions and another bush-era policies. i think underneath you're seeing somebody who wants this country -- who thinks the fundamentals of this country are -- chris: pete? >> you can't say he's conservative in the ability to which he's willing to let the government get involved in private industry. in the auto bill industry, the banking industry, that is a huge departure. chris: thanks. a lost thinking here. joan biskupic, thank you, dan rather, thank you, helene cooper and thank you, pete williams. thanks for watching. see you here next week. captioned by the naonal captionin