updated 6/14/2013 10:50:18 AM ET 2013-06-14T14:50:18

HARDBALL
June 13, 2013

Guests: Chris Coons, Jim McDermott, Larry Sabato

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: President Obama`s red line is crossed in Syria.
Let`s play HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

MATTHEWS: Breaking news tonight. A major escalation in the U.S. role
in the civil war raging in Syria, a conflict which has already claimed some
90,000 lives. The White House says it has conclusive evidence that Syrian
President Bashar al Assad`s regime has used chemical weapons against
opposition forces seeking to overthrow the government.

The White House says that Syria`s use of these weapons crosses what
President Barack Obama has called a red line, triggering greater American
involvement in the crisis. In a statement tonight, national security
staffer Ben Rhodes says, quote, "following on the credible evidence that
the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the
president has augmented the provision of nonlethal assistance to the
civilian opposition and also authorized the expansion of our assistance."
Going on to say that, quote, "The United States and the international
community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic and military
responses available."

On a conference call with reporters, Rhodes, the NSA staffers said the
assistance would include military support. But he said the administration
has not made any decision to pursue a U.S. military operation itself. Like
a no fly zone.

NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker joins us now. Kristen,
what are we going to do for the rebels?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEW WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s still
not completely clear, Chris. What we do know is the United States will
ramp up its military assistance to the rebel forces. That is what we know.

Here`s what we don`t know. Does that mean lethal aid or nonlethal
aid? Lethal aid something like tanks. Lethal aid something guns,
ammunition. So that is where the question mark is tonight, Chris.

The White House won`t give a clear answer on that point. And that`s
where Senator John McCain comes in. He has said that he wants to see the
administration deliver lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition forces.

He has also called on the Obama administration to create a no-fly
zone. And as you just pointed out, when White House officials were pressed
on that point, they would not answer. Just saying that they are still
considering a number of contingency plans moving forward, essentially
trying to ramp up the pressure on President Bashar al Assad to step down,
to ramp up the pressure for a political resolution. To what has claimed
more than 90,000 lives now in Syria.

So, that is where the question mark is. But Senator John McCain still
urging this administration to engage in a more hawkish response tonight as
he responds to this. We should also say that House Speaker John Boehner`s
office has weighed in. We have a statement from his spokesperson, Brendan
Buck, who says this, Chris, and I`ll read to it you.

He says, quote, "It has long past time to bring the Assad regime`s
bloodshed in Syria to an end. As President Obama examines his options, it
is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any
action."

So still a lot of knowns, but we do know that the White House tonight
will be ramping up its military assistance to the rebel forces there --
Chris.

MATTHEWS: Do you know, is it all about the red line being crossed?

WELKER: It is. To some extent, Chris, remember, President Obama came
out several months ago and said that his red line being crossed would be
the use of chemical weapons. Though, the administration confirming that
they have corroboration that chemical weapons have been used, sarin gas
among other things. Intelligence officials estimate between 100 and 150
people have been killed with the use of chemical weapons.

And the administration underscoring the point that they do not believe
that chemical weapons have been used by opposition forces. So they believe
that this is something that is solely being waged by the Assad regime. So,
that is what has really forced President Obama to change his calculation,
to change his policy towards Syria tonight.

But, again, the pressure has really been mounting on all sides, Chris.
It`s not just the use of women weapons. It`s the report by the U.N. today
which found that more than 90,000 people have been killed. And it`s the
voices on the Hill who have been calling for this administration to engage,
to ramp up its response to what is happening in Syria.

Now, President Obama heads to the G-8 summit in just a few days. He
is going to meet with his allies during that conference. And he will be
pressuring Putin of Russia to really increase the pressure on Assad.

That is what the United States is hoping will happen. They`re hoping
that Russia will really ramp up the pressure and be sort of the final thing
that causes President Bashar al Assad to step down -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you much, Kristen Welker for that hot news.

More on that, let`s go to Capitol Hill. We have Chris Coons of
Delaware and Jim McDermott of Washington, both Democrats. By the way, John
McCain, perhaps the Senate`s strongest hawk, pushing for U.S. intervention
in Syria broke the news tonight about the White House escalation before the
White House did.

This was McCain tonight on the Senate floor. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Just a couple of minutes, the
president of the United States will be announcing that it is now conclusive
that Bashar al Assad and the Syrian butchers have used chemical weapons.

The president also will announce that we will be assisting the Syrian
rebels in Syria by providing them with weapons and other assistance

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: According to NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell up on the Hill, sources
on the Hill say sources began advising congressional offices earlier today.
The president would be acknowledging Assad`s use of chemical weapons and
would help armed rebels.

Well, McCain told reporters use off the Senate floor that he was
informed about military support to Syria, saying, quote, "I was told by
several reliable sources. Whether it`s true or not, we will find out. If
it`s not lethal aid, then it is even a worse mistake. I was told it was
going to be lethal. AK-47s don`t go well against tanks."

McCain also put out a statement via his office saying, quote, "U.S.
credibility is on the line. Now is not the time to merely take the next
incremental step. The decision to provide lethal assistance especially
ammunition to heavy weapons to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue.

But providing arms alone is not sufficient. That alone is not enough
to change the military balance of power on the ground against Assad. The
president must rally an international coalition to take military actions to
degrade Assad`s ability to use air power and ballistic missiles and to move
and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air. This could be done,
as we have said many times, using standoff weapons such as cruise
missiles."

Speaker John Boehner`s office urging the president tonight, we`ll get
that later. There it is, to consult with Congress before he makes any
decisions. Quote, "It is long past time to bring the Assad regime`s
bloodshed in Syria to end. As President Obama examines his options, it is
our hope he will properly consult with Congress before take anything
action."

I`m looking at this. Let me go to the Senator Coons.

Now, this is the challenge I look at. Try to look down the road,
perhaps beyond where John McCain looks. And I see this problem in "Time"
magazine this week. Here`s what`s coming from Putin. Putin said Russia
has not yet realized its plans to develop, to deliver advanced air defense
systems to Syria, fearing that they would disturb the balance in the
region. And now here is McCain calling for a change in the balance in the
war.

If we go in with heavy weapons, if we go with a no-fly zone, of
whatever construction, aren`t we daring Putin to go with his state-of-the-
art defensive weaponry, which will be used against our planes and our
attempt to get involved from our side?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Chris, I do think that we`re in
an absolutely critical moment where we need to up both the diplomatic
pressure against Russia as well as against Iran and Hezbollah, their ally
in the region. And we need to increase the military support and the
humanitarian support that we`re providing for the Syrian opposition.

You raise a valid point. There is a real risk of steady escalation on
both sides. But after this clear red line laid out by our president has
been crossed by Assad, it is I think time for us to act, long past time for
us to act.

And I think it is possible for us working with regional allies to find
ways to deliver support to vetted elements of the opposition such that
these weapons will not inevitably fall into the hands of extremists or
jihadists. I do think there still remains some hope that with the
carefully developed evidence that was announced by the White House today,
that Russia will back off of its support for Assad. We have to give this
one more try diplomatically, but I also think we cannot stand by as Assad
continues to massacre tens of thousands of his own people.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Congressman McDermott. So we go into
Iraq to knock off -- well, we knock off a Sunni government to put in a
Shiite government. And here we are in Syria playing Superman again, and
we`re going to knock off the government to put in a Sunni government.

Are we going to keep doing this country to country? Are we going to
in to one country after another in the Arab world deciding who should win
and getting involved militarily and perhaps daring Soviets, not the
Soviets, the Russian, obviously. Putin is still a Soviet, to come in and
challenge us, because he has said he doesn`t want to disturb the balance.
What happens if we disturb the balance and he comes in to balance it from
his end?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Well, Chris, I feel like I`m
watching deja vu all over again. The same kind of drumbeat to go into war
in Iraq is going on right now. And it is not clear who the rebels are.
Are the rebels al Qaeda? Are they Shia-backed by the Iranians? Who are
they?

And until we know that, handing them weapons and exploding this
situation in my view is not a good idea. I think the president should walk
very carefully and very slowly, working with the Russians and ramping up
the efforts with the Iranians. I think both of those situations have to be
dealt with if you`re going to keep some kind of world war not starting on
this issue.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I think. You know, the neocons` greatest dream
is to get back into the cold war. My concern is, Senator, let me go to
you, Senator Coons.

Here we have another line of demarcation. McCain is not happy with
the president giving nonlethal aid. He is not happy with AK-47s, heavy
arms fire. He wants heavy arms and he wants a no-fly zone.

Is that going to challenge the Russians to go in? If we go in with a
no-fly zone attempt, even if it`s done by stand back weapons, and if we go
in with giving heavy weapons to the rebels, which would upset the balance
and perhaps change the course of this war, do you think we have to consider
the question of the Russians at this point?

COONS: Of course we have to consider the question of Russia and what
actions they`ll take. But we also have to keep in mind, Chris, that what
we`ve seen over the last two years is a steady escalation of the amount of
support that Iran and Russia are providing to a murderous regime.

Our regional allies, Jordan and Turkey, have been bearing the burden
of hundreds of thousands of refugees and have been pleading with us for
more support and for more engagement -- first, on the humanitarian side,
and now to create safe zones and to support the opposition. Recent
developments on the battlefield suggest that the opposition is really at a
teetering point, and that Assad may well retake the advantage on the
battlefield as his troops, reinforced with Iran`s proxy Hezbollah are
massing for an attack on Aleppo.

I really don`t think we can afford to stand on the sidelines. In the
end, I believe Assad will fall. And I think in the region, our allies will
not forgive us for standing aside and refusing to take action after Assad
has crossed a clear red line in the international community. I think that
Obama will be successful in pressing Russia to back off their support of
Assad.

MATTHEWS: Do you belief it`s in the United States` security interest,
in other words, to the mothers and fathers of soldiers coming in from
states like Delaware to perhaps get involved somewhere down the line? Is
this our national interest to get involved in this war, to get an act of
war against the government of Syria? That`s what we`re doing. Should we
commit an act of war against the government of Syria?

COONS: I think it is in our national interest to stand up for the
very folks we have recognized as a country as the legitimate
representatives of the people of Syria and to stand up for our regional
allies and for our core values.

We have allowed this to go on year in and year out because of our
concern for American service people, for the families who send their sons
and daughters.

MATTHEWS: OK, we have to go.

COONS: To places like Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

COONS: But, honestly, Chris, we can`t afford not to.

MATTHEWS: I hear you. Senator Coons, Chris Coons from Delaware. And
thank you, U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state.

Coming up, six months since the massacre at Sandy Hook, the victims`
families are here in Washington, D.C., pushing again for background checks
legislation. Good for them. The families are making it clear they`re not
going anywhere. That`s going to take Congress to get something done here
to pass something like what 90 percent of the American people want to see,
background checks.

Also, does President Obama want Hillary Clinton to run for president?
I think that`s an interesting question. If she wins the third term, will
that be good for him? Will that carry on his legacy or Bill Clinton`s or
both?

Plus, Republicans just can`t stop talking about rape. What is this
with these guys? The latest culprit is Congressman Trent Franks of Texas.
Isn`t it time for them to learn this when it comes to talking about rape,
just don`t?

And Chris Christie is the latest celebrity to slow the new slow jam
the news with Jimmy Fallon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What we don`t need is another
unelected politician just sitting around the Congress, whether it`s in the
Senate or the House of Representatives.

JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: Take it from my man, the love guv. When he
sits around the House of Representatives, he really sits around the House
of Representatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: If I didn`t know better, I would think Christie was
thinking about running for president, and Fallon is a good place to start.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)


MATTHEWS: Well, on so many issues, it`s President Obama`s opponents who
spend the most money on TV, but that turns out not to be the case with
immigration reform. According to Cantor (ph) Media, supporters of
immigration reform have spent $2.4 million to just $717,000 by opponents.
And that`s a margin of more than 3 to 1 for immigration reform. And that`s
in contrast to issues like health care, Wall Street reform, and the
deficit, where the president`s opponents have obviously done most of the
spending.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, six months after that horrific
attack up in Newtown, Connecticut, family members of the victims are in
Washington, D.C., today pushing lawmakers again to take up gun safety.
Again.

Well, let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILLIAN SOTO, YOUNGER SISTER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: Around 9:35 AM, an
armed man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School -- into Sandy Hook
Elementary School and opened fire -- opened fire and killed 26 people
within the school.

I am here today to remind Congress of what happened to my family, to remind
them of what keeps happening in America. Five thousand more Americans have
died due to gun violence since December 14th, and there still hasn`t been
any federal action to protect us from gun violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was Jillian Soto, the younger sister of 1st grade
teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed in Sandy Hook. That`s the daughter
of the teacher killed. Well, today the families also met privately with
President Obama.

The Senate, of course, tried and failed to pass new background check
legislation this spring, and that bill was worked out by two senators who
had the strong backing of the NRA -- actually, strong opponent of the NRA,
Republican Pat Toomey and Democratic Joe Manchin. But in its shift to the
far right fringe, the NRA came out against the bill and the organization is
now going after Manchin with a new TV in West Virginia.

Let`s watch it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION AD)

NARRATOR: Remember this TV ad?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I`m Joe Manchin. I approve this ad
because I will always defend West Virginia.

As your senator, I will protect our Second Amendment rights.

NARRATOR: That was Joe Manchin`s commitment, but now Manchin is working
with President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Concerned? You
should be.

Tell Senator Manchin to honor his commitment to the Second Amendment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Manchin pushed back hard today, writing -- quote -- "The
Washington NRA" -- that`s the Washington-based NRA -- "could spend $100
million on ads against me. It still won`t make what they say true. If
they were honest with their members, they would see that my bill not only
protects Second Amendment rights. It enhances and strengthens them.
Unfortunately, the NRA leadership in Washington has lost its way. And it`s
more concerned about political power than gun rights and gun safety."

While grieving families again show the humanity of the issue, of course,
the NRA continues its long journey into the realm of the radical fringe.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for "The Washington Post" here
in town, and Ron Reagan is an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with Ron Reagan on this.

It seems to me that the line, the red line, to use a term we`re going to be
using for the next several days on Syria, has certainly moved over to the
right. It used to be if you were against guns, you`re against guns. Now
if you`re against, you take the gun safety position, all you want to do is
basically make sure there`s no gun show loophole that doesn`t get checked,
people have to do background checks for -- that`s all the people are asking
for. And that`s what Manchin is being pilloried for, for supporting
background checks on something that is already in effect, but hasn`t been
widened enough to cover all the sales.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. We forget I think sometimes that the
NRA used to support universal background checks.

The NRA now not only doesn`t represent the American public, 90 percent of
whom would like universal background checks. It doesn`t even represent its
own membership, three-quarters of whom would like universal background
checks.

The NRA represents and is a lobbying group for gun dealers, period.
They`re about money. If they found out that they could sell more guns by
scrapping the Second Amendment altogether, they would do it in an eye
blink. It`s not ideological. It`s about money.

MATTHEWS: I noticed, Nia, that the way this ad -- this defense by Manchin
is put together is he keeps saying the NRA in Washington, not the NRA,
drawing the distinction between the people who are members of the NRA back
in West Virginia, which isn`t so far away, as we know, but drawing a
distinction between members of the NRA, many of whom, in fact, the majority
of whom, do support background checks, he distinguishes them from the big
shots in Washington who get paid to talk like this.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
That`s right.

He`s essentially saying the folks that run the NRA, the folks that you see
on TV most often aren`t the run-of-the-mill folks who are members of that
group or the run-of-the-mill folks who like to hunt and shoot and all sorts
of things, and are gun owners.

I think Manchin, who isn`t up until 2018, really embodies the shift we have
seen more generally in the Democratic Party. It`s a party that had been
running scared, I think, for many decades from the NRA. Now you are seeing
a president and a first lady go out. When they are at some of these fund-
raisers, they talk about a gun control.

They say if it weren`t for six votes, they would have been this legislation
through the Senate. That`s why they need increased numbers in the Senate.
So I think we are in the middle of something of a pendulum swift -- shift.
The NRA, I think, won this round, but I talked to some folks in Harry
Reid`s office today.

He was out today talking about his own experience, his father`s suicide.
They aren`t going to give up on this, but there`s a sense it might not
happen right now, it might not happen this Congress, but they`re going to
keep at it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, here`s Senator Reid. as you say, he promised to fight to pass
legislation isn`t over. He also made clear he wasn`t looking to pass some
watered-down version of the bill of background checks. So let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: When Republicans voted against
this legislation on the Senate floor, they voted against 90 percent of the
American people.

The fight is not over. It`s just beginning. I want to be very, very
clear, though. In order to be effective, the bill that passed the Senate
must include background checks, and not a watered-down version of
background checks. We`re not going to let the forces of an extreme
minority water down and damage the content of this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Ron, I know where you stand. You have been very
strong on this.

And I want to ask you -- this is a self-deliberative question. People have
long-distance running mentalities and sprint mentalities. And I think the
people who have been for gun safety like you and I have been guilty of
being pretty good at the sprint. Bobby Kennedy gets shot, I write a letter
to my congressman, never wrote one any other time. Didn`t do any good,
maybe, but I wrote the letter.

And then a couple months later, I`m thinking about the Vietnam War or
something like this. The gun people, they think about nothing else. And
they never change their minds, never change their attitudes and never
change the fricking subject.

REAGAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: How do you keep an interest among normal people that keeps up
with that intense, almost, well, obsession that the gun people have?

REAGAN: Well, it`s difficult because obsession is the right word.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: These are single issue people. They will vote against somebody or
for somebody solely on the issue of the Second Amendment, as they would
like to have it, or gun rights.

MATTHEWS: Yes. .

REAGAN: But somehow the Democrats, people, sensible people, 90 percent of
Americans who would like universal background checks, have to borrow, find
that kind of intensity, just as -- you noticed the ad against Manchin that
the NRA ran, they didn`t even talk about universal background checks.

MATTHEWS: Of course not.

REAGAN: They simply said he was teaming up with Bloomberg and Obama.

With what? For what? That`s not even identified there. They demonize
Obama and Bloomberg, so you don`t even have to say what they`re talking
about there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REAGAN: The people, sensible people need to do the same thing for the NRA.
The NRA needs to be just as demonized among 90 percent of the public as
Obama is demonized among the 10 percent or so of fanatic gun buffs.

MATTHEWS: Ron, you think there might be a soupcon of ethnic gaming in
this, the pictures they put in there, Obama and Bloomberg, maybe a soupcon,
a little spoonful of throwing in the ethnic part? It might just turn off
people in West Virginia. I mean, I`m just thinking what game they`re
playing here.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: Obama looked awfully dark in that picture, didn`t he?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Nia, this thing of tying him into the city mouse Bloomberg, you
know, New York, New York is coming at you, I know that politics.

I get the question is, covering this, it seems to me the tricky part is to
get those four Democrats back on base. How do you get Heidi Heitkamp to
change what is basically her first vote in the Senate to go somewhere else?

HENDERSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: How do you get people like Mark Pryor, how do you get the other
two on board, Mark Begich up there in Alaska? And how do you get -- how do
you get -- well, Baucus is leaving. He`s not going to change his mind.
How do you turn people around who have already marked their ballots,
basically?

HENDERSON: That`s the problem.

You know, you imagine that these senators are looking, is it worse to be
where they are now or to flip-flop? People like Ayotte, you had some of
these polls out early on after this vote was taken that suggested that they
were taking something of a political hit. Some of that has died down.

But that`s the thing. They are working the phones. Senators are talking
to senators.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: To what effect? How did you get Ayotte to change her vote,
because Ayotte is probably going to look even worse if she flips now?

HENDERSON: That`s is the thing. If she -- and that was I think some
thinking early on, that folks were out there at some of those town halls
thinking that they could make her change her mind, but she I think in some
ways is looking at her overall chances in a party, maybe a Republican
primary at some point.

So this is hard. They realize it`s hard, but we will have to see.

MATTHEWS: I agree. This is a good vote.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I think the victims` families coming down, just keep coming for
the rest of your lives is probably a smart move.

Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan, as always.

Thank you, Nia-Malika Henderson, as always.

REAGAN: You bet.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: We will be right back.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We have Kristen Welker joining us now from the White House to
give us an update on this big story that is developing, and I`m not sure
where it`s leading.

Kristen, do we know that the United States is going to get involved in
militarily helping the rebels in Syria, based on this report that the
government in Syria has been using gas?

KRISTEN WELKER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, what the administration
is saying is that they have aiding to some extent the opposition forces
inside Syria and that they are going to increase that aid to them.

They haven`t used the specific term "militarily," but that is what we
believe based on what members of Congress have said on the Hill. So, the
White House tonight confirming that they believe that chemical weapons have
been used inside Syria. They believe 100 to 150 people have been killed
due to the use of chemical weapons.

And, as you know, Chris, President Obama said that that would be his red
line. That would change the calculation for him inside Syria. So, today,
the White House making the proclamation that they plan to increase the aid
that they have been giving to opposition forces moving forward.

This all comes on the heels of a U.N. report, Chris, that found that 90,000
people at least have been killed inside Syria. When asked specifically
what some of the other plans were that the White House is considering, they
wouldn`t be specific, except to say that this is a game-changer inside
Syria -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: I`m just wondering whether we`re getting an accurate report from
the people on the other side of the aisle, hearing from especially John
McCain, suggesting that this is going to be a 180 in terms of U.S. policy,
when it sounds like from you`re telling us, it`s an escalation, not a 180
change.

WELKER: I think that it`s an escalation.

And in terms of how the White House is going to specifically characterize
it, I think we will have to wait for the coming days to see just how much
aid is increased to the opposition forces. But, as you know, John McCain
recently visited Syria, met with opposition forces there.

He has been one of the more hawkish voices in terms of arming the rebels,
so he tonight praising this action by the White House, saying that this is
a good step forward for this administration in terms of helping those
people who are suffering so much right now inside Syria -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me read you something we have here. And you may have looked
at this already. I`m sure you have.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, he speaks for the NSC -- quote
-- "The United States and the international community have a number of
other legal, financial, diplomatic and military responses available. We
are prepared for all contingencies and we will make decisions on our own
timeline."

Is this -- is this -- could it be -- I`m always looking to the positive
face -- an ultimatum to the Assad regime, to Assad himself and his family,
this is your time, you may be on the upside of this war this week, but
here`s a chance to begin brokering a peace deal that might get you out of
that country alive?

WELKER: I think that is what they are hoping will happen, Chris.

And, as you know, President Obama is going to be participating in the G8
summit in just a few days, so he will be meeting with his allies and will
also try to put the pressure on Russia to convince Assad to step down.

That is what the White House is hoping for. But there are a number of
contingencies that they are planning for, including possibly a no-fly zone.
At this point in time, that doesn`t seem very likely. But I think you`re
right, the White House hoping that this will be the ultimatum that will
force Assad to essentially step down and leave his post -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: It`s so fascinating. The battle that you and I have been
covering for the last several years has been between...

WELKER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: We call them the hawks and the doves, and the president has been
a dove. And here he is.

In a description put out by his opponents, the hawks, he`s being portrayed
as a fellow hawk. That`s what McCain`s intention was tonight. And I just
want to -- I guess we`re going to have to wait, as you say, a couple days
to find out if that`s accurate or not.

WELKER: Right.

But I think what`s interesting is that there has been communication in
recent weeks between John McCain and the White House. So this is not a
total surprise. I think that there`s been a lot of conversation sort of
behind the scenes about what to do next.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WELKER: The White House has been discussing this now, as you know, for a
number of months really, but more specifically in these recent weeks as
pressure has mounted on them to take action, as we have seen just how many
people have been killed, and as we got those early assessments about the
fact that chemical weapons may have been used.

And, tonight, the big headline is that the White House has confirmed, based
on their intelligence, that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons and
has crossed that red line -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Kristen Welker, at the White House.

So, there we have the big story. We`re going to come back and talk more
about this in this edition of HARDBALL and again at 7:00 tonight. This is
a big story.

It seems now that we have hard intelligence that says that the Assad regime
has on several occasions, not just one, but it`s described here multiple
occasions used what I believe is sarin gas, and they have killed over 100
people. So, this is real. The red line has been crossed. We`re into a
new level in terms of our role in that war as it continues.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If the 2012 election cycle taught Republicans anything, it should have been
that when it comes to women`s issues, particularly abortion and rape, you
need to choose your words carefully. Senate candidates Todd Akin in
Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana saw their prospects crater when
they talked about abortion and rape.

Well, yesterday, at a House hearing, Arizona Congressman Trent Franks
stepped into the same perilous territory while pushing for a bill to ban
abortions after 20 weeks, even in a case of rape.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: Before, when my friends on the left side
of the aisle here tried to make rape and incest the subject, because, you
know, the -- the incidence of rape and -- resulting in pregnancy are very
low.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Though Franks` statement was less provocative than those of Akin
and Murdoch, he again allowed Democrats to portray Republicans I think
fairly as indifferent or even hostile or ignorant about concerns of
pregnant women. He was not alone.

In Wisconsin, the Republican-dominated state Senate voted to require women
seeking abortion to submit to a medically unnecessary sonogram -- at the
very least and quite possibly to a more invasive transvaginal ultrasound.
The governor says he`ll sign that bill. Joan Walsh is editor at large for
"Salon". And Jonathan Capehart is with "The Washington Post," both are
MSNBC contributors.

Joan, it just seems that they can`t avoid that one word rape. I mean, it`s
an odd word to talk about it in general conversation even.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Right.

MATTHEWS: You know, we don`t usually chat about it, and here they are
bringing it up.

WALSH: Well, yes, Chris. And it`s because it`s what they believe, you
know? When -- during the Romney campaign, Paul Ryan was asked about Akin`s
comments and he said the means of conception shouldn`t change the law. So,
they feel very strongly that there should be know exemption to the law,
even for cases of rape, and they don`t have a problem talking about it.

And I think it`s deeper than that. I mean, we see with Scott Walker in
Wisconsin, this is their agenda. It`s not just when they`re talking about
rape that they`re in trouble. Scott Walker on Tuesday, I feel just fine
about ultra-sounds, I think everybody feels fine about ultrasounds, like
you`re talking about a medically necessary ultra-sound, which we all are
fine with.

But, you know, the potential of a transvaginal ultrasound, people cringe.
They`re not fine with it. But this is what plays to the Republican base,
this is what many of them feel very profoundly and deeply, I don`t want to
act like they`re being cynical. This is what they believe, this is what
they think is good for the country, this is what they`re pushing and
they`re just telling them to rebrand themselves and stop talking about rape
is not going to be good enough.

MATTHEWS: This is interesting, Jon. And you and I have talked about this,
but when you have someone close to you, that you believe for example, as a
gay person, you have a different attitude, thank God, about the issue, the
reality of life. And it seems to me everybody has got a woman close to
them, a daughter, a sister, a mother certainly, and you do have a certain
attitude when you think in terms of a young daughter in fact, or a young
20-year-old daughter, you want her rights to be pretty much supreme, and
you want her to have all the options.

And when you start talking about the laws they`re going to pass, I think
people naturally go to somebody they know and say, should that person have
the decision here to be left alone by the state or not.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Is that for me, Chris or for Joan?

MATTHEWS: That`s for you. I`m sorry, Jonathan, yes.

CAPEHART: Yes. Look, Chris, the idea that you have a committee filled
with men who are talking about women`s reproductive health, women`s body
and what they can or cannot, or should or should not do with them, and also
talking about these issues in ways that are not grounded in fact or in
science, I think is pretty galling to the country, especially women sitting
in Congress listening to their colleagues talk about them and their bodies
in that way is just -- I mean, is just incredible.

MATTHEWS: Let me break it to people out there who are watching. You bring
up topics like that around this office, and the women have the point of
view, which is let`s not generalize these discussions. We know what we`re
talking about. You don`t.

I thought it was interesting that once again, a male, if you will,
congressman here, a conservative again, saying the incidence of rape
resulting in pregnancy is very low. I mean, do they have some sort of
medical journal on the top of their desk? Where do they get this stuff
from? This is called the Republican medical journal or what?

WALSH: And what they`re doing really, Chris, in all these instances, is
that they are calling women liars. They`re saying that women who claim
that they need an abortion because they were raped are lying about it,
because it`s -- you know, their body shuts the whole thing down or the
incidence is very low. So, it`s both -- it`s a terrible misunderstanding
of science, they`re wrong on the facts, but they`re also wrong in their
view of women. They really view us as people who would casually lie about
something like that, and can`t be trusted to make our own decision.

So, it`s offensive on so many different levels, I don`t really know where
to start.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Wisconsin now. I think we ought to talk about
what`s going on in Wisconsin now. There`s a bill out there. I think it
requires women seeking abortion to have an ultra-sound. Wisconsin
governor, we all know him, Scott Walker, plans to sign on to this thing,
requires women seeking abortions to have an ultra-sound as I said, and
quite possibly a transvaginal probe.

If you listen carefully to it, it may definitely require that transvaginal
probe in the early pregnancy. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I move that the body vote immediately on the current
question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question before the House is non-debatable. The
question before the House is non-debatable. The clerk will call the roll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Carpenter. Coles. Cullen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call the roll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Darling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re out of order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ellis. Erpenbach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down, you`re not recognized.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s a little rough.

Joan, your view of that. Somebody in that chair does not want somebody out
there in the assembly to raise their voice on this.

WALSH: Well, they don`t want them to even talk about it. The crazy thing
is that they have the votes. He didn`t need to be so histrionic about it.
But, you know, if Scott Walker signs that bill, some people talk about him
as a 2016 guy, maybe he`s not as polarizing a person as Rand Paul or Ted
Cruz, but still, favorable on the right. If he signs that bill, he will be
governor ultra-sound and he will never be president. He will --

MATTHEWS: You`re talking to me, aren`t you, Joan? Because I was talking
up Scott Walker as a compromise between Christie and the real far --

WALSH: I heard that.

MATTHEWS: But you`re right. As always -- that`s who you`re talking to,
me.

WALSH: I`m always talking to you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thanks for the education. Jonathan Capehart, thank you both for
coming on.

Up next, last year, more whites died in America than were born. What that
means for our politics when we return.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: This is HARDBALL. We`ll be right back with more on the big
development in Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Moments ago, White House deputy -- national security adviser Ben
Rhodes issued the following statement on plans to increase support for
Syrian rebels. This comes as the White House expresses, quote, "high
confidence," close quote, that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons.
Quote, "Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led
us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the
opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will
increase going forward."

Joining me now is Eugene Robinson and Sam Stein.

Gene, it looks like we`re escalating. We`re not going to give them more
than we were giving them, including lethal armaments.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it looks like we`re going to do
that, and provide perhaps other assistance. They are report -- obviously,
the Pentagon has been planning for this moment. And one assumes there`s no
reason for the White House to announce, the red line has been crossed
unless they have some idea what they want to do. We`re just not quite sure
yet what -- how far they go.

Is there some sort of even limited no-fly zone? Do they help -- you know,
the rebels will need a place to train, and equip themselves, some sort of
safe haven if we`re really going to materially aid them. And so, that
would have to be protected in some way. This would near the Jordanian
border.

MATTHEWS: And they have resisted going into Jordan, haven`t they, for the
trainees? The potential trainees?

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They want to stay in their country.

ROBINSON: Yes, they`d like to stay in their country, and frankly, they are
needed in their country. It doesn`t help to have them all go into Jordan
if your aim is to beat the Syrian army.

And this comes at a moment when the city of Aleppo, which is kind of a
really big deal in this war, is on the verge of falling again to the Assad
regime. It`s kind of half and half between the Assad and the rebels now.
If Aleppo goes, it`s hard to see how the rebels recover. So it`s a
particularly crucial moment.

MATTHEWS: It`s an interesting thing here, Sam. We`re trying to get really
a breaking story, as I said. And look at this -- here is a statement from
Ben Rhodes today, more elaborate and way more murky.

The United States and the international community have a number of other
legal, financial, diplomatic and military responses available. We are
prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own
timeline.

So, there is still -- rattling the sword more than doing something. But
then I get the sense according to McCain and Lindsey Graham and others that
they have definitely decided to give aid. This is the thing that`s taking
shape right now. It`s going to be more than we`ve given. So, we`re taking
sides. We`re really getting in this thing.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: This is really murky because it`s
developing. There are conflicting -- somewhat conflicting reports about
whether or not there will be a limited no-fly zone on the call. It was --
it seemed like they were saying there was not going to be a no-fly zone.

What seems clear at this juncture is that we will be providing more aid to
the rebels. In what capacity? It`s not known. They wouldn`t say. What
tag line (ph) that`s unknown, they wouldn`t say.

But Gene brings up an interesting point, which is that you either go in at
this juncture or you don`t go in at all. It`s very tough to jump in on the
side of the rebels when they`re on the precipice of actually losing this
thing, or at least losing the key outpost.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEIN: So, you know, this is a tough spot for the Obama administration.
At the same time, it`s a costly one as well. The cost of a no-fly zone if
we do decide to do it is estimated at $50 million a day.

So, you know, we have to take all these things into consideration. And
right now, I think the administration itself is working through the
considerations.

ROBINSON: You know, frankly, I think there is a serious question as to
whether it is in fact too late. Absent a really robust U.S. engagement of
the kind that I think would not go over well here in this country.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about -- maybe I`m just looking at history. I`m
worried here. You know, we go in. We say we go in with the trumpets
blaring tonight, and McCain is happy, which is going to scare the other
side that McCain is happy.

What`s Putin going to do? Wait a minute, Putin has been deciding whether
to give his sophisticated, state-of-the-art military air defenses.

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What happens if he says, OK, buddy, you want to play tough?
We`re going in too. And then it` going to be like the Spanish civil war
where the world is involved in the fight.

ROBINSON: It`s going to be U.S.-supplied weapons --

MATTHEWS: So, we`re fighting the Russians --

ROBINSON: U.S.-supplied weapons against Russian-supplied weapons.

MATTHEWS: And our planes are being shot at by their defenses. This is
pretty scary.

ROBINSON: That gets scary. And, again, the question is: are they really
contemplating an intervention that`s robust enough to change the balance in
Syria?

MATTHEWS: By the way, here`s my --

ROBINSON: And let`s talk about that.

MATTHEWS: These people that talk about, especially the neocon pencil necks
that say, oh, we just take them out.

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This is what it gets. And inevitably it escalates. Inevitably
we have to go to ground troops to protect our air base, to protect this, to
protect that. And this AAA fire is not the only thing we`re going to be
facing over there. If we start facing Soviet state-of-the-art -- Sam, last
thought to you. What happens if this escalates globally?

STEIN: You can make the case we have the capacity to do what the neo cons
want to do. But let me bring up the other side of the coin, which is there
is not that strong intelligence about who is actually in the rebel camp.
There are conflicting reports about whether there are extremists who have
infiltrated the rebel camp and I`m not sure that we know who actually is --
who are they.

MATTHEWS: Who we want to (INAUDIBLE).

STEIN: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Yes. We`ve been through the victory ceremonies in Kabul before.

Anyway, thank you, Eugene Robinson, sir. Thank you, Sam Stein.

STEIN: No problem.

MATTHEWS: Smart thinking.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We finish tonight with this.

We just learned today that more non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. died last
year than were born. It`s a remarkable statistic.

Obviously, people from different groups will have different reactions.
White people may feel their position is narrowing somewhat. Minorities may
feel their percentage is growing. Immigrants may feel the country is
getting more diverse down the road.

The vital fact is that the country`s demographic face is changing. We`re
becoming much more like that many faces of Benetton advertisement. We`re
getting much more like when you visit a big city rather than when you`re
out in the countryside -- more different of appearance, more apparent
differences background perhaps in values and politics as well.

But the challenge remains to built unity out of differences. E pluribus
unum. One from many which change this if the pluribus is growing. Growing
with it is the challenge, the increased challenge of becoming one.

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

"All in with Chris Hayes" 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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