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updated 2/1/2013 8:48:26 PM ET 2013-02-02T01:48:26

Hardball host Chris Matthews sees a trend of “Republican men behaving badly. In fact they’re talking exactly the way they did in the four years leading up to their 2012 election disaster. Apparently losing a presidential election, Senate, and House seats hasn’t dissuaded some Republicans from putting their worst feet forward.”

“We’re seeing a trend,” said Hardball host Chris Matthews on Friday. “Republican men behaving badly. In fact they’re talking exactly the way they did in the four years leading up to their 2012 election disaster. Apparently losing a presidential election, Senate, and House seats hasn’t dissuaded some Republicans from putting their worst feet forward.”

Matthews cited three recent events. One was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham grilling Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing for secretary of defense. Graham asked him multiple times to name one person who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the U.S. (Hagel has expressed regrets over the comments).

A second example was Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who questioned a speech Hagel once made that called Israel’s military campaign against terrorist group Hezbollah a “sickening slaughter.” Hagel said he wanted to look at the full context of the quote–but he was interrupted by Cruz who started asking about another issue.

Finally, Matthews pointed to Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, who recently insisted that Hillary Clinton should have been fired as secretary of state for the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The Kentucky lawmaker implied that Clinton was stepping down because of the attack, even though Clinton has said for over a year that she planned on serving just one presidential term.

Robert Costa of the conservative National Review didn’t see any problem with the questioning. “I think these are Republicans asking tough questions at a Congressional hearing,” Costa told Matthews. “This is not a big story. These are Congressional hearings. It’s not a cocktail party. There should be tough questions. I don’t understand the outrage about questions for someone who’s going to be running the Pentagon.”

The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein disagreed. “The problem I found with these questions was [the lawmakers] ended up stepping on the news. They became so demonstrative, they became so theatrical with how they were asking these questions to the people at the hearings, they ended up stealing the spotlight from the answers themselves.”

Stein added that the number of times Israel came up (over 160) dwarfed the number of questions about Afghanistan (a few dozen times), although Afghanistan is likely to be more of a central issue over the next four years. “If you go through this hearing, and they ask that question about an old statement once, fine. Twice, okay. Three times. But it became so repetitive that it looked like a lot of these Republican senators were there to score a political point,” said Stein.

Video: What the GOP didn’t learn

  1. Closed captioning of: What the GOP didn’t learn

    >>> seeing a trend i'd say. republican men behaving badly . in fact, they're talking exactly the way they did in the four years leading up to their 2012 election disaster. apparently losing a presidential election senate house seats hasn't dissuaded some republicans from putting their worst feet forward. take chuck hagel 's confirmation hearing. some of which we've been talking about already tonight. and secretary of state hillary clinton 's hearing over the killings in benghazi . let's listen to another exchange between hagel and in this case south carolina senator lindsey graham .

    >> name one person in your opinion who is intimidated by the israeli lobby in the united states senate .

    >> well, first --

    >> name one.

    >> i don't know.

    >> well, why would you say it?

    >> i didn't have in mind a specific person --

    >> do you agree it's a provocative statement, that i can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the united states and israel and the senate or the congress than what you said. name one dumb thing we've been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the israeli or jewish lobby .

    >> the freshman republican ted cruz of texas wanted to get his camera time. let's watch cruz in action.

    >> in a speech on the floor of the senate you referred to israel 's military campaign against the terrorist group hezbollah as a sickening slaughter. i would suggest the characterizations -- do you think it's right that israel was committed a, quote, sickening slaughter as you said on the floor of the senate ?

    >> i think, again, i would want to read all of it what i said --

    >> what's he doing? perhaps with an eye the 2016 the right wingers didn't spare hillary clinton either. senator rand paul said she should have been fired for benghazi .

    >> i'm glad you're accepting responsibility. i think that ultimately with your leaving you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 2007 and i really mean that. had i been president at the time and i found you did not read the cables from benghazi , you did not read the able qaaibles from ambassador stevens i would have relieved you of your post. i think it's inexcusable.

    >> it was particularly sweet there if you notice how he suggested she was resigning under pressure, that she was quitting the job because of benghazi even though for months if not years she said she intended to serve one presidential term as sge of state. that was a totally dishonest remark. talking about republicans rebranding themselves after their big defeat in 2012 but it doesn't seem as if these guys got the memo. with me right now to discuss it robert costa , washington editor for the national review and sam stein, who is a political editor for t"the huffington post ." robert, how would you rate those performances?

    >> i think these are republicans asking tough questions at a congressional hearing . this is not a big story . these are congressional hearings , not a cocktail party . they should be tough questions. i don't understand the outrage about questions for someone who is going to be running the pentagon.

    >> sam ?

    >> well, i slightly disagree with robert.

    >> i thought you might.

    >> you know, actually it's funny because some of these questions did produce interesting illustrative answers. for instance when ron johnson got hk to say what difference does it make? well, it does make a difference. the problem i found with the questions was they ended up stepping on the news. they became so dem mon stra tiff and so theatrical that they ended up stealing the spotlight from the answers. that did a disservice in some respects to the question.

    >> is the real story the feeder of the questions or hagel 's fumbling perform snens i think it's the latter. i think hagel had a dismal performance at that hearing. did he seem competent to run the pentagon? there were a lot of questions even among democrats after that hearing whether he's ready.

    >> i don't disagree with that. i think hagel had a really poor performance. what i'm say something for these senators -- if you looked at what ted cruz was asking about, association with an israeli diplomat that basically 99.9% of the country has never heard of, what was the point of that? he ended up actually stepping on hagel 's bad day by taking some of the spotlight away from him.

    >> let's go after some of the questioning because i disagree with you and i agree with you.

    >> not surprised about that.

    >> what?

    >> i said i'm not surprised you agree.

    >> was that sarcasm. let's talk about lindsey graham when you ask a guy who had already recanted his argument about the power of the israeli lobby , obviously enormously influential lobby like the nra, heavily funded, heavily activated, strong people with strong minds, everybody knows they're influential, that's why they're there. to say which senator do you know that was bought by them controlled by them, intimidated by them. obviously there's no answer to that question. so what was the purpose of that exchange? what i would submit is it wasn't an interview. it wasn't even an interrogation. it was almost a star chamber attempt to incriminate the guy. in other words, there is no right answer to question. had he named a name of somebody who had come up and said i was going to vote for that but somebody got to me and said i better not, if somebody had said that to him, he would have been dead in these hearings. i'm just saying what the questions were along the lines of, have you stopped beating your wife? there was no informative answer.

    >> you're calling this a mccarthy hearing, a star chamber --

    >> yes, it is.

    >> you think when democratic senators met with hagel behind the scenes they weren't asking about his comments --

    >> sure they're asking by the way they got the answers. they got the answers, but i believe what happened is this guy was walked on the plank. he was told by mccain and lindsey we're satisfied with your answers, and that's all the words that came out of the preliminary discussion. they got him in and they jumped him. or theatrical purposes.

    >> he had been given truth serum chuck hagel could have pointed to himself as somebody who had been influenced by the israeli lobby . a lot of previous statements he had to walk back. he could have said you're looking at him.

    >> you're saying this is theater to ask about the jewish lobby comment. i think it was the right course of action in if a senator in a congressional hearing , if they made that kind of comment in a public --

    >> we're a month into this discussion though. the trouble is, rocket, we're a month into the discussion with back and fofer foths and recantations for weeks and to go in there and act like none of this ever happened --

    >> it happened in the press and it happened before the official hearing. this is the official hearing to confirm --

    >> okay. i will stick to what i'm saying. they were interested in his defense policy would have asked about it.

    >> i want to make one point. the number of times that israel came up i think in words was about 160-plus. the number ever times they talked about afghanistan was really into the dozens. if you look at the weight of each issue facing the next defense secretary , you would admit that --

    >> but hagel brought a lot of this on himself by talking about the jewish lobby .

    >> once.

    >> 3450i point is if you go through this hearing and they ask a question been eld statement once, fine, two, okay, three times. it became so repetitive it looked like they were there to score a political point. maybe that's what they wanted to do.

    >> this isn't a classroom discussion. they had to drill --

    >> what was the point of senator rand paul saying in the tape we just showed that hillary was being run out of the state department --

    >> what's wrong with asking tough questions --

    >> it was an aserltion. it wasn't a question. she's quitting because of that.

    >> doesn't he have a right as a u.s. senator to make an assertion about her handling.

    >> a dishonest statement -- that could be your opinion but he's allowed to have an opinion.

    >> that's an opinion? it's a dishonest statement.

    >> there's your opinion.

    >> is there any possibility that hillary clinton is leaving the state department because of what happened in benghazi ? any possibility of that?

    >> i don't think so.

    >> then why are you saying that's within his right to say so. it's a dishonest statement.

    >> he thinks though --

    >> how do you know he thinks so. how do you know he's not trying to destroy her reputation.

    >> he looks at the disaster that was how the state department handled it --

    >> 7nd a he's saying hillary clinton has --

    >> no one knows hillary's total motivation --

    >> i don't want to get in the way of this.

    >> anybody wants to watch the tape, we'll show it again and again. he basically said hillary clinton is leaving the state department because of what happened in benghazi , a totally dishonest scurrilous statement about somebody who served the country for many years. it was an awful thing to do, a cheap shot by a not much of a person. and that's a problem and that is vindictive politics it's not the role of the senate to play that part.

    >> it is the role of the senate to play --

    >> why do you keep going back robotically --

    >> i'm not going back robotically. you're pinpointing rand paul 's comment --

    >> the mad dog attack on hillary clinton , the mad dog attack on chuck hagel is extraordinary in senate history. i have never seen people come on senate hearings and say yes or no, yes or no, yes or no. you don't talk --

    >> mccain used to do the same thing to rumsfeld when rumsfeld --

    >> your point being zm i'm saying mccain is always combative. to say it's a partisan thing --

    >> it wasn't partisan it was personal and strange. i'll go into it later in the show. thank you robert costa for defending the indefense cybill. it's true. sam stein. thank you. this is "hardball," the place for politics. [ dog

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