updated 3/1/2013 1:49:36 PM ET 2013-03-01T18:49:36

HARDBALL
February 28, 2013

Guests: John Nichols, Michael Scherer, Roger Simon, Tom Roberts, Lauren Ashburn, Bonnie Fuller

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Showdown.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. My kingdom for a horse. How does Barack
Obama escape this frightening axe coming down sharp and brutally on his
presidency? How does he avoid personal harm when the country rises up in
anger, when the Army and Naval bases stop writing checks, when people stop
shopping because they don`t have salaries, when the airports seize up
because the air traffic controllers are cut, when the bitching and yelping
reaches up to the White House gates themselves?

What will he do when the government itself shuts down because Congress
won`t authorize another nickel of spending? I have my suspicions. Not
everyone fears this Goetterdammerung. To the Tea Party, this is a party,
giant slashes in government spending like it already is going on now. To
the Republican regulars like Speaker John Boehner, hey, this could work.
It`ll make the right-winger -- those squirrelies (ph) out there in my party
happy, feeding time at the zoo.

And the Democrats and President Obama, how about this? Would you rather,
if you were them, take some hits at the Pentagon and some other federal
programs that you can blame the Republicans for, or would you rather go out
and yourself sign onto a cut in Medicare that hurts every one of your
people, ticks off most of your party, makes you look like you`ve given the
store away?

If you`re Barack Obama, politician, maybe you`re thinking, Maybe I can dig
this sequester after all. And this is the problem. Everyone says they
hate sequestration. Everybody would rather have it than have to do
something they really, really don`t want to do.

I`m joined by "The Nation`s" John Nichols and Michael Scherer with "Time."
Michael and then John, test my -- I`m going to test my premise with you.
The reason we`re probably going to have sequestration, we`re probably going
to have all kinds of problems, is because it`s better than having to do
what you don`t want to do. Republicans don`t want to raise taxes.
Democrats don`t want to touch the entitlements.

MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I agree with that, but I think it`s
better in short term. Both the Republicans and the White House have
calculated, and one of them`s going to be right, that if they let this
happen, they will be in a stronger position in two weeks going into a
government shutdown, which is the next thing that happens at the end of the
March. One of them is going to be right and one of them is going to be
wrong.

The pressure is going to slowly build of outrage in the country. If we get
to the point where nonessential services are also shut down, the pressure
will get even greater. At that point -- at some point, they are going to
have to deal with it. The idea of sequestration staying as it is designed
now -- not just the top line number of cuts, but as it is designed now
through the end of September, in which you`re going to have all the
horrible...

MATTHEWS: Well, let me -- let me test you on this. You`re saying that
it`s going to get so bad, there`s going to be so much yelping and
complaining, that one of the two sides will have to break and say, OK, I`m
saying uncle. Republicans, I`m raising revenues. Do you think it will get
so bad Republicans will say, I`m willing to raise revenues?

SCHERER: I think there are probably 60 votes in the Senate to raise
revenues, if you get enough entitlement cuts...

MATTHEWS: But you don`t raise revenues in the Senate. The House has to do
it.

SCHERER: No, no. No, but to come to a -- to come to a deal that would
then go to the House to replace sequestration, what would happen is the
Senate would pass something, laying out where they want to be on
revenues...

MATTHEWS: Right.

SCHERER: ... where they want to be on budget. It would go to the House.
It would be bipartisan, at that point. I think that probably, if Obama is
willing to go far enough -- Lindsey Graham`s already come out and said, If
he`s willing to go far enough on entitlements, I`m willing to talk about
revenues. I think that...

MATTHEWS: OK, you think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Obama will buckle, too, and do entitlements?

SCHERER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid...

SCHERER: Yes. We`re going back to some version of the "grand bargain."

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you -- let me as John the same question. I still
hard -- hard -- I`m making the hard argument -- let me phrase it right --
that both sides would rather put up with this cuts in defense spending,
cuts in health care and NIH and Head Start and all those things that people
do care about, if it means they don`t have to cut things like Social
Security, Medicare, Medicaid, if you`re a Democrat, and don`t have to raise
taxes, if you`re a Republican.

What do you think is the sort of the rule here of what they think is most
and least likely to happen, and least likable?

JOHN NICHOLS, "THE NATION": Well, look, what the Republicans would love is
to have Barack Obama do the job for them, and Mitch McConnell even
indicated that in recent days, this idea that they would hand the problem
over to Obama, and if he wanted to make the cuts in a couple weeks, they`d
let him do it.

That`s a little bit like saying that we`ve got to take lunch money away
from the kids. We can do it, you know, across the board, or we could send
you out to find the kids to take it from. It`s a bad deal. And there`s
clearly an effort here to put the blame on one side or another...

MATTHEWS: Well, we know that, John. We know that. But my question...

NICHOLS: But there`s a big -- there`s a bigger problem.

MATTHEWS: ... to you is, what is the cutting edge? No. When`s the
president decide or the Republicans, one side buckles and says, I can`t
stand this sequestration, I can`t stand this government shutdown,
therefore, I am now willing to do what I don`t want to do? When`s that
going to happen for the Democratic side? When`s it going to happen for the
Republican side? Which one first?

NICHOLS: Well, I think it happens probably for the Republican side first,
and I`ll tell you why.

MATTHEWS: OK.

NICHOLS: This is an internal Republican battle, and it is a fight between
the Washington rationalists and a portion of their base. Now, the fact of
the matter is that Boehner has already blinked in a situation like this and
allowed for the Washington rationalists to vote with the Democrats to make
changes. That happened in December.

And we`re going to be looking at a similar situation, I think, pretty
quickly, and I believe air travel is going to be the center of this thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

NICHOLS: If you start to see two-hour lines at the airports, you aren`t
going to have to wait three weeks for people to get very, very angry. That
will come in a couple days.

MATTHEWS: Yes. My question, then, does the president have to be very
careful not to be seen having his hand in this, right?

SCHERER: That`s right, and...

MATTHEWS: He can`t look like he called over and said, Put pressure on the
air traffic controllers, because something might happen in the air.

NICHOLS: In fact...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

NICHOLS: Chris, it`s even more than that. I think the president has to be
a hands-on figure, looking and actually genuinely trying to solve problems,
trying to avoid crises.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

NICHOLS: If the image is that he is gaming this thing for political
advantage, that can blow up both ways. So I don`t think the president can
play a game here. He should be trying to make things work. He should also
be outside of Washington sharing the pain. He should be where people are,
and talking to Republican governors, where possible, doing whatever he can
to seem highly and to, in fact, be...

MATTHEWS: OK.

NICHOLS: ... highly engaged.

MATTHEWS: Quick yes or no, Michael. I know you`re a straight reporter,
you can`t have an opinion of strong -- of passion here. But I think that
John just made a good point. He thinks the Republicans will crack first,
that they would rather go with some kind of tax reform, revenue increase,
rather than take this pain. Is it your sense the president has the high
hand here, the strong hand?

SCHERER: Well, I think in the next three weeks, he probably has the
stronger hand.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at today`s "Washington Post." David Ignatius,
who is a -- somewhat of a centrist reporter, I think it`s fair to say,
maybe a little liberal sometimes, makes a great analogy for the mess in
Washington right now.

Quote, "We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk
driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so
intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the
nation`s car off the road. In my analogy, the president should take the
steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination
where most maps show we need to be heading, namely a balanced program in
cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.
Instead, Obama has chosen to be co-dependent, as psychologists describe
those who foster the destructive behavior of others, rather than stepping
up to leadership. Since being reelected, he has tripled-dared the GOP
hotheads."

Now, there`s a sort of an interesting analysis, I think, John, of saying,
OK, it`s the Republicans` problem. They keep screwing around with this.
They love -- they seem to love the government shutdowns, these fiscal
cliffs, all this stuff, debt ceilings. They love this stuff because it
gives them leverage.

But the president, according to David Ignatius -- again, I think a very
moderate progressive -- says the president`s got to grab the steering
wheel. Can he grab the steering wheel and say, OK, I`ll do some of these
things if you do other things, we`ll avoid this crack-up?

NICHOLS: Well, that`s a terrible game. That`s a situation where you say
somebody can throw a tantrum big enough, and then the president of the
United States, to calm things down, has to make moves that he has expressed
clearly he doesn`t think are good ideas. This is a president reelected on
a platform of protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. To
suddenly start bargaining on that because the other side is screaming is a
very dangerous game...

MATTHEWS: I thought he was bargaining. I thought he`s been saying --
hasn`t he been saying...

NICHOLS: Well...

MATTHEWS: ... If you guys do revenue reform, I`ll do social program
reform? Hasn`t he been saying that all through this discussion? Isn`t it
the back story here?

NICHOLS: He has, and it`s been a very discomforting to a lot of his base.
He`s got to -- this...

MATTHEWS: But what does he do if he you don`t do that, John?

NICHOLS: This is the danger of the game.

MATTHEWS: John, what does he do if he doesn`t deal?

NICHOLS: He can -- he should be out campaigning. He should be
aggressively saying...

MATTHEWS: To do what? For what? What`s...

NICHOLS: ... where the money is. There are -- these -- when he talks
about loopholes, when he talks about...

MATTHEWS: You mean (INAUDIBLE) the only solution? OK.

NICHOLS: ... things that could be done with the tax code...

MATTHEWS: Is your position...

NICHOLS: Well, it`s a good solution.

MATTHEWS: Fair enough. Is your position, which some of the 20 or so
Democrats are now taking, no changes in Social Security, Medicare,
Medicaid, none of that, it`s all going to have to be revenues? Is that
your position?

NICHOLS: My position is you should improve Medicare and Medicaid and
Social Security. And there are certainly ways that you can get more
revenues for them, but it is absurd to me to suggest that we need to cut
Social Security benefits, to say to a retiree, We`re going to cut your COLA
because the Republicans in Congress are throwing a tantrum.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but how do you -- I just -- I`m not going to push you much
more than this one more time. If you`re the president of the United States
and you have the House of Representatives, which controls all revenue and
entitlement programs, primarily, how do you deal with them if you don`t
deal with them?

NICHOLS: Well, you have to deal with them at the end of the day, but what
you have to do is find that rational base within it. There are -- there do
look to be 50 to 60 Republicans that are willing to, you know, look at
these issues in a way that I think most Democrats do, or at least
reasonably. They`re terrified of their own base. And so it`s really the -
- the challenge for Barack Obama is he can`t remake the Republican base.

MATTHEWS: OK, you got one big problem. The Speaker of the House sets the
schedule, and the 50 or 60 people you keep scrambling for -- fair enough.
Suppose the speaker says, We`re not going to bring that up. It`s not going
to be a vote, what you`re talking about. There`s nothing (INAUDIBLE) they
can do that. I worked up there. The speaker has a lot of power, John.
Anyway, your thoughts are valuable, but I think there`s a problem there.

yes?

SCHERER: Well, the Senate moves first. But I think, you know, what John
is saying is an important thing. Both sides are arguing now that we can do
this and not hurt anybody, and the reality of this conversation is this is
about pain. This is about raising taxes...

MATTHEWS: If you`re going to reduce the debt.

SCHERER: ... or cutting things that people need. And so the Obama line
that, Oh, we`ll just take away corporate jet loopholes and everything`ll be
fine...

MATTHEWS: Or carried interest.

SCHERER: ... or the Republican line that, Oh, we`re just going to get rid
of boondoggles in Vegas and stop certain research projects into video games
and we`ll be fine -- both of them are false. And the American people, I
think, are going to come to terms with the fact that the reality of the
situation is that there`s -- you can figure out the mix, you can figure out
when it starts, how long it goes...

MATTHEWS: OK...

SCHERER: ... but the reality is, they are going to lose something.

MATTHEWS: I think so. Here`s one of the great oddities of this debate.
Take a good look at this map, the United States. Shown here in green are
the ones that (INAUDIBLE) pay more into federal taxes than they get back.
These are the givers. And then you look at the exception of Texas, all
these states vote Democratic, actually. And the states in yellow, the ones
that get more from government than they pay, are the yellow ones. The
lawmakers there regularly rail against the federal government.

John, here`s your shot. The weirdness of this whole thing is that the
conservatives out there, the people that really don`t like the federal
government -- back since Jackson`s day, Andrew Jackson -- they don`t like
the federal -- yet they benefit from it. And when we have this big
sequestration that goes after Naval bases, Army bases, usually tilts to the
South.

NICHOLS: This takes us back to the debates back in the summer of 2011,
when people showed up at Tea Party events and said, you know, I don`t want
the government messing with my Medicare.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

NICHOLS: The fact of the matter is that we have a real problem, and it is
stoked. It is stoked by a group of players who operate within the
Republican Party. What we desperately need right now is, frankly, a Ronald
Reagan or a Barry Goldwater, or William F. Buckley, somebody who will stand
up to the irrational section of that party and say, Look, I`m a big
conservative, but we have got to be big kids. We have to operate in the
real world.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think we need John Wayne for this one.

NICHOLS: And that is...

MATTHEWS: I`d think -- I`d go even further. I`d say John Wayne and the
Panama Canal. I think you need somebody to say, We got to get a lot bigger
in our thinking.

NICHOLS: There you go.

MATTHEWS: So much (INAUDIBLE) great having you on, John Nichols and
Michael Scherer of "Time."

Coming up right now: This party`s not big enough for two of us. That`s
basically what Conservative Political Action Conference says, otherwise
known as CPAC, otherwise known as the Republican Party. And it said that
Chris Christie, the one Republican who actually looked good last year, who
doesn`t turn off voters in the rest of the country, as I`ve said before --
keep it up guys, you`re doing a great job. Make sure none of your really
popular figures like Christie even show up at your event.

Also tonight here on HARDBALL, pope and change. The Catholic church needs
to fix its problems. The celibate priesthood -- is it working? The role
of women -- are they really getting a big enough role? And the issue of
birth control. And of course, the priest sandals.

And as we`ve seen, no one has a solution to the sequester silliness, but
everyone has their lines of attack ready, just as we had them in previous
crises. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Dealing with the White
House is like dealing with a bowl of Jell-O.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) kicking the can down the road. I think
they`re nudging the potato across the table with their nose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s in the "Sideshow." A lot of metaphor there. Isn`t
there any way (ph)...

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with my hope that the college of cardinals selects
someone who can embrace the future, not cling to the past.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: It may be happening again. The Republican Party is one step
closer to running a far-right candidate for what could have been, maybe
what will still be, a winnable Senate seat. That`s because U.S.
Congressman Tom Latham of Iowa has decided not to run for the seat of
retiring senator Tom Harkin, potentially clearing the way for fellow
congressman Steve King, who is far right. King, you`ll recall, is the guy
who suggested President Obama`s parents may have telegrammed his birth
announcement from Kenya.

But progressives shouldn`t celebrate yet. While King probably couldn`t win
statewide in a presidential election year, he may have a shot in the mid-
term election, where fewer people vote, mostly Republicans show up. So
stay tuned. Could be tricky.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The one big lesson in the Republican
-- the one they took away from the 2012 spanking was that it`s time to
broaden its base, you`d think. But if they want to appeal to more people,
then why would the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, not
invite New Jersey governor Chris Christie to speak at their annual meeting
coming up?

Governor Christie may be one of the few Republicans who can actually nab
votes from Democrats and independents. Just look at his approval rating up
in Jersey, 74 percent in the Quinnipiac, and that`s in a blue state, a
Democrat state that hasn`t gone Republican in a presidential year since
1988.

Well, the head of American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas (ph), defended
CPAC`s decision to snub Christie saying, quote -- now try to follow this --
"Governor Christie was invited to CPAC last year because he did a great job
in NJ. Well, this past year, he strongly advocated for the passage of a
$60-plus billion pork barrel bill, and he signed up with the federal
government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it.
So he was not invited back to speak."

Well, Christie responded to the non-invitation in typical Christie fashion.
Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, I didn`t know that I hadn`t
been invited to CPAC until, like, two days ago, when I saw it in the news.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: So yes, apparently, I haven`t been invited. Listen, I wish them
all the best. They`re going to have their conference. They`re going to
have a bunch of people speaking there. They don`t want to invite me,
that`s their call. It`s their -- it`s -- you know, it`s their
organization. It`s their business. And they get to decide who they want
to have come and not come.

It`s not like I`m lacking for invitations to speak both here and around the
country. It`s not like I have a whole lot of openings in my schedule. I
can`t sweat the small stuff. I got a state to rebuild.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I can`t sweat the small stuff. I got a state to rebuild.
He had that one ready. I don`t think he thought of that one on the spur of
the moment.

Roger Simon is chief political columnist for the great Politico. And
Michelle Goldberg is a contributor for the DailyBeast. You know, I have to
say, Michelle -- you`re up in New York right now, or where are you right
now?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, DAILYBEAST: I`m in New York.

MATTHEWS: OK. So in that whole metropolitan area, as I`ve been able to
figure, just like when the days when Ed Koch was extremely popular, you
sort of share the media market. It`s the biggest media market in the
country. Eleven percent of the people watching now are in New York,
basically.

He`s big. He`s big in Connecticut. He`s big in Jersey. I assume he`s
huge in Pennsylvania. They`re all in those media markets up there. They
like the style of the guy.

Why would you say, We don`t want your kind, which is really what they`re
saying, at our convention? Why is CPAC doing this?

GOLDBERG: Because he deviated from Republican orthodoxy. I mean, what`s
funny is that it was just last year, you`ll remember, when Republicans,
including very conservative Republicans, were basically begging Christie to
save them from the moderate squish Mitt Romney.

Now Romney is speaking at CPAC, Christie is not invited, and it`s because -
- you said before that Republicans agree that they need to expand their
tent. I`m not sure that all conservatives do agree with that. I think
that there`s a lot of conservatives who take the lesson from this election
that they take from every lost election, which is that their candidate lost
because he wasn`t conservative enough, and so rather than expand the tent,
they`re kind of getting even more ideologically pure.

You know, they`re also not allowing GOProud, the conservative gay group, to
participate in CPAC.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know that part. But let`s stick to Christie.

Look, here`s -- I agree with that. That`s a weird thing too, like there`s
no gay conservatives?

But let`s go with this thing, pork barrel spending. In other words, not
only adding insult to injury, they`re going -- they`re saying, we`re not
going to invite Christie. Oh, by the way, helping save New Jersey and in
places like Staten Island and places like that New York and the Rockaways
and Breezy Point, saving them is pork barrel. Why does he talk like this?

(CROSSTALK)

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, POLITICO: It`s ridiculous on two
levels.

First of all, accusing a governor of liking pork barrel is like accusing a
ballerina of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, how about emergency relief?

SIMON: Well, I mean, getting pork is what politicians do.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.

SIMON: Secondly, Christie wanted relief...

MATTHEWS: Was that a shot at the fact he`s a big guy, pork barrel? Was
that a little shot at him there? I wonder.

SIMON: Well, he wanted relief for people devastated by a hurricane. We
gave relief to people on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans devastated by
Katrina.

MATTHEWS: We give relief to Bali.

SIMON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK.

SIMON: So why not people in New Jersey?

MATTHEWS: I don`t know. I think pork barrel is a misstatement.

Let`s take a look at the polling on this guy, Michelle. And I think most
politicians today are lucky -- and the president is doing decently well
right now -- he`s lucky to get a 50 percent in our numbers this week, a 50
percent. Just basically, half the country likes me.

Well, look at this guy. Three-quarters of the state in New Jersey, and
that includes a hell of a lot of deep-down regular Democrat voters,
Democratic voters, in a state that has a good chunk of minorities and all
that -- all the liberal reasons to be big urban liberals, and yet look at
the numbers he`s pulling. He`s getting almost every imaginable vote.

GOLDBERG: Right.

And part of the reason he`s popular is because he`s not the kind of
conservative that CPAC embraces. CPAC would never -- a candidate who spoke
only to CPAC audiences would never be so successful in deep blue New
Jersey. Because he has a reputation as an independent, because he has a
reputation as someone who will sometimes -- will put state -- the state`s
welfare above the kind of conservative orthodoxy, you know, that`s why he`s
beloved right now, but that`s also why the party is angry at him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me tell you about my home crowd, which includes some
conservative Catholics. Right? You know why they like him? Well, he`s
pro-life. He shares their values. He`s not going to mess around with the
Constitution, but he`s pro-life. He has the right value by their
standards.

SIMON: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s a cultural conservative. He`s a regular family guy,
Italian guy, part Irish and all that. He fits that mold of Reagan
Democrat, the kind of people that switched to the Republican Party under
Ronald Reagan.

SIMON: Look, Michelle has put her finger on it. The Republican Party now
is suspicious of anybody who is popular with the bulk of Americans.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You`re being sarcastic. You don`t mean that. You mean they
don`t like people that win?

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON: CPAC figures this guy is popular, there`s got to be something wrong
with him.

MATTHEWS: When did that start, that new dispensation? Reagan was popular.

SIMON: It started when ideology began driving the party, rather than
getting somebody elected to office.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. There must be something. I wouldn`t -- I was going to do
the Groucho Marx, line but I can`t even fit it in here.

As I said, some on the right don`t agree with CPAC`s decision not to invite
Christie to speak. Here is Charles Krauthammer, a pretty conservative guy,
on FOX Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think this is a vast
overreaction. It`s a mistake. He`s a leading Republican with obviously
presidential timber. He`s got the highest popularity of any governor, and
he`s in a blue state.

Look, I wasn`t very happy with what he did in Sandy. I thought he deserved
three months in quarantine. The three months is up. And I would let him
out. I would have him at CPAC. We should have a wide tent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Good old Charles. I thought there he was going to be kind for a
second. But he went back to type. He said, yes, after you have put him in
the stocks for three months and whipped him a few times, then you can let
him show up at your little meeting over at Harbor Place.

What do you think of that? Last thought here from Michelle? What kind of
-- isn`t that amazing the way Charles gives his nice kisses?

GOLDBERG: Yes, that`s about as kind of as nice as they`re going to get.

What I think is that the Republican Party is still kind of in the process
of imploding, and the problem isn`t so much that he`s not invited to CPAC.
It`s that there`s no counterweight to CPAC. There`s no Republican
equivalent of the Democratic Leadership Committee...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GOLDBERG: ... no kind of Republican engine of reformation.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And, by the way, I will leave one thought as a TV guy now.
That picture of them working together on the shores of Jersey was the one
happy note that the American public got to see in this whole election, the
one time they were proud to be Americans. They said this is what it should
look like. They`re not the best friends on the planet, but they work
together.

Michelle Goldberg...

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON: You know who wins presidential elections? The most likable
candidates. Chris Christie is a likable guy.

MATTHEWS: My God, I love it when we have Occam`s razor right here.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Michelle Goldberg and Roger Simon, thank you both.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: This week`s spending cuts showdown is the fifth fiscal
crisis since Republicans took over the House of Representatives, and since
then, we have heard wild analogies and colorful language from both sides.
That`s coming up here on HARDBALL.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and now to the "Sideshow."

We`re inching closer to the deadline when the massive overhaul of spending
cuts goes into effect. And it looks like those in Congress are not at all
close to a deal, and the blame game has reached a climax.

You may have noticed that with all the budget negotiation we have seen over
the past few years, from the debt ceiling to the fiscal cliff and now the
spending cuts, people on both sides get inventive with their lines of
attack during the final showdown.

Vegetables, baloney, Satan, we have heard it all. Let`s take a look back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Dealing with the White
House is like dealing with a bowl of Jell-O.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We might as well do it now.
Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Several trains have left the
station. It`s the decision about which train we will be riding when we get
to the next station.

QUESTION: You have been quoted coming out of your caucus as calling this
agreement a sugarcoated Satan sandwich. Was that indeed your quote? Is
that how you feel about this deal?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: It`s a very accurate quote. What I`m
saying is that, if you lift the bun, what you see is antithetical to
everything the great religions of the world teach. Until we see the
details, we`re going to be extremely non-committed, but on the surface, it
looks like a Satan sandwich.

BOEHNER: Our plan B would protect American taxpayers who make $1 million
or less.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Plan B, I would call it
plan befuddled. It`s really hard to imagine why they even came up with it.

OBAMA: If Congress allowed this meat cleaver approach to take place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our military chiefs don`t have the ability to place
those cuts thoughtfully. They have to go through in a baloney slice way
and cut right across the board.

ALAN SIMPSON, FORMER CO-CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FISCAL
RESPONSIBILITY AND REFORM: Wake up. Use your brain, for God`s sake.

PELOSI: I don`t think they`re even kicking the can down the road. I think
they`re nudging the potato across the table with their nose.

SIMPSON: Everybody knows you don`t like each other and you`re trying to
pretend you do. Go see the movie "Lincoln."

OBAMA: This is not a cliff, but it is a tumble downward.

PELOSI: We have a deadline facing us. We`re practically becoming a drive-
by Congress.

BOEHNER: We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets
off their ass and begins to do something.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think he should understand who
is sitting on their posterior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we may have reached a new low when variations on the word
backside have entered the equation.

Up next: Pope Benedict has officially stepped down now, and the search can
begin for his successor, but the church is in crisis. And it needs the
next pope to right the ship. And that`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

An earlier rally faded, leaving the Dow with a 20-point loss. The S&P ends
lower by a point, the Nasdaq down two.

The latest read on GDP shows the economic -- the economy grew at a scant
0.1 percent annual rate by the end of last year, the slowest since the
first quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, jobless claims dropped more than
expected last week. And Groupon shares are higher after hours after the
company ousted its CEO.

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

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Eighty-five-year-old Pope Benedict, the former Joseph Ratzinger, made
history today when he left the Vatican and helicoptered from Rome to the
papal summer home, Castel Gandolfo, for the first phase of his retirement.

On his final tweet -- in the final tweet as pope, he said -- quote --
"Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy
that comes from putting Christ at the center of your lives."

Well, his departure ushers in a new era for the church and the more than
one billion Catholics worldwide, and soon more than 100 cardinals will meet
in conclave to select a new pope and decide the future of the faith.

Well, George Weigel is our NBC News Vatican analyst, and Tom Roberts is
managing editor of "The National Catholic Reporter" and author of "The
Emerging Catholic Church."

George, you know, in American presidential politics, we always try to
correct for the latest president. You know, we had Truman, who had too
much of a Kansas City problem, so he brought in Mr. Clean, Eisenhower. We
had Nixon and Ford, so we brought in a guy who had never been involved in
politics or even been to Washington, Carter. And then we brought in Reagan
because he was seen as strong and Carter was seen as weak.

What are they going to try to correct, if you will, in history in this
conclave?

GEORGE WEIGEL, NBC NEWS VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Chris, I don`t think
conclaves work quite the way American politics works, which is probably
good news for all of us.

I think the cardinals are looking for a charismatic, missionary,
evangelical, if you will, pastor, someone with real experience with people,
someone who can present the church`s proposal to the world with confidence
and good humor. And I think they`re also looking for a man who can hire
someone, an effective cardinal secretary of state, to take a grip on the
Vatican, to take a good look at reforming the Roman Curia, which at the
present moment is not functioning very well at all.

So I think that`s the package deal that people may be looking for here, the
charismatic pastor out front and Mr. Inside to clean up business here in
Rome.

MATTHEWS: Tom, let me ask you, Tom Roberts, the same question. Will they
go for a CEO or chairman of the board sort of figure, and then hoping or
believing that he would be the right person to pick a tough operating
officer who would clean up the problems?

TOM ROBERTS, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER": Well, I in
this case, agree with George.

I think that they do need a pastor. I think all the qualifications George
laid out would mean Jesus would have to be in the conclave running for
pope. But I think somewhere short of that, they need a good pastor and
someone who can convince the world.

But I think a deeper problem that the people in the conclave -- the
cardinals in the conclave will confront is the question about themselves.
How do they become credible religious leaders, at a time when the church is
really, I think, besieged by the scandal? How do they regain authenticity,
how do they regain the trust of the community?

I think it`s going to be a central -- it`s an underlying question and one
that`s more I think reflective than what kind of manager and what kind of,
you know, internal management do you need, but I think that`s a central
question to it.

MATTHEWS: George, do you think that the -- let`s just talk practical. The
members of the College of Cardinals, do they think that the church`s
challenge now is to reexamine the very concept of a celibate priesthood?

Are they in the mood or in the condition now to think, you know, these
scandals are not accidental; they have something to do with the challenge
we put before the men who become priests, to give up sex for life? And is
that discipline workable today? Are they going to get to that kind of
question, which obviously has something to do with the scandals?

WEIGEL: Chris, I don`t think so.

The celibate priesthood is a 2,000-year-old tradition in the
Latin rite church. And, moreover, I don`t think anyone ought to think of
marriage as a remedy for sexually immature people. Marriage is not a crime
prevention program.

The enormous problem of sexual abuse of clergy, which has scarred the
church throughout the world, is fundamentally a problem of faith. It`s men
who have not understood and internalized the faith of the church, made that
the center of their lives. And since we know from all of the sociological
studies that the sexual abuse of the young is a societal-wide plague and
happens most prominently and most disturbingly within families, it`s very
hard for anyone to say that a married clergy helps solve that problem.

MATTHEWS: Well, Frank Bruni the other day in "The New York Times" -- I
know he`s a liberal, but, Tom, I want to ask you, he said the problem is
the very nature of the celibate priesthood is unreasonable, that very few
men are willing to give up sex for life, whether they`re heterosexual or
gay or whatever, that they`re willing to do this and mean it and be able to
act on it. And that`s why you had situations like Keith O`Brien, who is
the chief -- head of the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom.

He wasn`t going after kids. He was making overtures to other priests,
young priests. And so the question obtains here, do they have a challenge
they`re going to face here, or are they going to move on to the questions
of salesmanship and management, rather than through central discipline
questions, like the priesthood, which is the celibacy issues and the
discipline issue? It`s not a matter of doctrine.

ROBERTS: Yes. I think the celibacy issue will -- I don`t think it`s going
to be part of the conclave discussion. I also -- I would agree with George
that a married clergy is not going to solve that problem because sexual
abuse does occur everywhere.

The distinctive in the church and the thing that`s not been addressed is
the fact that bishops could send priests to any number of dioceses, from
parish to parish, even to other countries, and the missing link in all the
church has done to try to solve this problem is there`s no accountability
on the part of bishops. I`m sitting here in Kansas City, Missouri, today
where there`s a bishop who is criminally convicted of a count of
endangering children for not reporting a priest and he`s still a bishop.
There`s nothing being done about it.

So I think that the question of celibacy is far more complex than the thing
-- the way that Mr. Bruni (ph) talked about it. I also think that we have
married priests from other traditions and it`s not a 2,000-year-old
tradition. It`s about 600 years old.

But the point is that I think it`s far -- the sex abuse problem is far more
complex and far more involving the leadership of the church than the
individual accounts.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, George, about this question of Cardinal Timothy
-- Cardinal Dolan of New York. He`s a very attractive guy in so many ways
and mostly, he`s very American and regular, if you will. A guy`s guy, if
you will.

I`m wondering, does he have a shot or is this just American home cooking
thinking he does at the papacy?

GEORGE WEIGEL, NBC NEWS: Chris, I think what we used to call the super
power veto, the notion that you couldn`t have an American pope because the
United States was the hyper power --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WEIGEL: -- as the French foreign minister once called us, I think that`s
gone.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

WEIGEL: There is no overwhelming super power of the sort that was the case
immediately after the Cold War, and I have said on several of our
broadcasts during the day and indeed during this previous week, I don`t
think a North American pope is out of the question.

MATTHEWS: You mean the Quebec archbishop may have a better shot?

WEIGEL: Cardinal Quellet.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WEIGEL: I think a number of North American cardinals are going to get a
look in this conclave, and that`s something really quite striking.

On the other hand, Chris, it probably shouldn`t be that surprising because
given the very difficult circumstances of the Catholic Church in Europe,
it`s really falling through the floorboards in a number of places.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WEIGEL: Catholic Church in the United States looks like a pretty vital and
vibrant place. All sorts of problems, all sorts of contentions. My friend
Tom Roberts and I have been arguing about these things for years. But it`s
still a vital, vibrant Catholicism and that`s going to be attractive.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s great to hear from you and it`s great to hear that.
George Weigel, who is at the Vatican already.

Tom Roberts, thank you, sir, for joining us. I`ll be getting over there
when we see that white smoke.

Up next, a big question about the way we live in this country. Should
people be able to work from home, at home? It`s a hot debate right now at
a very well-known company.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Bloomberg" reports that Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of
President John F. Kennedy, is the leading candidate to become President
Obama`s pick as ambassador to Japan. "Bloomberg" reports that the
president signed off on this but the vetting process isn`t yet complete.
Caroline Kennedy, along with her uncle, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, were
early supporters of President Obama`s campaign for president.

You remember that high profile campaign event in January of 2008 at
American University here in Washington. The symbolic passing of the torch
from the Kennedys to Obama. There it is.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This week, one of the most high profile leaders in U.S. business, Marissa
Mayer of Yahoo, who just happens to be a 37-year-old new mother, made a
bold decision to turn around her troubled company. She wants employees who
work remotely usually from home to come back to work, to be physically
present in the office.

The decision set off a nationwide debate and struck a nerve with some.
Some say she`s the boss after all and if she wants her employees in the
office, that`s her call. Others say it`s a step back in the evolution of
work and life accommodation and puts an extra burden on workers, male and
female, who simply can`t afford child care or the luxury of a nursery
adjacent to where they work as Mayer has.

Joining me is Lauren Ashburn of "The Daily Beast". She`s former managing
editor of "USA Today`s" television division.

And Bonnie Fuller, president and editor in chief of the celebrity Web site
Hollywoodlife.com, and also a former editor of such popular magazines as
"Cosmo" and "Marie Claire".

Let me start with you, Lauren. Should you be allowed to work as home? Is
that as productive and useful for the office --

LAUREN ASHBURN, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, of course it is. Of course it is.
And I`d quit if Marissa Mayer came to me and said you have to be in the
office every day.

Look, as a working mother, I have a lot of different things pulling on me
and so do other working mothers and fathers, and I am a much better
employee or I was until I quit because of flexibility issues. But I was a
much better employee when I could be flexible. It`s not right for everyone
to be working outside of the office and it`s not right for everyone to be
working in the office.

Is it her actual call? Of course it`s her call. She can do whatever she
wants. It`s Yahoo, but I would quit.

MATTHEWS: Where does the best work get done, Bonnie? Best work? Home or
at the office?

BONNIE FULLER, HOLLYWOODLIFE.COM: I`m a mother also and I`m also a boss.
I have a great team at Hollywoodlife.com. And I can tell you, I have
always found that it`s been best for all of us to gather in the office, to
be able to put our heads together, to be able to exchange ideas, and be
able to do that at any time. And when new development comes up, when news
comes up, when there`s any sort of emergency, hey, we`re all there and we
can work it out together. So, I completely understand what Marissa Mayer
is trying to do.

So I completely understand what Marissa Mayer is trying to do. Plus, she`s
got a company that needs -- that needs to be driven forward. They haven`t
had the best results. She`s there to make change. And so, she has to do
what`s necessary.

ASHBURN: But, Bonnie, don`t you think, though, that she`s going to be
losing really good talent because of a decision that is inflexible? There
has to be some sort of middle ground at companies. It`s not right for
everyone. But you`re going to lose a lot of women and men.

FULLER: Well, what we don`t know is if it is totally inflexible. I`m sure
that, Yahoo will make accommodations for excellent employees who need to
sometimes work at home or perhaps need to stay working at home. And I`m
sure if they prove themselves and prove that they`re productive, they`ll be
able to do so.

LAUREN: It doesn`t say that right now. And also I think it`s terrible
P.R. debacle for her. Don`t you think?

MATTHEWS: I know. Maybe.

But, listen, look at these excerpts from the actual memo that was sent out
from the Yahoo human resources head.

First off, in all capital letters this admonition, Yaho, proprietary and
confidential information. Do not forward.

It didn`t take long for Yahoo employees to disregard that.

It goes onto say that beginning in June, all Yahoo employees with work-
from-home arrangements will be required to come into the office. And
here`s the reasoning, speed and quality are often sacrificed when working
if home. We need to be one Yahoo. And that starts with physically being
together. It extends beyond just the work-from-home types.

The memo continues. For the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home
for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of
collaboration.

So that gets to the question -- I want to go back to Lauren. I`ve got
family members with very high I.Q.s, (INAUDIBLE) and all people like that,
who do a lot of work that`s pretty sophisticated work --

ASHBURN: And your wife, don`t forget your wife.

MATTHEWS: But she doesn`t work from home.

But they work from home, and they`ve got a lot of good work. They have
young kids still in school. They`ve got to either pick them up or get them
off. They have the cable guy coming, they have to intersperse work for
their families. It seems that that`s the way they work and maybe they`ll
go back to the office full time at the office later.

But for a period of time, you don`t want to have to say to women, I get to
Bonnie on this, oh, get on the mommy track. Skip 15 years of work like the
good wife does, and then finally get back in the law firm when you`re 45,
and people think it will be all right, when a lot of women don`t want to do
that.

LAUREN: It`s not. It`s not going to be that way.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LAUREN: But here, women are women`s worst enemy. Marissa happens to be
beautiful, young, rich, hundred million dollar package. She can do that
kind of thing.

But a lot of other women absolutely can`t. And women are much more
successful, if you give them some leeway to take care of their children and
to work. I would get up at 6:00 in the morning, do some work, get the kids
out and then I would --

MATTHEWS: OK.

ASHBURN: -- take them and, you know, you need to have that in order to be
productive.

FULLER: Well --

MATTHEWS: OK, let me -- go ahead.

FULLER: But, listen. Would we even really be having this big of a
discussion if Marissa Mayer wasn`t a woman? If a male CEO had come in -- I
mean, let`s not forget she was pregnant and she took a lot of heat because
she took the job when she was five months pregnant, and then she only two
weeks of maternity leave.

So, would we be having this discussion if she was a male CEO who issued
these orders?

ASHBURN: Absolutely not. We would be having this discussion.

MATTHEWS: Explain to me why won`t be having --

FULLER: Most companies do have a policy where employees are expected to
come into work. I think it was a more unusual policy to have hundreds that
weren`t there.

ASHBURN: The media loved to build people up and then they love to tear
them down. And Marissa is being torn down.

MATTHEWS: OK. This is being generalized too much.

Let me go back to this. One of them said if a male had done this, it
wouldn`t be an issue. What do you mean by that? Just explain why it
wouldn`t be an issue.

ASHBURN: It wouldn`t be an issue at all because the male isn`t normally
the caregiver of the children, traditionally. That is -- that is changing.

But here we have a woman, a young woman, who just had a baby who, don`t
forget, built a nursery next to her office. And now, she`s telling other
people that they can`t take care of their children in a way that works best
for them and their job?

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Lauren Ashburn, with a little edge there, a
little shot with the elbow. But thank you very much -- to somebody really
rich, as you pointed out. A hundred million dollar person a year can
probably take the shot.

Thank you, Bonnie Fuller, from both sides tonight.

When we return, let me finish with my hopes for the next pope. He`s going
to need to be strong, young and, yes, I think liberal.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this. I`d like to think that the
College of Cardinals will find the perfect successor to St. Peter. I`d
like to think the 100-plus cardinals will select someone young enough,
strong enough, courageous enough and visionary enough, and yes, liberal
enough to lead, to fill the shoes of the fisherman with a CEO.

If Alan Mulally can bring back Ford, bring it back to exciting vibrant life
again, I`d like to think that the church men can find an Alan Mulally to
run our beloved but troubled church.

The trouble, by the way, is central. It`s with the priesthood. Right now,
the notion is that -- and it is a notion -- is that there will be a
sufficient number of men willing to give up sex for life, give up intimate
relations with others, at the same time, connect with human beings as human
beings, someone who is understanding of human life, understanding of the
decisions people will make and still love them the way Jesus loved Mary
Magdalene. A good example there, don`t you think?

Yes, that`s my answer. Yes, it can be done. The College of Cardinals is
capable of finding such a pope. The one absolute demand I put forward is
that they make the effort. No knee-jerk choice of a front runner, no
caving to the most conservative or most cautious or some cute selection
from someone of a hitherto unknown home of a pope.

We`ve had two popes in a row now from countries where they grew up under
oppression, John Paul II grew under the boot of Moscow, Benedict under the
Nazis. Perhaps that explains their inability to unshackle the church from
the past. People who are repressed in their religion tend to be very
conservative, holding to what`s been entrusted to them.

Well, here`s hoping -- prayer is really in order here -- that the next
leader of the Catholic Church has something of John XXIII in him, because
looking at the problem of a celibate priesthood and the problem American
Catholics see in the birth control of Paul XI and the role of women in the
church, lots needs to be done, and it`s the job of a good, wise, courageous
pope to do it.

God bless our next pope. God bless the decision on how to pick him.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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