updated 2/15/2013 10:40:20 AM ET 2013-02-15T15:40:20

HARDBALL
February 14, 2013

Guests: Peter Beinart, Claire McCaskill, Elijah Cummings, John Feehery, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The war on Chuck Hagel.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this, the breaking news. Senate Republicans
have successfully blocked, at least for now, a vote on Chuck Hagel for
defense secretary. Republicans have thrown out so many different reasons
for this that it`s hard to know why they`re opposing the man becoming
secretary of defense. It`s hard to keep up with all their arguments.

It`s because Hagel hasn`t accounted for every single penny he`s made and
every single word of every single speech he`s ever given. And it`s because
of what he said about Israel and Iran, maybe. But it`s also because of the
White House`s response to Benghazi, perhaps, something, obviously, but that
was nothing to do with Chuck Hagel, who wasn`t in the government at that
time.

Well, today Republican threats to take the unprecedented step of blocking a
presidential cabinet appointment came to fruition, if you will. Democrats
moved forward with a procedural vote to end debate and pave the way for a
final up-and-down vote. Then it failed. It failed to get the 60 votes
need to overcome a filibuster. So -- and this just happened. So where
does Chuck Hagel`s nomination go from here, and what are the Republicans
really up to here in delaying the vote?

Claire McCaskill is a Democratic senator from Missouri. Thank you,
Senator. Kelly -- Kelly -- Kelly O`Donnell -- Kelly, let me ask you -- let
me just tell you this. Well, I want to ask you -- why are they doing this?
Why are they holding up a cabinet appointment at the highest level, defense
secretary? Why are the Republicans doing this?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I talked to Republicans about this
today. They made it clear there are really two tracks here. For some of
them, it is about Chuck Hagel, his qualifications, his past statements,
wanting to know more, wanting the members of the Senate who were not a part
of the committee, who didn`t get to ask him questions, to review the
material they just all received.

On the other hand, there`s the group that was concerned about Benghazi, and
they make it very clear, has nothing to do with Chuck Hagel. It`s not
personal, they say. It is a tool within the rules of the Senate, they say
the only tool they have to try to extract from the administration
information they did not willingly give.

So a case in point, there are two things that have happened, they say,
because they put up this resistance. First, they got testimony from
Secretary Panetta, who Chuck Hagel would replace, and the Joint Chiefs
chair Dempsey about Benghazi. That wouldn`t have happened, they say, had
they not put up this fight.

Today they received a letter from the White House counsel that provided
more answers about the president`s own involvement on September 11, and
they believe that that is a credit to the White House that they`ve now
given them that information. They`re satisfied for now on that.

Expect more questions, Chris, when John Brennan, the CIA director nominee,
comes forward. So it`s a tool...

MATTHEWS: What do they still want to know about Benghazi that can be used
as a reason for this decision to hold up this confirmation? What do they
still want to know?

O`DONNELL: They want to know the name of the person who changed the
talking points that were circulated and included the description of the
video and a spontaneous demonstration, when they`ve now learned through
testimony that the secretary defense and the Joint Chiefs chair both knew
almost instantly that it was terrorism.

They want to get to the bottom of this. They say that while many in the
media, while many in the public think this issue is over and done with,
that the families want to know, and that they need to have more information
so that conduct of any administration will be aware of the power of
oversight from the Senate. And they think that will change how people
react and decisions they will make.

That`s the argument they laid out. They said it is not personal, but it is
a tool to get information. They believe it was successful in getting the
hearing and the letter that they wanted.

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK. Thank you, Kelly O`Donnell, for that report. It`s
great to have you on tonight in this big news breaking moment here.

Let`s go to Peter Beinart about this. Peter, thank you for joining us
tonight for some analysis. Why do you think -- you`re looking at this with
maybe a deeper political background on this particular motivation. What do
you see as the motivation of people like Lindsey Graham here? Why are they
leading this charge to basically screw the nomination for a major cabinet
appointment?

PETER BEINART, DAILYBEAST: Well, I think for Lindsey Graham, it`s because
he`s petrified that he`s too moderate to win the Republican nomination for
Senate in 2014 in South Carolina, and so he`s desperately moving to the
right.

For a lot of other Republicans, they just feel like if they can drag this
out longer and longer, that maybe some shoe will drop, there`ll be some
scandal, something they haven`t unearthed that will destroy this
nomination.

In the meantime, we don`t have the person who`s supposed to be secretary of
defense going to a very, very important summit next week in Europe because
it`s being held up in this fishing expedition.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I was listening to -- intently to Kelly`s report there, and
it squares with everything I`ve been able to figure out. But they keep
changing the question.

First of all, there was legitimate questions on the Republican side and by
the American people, what happened at Benghazi, why couldn`t we go to the
aid of those people, and Christopher Smith (SIC) included, who were under
attack in real time? Now they seem to have gotten the answers to that.
There was no materiel, there was no ordnance or outfit able to get there in
time.

Then they went to this other question, why didn`t we call up the -- what
there was of a Libyan government and get them to come and do it? And now
they`re back to arguing about what was said on "MEET THE PRESS" after the
incident occurred.

It seems like every time the questions are asked, a new round of questions
follow them, and then a new round of questions, to a point where you have
to wonder if they`re not simply doing what you think is their prime
motivation, playing for time, hoping some shoe will drop.

BEINART: Yes, and I think what needs to be said here is that they have
every right to vote against Chuck Hagel. What they don`t have a right to
do is prevent a timely vote on Chuck Hagel, which is what they`re doing by
filibustering a nominee for secretary of defense, which has never happened.

The filibuster, as you know, Chris, is supposed to be something which is
very, very rare and it`s supposed to be something difficult to do. To make
it the kind of permanent reality, as the Republican Party has done year
after year, now ratcheting up to include Senate (SIC) nominees, is
outrageous. The president has a right to have a vote on his defense
nominee, having just won the election.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You know what`s going on, I think, watching this as a
dynamic? From now on in politics, at least on the right and the center
right, you have to do what the worst people are doing. If anybody gets up
and says, I`m going to filibuster, then if you`re not filibustering, you`re
not on the right anymore. This is the new litmus test. Unless you follow
the craziest, most zealous partisans on one side, you`re not a true
Republican.

Let`s listen to John McCain here, who`s been on a couple of sides of this
thing. He said a short time ago on Fox News this. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: They`ll probably get the votes when we
return from the recess, unless something else -- unless another something
pops up. And that`s doubtful that it will.

But to be honest with you, Neil, it goes back to -- there`s a lot of ill
will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked
President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president
since Herbert Hoover, said that the surge was the worst blunder since the
Vietnam war, which is nonsense, and was very anti his own party and people.
People don`t forget that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that from McCain seems pretty honest.

Let`s go to Senator Claire McCaskill, who has been pretty tough in dealing
on the Armed Services Committee with some of these zealots.

You know, I just always try to find motive. I don`t mean personal motive
but political motive. Why is Ted Cruz, this new kid on the block, acting
so ferociously? Why are they doing this to a guy who`s sort of a middle-
of-the-roader? I don`t get it. Your thoughts, Senator.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I think it`s
extremism. I think this is somebody who is on the very edge of the
political spectrum, and he thinks he has the right to try to pull everyone
over with him.

But what was really bad about what happened, Chris, was not that he opposed
Chuck Hagel. We can all live with that, although this filibuster is
inexcusable, especially in light of the history of this body and what it
means.

But what he did was he made innuendoes and inferences that Chuck Hagel was
a liar and a traitor. Now, this is a man, when everyone was going to
Canada or everyone was trying to get a deferral, he stood up and said, Take
me, and he battled valiantly for our country in war and was decorated.

So I think there is a really bright line, that you don`t cross that line...

MATTHEWS: OK...

MCCASKILL: ... and impugn someone`s patriotism with no evidence.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take -- let`s show...

MCCASKILL: It was absolutely McCarthy-like.

MATTHEWS: ... that. We have the tape. Let`s show Ted Cruz of Texas
saying that very thing in your Committee on Armed Services.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We saw with his nomination something truly
extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly
praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you
that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented, to see a foreign nation like
Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t often say it and I rarely say it, but there
was echoes of Joe McCarthy there, really strong echoes. Your thoughts? I
mean, how is he supposed to control what the PR agency out there in Tehran
puts out some day? How does that incriminate him?

MCCASKILL: Well, that`s exactly what I tried to say to Senator Inhofe --
Be careful here because what if a group that you find abhorrent, that
doesn`t match your values, endorses you? Does that mean you`re cozy with
them?

And Iran is being manipulative here. I think they`re trying to cause the
president problems. These are people who are playing a political
propaganda game.

And I will say this for John McCain. Even though he drives me crazy
sometimes, he did step up yesterday, and he said no one should impugn this
man`s integrity or his patriotism. And I admire John for doing that in the
heat of this very inappropriate diatribe...

MATTHEWS: I agree.

MCCASKILL: ... by Senator Cruz and Senator Inhofe.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that so much. Let me ask you about the neocon
people. It seems like the real ideological people who really despise Chuck
Hagel, not on personal grounds, but for ideological reasons -- they think
he`s too dovish on the Middle East, too dovish overall -- they`re looking
for a shoe to drop. I mean, we hear whispers, they got this, they got
that.

Is that part of the game here? It`s a delaying game, wait a week, hope
something pops against him?

MCCASKILL: I`m not really sure what their strategy is here, but I think
the American people are onto them. The notion that for the first time in
history, a newly elected president has his nomination for the secretary of
defense filibustered? And by the way, they`re not going to change the
president`s policy by playing these games.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MCCASKILL: They`re not going to -- and all they`re doing is sending a
signal to the rest of the world that we`re not united in a bipartisan way
around the issue of national security. That is damaging to our national
security. And shame on them for doing that. This is not worth it.

In this political game that gets played around here, sometimes we lose
sight of the goal, and that is the strength of our nation and how we appear
to the rest of the world. And this is not a good moment for our country in
terms of the United States Senate behavior today.

MATTHEWS: Senator, I`m wondering here, is this about the president`s
choice for secretary of defense, or is it about the people`s choice for
president? Are they trying to undermine this president?

MCCASKILL: I think it`s a little of both. I think John McCain was being
very honest when he said that, you know, Chuck Hagel really irritated the
members of his party when he was willing to -- with a very independent
voice -- he was still a Republican, he was still conservative, he was still
from a very conservative state of Nebraska, but he was willing from time to
time to speak out against a Republican president, against some of the
policies that were embraced by the Republican Party.

And I think it really irritated some of them, and I think it was tough for
them, and especially probably tough for Senator McCain, when Chuck Hagel
decided not to endorse his old friend for president, when John McCain ran
for president. Of course, at one point in time, Chuck Hagel and John
McCain were the same kind of couple around here that Lindsey Graham and
John McCain are.

MATTHEWS: I know. Good amigos. Anyway...

MCCASKILL: Very close. Really good friends.

MATTHEWS: Senator, let`s all look now at a comment made by your former
colleague, Richard Lugar of Indiana. He had this to say about why
Republicans are obstructing Hagel`s nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN), FMR. SENATOR: Senator Hagel`s main transgression is
that he is a Republican who has questioned policies that are sacred among
most conservative senators.

The intensity of opposition that Senator Hagel is encountering is grounded
in the resentments of some conservatives inside and outside the Senate who
regard his independent thinking as political blasphemy for which he should
not be rewarded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Senator, you know the Senate now. This is your second term.
Can you read it? Is there going to be a vote to try to get cloture to end
this filibuster when you come back on Monday after this Monday, coming
Monday?

MCCASKILL: Well, that`s what`s so sad about this game. Everyone voting
today knows that Chuck Hagel is going to be confirmed. In fact, there are
a number of people who have made commitments that they will, in fact, vote
for cloture when we return.

MATTHEWS: I see.

MCCASKILL: So this is, you know, some kind of grandstanding that goes on.
I`m confident he`ll get the votes when we return and he will take his place
as secretary of state. (SIC) But he`s going to miss the NATO conference
next week, and it sends a signal to the rest of the world that maybe he
doesn`t have the full support of the American government, which is not a
good place for our secretary of defense to be in.

MATTHEWS: Well, the jackals are in the streets tonight. Thank you so
much, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. And Peter Beinart, thanks for
joining us, as well.

Coming up, the frantic rantings -- they must be called that -- of the NRA`s
Wayne LaPierre. Citizen LaPierre has gotten even crazier now. He`s saying
we all need to buy guns -- not just have a right to buy guys, we all need
to arm up to protect ourselves from the marauding Hispanic gangs and urban
looters out there. That`s the way he`s talking.

Also, remember the line, this one, from "Brokeback Mountain," "I wish I
knew how to quit you"? Well, Republicans just can`t quit their cartoon
version of President Obama as a tyrannical, liberty-hating socialist.
How`s that working for you guys?

Anyway, and no surprise, the late night comics drank deeply from Marco
Rubio`s water bottle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Don`t worry, Senator Rubio! Nobody
noticed that you gave a speech.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And finally, "Let Me Finish" with how the attacks on President
Obama`s choice for secretary of defense are really attacks on the people`s
choice, the American people`s choice for president. And that`s what this
is about.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, my good friend, New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg, says
he`s going to retire next year and not seek a sixth term, and that opens
the door for Newark mayor Cory Booker to run for Lautenberg`s seat. Booker
has made his intentions for running for that seat very clear, which clearly
annoyed the 89-year-old Lautenberg. But while Booker is the highest-
profile Democrat looking to succeed Lautenberg, other Democrats have
signaled their intentions to run, as well.

With Lautenberg retiring, it`s an end to an era. He`s the last World War
II veteran in the U.S. Senate.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Citizen LaPierre, who is this -- is
he this screamer of fire in the theater, this tummler of the lunatic
fringe? Wayne LaPierre, watch him go to work. He just sent out a mass
manifesto linking a lifeline from every spooked-out crowd in the country
from one to the other, asking all to arm themselves while there`s still
time -- arm themselves.

Afraid of looting after a storm? Get a gun. Upset by illegal immigration?
Get a gun. Don`t like crime or drugs? Get yourself a damn gun, man.
That`s the Wayne LaPierre message today.

Worried about the debt crisis? Worried about the chaos that`s coming
afterward? You know the drill, get a gun. Arm yourself, America.

It`s not just a right, it`s a duty. It`s not just about Uncle Sam who`s
coming to get you in one of those black helicopters, it`s that mob at the
gate, headed over the Rio Grande as we speak, and right for your house up
in Idaho, right as we speak. Lock and load. Do it now. There`s not much
time. They`re coming for you.

You think this is crazy? Well, this is Wayne LaPierre talking, the head of
the NRA. And what`s that tell you? It tells about a new division in
America between the confident people who think he`s nuts and the scared,
the really scared, who are listening to him right now.

Joining me right now is U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland and
former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

Governor Rendell, I want to start with you. This line -- you`ve all dealt
with -- you`ve run against the NRA in terms of reelection as governor and
governor (ph) -- election as governor. I have never heard this kind of
talk. This talk is crazy. It`s reign of terror talk, like from the French
revolution. Get your gun. You`re the one next. If you got any gripe in
this country about illegal immigration, about the debt crisis, you better
be armed and ready to fight.

ED RENDELL (D-PA), FMR. GOVERNOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Chris,
not only is it crazy stuff -- and it really is outright, flat-out
committable stuff -- but worse, it has heavy racial overtones -- and I`m
sure Congressman Cummings is going to talk about that -- so much so that I
think it`s incumbent upon the Republican Party leaders, such as they are,
to stand up and disavow Wayne LaPierre now, disavow the statement, says,
It`s against everything we believe in, we do not scare people with images
of Latino gangs and -- and looting by looters after a storm, things that
conjure up nothing but racial overtones.

I think if the Republican Party wants to do anything in the future in this
country in the next five to 10 years, they better disavow this and disavow
it now, like President Bush did when the NRA went crazy a few years back.

MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Cummings, here it is, a piece titled "Stand
and Fight."

The NRA`s Wayne LaPierre worked all the levers of the fear machine -- quote
-- "During the second Obama term, additional threats are growing, Latin
American drug gangs have invaded every significant city of size in the
United States." Then LaPierre shifted gears and used Hurricane Sandy to
stoke more fear -- quote -- "After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish
world that the gun prohibitionists -- prohibitionists" -- one who are for
prohibiting it -- "say -- see as their utopia. Looters ran wild in South
Brooklyn. There was no food, water, or electricity. If you wanted to walk
several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark or you might
not get home at all."

And then LaPierre wrapped it up with a defiant call to arms -- quote -- "We
will not surrender, we will not appease, we will buy more guns than ever."

Your reading of that. Who is he talking to?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I think he`s talking to people who
will be accepting of fear.

He basically is trying to put fear into people`s hearts. And if you read
it carefully, you would think that it was an advertisement for gun
manufacturers. The fact is, is that we have got -- basically, I see it as
a distraction.

We have got to concentrate on Sandy Hook. We have got to concentrate on
what`s going on in our inner cities and folks getting guns that shouldn`t
have them. And I think that -- I think what Mr. LaPierre is doing is -- to
be frank with you, he`s shooting himself in the foot and shooting the NRA
in the foot, because in talking to some of my colleagues on the Republican
side today, a lot of them are embarrassed and upset about it, but they are
afraid to speak out about it.

But one thing that they are definitely not in agreement with it, and I
think some are going to see this as cover to stand up against the NRA. You
know, we have commonsense legislation against trafficking which is a
bipartisan bill.

MATTHEWS: I know you do. Good for you.

CUMMINGS: And Scott Rigell is -- who is one of our co-sponsors, is an NRA
member...

(CROSSTALK)

CUMMINGS: ... and a Republican.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s true. But I went back and looked -- Governor, I
want to get you in here.

I went back and looked at the Republican platform last time around. It was
all pro-gun on every aspect, every front, not a single word challenging the
NRA. I have yet to see -- I accept the fact that, Congressman, you have
colleagues and good friends that are willing to speak candidly with you, as
they clearly have. They ain`t going on television saying anything against
LaPierre.

CUMMINGS: I agree. They ought to.

MATTHEWS: This guy is the boss, as far as I can see.

CUMMINGS: I agree. I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Governor, he looks like he`s the boss. It`s like when Rush
Limbaugh speaks and everybody go hides in a cave because they`re afraid of
Rush Limbaugh. This guy, no matter what he says, if it has a racial tinge,
they don`t call him out on it. Nobody seems to do it on the Republican
side.

RENDELL: And it`s mind-boggling to me, Chris, because the polls are
absolutely clear.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

RENDELL: Overwhelming number of Americans disagree with Wayne LaPierre on
this stuff, and where are the moderate Republicans? Where are the Jim
Gerlachs and the Charlie Dents and the Charlie Fitzpatricks and the Pat
Meehans in the Philadelphia suburbs? Do they think that this is acceptable
stuff?

Are they going to stand and hide behind, you know, a curtain and not come
out and say stuff? And what are they going to do when it comes time to
cast their votes? Are they going to vote to eliminate high-capacity
magazines? Are they going to vote to eliminate assault rifles? Are they
going to vote to make universal background checks the law of the land?

Are they going to vote for that gun trafficking bill that Congressman
Cummings is talking about? It`s time that we call those guys on the carpet
and said, who are you for, us or the NRA?

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re talking now with their silence. LaPierre, by the
way, even called into question now what would happen with the economic fear
we all have in this country about, you know, budget stops and debt ceilings
and all that stuff.

He said leading this country to financial ruin right now, he talked about,
and warned that even when these days of chaos come afterwards, you better
be armed about it -- quote -- "Nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse
will come. But if the country is broke, there`s likely to be not enough
money to pay for police protection, and the American people know it."

When Wayne LaPierre testified before Congress, by the way, he emphasized
this fear, that people have got to protect themselves from marauding mobs
and the government might not be able to do the job.

Let`s listen to him on that point again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: I
also think though that what people all over the country fear today is being
abandoned by their government, if a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a
riot occurs, that they`re going to be out there alone, and the only way
they`re going to protect themselves in the cold, in the dark, when they`re
vulnerable is with a firearm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Congressman, what he`s really appealing to here, if
you have studied the groups like survivalist groups and Posse Comitatus
that live up in the hills of Idaho, you know them all, he wants everybody
in America to start acting like a survivalist.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You have got to be -- you have got to have a -- in some -- you
have got to be in some barricade situation with lots of guns to protect
yourself against minorities, against illegal immigrants, against the
government. You got a lot of enemies out there, and it may be your
neighbor trying to get a loaf of bread from your kitchen. You may have to
shoot him.

CUMMINGS: Well, basically, he`s trying to paint this doomsday scenario.

But I think LaPierre is -- I don`t even think he`s in touch with his own
membership, when 82 percent are saying that they believe in comprehensive
background checks, and 87 percent are saying they truly believe that there
should not be -- criminals should not have guns. He`s clearly out of tune.

And again I think -- I`m convinced that this is going to work against
Republicans who don`t stand up.

MATTHEWS: Well, when is that going to start, Congressman?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, remember back George Bush Sr. back when he was ex-
president, he was a good man about this.

When they -- when LaPierre put out a letter about calling federal agents,
ATF and other people, FBI agents, jackbooted thugs, he said, I`m quitting.

I just don`t hear the sound of Republicans quitting because of Wayne
LaPierre`s craziness. I haven`t heard it yet. Have you heard of anybody
quitting the NRA who is Republican?

CUMMINGS: I have not heard anybody quitting, but I will say that Meehan,
Patrick Meehan out of Pennsylvania, is a co-sponsor of our bill and
hopefully they -- and we have gotten five co-sponsors from the Republican
side.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CUMMINGS: And hopefully we will get even more, and maybe, just maybe, that
will cause others to stand up, and then when you hear the words of
LaPierre, and everybody ought to read what he read -- wrote, by the way.

MATTHEWS: I hope so.

CUMMINGS: I think that people will distance themselves more and more from
him.

MATTHEWS: Well, the problem is...

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: Chris, could I add...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Pat Meehan did not -- he came out for your trafficking bill last
night, as he should. He`s a co-sponsor with you . I understand that`s a
good thing to do.

But I tried to get him on assault weapons, I tried to get him on magazines.
He won`t do it, even in suburban and Delaware County.

Your thoughts. Last thought, Governor.

RENDELL: You know, that`s the key.

Congressman Cummings, can you tell everybody, is -- are the Pat Meehans of
the world going to vote a discharge petition if Speaker Boehner will not
allow these things to be voted on, on the floor of the House? And that`s
what the president said, they deserve a vote. Will the Pat Meehans of the
world, those Republicans vote discharge petition to get it to the floor?

CUMMINGS: I think -- a comprehensive bill, I don`t think so. I just -- I
have listened to them. And -- but on this vote, maybe, the trafficking
bill, maybe.

But, again, I don`t want -- I want -- if we can agree on some things, I
want us to get those things done. Things we don`t agree on, we will have
to deal with them another day.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.

CUMMINGS: But the sad part is, you do -- you end up doing nothing, which
is sad.

MATTHEWS: I agree. That`s one counter. But I also want to smoke these
guys out.

Anyway, thank you, Elijah Cummings, congressman from Maryland.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania.

Up next: It was only a matter of time. The late-night comics take on
Marco Rubio`s water gulp. There it is again. You will see that the rest
of your life. He will.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. We`re in the "Sideshow" now.

We knew it was coming, the late-night comedy reaction to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Nothing has frustrated me more than false
choices like the one the president laid out tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And now the late-night rebuttal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": What a nice for Poland Spring,
huh? You cannot buy that kind of product placement.

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: At least I hope you can`t buy it, but in Washington, who knows.

It would have been less awkward had he been wearing one of these on his
head during the speech.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Don`t worry, Senator Rubio,
nobody noticed that you gave a speech.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: And I cannot imagine what he was thinking.

Jimmy, do we have any footage of what he was thinking?

RUBIO: It will create...

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIO: ... false choices like the one the president laid out tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s made for comedy.

Anyway, Rubio has decided the best reaction to the whole thing is embrace
it, apparently. His super PAC, Reclaim America, is now selling this Marco
Rubio water bottle. I don`t think it`s going to work, because you only get
one reputation in this country, and this guy is now the thirsty one.

Up next: Why do Republicans keep trotting out that straw man version of
President Obama, the tyrannical socialist who wants to raise your taxes and
take away your gun? Maybe that`s because they have had so much trouble
beating the real guy. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

Pretty flat day on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrials dropping
about 10 points. But the S&P rose a point. And the Nasdaq was up almost
two.

In the biggest food deal ever, Warren Buffett`s Berkshire Hathaway is
teaming up with 3G Capital to buy Heinz for $23 billion. Heinz shares
gaining 20 percent on the news. And American Airlines stock soared. U.S.
Airways fell after they announced an $11 billion merger today to become the
world`s largest airline.

That`s it from CNBC -- now back to Chris and HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While the Republicans are facing their own internal battles, you know,
establishment vs. Tea Party, outsiders vs. Beltway types, just who are the
Republicans up against? Is it the liberal Barack Obama who wants to raise
your taxes and quash free enterprise or the guy we saw this week talking
about the middle class? Well, take a guess.

Marco Rubio`s rebuttal speech attacked the leftist president and last night
Jon Stewart had some fun with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

RUBIO: Our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class
prosperity. But President Obama, he believes it`s the cause of our
problems.

I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes.
Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the president going to
offer his detailed plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time
for him to do it.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Yes. Instead of
attacking capitalism and obsessing about taxes and not offering a Medicare
plan, why didn`t he just go out there last night and say something about
Medicare, something -- what would that sound like? What would that sound
like?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On Medicare, I`m prepared to
enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by
the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan
Simpson/Bowles commission.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I see the problem. Once again, rather than responding to actual
Obama, Republicans are stuck responding to the fictional image of Obama
that they have created, the same boilerplate Republican talking points, but
just with a better backstory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I have got the HARDBALL strategists to debate that question,
Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican John Feehery.

You first, Feehery.

You`re laughing. But my contention, I think, as Jon Stewart`s -- he said
it better than I have -- that basically you`re attacking a straw man, a
left-wing tyrannical guy who wants to take away everybody`s guns, a guy who
wants to tax everybody to the hilt. He`s a left-wing bad guy, whereas
Obama comes on and most Americans say, you know, point by point, we`re with
him.

How can both be true?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, listen, I think that when the
president talks about Medicare, he says one thing and he does another.

And I think at the end of the day, if we`re going to get any deal on
Medicare, he`s actually got to not just take the proposals and then take
them back. He`s actually got to stick with them. And I think that he --
what he has had a habit of doing is talking out of both sides of his mouth
about any of this entitlement reform.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is he a left-wing, tyrannical socialist or not, yes or no?

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Well, I think -- I think he governs from the left. I think he`s
a populist progressive who governs from the left, yes. I think that`s
right.

MATTHEWS: Is he tyrannical? Is he a socialist?

FEEHERY: I don`t think he`s tyrannical and I doubt he`s a socialist.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. Then you recognize reality.

FEEHERY: That`s kind of my deal.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: John usually recognizes reality.

MATTHEWS: He`s not going to play this game. He`s throwing the ball out
and saying you guys play that game. He`s not going to defend that straw
man tactic that people like Rubio engaged in.

MCMAHON: That`s exactly what they`re engaged in. And, you know, it`s a
mirage. It turns out that running against a mirage out there in the desert
makes you thirsty and you need to --

MATTHEWS: OK. You guys are cruel. You`re a P.R. guy, politics. A good
sense of that word, Steve McMahon. Is this -- I say you only get one
reputation.

I`m still paying for thrill up my leg. I mean, you do these things. You
do something out of the ordinary and it doesn`t go away. Is he stuck with
that?

MCMAHON: I worked for Howard Dean, a guy that I love --

MATTHEWS: And what do people remember about Howard Dean?

MCMAHON: That`s what they remember about him standing on the stage in
Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Screaming.

MCMAHON: His grandmother says you get one chance to make a first
impression. Marco Rubio has made his one impression. It`s going to stick
with people. That`s not to say he can`t overcome it, but it`s a long, hard
road back.

MATTHEWS: What do you think about that question? This thirsty head
exemplified by having to stop national television the other night and get a
drink. Is that going to be one of the thing that becomes a cartoon factor
in his life whether he likes it or not, John?

FEEHERY: I think it depends how he handles it. I think these responses
are always terrible. I think Bobby Jindal --

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

FEEHERY: I don`t know why Rubio went for it. I think if you do that,
you`re putting yourself up and you really have to clear a high bar.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you.

FEEHERY: Will he be typified by this now? He`s got a long career ahead of
him. I think he`s a very, very smart guy. I think he`s got a great story.

But, you know, these are the types of things that leave a lasting
impression, as Steve said, and it`s going to be how he handles it next week
and if he`s able to poke fun at himself. People will remember him for his
sense of humor and not for his water drinking.

MCMAHON: Well, we know he has a great consultant, Todd Harris.

MATTHEWS: That`s not fair. If he put that bottle 10 feet from him, he`s
crazy.

On a more serious and dastardly note here, Georgia Congressman Paul Broun
recently touted his name calling of the president in a fundraising. He`s
bragging about being extreme. Quote, "As a member of the House of
Representatives for the last few years, I have fought tooth and nail
against President Obama`s agenda at every turn. I was the first member of
Congress to call him a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies
like government control of health care and redistribution of wealth.

Well, there you have somebody on the fringe out there, John Feehery,
bragging about how extreme his language has been.

FEEHERY: Well, I think what Paul Broun did there was he had a fund-raising
letter and in those fund-raising letters, as Steve knows and as you know,
Chris, you have the most explosive language because that gets you the
biggest money. Now, do I think that Paul Broun -- I think he`s going to
have a difficult primary. I think Tom Price is going to run against him
and I think there are some other folks who are going to run against him.

But Georgia is a pretty conservative state so it might work for him. We`ll
see.

MATTHEWS: But what happened to the Hastert Rule that you`re not supposed
to do anything unless most Republicans support it. Unless most Republicans
believe the president is a tyrannical socialist, why do these people not
obey the Hastert Rule, which you helped to create, which is stick with the
party on these things?

FEEHERY: Well, as you know, Chris, that was a fundraising letter. And
with fundraising letters, you say some of the most obnoxious things. I
guarantee you when Steve McMahon was drafting those letters for Howard
Dean, he was saying some obnoxious things, too.

MCMAHON: No, no, no, no, no.

FEEHERY: Come on, Steve.

MATTHEWS: I was going to give you an easy one. I mean, the only way,
John, I`m going to be nice to you again tonight. What`s the smart game in
the Republican Party? Is it the Jindal, the Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie
game of attacking the party from the outside, which is I`m not a part of
this mess, but I want to fix it up on the outside? Or is it the inside
players like Rubio and Ryan saying we`re doing basically the right stuff,
we just got to refine it?

What`s the smart position -- outside attacking in or inside defending and
refining?

FEEHERY: Well, I will put it this way. If you`re in Washington, D.C.,
you`re defined by opposing the president. If you`re outside of Washington,
D.C., you`re defined by governing. So, Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie and
Mike Pence and Sam Brownback are all governing and I think that`s a better
way to refine and refrain the party than just oppositional party which you
necessarily have to do within the confines of Washington, D.C.

MATTHEWS: Well, here is a guy that grew up inside Washington, worked in
the leadership of the Republican Party, the speaker`s office, like I did,
and saying the best way to fix the party is not be there, but be outside in
the country. You agree?

MCMAHON: That`s right, and to be outside attacking Washington.

Now, it`s interesting because Marco Rubio is trying to be both and he
actually has the ability to be both because he`s only been there for a
couple years.

MATTHEWS: Why the flop sweat?

MCMAHON: Notwithstanding, though, the water --

MATTHEWS: Why the flop sweat? Why is he so nervous?

MCMAHON: Well, I think that`s a pretty big moment for any politician --

MATTHEWS: No, you have seen him give national speeches on the convention
floor, he`s been fantastic --

MCMAHON: He`s not on --

MATTHEWS: Last question to you, do you have an answer why he was so
nervous and sweaty?

FEEHERY: I don`t think he was nervous. I think he was tired. He had just
given an 18 minute response earlier two minutes before and speaking 35
minutes straight is pretty tough for someone. I think he was tired. I
think he was really thirsty. I think that`s why he was nervous.

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t flop sweat. Everybody else thinks flop sweat. Who
knows what he will lurch?

Anyway, thank you, Steve McMahon.

And you`re being loyal, John Feehery. It wasn`t flop sweat. It was just -
- he had spoken too many times. Anyway, thank you.

The debate continues, gentlemen, even after we`re off the air, and you can
take part. Visit our blog at hardballblog.MSNBC.com for the latest on the
NRA`s plan of attack. Or find us on Facebook at facebook.com/hardball.
Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Democrats want to defeat, of course, Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the guy who from day one vowed to make
President Obama, as we all know notoriously a one-term president. Well,
some national Democrats think their best chance to beat McConnell may be
with actress Ashley Judd. Judd, a Kentucky native has not decided whether
o run or not, but polls show she`s competitive.

And for that, we check the HARDBALL scoreboard. Here it is. According to
polling by the Republican firm Harper, Mitch McConnell has a nine-point
lead on Ashley Judd, 49 percent, 40 percent, not a big lead for a high
profile senator against a political newcomer.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

It`s been decades, of course, since this country has taken a really hard
look at poverty in America. But for millions of Americans, many of them
children, hunger is a reality day-to-day.

"Today Show`s" Savannah Guthrie recently sat down with some Connecticut
school children who face hunger as a daily reality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: I think it`s really brave of all of you to be
talking to us about it. But is it something that you feel comfortable
talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why should we have to struggle? If we need it to
survive, why can`t we just get it when we need it?

GUTHRIE: How often are you thinking about food?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Usually every single day because your stomach would tie
up in knots because you`re so hungry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Savannah is teaming up with the group Feeding America to draw
attention to the fight against hunger. In fact, all this week, the "Today
Show" is partnering with the Ad Council to create public service, PSAs,
about it.

Savannah Guthrie joins us right now from Boston.

You know, it was in 1961, I believe that "The Other America" was written by
Michael Harrington, and that led to the war on poverty. Where are we at in
that front in terms of just people being hungry? Kids?

GUTHRI: Well, you know, it`s one of the shocking things about the Great
Recession. And, still, we see the fall out from it, Chris, is that it`s
not just the very, very poor, who, as you all know, have always been with
us. But families who have either one parent, sometimes both parents have
lost the job or people being underemployed, not having the quality of job
they had before.

When I talked to these kids, just to be clear about it, they`re not
starving. It`s not that they go days without eating, it`s that they don`t
have enough. They`re not full.

A lot of these kids told me I just don`t eat breakfast. That school lunch
is the first meal they get. And sometimes the schools rotate the meal.
They`re not really getting their first meal until much later in the day. I
talked to a little girl who said that she and her mom, she`s got a single
who gets no child support, they go shopping at the beginning of the month.
And by the end of the month, they are just scrimping by.

So I think what was most shocking to me is that it`s not that stereotypical
face of poverty that I think a lot of us have. But that it`s families who
are the working poor, who may have jobs, but, still, struggle. And I think
that`s what we`re trying to raise awareness about.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s more from the school kids you sat down with,
Savannah, let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: The truth is that there isn`t always a full meal put on
my table.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: You will go to the fridge and there will be nothing
there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to be scared if any other kid found out that I
didn`t have food or anything or I was poor, I thought that they would make
fun of me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How did you get them to talk? It sounds somewhat embarrassing
when you`re surrounded by middle class kids who don`t have that reality
facing them every day?

GUTHRIE: Yes, these kids I think were really pretty courageous. Some of
them talked about how they don`t like to talk about it because it is
embarrassing. Or one little boy told me, well, I don`t want to bring it up
because I don`t want the other kids to think I`m asking for their food.

But all of them, when they heard what we were doing with the Ad Council and
putting them together with a commercial, a PSA, wanted to be a part of it.
They wanted to be part of the solution.

You know what really struck me about these kids? They all wanted to help
kids who had less than they did. When we taped these interviews, it was
not that long after Sandy. And some of these kids said I want to share my
food with people who may have less than I do.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at the PSA you mentioned. It looks like it`s going
to be great. Let`s watch it, the result of your hard work, Savannah.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we`re off.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: You got plans?

GUTHRIE: You bet.

(voice-over): Fifty million Americans struggle with hunger. But we can do
something about it.

(on camera): Excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s going on?

GUTHRIE: Dinner.

(voice-over): Please join me in helping put food on their tables.
Together, we can feed America.

(on camera): You guys get going. I`m going to get the plates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plates?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Savannah, I was impressed by that. I have to tell you, I do
know about poverty. We all know it`s the worst case scenario. What you`ve
found is pretty close to bad, but not the worst. And that`s a reality that
we didn`t know about.

GUTHRIE: Yes, the PSA is designed to make people think about it. This is
the land of plenty. A lot of us have the ability to give and there are a
lot of people in need. And it`s not the people that you always think of.
Sometimes it`s your friend and it`s your neighbor.

The orange tables in the PSA are simply to help people visualize. This
great need, one in six children is hungry, 50 million Americans is hungry.
It`s so easy to donate to your food bank. There are great programs now
that we talked to. A lot of them belonged to this backpack program so that
on Fridays, they get sent home with a backpack full of food that they share
with their families. And a lot of kids told us it makes all the
difference.

So, I think it`s one of those things where the smallest effort can really
make a difference.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, the great Savannah Guthrie of the
"Today Show."

When we return, let me finish with the attacks that don`t seem to stop on
Chuck Hagel and how they`re really an attack against President Obama.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the stalking of Senator Hagel. Those
who don`t want this man as Pentagon chief will stop at nothing. They`re
out there beating the bushes right now for anything that will slow the
process of his confirmation, anything that will give them more time to find
something they can build enough on to bring the man down.

Question, who are they trying to bring down? Is it President Obama`s pick
for secretary of defense? Or is it the man the American people have
chosen? Is it about a confirmation or a desperate push to undermine the
president`s second term?

Listen to those attacking Senator Hagel and you`ll hear the yelps of pain,
this motley crew of neocons and right ringers the Sun Belt feel even now
for the American people`s choice of last November. What they hate --
despise, really -- is the fact that now in the history books, the American
people voting in great numbers reject their war-like jingoistic notions of
what America stands for.

Their problem is not with Obama`s choice for a cabinet appointment. Their
problem is with America`s choice of who it wants to be president, who it
wants deciding what we should be doing in this world. Obama works for
peace. He works hard for it. This crowd has other ideas.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Happy Valentine`s, everybody. What a day.
And thanks for being with us tonight.

"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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