updated 3/13/2013 10:58:57 AM ET 2013-03-13T14:58:57

HARDBALL
March 12, 2013

Guests: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mary Johnson, Michael Sean Winters,
Gerald Butler, Angela Bassett, Aaron Eckhart.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Ryan shrugged.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. You know the book "Atlas Shrugged"?
It`s about what happens when the elite of the world, the people calling all
the shots, go on job action, just decide to walk away from their positions,
stop being captains of industry and let the country fall all around them.

Well, today, Paul Ryan, a total believer in "Atlas Shrugged" philosophy,
did it just like in the book. Mitt Romney`s running mate has come forth
with a federal budget plan that gives the biggest tax break in the world to
the richest, cutting their rates down from 39 percent to 25 percent, paying
for it with huge slashes in programs for middle class, working people and
the poor. Call it "Ryan Shrugged."

It kills the president`s health care plan outright in its crib, dumps
Medicare for a cheapskate voucher scheme and offloads Medicaid onto the
states. It steals from the ordinary people, that old 47 percent, and gives
a bundle to the elite at the top.

But why is Ryan doing this? You just have to ask, why, after getting
beaten and rejected in the presidential election last November, is the vice
presidential candidate coming out here trying to Etch-a-Sketch the whole
thing, pretend the election never happened?

And tell me, where`s Ryan`s express taking the Republican Party, even
further off the cliff? If he`s just giving -- what`s he doing, giving us a
souvenir roadmap of where they all went wrong? In a moment, we`re going to
be joined by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the
Democratic National Committee. And with us now, the "Washington Post`s"
Ezra Klein, who`s an MSNBC policy analyst.

Thank you, Ezra. First of all, I just want to get to the basics, the
boxcar information here. Why in the world is Paul Ryan writing a budget,
that`s supposed to be somewhat realistic, that assumes the termination,
outright elimination of the president`s historic achievement with the
health care plan?

EZRA KLEIN, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: Because he doesn`t
think the politics of the Republican caucus will let him do anything else.
That`s one answer.

But the bigger one, and I think it`s actually a really important thing to
recognize about his budget -- he can`t balance the budget if he doesn`t get
rid of the spending. He doesn`t get rid of the president`s entire health
care plan. He keeps all of the cost controls, so he keeps the $700 billion
in Medicare cuts he ran against. And what I think a lot of people don`t
recognize is he also keeps the new taxes in the president`s health care
plan. The part he gets rid of is the care in "Obama care." He gets rid of
all the spending in it.

If he didn`t do those two things, get rid of the spending but keep the cost
controls, he couldn`t get anywhere near balancing the budget. And he also
couldn`t pass those two policies, new taxes and Medicare cuts, within the
next 10 years, over his own conference. So he`s actually piggybacking on a
lot of President Obama`s work in this balanced budget.

MATTHEWS: Yes, you know, and a lot of times, this guy gets a free ride in
Washington journalism. I mean, he`s supposed to be the brainiac. And yet
-- and he also is portrayed as some sort of a deficit hawk. And yet when -
- I`m reading your article, your analysis and others, and what I`m getting
to, he`s not a deficit hawk at all. Basically, he`s a guy who wants to
shift economic wealth or opportunity from the bottom to the top. He wants
to create almost an Ayn Rand existence, where the winners make all the
money. The looters, as they call them in those books, get screwed.

And I`m just asking, how does he keep getting this image of being a deficit
reducer when he doesn`t do it?

KLEIN: Washington has a very short memory. The important thing -- and I
think you`re completely right on this -- Ryan was not a deficit hawk. You
go back in his career, he voted for the Bush tax cuts. He voted for the
unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the completely
unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit. He had a Social Security
privatization proposal in 2005, the George W. Bush administration rejected
because it would be too expensive. The transition costs would be in the
trillions of dollars.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: What he found later on is that the way he could get these policies
taken more seriously, not seen as so radical, was to bring them in under
the cloak of deficit reduction, under the guise of preventing a debt crisis
that would be worse than anything he was proposing.

But because he`s -- but these budgets have sort of deactivated, I think, a
lot of normal defenses and skepticism in Washington because they sort of --
such a broad bipartisan acceptance of the idea that you need deficit
reduction right now people, that people are willing to accept things they
wouldn`t normally accept as long as it`s called deficit reduction.

MATTHEWS: You know, when I listen to him -- and listened to Chris van
Hollen last week on this show -- I`m beginning to realize that what`s
perhaps more interesting than who`s the better deficit cutter -- because
neither of them are, neither party really is -- is what they see as the
purpose of the federal government.

And people watching this show are looking for those differences. So when
you listen to Chris van Hollen last week, he doesn`t -- he doesn`t talk
about cutting the deficit (INAUDIBLE) about what government can do to
expand this country socially, economically, what tools we have. It`s
almost an economic development plan. You know, it`s rich with ideas on how
you can encourage things you want to happen.

What would you call Ryan`s plan? It`s nihilistic, in a sense. It`s more
of a statement of what government can`t do. But how would you describe the
message, sort of the lyrics behind his budget? What`s he saying about
America and its government?

KLEIN: Ryan believes that what government fundamentally does, what the
federal government does, at least at this point in history, is it stifles a
basic individual creativity of the family and the community and the city
and all these other units of association we have in American life. It is a
very classically and fundamentally libertarian way of looking at what the
government does and doesn`t do. And he`s very explicit in --

MATTHEWS: He`s cashing out, isn`t he.

KLEIN: -- (INAUDIBLE) of his budget. I`m sorry?

MATTHEWS: Cashing out government, basically saying, We`re going to give
people money back and get rid of the government," basically, is --

KLEIN: Right, and he says --

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN: In doing that -- the key move he makes is he says that when he does
that, when he cuts government, he`s not taking something away, he`s adding
something to the country, that when he takes government away, takes those
health care subsidies away, he`s creating room for individuals and
communities to use their genius in order to make America better.

Now, the cost of that is 35 million people, according to the nonpartisan
Kaiser Family Foundation, who won`t be getting health care insurance
through either Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act.

MATTHEWS: OK, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney ran on a similar fiscal vision
last year and lost. So why is he pushing the same thing now? Let`s take a
look at what he, Ryan, told reporters today. Let`s watch him in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), FMR. VICE PRES. CANDIDATE: The election didn`t go
our way. Believe me, I know what that feels like.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: That means we surrender our principles? That means we stop
believing in what we believe in? Look, whether the country intended it or
not, we have divided government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining us right now, the chair of the Democratic National
Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the congresswoman from Florida.
Debbie -- I mean, Congresswoman, let me ask you about this. What do you
make of Ryan? I mean, you work in the House with him. And here he is
coming out with his Ayn Rand "Atlas Shrugged" ideological radical right-
wing social engineering, as Newt would call it, in the face of the fact
they lost. What are they up to? Are they trying to get rid of health care
now?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIR: Well, it did feel a bit
like a needle stuck on a broken record, or that maybe he had his iPhone
earbuds in his ear -- you know, his iPod earbuds in his ear during lunch
last week with the president.

I mean, let`s -- I`m willing to give Paul Ryan the benefit of the doubt
that it is hard in a few days, near impossible, to retool an entire budget
to make an adjustment to look like you`re trying to move towards some
compromise. But this was pretty disappointing and shows that his response
today on that they -- on whether they lost the election was pretty tone-
deaf.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s like going into a labor negotiation and saying, Give
me $1,000 an hour and we`ll start from there. I mean -- I mean, what he`s
asking for -- or nothing, if you`re the boss -- I`ll give you nothing, if
you`re the boss.

I mean, this is supposed to be the kumbaya season between the two parties,
when you`re going to try to find common ground. And he says, Let`s start
off with the fact that I want to erase your whole first term. And then I
want to get rid of Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher
program. Let`s start with there.

These starting points don`t seem like they`re realistic in terms of what we
hear the president is trying to accomplish and at least some Republicans
are at least beginning look like they might play ball with. Where does it
fit?

KLEIN: With my DNC hat on, you know, arguably, I`m -- it`s not terrible
that Paul Ryan and the Republicans don`t see that the voters rejected the
path that they laid out. And you know, that`s going to give us more
opportunities in 2014.

But the responsible legislator in me, who understands that we can`t engage
in "My way or the highway" politics, wants us to sit down and try to
continue to hash out common ground and close that trust deficit. That`s
what we`ve got to continue to work towards.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHULTZ: So maybe this is just an opening salvo, and you know, the next
step would be to, you know, peel back the layers, and hopefully, have an
opportunity to come closer together.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, one part, Congresswoman, one part of the Ryan budget
that`s getting a lot of attention is something we talked about earlier,
this decision to maintain the $700 billion in cuts to Medicare --

SCHULTZ: Yes!

MATTHEWS: -- that were included in Medicare, and "Obama care," rather.
As TalkingPointsMemo illustrated today, Ryan has reversed himself so many
times on that issue, there are reasons to be a bit cynical. Back in 2010,
for example, Ryan blasted Obama`s new health care law. He said, quote,
"What the bill essentially does, it treats Medicare like a piggy bank." In
other words, they`re taking money from that for his program. But by the
following year, Ryan was including the same Medicare cuts in his own budget
--

SCHULTZ: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- apparently not too worried about consistency there. Ryan
changed course again last year while running with Mitt Romney, the attack
on the president, quote, "Here comes raid on Medicare," became a major
campaign theme. It even worked its way into Ryan`s convention speech.
Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: They needed hundreds of billions more, so they just took it all away
from Medicare, $716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama!

(BOOS)

RYAN: An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being
sacrificed all to pay for a new entitlement we didn`t even ask for!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And yet just a few months later, those very cuts from a program
he called an "obligation to our grandparents" once again find their way
back into his budget. He`s back doing it again.

SCHULTZ: Right.

MATTHEWS: I want to go back to our analyst here, Ezra. It just seems to
me that the far bigger picture -- I know you`re an expert at the nuts and
bolts here, but the larger dishonesty, lie, if you will, in this whole
thing is he`s showing these crocodile tears about our parents and
grandparents. At the very same time, he`s saying, Let`s throw Medicare out
the window, replace it with a voucher program, so somebody 80 years old can
go around shopping for a health care plan. Oh, by the way, let`s throw out
"Obama care," too.

He`s so radically different that this seems to be focusing on the nuances
of his -- of his -- of his discrediting inconsistencies, the small point
here. Why do you think it`s important to point out that he`s inconsistent?
What`s the point there, if he`s so radically right-wing to start with?

KLEIN: I actually don`t think the inconsistency is the main point. I
broadly agree with you there.

I think the deep issue in Ryan`s rhetoric and in his budget, the thing that
actually is very telling, is Ryan on the one hand has this whole persona,
where he`s making the very difficult choices, or he`s doing the hard things
the president won`t do. He talks about that all the time, where unlike the
president, he understands the scope of our challenges and he`ll do the
very, very, very difficult things that need to be done now.

On the other, he won`t actually admit any of these things are in any way
difficult. There`s a kind of the sunny side, where he`s actually
strengthening Medicare. He`s helping Social Security. He`s helping
Medicaid. He`ll make it better by putting it to the states.

If you want to cut more than $4 trillion over the next decade, if you want
to then cap Medicare`s growth and turn it over to private insurers, if you
want to make it so Medicaid loses $750 billion over the next decade, there
are real consequences and real people who get hurt there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: And that`s why I actually focus on the nuts and bolts because it is
in the nuts and bolts, when you get down from that level of distraction
that he likes to remain at, where you actually see who gets hurt and by how
much. You can`t save that much money without hurting people. Government
is not that inefficient.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

KLEIN: But he doesn`t want to face up to the implications of the choices
he`s making.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KLEIN: He wants to make tough choices but not say what`s tough about them.

MATTHEWS: All my life, I`ve heard about waste, fraud and abuse. You can
get rid of that by just striking off some kind of a budget item. It ain`t
that simply. Usually (ph), a check you don`t write doesn`t get to
somebody.

Anyway, thank you, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Thanks for
joining us tonight --

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: -- and Ezra Klein of "The Washington Post."

Coming up: How W. killed the GOP -- a mountain of lies that got us into
Iraq, two mismanaged wars, a squandered surplus, Katrina and that failure.
The author Peter Beinart says no Republican can be president in the near
future unless they deeply distance themselves from George W. Bush. And how
do you do that if you`re his brother Jeb?

Also, the papal conclave is now under way with so many -- as many as 20 so-
called front-runners. We have no idea who`s going to become pope, but we
do know that whoever is selected will face the enormous task of
reconnecting the church to American Catholics, who are increasingly
indifferent to what happens in Rome.

And another intersection between Hollywood and Washington. The new movie,
"Olympus," has -- it looks like a great movie, I`ve seen part of it, about
terrorists taking over the White House, terrorists from -- well, not
exactly terrorists, North Koreans! Well, that`s scary enough, isn`t it?
We`ll have the story of that (INAUDIBLE) The great Gerard Butler and Angela
Bassett are both joining us right here.

And hard to believe, but Larry Craig, the old "wide stance" guy, the former
senator from Idaho who lost his job in an airport bathroom, has just made
things worse for himself.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a good one for you. Which state had the highest
voter turnout in the 2012 election? That surprised me -- Minnesota, which
topped the turnout list for the eighth time in the last nine presidential
or midterm elections. More than three quarters of eligible voters cast
ballots in Minnesota last November. They take it seriously up there.

Neighboring Wisconsin was second, and Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa
rounded up the top five. Take a look. Those people vote. The state with
the lowest turnout in `12 was president -- his own Hawaii, just 45 percent
out in Hawaii.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FMR. FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I don`t think there`s any Bush
baggage at all. I love my brother. I`m proud of his accomplishments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hear that? Now hear this. There is no Bush baggage. That`s
Jeb Bush denying there`s any Bush baggage. And he says he`s proud of his
brother`s -- this is going to kill him -- accomplishments. And there are a
lot of accomplishments to choose from. There`s starting a war on false
pretenses with a country that had nothing to do with 9 /11. And that`s
certainly an accomplishment. When President Bush made a surprise visit to
Iraq in 2008, an Iraqi journalist showed Bush how thankful that country was
for our input.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: All Khrushchev did was pound his shoe! Anyway, then there`s the
budget surplus Bush W. left and he inherited and squandered, by the way,
that big surplus, and gave us the Bush tax cuts, which mainly benefited the
rich and added, well, $1.7 trillion to the federal debt. And then there
was Bush`s passive response to the devastation of Katrina. When he finally
engaged, by the way, he thanked the guy overseeing the screw-up this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, 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: Poor Michael Brown. He didn`t even think, he himself, he did a
good job. The next Republican presidential candidate, however, for 2016 is
going to have to go further than just distancing himself from W., like
McCain and Romney tried to do. The next candidate will have to repudiate
Bush, many believe -- I`m one of them -- no easy feat when your last name
is Bush and you`re actually a loving brother.

Well, we got the senior political writer here for the DailyBeast, Peter
Beinart, joining us. He started this discussion. And Wayne Slater is
senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News" and co-author of that
inimitable book, "Bush`s Brain."

Let me go to Peter because you always arouse my interest, Peter. You hit
on something really smart. I always say in the office a couple hours ago,
before the show, I said, Well, can`t you just distance yourself from this
guy, say, Well, I`m -- I`m not running. They always like to say, You`ll
notice my name is on the ballot, not George W. Bush`s, that old dodge.

But you don`t think that`s good enough.

PETER BEINART, DAILYBEAST: Well, certainly not if your last name is the
same as the guy who was president. I mean, if you try to distance yourself
from your brother, then you look like a jerk. But distancing yourself from
George W. Bush more aggressively than John McCain or Mitt Romney was able
to do, I think, is going to be truly crucial for any serious Republican
candidate in 2016 because Bush is the guy who destroyed the Republican
brand.

If you look at the polls -- the polls -- the Republican Party`s doing OK,
including with young people when Bush comes into office. By the time he
leaves, the Republican Party is dead in the water, especially among the
young, and it has not recovered. So just as Bill Clinton distanced himself
from Jimmy Carter because Carter had hurt the Democratic brand, a
Republican is going to have to seriously distance himself in ways people
understand.

MATTHEWS: OK. Wayne, when do you think the convention is going to be,
will it be in our lifetime, when we see George W. up on that podium? Are
they ever going to show his face again, let alone have somebody run as his
brother?

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Well, you know --

MATTHEWS: And that`s -- let me go back to the brother problem because I
like Jeb Bush, but he -- he has a Catch-22, as Peter said. If he gets
caught saying, Well, I`m not my brother, then he knocks his brother. If he
says, I don`t agree with the war in Iraq, then he`s really knocking him.
He said, I don`t like the way he handled Katrina, then he`s really knocking
him. If he said he screwed up what Clinton left him as a budget surplus,
then he`s really nailed him.

And yet he`s out there today, or the last several days, saying, I like my
brother`s accomplishments. What are those accomplishments?

SLATER: Yes, look, I mean, Peter`s exactly right on this. The next
Republican nominee wannabe is going to have to be on an anti-Bush platform,
however soft or hard you want to do that.

Fundamentally, there`s even a bigger problem for Jeb Bush. It`s not only,
as Peter said, that Jeb is not likely to want to say, I don`t love my
brother, I don`t agree with my brother, I want to distance myself very
explicitly from my brother. It is that he fundamentally can`t distance
himself from something that`s even deeper than that.

Fundamentally, there`s even a bigger problem for Jeb Bush. It`s not only,
as Peter said, that Jeb is not likely to want to say, I don`t love my
brother, I don`t agree with my brother, I want to distance myself very
explicitly from my brother.

It is that he fundamentally can`t distance himself from something that`s
even deeper than that, and there has grown up in the Republican Party
across the board a deep sense of unreliability. That is to say, the
father, 41, came in as a social and fiscal -- I say fiscal conservative,
but to tell, read my lips.

The son came in as a social conservative. Many social conservatives, you
talk today with them, and they say, what did he deliver for us? Fiscal
conservatives, obviously spending and deficits is a problem. And,
Fundamentally -- I had dinner the other night with the two very significant
social conservative leaders who said they`re coming around to the view --
now, these are very strong Republican conservatives coming around to the
view that the Bush administration mismanaged the war.

This is --

MATTHEWS: Mismanaged?

SLATER: -- across the board in party.

MATTHEWS: Excuse me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What a dodge that is, I got to tell you, Wayne. Mismanaged?
They went to war on false pretenses that they didn`t even believe were the
reasons they went to war.

If you get them and you get Cheney under some -- you water-board Cheney, he
ain`t going to say weapons of mass destruction. He`s going to say, I
wanted to get Iraq and I saw my chance.

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER: And what I`m saying is that these guys in this crucial part of the
Republican base -- these aren`t Democrats. These aren`t independents.
These aren`t progressives. These aren`t moderates. These aren`t -- these
are very strong social conservative Republicans and they`re saying exactly
that. Why in the heck did we go to war?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, here`s George W. Bush`s Iraq war. Of course, it`s his biggest blot
on his presidency, I think, and the 10-year anniversary of that starting
this next week. And with time, even more has been revealed about the false
pretenses under which he went to war.

I didn`t even believe in the pretense, let alone the reality or lack of
reality. Here`s a clip from the great documentary we have had on the air
here on MSNBC called "Hubris." We`re going to have it on again. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The days of Iraq
acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF:
Powell walked into my office and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he
walked over to the window and he said, I wonder what will happen when we
put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other
and find nothing? Then he turned around and walked back in his office.

And I wrote that down on my calendar, as close to verbatim as I could,
because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary
of state, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Peter, back to your brilliant thought in your piece. Do you
think that there`s any way, if you were a brilliant -- a brilliant
consultant, is there any way to advise Jeb to squirm around his brother?

BEINART: No. I think it`s impossible.

Squirming is not what the Republican Party needs. What the Republican
Party needs is what Chris Christie is doing, a guy willing to pick fights
with those in the Republican Party, people in the Republican Party, and
those issues in the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: Teachers unions.

BEINART: -- that are destroying the public party.

MATTHEWS: Teachers unions.

BEINART: You can`t squirm through this. You have got to basically do what
the Democrats did in the late 1980s. You have got to go frontally into the
idea that your party is going to have a civil war.

And when people outside of your party see that you`re willing to take on
the Dick Cheneys of the world, then they will look at you in a different
light.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Do you agree with that, Wayne? That`s pretty radical. I was just thinking
back to the time of the Democrats in `68. The Democratic Party was willing
to take all the fights in the country into its soul. And with civil
rights, they fought it within the Democratic Party. The war issue of
Vietnam, they fought it within the Democratic Party. They got hurt for it.
Can the Republican Party do that and succeed, take on these big fights to
get to the soul of the party?

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER: Yes. Fundamentally, the only way Jeb Bush can succeed in this
kind of milieu is that he doesn`t disassociate himself with his brother,
but fundamentally he is seen in the end as the only guy who can beat the
Democrats down the road.

If a Christie or others emerge as more likely or as likely to win, then
you`re exactly right. I agree with that.

MATTHEWS: Who would you like to have if you had to raise money somewhere
in the United States? Which Republican would you like to have at your
dinner podium?

You start, Peter. You want to raise $1 million one night. Who`s the best
bet to bring in and get the people excited an that person being there that
night, Republican?

BEINART: The only person -- the only person who`s developed an independent
brand in which Democrats and -- or independents and even some Democrats
look at him as separate from the Republican Party, is Chris Christie,
because he`s the guy who has the reputation as his own man.

Nobody else yet. Maybe, interestingly, Rand Paul. Rand Paul may be
developing that reputation as well, because you may not always agree with
him, but you know he follows the internal drummer, not what the party
establishment says. That`s where the GOP has to go.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think people would stop at Starbucks to hear him talk.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, your thought, Wayne? Nobody is going to pay $100,000 to
hear a libertarian talk. Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Wayne, who do you think is the biggest star in the Republican
Party now?

(CROSSTALK)

SLATER: I still think Jeb Bush is, despite all his problems, but if I
wanted to gather a dinner party together of real rich billionaires and
millionaires, I would bring Ben Carson, not because Ben Carson, the neuro -
- the pediatric neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins, not because he`s going to
be the nominee, but because if you really talk to sort of social and fiscal
conservative folks in the Republican Party, they like it that this guy has
upstaged Obama on a Republican agenda.

MATTHEWS: He`s a very bright, good man.

Anyway, thank you so much, Peter Beinart.

And thank you, Wayne Slater.

I think we have got a tough bake-off coming between Jeb and Chris Christie.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next, she`s got the airwaves at the FOX News Channel -- used
to. But that`s not stopping Sarah Palin from speaking her mind. She`s
talking about people who work hard. What does she do for a living? I keep
asking. What`s her job?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."

First, we welcome back Sarah Palin. She`s weighing in on some big news
that happened yesterday, not at all close to Alaska. In fact, it was a hot
issue on "MORNING JOE" today. Here`s a refresher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Our top story, though, is about big sugary sodas.
They came out victorious yesterday, as a state court invalidated New York
City`s ban on oversized beverages.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Let`s go right over right now to our flash cam.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

SCARBOROUGH: And see

BRZEZINSKI: Louis?

SCARBOROUGH: See.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. Wow.

SCARBOROUGH: Louis, what are the implications?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Joe, the constitutional implications are just
remarkable.

SCARBOROUGH: Remarkable.

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t know this was "The Daily Show."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hmm.

Well, Sarah Palin, enter here into Twitter. Here she goes on the news that
Mayor Bloomberg`s New York City 16-ounce soda limit had been blocked by a
state Supreme Court judge. She said -- quote -- "Victory in NYC for
liberty-loving soda drinkers. To politicians with too much time on their
hands, we say, government, stay out of my refrigerator."

Well, there you have it from a former politician with all the time on her
hands. After all, she ain`t got a job. And, by the way, her next book, we
ought to know this, has something to do with the war on Christmas.

According to a statement from the publisher of that to-come book, we can
expect Palin`s take on -- quote -- "politically correct Scrooges who would
rather take the Christ out of Christmas," you know, people who choose to
say happy holidays instead of merry Christmas.

Well, actually, as we all know, no one`s ever told anyone of us to say --
not to say merry Christmas.

Next, remember Larry Craig? He`s the former Idaho Republican senator who
was arrested back in 2007 for inappropriate behavior in an airport
bathroom. Well, Craig is now facing accusations that he misused over
$200,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense in that case. Well, the
question is, was his use of the money legal since Craig`s bathroom fiasco
happened during a job-related trip?

Well, that`s what Craig`s defense trip is saying. The trouble is Craig and
his attorneys are trying to have it both ways. Back in 2007, a letter to
the Senate Ethics Committee said that his arrest and conviction were --
quote -- "purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official
Senate duties."

But now they`re saying that spending campaign funds on his defense was part
of official business. And that`s what`s called taking a wide stance on
your job description.

Next, take a quick look back at Karl Rove`s election night meltdown over
whether it was too soon to say President Obama had won Ohio. While you`re
watching, though, I think -- think about what possibly you would do with
the papal conclave.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Do you believe that Ohio has been
settled?

KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I don`t.
It may be that Barack Obama wins the state, but it seems to me that you
have got a lot of votes yet to cash. We have had one instance where
something was prematurely called.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know it well.

MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST, "AMERICA`S NEWSROOM": They said this is not going to
be another one of those scenarios.

ROVE: Maybe not. Maybe not. But if it`s going to happen, let the votes
begin to show it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, any connections to the conclave there, did you see?

Anyway, here`s Karl Rove earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE: Thank God we don`t have exit polls or early returns.

(LAUGHTER)

ROVE: They do it the right way. They get to the final vote and the
decision and then they let the smoke go up. Maybe there`s a message there
for American media. Maybe we better wait, and rather than trying to call
it, let the election go to its final conclusion and let the results speak
for themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Yes, we will follow your lead on that.

By the way, render under Caesar the things that are Caesar`s unto God the
things that are God`s. I think I`m safe in saying that one.

Up next, the papal conclave is under way in Rome. And my big question is
whether the cardinals will select a pope who can connect and be
progressive. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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And AAA says gas prices are finally coming down. They`re three cents lower
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That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.

Black smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel chimney tonight, indicating
that the 115 voting cardinals have not yet chosen a pope to lead the Roman
Catholic Church. Tomorrow, voting will continue four times per day until a
new pontiff is named.

Well, while much is being made of who the new pope will be, tonight we`re
going to take a look at the issues he must tackle -- it will be a he -- in
the Catholic Church, including corruption within the Vatican, the sex abuse
scandal, the role of women in marriage, and, of course, contraception.

Michael Winters is an old pal of mine. He writes for "The National
Catholic Reporter" and wrote the book "Left at the Altar: How the Democrats
Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats," which I
believe in. And Mary Johnson was a nun for 20 years with Mother Teresa
before leaving the church. She`s the author of the book "An Unquenchable
Thirst."

Let me open with a brand-new -- it was just handed to me late this
afternoon -- legal settlement of nearly $10 million reached in child sex
abuse cases against Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles, $10 million.

Michael Winters, this is what most Catholic laypeople reading the paper,
they will read it in "The Times" tomorrow, every paper in the country.
They will say, these priests, what are they doing? Why did we just learn
about this stuff now? A lot of these cases are old.

MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS, "NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER": I think the church has
done a great deal since 2002 when they adopted the charter to ferret this
stuff out.

But what I still think the hierarchy doesn`t understand is that the sex
abuse crisis started about molesting children the way Watergate started
with a burglary. It`s no longer about this priest or that priest who did
it with a little boy or a little girl. We understand that happens, whether
it`s Penn State football or the church.

The problem is that the bishops who oversaw them in so many cases did not
react --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why not? Why didn`t they vote -- why didn`t they throw them
out?

WINTERS: Because the culture, you know, whether -- again, whether it was
Penn State or the clergy, they -- they rally the wagons around.

It`s the most frustrating thing. I will say --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me go to the sister on this, because I have a suspicion when
people cover up, they`re covering up for themselves. They have got a
little embarrassment in their own sex life perhaps, because they`re not
supposed to have a sex life. And then somebody comes up and says, let`s
not be hypocritical here, Joe. Maybe you keep your mouth shut on this one.

There was such an elaborate cover-up, so many people involved in it. And
then you wonder -- I don`t think it`s just because they`re being -- omerta,
like cops looking out for cops because they`re loyal to cops. I think a
lot of it is just cover up for your own world. But I`m speculating, I
admit it. I don`t like the looks of it. Your thoughts, your memories,
your history. What do you see?

MARY JOHNSON, AUTHOR, "AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST": I think the church has
been building up secrecy for 2,000 years. They do it better really than
anybody else.

And the hierarchy in the church has become such a boys club, really.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JOHNSON: And just -- one of the reasons I wrote my memoir, "An
Unquenchable Thirst," was because I wanted to start open dialogue about
what it`s really like to live celibacy in the church.

What does that feel like? Nobody is really talking about that.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JOHNSON: Even when there were these revelations about the depths of the
pedophilia crisis, people were talking legal things, historical things.
But no one was talking, what is that really like? Priests are lonely. Of
course, pedophiles is an entirely different matter.

But if we`re going to solve any of these problems in the Catholic Church,
we have to begin to think about marriage for priests. We have to think
about women priests. Leadership in the church has to be shared.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you on all that. But let me ask --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: It has to be responsible.

MATTHEWS: Let me challenge you on one thing.

Why would anybody -- and, I mean, I am maybe an old boys club guy even
myself in some ways, some ways, although that`s pretty much the past. But
my question to you is, why would anybody want to hang out -- what guy do
you know would want to hang out with another guy, old-school reference
there, who has sex with altar boys?

Why would you want to have the same table -- be sitting at the same meal
table with him, be in the same rectory with him? You wouldn`t want
anything to do with that person.

So, why to you say they protect each other knowing this horror is going on,
this disgusting behavior? What`s this old boys` club reference got to do
with it?

MARY JOHNSON, FORMER CATHOLIC RUN: I think that as you said, nearly
everyone in the priesthood has some sort of skeleton in their closet.
Richard Sipe spent his entire history, his entire life studying celibacy
among priests in the Catholic Church. He`s a former priest, himself.

And he estimated through intensive sociological studies that at any given
time in the Catholic Church, only 50 percent of priests are actually living
their vow of celibacy. And when he went to Rome and talked to cardinals
about this, he was told that they found no reason to dispute those
findings.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? That`s a good estimate. What do you
think of that estimate, half of them are having sex of some kind with
somebody else?

MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS, AUTHOR, "LEFT AT THE ALTAR": You know, I`m not a
prude and I`m not going to be throwing stones --

MATTHEWS: No, no stones. Just facts. Throw some facts.

WINTERS: If people don`t live up to their marriage vows or celibacy vows,
this is human nature. I think what`s different about the pedophilia crisis
was: (a), the enormity of what was done, and, secondly, failure of a
response to deal with it.

Again, I`ve got to give the bishops credit. I think in the last 10 years,
they enacted a zero-tolerance policy. What worries me is when a bishop is
caught not following the policies that they`ve pledged to enact --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WINTERS: -- nothing happens.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about something happening. I`m optimistic. I
think you are, too, Michael. I hope you are, Mary, too. I don`t know you.
I know Michael.

But let me start with you, Mary.

What`s the chances that we`ll get a good pope? I mean, by that, a person
who can walk in the door with a broom and say, look, we have to get
connected to the people. We`ve got to start giving sermons that connect to
real people out there in their real lives. We`ve got women -- huge roles
as deacons at least, in the deaconry, vastly increase the role of women
behind the altar, vastly increase the chances of people having -- at least
open to the idea of contraception not as a mortal sin, look back
(INAUDIBLE) -- all the big things Catholics would like to have looked at
again.

What are the chances of that happening, Mary?

JOHNSON: I wish that I could tell you that the odds were really good, but
I can`t. I don`t think they are really good. Change in the Catholic
Church comes very slowly.

And right now, all of the bishops there have been chosen by conservative
popes, all the cardinals who are going to choose the next pope.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JOHNSON: And because of the way that the history of dogma is constructed
in the Catholic Church, because of the way papal infallibility has been
built up, especially in the last century, it`s very hard to take a step
back and apply common sense.

MATTHEWS: You`re so smart.

WINTERS: I want to push back on that. I`m sorry. I mean, to say that
Benedict was a conservative and just let it go with that. On January 1st
in his World Day of Peace message, he listed three threats to world peace:
terrorism, international crime, and unregulated financial capitalism.

Now, if Barack Obama had said that, FOX would talk about nothing else for a
month. Yet it got no coverage, and there it was in one of his most
prominent annual messages.

And the fact is both the left and the right conspire in this idea the only
important thing you need to know as a Catholic is what you --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be better off with a CEO, young CEO, tough person, rather
than a theologian?

WINTERS: I think we need a holy man. I agree. I don`t think we need a
theologian.

MATTHEWS: OK.

WINTERS: I think we need a holy man who knows how to deal with people.

MATTHEWS: I think we need Matt Dylan.

Your thoughts, Mary. What kind of pope do we need?

JOHNSON: We need a pope who connects with people. We need a pope who has
an open mind, someone who is open to change and to imagining new things for
the church. Somebody that can make people excited about living lives of
meaning.

MATTHEWS: I think we need Pope John XXIII come back. I bet Pope John
XXIV.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Winters. And thank you, Mary Johnson.

It`s great to have you both in the show.

Up next, the stars of the new movie "Olympus Has Fallen" -- what an
exciting movie it is. It`s about North Koreans of all people taking over
the presidency, getting into the White House, real terrorist operation. A
real thriller. Looks great.

Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Basset all come to sit at this table
in a minute.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Virginia`s governor, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling says he
won`t launch a third party campaign for governor. Bolling, a Republican,
made the decision this morning, saying the financial difficulty as running
as an independent as well as concerns about taking on his own party. And
that means the marquee matchup for this year`s election calendar will be a
likely face-off between Clinton right-hand man Terry McAuliffe and the
state`s very conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli.

I love that race, by the way. It would have been better with a third guy
in there screwing it up for Cuccinelli.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes 15 minutes for your armed forces to reach the
White House. We took it down in 13.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president`s in the bunker. He`s being held
hostage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do they want?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re trying to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is in charge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trumble (ph), are there any survivors with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative, sir. Wait this out. They have command,
roaming the hallways with enough explosives take out an army.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back. And that was a clip from the upcoming action
thriller, it looks actually, I`m not kidding you. "Olympus Has Fallen," a
story about disgraced actually fallen secret service agent Mike Banning --
where do you get these names -- who finds himself trapped in the White
House after the president is held hostage by North Korean terrorists. And
Pentagon intelligence officials are relying on Banning`s expertise of
knowing every nook and cranny of the White House to get the president out
safe and stop the -- they`re not terrorists, they`re North Koreans.

The movie will hit theaters March 22nd.

With me the stars of the film: Aaron Eckhart plays President Asher, Angela
Basset is the head of the Secret Service, and Gerard Butler who is in every
movie that has ever come out in the last 10 years. He starts as Agent
Banning.

Just recently, I saw you play a surfer in "Chasing Maverick." And then
you`re in this movie about the father getting divorced and trying to save,
what`s the film?

GERALD BUTLER, ACTOR: "Playing for Keeps."

MATTHEWS: How many movies you do a year?

BUTLER: Recently, though, not that many. They were all just kind of --

MATTHEWS: Tell me about this because you play a Secret Service agent. You
know, there`s a great guy named Jerry Parr right about now who saved the
president, you know, saved Reagan.

BUTLER: Right.

MATTHEWS: And when he was growing up, he saw a movie about a Secret
Service agent, (INAUDIBLE). And guess who played the guy in the movie who
made him want to be in the Secret Service? Reagan.

(CROSSTALK)

BUTLER: How crazy is that.

MATTHEWS: So this connection between the chief of Secret Service and
president of the United States is fascinating. And you have this close
relationship with the president. What happens?

BUTLER: So, maybe one day, I`ll be president now and we can repeat the
same story.

MATTHEWS: That`s the way it works.

BUTLER: Yes.

No. So I play Mike Banning and we`ve been great friends. I was the
special agent in charge. And a tragedy happens.

MATTHEWS: Can you talk American?

BUTLER: Yes. I play Mike Banning. A very good friend of President Asher.
But, basically, we move enough to this tragedy. I`m working at the
treasury. Obviously, we have the backdrop of the tensions and Korea.

Out of nowhere, totally by surprise, this insane terrorist attack happens
in the White House.

MATTHEWS: You`re the president, how do the Koreans -- we sort of worry
about the Middle East. Every once in a while we hear about the crazies in
North Korea. We`re going to bomb the hell out of Seoul. We`re going to
bomb the hell out of America in this week.

Is this a part of your promotion? Is this a Harvey Weinstein kind of
thing?

For all of a sudden, we`re hearing from the North Koreans as this movie
opens.

AARON ECKHART, "OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN": Our tentacles are, you know, very
powerful people in Hollywood. No. It just happened like that.

You know, it`s hard for Hollywood to pick a terrorist anymore because
there`s so much happening in the world --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ECKHART: -- that you make a film, we made this film a year ago. And this
is happening now.

So, it`s part coincidence and part just the way the world is right now.

MATTHEWS: Angela, we got to be politically correct. So, we always have to
pick enemies that are sort of acceptable to pound on. I know all the taken
movies are the Albanians, they`re always, you got to go -- we hate the
Albanians. Now, the Koreans.

What do you feel about this movie? Do you think it`s believable?

ANGELA BASSETT, "OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN": It`s -- I mean, there`s so much
authenticity and plausibility in it. That`s what`s making the experience
of it so exciting for the audiences that have seen it.

MATTHEWS: You`re sitting in a restaurant. You`re having breakfast with
this guy who`s trying to get back in the White House detail. It`s a really
neat looking restaurant with great pictures of presidents on the wall.
It`s a very smart-looking place. And it`s supposed to be right around 15th
Street, near the Treasury building, near the White House.

Where is that in Hollywood?

BUTLER: Shreveport --

BASSETT: Shreveport, Louisiana.

MATTHEWS: No!

BUTLER: We built the White House -- we built the White House in
Shreveport, Louisiana.

MATTHEWS: No.

BUTLER: Yes. They were loving it.

MATTHEWS: Was it a good tax deal down there?

GUTLER: Good tax deal down there basically, yes.

MATTHEWS: So, when we see what looks like scenes from the White House and
Camp David, how about Camp David? Where`s that in the movie?

BUTLER: That`s just outside Shreveport.

MATTHEWS: Really?

BUTLER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: That is great. When you watch these movies, as guys who do the
movie, after you do the movie and realize you were in some set somewhere.
And then you go back and maybe you take a month, or six months, go watch
again, are you taken by the movie again, too? My God, I am in the White
House.

ECKHART: Yes. I mean, absolutely, the story is good enough and the acting
and directing is good enough.

MATTHEWS: You fall back and watching it like a movie.

ECKHART: Yes.

Well, you know the stories behind the scenes and that sort of stuff, but
yes.

MATTHEWS: You remember what days you retire, what days people were hung
over, people didn`t know their lines.

ECKHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You remember all that. Ha!

(CROSSTALK)

BASSETT: You can`t help but, yes.

MATTHEWS: You remember it?

BASSETT: I do. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Because I went down and watched -- they let me come out and do a
cameo on "Good Wife" on CBS. And I go over to Brooklyn, and it`s an
industrial, brutal neighborhood with all this terrible stuff going on.
It`s not a fancy -- when you watch the show every week, I always watch it,
you think you`re at a high-rise Chicago law firm in Chicago and you
completely fall for it again.

BASSETT: That`s why I try not to watch it too many times before I see the
finished product because --

MATTHEWS: OK, one thing I want to talk about is this affection we have for
the president. I know "West Wing" did it beautifully. Aaron Sorkin`s
thing.

There`s something about the American president. You may have a couple
presidents in a row you don`t like. But there`s still the magic there.
Angela? That White House. That building. The Obamas there now.

BASSETT: Absolutely. I was just there three weeks ago, you know? You`re
in awe. There is. You know, you`re coming from, you know, small town
Florida or wherever you`re from. And it`s the highest, you know --

MATTHEWS: Do you remember the smells there? I always smell the paint.
The brand-new paint and rhododendron smell. When I worked there, I always
smell, there`s a kind of a feel of history around you.

GUTFELD: You know, from Scotland (ph), you know, from the early stage, you
can remember even in Scotland, especially in America, these are buildings
and institutions and a position that you`re taught to respect. It contains
so much emotion inside you. So when suddenly you see this attack and the
president being held hostage, it is incredible what a powerful experience
that is. Obviously, it recalls, you know, not such distant history of some
tragedies.

I have to tell you, you`re talking about Harvey Weinstein. I watched it
with him last night. We had a screening.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GUTFELD: You say is this opening scene, the attack, is it believable? It
is so believable, you`re there. And he was shouting out. He`s like, yes!

MATTHEWS: You`re a Scotsman. I have to say one line to you. Something
we`ve never had. A country of our own.

Remember that? "Braveheart."

GUTFELD: "Braveheart."

MATTHEWS: Thank you. "Olympus has Fallen" is the name of the movie. It`s
the name of the movie. It`s in theaters March 22n, coming up soon.

Thank you, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, and Gerard Butler. I love that
name, Gerald Bentley Hopkins (ph).

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

This movie we`ve previewed tonight, "Olympus Has Fallen" is great proof of
the extraordinary office we have in the American presidency. Unlike prime
ministers we put our presidents in a special house to live. We put them
there to show them off to remind them who they are every minute, every day
and night of their lives.

And this is what creates the magic. The presidency is not just an
important job. His or her very life is connected to the life of the
country. It`s why we cheer when we see a president, why those scenes in
movies like this one or from "Dave" or "Air Force One," cheering the
president, simply what we do in this country, regardless of politics.

So, the challenge facing this president, Barack Obama, and he hasn`t quite
got it yet, is using the prestige of the presidency. He has yet to use the
office`s majesty, to capture and exploit the public`s determination for
action on guns, immigration, jobs.

We`re entering a crucial stage of Obama presidency, obviously. He has
ample time to begin moving the country but it is less each day. And soon,
it could be too close to the 2014 elections to get big things done.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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