Matthews Accuses Republican Ken Cuccinelli of Wanting to Take America Back to Pre-Civil War Days

The Republican Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, accomplished what many others have failed to do and that is stay calm and collected in the midst of Chris Matthews' increasingly absurd charges, that even bordered on accusations of racism. Invited on Thursday's Hardball, to discuss a possible repeal amendment to the Constitution, Cuccinelli faced down a series of Matthews distortions as the Hardball host, at varying times, accused him of wanting to start another Whiskey Rebellion, questioned if he wanted to overturn the Civil Rights Act and charged that he was playing to "The old Johnny Rebs" and "Civil War buffs" in his state.

After Cuccinelli simply explained to the MSNBC host that the amendment was just an "attempt to bring back the balance of authority between the federal government and what goes on in the states" Matthews went on a tear as he insinuated the attorney general wanted to take America back to Antebellum days, as seen in the following exchange:

(video after the jump)

CHRIS MATTHEWS: But this is so conservative. Take a look at the states now. You've got most states, you got, so 25. Let's look at the map now. For the next year 25 red states are under Republican control, right now. We're looking at them on the map, sir. And we're looking at another eight that are split, basically. Moving toward, it's been a pretty big conservative swing there. So basically, you, you guys have a shot. I mean in every presidential election, it seems on average, it seems the Republicans get most of the states because you get the rural areas of the country which are more conservative. It just seems that what you've got here is sort of a, a Shays' Rebellion, a Whiskey Rebellion and you want it on paper. Which is here is a way to take on the federal government.

KEN CUCCINELLI: Well let's just take, let's take the numbers, just take the numbers that you just took.

MATTHEWS: And by the way you're bringing the commerce clause here. I'm a little worried about that. What's your problem, what's your problem with the commerce clause? You got into Rand Paul country there. If you had been on the Supreme Court back in '64, would you have given judicial review to the Civil Rights Act, under the commerce clause? Do you have any problem with it?

CUCCINELLI: Alright let's go back to your, let's go back to your - yeah we're talking about the Repeal Amendment first. And you talked about 25 states have Republican control. That's the high water mark as far as I know. You still need nine other states that have split partisan control, even right now on what is the high water mark in state legislative control in one direction, well in the Republican direction, it's been a lot higher in the Democrat direction over time. But you still need Democrat support. Even right now, if this were the law now.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

CUCCINELLI: So you are gonna have to have bipartisan support. We had that, we had that in Virginia with respect to the Health Care Freedom Act passed last session. We have a Democrat Senate here in Virginia and they supported the effort to, to put Virginia in a position to defend itself on that.

MATTHEWS: You know who's gonna like this? The old Johnny Rebs are gonna love it. This is, this is Antebellum. It just, it seems to me, you don't really feel yourself 100 percent a citizen of the country. You like to feel yourself a little more a citizen of Virginia, like Virginia is like somehow a different country. Or these states are all different countries.

The following is a complete transcript of the full segment as it was aired on the December 9 edition of Hardball:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Some conservatives out there are pushing what they call a Repeal Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would basically give states a veto over Washington. Here's the text of the proposed amendment, quote: "Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for the purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be appealed." Republican Ken Cuccinelli is, of course the attorney general of Virginia. We all know him in Washington and a supporter of the amendment. Sir, you know, this reads like, you don't have confidence in the federal government as such.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI: Well it isn't so much that there's a universal lack of confidence as an attempt to bring back the balance of authority between the federal government and what goes on in the states. You'd have to have a pretty severe problem with, with one enactment for 67 or 68 state legislative bodies because you need two in every state or one in Nebraska, to agree that something the federal government had passed was bad for America. And that's going to require bipartisan support. You can't get there with either party by itself, certainly not in the foreseeable future. And so, what it's intended to do is bring back a sense of balance because, no we don't have universal faith in how things operate in Washington and, for a for a long time, the states have been and were intended to be a laboratory of democracy and a lot of, a lot of things work better in some of the states.

MATTHEWS: You know we, but you know...

CUCCINELLI: So it's just intended to return some of the balance of the power to, to the states.

MATTHEWS: You went to law school, so I assume you know history. And the question is, I want to know why you want to rewind the clock? We had a weak structure of states coming together under the Articles of the Confederation, which of course, you know, came out after the Declaration. And then we said, no, we're not strong enough. We need to be a country, gotta face the world as a country, not a bunch of states to get together and agree on things. Now it seems like you want to wind that back. You think the Constitution is too strong as ratified in the 18th century. Is that your belief? The Constitution is too strong, it gives too much authority to the federal government?

CUCCINELLI: You know Chris, you're, you're, you're dramatically, you're dramatically overstating that.

MATTHEWS: Well-

CUCCINELLI: Dramatically overstating it. Of course the Constitution was an enormous improvement over the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution is the great governing accomplishment of this country. That doesn't mean it's perfect and it has been undone in the last 100 years, to a certain degree. The commerce clause, on another basis of other arguments that I'm involved in has grown massively and we now have a federal government arguing that if you decide not to get in commerce or if you decide to get in commerce, both of those can be regulated as commerce. That may ultimately prevail. And if that's the case it seems very legitimate for the states to try and return in the direction. [If] we don't get back to the kind of balance between states and the federal government that the Founders put in place with the Constitution this wouldn't even come close. This is a small step back in the direction of achieving that balance.

MATTHEWS: Okay.

CUCCINELLI: That's all it is.

MATTHEWS: What I see here is look, you say two-thirds of the states. Well that could exclude the 14 most populous states, in other words, more than half the country. You could have, I have always lived in a big state. Pennsylvania, New York, Wa-, and this area here which is the metropolitan area. If you go down to the smaller states and the plains states, you could probably come up with two-thirds of the states that wouldn't include half the country. That could easily be done. And it could be like some, some gun law or something that would appeal, appeal to rural, rural people.

CUCCINELLI: No I think, look, look, Chris, Chris look at your map. I mean look at the map and, and think what it would take to get to 34 states with both legislative bodies and every single one of those states agreeing that something the federal government had done should be undone. And that's the kind of hurdle that would have to be achieved. And so it creates a kind of universal concern among the states that's required to get there, which makes it a very restrained step-

MATTHEWS: Okay. I know what you're up to.

CUCCINELLI: -back toward establishing, re-establishing the balance of the Founders - tried to establish.


MATTHEWS: But this is so conservative. Take a look at the states now. You've got most states, you got, so 25. Let's look at the map now. For the next year 25 red states are under Republican control, right now. We're looking at them on the map, sir. And we're looking at another eight that are split, basically. Moving toward, it's been a pretty big conservative swing there. So basically, you, you guys have a shot. I mean in every presidential election, it seems on average, it seems the Republicans get most of the states because you get the rural areas of the country which are more conservative. It just seems that what you've got here is sort of a, a Shay's Rebellion, a Whiskey Rebellion and you want it on paper. Which is here is a way to take on the federal government.

CUCCINELLI: Well let's just take, let's take the numbers, just take the numbers that you just took.

MATTHEWS: And by the way you're bringing the commerce clause here. I'm a little worried about that. What's your problem, what's your problem with the commerce clause? You got into Rand Paul country there. If you had been on the Supreme Court in '64, would you have given judicial review to the Civil Rights Act, under the commerce clause? Do you have any problem with it?

CUCCINELLI: Alright let's go back to your, let's go back to your - yeah we're talking about the Repeal Amendment first. And you talked about 25 states have Republican control. That's the high water mark as far as I know. You still need nine other states that have split partisan control, even right now on what is the high water mark in state legislative control in one direction, well in the Republican direction, it's been a lot higher in the Democrat direction over time. But you still need Democrat support. Even right now, if this were the law now.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

CUCCINELLI: So you are gonna have to have bipartisan support. We had that, we had that in Virginia with respect to the Health Care Freedom Act passed last session. We have a Democrat Senate here in Virginia and they supported the effort to, to put Virginia in a position to defend itself on that.

MATTHEWS: You know who's gonna like this? The old Johnny Rebs are gonna love it. This is, this is Antebellum. It just, it seems to me, you don't really feel yourself 100 percent a citizen of the country. You like to feel yourself a little more a citizen of Virginia, like Virginia is like somehow a different country. Or these states are all different countries.

CUCCINELLI: Well of course this is supported-

MATTHEWS: I've lived in a number of states. I don't feel like I'm a Pennsylvanian in the sense that it's...

CUCCINELLI: Let me know when I can talk.

MATTHEWS: Well because you're pushing an argument here, but you're denying the argument. You're making a challenge to federal authority here and you're making it sound like some procedural change.

CUCCINELLI: No you're, you're, you're stating assumptions in your questions that presume answers that aren't correct. There's no question that in so far as you say that this would be, give states an ability to challenge certain acts of the federal government, you're absolutely correct in that respect. Does it undo our Constitutional structure?

MATTHEWS: Veto.

CUCCINELLI: Absolutely not! Absolutely not!

MATTHEWS: It vetoes them, it vetoes it.

CUCCINELLI: It's completely consistent-

MATTHEWS: Okay.

CUCCINELLI: It's completely consistent with the initial goals the Founders set and it doesn't get us anywhere near the division of authority that existed early on in this country between the federal and state governments.

MATTHEWS: Okay, back to the point of this commerce clause. You know Rand Paul was out there saying the commerce clause was overextended in terms of judicial review of the Civil Rights Act. Do you agree with that?

CUCCINELLI: I'm not entirely sure what he said. I remember that was a controversy.

MATTHEWS: Well let me ask you a simple question.

CUCCINELLI: Certainly the flow of goods, the flow of goods-

MATTHEWS: Is the commerce clause sufficient grounds, is the commerce clause sufficient grounds for the Civil Rights bill?

CUCCINELLI: Anything, anybody, if somebody's engaging in business that affects interstate commerce, which is just about everybody, it's hard to imagine not doing that-

MATTHEWS: Yeah!

CUCCINELLI: -then yes, it's regulate-able under the commerce clause and, and we do, do that. And in Virginia, obviously, more than most places, we have a history where we need to be concerned about that and I am and a lot of other people still are in Virginia.

MATTHEWS: Well why did you bring it up then? But you brought up you had a problem with the commerce clause, the way it was used. Tell me where.

CUCCINELLI: Oh well it, it is so expansive. I mean let's take the health care litigation example.

MATTHEWS: Oh!

CUCCINELLI: What the federal government is saying is that the decision of someone not to buy health insurance-

MATTHEWS: Okay, okay.

CUCCINELLI: -should qualify for regulation as commerce the same way that buying something in commerce does. Well if not participating in commerce and participating in commerce are both regulate-able there's nothing left that the federal government can't reach. There's no government of limited power any longer. And that's what the federal government was supposed to be.

MATTHEWS: Well this is gonna appeal to the Civil War buffs, this is gonna appeal to the Civil War buffs from the South who love this stuff. You're, you're really playing to the nullification crowd, it seems to me, here, sir. I know you're arguing...

CUCCINELLI: Whoa! This is not nullification!

MATTHEWS: You're playing to those people here!

CUCCINELLI: Nullification is when a state, hey the nullification is when a state doesn't like what the federal government does and folds it arm and says, "Well we're not gonna play ball and doesn't enact it."

MATTHEWS: Right.

CUCCINELLI: That is not what's going on here. This is being done in the process the Constitution provides for. Article 5 was put there, in part-

MATTHEWS: Okay.

CUCCINELLI: -so the states would have an opportunity to make these kinds of adjustments.

MATTHEWS: Okay, thank you so much. Attorney General of the state of Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia. Kenneth Cuccinelli thank you sir for coming up.

—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.