updated 4/6/2011 2:55:14 PM ET 2011-04-06T18:55:14

Guests: Howard Fineman, Richard Wolffe, Simon Hobbs, Jonathan Alter, John Heilemann, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Susan Milligan, Kevin Spacey

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Ready for the fight.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Shutdown showdown.  President Obama is making it clear he‘s done compromising.  No more short-term deals to keep the government running.  He and John Boehner came out today with a pair of unscheduled dueling news conferences this afternoon.  Their positions were clear.  The president said he was done compromising and done making cuts.  Boehner said the Democrats have to cut more, and by the way, he said, they have to agree to scratch Planned Parenthood funding and any action on climate change to boot.  Clearly, the president believes the Republicans now will take the heat if the government goes dark.

Plus, to hear Republican budget chairman Paul Ryan tell it, his budget plan is a traveling medicine show—you know, a cure-all for all the country‘s ills, to pay off the national debt, to create millions of new jobs, to increase revenue without raising taxes, to cut unemployment down to just 4 percent, to save Medicare and Medicaid.  What he doesn‘t say is what‘s on the label, really, that skull and bones, the death of Medicare.  That‘s in his plan.

Also, Bachmann—or—Bachmann—I should know her name.  Bachmann in, Huckabee out.  Michele Bachmann has just hired Huckabee‘s top kick-out (ph) in Iowa.  This is real.  She could win Iowa, I think.  And who knows, maybe she‘s got the wind at her back.

And we‘ve got star power here on HARDBALL, as well, tonight.  Two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey is going to join us to push back against Republican efforts to slash funding for the arts.  Why do they always want to close the show, the Republicans?

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with what happens when the Republican dream of cutting Medicare—actually, getting rid of Medicare, comes face-to-face with reality, older Americans who receive Medicare and like it.  And by the way, they all vote.

Let‘s start with the showdown over the government shutdown right now -

we‘re joined right now by two MSNBC political analysts, the Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe.  Glad to have you both on.  Thanks for joining us.

Now, let‘s take a look at these dueling press conferences.  Here‘s the president on what the American people want to see.  Let‘s listen to the president.  He‘s loaded for bear.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think what they‘re looking from me is the same thing they‘re looking from Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid and everybody else, and that is, is that we act like grown-ups.  We‘ve been willing to cut programs that we care deeply about, that are really important.  But we recognize that given the fiscal situation that we‘re in, everybody‘s got to make some sacrifices, everybody‘s got to take a haircut.


MATTHEWS:  And here‘s Speaker Boehner coming out one minute later, right after the president.  Speaker Boehner—let‘s listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We‘re not going to allow the Senate, nor the White House, to put us in a box where we have to make a choice between two bad options, cutting a bad deal this week in order to keep the government open or allow the government to shut down due to Senate inaction.


MATTHEWS:  You know, I feel for the guy as a human being, Howard Fineman.  I think he‘s got a lot of people behind him that are all yelling in different directions.  Not only does he—


MATTHEWS:  Yes, Boehner, and he—and the president looks cool as a cucumber, like, I can‘t wait for this fight.  Boehner says, Why do I have to have this job?  I got the Tea Party people coming in one ear, the old bulls who just want to cut a deal on spending on the other side of me, the people that hate abortion, hate—

FINEMAN:  Climate change.

MATTHEWS:  -- birth control, climate change, every crazy—every goal in the right-wing in the medicine cabinet is reading to show up here.

FINEMAN:  well, I think John Boehner is sympathetic with almost all of those people that you just mentioned.  But he‘s also a practical politician.  And as I understand it from talking to people on both sides, one of the things that the president—makes the president confident is that there‘s videotape.  And the videotape is of the Tea Party people saying, Cut it or shut it.


FINEMAN:  In other words, if there‘s a shutdown, the president‘s going to be able to say that the Republican leadership was forced into this by their Tea Party constituents—


FINEMAN:  -- and they‘re going to show the videotape.  It‘s always all about the videotape.  And the videotape is going to be, you know, We can‘t wait for a shutdown—“we,” meaning the Tea Party, can‘t wait for a shutdown.

MATTHEWS:  Richard, it just seems like the president is in a happy-go-lucky mood.  Now, I‘m thinking about the box he came in this week, 8.8 percent unemployment, which ain‘t great, but it‘s going down, right?  The Republican Party is sort of schizophrenic right now between its sort of regular Republicans we all grew up with, the suburban-type Republican who just wants to have a little less government, a little lower taxes, but that‘s all he wants or she wants, and these loony tunes out there that want to change the world in one Congress.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, they‘re competing for different groups of voters, OK?  So the president in that clip mentioned all of his marks.  There was being reasonable, being the grown-up—

MATTHEWS:  Getting a haircut.

WOLFFE:  -- going half, more than halfway, if you take the numbers at face value.  So—and the other side are talking about this sort of congressional tactics.  In the end, the debate for Republicans is what‘s harder, shutting down the government or taking on the Tea Party?  And that‘s a completely different—

MATTHEWS:  Why did Boehner give away his cards—


MATTHEWS:  Why did Boehner admit—he said, There‘s some people in my caucus behind me here who would rather get rid of Planned Parenthood than balance the budget.  He basically said they care about is this—and getting rid of anything that might regulate climate change—


MATTHEWS:  -- anything that might be vaguely liberal.

FINEMAN:  OK.  Well, I think it‘s the difference between somebody who sees things from the congressional Beltway perspective, which, ironically enough, is John Boehner.  John Boehner has spent a lot of time in Congress trying to be the reasonable man within his caucus, you know, on the Hill.  The president has a bigger audience with whom to try to be the reasonable man, namely the whole country.

So what you‘re hearing in Boehner‘s mind is what Richard says, is the legislative calculation.  How do I deal with all these groups in my caucus?  Whereas the president is saying, How do I do what I do best, which is being the most reasonable man in the whole country?  That‘s how he won the election.

MATTHEWS:  But also—


MATTHEWS:  To make Howard‘s point, to deliver it again—you said it very well—the president says, I‘m here for the people.  They want us to do the job.  They want us to create jobs.  They want us to deal with lower gas prices.  And we got to stop this diddling around about, basically, last year‘s budget.

WOLFFE:  Right.  And there are a couple pieces of tape that he‘s got, as well as the one Howard mentioned.  One is what Boehner‘s aides told everyone at the start of the year, which is $50 billion or $60 billion of cuts will be just fine, thank you very much.  So first of all, they go out and brief everyone that half the amount is fine, and then they up it.  The other piece of tape is the fact that, you know, when it comes down to it, the riders are in there.  That‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Here he is—


MATTHEWS:  Here is Speaker Boehner about the riders.  Here he is—what they call these little things that says, Oh, by the way, no more funding for this, no more funding for that.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.


BOEHNER:  We will continue to insist that the policy riders passed in HR-1 are on the table.  It‘s just as important to many of our members as the—as the spending cuts themselves.


MATTHEWS:  I feel for the guy!  It‘s just as important—


MATTHEWS:  Even though you people think we‘re insane, it‘s just as important to my crazy closet back here.

FINEMAN:  I‘m old enough to remember when Bob Dole ended up running against Bill Clinton.


FINEMAN:  There‘s a certain similarity here—


FINEMAN:  -- in the—not just with the tan, because Bob Dole liked to get the tan, but it was also—is that John Boehner says phrases like “policy riders.”


FINEMAN:  First of all, policy rider—what the heck is a policy rider?

MATTHEWS:  Mark-up.  That‘s a mark-up.


FINEMAN:  We should realize that polls do show that people are going

to blame everybody in Washington if there‘s a shutdown.  So the president -


MATTHEWS:  Well, why is the president not loosey-goosey, debonair? 

Why did he walk out there without a touch of sweat today?

FINEMAN:  Well, for the reason—

MATTHEWS:  And whereas this guy—and I really like Boehner as a person, I can tell I like him—he‘s on the verge of almost breaking out in tears.


MATTHEWS:  He‘s miserable in that situation.

FINEMAN:  Because—first of all, as Richard was saying—about these policy riders—they don‘t belong in this discussion.  And I think that the president knows that, and I think John Boehner—

MATTHEWS:  Cultural earmarks!

FINEMAN:  -- sort of knows it.  Yes, Planned Parenthood, whatever, but especially climate change.  You‘re not going to say you‘re going to re-litigate the climate debate in the middle of a, you know, possible shutdown of the government.  It doesn‘t make any sense.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a radical element here.  And I mean the radical—

I‘ll say it without any prejudice, radical.  Basically, get rid of Obama‘s health care bill, which he spent two years fighting and the Democrats have spent 100 years trying to get to, basically, abolishing Medicare the way it was created back in the ‘60s, basically getting rid of it, getting rid of any funding for birth control, basically, no climate change.  It‘s anti-science, anti-sex.  It seems like they‘ve said, OK, we‘re in power now, we‘re going to do everything we ever promised to do.

WOLFFE:  Everything.  Everything!  And by the way, this is day two of the Obama presidential campaign.  This is the debate we‘re going to have for the next 18 months.


WOLFFE:  It‘s 18 months we‘re going to be debating everything.  And as

he said in the briefing room, nothing is going to get done, nothing except


MATTHEWS:  So he sees like a spring training picture out there, throwing in these easy ones.  I mean, it seems like Boehner is basically reminding the Democrats of all the stuff they get to run against next year.


MATTHEWS:  That‘s his job.

FINEMAN:  Also, I think the Republicans wanted to make sure that Paul Ryan came forth with his big long-range thing because, believe it or not, Boehner‘s not going to be able to deliver to the caucus everything they want by the—in terms of the cuts right now.  So they want to talk big—

MATTHEWS:  By the way—

FINEMAN:  -- about what happens down the line as a way to cool down the Tea Party.  But in the process of doing that, they lay out the whole thing.

MATTHEWS:  I can actually beat you, actually, Newshounds with some news here.  For the first time in my life, I know something before Howard Fineman.


MATTHEWS:  Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a great friend of this show—no thanks to us—

FINEMAN:  All politics—

MATTHEWS:  -- she‘s now chair of the—

FINEMAN:  All politics, as well.


MATTHEWS:  We do know—I may have created Debbie—what‘s her name, Bachmann—Michele Bachmann—her name is for some reason eluding me tonight.  I shouldn‘t—I guess I‘m embarrassed by the fact we created her.  The missile came out of this show when she said, Let‘s have a McCarthy—


FINEMAN:  My first reaction is that‘s a very good pick.

MATTHEWS:  Well, she‘s very likable.

FINEMAN:  She‘s very personable.

MATTHEWS:  Very girl—or woman next door—


FINEMAN:  Very likable and very smart and knows every big—every big player and donor in the party.

MATTHEWS:  And she wanted a big job in the congressional leadership.

WOLFFE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  This is her big job, national leader of the party.

WOLFFE:  Right, and it‘s going to get bigger because she‘s got a lot of money to help raise, especially maybe in Florida.

MATTHEWS:  So she‘ll have to raise a lot in south Florida.  She‘s going to have to go to Texas and—you know, that is the route to greatness in the Democratic Party, by the way.  You know who‘s a great fund-raiser?

WOLFFE:  No.  Go tell me.

MATTHEWS:  Nancy Pelosi.


FINEMAN:  But also, her personal—

MATTHEWS:  You know who before that?  Tip O‘Neill.

FINEMAN:  Also, her story—personal story is a compelling one. 

She‘s battled against illness and overcome.


FINEMAN:  And she‘s also a substantive persons.  I think she‘s a serious legislator.

MATTHEWS:  I think (INAUDIBLE)  Fantastic guest on HARDBALL.  Not to let that—


MATTHEWS:  I hope she remembers the little saloon in Jersey where she started—you know, when she‘s out there playing the big room in Vegas and these places, and she‘s going to come back here—are you watching, Debbie, Congresswoman?  We still want you back here.  Remember the tavern up in Jersey somewhere?

Thank you, Howard Fineman—Sinatra (ph).  Thank you, Richard Wolffe. 

Big night tonight, big news night.

Coming up: Republican congressman Paul Ryan, the aforementioned, would like you to believe that his budget plan will fix every problem!  This is Mother Fletcher here.  Remember that?  It‘s got everything for this guy, debt—it‘s going to get rid of debt, unemployment, it‘s going to save Medicare.  But his plan is really the same old Republican plan that goes back to the days of early Reagan, get rid of the safety net, kill Medicare.  It‘s got that skull and bones on the bottle of his medicine.  Let‘s go back to Paul Ryan‘s plan.  The president is going to let it simmer for a few months.  We‘re not.  We‘re going right after it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the Democrats got their man in Virginia.  Former governor Tim Kaine announced today he‘s going to run for the Senate seat of the retiring Jim Webb.  He‘s going for it.  Kaine, who has been head of the Democratic National Committee all these months now, was the party‘s top pick to take on former senator George Allen.  Boy, that‘s going to be a good race.  Kaine versus Allen will be the most watched Senate race in the country.

HARDBALL back after this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Republicans think they have found the answer to our budget problems.  It‘s pretty simple, actually.  Get rid of Medicare and make states pay for Medicaid.  Here‘s Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, today on “MORNING JOE” listing off all the things his plan will do.  Let‘s listen to this.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  This is a plan that pays off our national debt.  This is a plan that creates millions of new jobs.  This is a plan that saves Medicare and Medicaid.  We‘re patching the safety net.  We‘re getting people on to lives of self-sufficiency.  If you do it now, nobody 55 and above sees a change.  We are taking great ideas from both political parties.  We take $78 billion out of Pentagon spending and apply it to deficit reduction.  We believe we should not be doing a big tax increase.  We‘re doing revenue-neutral tax reform.  The Heritage Foundation ran a good model on our plan, and it shows we have another $1.5 trillion of economic growth.  Nearly a million new jobs created next year alone brings unemployment down to 4 percent by 2015.  A thousand dollars per year on average in extra family income as a result of this plan.  So what we‘re trying to do in this budget is set the table to get all parties to come together to fix and save Social Security.


MATTHEWS:  God, he must have talked for the whole three hours of “MORNING JOE.”  Joining me now is Democratic congressman—congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and “New York” magazine‘s John Heilemann.  Heilemann, I think you were doing a Rodney Dangerfield with your neck there, like, trying to get your collar loose listening to that diatribe!


MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, I just think there‘s a question here, and I wonder why the president is not being so—not being tough enough.  And I usually don‘t say this.  Basically, what Ryan is doing is what Ronald Reagan wanted to do way back in the early ‘60s when Kennedy was talking about health care for older people, retired people, kill Medicare.


MATTHEWS:  Kill the government program that pays for health care. 

People love Medicare.  Why are the Republicans attacking it?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, actually, I think they‘re going to have a big political problem because, in fact, they are abolishing Medicare with this plan.  And I really think it would be a very hard sell because, as you say, the American people overwhelmingly love their Medicare.

And you‘re right, Ronald Reagan campaigned against—he was a lobbyist against Medicare.  But now doctors are reliant on Medicare, and certainly seniors.  Why is he picking on old people at the same time as he‘s not doing anything about tax cuts for the wealthiest, tax breaks for oil companies, and companies that are outsourcing our jobs?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look—I‘m not sure Reagan was—I don‘t think he was a paid lobbyist, but he was certainly very much an activist in killing the thought even of Medicare under Kennedy.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen to him, Congressman.  And John, I want your reaction to this, too.


RONALD REAGAN, 1961:  One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine.  It‘s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.  Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can‘t afford it.  Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.


MATTHEWS:  Well, we got a poll out that shows—an NBC/”Wall street Journal” poll, by the way, that says cutting Medicare—look at it—to cut Medicare to deal with the budget crisis is a downer, 3 to 1.

John Heilemann, I just don‘t get this game they‘re playing.  Why are they thinking they can get away with killing Medicare, which is so popular with people, and not pay the price for it in the next election?

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK”:  Well, Chris, first of all, let‘s acknowledge that there is a big difference between cutting Medicare and killing Medicare.  And I think you‘re accurately describing Paul Ryan‘s plan, which is that in the long run, he‘s trying to phase Medicare out and change it from what it is now, which is a defined benefit program, and turning it into a defined contribution program.  It would not be the Medicare as we know it and as a lot of people love it in the future.  That is correct.

On the other hand, you know, he can honestly and legitimately argue, as a lot of deficit hawks do, that the main problem that we face looking down the road 10, 20, 30 years is with the growth of health care spending, and that is the thing.  Not Social Security.  Not any of these other things.

MATTHEWS:  I know, but—

MATTHEWS:  This is the main problem that budgetarily we face in the long run.  So getting to—taking that—getting your hands around the horns of that dilemma—


MATTHEWS:  -- is a real thing that you have to deal with if you want to be serious—


MATTHEWS:  -- about fiscal sanity in the country.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you.  I‘m with you on the macroeconomics.  Let‘s go back to the microeconomics, the realities of this.  Congresswoman, older people get sick.  I‘ve noticed the older I get, the more I need a doctor.  It‘s a fact.  It isn‘t a good bet to go into business, if you‘re an insurance company, and assume that people aren‘t going to have health needs as they go into their 70s, their 80s, if they‘re lucky enough to make their 90s.  They‘re going to have health problems that are going to cost a lot of money, especially near the end.

That‘s why the government has Medicare because it‘s not a good bet for business to insure people in their 70s and 80s they‘re not going to get sick.  I‘m laughing at the absurdity of this! 

Now, here along comes a Republican guy—


MATTHEWS:  -- a young guy like Paul Ryan, who is healthy as hell, and he says, oh, great, we will give you a little voucher to help you buy medical insurance when you‘re 83 years old. 

Give me a break.  Who is going to sell you the policy?  I‘m sorry. 

You‘re the expert. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Give me—yes, give me a break is right. 

And the median income for people over 65 years old in our country, you know what it is, Chris?  It‘s $19,000 a year.  That is with everything.  Those are the people.  And frail elderly, you‘re going to send out in the market to choose among all the health insurance companies, and then some measly amount of money is going to be sent to them, and if they don‘t have enough coverage, then too bad for them? 

And the thing that really frosts me is that what Paul Ryan says is that this is a moral issue.  I agree with him that it‘s a moral issue.  Do nothing about the wealthiest, and take it out on the backs of people who make a median income of $19,000 a year?  It‘s unconscionable.  And it‘s silly.  And I don‘t think it‘s going to have the political support that he wants. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do they get away with it politically?  You know, Congresswoman, that, as much as it may be in the rhetoric of the Democratic Party, most Republicans are not rich. 

The rich may benefit—John, you take this on.  Most Republicans are average income, some above average, but the very rich may benefit the most from their programs, but most of their voters are not rich, and they need Medicare. 

My father was a big Republican.  He loved Medicare.  He loved it.  Everybody loves it who is on it.  So, the government pays for your health care.  How can you be against that if you‘re getting it? 

My thought to you, John, is how does Paul Ryan save 20 or 30 or 50 House seats they could probably lose on this, when the Democrats just put the simple fact out there, this person was in Congress three or four months, and they killed Medicare? 

HEILEMANN:  Well, Chris, look, first of all, I think the exact question you‘re asking is the question that a lot of Republicans are sitting around looking at what Paul Ryan is doing and they‘re scared about the political implications of this. 

But the very fact that, as the congresswoman said, this is not going to have the political support to pass.  This is not a bill, a proposal that is going to get through, both because of the Senate, and I think actually in a lot of cases because of Republicans in the House.  This is never going to become law. 

What Paul Ryan is doing here is setting out a marker, and he‘s setting

out a very extreme marker, hoping that, and planning that, I think, that

you are going to end up someplace 50 -- half the way there.  And if you set

and the ultimate compromise that has to come out is going to come 50 percent of the way towards him, right?


MATTHEWS:  Yes, yes, yes, yes, but you‘re missing a step here. 

They have got to pass the first budget resolution, Congresswoman.  Every Republican will be asked to vote for that first budget resolution, and he‘s the chairman of the committee that writes the chairman‘s mark.  How do they avoid that up-or-down vote, Congresswoman?  I‘m talking politics now. 

Don‘t the Republican members of your Congress, of the House, have to vote for the Ryan plan to kill Medicare?  Don‘t they have to do it in the first budget resolution? 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, as you can see now, it‘s a party in disarray, as we move toward the 2011 budget. 

So I think, before Paul Ryan is going to absolutely—actually going to be able to put this on the floor, there‘s going to be a lot of debate in the caucus.  And it‘s going to be even closer to the 2012 election. 

Let me say one other thing.  The Ryan plan doesn‘t save money in Medicare.  It just shifts costs in Medicare to the old people. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course.

SCHAKOWSKY:  What we did in the Affordable Care Act, we actually reduced the cost by not cutting—and not cutting benefits for the elderly. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t we need a little more original thinking here about the rising cost of health care than simply cutting it?  Isn‘t there a problem of how we finance health care in this country we have got to come up with? 

I don‘t know what it is, but, I mean, doctors are not getting rich, I have noticed.  The friends who are mine who are doctors, the doctors that treat me are certainly not in the same position a doctor was 10 or 15, 20 years ago.  They‘re just not.  It‘s not a get-rich-quick plan to be a doctor anymore. 


MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts, Congresswoman.

SCHAKOWSKY:  But isn‘t it ironic—isn‘t it ironic that the Republicans like Paul Ryan were criticizing the Democrats all last year, before the election, that Democrats cut Medicare by half a trillion dollars.  Well, of course, we didn‘t cut any benefits, but we did reduce the costs by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse and eliminating the overpayments that we made to private insurance companies. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Now they have turned around and they said, well, we‘re going to be the ones that are going to eliminate Medicare. 

MATTHEWS:  You just said the worst words I have ever heard you ever speak, Congresswoman.  Did you say waste, fraud and abuse? 


MATTHEWS:  That is the biggest line of malarkey that every conservative since Ronald Reagan has said.  I‘m going get rid of government spending by getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse.  You‘re saying that actually happens? 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, actually, Secretary Sebelius has created a new—I think everybody who has been in a hospital knows that they look at their bill that there are things that are on there that shouldn‘t be.  But Medicare pays for it. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  I think there actually are billions of dollars in Medicare and actually in Medicaid.  It‘s mostly provider waste fraud and abuse.  Yes, there is. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I just think every time a check gets written to pay for Medicare, it goes to a doctor or a nurse or somebody who works at a hospital.  And, by the way, I think they‘re good people. 


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And, John Heilemann, keep up that Rodney Dangerfield thing. 

I love it.  It speaks millions when you do it. 


MATTHEWS:  There you go.  There you go.  I love it.  When you express, what‘s the right word, disdain, I love it.  It‘s a great way to do it.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, sir.

HEILEMANN:  I don‘t disdain anyone, Chris, no one. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, just thoughts of—impure thoughts. 


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, up next:  Newt—speaking of which, Newt Gingrich does it again.  Now he‘s trying to criminalize President Obama‘s reelection.  He‘s calling the guy Al Capone, Chicago gangster.  It‘s not enough to call him a Mau Mau guy from Kenya.  Now he‘s calling him a gangster. 

Newt Gingrich will say anything to get some attention.  The “Sideshow,” where it belongs, where he belongs.

You‘re back in a minute.


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL, and, of course, to the “Sideshow.” 

First up: the evil eye of Newt.  Beware of this guy. 

Last year, he accused the president of the United States of thinking like an anti-colonial Kenyan.  Well, now he‘s accusing our president of being a Chicago racketeer, a modern-day Al Capone, if you will. 

Let‘s listen to Newt.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Here‘s the president who 18 months before the election is going to use his office to extort contributions on a scale we have never seen before. 

And he‘s in effect trying to create a Chicago-style machine for the whole country with a billion dollars.  And it‘s not about us.  It‘s about money and it‘s about the president‘s ability to coerce and run over the American people by building a machine so big, nobody can challenge him. 


MATTHEWS:  I love that, machine, Chicago-style. 

Anyway, the evil eye of Newt.  He was drummed out of the speakership, by the way, personally for atrocious ethics.  He was drummed out of his own party really back in the ‘90s.  He played ringmaster, let‘s us never forget, to the Clinton impeachment process, while he—while he personally had something of a hypocritical aspect going in his own life.  He‘s also smart, I have to admit, and knows that the yahoos may buy some of his latest number. 

Anyway, next, E!‘s “True Hollywood Story” has a new star subject.  It‘s not a movie actor, athlete or musician.  It‘s 2012 provocateur Sarah Palin.  Why not?  The ex-governor reportedly did not air participate in E!‘s production, which is to set to air on the 24th of this month.

Speaking of Palin, Tina Fey is hitting back.  In 2009, Palin said that Tina Fey exploited and profited from Palin‘s candidacy through the comedian‘s obviously popular “S&L” impression of her.  Well, Fey responded in her new book “Bossypants”—quote—“Some may argue that exploiting Governor Palin and her family helped bring attention to my low-rated TV show.  Well, I‘m proud to say, you were wrong.  My TV show still enjoys very low ratings.  In fact, I think the Palin stuff may have hurt the TV show.  Let‘s face it.  Between Alec Baldwin and me, there is a certain 50 percent of the population who think we are commie monsters.” 

Well, actually, they are two of my favorite people on television. 

Tina and Alec, I think they‘re great. 

Now for tonight‘s “Number.”

Yesterday, the NBC News political unit debuted its map of the 2012 presidential race, coming up with 10 states, look at them out there, that could be tossups, those 10 states.  You see them in yellow.  The Web site 270towin, by the way, plugged in those tossups and came up with 50 scenarios, electoral vote combinations, in which a Republican would win. 

Sounds like a lot, right?  Well, consider this.  In how many scenarios would President Obama win?  Seventy, even more options for him, a much bigger number.  The president has 70 scenarios to pull off the race, tonight‘s very “Big Number.” 

By the way, in 13 of those possible combinations of electoral votes, it‘s a tied presidential election, 269 apiece.  Now, that would be scary. 

Up next: another big sign Michele Bachmann is serious—and I think she is dead serious—about running for president.  She has hired Mike Huckabee‘s top strategist in Iowa, a state he won thanks to this guy.  She has now got him as her top kick.  Look out.  She‘s serious.  Bachmann could win Iowa and she could go all the way.  Who knows, who knows with this crowd running. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  And good evening.  I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks finished mixed on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average down six points, the S&P down a quarter, and the Nasdaq up two.  A new report shows the nation‘s service sector expanded for 16 straight months in March.  The Institute of Supply Management says that growth, however, was at a slower pace than the month before. 

Procter & Gamble has agreed to sell its Pringles snack line to Diamond Foods for $1.5 billion.  The deal will reportedly triple Diamond‘s revenue to $2.4 billion a year. 

And the video rental chain Blockbuster hit the auction block in New York today.  Amongst the bidders, Dish Network reportedly offering $248 million, followed closely by billionaire Carl Icahn and a team of liquidators, who bid just under $281 million. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Well, an amazing topic for this show. 

We created her here, Michele Bachmann.  She has been dipping her toes into the presidential waters out there, her latest move, a big signal.  She is increasingly likely to run, I think, for president.  Bachmann has hired the top political operative out there who ran Mike Huckabee‘s winning Iowa caucus campaign the last time around. 

His name is Wes Enos.  He sounds like a AAA pitcher somewhere. 


MATTHEWS:  Wes Enos, a southpaw out of Indiana. 

So, is the Tea Party leader ready to take on the likes of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty? 

MSNBC‘s Jonathan Alter writes for “Newsweek,” and Susan Milligan writes for “U.S. News.”

I want to start with Susan.  What the heck. 


MATTHEWS:  Michele Bachmann, female candidate, may run with all boring guys, if Sarah Palin doesn‘t get in.  They say in Massachusetts, as you know, as you know, the shape of the field determines the winner. 

One exciting, hard-right, attractive candidate against four boring guys, I think she has got a good shot to win that Iowa caucus, just bet, just because she‘s the one really interesting entry right now. 

SUSAN MILLIGAN, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  Well, I definitely think

she has a good shot of winning the Iowa caucus.  I don‘t think she will go


MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that a lot? 

MILLIGAN:  It is, except that, you know, Iowa is unusual, as you know.  Iowa and New Hampshire, they will give anybody a shot.  They don‘t like the party telling them who the nominee is going to be. 

And she‘s got Iowa roots.  They don‘t go back quite as far as she has been saying on the campaign trail, but she has Iowa roots.  And there‘s a certain part of the party, though, she can get excited.  But she‘s—


MILLIGAN:  -- credibility.

MATTHEWS:  What about her personal story?  Forget the ideology for a minute.  She‘s had a big family, five kids she has raised.  She‘s got something like 15 foster kids she‘s taken in. 


MILLIGAN:  Twenty.  Twenty.

ALTER:  Twenty-two. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s more kids than Newt has got wives, right?


ALTER:  Yes.  Yes.  No, I think that will play really, really, really well in Iowa.  You know, you and I were out there in 1988. 

MATTHEWS:  The meat locker, the coldest place in America in January. 



ALTER:  But the—remember, ‘88, Bob Dole was from neighboring Kansas.  So he won.  And the fight was over second.  It was between the sitting vice president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, and Pat Robertson, a televangelist.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

ALTER:  And Robertson crushed Bush.  And I remember being at election headquarters, Robertson‘s election headquarters that night, and saying if Pat Robertson can do that well in the Republican Iowa caucuses, anyone can. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but I—


ALTER:  She—


MATTHEWS:  But the Republican Party today—

ALTER:  She‘s the favorite in the caucuses.


MATTHEWS:  Jon, you know as much as I do about politics, both of you.  But you know the Republican Party is a lot more like Pat Robertson today than it is like Bob Dole. 

ALTER:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot more like it.

ALTER:  She is the favorite to win those caucuses.  Now, don‘t mistake me.  She is not going to win the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t be -- 


ALTER:  Because she will burn out.  She will burn out. 


MATTHEWS:  Bachmann has said a lot of things that I think are provably inaccurate, like Lexington and Concord is in New Hampshire—

ALTER:  Nobody cares.

MATTHEWS:  -- and the founding fathers were against slavery. 

But the people in the yahoo wing of the Republican Party, who are so anti-intellectual, so against people that know anything, that they‘re going to like the fact she is sort of basic in that department, that she is learning things. 


MILLIGAN:  Yes, on the other hand, I‘m not—learning geography at this point, it is kind of like some of the freshmen in the House sort of still learning how a bill becomes a law.  I‘m not sure how that‘s going to work for her in a presidential campaign. 

But the thing is, look at what Sarah Palin did.  They learned their lesson from the impact Palin had on the independent vote in the general election.  And I just don‘t see the party trying to come around her. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me try the map here.  We have been looking at the map already.  Let‘s take a look at this.  Suppose—look at the money she has raised.  She has outraised Mitt Romney in the first quarter, tons of money to put TV ads telling her personal story.  Isn‘t that going to sell? 

MILLIGAN:  Look, money is important.  But one of the reason she‘s raised a lot of the money is that she—as you pointed out, she taps a certain part of the party. 

Alan Grayson raised a lot of money, almost $6 million.  Joe Wilson raised a lot of money. 

MATTHEWS:  Who would you rather interview—would you rather interview for an hour, a reasonable interview over a couple of coffee, taking notes, no cameras, her or Mitt Romney? 


MILLIGAN:  Oh, that‘s unfair. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m going to ask you, because Romney would be robotic. 


MILLIGAN:  He would.  He would. 

ALTER:  No, no, I‘m going to say Romney. 


MILLIGAN:  But who would you rather have as president? 

ALTER:  But, no, not just that. 


ALTER:  Like, I just came from the memorial service for David Broder. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, great, great, greatest reporter.


ALTER:  One of the points that one of the eulogists made is, he didn‘t believe in trivializing politics. 

This is not a game.  And Romney is a smart guy.


ALTER:  She has no business being in this.  She is out of the clown car.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s taping this right now.


MATTHEWS:  Jonathan Alter, she is loving—some big shot Ivy Leaguer, he‘s on “Newsweek,” has just declared I am not eligible to run for president.

ALTER:  No, I didn‘t say that.  I said she‘s going to win the Iowa caucus and then she‘s going to lose in New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  You called her trivial.

ALTER:  But here‘s the thing that is, I think, most significant about her.  What does she do to Tim Pawlenty who‘s also from Minnesota?  Does she come off state?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think you‘re right.  There‘s a Gresham‘s Law here, the bad—the cheap money drives the good money out of circulation, right?

ALTER:  It could be a real problem.

MATTHEWS:  So, in other word, a guy who could actually beat President Obama could lose in the first couple rounds.

ALTER:  Possible.

MATTHEWS:  You think that‘s true?


MATTHEWS:  That she could have that role here.

MILLIGAN:  She could have that role.  I don‘t see her getting far beyond Iowa.  Obviously, she wins the Iowa caucus.  It‘s going to give her a boost.  I just can‘t see her playing out—

MATTHEWS:  Look, this isn‘t table stakes.  Who has the money?

If you look at the LDS money, the Mormon money, and I do not knock this for a second, that Mitt Romney can draw with that tremendous fraternity, sorority, people that trust him because of a common background, and his business background, and the fact that he can take a couple defeats.  I think that‘s the Romney strength.  He can take some early knockdowns.

She gets knocked out, she‘s out of the game.


MATTHEWS:  Pawlenty gets knocked out, he‘s knocked out of the game.

Romney can take a couple of loses, hang in there like McCain or like most presidential nominees, they end up winning the marathon.

ALTER:  Unless he‘s got Huntsman.  Because remember on a stage, Jon Huntsman can say, well, he worked as Obama‘s ambassador—

MATTHEWS: Is Huntsman a Mormon?

ALTER:  His father -- 

MATTHEWS:  A practicing Mormon?

ALTER:  He himself is not.  But he‘s got so much money.


MATTHEWS: -- in that community and others.

ALTER: -- in that clam shell that the Big Mac goes in, his family, they‘re billionaires.  So, he has plenty of money.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look.

ALTER:  He‘s the most appealing if any -- 


MATTHEWS:  To go back to your point.

ALTER:  He‘s the guy you like the best on that state, Jon Huntsman.

MILLIGAN:  You‘ve got to remember that in the Republican primary, unlike the Democratic primary, some of those states are winner-take-all and that‘s going to be a problem for some of—

MATTHEWS:  They‘re trying to stop that.  The Republicans don‘t want an early win.

Let‘s take a look at what she said in New Hampshire, because it is one of the early states.  Here‘s what Congresswoman Bachmann said about our history and how the republic was formed.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty.  You‘re the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord.


MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe she‘ll straighten that out on the “DAILY RUNDOWN.”  She‘s been booked tomorrow morning at 9:00 on MSNBC.  Maybe she can explain her unique knowledge of American history, the early presidents were all against you.  The Founding Fathers tried to fight slavery.

Thank you, Jonathan Alter.  About 20 of the presidents had slaves.

Anyway, thank you.  Thank you, Susan Milligan.

Up next: Academy Award-winning, we got a big winner tonight, Kevin Spacey, our friend, is coming on to talk about why Republicans across the country, especially on Capitol Hill, seem to always want to kill funding for the arts.  What is this?

Well, this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, voters in Wisconsin are going to the polls today.  They‘re voting out there today for two races that are essentially referenda on union-busting Governor Scott Walker.  That‘s going to be a big headline tomorrow across the country.  The first race is to replace Walker as Milwaukee county executive.  And the second is for state Supreme Court justice.  Whoa!

Democrats are trying to tie the Republicans in both cases to Walker.  And if they win tonight, it could be a sign of Walker‘s politics are toxic out there.  And even bigger, the Democrats have the momentum in a state that will be a critical battleground for next year.  President Obama needs to win Wisconsin.

We‘ll have the results tomorrow.

HARDBALL back after this.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

As House Republicans push for deep spending cuts in the budget, one of the easiest targets of all for them is the arts.  A group of right-wing Republicans wants to cut federal funding for the arts entirely.

Now, it means pulling $167 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and, of course, $450 million from PBS.  And that would translate into no funding for such programs as “American Masters” on PBS, the Sundance Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey is pushing back against those efforts and he‘s with us tonight.

Kevin, you were so spectacular last night at the Kennedy Center.  I wish I had you as a professor 40-some minutes of splendid explanation of why the arts are so important in our country, no matter what the budget problems are.  I now give you the floor, sir, because I think we haven‘t argued this yet.  Why are the Republicans trying to kill the arts?

KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR/POLITICAL ACTIVIST:  Well, you know, it‘s hard to understand why anyone would want to try to win political points over this issue.  I think that as Americans, we have every right, and I believe that every member of Congress in the Senate should be just as patriotic about our arts as they are about so many other issues that they‘re enormously patriotic about.

I think that arts and culture are a necessity in our lives, not just as individuals but as nations.  I think that it‘s about our spirit and our health.  It‘s about how much we expose young people to arts education, to music, and to poetry, and to theater, and to ballet.

And this isn‘t about people who want to go into the arts.  This is about what it does to people‘s sense of confidence, to people‘s sense of self esteem, to what they can learn about themselves.

I mean, you go back through the—the huge swath of extraordinary leadership we‘ve had on this issue, really from Lincoln, you know.  I think I mentioned last night that a lot of people, of course, know about the tragic death of President Lincoln at a theater.  But we know little how much he actually attended the theater during his presidency.  And the worst days of the Civil War, he attended the theater constantly because Lincoln understood that he needed the arts to replenish his soul.  He craved for poetry.

You look at some of his extraordinary presidential speeches, and you hear the rhythms of Shakespeare and the Bible, which he memorized as a young child who was not—he couldn‘t see performance.  He was exactly the kind of kid that arts programs in this country would have wanted to reach.

And so, I tried last night to—in the Nancy Hanks lecture, to make an argument about embracing arts and culture.  It, in my opinion, is the most important export that we exchange around the world.  Countries may go to war, but it‘s culture that unites us.  It educates us.  It teaches us to be better.

So, the idea that somehow this, quite frankly, small amount of $167 million, which while that isn‘t a huge amount of money, what people have to understand is that there is then matching state funding and other kinds of money that comes in.  And it actually escalates to about $1 billion, maybe even a little bit over a billion in terms of the amount of funding for arts that goes out across the country.


SPACEY:  And then, the return on that investment—and this is something that I think a lot of people in the country aren‘t aware of—is $29 billion come back into the coffers of the state and local governments.  So, it is a huge return on that kind of investment.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I know this because I look at the really successful big-city mayors who have made their cities proud to be cities, like Philadelphia‘s Eddie Rendell, who created the Avenue of the Arts on South Broad Street.  And even Buddy Cianci, not the cleanest customer on this, rebuilt Providence out of nowhere.  He created a downtown.  It‘s so good economics.

I don‘t understand why Republicans who love boosterism, who love business and downtowns everywhere don‘t see what you see.

SPACEY:  Well, what I see in every place where there is a cultural center, it brings economy to all the surrounding businesses.  I mean, if you go to any place in this country where there‘s a ballet company or a theater or jazz club or, you know, a comedy store, any place people gather, it brings economy to all the surrounding businesses.  The restaurants are filled.

And, by the way, the airlines are filled because as many people probably don‘t know, the single largest money making tourist attraction in the United States is Broadway.

So, our culture is what brings people to the United States.  They want to share it.  They want to experience it.  And we send it all over the world.  I mean, that‘s the wonderful thing about culture is that it doesn‘t know borders.  It doesn‘t understand when it crossed a border and had an impact on someone in another state or in another country around the world.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Republicans, at least the right-wingers who are pushing this, know what would Boston be like without the symphony?  What would Philadelphia be without the Philly, the Philadelphia Orchestra, what would a downtown be without its museums and its performing arts?  It wouldn‘t be cities anymore.  We don‘t have cities for downtown shopping anymore.

The cities exist in America today mainly not because to go shop there anymore, like we used to do Wednesday afternoon, or—you know what I mean?  The reason you have New York now is because the culture, because of Broadway.  The reason Philly has a downtown or even one survives in Detroit has a downtown is because of the culture.

SPACEY:  Look, I don‘t think we could accuse any member of Congress, no matter what side of the aisle they are on, of not being lovers of music and poetry and beauty and grace and what the arts give to our country.

This is a fundamental issue of ideology.  And it‘s an issue about whether they believe that the government should have a role in supporting arts and culture.  And I say look back at the history of mankind.  Look at the fact that on the continent of Europe, they have been supporting arts for a very, very long time.

I mean, princes commissioned Mozart and Michelangelo, Joseph I built the first great opera house in Vienna.  Germany nurtured music and theaters.  Look how much money they spend in Italy.

And even the cuts that we have experienced in Great Britain.  Great Britain adopted the idea that the arts, like health care and education and social security, are universal goods that ought to be available regardless of people‘s ability to pay.

MATTHEWS:  Tell that story about Winston Churchill you told last night, my hero.

SPACEY:  Well, this was great quote because as I was preparing for this lecture, I wanted to find a lot of comments that various world leaders and political leaders in the United States had made about the importance of the arts.  And, apparently, when Winston Churchill was prime minister and he was told that there was going to have to be major cuts in arts and culture because of the mounting costs of World War II, he responded with a simple reply, “Then are we fighting for?”

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s let that thought settle in.

Kevin Spacey, you‘re magnificent as an actor.  You are unbelievable last night at the Kennedy Center.

SPACEY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  I wish we all had had professor like you.

SPACEY:  I was so glad that you came.  It meant a lot to me and thanks for having me on today on this issue.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s always great to have you on.  Kevin Spacey, one of our greats.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why I‘m not beating on Paul Ryan and Republicans this week.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, “Let Me Finish” tonight with a big fight that‘s going on here in Washington.  By the way, you are the ones that started it—after all, you‘re the voter.

You know why we have a divided government?  Because you elected one.

The Democrats, of course, believe in government.  The rule it can play in providing a safety net for people, especially for health challenges, especially for older people who often have them.

Republicans tell us less is better in this department.  It‘s better for the government to get out of the health care business, including health care for older people.  That‘s what the Republicans are saying right now.

But there‘s a hitch, of course, in that thinking.  I‘m not telling you anything you don‘t know already, older people have health problems.  Health problems are what you deal with late in life.  That‘s what we used to call “a fact of life.”  You get heart problems, diabetes, Alzheimer‘s, cancers.

Nobody wants this stuff, but it happens, and we do our best to deal with it.  And thanks to some great doctors and nurses and hospitals and good equipment, we do a pretty good job.

That‘s what we do.  And yes, it costs money.  Nobody‘s getting rich in this country betting that old people won‘t get sick.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we get into this conversation.  It‘s why we have a safety net in this country, why we have Medicare and, yes, Medicaid, especially for long-term care, because the insurance companies don‘t like betting on this.

And every once in a while, someone comes along—maybe it‘s a gang that comes along—and forgets these facts of life and thinks we can short-change or even abolish programs like Medicare.

We‘ll see.  I know retired people like Medicare—and guess what?  They think they deserve it, after spending 40 or 50 years busting hump to keep things going this country.

So, I‘m not betting on anybody or any party that thinks they can win by busting up Medicare, and doing the same thing to the health care bill the president just spent a huge amount of his political capital bringing from promise to reality.

People get old.  They get sick.  They believe in this country, and they don‘t want politicians out there—men and women who already have good health insurance from the government, by the way, the Congress people do—killing their health insurance.

So, I‘m not telling you something you don‘t already know.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.




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