updated 1/24/2013 10:23:10 AM ET 2013-01-24T15:23:10

HARDBALL
January 23, 2013

Guests: Nia-Malika Henderson, Michael Scherer, Dana Milbank, Willie Brown

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hillary kicks butt!

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

And "Let Me Start" tonight with this. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton was at her best today, appearing before both Senate and House
committees on foreign affairs. She showed acuity, eloquence, humanity and
charm. To the reasonable questions, she offered candor and humility. In
place of a hard-line defense of the State Department`s handling of the
Benghazi horror, she admitted to the limitations to protect the intrepid
diplomats heading into dangerous terrain. In response to hostile
questions, she came back with strength and a challenge of her own.

Hillary, Hillary, Hillary. She never looked better. Venturing forth
in unprotected waters today, she showed how not to be defensive, how not to
sweat, also how to exhibit humanity, and yes, compassion, even when the
witnesses are looking desperately -- those people around her -- to target
her weaknesses.

Again, it was a magnificent display of smarts, I think, guts
definitely, and caring. She looked every bit like a person who could run
for president, run well, win big and serve confidently.

What a day it has been for the progressive side of American politics.
What a great week it has been, and it`s only Wednesday.

Let`s hear what our guests think. Howard Fineman is with the
Huffingtonpost. He`s director of politics for them. And Joan Walsh is
with Salon. Both are prized MSNBC analysts.

I`ll start with Joan. And I just want to get your thoughts. But
first of all, let`s show a clip of this, magnificent day. Here`s Secretary
Clinton taking -- getting into some heated points today.

This morning, by the way, she said that there was never an effort to
mislead Americans about whether the Benghazi attack was spontaneous or
planned ahead of time. And that set off a heated conversation with Senator
Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a leader of Senate right-wingers, actually. He`s
with the right-wing crowd in the Senate.

He said the administration should have been in contact with survivors
to get a better sense of what happened. Secretary Clinton pointed out
there was an FBI investigation and it`s still going on. It will take some
time. Let`s take a look at what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: When you`re in these positions, the last thing you want to
do is interfere with any other process...

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, that`s -- I realize...

CLINTON: Number one.

JOHNSON: I realize that...

CLINTON: Number two...

JOHNSON: I realize that`s a good excuse...

CLINTON: Well, no, it`s the fact. Number two, I would recommend
highly you read both what the ARB said about it, and the classified ARB,
because even today, there are questions being raised. Now, we have no
doubt they were terrorists. They were militants. They attacked us. They
killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they
were doing...

JOHNSON: No, no, no, no, no!

CLINTON: ... it`s still...

MATTHEWS: Again -- again...

CLINTON: No.

JOHNSON: ... we were misled that there were supposedly protests and
then something sprang out of that, and assault sprang out of that. And
that was easily ascertained...

CLINTON: But it`s not...

JOHNSON: ... that that was not the fact.

CLINTON: But -- but you know...

JOHNSON: The American people could have known that within days, and
they didn`t know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead
Americans.

JOHNSON: I understand...

CLINTON: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out
for a walk one night who decided they`d go kill some Americans? What
difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what
happened and do everything we can do prevent it from ever happening again,
Senator!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joan, that was kind of a pissant performance from that guy
from Wisconsin.

JOAN WALSH, SALON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh!

MATTHEWS: I don`t know how these guys get over the wall into American
politics. I think they won in a very low turn-out elections in Wisconsin.

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I think everybody should run now in national elections,
forced (ph) to vote (ph), go into elections where there`s a lot of voters
so you don`t get this weird, warped sense of people coming who supposedly
represent the American electorate. That guy doesn`t represent anybody.

WALSH: No, he doesn`t.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts about the senator`s -- the former senator,
the current secretary of state`s performance today against the kind of
performance on the side of the right.

WALSH: He was so overmatched, Ron Johnson. I mean, Chris, he opened
his questions by saying it could have been taken a very simple phone call
to ascertain the truth. I mean, my God, did he look at the pictures of
that carnage? Nothing was very simple. He proved that he`s very simple.
He`s a simpleton. His questions were disrespectful, and I was thrilled
that she got angry at him.

She showed today -- you know, women are sometimes told we can`t get
emotional and we should never get angry. She did both. She choked up a
little bit in her introduction, and she got angry at Ron Johnson, as well
she should. She put Rand Paul in his place, Rand Paul lecturing her on,
Had I been president, you would have been fired. Just made all of us
watching...

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a leap of faith!

WALSH: ... say...

MATTHEWS: No one has the imagination...

WALSH: ... You will never be president!

MATTHEWS: ... to consider the prospect of Rand Paul.

WALSH: Well, he does.

MATTHEWS: Maybe his dad had an element of greatness, but he`s got
none. Anyway, here`s the secretary again...

WALSH: He has...

MATTHEWS: She choked up...

WALSH: He has the imagination.

MATTHEWS: You mentioned the fact of compassion and feeling. When she
referred to the late Ambassador as Chris -- happens to be my name -- and
constantly hearing her talk about Chris -- she had a feeling of common
human nature with that guy that a lot of these clowns didn`t even get near
today.

Here she is. And the phrase is (ph) choked up when she discussed
speaking with the families of the victims of that terrible day. Let`s
look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those
flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the
mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and
the wives left alone to raise their children.

It has been one of the great honors of my life to lead the men and
women of the State Department and USAID, nearly 70,000 serving here in
Washington, more than 270 posts around the world. They get up and go to
work every day, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances, because
they believe, as we believe, the United States is the most extraordinary
force for peace and progress the world has ever known.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, there`s no doubt, whatever you think of Hillary
Clinton`s politics -- she`s a Democrat. And if you`re a Republican, I
guess you disagree with her. Fine. But the sense of purpose that she has
is real -- real purpose, not just ambition. And the fact that she has
shared purpose with people like the late Chris Stevens is real.

Why do they challenge that? Why do they think that somehow she
screwed the guy, she didn`t come to his defense? Why do they keep going in
that direction like some of them did today again?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
they made the mistake of doing that, Chris, in part because Hillary
represents to them a whole lot more than just a functionary at the State
Department.

MATTHEWS: But she`s not a lefty.

FINEMAN: I know.

MATTHEWS: She`s a pretty moderate person politically. She`s to my
right, I`ll tell you.

FINEMAN: It`s not even that. It`s that she`s a major figure in
American political life and in American political history, a force under
her own -- under her -- of her own, on her own, and they`re not. So that`s
part of it.

MATTHEWS: Well, is this "Gulliver`s Travels," she`s surrounded by
Lilliputians today, little people trying to tie her down?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: I do think -- I do think there were some legitimate
questions. I think there`s been an honest attempt to get most of those
questions answered, number one. Number two, I think the Republicans,
without calling them clowns or pissants or whatever...

MATTHEWS: Sometimes those words are appropriate.

FINEMAN: OK. I would say if they really wanted to seriously
understand what was going on and what did go on, they wouldn`t have
approached it the way they did.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: They were just throwing everything against the wall.

WALSH: Right.

FINEMAN: We have questions about your motives, about why you said
what you said when you said. We want to know what the security
arrangements were. We want to know what the funding was. All of it was an
all-sides attack that undercut whatever legitimacy they had for the
seriousness of her (ph) purpose.

And when Hillary then indignantly asked what difference does it make
at this point, what she was saying was, You`re asking these questions for
political reasons...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... because the only possible answer to my rhetorical
question about what difference does it make now is, is that you`re trying
to score political points.

MATTHEWS: Let`s -- we got to...

FINEMAN: She got the upper hand politically on this.

MATTHEWS: We got to get to Rand Paul here. Joan, let`s watch this.
Secretary Clinton was strongly criticized by some Republicans. Senator
Rand Paul said if he had been president -- again, a leap of faith -- he
would have fired her over her failure of leadership. Let`s listen to this
character.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I`m glad that you`re accepting
responsibility. I think that, ultimately, with your leaving, you accept
the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that.

Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the
cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens,
I would have relieved you of your post. I think it`s inexcusable. Not to
know of the requests for securities (ph), really, I think cost these people
their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joan, what he`s saying here is something I`ve never heard
before. He`s basically saying she`s resigning out of embarrassment.
Everybody has known for months that Secretary Clinton intended, planned to
and did serve a full presidential term.

WALSH: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: This was always the plan. And for him to now sneaky-poo,
sneak this in and saying, I think that, ultimately, with your leaving, you
accept the culpability.

Where did that come from? That`s not honest at all.

WALSH: He`s delusional. You know, he`s a legend in his own mind. He
can see himself as president. He`s trying to get it on the record that
this is why she`s resigning, which we all know is preposterous.

And you know, I think -- I think this started out in the beginning as
a kind of effort to impeach candidate President Obama before the
elections...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: Right.

WALSH: ... to say that they were dissembling about the strength of al
Qaeda. And now it`s turning into a way to try to disable the strongest
Democrat.

Now, we don`t know whether she`ll run, and she`s had some health
issues. But we learned two things today, Chris. She`s healthy. She
looked great.

MATTHEWS: She did look great.

WALSH: And we learned that she can stand up to this onslaught on
Benghazi.

FINEMAN: Oh, I don`t think...

WALSH: This is not -- despite what Rand Paul thinks he can do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... doing this because I kid (ph) that as a male (ph),
talking about (INAUDIBLE) Here`s what I liked about her today, absolute
confidence. It wasn`t an argument she was making...

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... she was stating facts, against some of these clownish
guys that didn`t have the facts. I thought she has a wonderful way of
speaking. And I -- and my old boss Tip used to say Ronald Reagan`s great
strength was his voice. She has a beautiful voice. She knows how to speak
for hours and it`s not bothering anybody, the tremendous power of that
beautiful voice she has.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Then you had that combined with tremendous brief. She had
her brief today.

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: These other guys didn`t. It wasn`t a campaign spot today.
It was a demonstration of ability. And she had it.

And by the way, if she doesn`t run for president, performing the way
she did today, I don`t know why because the way she performed today was
winning, a winning performance.

FINEMAN: Well, Chris, look, Hillary`s the ultimate survivor, the
ultimate professional, the ultimate masterer of briefs. She`s been through
confrontations and situations politically that make the thing she did today
look like batting practice and spring training.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: I mean, she`s confident of what she did. And I think most
people would say -- most fair-minded people would say that she`s been a
terrific secretary of state.

And she`s on her way out the door now, and these people are grabbing
her by the ankles on the way out the door. That`s the way it felt. And
she was able, by strategically using her anger and being dignified and
knowing her topic, to make them all look small.

MATTHEWS: Didn`t you, Joan...

FINEMAN: They were trying to look big and equal to her and they
didn`t match up.

MATTHEWS: No, no, no.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: I have the image of these guys going home tonight to caves.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I think they look like guys who had come -- I`m sorry, I`m
heading back to my cave where I live, the behavior of a couple of these
guys, like Johnson and Paul.

Anyway, the grilling continued this afternoon in the House, where
Congressman Jeff Duncan accused Secretary Clinton of knowing in advance of
the attack that embassy officials had requested more security in Benghazi,
and he suggested she should have resigned, again, an old argument here.
Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Madam Secretary, you let the
consulate become a death trap, and that`s national security malpractice.
You`ve said you take responsibility. What does responsibility mean, Madam
Secretary? You`re still in your job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You got it, last thought, Joan. That`s the sniping she
took today.

WALSH: She`s -- that`s an -- that`s an ignorant person. That`s an
ignorant person. She took it well. She took it -- her anger, as Howard
said, was strategic. She was dignified. She won. She won.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I thought -- I thought she was very good at answering
the key worst case argument against her, that somehow, the day of the event
when that embassy -- that facility was under fire and those people were
about to get killed, that she turned down their request for help. That
never happened. Clearly, on the record today, we know that never happened.

The worst case argument was gone, so they had to go back to that old
argument that somebody said something on "MEET THE PRESS" they shouldn`t
have said because maybe there`s a difference of nuance, to which we still
don`t know the answer because the FBI investigation is still under way.

FINEMAN: The real way to look at this is the last act of the 2012
presidential campaign, the last desperate act of the Republicans of the
2012 campaign...

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... and the first desperate act of the 2016 campaign.

MATTHEWS: They don`t look like today`s men, by the way. They`re a
little out of date, those guys, maybe a century. Anyway, thank you, Howard
Fineman, and thank you, Joan Walsh. I knew you`d love this one. I loved
it, too.

Coming up: One person surely watching Hillary`s testimony with great
interest today was the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.
Yes, there are still 1,385 days until election day next, but there`s also
plenty of speculation out there that the VP`s also interested in making a
run of the presidency. Could this be the great primary fight of the
Democrats` history?

Also, some new over-the-top statements from the pro-gun people, some
new thoughts, if you can call them that. A freshman congressman says
citizens should have the same weaponry as the U.S. military so that they
can defend themselves against the U.S. military.

And once again, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA is making an all-out call to
oppose measures -- all new measures for safety -- gun safety. He`s against
it all.

Plus, the right-wing chorus calls the president`s inaugural address
too liberal and out of the mainstream. But a check of the very latest up
to date poll shows that most Americans happen to agree with the president,
making them mainstream. He`s mainstream. What`s the problem?

And by the way, "Let Me Finish" tonight with what we saw all day, a
strong, confident and even happy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a
winning performance.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s some proof that good things can happen to
Republicans in the Northeast of this country who criticize the extremist
elements in their party. Well, New Jersey governor Chris Christie is
soaring in the polls up in Jersey, 3 in 4 New Jersey voters, 74 percent,
approve the job he`s doing -- I don`t think Reagan got that high --
according to new Quinnipiac poll. And what`s more, by a margin of 5 to 1,
voters say the governor was right to criticize congressional Republicans,
including the leaders, for delaying a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief.

Well, we`ll be right back. He`s big up there!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back. And I said what a day. Hillary Clinton`s
strong performance today was a reminder to many that she would be a
formidable candidate -- who doesn`t know that -- in 2016.

But, this week, we got a few hints about another big Democratic
candidate, a Bigfooter, Vice President Joe Biden. He clearly wants to run.
The vice president seems to be laying the groundwork, in fact, for a run,
which he was asked about CNN on yesterday.

Let`s take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN: Is there any reason you wouldn`t run?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, there`s a
whole lot of reasons why I wouldn`t run. I haven`t made that decision, and
I don`t have to make that decision for awhile.

BORGER: So are you ready to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016?

BIDEN: I haven`t mad that judgment and Hillary hasn`t made that
judgment. But I can tell you what. Everything that should be done over
the next two years that I should be part of would have to be done whether I
run or I don`t run.

If this administration is successful, whoever is running as a Democrat
is better positioned to win. If we`re not successful, whoever runs as a
nominee is going to be less likely to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, a brand-new poll out today from "The Washington Post"
and ABC News shows how popular Hillary Clinton is. No surprises here, by
the way. She`s not quite at Chris Christie`s level in Jersey, but pretty
close nationally.

And 67 percent, which is two-thirds, of America say they have a
favorable view of her. That even includes 37 percent of Republicans, so
it`s pretty high across the aisle there. Meanwhile, Joe Biden, the
president, is viewed favorably by just 48 percent. Of course, in all
fairness, he`s been in the line of fire. And until today, Secretary
Clinton was in the nonpolitical world of foreign affairs.

So, is Biden ready to make the run for the White House? Looks like it
is -- he is.

Let`s talk about Hillary Clinton tonight. Let`s talk about her.

Chris Cillizza is managing editor of PostPolitics.com and an MSNBC
political analyst and he`s all over "The Washington Post." By the way, I
think he`s one of the best columnists around right now.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter at "The
Post." And she`s just starting. The big guns are coming out of her
career.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: So, let`s talk about this. Male, female, we have a nice
mix here.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON
POST": That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Let me talk about would -- let me talk about -- I`m a pure
political person. That`s all I think about is politics most of the time,
except...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Nothing wrong with that.

MATTHEWS: I think Biden is trying to get his foot in early, and maybe
hope that she will decide not to run and he will be standing there. He may
also hope that putting his foot down early, as Golda Meir would call it,
establishing new facts, like, I`m running may, slightly intimidate her not
to run, just slightly, one more thing she has to put up with, a fight out
in Iowa.

And I also hear she doesn`t intend to go out to Iowa and spend out a
year out there, like they all do. She`s going to win or not, but she ain`t
going to go out there and play that game.

First question, is Biden running?

HENDERSON: We don`t know. We don`t know. In some ways, he`s been
for president running since 1998, 2008.

MATTHEWS: But that`s -- the performance the other day out on the
street.

HENDERSON: His performance, it was classic Biden. He is a classic
pol. He clearly enjoys this stuff. I think it all depends on Hillary
Clinton.

MATTHEWS: OK.

HENDERSON: And this idea that somehow he can scare her away, she`s
not scared of anyone.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want some more skin in the game here, Nia. Is the
president helping him by giving him jobs like the fiscal cliff
negotiations?

HENDERSON: I don`t that think that helps him.

MATTHEWS: Is he giving him the gun issue?

HENDERSON: I don`t think that helps him ultimately, because it puts
him in the line of fire.

His approval ratings will likely decline, in the way that Obama`s will
decline over this next year. Hillary Clinton will be off safe somewhere,
maybe with a grandchild, not political skin in the game.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Look, it may hurt him in a general election, but I would
say Joe Biden would be thrilled to have to worry about a 2016 general
election with him as the Democratic nominee.

I do think guns, if he can do something, helps him. I think the fact
-- it helps with the inside crowd, Chris. And I will tell you I do think -
- if you were to ask Joe Biden today, hey, Joe -- and it wasn`t on
television and Gloria Borger Washington interviewing him -- are you running
for president, you know what he`d say? Yes. And I don`t think he would
pause. That doesn`t mean he runs in 2016, but he`s running right now.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think his biggest enemy is not Hillary Clinton, although
she is formidable and may be unbeatable. It`s "Saturday Night Live." It`s
Jason Sudeikis.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: That`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: "Saturday Night Live," Lorne Michaels, those guys, if they
decide to caricaturize you, you`re dead.

Take a look here. Here`s Hillary Clinton, who they haven`t been able
to do that to. She gave, I believe, a commanding performance today before
the United States Congress in both houses. She came across as, dare we say
it, presidential. Listen to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, after four
years in this job, traveling nearly a million miles, visiting 112
countries, my faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever.

Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words United
States of America touches down in some far-off capital, I feel again the
honor it is to represent the world`s indispensable nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, again, it`s tricky to talk about fashion and
look. I think everything she did in terms of presentation, the hair, the
suit, the glasses, it was very serious and very attractive, likable for a
political figure of her age. I think she came across perfect today. Your
thoughts.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Imagine -- this is what I always says. Imagine all the
other people, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O`Malley, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand.

MATTHEWS: They can`t do this.

CILLIZZA: Imagine them in a situation like this.

Now, they`re not the secretary of state. They haven`t been in public
life that long. But what this is, it demonstrates that she has massive
both understanding of how Washington works and massive ability. She just
spent the equivalent of a full day, an eight-hour day facing many
adversarial questions.

You know what we`re talking about? We`re talking about her
performance. Maybe we`re talking about Ron Johnson. We`re talking about
Rand Paul. You know what we`re not talking about? Hillary Clinton made
news in a bad way on Benghazi.

That is -- do not underestimate how difficult it is to talk for seven
full hours and basically keep the story that you have been telling, the
same story at the end of the day...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What I like is she was -- I liked her candor. She didn`t
come on and straight-arm the thing and say, we did everything right.
People died. In fact, a close friend of hers, Chris, died -- Chris
Stevens.

HENDERSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: She talked about there were limitations of what they have
been able to do in terms of resources, in terms of priorities. They
weren`t always right on priorities. They didn`t have enough money.

They admitted that they didn`t -- that they had -- she had to change
the system afterwards, so they created a deputy position to handle these
kind of high-security problems. She admitted all that. She laid -- it was
a layout in terms of, OK, we`re not perfect. We blew it in a way. We`re
not the worst people on Earth, but we didn`t do it right.

HENDERSON: Right. She talked like somebody who has been in the
arena.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HENDERSON: And those are the people who get the credit. It isn`t the
critics. It`s the people who have been in the arena.

I also think the big question for 2016 is who can carry -- who can
make the Obama coalition the Democratic coalition? And if you look at
those numbers, the "Washington Post" poll, she`s high favorability among
African-Americans, among women, among Hispanics, and also among lower-
educated voters as well, high school grads.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Do you think she will run as the way that the George
W. Bush`s father ran after Reagan, as a third term for Reagan?

CILLIZZA: No.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: No, I think that`s right.

But in terms of the attachment and the enthusiasm of the base of the
Democratic voters, she has that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to jump on it. I think she historically is
somewhere to the left of Scoop Jackson, somewhere around Hubert Humphrey,
in other words, right in the middle of the Democratic Party historically,
because she said we`re the indispensable country, none of this pulling
back, none of this come home America.

HENDERSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: No passivity, tough that way.

CILLIZZA: Yes, tough, but one other point, Chris. You know what she
did? She did concede, yes, we did make mistakes. But you know what? She
also, when tested by Ron Johnson most notably, she did not back down. The
liberal base of the party, they didn`t want Hillary Clinton to go in front
and concede everything on Benghazi, because they believe that she did do --
did it work out perfectly? No. Did she do to the best of her ability?
Yes.

So, I actually think she wins herself points by saying, yes, you know
what? Everything didn`t go perfectly, but I`m not going to stand here and
just let you sort of attack me and say that we`re to blame for everything.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Jim DeMint`s favorite senator, Ron Johnson, didn`t look
very good today.

CILLIZZA: I thought she did very well to strike that balance.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Chris Cillizza.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Nia-Malika Henderson.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: We will be right back. I wasn`t being sarcastic. I think
you`re great.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Still ahead on Obama: Conservative say President Obama`s
inaugural address was some sort of left-wing manifesto, far out of the
American mainstream. So why do so many mainstream Americans agree with
pretty much everything the president put forward in his speech on Monday?
Good question.

If he`s in the mainstream, we`re all in the mainstream. And we are.

And that`s ahead. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We the people declare
today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is
the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through
Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: New polling on this.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Obama Monday, a couple days ago, in his inaugural
address. It was lines like that one, referencing women`s rights, civil
rights, and gay rights, that has defeated the right. Anyway, it`s got them
-- the defeated right, rather, braying about Mr. Obama`s so-called liberal
manifesto, about how utterly out of the mainstream he is.

Well, the more you look at that speech in polls lately, the more you
can argue that the president is moving with public opinion, not ahead of
it. Let`s go to the evidence, starting with gay marriage. Here`s what the
president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters
are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created
equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as
well.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s kind of the black church sound there a little bit,
wonderful with the cadence. I wonder whether he does so when he gets out
on a big platform, like an inaugural address.

Anyway, is that out of the mainstream? According to our NBC poll just
last month, a majority of the American people, a clear majority, 51
percent, now say they favor same-sex marriage.

Next, immigration. Here was the president on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to
welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of
opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are listed in our
work force, rather than expelled from our country.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Was that out of the mainstream? No. According to our
latest poll, it shows that 52 percent think illegal immigrants working here
in the U.S. should be allowed to apply for legal status.

Next, climate change. I love this one. Many were surprised he even
included it in his inaugural address, but take a look at what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that
the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but
none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling
drought, and more powerful storms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, how about that? Was that out of the mainstream? A
poll by the Associated Press and GFK last month showed 78 percent of
Americans believe temperatures worldwide have probably gone up over the
last century. And 57 percent believe the government should do something
about it.

And, lastly, government programs. President Obama took a shot at
Republicans when he said this about entitlements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and
Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They
strengthen us.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the
risks that make this country great.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, take that, Paul Ryan.

Anyway, the public`s predominantly in favor of programs like -- no
surprise here -- in fact, when we polled Americans last year on Medicare, a
majority, 54 percent, said it only needed minor modifications, if anything.

David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC
political analyst. And Michael Scherer is "TIME" magazine`s White House
correspondent.

Gentlemen, thank you.

I didn`t know this until you put it all together. But I had this
sense that on the right, if you take moderate positions like these polls
say are moderate positions, you`re considered a liberal. If you`re in the
middle, the right sees you as the left.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s true. What do you think?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the right is
screaming that this is a liberal speech, which should come as no surprise.
Barack Obama has always been a progressive Democrat, a pragmatist as a
government manager, but progressive in his values.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s come back to the point here. I know you`re on
the progressive side. Would you call his speech out of the mainstream on
the left side?

CORN: No, no, no. I would say he was putting forward the most
popular elements of the progressive tradition...

MATTHEWS: Well said.

CORN: ... which is a good -- a safety net, and having government
invest in the economy, build infrastructure, the highway system, like
Eisenhower did. These are now.

And I think these have -- they`re more liberal and more mainstream
than they have been because the right has moved so far to the right, they
don`t want to see government doing anything. And that`s not -- I don`t
think that that`s what...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And this is a nonpartisan assessment. Analytically, the
Democratic Party is right where it`s always been, a social democratic
party, in some cases, a little moderate than others. There`s other cases.
But, basically, its heart is sort of social democratic by the international
standards.

The Republican Party, however, has moved from a center-right party, I
believe, towards a rightist party much more so.

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME": Sure. That`s over the last few years.

But it`s also true that this speech represented a shift for Obama.
Just a few months ago, he was in Ohio competing with Mitt Romney over who
could love coal more. Now he`s out there talking about global warming. He
wasn`t talking about gun control during the campaign. Now he`s talking
about gun control. He, since the election, has started spinning forward.
He thinks demographics are on his side.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But he never played the Luddite role that Romney played in
the campaign, of saying there is -- Romney, you talked about switching
positions, went from a guy saying of course there`s global warming
problems, though, I don`t believe it.

Right, Michael? That was a battle on the campaign between a guy who
believed in global warming and a guy who denied it.

SCHERER: Well, he denied whether manmade -- whether man had a role.
He said there is global warming. I`m not sure about that.

MATTHEWS: I never heard that.

SCHERER: No, he never did. But he did --

MATTHEWS: He didn`t push the buttons, no.

SCHERER: And even on this, he`s not saying exactly what he`s going
to do. I mean, he`s still burned from making those House Democrats take
votes on global warming before the 2010 elections. A lot of people lost
their seats in part because of that. I`m curious to see how he moves this
forward. There`s no big climate change --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re right, Michael. A couple things now that are going
to be very tough if you`re a progressive -- guns is always tricky business
because they keep records who voted against them. And this issue of
climate, because I look at states like Kentucky, West Virginia, western
Pennsylvania.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Oh, sure. You have Democrats that get you
in trouble.

MATTHEWS: That`s tough.

CORN: But Michael`s right in one sense, that this speech was about
emphasizing. You know, he didn`t flip on any issues. What he said in the
speech, a lot of things he said in the past.

But he spoke a lot to his own people. When he said Seneca Falls,
Stonewall, and Selma, those are -- you know, I don`t want to say they`re
buzz words or code words, but it`s basically to his own base saying,
listen. The next four years I`m going to fight hard for the things we
collectively believe in. And we may get imperfect results, but this is
what I`m going to try to do.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORN: And it`s stuff that he`s always believed.

MATTHEWS: Here`s where I think he was probably outside the
mainstream. If you listen to the president, he never really brought up
debt problems. The concerns that most Americans do feel we have a problem.

We have $16 trillion in debt now. It`s catching up to our GDP. They
are worried because they see what happened in Greece and Portugal and
Ireland and all those places. They are worried.

As a progressive, he didn`t get that.

SCHERER: He also barely mentioned jobs, which I thought was pretty
stunning. And because he just won an election on jobs. I mean, everyone
agrees that election was about jobs. and now, we are a few months later,
he`s --

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he?

SCHERER: -- he needed to fix it up.

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he bring up jobs?

SCHERER: Because it`s not something he can really do much about
right now given the current congressional makeup.

And this was a base rallying speech. This was a message speech to
say to the people who elected him, this is not like it was in 2009. I`m
your guy now. I need you. We`re going to go storm the castle.

Whereas in 2009, Democrats controlled the Congress and he was about
negotiating with his own party. He didn`t have a castle to storm.

CORN: I also think, back then, rightly or wrongly, he had some hope
to use the word, that you could come up with bipartisan solutions. You
could work with this Congress. Particularly when the economy was in free
fall and you`d say, OK, let`s get together and do some of the things that
Republicans and Democrats have always agreed to. And I think four years
later, he certainly is a lot wiser on that front and those --

MATTHEWS: You don`t think he might be fighting the last war? You
have a sense in the last couple days, Michael you too, last week, we said,
Republicans are beginning to recognize that they`re off base. Maybe he
judged too early the notion he couldn`t deal with these guys, Michael. I
think he can deal with some of these guys now.

SCHERER: He`ll still come to the table with them. He just thinks
that he only way to deal with them is to have -- to bring a gun to the gun
fight. I mean, he wants the people behind and he wants to play this as an
outside game, mobilizing the country. He`s not willing to play an inside
game where he looks like he`s part of the problem again.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHERER: He wants to play outside. So he`s positioning himself.
But I absolutely think he will come to the table on immigration.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think Republicans are cracking.

CORN: But I think keeping the pressure on is essential. Because
what are the Republicans doing now in the House? They`re attacking the
Senate. Because they realize that Obama has mobilized part of the public
against them and --

MATTHEWS: The only way we`re going to get gun control is going to be
about background checks. It`s going to come through the Senate. Harry
Reid has got to stick his neck out and do something on gun background
checks right away, pretty soon.

Anyway, thank you David Corn. Thank you, Michael Scherer of "Time
Magazine." I love "Time Magazine".

Up next -- I really do -- why does the GOP, why does the GOP, that`s
the "guns over the people" party, keep saying crazy things about President
Obama`s modest gun safety proposals? The president`s not going overboard.
He`s trying to do the reasonable thing, yet the people on the NRA, right,
and those people there are going nuts over this. They`re armying up for
the final struggle against the government, the elected government.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the right wing hawks are on thin ice after this
Tuesday`s election in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu`s party was expected to
win big in the Knesset. But the big surprise was the rise of the new
center. The center left Yesh Atid party, which in English means "there is
a future".

And now, Bibi`s at the deadlock right now. His coalition will
control just 60 seats in the Knesset. And his rivals on the center left
and left will have 60 as well. And that could force Netanyahu to make
peace overtures to the Palestinians, or else possibly lose his job.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For now decisions are
upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for
principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name calling as
reasoned debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Those lines in the president`s inaugural address don`t exactly sound
like fighting words, do they? But to NRA`s Wayne LaPierre, that`s exactly
what they are. At an awards ceremony last night in Nevada, the leader of
the NRA explained why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Obama wants to turn the
idea of absolutism into a dirty word -- just another word for extremism.
He wants you, all of you, and Americans throughout all of this country to
accept the idea of principles as he sees fit.

There`s only two reasons for a federal list on gun owners -- to
either tax them or take them. It`s the only reason.

(APPLAUSE)

And anyone who says that`s excessive, President Obama says you`re an
absolutist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the NRA has been unapologetic in its defense of gun
rights, of course, fighting even nationally popular controls like
background checks and ammunition limits.

In fact, the nation`s gun extremists out there have hit the panic
button in their delusional belief that President Obama sets atop a
tyrannical government determined to take aware their guns.

Well, joining me is "Washington Post`s" Dana Milbank and former San
Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

I want to go to Mayor Brown on this. It just seems to me that there
are other reasons to have lists of people buying guns, especially
semiautomatic rifles, Mayor. They have fingerprints on people out there.
We don`t collect people`s hands.

I mean, this is an absurd lie. Of course, there`s reasons to know
who buys certain guns, because -- I mean, maybe we should have ballistic
tests on everything so we have signatures from the guns so we know who
killed anybody. It wouldn`t bother me a bit.

Your thoughts? Are they crazy? Or are they smart? Or both?

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: No, I think they`re
absolutely crazy. I think they are desperately trying, as best they can,
to overcome what obviously is a movement toward some form of gun control,
no matter how modest.

The most recent incidents involving people who obviously were out of
their minds, using weapons on children and otherwise has caused panic among
the gun owners of America and, in particular, the man whom you had quoted
just a moment ago. His reaction is exactly that, of a desperate person
trying to stave off what has turned into a basically popular movement.

MATTHEWS: You know, if someone came into a gun store and was
behaving erratically and looked like they had a mental or emotional
problem, a severe one, would somebody sell them a gun? And if not, which I
think it`s reasonable to assume they would not, why not have some help in
finding out which people have those problems before you sell them guns?

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Well, they might not --

MATTHEWS: Like a background check.

MILBANK: They might not sell them in a gun store, but then the guy
can just go to a gun show and get it without any difficulty there. So,
that`s the loophole that`s been making a lie out of all of the gun
regulations.

Now, the mayor I think is half right there that the NRA is crazy.
But they`re also smart, too. Of course, nothing has ever been absolute
about the Second Amendment. We can`t fire shoulder-held missile launchers
in airports. But, you know --

MATTHEWS: Or even have access to an automatic weapon.

MILBANK: But, of course, it`s absurd -- but he`s not talking to you
and me. He`s not talking to America. He`s talking to a fairly slim slice
of the electorate that controls the House Republicans and also has a lot of
influence over Democratic senators from rural states.

MATTHEWS: I know that. Anyway, the NRA`s LaPierre -- that`s Wayne
LaPierre, we just him, set up an "us versus them" dynamic here, saying gun
owners would stand their ground. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAPIERRE: We are not people to be trivialized, marginalized or
demonized as unreasonable. We`re not children who need to be parented, or
misguided, bitter clingers to guns and religion.

We believe in our right to defend ourselves and our families with
semi-automatic firearms technology. We believe that if neither the
criminal nor the political class and their bodyguards and security people
are limited by magazine capacity, we shouldn`t be limited in our capacity,
either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, again, Mayor, your thoughts? He`s basically
saying we`ve got to arm people. A lot of them have to be armed up to the
armed power of the United States government.

I mean, this is really something. This is about (INAUDIBLE) and the
survivalists who want to go out there and set up barricades in the woods to
fight the onslaught of the black helicopters. This isn`t about
sportsmanship or self protection. It`s about insurrection. This is like
fighting the revenuers again.

BROWN: And he`s totally misleading his people. He knows that anyone
who works for the government in any capacity with a firearm is severely
reviewed before they`re allowed to touch a firearm.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BROWN: They are required to be skillful. They are required to
report in. They`re required to be held accountable for every use of that
firearm -- something that this man, obviously, would oppose.

If he is telling his people he wishes the same privilege for them,
then coming with that must be the same responsibility. He`s totally
ignoring that. And, believe me, that limited number of people to whom he`s
speaking is becoming fewer and fewer in every incident.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Yes or no? They`re going to get gun control of any kind this year?

MILBANK: Well, they may get some small things, but the assault guns
ban is dead. It`s going to be very hard to get.

MATTHEWS: I think they`re going to get background checks. That`s
what I`m hoping. I think if that can get to the Senate, I think we could
really get that done if Harry Reid would get moving, that wait for the
House to do it.

Anyway, thank you, Dana Milbank.

Thank you, Mayor Brown. Thanks for coming on from California.

When we return, let me finish with Hillary Clinton tonight and her
strong performance -- back and better than ever you`d have to say in that
TV performance, an all-day performance.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this thought. You know, I
heard years ago that the difference between success and failure captured a
single word: purpose.

Muhammad Ali was beaten in a ring but always came out back. He was
never beaten in what he stood for.

Mike Tyson was beaten in the ring, beaten in life. What he stood for
is anybody`s guess.

Boxing expert Teddy Atlas told me about this and I hope I never
forget it. He was giving me life advice, and I cannot thank him enough --
for everyone takes a beating now and then, and, often because you didn`t do
something you should have or did something you shouldn`t have, or you
simply had a bad day, a bad week, a bad year. It`s what you do then that
sets people apart.

Look at the magnificent job Secretary Hillary Clinton has done the
past four years. She lost the nomination for president back in 2008 and
now looks better than she ever did. She looks happy, confident, strong.
She looks like a winner.

She certainly looked like a winner today before a group of senators
and congressmen that included the serious, the comic and, of course, the
absurd. Good for her I say. As her legions of followers like to say --
go, girl, go!

If she doesn`t run for president, I can`t think of why. After today,
I can`t think of a reason out there.

If she performs in this campaign coming up four years from now,
anything like she did today, she`ll win and win big. If she performs as
well as she did today, look out.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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