updated 2/19/2013 1:34:53 PM ET 2013-02-19T18:34:53

HARDBALL
February 15, 2013

Guests: Wayne Slater, Nia-Malika Henderson, Lauren Ashburn, Joe Solmonese

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Cruisin` for a bruisin`.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. As Butch Cassidy once asked, Who are
these guys? What a ratty bunch. They spend their days holed up in the
Senate, taking potshots at the president, trying to bring down his defense
chief. Nasty as hell, they have nothing good to say for the country, only
nasty words to spew about the people running it, or hoping to.

John McCain, who served the country so admirably, has become an angry
fellow from dawn until dusk, taking an occasional break to remember who he
is and saying, Enough of this, when his new allies get out of hand, when
Ted Cruz starts attacking the loyalty to America of one of McCain`s fellow
Vietnam vets, a combat vet at that.

But the viciousness is something we haven`t seen before because of its
combination of McCarthyism and this weird unconnectedness, attacking Chuck
Hagel, for example because no one will give us info -- or anyone info about
the Benghazi situation, even though Hagel wasn`t even in the government
when Benghazi happened.

Sick stuff, and it seems to be growing in inverse proportion to Obama`s
popularity. The better he looks, the worse these characters Inhofe, Cruz,
McCain and Lindsey Graham are determined to look.

Did you notice the smile, by the way, on John Boehner`s face, sitting up
there behind the president during the State of the Union? If you did,
you`re imagining things. So afraid of the hard-hating right are
Republicans these days of every stripe that even Boehner`s scared to death
of looking like he might actually like something Barack Obama had to say.
To do that today is to risk political death in these days of Republican
defeat, anger, discontent and downright hatred.

So let`s go at it. Our guests are Joy Reid of TheGrio and Michael Steele,
former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Both are MSNBC
analysts, and good ones.

Well, let`s take a look at this. Is this delay on the Hagel vote about
playing for time, hoping new information comes out about him? Well, "The
New York Times" reports today that anti-Hagel groups are right now hoping
for exactly that.

Quote, "Leaders of these groups said in interviews that they expected their
efforts to include more phone calls urging conservative voters to tell
their senators to vote no, new efforts to unearth embarrassing details from
Mr. Hagel`s past, and potentially a new round of television advertisements
pressuring Democrats to drop their support for him."

Michael Steele, it used to be a president got his cabinet.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Now, when you want your own defense chief, you get the entire
opposition party to the last man and woman voting against it in -- what I
don`t even get is one reason. I mean, if you ask all those Republicans
what do they do to filibuster this, they won`t give you one answer. Each
one will come up with his own or her own little number.

STEELE: Right. Well, because there is no real reason to filibuster this
nomination. I mean, the president has made his choice. He`s coming off a
very, very strong election. And you know, as much as, you know, I may have
an issue here or there with something that Hagel said or did in the past,
this is the president`s choice. He`s ultimately going to be accountable to
the president, not to the Republicans in the Congress.

And I think, quite honestly, McCain put it out there in the real (ph).
This is personal. It`s not even political at this point. This is the fact
that this man bucked the party establishment in 2007 in his views on the
war. I think legitimately so. And the fact of the matter is, you know, so
what?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They`re saying he can`t be Barack Obama`s -- President Obama`s
defense chief because he agrees with Barack Obama on the war.

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: Yes. I mean...

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m sorry, Joy, that is the irony here. They`re attacking
him for being the guy who gets along with Obama. President Obama and Chuck
Hagel agree on so many things, they`re actually friends.

JOY REID, THEGRIO.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: They have a positive view about the same things in the world.
That`s why he`s going out -- and I think the president is sticking his neck
out for this guy because he really wants him to be his defense chief. They
agree on things.

REID: Right. And McCain -- somebody pointed out to me today that McCain
said the statement "back when he was a Republican," as if Hagel is no
longer a Republican because he dares to agree with the guy hiring him to be
the defense chief. Look, McCain I think did put it out there today. He
committed...

MATTHEWS: OK. Dwight Eisenhower wasn`t a Republican, either, because he
wasn`t a hawk...

REID: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and he kept us out of Indochina and kept us out of the
Middle East and he took the heat for that because he was a guy who knew
what`s going on in the world.

REID: Right. And now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... wars. Your thoughts.

REID: ... not a neocon, I guess, you`re not -- you`re not sufficiently
Republican if you don`t want to bomb Iran. Look, you know, I mean, it was
ironic today when John McCain put it out there and said, basically, You
know what? Chuck Hagel was mean to President Bush. He relentlessly
criticized the Iraq war. His fellow members of the Senate thought that he
was not a sufficiently loyal Republican.

That`s pretty rich coming from John McCain, who basically made it his
life`s work...

MATTHEWS: Let`s -- let`s remember...

REID: ... to oppose George W. Bush.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I`m sorry, was it Chuck Hagel who said that he had an
illegitimate child with an African-American and that somehow produced a
South Asian young woman?

REID: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: What kind of -- that stuff about his wife, Cindy, being a drug
addict.

REID: Yes, and since when is John McCain...

MATTHEWS: Was that Chuck Hagel? No, that was W`s people.

REID: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: That was Karl Rove and that crowd.

STEELE: Right.

REID: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know which of them did it, but somebody did it on that
side. And yet he forgives those people...

REID: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... and he says this guy -- I don`t know, this must be some kind
of weird transportation of emotion. Anyway, yesterday, John McCain said
something truly remarkable, as my friend here said, Michael, about a moment
of pure honesty. He exposed what`s really behind his opposition to Hagel.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: 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, he should have forgot the fact because he never did say he
was the worst president since Herbert Hoover. By the way, wait until (ph)
they get (ph) on you. Wait`ll they start...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who put Michael (SIC) McCain, by the way, in charge of
determining Chuck Hagel`s fate? Well, apparently, himself, the great
eminence, Mitch McConnell. According to "The Washington Post," quote,
"Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has deputized Senator John McCain as the
weathervane by which to judge when Republicans should yield on the
filibuster."

That might be a confounding decision since John McCain seems to drift from
one position to another on Hagel`s confirmation, in fact, sometimes in
matter of hours. On Sunday, McCain had this to say about the prospect of a
filibuster against Hagel. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We`ve never filibustered a presidential cabinet appointee, and I
don`t think we should start here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, on Monday, which is a day later, of course, McCain was
urging his colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to vote on Hagel`s
nomination, saying, quote, "I believe that he has fulfilled the rigorous
requirements that the committee demands." And by the next day, which was
Tuesday, he rebuked his colleague Ted Cruz for his harsh critique of Hagel,
which I agree with. Look at what McCain said there, rather admirably, I
think.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Hagel is an honorable man. He has served his country, and no one
on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to get to some of Cruz`s McCarthyite statements in
the next segment. But Tuesday night -- night, rather -- hours matter --
McCain introduced a new wrinkle, along with Senators Graham and Ayotte. He
wrote a letter to the White House requesting more information about the
White House did (ph) during the Benghazi attack. He told "Foreign Policy"
magazine, quote, "We need to know what the president`s conversations were.
I would vote no on cloture on Thursday unless the information is provided."

By Tuesday -- actually, by yesterday, which almost every day of the week
he`s changed his mind, the White House had responded to his satisfaction,
but he still didn`t vote for cloture. He didn`t still -- he still wouldn`t
vote to bring this matter of Hagel`s confirmation up to a vote. And here`s
his latest. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: There are still questions outstanding. I believe that senators
have the right to have those questions answered. Senator from South
Carolina and I and the senator from New Hampshire had a response from the
president today on the question that we had, but there are other questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Like, Can you give us a copy of every speech you ever gave? Can
you give us a dollar for dollar assessment of every dollar you ever made?
And by the way, if you don`t tell us, we`re going to accuse you of getting
money from the North Koreans.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s the way we`re going to pay (ph) you. You know, Joy,
you`re younger than me, I think, by a lot of years. And I have to tell
you, this does -- we`re going to get it to this because I`m going to sell
this second segment coming up tonight because we`re going back. We went
back, our producers, and looked at how Joe McCarthy did it, the same
techniques of innuendo, the same character assassination based on nothing
that this guy is doing, this guy, Cruz, who I don`t know what he`s running
for. People say attorney general. I don`t know what job he`s applying
for. I don`t know why he`s ruining his career with this crap. Your
thoughts?

REID: Yes, he`s not running for president because I think he was born in
Canada.

yes, no, you know, you said earlier in your introduction, Chris, that John
McCain occasionally remembers who he is. You know, I`m starting to agree
with Joe Klein. This is who John McCain is.

This is a man who is showing no principle other than pique. He has turned
on, as you showed, his supposed friend, Chuck Hagel, his supposed comrade
in arms, in matter of hours to decide to brook (ph) this rearguard effort
to drum up dirt on this poor man, who has been through, I think, enough at
this point, in terms of trying to get Barack Obama the defense secretary
that he wants.

And they`ve dragooned Kelly Ayotte into their little club because
Lieberman`s gone. So the three of them, this sort of merry band of
miscreants, standing in the way of this guy getting an up or down vote.
They have no precedent for it other than saying, We`re just going to
torture that guy because he turned against the Iraq war, period.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not as -- I`m not as tough as you are today.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Joy, I will say this. We`ll know the true color of Mr. McCain`s
feelings about life and values when that right-wing crowd inevitably turns
on his friend, Lindsey Graham.

REID: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And you know they will.

REID: They will.

STEELE: And they will.

MATTHEWS: They will go to Graham in the next primary fight...

REID: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... in South Carolina, and he will have to stand up for his
friend.

REID: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That`s when we`ll know. And we`ll see that.

STEELE: And that`s why the bed you make right now, you`re going to have to
lie in it, and there`s going to be a lot of lonely Republicans...

MATTHEWS: A lot of fleas, by the way.

STEELE: ... out there -- a lot of fleas and a lot of lonely Republicans.
And the point that I take issue with, with what the senator said, is, you
know -- you know, Hagel offended the party. Well, he`s not running for the
nomination of the party. He`s not running for anything within the
Republican Party. This is an appointment to be secretary of defense.

And so all of the arguments that are being put up there against him make no
sense because...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... moment of odd candor? Why would McCain say his evil was
partisan? He didn`t pack the party.

STEELE: Well, because...

MATTHEWS: Why would he admit that?

STEELE: Because -- remember, that was -- that was a party call at that
time, where the White House and the Senate leadership needed everyone to
rally around the direction they were taking, and he stood alone. He said,
No, there is something wrong with this policy. There`s something wrong...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... more or less rejected that war by the 2006 election.

REID: Exactly. And didn`t...

STEELE: Right.

REID: Didn`t John McCain do exactly the same thing? Wasn`t that his
brand? Isn`t that why people called him a maverick?

MATTHEWS: Maverick.

STEELE: Yes.

REID: He stood against George W. Bush on the torture policy, which was
also a party call. This was something they all stood unified on...

(CROSSTALK)

REID: ... the idea of enhanced interrogation...

MATTHEWS: You`re so smart. You know, you guys...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I learn more here -- and by the way, stood against the party on
funding.

REID: Yes, he did.

MATTHEWS: The whole (INAUDIBLE) campaign reform. He went against the
right-wing church groups and everybody. All the ideologues on the right
hated that law.

STEELE: And that`s why...

MATTHEWS: McCain-Feingold.

REID: And climate change.

(CROSSTALK)

REID: Climate change, too.

STEELE: ... is personal, just is personal.

REID: He did that, too.

STEELE: That`s why it is. It`s personal. It`s nothing more than that.
This is a vendetta. This is what goes around comes around.

MATTHEWS: Yes. The more I watch this Congress, the more I`m reminded of
why the Greek people said enough of this parliamentary system. They are
blowing republican form of government, the reasonable representation of
people out there, not their own piques and weirdnesses. They`re not doing
their job. This isn`t about the public interest.

Anyway, Joy -- right or left. Thank you, Joy Reid...

REID: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... and Michael Steele.

Coming up: "Are you now or have you ever been?" Well, those were the words
that defined the red-baiting McCarthy era of American politics back in the
`50s. And this week, Ted Cruz of Texas demonstrated he`d be very
comfortable having those words spill out of his mouth. He`s the new guilt
by innuendo guy, and we`re going to after him.

Plus, can President Obama beat the NRA? Wayne LaPierre`s apocalyptic
rantings about a world without guns are easy to lampoon, but he may have
the support and the votes to block any kind of real gun legislation, and
them`s the facts.

Also, Illinois has moved a step closer to becoming the next state to
approve gay marriage. Conservatives are chronically worried right now that
they`re losing the culture war, at least on that front. And guess what?
For once, I think they`re right.

And water-gate -- water-hyphen-gate. Marco Rubio`s water bottle moment may
be the image that haunts him for a long time. Tonight, a look back at some
of the other moments that fairly or not have come to define some
politicians forever.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, this is a sad story. We learned today that former U.S.
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., is being charged with conspiring to spend
campaign funds on personal expenses. Jackson allegedly conspired to spend
$750,000 in campaign funds. Sources tell Politico those expenses are said
to include a $43,000 Rolex, home renovations and fur coats, among other
things.

Jackson issued a statement this afternoon saying he fully accepts
responsibility for his mistakes. Politico says prosecutors will recommend
a prison sentence of between 46 and 57 months. And he had a career ready
to go. Jackson`s wife, Sandy (ph), also pled guilty to one count of tax
fraud. I guess this is all a plea bargain.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: 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: Just watching that reminded me of McCarthy.

Welcome back to HARDBALL. That`s just a sample of freshman Texas senator
Ted Cruz`s language this week about defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.
Here`s what really happened. At his weekly news conference, the Iranian
foreign minister`s spokesman was asked about Hagel`s views on Israel and
U.S. sanctions on Iran. And as Reuters reported, the spokesman responded,
"We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and
that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations." Well, not
exactly an extraordinary, unprecedented celebration of Hagel`s nomination.

Cruz, however, used this kind of innuendo and guilt by association that
reminds of us another senator, Senator Joe McCarthy. See if you agree,
however. A month after Edward R. Murrow`s famous March 1954 "See It Now"
broadcast, in which he exposed McCarthy`s tactics, the senator accepted
Murrow`s invitation to respond.

Here McCarthy uses a favorable TV review in a communist newspaper as
evidence of Murrow`s connection to communism, supposedly. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MCCARTHY (R), WISCONSIN: Let`s take 30 seconds or so, if I may,
look who (INAUDIBLE) was giving comfort to our enemies. Here the
"Communist Daily Worker" of March 9 containing seven articles and an
principal editorial all attacking McCarthy. And the same issue, Mr.
Murrow`s program has (INAUDIBLE) one of tonight`s best bets on TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Also that week, Senator Cruz -- this week, Cruz took
another opportunity to tar Hagel with innuendo that he may have received --
catch this -- may have received $200,000 from, of all places, North Korea.
I don`t think North Korea has $200,000!

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: It may be that he spoke at radical or extreme groups or anti-Israel
groups and accepted financial compensation. We don`t know.

He could not even say that the $200,000 he received did not come directly
from a foreign government. And the question this committee asked, "Have
you been paid directly by a foreign government," I would suggest it is
every bit as relevant to know if that $200,000 that he`s disclosed came
from a foreign government.

Now, it may be perfectly appropriate. We might conclude that it was
benign, it was reasonable. But it is at a minimum relevant to know if that
$200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi
Arabia, came directly from North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, in his 1953 hearings to investigate the Voice of America
for communist infiltration, so-called, Senator McCarthy tried to discredit
State Department employee Reed Harris (ph) by insinuating there that his
choice of legal representative 20 years earlier made him suspect. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCARTHY: Did the Civil Liberties Union provide you with an attorney at
that time?

REED HARRIS, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I had many offers of attorneys, and
one of those was from the American Civil Liberties Union, yes.

MCCARTHY: The question is, did the Civil Liberties Union supply you with
an attorney?

HARRIS: They did supply an attorney.

MCCARTHY: The answer is yes?

HARRIS: The answer is yes.

MCCARTHY: You know the Civil Liberties Union has been listed as a front
for and doing the work of the Communist Party.

HARRIS: Mr. Chairman, this was 1932.

MCCARTHY: I know it was 1932. Do you know that they since have been
listed as a front for and doing the work of the Communist Party?

HARRIS: I do not know that they have been listed so, sir.

MCCARTHY: You don`t know that they have been listed?

HARRIS: I have heard that mentioned or read that mentioned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So we see some similarities in these two senators.

Joining me right now is "The Washington Post"`s Nia-Malika Henderson and
senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News" Wayne Slater, who is
the author of "Bush`s Brain."

Wayne, I saw it this week. I watched the way he sits there in that
indictive manner of his, that prosecutorial manner, throwing out incredible
innuendo, like, unless you tell us where you got that speech money from, we
can assume it came from North Korea.

I`m sorry. How do you make comments like that when everybody knows they
don`t have a nickel to rub together up there? They got nothing. Who would
you speak to in North Korea? Just throwing that out so then he has to deny
it and then he gets into the game of he denies being an agent of the North
Koreans, this is McCarthyism. There`s no other word for it.

Even looks like McCarthy, the way he does this stuff, Wayne.

WAYNE SLATER, AUTHOR, "THE ARCHITECT: KARL ROVE AND THE MASTER PLAN FOR
ABSOLUTE POWER": Well, he does.

There`s a certain condescension in that. This is the six degrees of
separation way of asking questions, an old play. And if it`s done
recklessly, it can really cause damage. The whole purpose of this kind of
six degrees of separation questioning is not to find out something, a piece
of information. It`s to plant a false idea. Maybe you got the money from
a foreign source, maybe from North Korea, maybe from a Muslim caliphate.

All I`m doing is asking a question. Why won`t you answer it? It is an
amazing approach, and when used recklessly, as I think in this early, early
weeks of Ted Cruz`s tenure, I think it invites the idea that he might look
a little like Joe McCarthy.

MATTHEWS: You know, the comparison there, Nia, with the way that McCarthy
connected somebody because they had an ACLU lawyer 21 years before or the
fact that they even had that -- that somehow he said that -- the ACLU was
never listed as a communist front. That`s nonsense. They may have
defended communists because the ACLU will defend anyone`s rights. That`s
what they do.

They defend Nazis, if they have to. That`s what they do. But to make that
sort of weird connection that somehow this guy is a commie, this is what
this guy is doing. Look at this. Because the Iranians would like to see
somebody who wasn`t a super hawk coming in as defense secretary, that
somehow makes him the best friend they ever had over there. Look at the
look on his face, that sarcastic look he`s got.

He looks like McCarthy looked, the way he does this thing. Go ahead. Your
thoughts. I`m just trying to document this.

(CROSSTALK)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Right.

I mean, he`s a Harvard-trained lawyer. He went to Princeton. He`s a
debate champion. And you can see him employing those sorts of tactics
here. I don`t think any of this sort of innuendo and sort of guilt by
association would fly in a courtroom.

But I think in Ted Cruz, you have someone who is essentially auditioning to
be a Jim DeMint with an attitude. Conservatives want an attack dog. He is
very much auditioning for that role. He`s a Tea Party favorite.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HENDERSON: If you look at "The National Review," they very much like his
style.

But, again, I think in some ways it certainly reflects what Republicans I
think are hoping to do over this next week, and that is further chip away
at Hagel and hope that something will stick and that another shoe will
drop.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at another thing. But, first of all,
just in terms of British-style debate, British-style debate you use
innuendo, you use rhetoric. American-style debate, guys, is about
documentation. It`s about bringing in evidence. That`s how we debate in
this country. The British do it with flair and all kinds of rhetoric and
oratorical devices.

That`s what he`s more like. Anyway, both Senator Cruz and Senator McCarthy
at times have used media props to make their points. At Hagel`s hearing
before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Cruz employed a video clip from
Al-Jazeera. Here, he sets up the presentation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I would like to draw your attention to an
interview you did in 2009 with Al-Jazeera, and with the chairman`s
indulgence, if we can play an excerpt of that interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Cruz played a clip of an Al-Jazeera call-in show in which
a caller suggested Israel had committed war crimes. Well, Cruz contends
that in his response Hagel did not refute the caller.

During the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings , Senator McCarthy held up "The
Communist Daily Worker" as a prop. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH MCCARTHY (R), WISCONSIN: Yesterday, a senator made an attack
upon this committee, Senator Flanders. I find that attack headlined in
"The Communist Daily Worker," "Flanders Likens McCarthy to Hitler." I
believe you described "The Daily Worker" this morning already as the
telegraph agency of the Communist Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So, Senator Flanders, who was heading the committee
investigating McCarthy`s tactics, is somehow guilty of being a commie again
because the communist newspaper reported on what he had said.

Who believes this, Nia? And I`m just wondering. You watch him and I don`t
want you to make -- you`re a reporter. You don`t have to make any ultimate
condemnation of these tactics, but tactics are tactics. Innuendo is
innuendo. Guilt by association is guilt by ascension. The tactics are
there on the table.

And again I will go back to the manner of his presentation. He looks like
a prosecutor, not a senator. He`s prosecuting Hagel here for some
political purpose. I don`t know what it is. I guess it`s Tea Party stuff.

HENDERSON: That`s right.

I mean, I think he very much understands that this is theater. He is
trying to ultimately land on FOX News, you know what, to sort of have a
highlight reel there, a highlight reel on Rush Limbaugh`s show. I think
that is what he`s after, and, again, he is finding some footing among Tea
Party folks, among ultra conservatives. That is his goal.

Normally, senators come in, they put their head down, and they sort of
follow the rules and follow the rules of seniority, and he is not doing
that. But I will say in that clip, ultimately, John McCain brushes him
back and says, listen, we`re not here to improve Hagel`s -- impugn Hagel`s
character, and he comes to Hagel`s defense.

MATTHEWS: Well, I got to end this tonight by saying -- and advice, good
advice, I think to Senator Cruz -- you`re starting off with a great
education and great potential. Demagoguery is not a great career choice.

If you look at all the demagogues in our history, from Huey Long to Father
Coughlin, through Joe McCarthy and onward, they don`t get along very well
very long. Make another move, Senator. You still got time.

Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you for joining us.

And, Wayne Slater, it`s great having you on for reporting.

Up next: Marco Rubio`s big gulp might become the moment that defines the
guy. Coming up, another iconic moment and groups of them, by the way, that
have crippled reputations of politicians in the past. It`s all in the
"Sideshow." It`s going to be fun.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: This is going to be fun. Back to HARDBALL and now to the
"Sideshow."

When Marco Rubio made that awkward grab for his water bottle during the
State of the Union response on Tuesday, I immediately thought, OK, he`s now
going to forever be known as the thirsty one.

Well, it`s too early to know if the episode really will stick with him
years from now down the line, but it wouldn`t be the first time. For
example, plenty of other politicians became that guy after incidents that
might be called insignificant.

You will know what I`m talking about as soon as you hear these names.

Michael Dukakis. Chances are you`re thinking of a photo-op that tanked,
literally. Dukakis in that tank started off as an attempt to show that
Dukakis was strong on defense when Dukakis visited a Michigan factory
during his `88 presidential campaign. Well, it obviously backfired big
time when the footage showed up in attack ads from his opponent, George
Herbert Walker Bush, portraying him, there he is, as not serious on
defense. That was unforgettable.

Next, Dan Quayle. You might think of a classroom full of kids and a
spelling test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Spell that again.
Add one little bit on the end. Think of potato. How`s that spelled?
There you go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think he was confusing the singular with the plural. Anyway,
that one stuck around for so long, it even showed up in an attack ad
against his son, Ben, who lost his bid for reelection to Congress in
November. I don`t know if those issues are connected.

Next, Howard Dean.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only are we going to New
Hampshire, Tom Harkin. We`re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and
Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico. We`re going to California and
Texas and New York. And we`re going to South Dakota and Oregon and
Washington and Michigan! And then we`re going to Washington, D.C., to take
back the White House. Yes!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s not fair, not at all, but that became the moment in
Howard Dean`s 2004 presidential run, a rather heroic run, actually.

Well, this time, one -- well, here are the clues, Hurricane Katrina, the
FEMA director, the 43rd president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank you
all for -- and, Brownie, you`re doing a heck of a job.

The FEMA director is working 24...

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: They`re working 24 hours a day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Michael Brown forever dubbed "Heck of a job, Brownie."

More recently, before Rubio, we had "Oops."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: The third agency of government, I would -- I
would do away with the Education, the...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Commerce.

PERRY: Commerce. And let`s see. I can`t. The third one, I can`t.
Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: Oops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s not forget the classic Sarah Palin quote either.
"You can actually see Russia from land here, here in Alaska." Well, that
soon became, "I can see Russia from my house," thanks to Tina Fey.

Anyway, the list goes on. One moment and you become that guy or gal for
the long haul. Rubio`s water break is now very much in the race.

Up next: There hasn`t been too much or this much momentum behind
strengthening gun laws in two decades, but can President Obama actually get
something meaningful done?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

A mixed day on Wall Street, the Dow up eight, the S&P down 1, the Nasdaq
losing six points. American Airlines CEO Tom Horton will take a severance
package of nearly $20 million when American merges with U.S. Airways. Doug
Parker, CEO of U.S. Airways, will head the new company.

And Americans are feeling more confident, buoyed by signs of increased
hiring. Consumer sentiment jumped to a three-month high in February.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Too many of our children are
being taken away from us. Two months ago, America mourned 26 innocent
first graders and their educators in Newtown. Last year, there were 443
murders with a firearm on the streets of this city, and 65 of those victims
were 18 and under.

So that`s the equivalent of a Newtown every four months. And that`s
precisely why the overwhelming majority of Americans are asking for some
commonsense proposals to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on
a gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now, I think that`s smart.

Welcome back.

Of course, that was President Obama speaking earlier this afternoon in
Chicago, his hometown. Stemming gun violence has become a major second-
term agenda item for the president, of course. And some of the most
memorable moments from his State of the Union address actually dealt with
giving victims of gun violence the opportunity to have Congress vote on new
gun control measures.

They deserve a vote. He said it many times. He faces strong opposition
from the NRA, of course, despite Wayne LaPierre`s often apocalyptic, even
paranoid rhetoric. The path to commonsense gun legislation is still rocky
at best. We all know that.

Enter Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who is putting his money where
his money is, actually. The mayor has started a super PAC to back
politicians who do speak out on gun control and then face, of course, the
wrath of the NRA.

What hope do either the president or the mayor have in this regard?

Ron Reagan is an MSNBC political analyst and Jim Warren is Washington
bureau chief of "The Daily News" and of course an MSNBC contributor.

Back to your hometown of Chicago, Jim. It seems to me since the city
congresspeople, most of them Democrats, tend to vote for gun control,
because they have got it in their streets, the women who have to live --
the mothers have to put up with the gangbang shootings and the kids getting
caught in the crossfire on the way to school or even sitting at home --
they have got to be for gun safety.

The suburbs, it seems to me, are always in play. Suburban people have some
rural-type thinking with regard to gun ownership, but they also live close
enough to commute to the city and are very scared of the fact that nearby
where they live there`s crime in the streets involving heavily armed
criminals.

It seems to me the president is saying, OK, it`s not just a question of
schools being hit by a crazy person in this case, but the day-to-day threat
every Friday and Saturday night especially around midnight, the next day
you read about, you hear about it, crime involving big-time weaponry. It
seems like he`s really turned the corner on who he`s trying -- he`s trying
to get the suburbs, it seems to me.

JIM WARREN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, but he also has to look in his
backyard, and literally he was in his backyard today, his home not too far
away from Kenwood Academy -- excuse me -- Hyde Park Academy, where I was
actually hearing part of that speech.

I`m glad you mentioned Bloomberg, Bloomberg throwing a ton of money,
probably $1.5 million so far, into the race to, ironically, replace Jesse
Jackson Jr., who took his plea deal today. That`s going to be in about
another week. And, in fact, you have got a couple strong candidates,
Chris, a white female and an African-American female, who are both pro-NRA.
And don`t mistake the possibility that they can effectively appeal to a
fair number of African-Americans in the city --

MATTHEWS: Who are the pro-NRA candidates?

WARREN: -- such as concealed carry.

The pro-NRA candidates are what folks think are -- who are the leading
candidates, the one white in a race of 16 candidates, Deb Halvorson, former
Democratic congresswoman from mostly the Chicago suburbs and then a woman
named Toi Hutchinson, who was her chief of staff. She`s an African-
American. They are both pro-NRA.

Bloomberg has thrown a ton of money mostly against Halvorson, about $1.3
million. Up to this point, it`s going to be over that. Last night for the
first time, he ran an ad supporting a candidate, not just attacking
Halvorson. That was an anti-guns candidate, perhaps the leading anti-guns
candidate in the race a woman named Robin Kelly.

But your basic point about the burbs is interesting. But there`s also an
interesting possibility, Chris, by throwing all this attention on
Halvorson, that maybe you rouse some of those folks in the burbs who kind
of -- you know, are vaguely pro-NRA and have them come out and vote in a
sprawling 16-person race. There`s going to be low turnout.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WARREN: -- and maybe you win with 16 percent, 17 percent, 18 percent.

But, nevertheless, the fact is, today, you saw again, this is clearly a
fight Obama is willing to wage in a big-time battle and behind him now is
the X-factor perhaps in this issue in American politics and that`s Michael
Bloomberg. And he`s willing to wage it even if he knows in his heart of
hearts, politically, he can only win a quarter loaf or a half a loaf.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go across the country to Ron Reagan.

Ron, it seems to me that this is a battle of geography. We know there`s
various parts of the country, Idaho, Montana, places where you`re not going
to get a gun safety vote. You`re just not going to get one and that
includes almost out to California itself.

You on the coast, maybe western Washington state, parts of Oregon, but
anywhere east of you guys, it`s trouble for anybody trying to stop gun
ownership.

So, my question is: where does the president win the battle at least on
background checks? Something he can put on the wall and say we got this
done?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that he`s winning the
battle for the heart and soul of the public here. I mean, if you look at
the polls, even NRA members by a wide, wide margin support universal
background checks. Nobody is going to sit still for, you know, federal
agents coming and taking people`s guns away, but nobody -- nobody is
planning to do that. But everybody supports sensible regulations like
universal background checks.

Now, is that going to happen in today`s Congress? I don`t know. Because
the NRA is really a shill for the gun industry and that`s a $12 billion
industry. So you got guys like Lindsey Graham who is always going to be
willing or other senators and congressmen who are always going to be
willing to, you know, dance around like pathetic marionettes to the tune
that the NRA calls.

So this is going to be a tough fight and it`s not going to happen quickly.

MATTHEWS: But there`s nothing wrong with being a dancer, is there? Ha!

REAGAN: No, no, but you don`t want to be a marionette.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let me -- let me go back to Jim Warren on that.

It seems to me once we get out of your Chicago mindset here, that there is
a fight that can be won. We had Pat Meehan on from Delaware County,
Pennsylvania. I know his politics roughly but some day he may want to run
for governor. He wanted to do it before.

When you go statewide, you`ve got to worry about the most right wing people
in the state. That`s the challenge for senators who come from states that
may have some urban areas like Michigan that has Detroit, but also has
upper Michigan.

I mean, they fear -- you say the polls and Ron studies the polls but is
this really something you can poll? Because it`s about passion. The guy
out there, mostly the guy, who will think, that SOB, five, seven years ago,
they voted for background checks. I`m never voting for them, that kind of
memory is what I`m thinking about.

WARREN: Yes, the passion is an interesting element you bring up. On
Gallup polls when they ask people for spontaneous responses as to what are
the big issues, you know, in America right now, they don`t hear about guns
very often. It`s only when they start asking --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WARREN: -- specific questions what do you think about this, what do you
think about that? And in that case, then you see the sort of big numbers
which Obama is looking at, Mayor Bloomberg is looking at.

And when you talk about some of those governor and state races, all these
guys are so absolutely, you know, quaking in their boots about an opponent
on the right and, you know, that sort of thing in these primary fights in
which the NRA has some impact, but it`s going to thus be real interesting
and again. I think the think the real X-factor here is Bloomberg. Tell me
if he`s going to stick for this --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know, guys, it`s getting like Israel. The politics in
Israel you could have a moderate government or a centrist government but
they have to appeal to the far right on so many issues and the far right,
maybe the far left to some extent, tend to run those parties.

Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan, as always. Have a nice weekend.

And, Jim Warren, thanks for that reporting from Chicago and New York.

Up next, the culture wars from guns to gay marriage, a multi-front
conflict, with different sides winning on different fronts, I think.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got a new poll in the Massachusetts Senate race. Let`s
check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

The poll by WBUR up there has Congressman Ed Markey out front of fellow
Congressman Steven Lynch in the Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary.
Ed is up by seven points, 38 percent to 31 percent. Both are hoping to
replace John Kerry who is now secretary of state.

The winner of the Democratic primary will have a big advantage in heavily
Democratic Massachusetts. Most of those polled have never even heard of
the two Republicans running for the seat.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

It`s no secret that politicians pander to their bases all the time. It`s
the way to win elections. Remember when candidate Barack Obama was
secretly recorded speaking to supporters up in a well-funded crowd in San
Francisco?

Take a listen to what he said to the people and this is pandering.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s not surprising then that
they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people
who aren`t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as
a way to explain their frustrations.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Obama, actually candidate Obama`s comments back
them became a big part of the discussion on the left-right culture.
Republicans were happy to publicize his comments. But these days, they`re
terrified they might be losing the culture wars on some fronts, and they
could well be.

Let`s take a look at the ground on gay marriage this year, once
unthinkable, that shifted dramatically. Nine states now and the District
of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, same-sex marriage, either by court
decree, legislative action by the legislatures or actual popular vote.
Now, Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii are also considering legalizing gay
marriage, same-sex marriage. And the right`s retreat on culture extends to
other areas, as well.

I`m joined by Lauren Ashburn, founder of the "Daily-Download" and a
contributor to "The Daily Beast.:" And Joe Solmonese is former president
of HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, often confused with Hillary Rodham
Clinton, but not politically.

Let me -- let me talk about this, because you`re on the front all of the
time fighting for same-sex rights and gay rights generally. Isn`t it odd
that in a country where we`ve begun to shift dramatically in that direction
towards not -- more than acceptance. It`s much more positive. It`s just,
OK, we`ll go along with that.

At the same time, we have a country that still affects gun rights almost to
the last men in so many communities. Are they different communities?

JOE SOLMONESE, FMR. PRES., HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: I think so. And there`s
a whole range of issues, you know, that we could talk about from
reproductive rights to climate change.

But I think when it comes to same-sex marriage, you know, we talked earlier
about Illinois, which is poised to be the next state to vote in favor. I
think the trajectory, both in terms of public sentiment. When I started at
HRC, it was 33 percent of American people supported marriage. Now, it was
43 percent, 53 percent, it will be 63 percent before long.

You have the chairman of the Republican Party of Illinois coming out in
favor of this vote, which is significant --

MATTHEWS: Even Ted Cruz says leave it up to the states.

SOLMONESE: Leave it up to the states. Although -- you know, leave it up
to the states. Marco Rubio says leave it up to the states. Leave it up to
the states, it`s interesting. It says to me that that is where the
Republican Party is on this question, right? You know --

MATTHEWS: Is that dodge ball?

SOLMONESE: Yes, you know, it`s like the end of "Lincoln" when they were
voting, you know, and you looked into those guys` eyes and you knew that
they were struggling with substance, but you also knew that they were
struggling in the context of history, which column am I going to be in?

LAUREN ASHBURN, THE DAILY BEAST: Part of it, I think, is that you don`t
take away anything from anybody by supporting gay rights. You just leave
people alone. Unlike with guns, and with guns, you -- people perceive it
as you are going to take something away from me. And that, I think, is the
big difference.

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s what I was saying. But I think there`s a crude
symbiosis there, between people say, leave me alone. But the trouble is,
you see a gun owner, you want to leave him alone? You can get shot by that
guy. You understand?

A gun owner can hurt you. Somebody in a gay marriage situation, the same
sex, they`re not posing any threat to you.

SOLMONESE: I`ll tell you something, though --

MATTHEWS: In other words, rights end when somebody else is endangered by
your rights.

SOLMONESE: If you look at the central strength of what has carried us
through this fight and help us win on this fight for same-sex marriage, it
is people coming out and be out and open about who they are and telling the
stories of their lives, putting a name and a face and a personal
circumstance to this abstract fight. I think this is what you`re starting
to see in the gun debate right now.

ASHBURN: Well, you see in the media --

MATTHEWS: Explain that connection, Joe.

SOLMONESE: In other words --

MATTHEWS: I agree with you, by the way, the more -- even the most rural
parts where people grew up and born, they may end up moving to a mecca like
San Francisco or Chicago or somewhere, but they`re born in a place, their
kids or nephews of people, nieces of people, they`re recognized and they`ve
begun to embrace them.

But the question about guns, how does it connect?

SOLMONESE: I think every time you turn on the television and you see a
real life circumstance. The president`s State of the Union, what did you
see? The real life circumstance of gun violence.

MATTHEWS: Of victims.

SOLMONESE: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: What do you think?

ASHBURN: No, I was just going to say, I think that the media plays a big
part in this. You`re seeing, when it comes to gay rights, you`re seeing
happy couples, you`re seeing good, positive coverage of all of this. And
then when it comes to gun owners, you`re seeing Newtown. You`re seeing
death.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s actual.

ASHBURN: What?

MATTHEWS: That`s true.

ASHBURN: Yes, it is true.

MATTHEWS: There`s good media coverage. It`s reality.

ASHBURN: It is reality. But I think we`re not seeing the negative as much
when it comes to gay rights.

SOLMONESE: But you are seeing, I think, though, the American people are in
the workplace, at church and any kind of institutional setting, they`re
seeing gay people being open about who they are, and some instances, happy
and positive. But, oftentimes, really understanding the circumstances of
the inequity that they face that --

MATTHEWS: You want to get to reality, that`s the actual sermons at church
I`ve always said. Sermons reflect reality. You don`t hear sermons against
gay marriage. You don`t hear them.

Anyway, thank you. You just don`t hear them. You should hear more sermons
against too many gods.

Anyway, thank you, Lauren Ashburn and Joe Solmonese. Thank you for joining
us.

And a reminder, I`ll be one of David Gregory`s guests this Sunday on "Meet
the Press". You`d be able to watch me both on the "Chris Matthews Show"
and "Meet the Press". You can spend a whole Sunday morning with me if
you`re lucky. Just kidding. But actually, I`m not kidding, I hope you do.

By the way, one of David`s guests is going to be John McCain. I can`t
wait.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: I keep trying to figure out
which way this country is heading. I know we`re going in the liberal
direction with the growing acceptance, I think true acceptance of gay
people. The study moving to support same-sex marriages, I think the most
dramatic shift of public attitudes on something so basic I can ever
remember.

On guns, I think it`s hard to say. Yes, there`s a national up surge of
desire for gun safety. Yes, people have seen the worst now and want to do
something about it. But when I look at gun sales and NRA memberships and
all that, I get the sense that a good number of people out there are
circling the wagons. They see the government come and collect their guns
and they`re preparing for the fight.

So the only thing I can figure is that that movement, crude as it may be to
throw these two issues together toward personal freedom, toward individual
autonomy is growing, profoundly, on the right, as well as on the left.
People want to make their own decisions, they do. And it may be dangerous
for society as a whole to allow this when it comes to gun-buying, but there
you have it. In one bet, you can make on America we are still a cowboy
country. We like to get around in our own cars and live in our own
separate houses, do what we want to do in our lives, live whatever, see
whatever, pretty much do whatever.

The difference here is doing harm to others. Two people getting married
doesn`t hurt someone else`s marriage, nor does it reduce its reverence or
love. Having a gun in the wrong hands, freedom for that person can mean
death for lots of others. And that is where the desire for freedom jumps
the tracks. That`s where our cowboy urge need Wyatt Earp to come in and
clean up Dodge City.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

END


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