updated 2/6/2013 10:29:34 AM ET 2013-02-06T15:29:34

HARDBALL
February 5, 2013

Guests: Dee Dee Myers, John Feehery, Robin Wright, Steve McMahon, James Clyburn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Running for cover.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this crying and gnashing of Republican
teeth. It started with Karl Rove wailing in the GOP wilderness,
screaming for an end to crazy candidates. No more rape candidates, he
said. In fact, he cried that out, no more Akins or Mourdocks and the
rest.

All that did, however, was awaken the sleeping dogs. Joe Walsh is now
out there today with a new political action committee. Steve King and
Paul Broun, more of the wild ones, are now howling in fury that big
shots like Karl Rove are saying who should be the Republican nominees
and who shouldn`t.

Well, today, it was Eric Cantor`s turn. The young Dick Nixon of the GOP
House is now saying he wants change. Well, trouble is, what`s he said
before and where he talked today. The super-hawk of the party gave his
little manifesto at this city`s non-profit war room, the American
Enterprise Institute.

What he came out for, some new decree that colleges now have to conduct
employment surveys to say what jobs there are for history majors,
English majors, you name it. I guess he wants to cut down on people
taking those liberal subjects in college, those dangerous courses that
allow you to think and express yourself.

He sounds like he wants the federal government to become a helicopter
mom hovering over all of us, telling us what subjects to study and which
to skip. And they say Democrats are intervening in people`s lives.

What will Republicans do next to try to deflect from their history of
starting unnecessary wars, chasing minorities and others from the
polling places. Being hawkish and undemocratic are not exactly great
recruiting posters, let`s face it.

Helping me to explain the latest Republican facelift are John Feehery
and Dee Dee Myers. We`ll start with this. We know Karl Rove plans on
finding more electable Republican candidates, as he finds them. And
what we heard today was a kinder, gentler Eric Cantor than the one we`ve
seen and heard before.

Remember the obstructionist majority leader -- remember his name was
Cantor -- who fought the president on the debt ceiling, the guy -- I
think his name was Cantor -- who called the Obama administration the
imperial presidency? Well, he stepped out today to show there are no
rough edges in this Republican Party. Let`s listen to Cantor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: We`ll advance proposals aimed
at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation
and job growth. Our solutions will be based on the conservative
principles of self-reliance, faith in the individual, trust in family
and accountability in government. Our goal is to ensure that every
American has a fair shot to the earn success and achieve their dreams.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a cover-up, Feehery! Your party ought to be ashamed of
itself. You spent months in every state legislative capital trying to
keep black people and poor people from voting, or young people. Now
you`re out pretending in this Potemkin village you`re constructing that
you care about opportunity in America.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Actually...

MATTHEWS: It`s an absurdity! Eric Cantor...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: You know, the speech by Eric Cantor was a very good speech.
It was...

MATTHEWS: If it wasn`t given by him maybe!

FEEHERY: Eric Cantor is a good guy.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FEEHERY: He`s got a family. He cares about this country. He`s a
patriot. He cares about making government work better. And this is a
reform speech. I thought it was a very good -- because it was
practical. It wasn`t just ideological.

And I think that for Republicans, they can`t be the party of Bob Dole
caring only about the deficit. They have to care...

MATTHEWS: Why does...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: The reason you`re so upset is you know that it was a good
speech!

MATTHEWS: I tell you, he went over to the AEI, which has been the
number one war center...

FEEHERY: Oh, AEI...

MATTHEWS: ... in the town for years...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s all neocon. It`s totally neocon. Your thoughts.

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I...

MATTHEWS: Dee Dee Myers. This is hopeless.

MYERS: Yes, I mean, I...

MATTHEWS: I thought he`d admit the truth here today.

MYERS: Right. It was bit jarring to hear some of that coming from Eric
Cantor, who has been a warrior...

MATTHEWS: Hasn`t he been the guy standing behind Boehner`s back, ready
to trip him over because he`s been too moderate?

MYERS: Yes. No question about it. He`s been sort of standing, you
know, just off -- off center stage waiting for his opportunity to become
speaker.

I thought that -- you know, I thought there was a lot of practicality in
the speech today, but I didn`t think there were any really big ideas. I
think...

MATTHEWS: Oh, it was -- it was like sundries and notions in a drug
store...

MYERS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... little items...

MYERS: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... like telling colleges they go out and tell people what
employment prospects there are for English majors. What`s that about?
As I mentioned earlier today, Cantor took -- let`s take a look at today.
He took a approach that a university education should be more like a
vocational school, a tech school, a place you can learn a trade and make
a living, like, I don`t know -- anyway, he suggested kids applying for
college be told by the colleges what majors earn the most money so that
families can make better choices.

Let`s listen. Talk about -- this is like state planning here!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR: ... colleges provided prospective students with reliable
information on the employment rate and potential earnings by major?
What if parents had access to clear and understandable breakdowns
between academic studies and amenities? What would those costs be?

Armed with this knowledge, families and students can make better
decisions about where to go to school and how to budget their tuition
dollars. Students would actually have a better chance of graduating
within four years and getting a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I want to give you an open shot at this. This is the
Republican Party, not the mommy party. They don`t believe in being
helicopter moms and telling people how to live, the nanny society,
whatever you guys are always calling it. Here`s a government official
talking about the need for colleges -- apparently, a law -- he`s going
to pass a law to do this, to make sure that if you apply -- if you dare
to major in philosophy, you get a warning right up front. No jobs in
that department. Don`t go theology! Nothing happening with that crowd.

I mean, what kind -- what`s the government doing messing around with
this kind of stuff? Your thoughts? I`ll give you time.

FEEHERY: Well, I`m not the best because I`m a history major. I
couldn`t figure out what the heck I`d want to do with that.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY: But I would say that...

MATTHEWS: I majored basically at Holy Cross in philosophy, OK?

FEEHERY: But I do think that, you know, for a lot of parents who are
worried about the high cost of education, especially college education,
if they want to know, and they should know, what are they getting out of
that deal and what are the best majors? I think a little guidance is
not a bad thing. Now, whether...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Since when a liberal arts...

FEEHERY: ... I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: Since when is liberal arts, which is the heart of all
college...

FEEHERY: And I`m a pro-liberal arts guy.

MATTHEWS: ... have anything to do with figuring out how you`re going to
make a living off of it? When`s it ever been the case?

FEEHERY: Well (INAUDIBLE) right now, people are worried about job.

MATTHEWS: I know they -- sure!

FEEHERY: And I think -- and if what parents are worried about...

MATTHEWS: So in other words...

FEEHERY: ... is our kids...

MATTHEWS: ... don`t study history!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: John, you`re not a Luddite. You`re not an anti-intellectual.

FEEHERY: I`m not a Luddite.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Don`t take history, don`t take English, don`t take
philosophy, don`t take languages, take computer sciences. I mean, is
that what they`re saying? Is that the Republican message?

FEEHERY: That`s not the Republican message.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I do think there`s truth in advertising (INAUDIBLE) colleges,
and maybe that`s a good idea. But I do agree with the idea...

MATTHEWS: But...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: ... a well-rounded education...

MATTHEWS: If a Democrat had done this...

FEEHERY: ... is good for everybody.

MATTHEWS: If a Democrat had done this, what would you think? Back to
your game of "depends who said this." If a Democrat had said, Now, we
want the government of the United States telling people -- making sure
that colleges list the economic productivity of various majors...

FEEHERY: If it -- if it...

MATTHEWS: You`re an intellectual. You know how to handle this.

MYERS: Yes, no, I think...

MATTHEWS: I mean, what would the press secretary to the United States -
- what major would you have majored in? I mean, what -- this idea of
how you can predict your future based on your major is I think crazy, by
the way.

MYERS: Yes, and you know...

MATTHEWS: At this point in history.

MYERS: ... I had no -- I didn`t know any -- I was a political science
major, which I didn`t declare until spring quarter of my senior year...

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: ... barely got out of there. But no, look, I think that`s a bad
idea on a lot of fronts. And I think there were...

MATTHEWS: Should the government be involved in this?

MYERS: No. No. The government should -- look, the cost of college...

FEEHERY: You know who most liked this, Chris?

MYERS: ... is too high, and there ought to be more competition...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: ... because the parents are the ones who are trying to tell
their kids, OK, please...

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... major in something you can get a job. And having that
kind of data actually would be very helpful for parents. I don`t think
necessarily you want the government saying this. I don`t think that was
what Cantor was saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The Republican Party has huge problems with minorities, with
young people. On issues like choice and things like that, they`re
getting killed.

FEEHERY: Listen...

MATTHEWS: Why is this a remake of the Republican Party?

FEEHERY: You know -- you know what Dee Dee and Bill Clinton did very
well back -- they focused on...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: They focused on issues that people cared about, and what
people care about are college education...

MATTHEWS: OK, well...

FEEHERY: ... the cost of college education...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I think it`s a good message.

MATTHEWS: If the GOP is going to rebrand itself, it`s going to have to
deal with the monster that Eric Cantor helped create. U.S. Congressman
Paul Broun is expected to run for the Georgia Senate seat held by
retiring -- I used to think this guy was right-wing -- Saxby Chambliss.
Broun, you may remember, just a few days ago said this. "I think the
only constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution,
not this one. He has no concept of this one, though he claimed to be a
constitutional lawyer."

In Iowa, U.S. Congressman Steve King, who suggested President Obama`s
parents may have announced his birth by telegram from Kenya -- he`s the
leading pick for an Iowa Senate seat by Republican primary voters.

So there you have it. We`re going to enlarge the question here. Can
your party stop its candidacies (ph) from being taken up by nuts?

FEEHERY: Well, I think it`s actually much more of a...

MATTHEWS: And should they?

FEEHERY: I think for Washington people to say to grass roots activists,
We have to tell you how your going to make your pick, is a big mistake.
I think Karl Rove...

MATTHEWS: How do you stop these...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: ... be very careful. Well, you know what you need to do is
you need to educate the voter and get back to the...

MATTHEWS: Get them with the right majors.

FEEHERY: Well, hit them with the right...

MYERS: Well, you know, and Marco Rubio...

FEEHERY: And he also...

MYERS: ... is a great example of somebody who was an alternative
candidate, right? You`re going to throw the baby out with the bath
water. I`m defending the -- you know, the -- but I don`t think you can
mandate for that from the top down, whether it`s the Democratic Party or
the Republican Party.

MYERS: You need to be very, very...

MATTHEWS: But how do you avoid...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We know, as somebody said in your party, a few bad apples
spoil the bunch, and I do think that`s true. I think people took
advantage -- I did -- of the fact you had Mourdock and Akin running.
The joke was, You`re in trouble when you have to say "which rape
candidate?" Because you guys had so many nuts out there. Didn`t
O`Donnell hurt you in Delaware in that campaign? Didn`t that woman out
in -- I forget her name now -- out in Nevada...

FEEHERY: I think Republicans...

MATTHEWS: Sharron Angle.

FEEHERY: ... by and large are very...

MATTHEWS: Don`t these names hurt you?

FEEHERY: They`re frustrated by the candidates they put up and lost, but
they also -- they like the candidates that they ran and won, like Marco
Rubio, Pat Toomey, people that (INAUDIBLE) was on the wrong side of some
of these guys.

You know, the fact of the matter is that this is a process, a messy
process.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FEEHERY: For Washington to go dictate to the grass roots how they`re
going to vote is very, very dangerous.

MYERS: You know, it`s not the grass roots that`s a problem, in my view.
It`s that there`s a certain acceptable fringe in the Republican Party
that has ideas, and that`s why the rape comments were so devastating,
because it wasn`t that they -- that he said something that was just ill-
considered and just came out of the top of his mouth. It was that it
unearthed a strain of thought that is tolerated within the party that`s
not tolerable to most Americans. And that`s the problem...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: And the problem with that is then we lose the seat. That`s
the problem.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: What you have to have is a vetting process...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: ... a vetting process and a training process, and an education
process...

MYERS: But you also need more internal discipline to say to -- you
know, you can`t let people sort of sneak in under the edge of the tent
and pretend that they don`t have these weird ideas.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you the problem. It`s your party. How does a
party -- I think the Republican Party, moderate Republican Party is a
minority party. I agree with you, you got a problem. If you`re just
people who are fiscally conservative, a bit less for government than the
Democrats, and you don`t have any wild people on abortion rights or wild
people with old segregationist ideas and a lot of the fringies in your
party -- take away all those fringies, your party`s about 40 percent. I
see the problem. To get to 50, you got to bring in the nut cases. How
do you -- how do you win elections without doing that?

FEEHERY: I actually...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I actually think to get to 50 percent, you need to bring in
the moderates.

MYERS: Yes.

FEEHERY: You need to have...

MATTHEWS: Go the other way?

MYERS: Yes.

FEEHERY: You need to have a broad base...

MATTHEWS: Well, then you got to dump the...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: No, you don`t need to dump -- what you need to do is you need
candidates who can go beyond. I think that`s what I like about Paul
Ryan and Eric Cantor`s speech today and Marco Rubio...

MATTHEWS: Do you think...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: ... bring both sides together.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the survivalists out in tents in Iowa, the guys
who think that black helicopters are coming, would vote for a moderate
Republican, a centrist Republican like Rubio?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: He was a Tea Party candidate!

MATTHEWS: ... real centrist, Christie. Would they go that far?

FEEHERY: Some would and some wouldn`t. I mean, you know -- and the
fact of the matter is you need to find candidates that can win the most
votes. And that`s a very difficult process. You have to get -- the
question for a lot of Republicans...

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s the answer?

FEEHERY: ... is, Do you want pure or do you want to win?

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) the left.

FEEHERY: I think you need to build a coalition and find a coalition
that can get a majority vote.

MATTHEWS: I think you lose the right when you go to the center.

FEEHERY: Well, it depends. It depends who the candidates are.

MATTHEWS: That`s why you guys are hugging those people. You do like
those crazies.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I don`t like crazy. I like winners.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, you had them for a while there, and then the trouble
is, Romney wasn`t authentic.

FEEHERY: Well, that was a big problem.

MATTHEWS: It is a problem. Thank you. We agree. Romney wasn`t
authentic.

Thank you, Dee Dee.

MYERS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: John Feehery and Dee Dee Myers.

Coming up: How far can we go when we go after the bad guys? Well,
there`s a lot of debate right now over the Justice Department`s memo --
just came out, we just broke at NBC -- that concludes the U.S. can kill
American citizens tied to al Qaeda, even if they`re not involved in an
active plot at the time to attack the United States.

Well, I understand the civil liberties concern here, but ask yourself
this. If an American had put on a Nazi uniform during World War II,
wouldn`t we have gone after him?

Also, block the vote. Democrats have had enough of Republican efforts
to make it harder for them to vote. They`re about to push legislation,
the Democrats are, to make it easier to vote and to register, and
they`re expecting help from the White House on this big one.

Plus, flooding the zone. Immigration, guns, those two issues, the
budget -- President Obama is trying to overwhelm Republicans on multiple
fronts right now to prevent them from organizing effective opposition to
any one of these issues. And guess what? It just might work. Flooding
the zone.

And here`s just one more reason Eric Cantor has a long way to go to
rebrand the GOP. A Tea Partier just referred to some Americans as --
ready for this one? -- ethnically challenged. Good luck with that
rebranding, Eric.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, there might not be a Republican filibuster against
Chuck Hagel after all, President Obama`s nominee for defense secretary.
But today Republicans tried out a new line. Senator Lindsey Graham of
South Carolina called Hagel "clueless" about our policy toward Iran.
And he added, quote, "I hope the Obama administration will reconsider
his nomination." Reconsider. Well, Lindsey likely won`t be getting
that wish, either.

We`ll be right back. They`re not going to reconsider. This guy`s in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The legal and moral debate about
the use of drones has burst into public in a big way after NBC`s Michael
Isikoff reported on a Justice Department memo that gives the U.S. legal
justification for targeting American citizens abroad.

According to that memo, an American can be killed without judicial
review if it`s determined he or she is a senior operations leader of al
Qaeda. And that was the case in September of 2011, when a drone strike
killed the American-born Anwar al Awlaki.

And today, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the memo and the
process behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things I
want to make sure that everybody understands is that our primary concern
is to keep the American people safe, but to do so in a way that`s
consistent with our laws and consistent with our values.

We say that we only take these kinds of actions when there`s an imminent
threat, when capture is not feasible, and when we are confident that
we`re doing so in a way that`s consistent with federal and international
law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, civil liberties advocates have reacted strongly to that
view, saying the process is clouded in secrecy and the legal
justifications are murky, at best. For example, there`s the question of
how it`s determined who should be on the government`s hit list.

According to the memo that`s up right there, quote, "It`s up to an
informed high-level official of the U.S. government who," quote, "has
determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of
violent attack against the United States," close quote.

Well, NBC investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff broke the story,
and Robin Wright is a tremendous scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center
here in Washington and also the U.S. Institute of Peace, and I respect
her tremendously as a reporter, as I do this correspondent, Michael
Isikoff.

So you broke the story. You found this memo. What did it tell you or
tell us? A lot of our people are progressives. They`re concerned about
this. There`s a difference -- I think it`s one of those areas where
there`s a real tradeoff you have to do in your mind, catch the bad guys,
respect American values. Your thoughts.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been one of the most
secretive policies of the Obama administration, the use of drones, and
controversial. It`s been expansive. They`ve been -- the drone strikes
have dramatically increased under President Obama.

MATTHEWS: A drone is an unmanned vehicle that goes into a place, drops
a bomb and then comes back.

ISIKOFF: Hellfire -- yes, and missiles attached that can be used to
kill the target. Now, where it gets most controversial is when you talk
about American citizens. And they have acknowledged that they are using
drones in select cases against American citizens, and they have outlined
publicly -- Attorney General Holder last year gave a speech outlining
publicly what the legal standards were for use of drones against
American citizens or lethal operations against American citizens.

The significance of the memo is if you read the memo closely, it
provides considerable more detail than was in Holder`s speech when he
outlined what the legal framework was. And as you can see in some of
the language you quoted, the standards are a bit more expansive and a
bit more -- and there`s a bit more leeway for policy makers than was let
on in their public statements, and in particular, that standard of
imminent threat of a violent attack.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF: And when you read the memo, it`s a bit...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know. And it`s always tough to get intel right. Intel can
be wrong, as we learned in Iraq.

But let me ask you a question about the principle here. If someone
joins an army that`s determined to destroy the United States or re-
establish the caliphate or whoever you want to put it, is that person
still an American? That`s a great question. Are they still Americans
if they`re taking up arms against the United States?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Legally, they`re
still Americans.

After all, there are Americans who have engaged in terrorist attacks
inside the United States. That`s not really the issue. I think the
problem here is that the standards are rather subjective. And it leaves
us vulnerable to someone making a decision that`s this sensitive on the
basis of what may be partial information or whatever. But...

MATTHEWS: Suppose we find out that somebody, with pretty good
certitude, is out to get us, they`re involved with bombing our people,
killing Americans in uniform or not, what are we supposed to do?

WRIGHT: Well, that`s the big problem.

And the bottom line is that we`re going through a tremendous change in
the nature of warfare, that we`re shifting in the aftermath of Iraq and
Afghanistan to a period where we`re looking for ways to fight wars that
do not involve troops on the ground.

And, as a result, the two things that we`re using most of all are drones
or unmanned aircraft -- and there are a whole range of them -- and
special forces that go in, in strategic operations. The problem with --
the difference between Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki is that bin
Laden was in one place for a very long period of time that allowed
special forces to train, figure out how to deal with that.

MATTHEWS: Right. We saw the movie.

(LAUGHTER)

WRIGHT: Whereas Anwar al-Awlaki was constantly moving around.

And that is what is the pattern of most of the extremists that the
United States is trying to find and confront. And so drones have become
the fast-action response in a way that you can`t use special forces. It
would have taken a very long time to get in and put troops on the ground
to get al-Awlaki...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Michael, what are the politics of this? What are the
sensitivities? I think I know what they are. How do you treat an
American as a bad guy? He or she still gets rights.

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF: Right.

I think one of the reasons this is getting traction today is less
because of the policy, as opposed to the secrecy that the Obama
administration has adopted in explaining what its legal standards are.

MATTHEWS: Are they afraid of ACLU lawyers getting involved?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What is the secrecy about?

ISIKOFF: They -- like all administrations, they believe they`re doing
the right thing and they don`t want to share their internal thought
processes with the public, but we had these huge battles during the Bush
years over the torture memos and other memos for wireless wiretapping.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who is making the call? The A.G., attorney general, the head
of the CIA?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, but, right now, who makes the call when we send in a
drone? Is it the Army, is it the CIA, is it the A.G., attorney general?

ISIKOFF: Well, a lot of recent reporting has shown it`s actually Barack
Obama himself

MATTHEWS: Through the NSC.

ISIKOFF: That a lot of these Obama -- that a lot of these drone strikes
are reviewed personally by the president. He is the informed high-level
official who is saying go get this guy.

MATTHEWS: Does he have to give an official finding? Does he have to
have a finding like they do with the CIA? Does he have to something,
sign something?

ISIKOFF: Well, there`s a finding that supports the policy, but I don`t
know that he needs...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Does he have fingerprints when he makes one of these
decisions, like a president?

ISIKOFF: Well, not public ones.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISIKOFF: In fact, they won`t discuss the public deliberations at all.

And, listen, until last year, they wouldn`t even acknowledge that this
drone policy existed, even though it was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Can you tell from your reporting if there`s any conflict
of conscience within the administration, or they agree we need to do
this in the war we`re in now?

ISIKOFF: Well, look at Panetta`s comments to Chuck Todd the other day
on "Meet the Press" in which he said making these decisions about who
should go -- should die and who should not, who should get targeted,
were really tough ones and he agonized about that.

And that ought to give you a clue that these are not all open-and-shut
cases.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think Leon is a very conscientious guy. He goes to
church every day. But I think sometimes you have to do things that are
not nice. We`re fighting a war.

ISIKOFF: I don`t think anybody disputes that.

MATTHEWS: This is a tough one for me. Robin, I`m on the tough side of
this one. I think we have got to fight our enemies, but I -- great
reporting. Great reporting. Great disclosure there. We ought to know
what we`re doing.

Michael Isikoff, thank you, as always. And thank you. Great to have
you at NBC.

And Robin Wright, one of my favorite correspondents.

Up next: Chris Christie`s poll numbers up through the roof. And no
wonder. Here`s a guy who can laugh at himself. Talk about being a good
sport. He was on "Letterman" last night, and he`s the one making the
jokes about his own weight, eating a doughnut there. That`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to a super "Sideshow."

If you have watched David Letterman lately, you may have caught two
things, a joke about Mitt Romney`s money, lots of those jokes, and a fat
joke about Chris Christie of New Jersey. Well, last night was no
different, except Governor Christie was actually on the program. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": I have made
jokes about you, not just one or two, not just ongoing here and there,
intermittent, but...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I didn`t know this was going to be
this long.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: We have kept track in my office.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: And you`re up to 362,000.

LETTERMAN: Yes.

CHRISTIE: And that`s just on the fat jokes. Here`s two of them that we
particularly liked.

First one was, celebrity birthday today. Chris Christie turned 50. He
blew out the candles on his cake, and he wished for another cake.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: A billion dollars will be spent on potato chips for Super
Bowl Sunday, and that`s just at Governor Christie`s house.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what ambitious politicians have to do, be good
sports, even though -- when you`re getting made fun of.

Next, what really makes a birther? Well, Missouri`s House speaker, Tim
Jones, signed on to a petition back in 2009 alleging that President
Obama`s not a U.S. citizen. Well, recently, Jones was asked the obvious
question. What was he thinking? And while you`re watching, see if you
recognize the set, the TV set here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: For a while, you were part of a lawsuit that ended up being
dismissed in federal court alleging that President Obama might not be a
legitimate candidate because he might not have been born in the United
States.

I mean, having looked at that, I guess my initial question, with all due
respect, is how could someone who is a public servant put their name on
something that ridiculous? That`s just completely off the wall and
delusional, isn`t it?

TIM JONES (R), MISSOURI HOUSE SPEAKER: Well a constituent of mine, a
very personal constituent of mine, asked me to look at the situation.
And for a long time, the president didn`t want to produce that
documentation. He eventually did. He produced a certificate of live
birth and I have been satisfied with that production.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, a personal constituent asked him to look into the issue
and his logical next step was signing on to participate in a lawsuit.

But the queen of the birthers is Orly Taitz. And that set, did you
notice? If it looks at all familiar to you there, it`s because Todd
Akin made his legitimate rape comments on the very same show.

Next, the Tea Party digs its hole a little deeper. A few weeks back,
Americans For Prosperity, the group backed by the Koch brothers, held
what they call a citizen watchdog training course for Michigan
residents.

One of the subjects was school choice, with an emphasis on creating more
charter schools. Well, Norman Hughes, a Tea Party Patriots member and a
speaker at the event, made the case that charter schools don`t tend to
favor well-off students at the expense of their underprivileged peers.

Take a listen, however, courtesy of the liberal advocacy group Progress
Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORMAN HUGHES, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Kids aren`t going to charter schools
if they`re A-students. They are going to charter schools because
they`re failing students. And, by and large, the charter schools have a
higher percentage of poor families, ethnically challenged families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What is an -- what`s an ethnically challenged family?
Ethnically challenged? Challenged by your ethnicity, to what, by what?
This is just the type of thing that prompted Karl Rove to start his new
Conservative Victory Project, trying to stop this out-of-touch and
offensive comments like that from defining the Republican Party, which
they continue to do, a task that seems to become more difficult by the
day, as we just heard, ethnically challenged.

Finally -- I`m sure that runs really well with people who are minorities
in this country.

By the way, here is an endorsement from Bill Clinton for Betty White.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s important to
have a leader who has won the respect and affection of our nation in the
way that Betty has. After all, she`s gained praise all the way from
President Obama to George W.

Of course, I`m talking about President Barack Barack Obama and George
Washington. Now, I know the position would come naturally to Betty, as
she has lived for so long in a place called the White house.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. I think the president ought to go out and get a
hamburger. He`s getting a little skinny there, isn`t he?

And that was taped for what NBC is calling "Betty white`s Second Annual
90th Birthday Special," which airs tonight on MSNBC -- or, actually, on
NBC tonight. She recently turned 91. President Obama, by the way,
taped his own birthday video for last year`s Betty White event.

Up next: Conservatives are hitting back against Karl Rove, who thinks
he, and not the voters, should be picking best candidates for Senate and
other high offices.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow reclaimed some oft ground it lost yesterday, up 99 points today,
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That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re seeing an epic strategy war now within the GOP, along with an epic
opportunity for Democrats to exploit it. As we told you yesterday, Karl
Rove has launched a PAC to influence Republican primaries and keep those
deemed too extreme -- think Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock -- from
getting nominated and blowing winnable races.

Well, Rove`s strategy has not been well received on stage right.

Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, for example, writes: "The empire is striking
back. Now an Orwellian-named Conservative Victory Project is created
with the sole operating mission of blocking the efforts of fiscally
conservative activists across the country."

Well, a statement -- a statement from Tea Party Express called the PAC
"a big mistake that will lead to neither conservatives nor victories."

Anyway, Joe Walsh, former Illinois congressman who was defeated in
November, tweeted that he`s filing the paperwork to form a super PAC of
his own to support freedom-loving conservative alternatives to Karl
Rove.

And the Republicans` challenge here? Make the tent big enough that the
base has a voice and votes, but doesn`t drive the train.

Let`s bring in our strategists, Democrat Steve McMahon and former RNC
Chair Michael Steele.

Michael, for the defense here, is the Republican Party capable of
garnering all kinds of fringe voters, people on the very hard right,
without having right-wing candidates as your nominees and losing
elections? How do they do both?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, this whole idea of
having another PAC is just to me -- it`s just too out there.

Look, all you have to do is get together, organize at the state parties,
put the state parties in charge of the political process. When I was
state chairman, when I was a county chairman, I had to instill the
discipline at the state level to make sure we were grooming and
developing the kind of candidates you want to run.

You just can`t leave it to an open process and then swing in with yet
another PAC that`s going to divert money away from the state,
concentrated here for consultants and vendors in Washington, and then
complain afterwards as we saw in 2012 when you get your clock cleaned
again, oh, gee, well, it`s the candidates, oh, gee, it`s the state
party.

There`s got to be a concerted effort by the RNC to get off their
behinds, get involved in the states, and make them the leadership here.
Don`t rely on a Karl Rove or Reince Priebus.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: The state chairmen really have the opportunity to vet these
candidates up front and to build the party from the bottom up and
inviting those activists who are frustrated to be a part of the process.

MATTHEWS: How do you Democrats exploit this? We have the Republican
establishment disdainful of its right wing and trying to prevent it from
getting any candidacies.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: How do we exploit it?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCMAHON: Well, you remember the old rule from Lee Atwater, right? When
your opponent is self-destructing, just get out of the way.

MATTHEWS: Actually, that goes back to Napoleon. But go ahead.

MCMAHON: Napoleon, OK. Well, Lee Atwater made it famous in our world.

Michael is absolutely right. That`s exactly what has to happen on the
Republican side. For the Democrats, you just watch these guys and you
see on the one hand they have lost the middle, which is great for the
Democratic Party, because everything they lose we pick up. And on the
other hand, they`re attacking their base, which is going to result in
not victories for moderate candidates who can win general elections,
but, as Michael points out, it`s going to result in right-wing
candidates getting their backs up, getting in these primaries, and
they`re low-turnout primaries and they win those primaries and then they
can`t win general elections.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about another strategy the president is
pushing, which is called flood the zone like in, I guess, basketball or
football.

MCMAHON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You get so many players in one area, somebody is going to
catch the ball.

President Obama has been relentless in agitating right now for action on
a number of issues he wants addressed. Yesterday in Minnesota, it was
gun restrictions. Today, it`s immigration reform, with business and
labor leaders meeting at the White House.

And NBC`s First Read identifies the strategy. "The Obama White House
wants to overload Washington`s political circuits in an effort to see
what it can get through Congress without letting Congress define what
issues get addressed."

So throw a lot of stuff at them, immigration, guns...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Right.

STEELE: Right. Right.

MCMAHON: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... hoping that the Republicans are so flabbergasted by so
many things to deal with, they can`t get their act together.

MCMAHON: Yes, and he`s done it brilliantly.

On the fiscal cliff, he basically had Wall Street, which funds the
Republicans, votes Republican, talks to Republicans, come in and say,
you have got to do what the president is asking you to do.

On the debt, same thing happened. The Republicans said they`re not
going to --

MATTHEWS: On the debt ceiling.

MCMAHON: -- raise the debt ceiling. And Wall Street came in and said,
yes, you are.

And now on immigration reform, the president is appealing to the people
who understand what responsible immigration reform can mean for business
and the economy. And he`s actually not getting Democrats to beat the
Republicans. He`s getting Republicans to beat the Republicans. It`s a
great strategy.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, Michael, from the other side?
Because Jimmy carter was accused of having too many balls in the air
when he was president. This time, the president wants to throw a lot at
the Republicans and keep them off guard.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, this actually kind of
reminds me of 2009 all over again. Instead of focusing on the paramount
issue that every American is still facing, the jobs, the economy, and
the like --

MATTHEWS: What`s the Republican job program?

STEELE: It`s not about the Republican job --

MATTHEWS: You just brought it up. What`s your party`s program?

STEELE: But wait, you`re asking about the president, let me address the
president. You didn`t ask about the Republicans. You`re asking about
the president.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: I`m telling what you the president is doing. My analysis of
what the president is doing is a smart strategy as Steve noted. He`s
throwing a lot of things out there to see what sticks but he also has a
problem on the issue like guns that, you know, Harry Reid is not sitting
up chomping at the bit to do gun legislation coming out of the Senate,
by the way. So --

MCMAHON: But the American public, Michael, is. The American public is.

STEELE: Well, we know what the American public wants and what the
United States Senate and United States Congress want is sometimes two
different things. But that`s the point.

The president is trying to triangulate these interests to put his agenda
out there to put the Republicans on the defense to cobble together what
he needs from the Democrats to get something done.

Meanwhile, we still have unemployment at 7.9 percent and 22 million
American unemployed.

MATTHEWS: By the way, Michael, I do have. You don`t have and the
president doesn`t have, but I have a jobs program. Rebuild America.
Big time. We do it in our ads. It`s called lean forward. We do it all
the time.

STEELE: But how does he do it? He shuts down his job commission --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Three percent interest rate right now. You can borrow the
money at practically nothing to get the job done.

MCMAHON: That`s right.

STEELE: Try to get the loan, Chris. Try to get the loans.

MATTHEWS: You get a 30-year loan at 3 percent right now would have no
impact on the deficit.

STEELE: You go do that and see what happens.

MATTHEWS: No, I`m not president.

MCMAHON: He should be perhaps.

MATTHEWS: Unfortunately or fortunately but neither is the case.

Anyway, thank you, guys. I do have a plan though that neither -- I say
put people to work rebuilding this country because we did it in the `50s
with Ike. Remember do nothing Ike? He did a lot of stuff.

STEELE: This ain`t the `50s.

MATTHEWS: Watch the ads.

Up next, Democrats are fighting back against Republican efforts to make
it harder to vote and that`s ahead. Republicans can`t resist this
stuff.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, today marks the 20th anniversary of President Bill
Clinton signing of the Family Medical Leave Act. Well, today, Big Bill
marked the occasion as only he can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It was an amazing day, and I
signed that bill, and we had some family, some stories there I remember.
And I said this is what a democracy is all about. This is why I ran for
this job. This is what I wanted to do. You take all the other stuff,
cost of doing business. This is it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

The Family Medical Leave Act allows workers to take leave for qualified
medical and family reasons without fear of losing their jobs.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our journey is not
complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the
right to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Democrats are pushing back and pushing back hard against Republican
efforts to hold down the minority vote -- in other words, the Democratic
vote. And one example, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-
led state legislature last year slashed early voting from 14 days down
to eight, and actually cut off voting the Sunday before the election.
That`s when many African-Americans traditionally vote, taking their --
as they put it -- Souls to the Polls right after church.

Well, the result in Miami-Dade County, Florida, some folks waited for up
to seven hours to vote down there. They`re looking at these lines.

In fact, a study from the Democratic polling firm Peter Hart Research
shows that nationwide, Hispanics and African-Americans were more likely
to wait 30 minutes or longer to vote than white voters. In fact, Obama
voters in general had to wait longer to vote than Romney voters.

Well, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and assistant Democratic
leader in the House, James Clyburn of South Carolina, are now teaming up
to push for the Voter Empowerment Act.

And Congressman Clyburn is with me right now.

Congressman, it`s an honor to have you on.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank so much for having me.

MATTHEWS: Can you as a federal legislator, I don`t know even know --
the Constitution is so tricky here. Can you -- I`m told you can --
change these local state laws when they`re being manipulated in many
cases by Republican legislatures?

CLYBURN: Well, I don`t know if we can legislatively change the state
laws, but we can, in fact, change laws as they relate to federal
elections. And so to the extent that a state law will have impact or
affect a federal election, we can, in fact, manage what happens with
federal elections.

Now, you may recall that`s the way we got the 18-year-old the right to
vote. States didn`t do it. Federal law was passed to allow 18-year-
olds to vote in federal elections. Of course, the impact of that was
that states later came along and did it --

MATTHEWS: But was that a constitutional amendment? Wasn`t that a
constitutional amendment?

CLYBURN: I`m saying but it was done for federal elections, not state
elections.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about what`s been going on recently.

2004 Ohio, some people think there was some vote chiseling out there
that affected the vote and caused great long lines up in Cleveland.
Same thing in Florida. Some people believe that Rick Scott, the
governor, we just suggested that, had a hand in making it tougher for
minority people to vote.

Is it your that the belief states have been abusing their authority over
holding elections to the detriment of the Democrats?

CLYBURN: Absolutely. I was in Florida -- I`m sorry. I was in Ohio --
Akron, Ohio -- the Friday before the elections. And I can tell you the
secretary of state out there was doing all kinds of things to dilute the
impact of black voters. In precincts, they were voting precincts --
multiple voting precincts into one voting place, thereby creating
pressure on the system that would cause long lines to form.

And you know, people would be discouraged. Other people would have to
give up, not being able to take care of their children.

I talked to people in South Carolina who went back home because they
could not afford to be away from their children more than a couple of
hours to vote.

So this has been happening throughout 41 states. Many of them have
passed legislation that will bring great pressure on the system.

And I want to thank you, Chris, because your promo pieces on the subject
have been fantastic and started people to thinking about what`s going on
here.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hope it`s had an impact, because I do believe one
thing that happened, I think a lot of African-Americans got very upset
when it became clear that a lot of people in power, in states like
Florida and across the country, in Pennsylvania my home state, were
manipulating the law to keep them from voting. I think a lot of people
got red hot about that. Is that what you`re saying, I hope that`s what
happened.

CLYBURN: Absolutely. That`s what happened in Florida. I mean, I`m
sorry -- yes, it happened in Florida as well. And lines got -- some
people standing five or six hours in line because they were angry.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I`d be angry.

CLYBURN: In Ohio, people got very, very angry in Ohio. That`s why you
had the big surge. The African-American vote, that was 11 percent in
2008, the overall vote got up to 15 percent in 2012. All because people
were angry and decided to demonstrate.

And I want to thank Governor Scott down in Florida for deciding to go
back --

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.

CLYBURN: -- and now to his extended voting.

MATTHEWS: You know what? Congressman, I have great respect for you,
Jim Clyburn in South Carolina.

By the way, my message for people trying to stop people from voting:
screw you.

Anyway, up right now, we`ve got my MSNBC colleague Alex Wagner. It
really is funny because it`s awful how they blew it. Anyway, thank you.

Isn`t this a great story in a way? Here you see, Alex, when you watch
the politics of this country, sometimes to get people roused just to
herd them. Just say, "Oh, you can`t vote" and see what they do. It`s
nice to see Americans rebel against that.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC "NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER": There`s been so much
maligning of public service and, you know, exercising one`s -- being a
participant in the great American democracy. Then you see people lining
up for eight hours to vote. And sometimes in states where it`s not
really even particularly contested. People believe in the electoral
process which just underscores how dastardly and despicable it is that
some Republicans are trying to manipulate that process.

And, Chris, you know, it`s everything from the Electoral College rigging
that is now en vogue in certain legislatures to the voter ID laws, to
Republican abuse of the Senate filibuster. It`s about consolidating
power in the hands of a fractious few.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you square that with their efforts to get
minority votes? You keep hearing the Republicans want Latino votes --

WAGNER: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: -- and want African-American votes. At the same time,
they`re publicly out there trying to suppress their right to vote.

WAGNER: Well, it underscores how disingenuous it is, right? I mean, in
one hand, it`s like we`ve got to have minority outreach. On the other
hand, it`s very concerted, and, you know, multi-year effort to
disenfranchise minority voters. And that`s principally because Obama`s
electorate, which is really the American electorate is broadening and
increasingly headquartered in urban areas and cities.

And as such, Republicans are trying to disenfranchise those kinds of
voters. They are not winning those voters. They know that their future
as it is written in the policy they have embraced is not with those
voters. So they`ll do anything they can to manipulate the process to
ensure that the vote -- the white rule conservative voters have a
disproportionate share of power.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re a political person like me. What to make of
this Republican plan to try to discriminate against the right wing,
prevent them from winning primaries and caucuses. Karl Rove`s latest
effort to purify the Republican Party, right wing elements, which have
basically given them the majority over the years.

WAGNER: You know what, Chris? You and I have been talking about this
for awhile. And I -- we have long maintained that this is a tunnel that
has the sign at the end that says heartbreak dead ahead. The
Republicans thought they had to invite archconservatives, Tea Partiers,
people who have actually no interest in governing, under the tent, in an
effort to win Appalachia in the rural South.

And as a result, the tent now has two parties really. And you see a
schism here. I don`t know how you reconcile this fractious right wing
swank with moderate establishment Republicans who actually want to get
legislation through and are trying to think about the party in the long-
term.

MATTHEWS: Can`t beat that. Thank you, Alex Wagner, my colleague for
joining us. The name of your program every day is "NOW" and it`s on at
noon every day.

WAGNER: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

Voting in America should not be like Chinese water torture. It should
be available to any person willing to put in a reasonable effort to
identify themselves, get themselves registered, and show up at election
time.

It`s one of those areas where balance is the key factor. Get the
information necessary to ensure the voters, he or she, who they say they
are, make the process as easy as possible and consistent with that goal
and keeping it honest. Don`t throw hurdles in people`s way. Don`t
reduce the number of hours you can vote and create enough voting
stations out there so we don`t have lines stretching into the night.

I do believe what we saw in Ohio in 2004 and what we saw last November
in Florida are examples of not meeting these standards. I do suspect
that the people running those states at those times were not interested
in making it fairly easy for a legitimate voter to get to the booth.

Consistent with the Constitution, the federal government should do what
it can to make voting a right not an obstacle course.

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.
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