updated 5/1/2013 11:06:58 AM ET 2013-05-01T15:06:58

HARDBALL
April 30, 2013

Guests: Bob Shrum, Richard Haass, Robin Wright, Sam Stein, Tim Carney,
Hogan Gidley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Stop the guillotine.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. There are people in this country,
believe it or not, who believe the best way to get rich people to work
harder is to give them tax benefits. The best way to get the poor to work
harder is to cut their benefits. Got it? Give the carrot to the better
off, give the stick to the worse off.

And so in America today, the guillotine is coming down on programs to get
meals to the elderly, give a head start to the young, who need it most.
And as that guillotine comes down again and again, the well-off enjoy a
government that looks out for them -- in fact, races to look out for them,
making sure that their flights arrive on time, even as the poor worry about
the next meal they know isn`t coming at all.

Will the president be able to stop this way of government, or is he, his
party and the Republicans stuck in so much political mud, they`ll never get
free?

Michael Steele was chairman of the Republican Party. He`s now an MSNBC
political analyst. And Bob Shrum is a Democratic strategist.

First of all, President Obama made clear that Republicans in Congress are
the roadblock, as he sees it, to solving America`s problems, and he opened
the door to an interesting way to lure them into cooperation. The phrase
was "a permission structure." I was taken with this. Let`s see if you
are.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are common sense
solutions to our problems right now. I cannot force Republicans to embrace
those common sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on
them. I can, you know, rally the American people around those, you know,
those common sense solutions.

But ultimately, they themselves are going to have to say, We want to do the
right thing. And I think there are members, certainly in the Senate right
now, and I suspect members in the House as well, who understand that deep
down. But they`re worried about their politics. It`s tough. Their base
thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They`re worried
about primaries.

And I understand all that. And we`re going to try to do everything we can
to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what`s going to
be best for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So the question from all -- a few good men, can the president
tell the truth to the American people, like he just did then, and admit the
simple fact he can`t twist arms on Capitol Hill, he can`t defeat people in
primaries? The only way a Republican is going to lose a primary, as he
says, is by talking to him. Those are the facts.

And then the question is, Bob, what`s a "permission structure" because that
phrase just jumped out at me. Is there a way to get the Republicans to the
table and end this sequestration, this putting all the problems of the
people, the American people, onto the poorest people?

BIB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I doubt it. But I know what he means by
permission structure. The permission structure he wants to create is one
where he steps back, where maybe people in the Senate negotiate some kind
of compromise on sequestration, just as, for example, they`ve done on
immigration, because the problem is, if he endorsed something Mitt Romney
was for in 2012, the Republicans in the House, especially, are likely to be
against it.

So the permission structure has to let the process move forward without
having the president`s fingerprints or face all over it. I think he`s
willing to do that. I think it succeeded at several points earlier this
year.

But on the sequestration, it`s tough. What amazes me is the Republicans,
the party of national defense, the party that has always favored a strong
defense, is willing to see defense take draconian cuts, is willing to see
elderly people go without Meals on Wheels to protect, for example, the
loophole that lets hedge fund billionaires -- it`s called carried interest
-- pay only 13 percent on their taxes.

There ought to be a way to compromise here, take up some of the ideas, for
example, that Romney offered in 2012, make them part of the mix...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SHRUM: ... take some of what the Democrats have offered, and I think you
can get to a deal.

MATTHEWS: Well, hat`s the deal from your side, Michael?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What would be your permission structure?

STEELE: Well, I didn`t understand exactly what the president was saying
when he quoted that term. But in context, and understanding later in
talking to folks, it really means giving the Republicans the room they need
to separate themselves from that part of the base that may be more
exercised about working with the president, number one.

I think, though, the permission structure kind of runs both ways. I think
we see it on issues like gun control for Harry Reid and some Senate
Democrats. And I think you certainly see it on the tax question for a lot
of Republicans. So I think the president may have something here that may
work for both sides.

MATTHEWS: Well, hasn`t he already -- Michael, hasn`t he already given? I
mean, he said he`s going to put a -- you know, he`s going to do chained
CPI. He`s going to cut Medicare. He`s made a lot of concessions.
Republicans have not matched him once.

STEELE: But that`s not negotiating. You haven`t gotten into...

MATTHEWS: No, he gave them what they...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: No, he has not given us what he (sic) wanted. You say, I put this
in the budget. That`s not the final deal. And his base, as you`ve seen on
chained CPI, the reaction to chained PCI (sic) was just as volatile as the
reaction was from the base, from our base on...

MATTHEWS: Yes. So you`re saying he can`t deliver.

STEELE: I`m not saying he can`t deliver. I`m saying he may be onto
something in delivering for both...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What we have right now is something that`s sort of a growing,
growing, creaking of the federal government...

STEELE: Well, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... and it`s hurting people. Look at this. The president
outlined the damage across-the-board spending cuts are causing the country
and his own frustration that Congress took action only when flight delays
were causing inconvenience to flying passengers.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It`s slowed our growth. It`s resulting in people being thrown out
of work. And it`s hurting folks all across the country. And the fact that
Congress responded to the short-term problem of flight delays by giving us
the option of shifting money that`s designed to repair and improve airports
over the long term, to fix the short-term problem -- well, that`s not a
solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, then ABC`s Jonathan Karl followed up there rather quickly
and asked, Well, then, why did you sign it? Why did you go along with
saving the airplanes, the FAA? Here he is answering that tough question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The alternative, of course, is either to go ahead and impose a
whole bunch of delays on passengers now, which also does not fix the
problem, or the third alternative is to actually fix the problem by coming
up with a broader, larger deal.

But you know, Jonathan, you seem to suggest that somehow these folks over
there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to
behave. That`s their job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what probably drives the Republicans on the Hill
crazy, right, Michael? It`s my job as Daddy, if you will, or Mommy, to
make them behave because the president, under our Constitution...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... doesn`t control...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Clinton had to do it and try to get welfare reform...

MATTHEWS: How do you make these guys...

STEELE: Reagan had to do it.

MATTHEWS: ... do it if they don`t -- wait a minute!

(CROSSTALK)


MATTHEWS: He signed a Republican welfare bill!

STEELE: Why are you so hellbent on giving this president a pass on
every...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me explain...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m just not giving you one, OK? I never give you one.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m not going to give you nothing!

STEELE: But I`m just saying...

MATTHEWS: The fact is, Michael, you just tried to slip one past me.

STEELE: I`m not slipping one past you.

MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton, because he was running for reelection, had to sign
onto a pretty conservative welfare reform bill he wouldn`t have written
himself right before the `96 election. So it was a Republican bill, first
of all. This president...

STEELE: Which he vetoed three times!

MATTHEWS: ... is trying to get Republicans to at least meet him in the
middle.

STEELE: Which he vetoed tee times, and he finally came to the table on it.
The reality of it is...

MATTHEWS: Making my point.

STEELE: ... this president needs to make -- do less excuse making and
whining and then leading. That`s what he needs to do here, Chris!

MATTHEWS: OK. Congress controls the pursestrings under our Constitution.
It`s controlled by the Tea Party Republicans. Boehner is sort of like
their chief waiter up there. He sort of serves the Tea Party.

STEELE: Then why do we need Democrats in Congress at all?

MATTHEWS: And he can`t do it.

STEELE: Why do we need Democrats in Congress at all? Let`s get rid of all
the Democrats, and then you can blame the entire party for every ill in the
country!

MATTHEWS: No, just the majority.

STEELE: You`re so funny.

MATTHEWS: Just the majority. The problem we have now, Bob -- and this is
the problem of people who ticket-split. If you`re going to vote for the
president of one party and vote for the Congressman of one party, this is
what you`re going to come up against. If you tend to like the
conservatives in the government, because you vote that way in the House
races, who say, We`re not going to do this, we`re not going to raise taxes,
we`re only going to cut rich people -- poor people`s programs, and then you
vote for a president who has a totally different point of view, you get
logjams like this.

Nothing is happening except this guillotine coming down on the necks of
everybody who`s poor right now.

SHRUM: Well, I think that`s true. And look, the Democrats actually won
the vote for the House by 1.6 million votes. They lost the House because
of the gerrymandering.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I was going to agree earlier with Michael this is a two-way street.

STEELE: Come on, Bob.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I was going to agree earlier, I was going to agree earlier with
Michael that this is a two-way street.

STEELE: Back it up, Bob. Move on. Move on.

SHRUM: No, no!

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: If you allocated -- Michael, if you allocated electoral votes...

STEELE: Oh! (INAUDIBLE)

SHRUM: ... in Pennsylvania according to congressional districts, Mitt
Romney would have gotten most of them after the president carried the
state.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I want to get to Chris`s bigger point because you keep trying to
say somehow or other, the president ought to be blamed here.

STEELE: No!

SHRUM: What has to be blamed here is a Republican House that will not make
a deal. Ronald Reagan made a deal on tax reform. Lyndon Johnson made a
deal on Medicare. Those days are gone. Any deal the president tries to
make gets opposed in the House. And the only way we`ve gotten anything
passed this year, anything significant, is for John Boehner to break the
rule that a bill can`t come to the floor without a majority of the
majority.

We can get out of sequestration. There are enough Republican votes in the
House combined with almost every Democrat to pass a deal. Same thing is
true on immigration reform. But I don`t think we`re going to get any of
those things if you have to have a situation...

STEELE: Hey, Bob...

SHRUM: ... where Republicans as a party...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: ... in the House have to all agree on this.

STEELE: Let`s go to the bottom line. Numbers, numbers, numbers. The
House is controlled by Republicans...

SHRUM: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... primarily because -- certainly, gerrymandering plays a part,
but primarily because the Democratic Party sweeps the big cities about 90
to 10. All those votes, the 40 percent they don`t need, don`t get counted
in how we get elected to Congress. The Republicans win 60-40 in their
districts. Democrats win 90 to 10 in theirs. And that`s why you have this
disproportionate representation.

Let`s go to this question of immigration because here I think the president
is playing for the win. I don`t think he`s playing politics here. I don`t
think he`s going to have an issue in the next election, 2014, because he`s
going to have a bill by then. Don`t you think, Michael?

STEELE: I absolutely agree with you. I think that this is the sweet spot
that he realizes. This is the permission that the Republicans are going to
get on immigration, whether it`s McCain and Rubio in the Senate -- they`re
going to bring something to the House that -- that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Again back to the House.

STEELE: The House will pass whatever comes out of the Senate on
(INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Really?

STEELE: I think they will.

MATTHEWS: You buy that, Bob?

STEELE: I think they will.

MATTHEWS: Do you think this conservative House with those members...

SHRUM: I hope Michael`s right, and I seldom say that. But I`m very
doubtful that you`re going to get a lot of these Republicans in the House,
these Tea Party Republicans who are getting huge blowback from their
districts, to agree to a path for citizenship.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

SHRUM: I also think the debate, especially in the House from folks like
Representative Steve King, is going to be incredibly rancid and is going to
alienate Hispanics. I wish I could share Michael`s belief. I wish I could
share the president`s belief that immigration reform is going to get done.

MATTHEWS: Well, I know...

SHRUM: But I`m kind of doubtful.

MATTHEWS: ... who I`m rooting for. I`m rooting for Marco Rubio over Ted
Cruz, if that`s going to be the fight among Cuban-Americans, particularly.
If that`s going to be the fight, I know who I`m with.

And by the way, I think the president was very skillful today. I don`t
think he has an answer on the grand deal, looking for this permission
structure. But I think he has one golden egg he wants to have, or whatever
the right term is for the second term. And I think it`s because the
Republicans want this thing off their backs.

STEELE: As much as he does, yes.

MATTHEWS: They want it gone. They don`t want this to be an issue. So I
don`t think he`s playing politics. This is one time Obama is going for the
product...

STEELE: Do you know who...

MATTHEWS: ... just like he did with health care.

STEELE: On immigration in the House, I put my hope on Paul Ryan.

MATTHEWS: So we agree we`re going to have an immigration bill, but Bob`s a
little bit suspect. But...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I`m suspect because I think that Paul Ryan wants to do this, Karl
Rove wants to do this, smart Republicans want to do this, and a lot of
those Tea Party members in the House, who are now in control of John
Boehner in a lot of ways, don`t want to do it. He`s going have to make a
tough decision.

STEELE: 50 plus 1 (INAUDIBLE) that`s all you need.

MATTHEWS: By the way, the only way that people who concerned about illegal
immigration are getting anything done is if they agree to a comprehensive
deal.

STEELE: Yes. Right.

MATTHEWS: Otherwise, people will continue to come into the country,
continue to be hired illegally, continue to be exploited. It will never
stop unless they agree to do it, and that means comprehension -- a
comprehensive deal.

Anyway, thank you, Michael.

STEELE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You`ve come to the truth.

SHRUM: Thank you, guys.

MATTHEWS: Shrummy, you, as well. But I think -- I think the problem is
the way the votes are counted. Democrats are just doing too damn well in
the big cities. They`re wasting votes...

SHRUM: No, but Democrats have controlled the Congress before, Chris...

MATTHEWS: I know.

STEELE: ... despite the big city thing.

MATTHEWS: But it takes a lot more than 51 percent of the population for
them to carry it because they waste the votes in the big cities.

Coming up -- and you know all this, Bob. Coming up, the "war now" crowd is
whooping it up on the right, but President Obama today says he needs more
proof on the use of chemical weapons in Syria before making any war
decisions. It`s nice, isn`t it, to have a president who`s willing to get
the facts straight about WMD before invading?

Also, those amazing new poll numbers showing collapsing approval ratings
for senators who voted against background checks in the Senate. We just
may get another shot at that bill because I`m asking the question, do 40
senators really want to be on the wrong side of a 90 percent issue?

And Massachusetts Democrats are voting today and are expected to nominate
Ed Markey to replace John Kerry in the Senate. We`ll see what happens
tonight.

Plus, highlights of last night`s debate -- wow! -- between Mark Sanford and
Elizabeth Colbert Busch down in South Carolina. The Palmetto State is
getting hot.

Finally, Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania is sinking in the polls right
now, in part because the state`s job creation has dropped dramatically.
One of his explanations, too many people in Pennsylvania -- let me say this
right -- too many Pennsylvanians on drugs. Well, that`s going to get him
elected!

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the last question President Obama answered in his press
conference today was the one he seemed happiest to answer, about the NBA
star Jason Collins who yesterday became the first active male athlete in
any major American team sport to announce that he`s gay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For an individual who`s excelled at the highest levels in one of
the major sports go ahead and say, This is who I am, I`m proud of it, I`m
still a great competitor, I`m still 7 foot tall and can bang with Shaq, and
you know, deliver a hard foul -- I think a lot of young people out there,
who, you know, are, you know, gay or lesbian, who are struggling with these
issues, to see a role model like that who`s unafraid, I think it`s a great
thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think this is important because the president phoned Collins
yesterday before the press conference to tell him personally how proud he
is of him.

And by the way, think of all the young teenage kids now, boys and girls,
for whom this is going to be very important to hear.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used
inside of Syria, but we don`t know how they were used, when they were used,
who used them. We don`t have a chain of custody that establishes what
exactly happened. If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective
evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can`t mobilize
the international community to support what we do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Late today, "The Washington Post"
reports -- in fact, just did -- that the White House was preparing to send
lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition.

But earlier today, President Obama seemed to be trying to slow the rush to
war by some on the right. Almost in lockstep, by the way, the hawks and
the neocons have argued that we must take some kind of military action in
Syria or else risk looking squeamish to the Iranians.

It`s a dangerous line of thinking, I think, especially since there are so
few good options available in Syria. Create a no-fly zone? That could be
costly and potentially a risky operation. Arm the rebels? Well, we may be
doing that now, but who exactly are the rebels? Who do we give the weapons
to?

"The New York Times" reported over the weekend, for example, that the
overwhelming strength of the fighting force is actually made up of the most
extreme groups, some of whom have ties to al Qaeda. Do we give them
weapons?

So what option does that leave us in the United States? And what does that
end up being? A treaty, perhaps? Bashar Assad in Russia? Both those
outcomes seem unlikely. So the war drums are out there. Can they be
silenced by any action by the president?

Richard Haass is, of course, the president of the Council on Foreign
Relations and author of a brand-new book, "Foreign Policy Begins at Home."
I`m going to ask him about that in a moment. And Robin Wright is a scholar
at the United States Institute of Peace, which I just drove by yesterday, a
beautiful building.

Look at what "The Washington Post" is reporting this afternoon, late this
afternoon -- quote -- "President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry
to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S.
leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of Bashar al-Assad,
according to senior administration officials."

They did not say what equipment is being considered.

Robin Wright, your thoughts on that. It`s a limited bit of information.
It could be rifles. It could be grenades. Who knows.

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: I suspect at this
point there`s a very small quantity or very small type of weaponry.

The real problem that a quarter century after we armed the mujahideen in --
against the Soviets in Afghanistan, we are still buying back parts of
Stinger missiles.

(CROSSTALK)

WRIGHT: And there`s a real concern about we you arm any faction, how can
you control and prevent those arms from going to other militias, being sold
to other people, other parties, and extremist groups in Syria?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, Charlie Wilson`s war became Osama bin Laden`s war with the
same weapons.

WRIGHT: Absolutely.

And the idea of a no-fly zone also is full of problems, because look at
when we were in Iraq. We were there in a no-fly zone for over five years
and then it took another 10-year war to get Saddam Hussein out of power.
The idea that a no-fly zone is going to be decisive in any rapid way in
changing the dynamics on the ground, adding to pressure on President Bashar
al-Assad, I think, is vulnerable. It`s -- it`s -- there`s no quick fix in
Syria and that`s the real problem.

MATTHEWS: Richard Haass, great to have you on this show. We will talk
about your book in a minute, but it seems like it`s Groundhog Day.

Every time we get up in the morning, you have Bill Kristol and John McCain
and Lindsey Graham have a war they want us to start. I mean, I`m making it
light and sarcastic because I am sarcastic about this. They always want us
to go in. Once we go in, it`s never clear how or -- how the hell we ever
get out. We`re just in. Your thoughts?

RICHARD HAASS, AUTHOR, "WAR OF NECESSITY, WAR OF CHOICE: A MEMOIR OF TWO
IRAQ WARS": Well, Robin Wright said, Chris, there`s no quick fix to the
Syrian problem. I`m not even sure there`s a slow fix.

I actually don`t think there is -- there`s necessarily a fix at all. That
said -- and we can sit here for a few minutes and talk about the downsides
of all the opinions of doing this and that. And those downsides are all
too real, trust me. On the other hand, not doing anything is also
downside, it`s also costly, particularly what we said.

So, I think now what we...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s try diplomacy then. You have got the expertise
there. Put that cap on.

Is there any diplomatic solution that would end this war and turn it over
to some sort of -- the president`s still talking today about a political
transition, some -- whereby the Assad regime gives up, allows a transfer of
authority, and somehow saves its skin, I suppose, or else why would they be
in that process? Is that feasible?

HAASS: No.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Is there a Russian escape route for them? Would the Russians
take the Assads and their large extended family of Alawites?

HAASS: Look, at some point it`s possible. Things get bad enough, the
Russians may change their policy, and Mr. Assad may decide Adasha (ph) is
in his future.

MATTHEWS: Right.

HAASS: But the rest of the Alawites are probably going to stay and fight.
And even if they didn`t, then all these people on the Sunni side who agree
on one thing, which is the need to get rid of this government, they
disagree on everything else.

So, we`re going to see a long, prolonged civil war among these various
factions. So, even though Mr. Assad is a big part of the problem, getting
rid of him shouldn`t be confused with the solution.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the "New York Times" that just came out,
CBS/"New York Times" poll. It shows that even the idea of this war is very
unpopular.

When asked -- this is such a simple question -- does the United States have
a responsibility in Syria? You would think they would say sure -- 62
percent say no, 62 percent, no response, let alone go into war. You`re
talking about not a tricky question. Do we have any responsibility to even
think about going into war?

On FOX News this week, Bill Kristol, of course, being the hawk that he is,
dismissed the importance of public opinion. That will be interesting. He
said the president had to do something in Syria, no matter what the people
think. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": This is not a president who
wants to start another war. That`s the way he sees it. I think it`s
totally irresponsible for an American president to have that.

No one wants to start wars, but you got to do what you got to do. And it`s
doesn`t really matter if the public is at 39 percent or 60 percent. I
mean, really? This is a Syria -- what`s happening in Syria is a very
serious matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: The trouble is with that thinking -- and I respect the fact he
does think -- I just disagree with him. But the fact is, Bill out there
and others are saying it doesn`t matter what the polls are. But usually
the polls are with the bugle callers. The polls generally say let`s go to
war. And it`s the end of the war after a couple years, they go, wait a
minute, that was a mistake.

This time, almost two-thirds of the people are saying, don`t even think
about it.

Your thoughts, Robin?

WRIGHT: Well, I think the...

MATTHEWS: How can you fight a war when two-thirds say we don`t want to
even get involved from the beginning?

WRIGHT: Well, President Obama spent his first term getting us out of two
wars. And I think he doesn`t want to spend his second term getting us into
one war and possibly two, with -- Iran looms large down the road as well.

And he understands American public opinion. We`re very tired. People have
economic priorities. There`s a real sense we have a domestic agenda that
needs to be taken care of first. And the fact is that the Syrian
opposition doesn`t speak with one voice. We don`t have a great
interlocutor on the ground.

And the danger is that down the road Iraq looks even messier than -- or
that Syria looks even messier than Iraq did in terms of trying to recreate
a nation. And that`s where we get into this problem with, you pointed out,
of we know how to get in, but don`t know how to get out.

MATTHEWS: Richard, tell me about your theory of -- in your book about how
domestic policy really does influence foreign -- ability to have a foreign
policy.

HAASS: Well, let me say one thing, though, about Syria first, Chris, which
is I think there is something of an in-between option. I think the
president is moving in the right direction.

I think some selective arming of the Syrian opposition makes sense. We can
try diplomacy. I`m not sure what it will be. I would even be in favor of
some limited cruise missile strikes. I`m trying to find, if you will,
something of a Goldilocks approach.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HAASS: I don`t think we have unlimited stakes in Syria. I don`t think we
ought to do unlimited things. On the other hand, I don`t think we can
simply walk away and say we have no interest or stake in its outcome.

And what we have to do is take a step back and look at this in the full
chessboard. You have got to think about the rest of the region and Iran.
We have got tremendous stakes in Asia. And as I argue in my new book, we
have got to put the bulk of our resources on rebuilding the bases of
America power here at home or we`re not going to be able to be a world
power even if we want to be several years down the road.

MATTHEWS: It`s all about the economics. And we don`t have the economic
dynamism in this country. We can`t afford to win these things.

Richard Haass, can`t wait to read the book. Robin Wright, thank you, as
always.

Up next, here`s a novel way to spin your state`s dramatic drop in job
creation. This is unbelievable. The governor of Pennsylvania, Tom
Corbett, has said there`s just too many Pennsylvanians on drugs. That`s
going to go over well with the unions and everybody else.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Jon Stewart weighed in on what got Congress moving last week to pass a bill
ending the filibuster -- actually sequester-related layoffs that were
causing airport delays.

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

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Why, perchance, that
part of sequester?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few hours after voting, members left Capitol Hill and
headed to the airport for a weeklong recess.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: Oh, right, because it`s the problem from the sequester that
affects them.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: They don`t care about Meals on Wheels unless it`s rolling down an
aisle.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Ladies and gentlemen, I take you to legislation theater.

Open on the House floor. What time`s your plane take off? Uh, 8:00.
Eight o`clock? You better leave now. The lines are very long. Why?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: You remember when we indiscriminately cut federal funding across
the board because we thought that would force us to find a resolution to
our budget impasse? Oh, yes, that`s right. Yes, yes, yes. All right.
(EXPLETIVE DELETED) it. Get me a pen. Hold on.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: Done. Now let`s go home.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He is the best. I would say he`s on to something there.

Next, it`s not exactly smooth sailing for Republican Governor Tom Corbett
of Pennsylvania these days. We told you yesterday about the Quinnipiac
poll up there showing Corbett trailing all three potential 2014 Democratic
challengers by at least nine points.

Well, since Corbett took office back in 2011, the state has slid from
seventh in job creation across the country, all the way down to 49th in job
creation. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is now higher than the
national average.

Well, in an interview just yesterday, Governor Corbett suggested a few
reasons for this, including the need for better job training programs. But
here`s one of his reasons this stuck out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOM CORBETT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There are many employers that say, you
know, we`re looking for people, but we can`t find anybody that has passed a
drug test, a lot of them. And that`s a concern for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So that`s the governor of Pennsylvania saying that the
unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is high because a lot of Pennsylvanians
are high. What an amazing statement by a public official.

Next, House Republicans are still trying to repeal it, despite almost 40
unsuccessful attempts. But as it stands now, the dust has settled and
Obamacare is, of course, the law of the land. We all know that, right?

Well, turn out to a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Catch
this -- 12 percent of the respondents thought Congress had repealed
Obamacare. Seven percent said the Supreme Court overturned it. Another 23
percent just weren`t sure. Overall, 42 percent of those polled, almost
half, were not aware that Obamacare is actually on the books.

Finally, I`m going to be talking later about last night`s great South
Carolina congressional debate between Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert
Busch. A little preview right now. Apparently, Sanford had some
unfinished business after debating, if you will, this cardboard cutout of
Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, on a street corner last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD (R), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: Nancy Pelosi is running
hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads.

(LAUGHTER)

SANFORD: This is an important point. With all due respect to Nancy
Pelosi, whose name I will raise again, these increasing taxes that Pelosi
and friends oftentimes are trying to level on them -- Nancy Pelosi`s PAC,
whose voice will be carried? Will it be Nancy Pelosi`s voice?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is Nancy Pelosi running in South Carolina? Anyway, Sanford
mentioned Pelosi over a half-a-dozen times in that debate. We showed you
most of it. We will get back to that later.

Up next, the gun vote backlash. Senators who voted against background
checks are paying for it in the polling out there. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Mary Thompson with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Stocks end the month with gains, the Dow up 21. The S&P hit a new record,
adding three, and the Nasdaq climbing 21.

Home prices rose more than expected in February, up more than 1 percent
over January`s levels and up 9 percent compared to a year ago.

An index of consumer confidence rose strongly in April thanks to optimism
about job and wages.

And gas prices fell about 3 percent this month, the biggest one-month price
decline in a decade.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, President Obama didn`t discuss gun safety today at his press
conference, but the issue isn`t going away, of course. The compromise bill
on background checks that Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey came up with
and the president strongly backed failed to get 60 votes in the president.
The president and many Democrats blame the NRA.

But in "The Washington Examiner" the other day, or was that today,
political columnist Tim Carney said that blame was misplaced in that case.
Instead, he argues, the president should point a finger at the Tea Party
senators like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee from Utah and Rand Paul -- quote -- "The
Obama account is wrong, in part because it portrays the NRA as calling all
the shots with the GOP on guns, but it seems it was Cruz, Lee and Paul who
drew the line, and then the NRA came in to hold the line."

Whoever is to blame, a couple new polls show that senators who opposed what
was an overwhelmingly popular measure might be facing some political
pushback. Here are some interesting polls looking at the
approval/disapproval ratings before and after the gun vote.

According to a new PPP poll, Nevada Senator Dean Heller lost two points
overall. Senator Mark Begich of Alaska is down a net of six points. His
colleague in Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, lost 16 points. Senator Rob Portman
of Ohio, who I thought was untouchable, lost a net of 18 points.

Meanwhile, according to the Quinnipiac poll, Senator Pat Toomey of
Pennsylvania, who supported, in fact, was the partner in that deal, picked
up a net seven points since the gun vote.

Well, "The Washington Examiner"`s Tim Carney is with me right now. Also,
Sam Stein is politics editor of The Huffington Post.

Whatever your views politically, I thought your analysis was great in that
column, because it showed really something new on the Republican side, the
enormous power of the hard-liners, the tough guys, led by Cruz, led by Mike
Lee, and, of course, Rand Paul, to basically draw the line. You cannot
support expanded background checks, not at the 30-clip rounds -- 30-round
clips, not at the assault weapons. You can`t vote for that, and that`s
what led the party.

TIM CARNEY, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": And it works.

It`s an inside/outside game. And there are other groups that do this in
Washington, too. But here you have got the most conservative senators.
They stand up. They take a stand. In this case, it`s a public letter
saying, we`re not going to allow a vote on it. And then when senators and
congressmen go back to their districts, guess what? They`re hearing, wait,
why aren`t you standing like Rand Paul? Why aren`t you standing like Ted
Cruz?

MATTHEWS: Right. And they don`t like that.

CARNEY: So, it`s a way of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In your piece, they didn`t like that.

CARNEY: Yes. It`s a way of mobilizing the base.

MATTHEWS: So, what happened in the Republican Cloakroom and in the
meetings, the lunches they have together?

CARNEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: According to your column, a lot of the Republicans who did vote
for the bill -- voted against background checks -- but wish they hadn`t,
were all -- hand-wringing and yelling.

(CROSSTALK)

CARNEY: They were getting upset because Ted Cruz brought constituent
pressure on them.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let`s go back to this question here of the gun issue, because I think we`re
going to be talking about this as long as we live.

CARNEY: Sure.

MATTHEWS: To me, it`s all about intensity.

On the liberal or centrist side or gun safety side, whatever you want to
call it, most people who are for gun safety are also for a better
environment. They`re also for jobs, if you will. They`re also against
wars. They tend to have a point of view on a lot of different issues.

Whereas the gun guys, like my brother, one of my brothers, that`s their
issue.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: That`s the voting issue.

How do you beat people for whom gun rights are the only issue?

STEIN: Well, that`s one of the reasons you should take these polling
numbers with a bit of salt. Or grain of salt, I guess, because the
intensity issue is what really matters. And so, if you see Jeff Flake, for
instance, people say, well, this makes me less likely to vote for him in
the next election which happens to be about 5 1/2 years from now.

You have to ask a follow-up question, how likely are you to vote? And I
think what you get is a fact is that gun enthusiasts, Second Amendment
right enthusiasts, are much more likely to show up at the polls than gun
control advocates.

MATTHEWS: I think that`s true. By the way, there may be a pushback. But
here`s something that happened. There`s a dramatic moment just this
afternoon at a town hall meeting of Senator Kelly Ayotte up in New
Hampshire. She voted against the Manchin/Toomey bill. But do you think
she`d be safe in terms of this?

Well, today she was confronted by a relative, a daughter of one of the
victims up in Sandy Hook. Erica Lafferty lost her mother, the principal of
the school. And listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA LAFFERTY, MOTHER KILLED IN NEWTOWN ATTACK: You had mentioned that
day of the verdict, owners of gun stores, that the expanded background
checks would pass. I`m just wondering why the burden of my mother being
gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn`t as important as
that. Why isn`t that something that can be supported?

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Erica, certainly, let me just say
that I`m obviously so sorry, and as everyone here, no matter what our views
are, for what you have been through. And I think that ultimately when we
look at what happened in Sandy Hook, I understand that`s what drove this
whole discussion. All of us want to make sure that that doesn`t happen
again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I wonder what she meant by that.

TIM CARNEY, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I mean --

MATTHEWS: What did Senator Ayotte mean when she said, I hope it doesn`t
happen again, and there`s a daughter of one of the prime victims of --

(CROSSTALK)

CARNEY: What`s your response, Chris, when somebody says, oh, there was a
bombing and Muslims did it, and a lawmaker who doesn`t want to, you know,
crack down on civil liberties or doesn`t go to war in the Muslim world,
says, I want to make sure this doesn`t happen again?

Just because there`s a victim who wants a direct response doesn`t mean that
that is a correct policy (ph).

MATTHEWS: The only reason I would say is that the reason in this case was
-- and I know there are a lot of factors up there, mental, emotional
disturbance, to put it lightly on the case of the shooter. Also the fact
that one of the reasons that we might have dangerous situations is guns
getting in the hands of people like that. Obviously, here is a case of a
guy who shot his mother in the face and got the guns from her.

But the more common case would be someone like that trying to get a gun.
And here was the people of this country, in a reasonable response to this
crime saying, why don`t we make it harder for people with mental and
emotional problems to get guns, better background checks? I think that was
a reasonable response.

STEIN: And I think the senator is wrong in one sense, she said this debate
was just spurred by Sandy Hook. Yes, that was the galvanizing moment. But
keep in mind, what happened prior to then was Aurora, and prior to that was
the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. And, of course, there`s about 30,000
gun deaths a year.

CARNEY: And background check can`t help in any of those.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: Hold on a second, because background check system at this juncture
only covers about 60 percent of sales. And I thought what was -- the gun
control community`s response to Sandy Hook, if they wanted to say, yes,
let`s prevent another Sandy Hook, we could have gone after the assault
weapon ban, the magazine clips. Those are just (INAUDIBLE)

What ended up being the case was they wanted to go after background checks
which are basically responsible --

MATTHEWS: Why did they do that? Do you know why they did that?

STEIN: It`s a more effective policy and it`s an easier lift.

MATTHEWS: For them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, but I think, once you pass the constitutional test, it`s OK
under the Second Amendment to demand a background check. Why wouldn`t it
be acceptable under the Second Amendment interpretation of the law to make
sure that all sales, not just as gun stores, be covered? I mean, it seems
to me that was an extension of any constitutional relief here or anything.
It was just a reasonably consistent bill.

STEIN: Correct.

CARNEY: The line that is drawn by the conservatives on the Hill is this
restraining the right of law-abiding citizens? Is it regulating their gun
ownership?

MATTHEWS: How --

CARNEY: By saying, oh, well, you can`t give it to your neighbor --

MATTHEWS: They covered that by Toomey --

CARNEY: They cover it on some -- already you had liberals says, oh, this
is a gaping loophole in Toomey/Manchin.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I sometimes can see both sides. I think on this one I`m clearly
--

CARNEY: Shocking. We call it gun control. Gun safety is a euphemism --

MATTHEWS: One nice thing to do when you come to me is not to mock me. We
can disagree.

Thank you, Sam Stein, as always.

I never know where you`re coming from actually. I don`t, really,
politically. I think -- I like your column today. Let`s be nice.

Up next, primary day in Massachusetts, the race to replace John Kerry in
the Senate. And down in South Carolina, you can`t beat this. When
Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, that`s Steven Colbert sister, up against Mark
Sanford in a really great debate if you like good theater in politics. We
all do, I think.

Stay tuned for a couple minutes and catch the whiz bang down there.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, yesterday, we showed you how Republicans are trying to
tear Hillary Clinton down before she even announces if she does that she`ll
run for president. Well, here`s why. She`s the runaway favorite right now
for 2016. Leading the Democratic field by more than 50 points in the
latest poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

By contrast, the Republican field is muddled with Marco Rubio getting 18
percent, Chris Christie in second at 16 percent. Jeb Bush whose own mother
doesn`t want him to run apparently, he`s up at 14 percent. That`s all for
him. And Rick Santorum, pretty far down at 9 percent. Pretty strong
showing for Rick.

We`ll be right back. Ha!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with two big political stories today.

Massachusetts Democrats are choosing a nominee to fill John Kerry`s Senate
seat. And U.S. Congressman Ed Markey looks like the big favorite tonight.

The other big story is the special House election in South Carolina between
Elizabeth Colbert-Busch and Mark Sanford. The election is just one week
away from today. It`s next Tuesday in fact. And last night, the two of
them met in their first and only debate.

But no one surprise, it didn`t take long for Colbert Busch to bring up the
thing Sanford is best known for, his extramarital affair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH COLBERT BUSCH (D), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: When
we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers,
it doesn`t mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a
personal purpose.

(APPLAUSE)

FMR. GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:
Everybody is a little bit --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She went there, Governor Sanford.

SANFORD: I couldn`t hear what she said.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hogan Gidley is a Republican strategist, and Ron Reagan is an
MSNBC political analyst.

Hogan, this is your home territory politically. What are -- let me talk
about this. First of all, Sanford had to know this kind of attack was
coming. Let`s show his retort. It was pretty good.

Listen how he parries the question about his affair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You voted for the defense of marriage of act and to
impeach president Clinton for an extramarital affair. Would you vote those
ways again?

SANFORD: Well, I -- I would reverse the question to you. And I would say
this: do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest
of his life based on a mistake that he made in his life?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Hogan, that got a bit of applause there. I guess people
are fair-minded. Of course, he voted to impeach President Clinton and take
him basically from office, ignoring -- removing his political career and
his public career from existence, pretty much. I think that was a pretty
strong sanction.

And now for him to come back and say, he should win this House race somehow
as some sort of, what, reward? I don`t know. What`s his argument there?

HOGAN GIDLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I didn`t get the retort. I
understand. Look, you have to be able to separate a vote for somebody and
forgiveness over an indiscretion. Mark Sanford clearly, his personal
problems had been played out in the national press, here in the local
press, of course.

And we forgive Mark Sanford not because Mark Sanford wants us to, because
if you`re a Christian, Christ calls you to forgive and you should forgive
Mark Sanford. That`s fine.

But that doesn`t mean I want him serving in Congress and representing me
nationally. Those two things are separate.

I think the point of Bill Clinton was that`s fine. I`ve forgiven Bill
Clinton, too. He was my governor before he was your president. And the
fact of the matter is, I still didn`t want him being president after that
incident.

But still, Mark is having a lot of problems down here. There`s no big
shift. I want this duly noted. I don`t think there`s a big shift in the
electorate and the belief in the electorate toward something Colbert Busch
is saying or doing.

I think it`s just an abstention, saying, look, we know Mark Sanford. We`ve
worked with Mark Sanford. We`ve seen him in action. I just don`t
necessarily know I want to put my name or neck on the line for a guy who --
who really did a poor job of shepherding his personal life or his
professional life as governor.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s a strange thing, Ron, trying to figure out how
the voters go on these things. You had Vitter down in Louisiana involved
with professional sex workers, I think is the right term these days, both
in D.C. and in Louisiana down there. Voters like him. Apparently talking
about him for governor, you know?

Out in Nevada, which it`s legal to have those kind of businesses out there,
sex workers, and poor John Ensign -- without making a valid judgment, he
gets kicked out of politics.

What is -- what are the rules as Bill Maher would say, what are the new
rules these days?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don`t know about David
Vitter, but it seems to me Mark Sanford`s issue here has always been one of
character.

The perception on some people`s part, I think, and well-founded one, that
he`s a little unstable and flaky. Watch the campaign he`s been running
with this debating the cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi. I thought he did
a little better last night, actually, than with the cardboard cutout. But
Nancy Pelosi is pretty tough. You know, the phone number business,
releasing his phone number, and all of that kind of stuff.

But, you know, as Colbert Busch alluded to, she didn`t actually talk about
the affair, what she mentioned was he left the governor`s office without
telling anybody where he was going, took taxpayer money and took off for
Argentina with his girlfriend. Now, he alluded to that last night in the
debate as something that had happened to him.

Now, a meteor crashes through your roof. That`s something that happens to
you. This is an entirely different category.

MATTHEWS: You mean mistakes were made?

REAGAN: The voters of South Carolina are left to choose between the
delusional narcissist on the one hand and a Democrat on the other. So, it
could be toss-up.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back to talk about Massachusetts up there, a
little distant territory for you to talk about Democrats in Massachusetts.
But Hogan will be back with us. Hogan Gidley and Ron Reagan, just a
minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`ve got Ron Reagan and Hogan Gidley.

Democrats in Massachusetts are voting, by the way, tonight, in a primary to
fill Senator John Kerry`s seat. According to a recent PPP poll,
Congressman Markey has a 14-point lead over Congressman Lynch. He`s up 50-
36. Ed Markey is a great candidate. We`ll see how that one works out.

Let me ask you about this whole -- I want to go back to South Carolina.
It`s far more vintage material, Ron Reagan.

What other rules as Bill Maher would say, what are the rules? We`ve got
Spitzer involved with a hooker, if you will, a prostitute. You`ve got
Weiner doing something out there on the social media if you want to call it
that in his case. You`ve got McGreevey involved that didn`t quite make
sense. He was involved with the whole confusion over his orientation.

John Edwards involved with the filmographer. You`ve got Vitter involved
with prostitutes in both cities. You`ve got Ensign involved with the wife
of one of his campaign workers.

You know, what are the deals? Why do we forgive some of these guys and not
others?

REAGAN: I think we`re prone to forgiving people who have just committed a
sexual indiscretion, purely and simply. The guy visited a prostitute. A
guy had an affair, whatever it might be.

But when you take taxpayers` money and you leave -- imagine for a moment
Bill Clinton, for instance, didn`t just have an affair with Monica Lewinsky
-- which he never left the White House, by the way, to consummate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REAGAN: Instead, no, he disappeared from the White House for week, didn`t
tell his staff, didn`t tell his family, just disappeared, and we found out
later he`d taken taxpayers` money and he turned up in Uruguay with Monica
Lewinsky. There you go.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. That`s an exoneration of our former president.
I love it, Ron Reagan, thank you. An ingenious exoneration. He didn`t
leave the place.

Anyway, Hogan Gidley, sir, we`ll have you back.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You made your point.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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