updated 4/18/2008 12:52:40 PM ET 2008-04-18T16:52:40

Guests:  Bob Herbert, T.J. Rooney, Bob Bennett, Joan Walsh, Michelle

Bernard, David Brody

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight: Charlie Gibson‘s war, the ABC presidential debate, why Barack Obama played rope-a-dope.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Last night in Philadelphia, Senator Barack Obama got little brotherly love.  The Democratic debate may have been the last one we‘ll see, and Obama was grilled on his recent gaffes and controversies for the first 45 minutes.  By all accounts, Obama had a rough night, and today Obama had some strong words for what had happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So I understand it.  And when you‘re running for the presidency, then you‘ve got to expect it, and you know, you‘ve just got to kind of let it...

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  You know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The Hillary Clinton campaign is declaring victory and calling the debate a “game changer,” though the real winner just may well have been John McCain.  We‘ll break down the debate and tell you how it might affect Tuesday‘s Pennsylvania primary in just a minute.  And speaking of Pennsylvania, we‘ll also talk to the state‘s Democrat Party chair, T.J.  Rooney, and get his insight into next week‘s primary.

Plus, 45,000 people attended a mass today said by Pope Benedict at the new Nationals baseball park here in Washington.  For the third day in a row, the pope brought up the pedophile priest sex scandal, saying it caused indescribable pain and harm to its victims.  In a moment, we‘ll talk to the man who investigated that scandal for the church.

And how does a politician seem to defend his opponent while still managing to get in a little dig?  We‘ll take a look at that in our “Politics Fix.”

And the surprise star of last night‘s Radio and TV Correspondents dinner here in Washington was Mitt Romney.  He offered the top 10 reasons he‘s no longer a presidential candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Number 10, there weren‘t as many Osmonds as I had thought.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We begin with last night‘s fight in Philly.  Bob Herbert‘s a columnist for “The New York Times” and Chuck Todd is the political director for NBC News.

Gentlemen, I want you to take a look at something that Barack Obama said this afternoon here in Raleigh—rather, in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is going to have a primary in a couple of weeks.  Here he is talking about last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs, 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices.

I don‘t blame Washington for this because that‘s just how Washington is.  They like stirring up controversy and they like playing gotcha games, getting (INAUDIBLE)  And I have to say, you know, Senator Clinton, you know, looked in—in her element.  You know, she was—she was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So what do you make of that, Bob Charles?  Bob Herbert, rather.  Bob Herbert, why do you think he said Washington?  Is George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson—are they the faces of Washington?

Bob HERBERT, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  I think he‘s trying to resurrect the insurgent aspect of his candidacy.  And you know, I might take a little bit of a different view than a lot of people are taking of that debate last night.  I‘m not sure it hurt him as much as people are saying.  I think one of the things that has happened with Hillary for a while was that she seemed like the underdog, and she was able a come back somewhat.  Now Barack is looking much more like the person under attack, and I think it makes him seem somewhat more of a sympathetic figure.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, what do you make of the fact he took a shot in that speech today down in North Carolina against what he called Washington, when he was clearly attacking the ABC monitors—moderators?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, look, I think it‘s called making lemonade out of lemons.  I mean, you don‘t talk about the format of the debate if you think you won a debate...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... after a debate‘s happened.  So clearly, they know that the debate—that they didn‘t do well and that it may have hurt them with some superdelegates.  But you know, Bob brings up a good point.  There is a weird pattern.  The minute he said it, I was thinking back and it does seem like whoever sort of is losing the debate ends up winning when the actually primary happens.  There is this—you know, whoever is getting piled on ends up, oddly, benefiting.

And there is something about the fact that I don‘t know if Hillary Clinton benefited.  Look, she raised a bunch of questions.  The debate, I think, raised a lot of questions about Obama.  He didn‘t—the guy didn‘t perform very well when he was under assault, and I think a lot of people sat there, uncommitted superdelegates, wondering, Why won‘t this guy fight back?  Why isn‘t he taking the fight to her a little bit, just tweaking her?  He only seemed to have good ammunition when he hit back on the Ayers stuff, when he said that, you know, President Clinton had pardoned a couple members of the Weather Underground.  But he didn‘t seem prepared for anything else to take a shot at her.  And I think that has not worn well with superdelegates.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

TODD:  But with actual voters, Bob may be right.  He may get some sympathy out of it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, the criticism came here this morning in Washington from Tom Shales, who is the smartest writer in journalism, I think, and I‘m not a media critic.  But here‘s what he said about last night.  Quote, “For the first 52 minutes of that debate, the moderators dwelled entirely on speeches and gossipy trivia that already had been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news.  Some were barely news to begin with.”

Bob Herbert, your view of the Shales critique.  Is it right?

HERBERT:  You know, I‘m inclined to go along with his assessment.  He was pretty strong, but I just thought that it was weird that for most of the first hour of a two-hour debate between these two key political figures running for president, it was just sort of a rehash of this sort of—to use Barack‘s word, we seem to be obsessed with this stuff.  And I do think that voters want to hear more about employment, about the economy, about health care, and about the war.  And so I mean, if I was running the debate for ABC, I would have spent less time on that stuff.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s one person right now who apparently liked the format last night, Senator Hillary Clinton.  Here she is hitting Senator Obama on two different topics, his “bitter” comments in out in San Francisco, and his former minister, Jeremiah Wright.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think that is a fundamental sort of misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.  And I similarly don‘t think that people cling to their traditions, like hunting and guns, either, when they are frustrated with the government.

For Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11, and to have blamed the United States for the attack which happened in my city of New York, would have been just intolerable for me.  And therefore, I would have not been able to stay in the church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Watch Senator Obama now pass up the chance to whack at Senator Clinton on her sniper fire imagination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You know, I haven‘t commented on the issue of Bosnia.  You know, I—I...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS, MODERATOR:  Your campaign has.

OBAMA:  Of course.  But the—because we were asked about it.  But look, the fact of the matter is, is that both of us are working as hard as we can to make sure that we‘re delivering a message to the American people about what we would do as president.  Sometimes that message is going to be imperfectly delivered because we are recorded every minute of every day.  And I think Senator Clinton, you know, deserves, you know, the right to make some errors once in a while.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an amazing decision there by Barack Obama.  I don‘t know whether to give it a scoring point or a failure.  Chuck Todd, there he was given on a silver platter a chance to take down his opponent on a case in which she made up a story, a bogus fish story of warfare that never occurred, and he just passed on it.  Was that rope-a-dope?  Was that—what was it?  What do you call it, magnanimity?  What do you call that?

TODD:  Look, I think what he wanted to do, and what we didn‘t do very well—and this was the case of just maybe he was tired or whatever.  I think he wanted to somehow put this under the umbrella, See, that‘s the old politics, and I‘m not going to participate in it.  But he wasn‘t even harsh in that criticism, and I think that that is where—you know, where I would be critical of him, not that he didn‘t go for—you know, go for the blow against her on that point, that he just didn‘t do a good job even making the argument about the old politics versus new politics that he‘s trying to do.

He didn‘t do that very well, so you know, yes, he passed up an opportunity, but I think he was also doing “golden rule” stuff.  He was hoping that he could explain away his own San Francisco fund-raiser thing when he said, you know, We‘re all being recorded all the time.  And—but he didn‘t do a very good—I mean, that was—that was him all night.  He “um-ed” a lot.  Maybe he was tired, but he—or maybe he was rattled by all the tough questions early on.  He just seemed off the whole night.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Bob, was it an off night for him?  Was he doing rope-a-dope?  Was he playing prevent (ph) defense, where you just sort of don‘t make mistakes but you don‘t score any points?

HERBERT:  No, I do think it was an off night for him.  I don‘t think he performed very well during the debate.  And I also think he is in a prevent defense, which I‘m not a fan of either in politics or in football.  I think he thinks that Hillary can‘t really take this nomination away from him at this point, and therefore, he‘s trying to play it safe, gaffes notwithstanding.

I actually think that not just the superdelegates, but I think a lot of ordinary voters who support his candidacy would like to see a little more fire from him.  They like to see more meat sort of put on those rhetorical bones, and I think at some point, he‘s going to have to step forward more assertively.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Chuck, you‘ve been following this campaign as

well as anybody in this country, and I mean that.  And I just don‘t think -

well, can he win a battle against somebody where he can‘t knock them out? 

Can he just do this, as Bob said, on points, lose three or four races at the end, including Pennsylvania, maybe win in—lose Indiana, lose West Virginia, lose Kentucky, lose Puerto Rico and still say, Hey, but I won on total points?  Can he do that?

TODD:  I frontrunner can.  I mean, I think that that‘s what he‘s doing.  But to take this boxing metaphor and really just beat it to death, the only person I can remember in my lifetime that won—that knocked out a champion—beat a champion without knocking him out was Sugar Ray Leonard, when he stole the middleweight crown from Marvin Hagler on points.

And so you do sometimes wonder if he does have to go for a, quote, unquote, “knockout blow.”  But just by being ahead of the Clinton machine, one could argue, in itself is stunning development...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

TODD:  ... and over the big 15-month period is a knockout blow.

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder if it creates enough excitement to take this battle through the convention and on to the fight against John McCain, who‘s looking very strong right now.  Don‘t you have to come off a lot of victories to win the big one in November?

Anyway, Chuck Todd, thank you very much.  We‘re going to have more with Bob Herbert in a second.  We‘re also going to bring in the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, who‘s right in the middle of this fight.  He‘s going to give us his tout (ph) on last night‘s debate, what I call Charlie Gibson‘s war.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Just five days now until the Pennsylvania primary, and we get the results Tuesday night.  Senator Clinton is leading in the Pennsylvania polls, but can she cut into Senator Obama‘s lead in the popular vote with a big win there?  We‘re talking about changing the total national numbers just in Pennsylvania.  T.J. Rooney is the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and a Clinton supporter.  And still with us is “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert.

T.J., let me ask you about a simple question.  Is this going to be a blowout next Tuesday night?  I have a sense we‘re talking maybe 57-43, the way these numbers are coming.

T.J. ROONEY, PENNSYLVANIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR:  Well, Chris, I...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking 57 percent I can see happening here.

ROONEY:  Well, I‘m not going to go there.  I mean, Senator Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

ROONEY:  Well, because, Chris, just this week alone, they‘re setting a record.  The Obama campaign is spending $3.4 million on the airwaves.  I mean, all of this has a cumulative effect.  He‘s been in the state campaigning hard.  His surrogates are going at it every day.  So again, I‘m not going to—I‘m not going to set the bar.  But I think we will win a good victory for Senator Clinton and give her the wind in her sails to go on to the other states that you just mentioned.

MATTHEWS:  You mean there‘s some doubts she won‘t win around a 15 or 17-point victory (INAUDIBLE) that she won‘t come in around high 50s?  There‘s a doubt in your mind about that?

ROONEY:  I‘ll come back a week from tonight, and we can have a conversation then.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, T.J.  Let me ask you—let me go to Bob, and you first.  Let‘s take a look right now, both you gentleman, at this very interesting thing here.  This is last night, when Senator Barack Obama was asked to talk about his association with William Ayers.  Now, of course, William Ayers—not of course, but he‘s one of those Weathermen back in the ‘60s, who is very unapologetic, in fact, was very much still a real radical.  Here we are talking about that here last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  And if I‘m not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York and I would hope to every American because they were published on 9/11, and he said that he was just sorry they hadn‘t done more.  And what they did was set bombs, and in some instances, people died.

OBAMA:  I‘m going to have to respond to this just really quickly.  But by Senator Clinton‘s own vetting standards, I don‘t think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act than me serving on a board with somebody for actions that he did 40 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, it seems to me that Hillary Clinton went a bridge too far there with her attack.  She‘s been on strong ground all along this week, going after him for what he said out there in San Francisco about working people being bitter about whatever and clinging to God and guns.  She‘s been on strong ground.  But now, when she goes after him about this association, ignoring the fact that Bill Clinton, as president...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a rather ludicrous things.  It‘s like Bill Clinton saying, Don‘t blame her for something she says at 11:00 o‘clock at night because she‘s 60 years old, she may have lost it.  I mean, he gets—and she‘s saying how she‘s sharp at 3:00 in the morning.  You got to wonder why they don‘t check out with their staff these inconsistencies.

HERBERT:  I agree with you on that.  I mean, I understand why people were concerned about the videotapes of his former pastor, why they were concerned about the remarks out in San Francisco.  But this is absurd.  I mean, if I understand it correctly, he served on a board of a charity organization with this guy.  The controversy was 40 years ago, as Barack said, when he was 8 years old.  So it‘s just silly.

But I think it‘s more than silly.  I think for Senator Clinton, it‘s somewhat self-destructive.  She‘s got this whole kitchen sink strategy continuing, and while I do think that they‘re doing some damage to Obama, it‘s also driving up her negatives.  And in the long run, I can‘t see how it‘s helpful.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to a pro with this question.  I think T.J. can answer this better than any of us.  Here they are, both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, answering whether they think the other candidate can beat Senator McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Do you think Senator Obama can beat John McCain or not?

CLINTON:  Well, I think we have to beat John McCain, and I have every reason to believe we‘re going to have a Democratic president and it‘s going to be either Barack or me, and we‘re going to make that happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But the question is, do you think Senator Obama can do that?  Can he win?

CLINTON:  Yes, yes, yes.  Now, I think that I can do a better job.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Senator Obama, do you think Senator Clinton can win?

OBAMA:  Absolutely, and I‘ve said so before.  But I, too, think that I‘m the better candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, T.J.?

Are they both right, or are they both just whistling past the graveyard?  Is Pennsylvania going to be a very difficult place for either of them to carry after this very tough primary fight? 

T.J. ROONEY, CHAIRMAN, PENNSYLVANIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY:  Well, no, Chris.  I‘m confident that we will deliver the state for whomever our nominee is.

But just going back to what you were talking about a moment ago, you know, whether or not it seems over the top to go after the Ayers issue, go after Reverend Wright, go after the bitter...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, just the Ayers issue, just the Weatherman issue. 

That‘s the only one that seems over the top. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROONEY:  But, Chris, what I‘m getting at is that this is the audition for the show.  This campaign has been the equivalent of a gentile garden party on the main line compared to what the Republican attack machine is going to do to our nominee in November. 

So, I don‘t think that it‘s inappropriate or improper to raise these issues, because, at the end of the day, what‘s fundamentally important to all Democrats is electing a Democrat in November.  So, these issues, I think, are fair game.  And they are—should be open for discussion.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bob, one question, problem with that is, if you sort of trot out the Republican attack line before the Republicans do, don‘t you put your—using the reference to the Catholic Church today, which seems to be appropriate, the imprimatur on those questions?

BOB HERBERT, COLUMNIST, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Because you‘re saying, this is fair game.

HERBERT:  So, when the Republican attacks come, they‘re seen as confirmation of what‘s already been charged by the Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Rooney, isn‘t that true?  You‘re putting the imprimatur of the Democratic Party on these attacks on Barack if he‘s the nominee?

ROONEY:  Chris, there—there—let‘s talk for a moment about this Pennsylvanians and small towns being bitter. 

I mean, Hillary Clinton didn‘t put those words Senator Obama‘s mouth. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROONEY:  And what I think is that you ought to say—at least be consistent.  Say the same thing in Shamokin that you say in San Francisco, or vice versa. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you.

Nothing is worse than talking to rich people in politics, because it inevitably gets you, Bob.  I thought the condescending remarks were to those rich people on Knob Hill or Russian Hill, wherever they were.  He was trying to explain America to these people, like he was Margaret Mead explaining the people of New Guinea.  It was pathetic to them.

HERBERT:  I will tell you something.

I think politicians and media commentators and other people should stay away from this whole idea of characterizing others, whether they‘re groups or ethnic types, individuals.

Don‘t characterize.  Start—stick to the facts.  Give your own opinion and move on.  When you start characterizing, whether it‘s accurate or not, people don‘t like it and you get yourself in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to T.J. Rooney one more time. 

I just love going after you, because, Unlike the rest of us who are watching this from the outside, you right in the middle of it.  You meet with the governor, Ed Rendell.  You meet with all the party chairs around the state.  They all work with you, all the 60-some county chairs.  You know as well as anybody how this thing is going to turn out next Tuesday.

So, now, appealing to your expertise, I you once again, Mr. Rooney, party chairman of Pennsylvania, how is this thing going to look Tuesday night, when Keith Olbermann and I sit there until 1:00 in the morning waiting for the raw vote to come in?          

Is this going to be a 250,000 to 300,000 plurality for Senator Clinton, which will allow her to argue that she‘s halfway to erasing Barack Obama‘s popular vote lead? 

ROONEY:  Chris, if you‘re relying on my expertise, you‘re really asking for slim pickings. 

But let me just say, if we win this state by one vote, it will be a resounding victory, based on all the things and all the money that has been spent here, the negative mail that is hitting the mailboxes today, misleading Senator Clinton‘s record.

I mean, they have thrown everything there is to throw at her in this state.  So, if we win by one date, it will be a decisive, resounding victory. 

MATTHEWS:  If you win by one vote, I‘m going to jump on you like a cougar.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, T.J. Rooney...

ROONEY:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  ... chairman of the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania, and Bob Herbert, whose column I read almost like sacred texts.

HERBERT:  Wow.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir. 

Up next, we will tell you who was the funniest guy—you won‘t believe this—on last night‘s annual Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner, where I met my wife, actually, 30 years ago.  It has some sacred value to us, actually.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there in politics?  Well, last night was the annual Radio and Correspondents Dinner here in Washington. 

And you won‘t believe this, but the funniest guy turned out to be—well, take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  The top 10 reasons I decided to get out of the race. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  Number 10:  There weren‘t as many Osmonds as I had thought. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY:  Number nine, number nine:  I got tired of the corkscrew landings under sniper fire. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  Number five:  I would rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel Prize. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY:  Number two:  I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  And number one:  There was a flaw in our campaign theory that, as Utah goes, so goes the nation. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, also at the dinner last night, Vice President Dick Cheney had some funnyisms. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It could also be that, by sending me here, the president is trying to soften up my image.  After all these years, all the time we have spent together, he persists in thinking I come across as a cold, forbidding, even frightening man. 

(LAUGHTER)

CHENEY:  But the president‘s not alone.  Even my wife seems to think my image needs polishing. 

At breakfast today, I asked Lynne if, deep down, it bugs her that people have taken to calling me Darth Vader. 

She said, not at all.  It humanizes you. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, listening to those somewhat stony performances is certain, these people don‘t write their own material.  They have access to the best writing talent around. 

And, as you know, by the way, the pope visited the White House yesterday. 

Here‘s Jimmy Kimmel‘s take on the president‘s reaction to his visitor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”:  President Bush showed why he is and always will be the funniest president in American history. 

(LAUGHTER)

POPE BENEDICT XVI, LEADER OF CATHOLIC CHURCH:  ... that almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace.

God bless America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thank you, Your Holiness.  Awesome speech.

KIMMEL:  All right.  Well, if you missed it, what he said there was, “Thanks, Your Holiness.  Awesome Speech.”

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

KIMMEL:  Let‘s see that again.

BUSH:  Thank you, Your Holiness.  Awesome speech.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wow.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

KIMMEL:  I‘m surprised he didn‘t give him a high-five. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Kimmel says President Bush is becoming the Will Ferrell version of President Bush. 

Well, it turns out that the Obamas are pretty well off financially, but certainly not as rich as the Clintons, of course.  The Obamas recently released tax returns showed that they made over $4 million last year, almost every dollar of it coming from Barack‘s best-selling books.

Of that, they gave $240,000 to charity, including, of course, $26,000 to that Trinity United Church that was led by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

The Clintons, as you may recall, have made $109 million since leaving the White House.  That pays for one hell of a lot of shots and beers. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

As we discussed earlier, Barack Obama took a beating at last night‘s presidential debate.  And, on more than one occasion, he took pretty clear umbrage with the questions.  He didn‘t like being asked some of these questions. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with.

But, Charlie, I have discussed this extensively. 

But that was on something entirely different, Charlie.  That was on a different statement. 

You know, George, look, if it‘s not this, then it would be something else. 

I think what‘s important is to make sure that we don‘t get so obsessed with gaffes.

For us to be obsessed with this—these kinds of errors, I think, is a mistake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I wonder what we make of that.

Anyway, how many times did Barack Obama take issue with the questions that were given to him?  At least seven times last night on that ABC debate, seven expressions of disapprove with the very questions being put to him.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Why does the pope bring up the priest sex scandal during his visit here in the U.S.?  We‘re going to ask the man who actually investigated the scandal for the church. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks showed little changed this Thursday, with the Dow Jones industrial average gaining by just a point.  The S&P 500 was up fractionally, and the Nasdaq saw an eight-point loss. 

After the closing bell, Google reported first-quarter profit rose 30 percent, and earnings easily beat analyst estimates, thanks to international growth.  In after-hour trading, Google shares are soaring 18 percent, topping $500 for the first time in months. 

Also after the closing bell, Advanced Micro Devices reported a larger-than-expected loss, but shares are trading up 2 percent after hours. 

Earlier today, Merrill Lynch said it would cut another 3,000 jobs after reporting its third straight quarterly loss.  CEO John Thain also warns things are not likely to improve in the next couple of quarters.  But Merrill shares rose 4 percent in trading.

And after three straight days of record highs, oil fell 7 cents today, closing at $114.86 a barrel. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI:  In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.

CROWD:  Amen.

POPE BENEDICT XVI:  Peace be with you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That‘s, of course, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.  He spoke this morning at the new national stadium in Washington, D.C.

In his homily, he said that hope is part of the American character, and it marks the life of the Catholic community here.

He then turned to the church‘s sexual abuse scandal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI:  It is in the context of this hope, born of God‘s love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. 

No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse, nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the church. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER:  Well, this issue matters a lot of Roman Catholics, like myself, and to you, Bob Bennett. 

We‘re here with Bob Bennett.  He met with the pope back in January of ‘04, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  It was in Bennett‘s capacity as a member of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was investigating sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church.  The meeting included in Bennett‘s memoir—it‘s all about it—“In the Ring: The Trials of a Washington Lawyer.”

So, you were inside with the pope as a Washington lawyer, one of the biggest lawyer in town here, trying to help them get to the bottom of this problem.  What was the pope like in dealing with his horror of kids being abused by the priests that were responsible for their well-being?

BOB BENNETT, AUTHOR, “IN THE RING”:  Well, I think the most amazing thing is, he spent over two hours with us. 

I went over there with Justice Anne Burke of the Chicago—now of the

Supreme Court in Illinois, and Bill Burleigh, the former chairman of

Scripps Howard.  And we didn‘t just get a courtesy visit or a five-minute -

for two full hours, he wanted to know whatever we could tell him about the crisis. 

And we were enormously impressed with that.  And we all had the feeling—and this is just our feeling—that he was really looking to us to tell him what happened.  And there was a feeling we all had that he just didn‘t think he had been given the whole story. 

MATTHEWS:  There had been a cover-up? 

BENNETT:  Oh, I think he realized it. 

And we were bringing things to his information which—which they had just never heard of. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this a problem around the world, the priest abusing young boys sexually?  Is this an American—I have heard it‘s just America and Ireland.  They are the only two problem cases in the world. 

BENNETT:  You know, look, I‘m not a world-class expert, although I spent two years studying it. 

Look, this is a behavior problem.  I mean, and it‘s not just a church problem.  It goes on in places other than the church. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BENNETT:  And, as much as you can and should criticize the church, the bishops, for allowing this to perpetuate itself...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BENNETT:  ... you have to give them some credit for at least trying to get to the bottom of it and make change. 

MATTHEWS:  This afternoon, the pope, here in the United States for what may be his only visit here, met with five victims of this, kids who were—young men who were, you know, exploited.  We don‘t even know what it mean to molest and all that.  I don‘t know what—all the details.  You may know it.

But, in any cases, their lives ruined by this experience.  What do you think happened in that room with the pope and these young men?  They‘re not young anymore. 

BENNETT:  Well, I write—I‘m not prophetic, but—but my chapter in the book on this sex scandal, I think, takes you inside a little bit. 

I think it was a very remarkable thing and a proper thing for the pope to do and an important thing for him to do.  It was his way of apologizing to them for what had occurred.

And one of the things that was very clear to the review board, the lay review board, is many of the bishops would not allow victims to come in and talk to the priest because their lawyers were telling them, well, you know, you‘re libel to be sued, or you have been sued and you don‘t want to talk to the plaintiff. 

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t any confession? 

BENNETT:  They didn‘t want confession.  What happened is many, not all, many of the bishops forgot that they were pastors of a flock, and they acted more like adjusters, risk assessment officers for an insurance company. 

MATTHEWS:  When they found these priests that abused these young boy, alter boys in many cases, did they sympathize more with the priest than the boy? 

BENNETT:  That was clearly the evidence which we found.  There was a very protective shield put around the priest, and there was an initial reaction of denial.  Well, you know, that‘s getting—I think—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t mean it in a Mafia sense, but in police departments, you get that kind of thing. 

BENNETT:  Where that qualification, yes.  I mean, we don‘t know the full extent because it‘s under --  

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a guy out here in front of the vice president‘s house.  He stands between the vice president‘s house and the Papal Nuncio (ph), the ambassador from the Vatican.  He‘s out there ringing a bell every day for ten years now.  He looks like he was abused.  This guy looks like he has had problems. 

BENNETT:  He claims he was abused.  He was an iron worker. 

MATTHEWS:  I bet they hear that every night in that Papal ambassador‘s office when they go to bed at night.  They hear that guy ringing that bell every night.  It finally got to them, didn‘t it?

BENNETT:  I don‘t know that he got to them, but I think what got to them was the terrible crisis that they brought on themselves.  The church has paid two billion dollars plus.  They‘ve had to close—

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s great that you handled this.  You‘re one of the best lawyers in this town.  Now you know cannon law.  “In The Ring,” Robert Bennett, one of the great lawyers in this town.  He‘s the Democratic Bennett, by the way.  Thank you, Bob Bennett. 

Up next—the one who still has a Brooklyn accent.  Up next, the

Philadelphia debate.  Who came out ahead.  It‘s all in the politics fix

tonight.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time now for the politics fix.  First, take a look: 30 years ago, I mentioned I met Kathleen, my wife, at the Radio TV Correspondents Dinner.  There we are.  That‘s 30 years ago.  She looks as good today.  I‘m a little different looking.  Thank you, that was 30 years ago.  Those correspondents dinners, with all that blithe and all those written jokes for these pols does turn out to have some value, eventually.

Anyway, Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst.  David Brody is with the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Joan Walsh is the editor in chief of Salon.

I want to ask you all, in turn, to talk about what‘s coming up right now, the next big test.  That is the Pennsylvania vote Tuesday night.  My hunch is it‘s going to be a blow out, somewhere around 57-43.  I‘ve been watching everything up there.  I don‘t trust the undecideds.  I think they‘re for Hillary.  That‘s my bet. 

I want to go around with you people.  Let‘s make a pick here, the thing we‘re not supposed to do.  Let‘s do it.  Michelle?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Ohio and Pennsylvania are so incredibly close.  They‘re a little bit different, but I am suspecting that a lot of voters in Pennsylvania are going to do what they did in Ohio, say that they‘re voting for Barack Obama, and when they go into that voting booth, pull the trigger for Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  David, your thoughts?

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK:  I agree to a certain extent.  As well, what‘s going to happen here is Hillary obviously needs to do double digits here.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying she needs the blow out?

BRODY:  I think so.

MATTHEWS:  -- more than a blow out.  Joan, based on your reporting—it seems to me you know something here.  What do you think?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I defer to your knowledge of Pennsylvania politics, but I have to say I think Barack Obama is spending a lot of money there.  It‘s really hard to know how much that will help him.  There are very pointed mailers out.  He‘s got a lot of resources and he‘s spending them, and that could depress her vote.

MATTHEWS:  ABC got a huge audience last night for that debate, the largest audience ever.  Not to be jealous of the fact they got a bigger number than some of the other networks, but I think there‘s a building interest in this debate, a building interest in this fight.  People are not tired of this fight.  They want to see who wins. 

Here‘s Senator Clinton talking about Obama and the Reverend Wright in last night‘s debate, going in for the kill here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  It is clear that as leaders we have a choice who we associate with and who we apparently give some kind of seal of approval to.  I think it wasn‘t only the specific remarks, but some of the relationships with Reverend Farrakhan, with giving the church bulletin over to the leader of Hamas to put a message in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think she touched a lot of ethnic and religious bases there, you know, Hamas, Farrakhan.  She did pretty much what good politicians do, live off the land, seize the opportunity.  Why did Barack Obama fail to come back?

BRODY:  What‘s going on here is that what Hillary Clinton is the company you keep.  This is the argument she‘s making, hey, Barack, what company are you keeping.  There‘s Farrakhan, there was Wright, Ayers.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a fair question about a guy who is a stranger, isn‘t it?  If you don‘t know the guy, you say who are his people?  Who does he hang with?  Fair question.

BRODY:  No doubt about it.  What she‘s doing is kind of like a death by a thousand paper cuts.  In essence, she‘s continuing to hammer home this theme all the way until June 3rd.

BERNARD:  I looked at some of the commentary today, and I disagree with people.  I think the way Barack Obama responded was appropriate, because we still live in a country—this is unprecedented territory.  WE expect men to be gentlemen.  We expect them to be chivalrous.  If he gets in her face—

MATTHEWS:  Is that more important for an African American male?

BERNARD:  Particularly in the context of an African American male who is running against a white woman.  If he gets in her face, if he is too aggressive, the nation is going to lose it, whether they like Hillary Clinton or not.  What he did was he saved his response to talk about Iran.  When she mentioned Farrakhan, she was going after the Jewish vote.  So he made it very clear in the part of the debate where they discussed our relationship with Iran, if Iran goes after Israel, he made it very clear that if he is the president of the United States, he‘s going to strike and he‘s going to strike hard.  That was the appropriate response to appeal to the Jewish community. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, we‘re talking on several fronts, Christian versus Islamic.  We‘re talking about all kinds of—Farrakhan being brought into this.  We‘re talking about obviously racial questions and gender questions.  This is the trickiest terrain we‘ve been on.  Do you buy the theory that he has be more deferential, given his background and his gender? 

WALSH:  No, I really don‘t.  I mean, we‘ve seen her male opponents hit her hard.  I think it really depends on what you use.  You know, sure, he can‘t seem like a bully.  No man can.  No man should in this context.  But I thought he was strangely lackluster and just kind of missing his focus last night, in every way, not just in the report. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was tired?

WALSH:  He seemed tired.  I‘m sure they‘re both tired.  But he just really—and he seemed, you know, this is something he‘s got to watch out for.  He doesn‘t like to be questioned very closely.  It goes back to that impromptu press conference where he said, hey guys, I just answered eight questions.  Lighten up.  He‘s not used to be hammered like this.  They were tough on him last night because he is the front runner, and he didn‘t do well. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the advantage of dealing with the New York media market, like Senator Clinton‘s had to do.  

BRODY:  Also remember, he will the attitude last night—look at the face he had pretty much through that first 45 minutes—when is this going to be over?  Do I really need to be here? 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s one thing to have a prevent defense.  You don‘t want to have the other guy score the ultimate touch down against you and play it cautious.  But he looked like he was saying, almost like President Bush the first, checking his watch.  When‘s it‘s over with, this torture. 

BRODY:  Hillary Clinton is going to continue that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back and talk about that in a minute.  The big question I want to know, is this doing general election damage?  If Barack holds his delegate lead, if he wins this thing and goes to the convention in Denver, and then goes to the general, in three big debates with John McCain, will these shots at him, these puncture wounds, still be useful to Republicans, with the added imprimatur of Hillary Clinton having put her signatures on them? 

We‘ll be right back with more of the politics fix and last night‘s debate.  I call it Charlie Gibson‘s war.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  I want you all to look at this very interesting development, because Joan, I‘ve been saying about California that John McCain saying at Villanova this week that it would be very difficult for him to name a Tom Ridge or any other pro-choicer to the ticket—therefore, I think he‘s going to have a pro-lifer.  I mean, a big deduction, a pro-lifer, which I think makes it very hard for him in California, doesn‘t it, if he‘s a full pro-life ticket? 

OK, here‘s what‘s interesting, Joan and everybody.  Back in 2000 --

I‘m reading an article by our own David Brody right here.  Charlie Rose asked John McCain about having a ticket, and John McCain said I would not rule out anyone on the basis of any single issue, including the position of abortion.  So we have a new John McCain.  The Straight Talk Express has taken us, Joan, to a new place, to a pro-lifer who insists on absolute pro-life obedience on his ticket. 

WALSH:  I think that‘s the disappointing thing about the new John McCain, Chris.  I think that the 2000 John McCain would at least say that, and then this John McCain, rather than looking at the independents that he may be able to court in November, is really looking at placating the ultra right, and the religious right.  I think that‘s going to be something that comes back and dogs him, and certainly keeps him from carrying California, which, otherwise—we‘ve got a Republican governor.  It‘s not out of question that a really innovative, maverick Republican could do well here.  It‘s not out of question. 

MATTHEWS:  David, your thoughts? 

BRODY:  Remember that he, in essence, said that it would be difficult, you know, when he talked to you. 

MATTHEWS:  He used the word strongly. 

BRODY:  He said it would be difficult.  The reason it would be difficult—let‘s face it, maybe he is being a straight talker here, because he knows it will be difficult for him if he doesn‘t pick a pro-lifer.  So, in essence, he was conceding the point that he needs to be very careful on his pick.  Clearly, he‘s gone from 2000 -- in 2000, when he made those comments, he was running for the Republican nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  There he is with the Villanova Wildcat.  That‘s tough stuff to say your party‘s pro-life down the line. 

BERNARD:  The party is not pro-life right down the line.  It‘s going to be difficult for John McCain no matter what.  The conservative wing of the Republican party is not convinced that he is their man yet.  They‘re not yet rallying around him, and there are a lot of conservatives who are saying that they‘d rather sit the race out and come back and try again in 2012.  John McCain is very well aware of this.  This is his last opportunity to become president of the United States and he‘s playing to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Last question to all three of you, starting with you, Michelle, then David, then Joan.  Is John McCain benefiting from this fight between the two Democrats? 

BERNARD:  Absolutely, because he doesn‘t have to get his paws dirty? 

They are doing it to themselves. 

MATTHEWS:  Paws?  I thought you were center right, politically, but paws?  What do you think, David?

BRODY:  Of course he is.  Also, what‘s going to happen come after the conventions?  They‘re going to—the RNC and John McCain, what are they going to do?  They‘re going to go ahead and start with the American flag pin that Obama doesn‘t wear, if he‘s the nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s a real issue for him? 

BRODY:  Sure, I think in the heartland it is, and I think that‘s part of it.  Also, with the liberal record that the RNC is going to trot out, they‘re going to make George McGovern look like a conservative. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, the flag pin and all—back to this question, is this fire fight between Obama and Hillary killing their chance against not a perfect candidate? 

WALSH:  Absolutely not.  It looks like it right now.  It looks like McCain is sailing along and staying on his message, but in reality, every time we talk about the flag pin now, it makes it—it takes some of the sting out of it.  Bill Ayers is going to come up in October.  You‘re going to have Weather Underground Victims for Truth.  Republicans will use this.  The sooner Obama gets it out of his system, the soon he really talks about what his relationship with Bill Ayers, which he really hasn‘t, to be honest, the sooner he puts it behind him. 

And same is true for Hillary Clinton.  If she can get over the Bosnia gaffe—

MATTHEWS:  You are an optimist for the Democrats.  That‘s an optimistic view.  I think all this stuff adds up. 

WALSH:  I think it‘s true, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  It‘s great having you on, Joan.  Than you very much from Salon.  Michelle Bernard, David Brody and, of course, Joan Walsh.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now it‘s time for “THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE” with David Gregory.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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