updated 4/15/2013 8:51:03 AM ET 2013-04-15T12:51:03

HARDBALL
April 9, 2013

Guests: Sam Stein, Blanche Lincoln, Michael Feldman, Jillian Soto


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Politically unbalanced.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Philadelphia tonight.

"Let Me Start" with this. I`ve learned one thing about politicians over
the years. They are who you think they are. It`s always the same for me.
I meet a politician I`ve been reading about, been watching on TV. I
believe they`re not the person I`ve read about and watched. Then after I
really get to know them, guess what? I discover they are precisely the
person I thought they were just by reading about them and watching about
them on television.

Well, case in point, Mitt Romney. Were you really surprised to hear him
talk about the 47 percent that are living off the rest of us? Did that
really shock you to hear him talk in private like an economic elitist?
Case in point, President Obama. Did it stun you to hear him talk about
those people in states like Pennsylvania who cling to their gun and
religion? Did it really?

Case in point, Mitch McConnell. What did you really think when you heard
him say that the way he intends to get reelected is to hammer anyone who
might be talking about running against him, any newspaper that might cause
him trouble along the way? Does it surprise you that, he, the Senate
Republican leader who said his number one goal following President Obama`s
inauguration was to destroy him -- does it surprise you that he would be
sitting there listening to an op researcher talk about a possible opponent,
Ashley Judd, being emotionally unbalanced?

Well, tonight we learn from yet another type -- yet another tape, rather,
what it`s like to be in a room with a big-name politician and to learn
firsthand again, that they`re pretty much the way you figured them. I love
these tapes, by the way. I hope they`re legal because I think they`re
great.

I`m joined right now by NBC News political director, chief White House
correspondent Chuck Todd and the HuffingtonPost`s Howard Fineman.

I want to start with Howard tonight. You`ve got this Louisville
background, and I want you to tell me about how the women of the state of
Kentucky will respond to this new nastiness from Mitch McConnell. He`s
already at 36 percent in approval. What will they think of him sitting
there, talking about a woman they know of -- they may not want to vote for
her, but they know of her -- and the fact that she`s emotionally
unbalanced, and sort of enjoying that information and how he might use it?
How can this help this guy?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh,
it doesn`t help this guy. And I don`t think it`s just with women, Chris.
I think it`s with all Kentuckians. And I lived and worked there for five
years and I`ve kept in close touch with Kentucky. This just reaffirms and
deepens the image of Mitch McConnell as a ruthless, cold-blooded politician
who will say and do anything to win election.

That might not make him fundamentally different from lot of other people,
but to a Kentuckians, that`s always been a problem with Mitch McConnell.
They both -- they sort of respect, on one level, his ruthlessness, but they
don`t like him personally, and it`s one reason why he`s never won a runaway
election in Kentucky.

He`s always had to take the lowest road and always tried to bring everybody
else in the campaign down to the lowest road.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And this, in a way, functionally, is the best example I could
think of, of it.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Chuck on this. And I`d like to stick on this point
before we get to the legality of how this tape was done because I`m not
sure we have that answer. But Chuck, when an incumbent`s been in office
for a long time, I always figure an incumbent ought to be positive. Let
the other guy take the shots, the other woman take the shots, because you
ought to have a record to defend.

Here he is coming in with 36 percent, going right on offense.

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: Well, it is, but
if you follow McConnell`s history here -- and boy, I tell you, Howard knows
this really well -- he`s basking in the glory of the Louisville Cardinals
today.

FINEMAN: I am, indeed.

TODD: He knows his Kentucky politics, his Kentucky sports very well. The
history of Mitch McConnell -- this is how he rolls. He`s a tough as nails
politician. He wins tough campaigns. He`s never been enormously popular
in the state of Kentucky. Even in his biggest victories, they`ve always
just come where he slightly underperformed where a generic Republican in
Kentucky should perform. So in many ways, I think this is the way they
determined was their best shot at winning.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and they used to say Jim Bunning was an SOB. I mean, this
guy doesn`t come off as a very nice fellow here. Let`s take a look at the
top of the audiotape -- we`re allowed to show it -- where Senator Mitch
McConnell sets the tone, explained that any opposition coming from anywhere
will be stomped by his crowd quickly.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This is the Whac-a-Mole
period of the campaign when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Then a person identified in the "Mother Jones" transcript here
as "the presenter" described the load -- describes the load of opposition
research they`ve got on Ashley Judd.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first person we`ll focus on, Ashley Judd --
basically, I refer to sort of the oppo research situation where there`s a
haystack of needles just because, truly, there`s such a wealth of material.

(LAUGHTER)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, then you`ve got the emotional unbalance part coming here,
Howard -- again back to you. Tell me what this says to voters because
they`re all going to know about it in Louisville tomorrow morning and
tonight.

FINEMAN: Well, I think Mitch McConnell, as he said, was pursuing the Whac-
a-Mole theory of running for office, which is that you...

MATTHEWS: Explain.

FINEMAN: You -- well, you -- just like in that arcade game, you take out
your big rubber mallet and you hit any approaching target over the head
with it to keep them out and make them go back in their hole. So that`s
what Mitch McConnell`s operating theory has always been.

And they were preemptively trying to do this to anybody who might dare to
run against Mitch McConnell next year in his Senate reelection race.
Ashley Judd...

MATTHEWS: And now it`s Ashley Judd, who has pulled out of the race. Let`s
watch what he says here...

FINEMAN: Yes, she pulled out...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: But don`t forget, Chris, I reported in The HuffingtonPost a
number of weeks ago that she had been telling some other people that she
was in. But at the end, she changed her mind. In the last analysis, she
changed her mind.

And I think one reason might have been, even though she didn`t know exactly
what was being said behind closed doors, she knew the kind of race it was
going to be publicly, and in terms of putting her own family through it, in
terms of the type of the campaign it was going to be, I think she may have
decided for, among other reasons, that it really wasn`t worth the personal
trauma that might have resulted.

MATTHEWS: Well, here she is. Here`s the presenter -- I guess it`s the opp
researcher presenting the dirt he`s got, saying what he has to say here. I
want Chuck to respond to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She`s clearly -- this sounds extreme, but she is
emotionally unbalanced. I mean, it`s been documented.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ashley Judd, of course, responded to that with a statement that
reads, quotes, "This is yet another example of the politics of personal
destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington,
D.C. We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp than to
take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with
on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter."

I think this is devastating because, Chuck, the fact that she had this two
decades ago, that she admitted in her biography, autobiography, that she
had those 40-some days in treatment -- it isn`t like the Eagleton thing,
where it`s a press disclosure, an expose.

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: she publicly explained that she`d had this illness, and all
these years later, they`re bringing it back and pretending it`s in the
present tense -- She is emotionally unbalanced.

TODD: Well, the -- I`ll tell you what McConnell aides will say. I`ve
asked them questions about this today, folks that were in that room. And
their defense of this is, We were doing nothing different than any campaign
does in preparing against an opponent. You gather all the information you
potentially have that potentially might be a negative, that you wouldn`t --
that it wouldn`t be fair to judge them unless they made the strategic
decision to then use it publicly.

And that their defense on this is they did not make the decision to go with
this line of attack. Because I`m with you, Chris. I think that this is --
this type of attack is a double-edged sword and would alienate voters and
not think that this was -- that this was a below-the-belt charge and that -
- this -- let`s say -- let`s war game the campaign. They decide to go with
this, they try to bring this up in some way or the other, then they own the
idea that they`re not sympathetic to folks that have depression issues or
that folks that have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re not virgins anymore, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Chuck, they`ve lost their virginity.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Right, but I`m just telling...

MATTHEWS: Any opponent can attack him for this.

TODD: Right. I`m just telling you what their defense of getting caught on
tape saying this...

MATTHEWS: I understand.

TODD: ... that is it a reminder...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Things have changed -- things have changed about emotional
disease.

FINEMAN: Yes, they have. That`s why...

MATTHEWS: I remember we -- we all went through this -- I when through it
with Eagleton.

FINEMAN: Chris...

MATTHEWS: And Lee Atwater would laugh on the other side about guy being
hooked up on jumper cables.

FINEMAN: Jumper cables.

MATTHEWS: Yuck, yuck, yuck. You can`t -- you can`t talk about that...

FINEMAN: Well, that`s why -- Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... and jumper cables. You can`t talk like that anymore.

FINEMAN: Chris, that`s why -- when you asked me the question about how
this would play among women, that`s why I said it wasn`t just women, it was
everybody in Kentucky for precisely reason that you say. The world is
changing. The world has changed on immigration. The world has changed on
gun control. The world is changing on this kind of thing, as well.

And if Ashley -- Alison Lundergan Grimes, for example, decides to get in
this race in Kentucky as a young woman, or even if Ben Chandler decides to
run, they can -- they can -- they can point out the way Mitch McConnell`s
people and Mitch McConnell himself were talking about this thing. And the
Whac-a-Mole image, which is so vivid, could come back to hurt Mitch
McConnell because it crystallizes the way a lot of people in the state
think about it.

MATTHEWS: Who wants Bluto representing their state?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, he comes across as Bluto, some guy, some thug guy
pounding these things down, including (INAUDIBLE) Let`s go to the issue
now. Tricky question. I know, Chuck, you`re focused on this. This
legality question, how we get these tapes in our hand...

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: There wasn`t much of a question how we got the tape about the
president with his "clinging to guns and religion." That hurt him a bit,
not too much. There was, of course, the Mitch McConnell (SIC), which may
have been a put-away punch for him.

This one, what`s the state of the art here in terms of our ability to play
the tape? I know we were given permission to do it. What are the
standards now in the media and in the law about these tapes?

TODD: Well, look, we didn`t -- we didn`t ask for the tape to be made. We
didn`t illegally made it. We didn`t -- we didn`t have anything to do with
it. This is another news organization...

MATTHEWS: Right. I know.

TODD: ... that did this. And so you know, assuming we`re not being
gratuitous about it, when talking about the story writ at large, we feel
comfortable dealing with some parts of this tape -- not the entire thing,
not certain parts of the tape.

But Chris, I think that we got to remember here, there`s a chance this
really is a crime, that this tape was made illegally. This is the way the
law is.

MATTHEWS: What would that be?

TODD: If nobody in that room...

MATTHEWS: What would that crime be?

TODD: It`s a federal crime. If nobody in that room -- it is a federal
crime to tape somebody and release the -- and -- without anybody`s
permission in that room.

MATTHEWS: OK.

TODD: Unless -- now, if somebody in that room is the leaker and knew --
you know, it would have been perfectly legal for them to record that and
not tell anybody else about the recording. In the state of Kentucky,
that`s legal. It would have been legal. But if nobody in that room knew
they were being recorded, then a crime -- then this broke a federal law,
and that`s why the McConnell campaign has asked the FBI to look into this.

They are confident -- I`ve talked to every aide that I could find to talk
about -- that was in that room -- they are confident it is nobody among
their staff that is a mole or anything like that.

FINEMAN: Can I also add, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, this afternoon, Senator McConnell...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have to get this point of view here.

FINEMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: I know that`s politics. He talked about the -- and he also
stuck strictly to his talking points. In other words, a reporter asked him
a question, he ignored the question. And here`s his spiel.

FINEMAN: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: As you know, last month, my wife`s ethnicity was attacked by a
left-wing group in Kentucky, and then, apparently, they also bugged my
headquarters. So I think that pretty well sums up way the political left
is operating in Kentucky.

UNKNOWN: Is it fair game for you to question someone`s mental health or
their religious sensibilities in a strategy session like that?

MCCONNELL: Yes, as I indicated, last month, they were attacking my wife`s
ethnicity, and then apparently also, unbeknownst to us at the time, they
were bugging our headquarters, quite a Nixonian move. This is what you get
from the political left in America these days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, McConnell`s reference to an attack on his wife stems from
a tweet by the liberal group Progress Kentucky. The tweet implied that his
wife`s Asian heritage may have something to do with Kentucky jobs moving to
China -- an absurdity, of course. The liberal group issued apologies and
removed the tweets.

McCain campaign aide Jesse Bent (ph) echoed McConnell`s question -- or
message today, saying, "We`ve always said the left would stop at nothing to
attack Senator McConnell, but Nixonian tactics to bug campaign headquarters
is above and beyond."

Well, here`s "Mother Jones" magazine`s statement on the story. "As the
story makes clear, we were recently provided the tape by a source who
wished to be anonymous. We were not involved in the making of the tape,
but we published the story on the tape due to its obvious newsworthiness.
It is our understanding that the tape was not a product of a Watergate-
style bugging operation. We cannot comment beyond it."

Howard, the logic of this is -- and it fits very much within the logic of
all these tapings. Somebody taped it for perhaps innocent reasons and
decided two months later -- this was in February, now it`s April -- that
they had some sort of axe to grind. If it was a professional bugging, some
kind of -- some little bug stuck in a lamp or something or in the wall
somewhere, why wouldn`t they have used it immediately if they had done it
on purpose, just to hurt somebody? It doesn`t seem logical to hold it for
two months, Howard.

FINEMAN: I think that`s a -- I think that`s a good question, Chris. And I
talked to David Corn today, and he stressed, again that this was not, to
his understanding -- he did a lot of reporting on this himself. And all he
can say is that it was not a Watergate-style bugging operation. And I`m
sure he`s right about that.

What else is involved, I do not know. But what I would say is this, that
Mitch McConnell has been around for a long, long time. Democrats have
tried to take him out again and again. They`ve come tantalizingly close
but have failed.

And what McConnell has succeed in doing in Kentucky is bringing everybody
into his style of play. In other words, the mayhem that we`re seeing here
a year-and-a-half before election day is the kind of environment that he
knows how to operate in, that he`s helped create in the state of Kentucky
in modern times.

Not that politics was innocent before...

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: ... but this is rough, tough stuff. This is the environment that
he knows how to play in and knows how to win in. And it`s I suppose ironic
to many people...

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: ... that he would be complaining about Nixonian tactics. But
this is the world that he knows.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, Chuck?

TODD: He has no evidence. You know, he made this accusation today...

FINEMAN: Right, he has no -- that`s true.

TODD: They have no evidence. The McConnell campaign has no evidence that
there`s -- anybody did any bugging. And in fact, I have -- I talked to an
aide who admitted that they had their headquarters -- when they first --
when they found out about this yesterday, they hired a security firm, they
swept the campaign headquarters, and they found no bug.

FINEMAN: Well, they`re probably better not to have found one because it
reminded me of the 1986 episode involving Karl Rove, when he was alleged to
have bugged his own office.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: ... called in the FBI.

MATTHEWS: You know what I think? I think that Mitch McConnell runs well,
to use a Kentucky term, in the mud. He`s the kind of horse that wants it
to rain...

TODD: It`s Derby time, isn`t it?

MATTHEWS: ... the night before the Kentucky Derby so he can slosh through
it.

FINEMAN: Excellent reference, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Slosh through it. By the way, everything he said about
Watergate and Nixon, everything else, is a smokescreen. The issue is the
words spoken in that room, and he has not denied a word of it.

Thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Howard Fineman.

FINEMAN: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Some rare good news for the gun safety side --
actually some good news. Democrats now think they may be able to at least
get to first base, at least get to debate this issue on the floor. We`re
going to talk to a sister, by the way, tonight of a teacher who was
murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, who traveled to Washington to talk to the
president last night. We`re going to have more on that.

Also, Rick Santorum says the Republican Party will never, never give in on
gay marriage. And the conservative Heritage Foundation, by the way, is
coming up for new reasons for Republicans to oppose immigration reform.
Well, we`ll see. We`ll see. Is the Republican Party stuck in the mud, to
use my expression?

Stephen Colbert, by the way, lands an interview with Bill Clinton. This is
going to be fun!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Here are the rules. If you start
filibustering, I will cut you off because we all know I could ask you how
you`re doing, and 15 minutes later, you`re talking about microloans to
Sumatra.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So true! Colbert even got Clinton to open up a Twitter account,
sort of.

Finally, "Let me finish" with how these people knocking on doors on Capitol
Hill, the victims and their families -- - well, the families of the
victims, could actually do some good.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: A new PPP poll finds Senator Mitch McConnell -- we just talked
about him -- his job approval is underwater, as I said -- 36 percent of
Kentucky voters approve his job, 54 percent do not approve. These numbers
make him the most unpopular senator in America as measured by PPP`s
polling.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

One day after the president`s soulful speech up in Connecticut when he
urged Congress to allow the victims of Newtown to get a vote on background
checks, the vice president put more pressure on Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But now it`s time for
every man and woman in the Senate to stand up and say, yea or nay, I`m for
or I`m against. The tragedy that traumatized the nation and caught the
attention of the entire world, and after all the thinking, debate and
discussion, with overwhelming majorities of the American people thinking
that the proposals the president put forward make absolute sense, the
climax of this tragedy could be, we`re not even going to get a vote?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, on Thursday, we will get the first big test on whether any
headway can be made on background checks in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he would submit a bill this
week. That`s Thursday. If Republicans allow that bill to proceed at least
to a debate, that would get us to first base, of course. There`s still a
long way to go. Republicans could still block a move to actually vote on
the bill itself; 14 Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell, have threatened to block a debate on gun legislation, even a
debate.

But it became clear today the Republican Party is far from united on this
issue. At least seven Republican senators -- and there could be more --
oppose a filibuster to oppose -- to block at least having a debate. In
fact, the spokesman for Senator Tom Coburn pointedly put it this way --
quote -- "He will vote for the motion to proceed. Eschewing this debate is
a stupid party strategy."

But with 90 percent of Americans backing expanded background checks, will
the Republicans act like the stupid party on guns?

Blanche Lincoln is a former Democratic senator from Arkansas. And Sam
Stein is political editor at The Huffington Post.

I want to start with Sam on the reporting here.

It looks to me like there`s an outside -- a good chance they will have 60
votes to at least begin debate two days from now.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, that`s about right.

From our count, we have about eight Republican senators who are leaning
very strongly to openly supporting the first cloture vote, which will allow
you to go to debate and amendment. Harry Reid may lose two members of his
own caucus on that vote. Max Baucus and Mark Pryor both are noncommittal
at this point.

But that won`t hurt his 60-vote threshold. He could still get over that.
That gives gun control advocates a bit more time to actually craft the
legislative language of the background check bill, maybe make it more
amenable to some Republican votes. But like you said, it doesn`t guarantee
passage. They still have to close the debate period in order to get to an
actual vote on passage.

MATTHEWS: Senator, you were there. Explain this to people out there, this
cloture, this filibuster game now. You can filibuster a bill even before
people start talking about it. Then you can filibuster it again once you
don`t like the direction of the debate and might lead to passage. Then you
can filibuster to make sure there`s no vote. Is that right?

BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Almost every move they take
requires 60 votes to be able to continue the process of moving forward
towards an ultimate, not only debate, but then a vote on the actual bill.

And for the life of me, I can`t understand why, with all that we have seen
and experienced and the families that have been hurt, that they would not
want to have a debate on this issue. It`s amazing.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think? I mean, you`re political. You know why they
would do this. Who do they benefit -- how do they benefit from having it
on their permanent record that they opposed any debate or any voting on
anything to do with gun safety in the wake of what happened in Newtown,
Connecticut?

LINCOLN: Well, because there`s a real effort out there. I mean, there`s a
lot of money being spent out in, you know, marginal states, states like my
home state of Arkansas.

It`s very different than when I voted for an assault weapons ban in 1994.
1994 was completely different. You didn`t have the kind of resources that,
you know, these groups have. I mean, I have worked with the NRA before.
My husband`s a lifetime member. You know, I have got some friends there.

But I knew that the assault weapons ban in `94 was the right thing to do.
It was just a ban on domestic production. But the fact is, is they have
got real legs on the ground out there. And it`s really tough. It`s way
different. And their mediums are so different now. They have got
everything, from, you know, the money in resources for television, but you
have got Twitter, you have got Facebook, you have got all of these
different things, whereas before mostly it was postcard campaigns and some
television ads.

So it`s tough against candidates in those areas.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the Republicans who are -- these are the
real hard-liners of the hard-liners.

They`re opposed to even the idea having a debate, even talking about it.
This morning, Congressman Peter King, by the way, he supports expanding gun
background checks. He was asked what his Republican colleagues were afraid
of. It`s an interesting response. And he supports background checks.
Here`s Peter King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Even if I
did not support that legislation, I would say let this come to a debate.
This is an issue which has grabbed hold of the American people. It`s an
issue which I think has to be resolved. And even if it doesn`t go down the
way I want it to, I think the American people are entitled to a debate.

And to me, to use Senate rules to block a debate on an issue of this
importance is just wrong. To stifle the debate, to cut it off almost makes
it as if these senators are afraid of something. I don`t know what they`re
afraid of. If they are so sure of their position, let it come to a debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Johnny Isakson not afraid. This morning, he said
background checks deserved an up-or-down vote. Let`s watch him from
Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: I will speak for myself on that
question. There`s no -- there`s no ambivalence on the gun issue. I think
everybody knows what the issues are.

We have not seen the final draft of the legislation that was produced, I
understand, last night. But I think it deserves a vote up or down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think the great question, Sam, is, what are they afraid of?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to go to Sam Stein. What are they afraid of?

I will get to you, Senator.

STEIN: Well, they...

MATTHEWS: Sam, what are they afraid of, these senators? Why would they
want to have a vote to prevent a vote?

STEIN: It`s a good question.

I think they`re -- what`s ended up happening is that there`s been a ton of
misinformation put out there, a veritable boogeyman of sorts. My
colleagues on the Hill have quoted a bunch of Republicans today saying that
the proposed background check legislation could be an unconstitutional
infringement on Second Amendment rights.

Well, if that`s the case, then what of the current system that already
exists? Is that unconstitutional? I hear no one saying we should get rid
of that. So, that`s one thing that`s noteworthy.

The other thing is, as the senator noted, is the dialogue changed so
dramatically, not just from 1994, but from 2004. We were going through old
clips today of George W. Bush when the assault weapons ban was set to lapse
in 2004, saying he supported it. During his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, his
program was for instantaneous background checks.

Can you imagine a Republican today saying they want instantaneous
backgrounds checks? I think the dialogue has changed. I think the
Republican Party has changed. And I think, of all the contributing
factors, I think redistricting is a real contributor to that, yes.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Senator, your thoughts about why they would oppose a vote on a vote?

LINCOLN: Well, I think basically there`s a small part of their
constituency of their supporters that are not rational about this issue.

But when it comes to, you know, what you have to do to be able to get your
voice in there, I used to go to the NRA meetings. You know, there were
some people in there that didn`t want to listen to me and that, you know,
were going to not agree with me, but there were rational people in those
meetings that understood that, you know, even then -- I mean, we had one of
the shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas, back then.

You know, they knew that something had to be done and we had to take
reasonable steps. So I think there are people out there, but it`s hard to
get to them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think fathers teach their kids how to use guns very
responsibly. I think every family does that. Or they all do, which is to
teach a kid not to aim and to hold it at a certain way, to carry it in a
certain way, not to carry it loaded.

This gun safety thing is part of your family training. I don`t understand
why they`re against it being part of our country.

LINCOLN: It`s part of the state law.

MATTHEWS: Anyway -- anyway, Senator Blanche Lincoln, thank you.

Yes, I know. Well, thank you, Senator.

LINCOLN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It`s great to have you on.

Thank you very much, Sam.

STEIN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Stephen Colbert`s big interview with Bill Clinton.
This is going to be fun.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First, Clinton and Colbert come together. Stephen Colbert interviewed Bill
Clinton at a Clinton Global Initiative event this weekend. Colbert kicked
it off with some ground rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Here are the rules.

If you start filibustering, I will cut you off.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Because we all know I could ask you how you`re doing, and 15
minutes later, you`re talking about micro-loans to Sumatra.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Second, we are miles away politically from each other, so if I
find myself agreeing with you because of the famed Clinton charisma...

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: ... I will continue the interview staring into a hand mirror.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Because you are the Medusa of political persuasiveness.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Do you understand?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do.

COLBERT: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Clinton liked that too much, based upon his face.

Anyway, with that out of the way, the rules out of the way, Colbert broke
the news that he started a Twitter account for the former president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

COLBERT: President Clinton was taken. William Jefferson Clinton was
taken.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: But PrezBillyJeff was available.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Would you like to break into the 21st century right now and send
your first tweet, 140 characters or less?

CLINTON: Just spent...

COLBERT: Just spent...

CLINTON: ... amazing time with Colbert.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Sound good?

CLINTON: Is -- question -- is he sane?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Is he sane?

CLINTON: He is cool.

COLBERT: You got some more left. Anything else? You don`t have to.

CLINTON: No, no, I`m done.

COLBERT: You`re done?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He could run for president tomorrow morning.

Anyway, there`s a good chance Colbert still has a stake in that new Twitter
feed, though. The masthead of it reads, "I am president William Jefferson
Billy Jeff Rodham Clinton. Stephen Colbert is my BFF."

Well, recent tweets from that account include, "Now that I`m no longer
president, I have been downgraded to Air Force Seven."

Up next, some conservatives seem to think the way back to power is to keep
on alienating gays. That`s smart. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow gains 59 points to close at a fresh all-time high. The S&P adds
five, while the Nasdaq is up 15.

One stock missing out on today`s rally, J.C. Penney, shares sliding 12
percent after the retailer said former CEO Mike Ullman will return to lead
the company.

As for economic data, wholesale inventories posted their biggest decline in
over a year in February, as petroleum stocks fell. Economists had expected
a gain.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In the past 30 days, of course, we have all seen a tidal wave of Democrats
publicly supporting same-sex marriage. Republicans, however, have been
largely well-resistant to change on the subject, no matter what the
demographics of the 2012 election told them.

And Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses eventually, and clarion
of the cultural right, told "The Des Moines Register" today, in effect, the
more things change, the more the GOP will stay the same.

And I quote Rick Santorum: "The Republican Party is not going to change on
this issue. In my opinion, it would be suicidal if it did."

Well, Santorum may run again. And that kind of talk is the catnip to
Republican primary voters, but it may not play well beyond the party`s
shrinking base.

Michael Steele is the former chair of the Republican National Committee.
And Michael Feldman was an adviser to Vice President Al Gore.

Let`s go to these let`s go to this question.

Michael, if you were still chair of the Republican National Committee, what
would you say about the issue of marriage equality? And that`s the phrase
people use today. They usually say marriage equality.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

No, I think probably what I would advocate is what a lot of us hope the
Supreme Court does. And that is let this be resolved in the states, in the
communities where people live. They decide for themselves, you know, where
they come down on this issue. It`s not -- it should not be, I think, a
federal issue. It should not be something that`s handed down from on high
from the federal government for -- given the intrinsic nature of it, the
value that people ascribe to marriage, and certainly the evolution on this
subject.

I think, as a party, we should recognize the changing winds, the prevailing
winds. But that doesn`t necessarily mean, Chris, that we step back from
something that many of us fundamentally believe within the party.

So it`s going to be a delicate balancing act. There`s no doubt about that.
But I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But I don`t think he can get away with that, because let me just
challenge you on the consistency there.

STEELE: Sure.

MATTHEWS: How do you get away with not taking a position on DOMA? How do
you avoid taking a position on whether people who are married out in
California, for example, legally, or any other of the states who have legal
marriage, can not have the benefits of marriage?

STEELE: Again, those --

MATTHEWS: The tax law, the Social Security law, how do you deny them those
benefits if they`re married?

STEELE: It`s not a question of denying anybody anything in that respect.
The states will work those things out. The federal government at the
appropriate time will make the decision to do whatever resolution with
respect to federal benefits it deems necessary.

But the states should be empowered, as Tenth Amendment allows, for them to
make their decision on these issues.

MATTHEWS: I don`t see -- let me go back to Mike on this. I know you`re a
Democrat, but I think it`s hard for your party not to dump on the
Republicans if they come out against doing something about the inequality
of somebody legally married in California, for example, or anywhere else,
not being able -- which is they live together, they take responsibility for
children together in many cases, not to have the normal benefits of
survivor benefits, of hospital visits, all the things, tax questions, all
to their advantage.

But they can`t take advantage to it under the law unless you do something
about it.

MICHAEL FELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, absolutely all that is true.
Leaving it up to the states won`t do. Look, in 10 or 15 years, Chris,
we`re going to be looking back at this and we`re going to be wondering what
we were all talking about.

This is the civil rights issue of our time, marriage equality is. But
short term, the Republican Party, there`s a battle for the heart and soul
of the Republican Party that`s taking place.

What Rick Santorum said the other day is really the opening in the primary
fight for 2016. He may be out of touch with the American people on this
issue, but he`s not out of touch with the energy and the base of the
Republican Party. And that fight is going to go on straight through the
Republican nominating process. I mean, and Michael knows better than I do
that tork right now, that division within the Republican Party is real and
what Rick Santorum is doing now is staking out ground early on the issue of
gay marriage.

STEELE: Yes, I agree with that.

MATTHEWS: Michael, you know that the people in your party who are the
craziest, the Mourdocks, the Akins, and sometimes, I don`t know, I think
sometimes he`s smart about blue collar issues, Rick Santorum. They are the
emblems more and more of your party. You can`t say these are my crazy
aunts in the closet, or don`t open that door, because the Democrats are
going to open that door. I know you`re laughing. They`re going to say,
look who`s in here, it`s Rick Santorum. And he`s mister -- he`ll probably
win the Iowa caucuses.

STEELE: Hey, Chris, they`re not crazy people. I mean, why is it that
people cannot have a conviction that is genuine and real to them that even
though you disagree with it, it doesn`t mean that they`re crazy --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, because they`re running for national office.

STEELE: What?

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. Do you think it helps to have these people
in your party is.

STEELE: You mean to tell me everybody Democrat you`ve come across in the
Democratic Party is supportive of gay marriage?

No. I just don`t think that`s true. It`s not reflective of the country.
This is still like a 51 percent/52 percent issue, which means there are 48
percent of people out there, at least in the last poll, have not come
around, have not evolved as you hoped that they will. And maybe they do,
Chris.

But, look, I think we`re --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, Michael, I`ve never made the mistake of saying I`d
represent an entire political party like you did. You were willing to go
out there, I represent the Republican -- I wouldn`t represent all the
Democrats in this country in a million years.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There are crooks out there. Why would I want that job?

STEELE: You have to understand my chairmanship, I tried to embrace all
those different views and say this is all a part and parcel of what makes
us Republicans. I didn`t disparage my far right nor did I disparage those,
you know, who are moderate.

The view of the party should be one that embraces and allows this kind of
discussion, this organic discussion. So I just reject out of hand this
notion that, you know, I`ve got to now get on board because, you know,
Democrats are tripping over themselves to get in front of the Supreme Court
before they hear a case on gay marriage.

There are fundamental issues with respect to this subject that are still
very important to people out there. You don`t just dismiss them because
you think, you know, that`s what we should be doing right now.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back to Mike, Michael Feldman. Can your party
cartoonize, the Republican Party continue to do it using the Akins, the
Mourdocks, the Rick Santorums?

FELDMAN: Well, look, honestly, if you look at the last presidential cycle,
we didn`t have to do much work in that area, OK? The primary process was
very destructive. If you look at Mitt Romney`s candidacy, by the time he
became the nominee in his own right, he had to shift back to the center and
take responsibility for a lot of what he had to say in the nominating, to
the nominating electorate to get the nomination.

This is the same problem confronting the Republican Party as we head into
2016. Some of these positions that they`re going to have to stake out to
get the nomination are going to cost them dearly as they try to tact back
to the center and win in a general election. They`re not insignificant in
the fall. They`re actually quite significant.

MATTHEWS: Michael, my friend, Michael Steele --

STEELE: Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS: -- I have to say, do you like defending the position of Sharron
Angle, for example, who believed in Second Amendment remedies? I think
some of these people taking shots at prosecutors down in the Southwest
believe in Second Amendment, shooting these public officials, and that`s an
absurd position. You can`t defend that.

STEELE: No, I`m not in the position to defend somebody`s views I happen to
disagree with. What I`m saying is that is not necessarily --

MATTHEWS: Happen to disagree with shooting public officials? Happen to
disagree with?

STEELE: Chris, if I disagree with someone, that`s not representative of
the entire party. Nor if I agree with them, is that representative of the
entire party. I don`t know why you want to continue to paint the party
with one brush, because it fills some political agenda, maybe. Maybe. But
reality of it is --

MATTHEWS: No, I enjoy it.

STEELE: -- the party is much more diverse.

MATTHEWS: It`s not a political agenda. It`s a fact of personal enjoyment.
I love pointing out the cartoon aspects of your party.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: And you point out the cartoon aspects to your own detriment, I
think, in the long run because then you`re not having a broad-based
discussion any longer. You`re becoming a cartoon of the cartoon.

MATTHEWS: Well, Michael, Michael, your problem is you got to defend too
wide a swath of humanity. Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. And thank
you, Michael Feldman.

Up next, we`ll continue this. Well, family -- this is serious -- family
members of those killed in Newtown shooting are here in Washington pushing
for gun safety. It`s something we all agree with, we need, I think. And
we`re going to talk to a sister of a teacher who died trying to save
children`s lives up there.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal scrapped plans to eliminate the
state income tax and replace it by raising the sales tax. That would have
shifted, of course, the tax burden away from corporations of the wealthy
and disproportionately hurt the poor and working classes. Jindal`s poll
numbers, by the way, have taken a beating over his plan and he abandoned it
just last night.

If states are laboratories of democracy, this is one experiment that blew
up in Jindal`s face.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICOLE HOCKLEY, LOST SON TO MASSACRE: Help this be the moment when real
change begins. Help this be the beginning of turning tragedy into
transformation for us all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

That was Nicole Hockley who lost her son Dylan in the Sandy Hook tragedy.
And this week, Hockley and other family members of Newtown victims are
bringing the fight for tougher gun laws to Washington. And today, they
arrived on Capitol Hill to kick off a series of meetings with senate
Democrats or Republicans, hoping to persuade them or shame them into voting
for gun safety legislation.

Jillian Soto joins me now. She traveled all the way from Connecticut to
Washington last night with President Obama as you can see in this photo.
Her sister Victoria was a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who
died trying to protect her students.

Jillian, thank you so much.

And this is a show, our show, HARDBALL, I`m proud to say, that`s on
televisions all across Capitol Hill, in Republican offices and Democratic
offices and independent offices. So, whatever you say here I hope reaches
into those offices and into the hearts of those senators.

What would you like to say about the need for some kind of safety with
regard to gun ownership?

JILLIAN SOTO, SISTER KILLED IN NEWTOWN SHOOTING: Just that something needs
to get done. Nobody else needs to go through the pain that the Sandy Hook
families are going through. We`ve gone through enough. And it`s time now
that we finally do something about it. And we get some change.

You know, there are so many kids who have lost their life, in movie
theaters, in schools and colleges. We don`t need this any longer. It`s
time we do something about it. And any senator who doesn`t want to hear
what we have to say and still thinks there`s something wrong what they do -
- or not even they think something`s wrong, but any senator who doesn`t
think that there`s something wrong and thinks -- hears what we say and
still thinks that it`s OK, you know, come into my house. Come and see
what`s going on at my house and see all the pain we`re going through.

I know firsthand what assault rifles do to a person when they`re shot with
them. I`ve seen the bullet holes. The body marks. What it does.

Something needs to get done. And now is when we need to do it.

MATTHEWS: So when you think about the tragedy that cost the life of your
sister who was a teacher, what are the elements? You mentioned assault
rifles. Is that what you think of as the worst -- the worst of this?
These rapid firing rifles that allow a person to basically keep pulling the
trigger and then be able to shoot up to 30 rounds. Do you think about
that?

Do you think about background checks? The kinds of people that are able to
get guns easily?

Go through it, what you think of the elements that needs to be done.

SOTO: The elements that I think need to get done, I stand with Obama and
what President Obama has said. I strongly support the assault rifle ban.
I strongly support background checks.

Before Sandy Hook happened, before December 14th, I knew nothing about
guns. I did not know that you couldn`t -- that everybody had to go through
a background check. I thought everyone had to.

I never thought anybody could just receive a gun. You can go to your
neighbor who had a gun and buy his gun and not have to go through a
background check.

And that`s wrong. Because you have no idea what your neighbor does behind
the closed doors. You have no idea what sick mind he could have and --
even if he has a criminal record, and here you are selling him a gun. And
you have no idea what he`s going to do with it.

And I also strongly support the magazine sizes. You know, in Sandy Hook,
you know, the gunman had a 30-round magazine. You know, if he had a 10-
round magazine, he would have to stop and reload more times than he did.
And it could have saved plenty of people`s lives. It could have saved even
one child`s life.

MATTHEWS: What do you say to the NRA people? You`re not informed about
this now to know there`s a lobby out there that basically says we don`t
want anything voted on even. What do you say to these professional people
who get paid to lobby Congress against doing anything?

SOTO: The only thing I can say to them is think about it from our
standpoint. Think about it from my standpoint. I lost my sister, my older
sister. I will never see her again.

The last time I saw her was Thursday night when she came home late from
school, and I`ll never see her again because someone took an assault rifle
into the elementary school that she taught at and murdered her, and 25
other people.

Any person who thinks nothing needs to get done needs to think about that.
Think about if it was your 6-year-old or your 7-year-old who was murdered,
who was shot multiple times. Would you still feel the same way and think
nothing needs to get done?

MATTHEWS: I wish you were a senator. Thank you so much. I hope --
staffers, by the way, working for these senators and members of Congress
tell the boss in the back room when nobody`s listening, you ought to vote
for this. This is the one time you ought to ignore ideology and do the
right thing.

Jillian Soto, thank you so much for that wonderful expression of belief,
and I believe truth.

We`ll be right back after this.

SOTO: Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

I think these people knocking on doors on Capitol Hill, like the woman we
just had on, may do some good in the days ahead. I think they can help the
contest for gun safety to get to first base -- and, as we know, you can`t
score until you get on base.

Here`s how it`s going to work, if it works:

First base: Get 60 votes in the Senate to at least begin debate. That`s on
Thursday.

Second base: Get 60 votes in the Senate to close debate and bring up actual
vote on, say, background checks.

Third base: Pass background checks in the Senate.

Home plate: Bring it up for vote in the House.

OK, I ran out of bases, but you see how tough this is going to be. But it
can be done. And it all starts with getting a runner on base. And that`s
this Thursday.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


END


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