updated 7/12/2013 10:46:13 AM ET 2013-07-12T14:46:13

HARDBALL
July 10, 2013
Guests: Alex Ferrer, Joseph Haynes Davis, Jim VandeHei, Stephen Moore,
David Madland, A.B. Stoddard, Dana Milbank

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: The defense rests.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

It`s day 22 of the George Zimmerman trial. The defense has rested, and
George Zimmerman has chosen not to testify, although not before a tense
exchange between Judge Debra Nelson and defense attorney Don West as the
judge asked Zimmerman whether he wanted to testify on his own behalf.

It was a day in which both prosecution and defense attorneys used a
mannequin to demonstrate what may have happened between Trayvon Martin and
George Zimmerman before the gun fired, killing Martin. Dennis Root, a
public safety expert called by the defense, testified that the physical
capabilities of George Zimmerman were weaker than those of Trayvon Martin
and that Martin was in better physical condition.

MSNBC`s Craig Melvin has been monitoring all of today`s proceedings. He
joins us now from the Florida courthouse.

Craig, we will not be hearing directly from George Zimmerman.

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No, Michael Smerconish. That was the
headline today, good sir. Good evening to you. George Zimmerman telling
Judge Nelson this afternoon that after consulting with his attorneys, he
decided not to testify on his own behalf -- 18 defense witnesses, 38
witnesses for the state, and now it appear as if this case will be going to
the jury at some point tomorrow.

Judge Nelson told the jurors shortly before she released them, she said
she`s going to bring them back at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning, but shortly
before she released them, she said that closing arguments in this case will
start tomorrow. That means that, best case scenario, they could get the
case tomorrow. Worst case scenario, they`ll get it sometime on Friday.

Dennis Root -- you mentioned the witness that testified, a self-proclaimed
use of force expert, a retired law enforcement officer, as well, basically
testified -- basically testified that based on the evidence that was given
to him, George Zimmerman`s story checked out.

The information that was given to him, of course, was given to him by the
defense. He was a defense expert witness, paid by the defense. But he was
given a number of pictures, and he also interviewed George Zimmerman. He
also looked over some of the witness statements, as well.

He was asked pointedly by Mark O`Mara, attorney, of course, for George
Zimmerman, ill will, spite or hatred -- based on what you`ve heard, based
on what you read, was there ill will, spite and hatred in his voice when he
made that call to the non-emergency number...

SMERCONISH: Craig, can I -- can I say, I was shocked, as a lawyer watching
that, that he was allowed to answer that question. That, to me, didn`t
seem like the sort of thing you ask a so-called expert. That would be left
for the jury.

MELVIN: And there have been a number of attorneys who`ve said the same
thing today, Michael Smerconish, not just that question, a number of other
questions, as well, that he was asked and allowed to offer an opinion on,
that would seem to -- again, seem to -- be outside the boundaries of his
area of expertise.

And we should also note here that he apparently contacted the defense, as
well. He became familiar with the trial. He raised his hand. He called
Mark O`Mara and he said, I would be very much interested in being a witness
for the defense.

SMERCONISH: Well, you and I talked last night at this time about the fact
that very much, they wanted to get an animation, the defense did, wanted to
get in a computer animation to re-create what they allege took place.
They`re not allowed to use that animation except in their closing argument.
And I guess Dennis Root was then introduced in lieu of that animation.
They were trying to get in through him what they had hoped to get in
through the computer animation that was disallowed.

MELVIN: That would seem to be the case. And as you indicated, Judge
Nelson ultimately decided that the animation, again, at this point, it`s
our understanding, that was a fairly elaborate animation, has been reduced
to some stills, and part of the stills are animated. It`s not nearly what
it was in the beginning.

But that`s going to be something that the jury can see in the closing, not
going to be something, though, that the jury`s going to be allowed to take
back in the jury room with them since Judge Nelson said it cannot be used
as evidence.

It was also interesting, Michael, that the defense decided to essentially
end their case the same way they started their case. Of course, they
started their case -- started their case with Gladys Zimmerman, George
Zimmerman`s mother. And they ended with Robert Zimmerman, Sr., George
Zimmerman`s father. And both of them essentially called to testify that it
was their son`s voice on that 911 call.

And by the way, we kept count. Robert Zimmerman, Sr., was the tenth person
for the defense to testify that it was his son`s, and that is obviously
going to be one of the central points that they make to the jury when they
address them tomorrow in closing arguments.

SMERCONISH: Craig, great report, as always. Thanks so much for it.

MELVIN: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: For more on today`s testimony, I`m joined by MSNBC legal
analyst Lisa Bloom, former Florida circuit court judge Alex Ferrer, and
criminal defense attorney Joseph Haynes Davis.

For the three of you and everyone else, I want to take a look at that
exchange earlier in which Judge Nelson questioned George Zimmerman about
whether he wanted to testify and the back and forth between defense
attorney Don West and the judge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON: Mr. Zimmerman, have you made a decision as to whether
or not you want to testify in this case?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, CHARGED WITH MURDER: No, not at this time.

NELSON: OK. And when is it that -- how long do you think you need before
you make that decision?

DON WEST, ZIMMERMAN DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your honor, may we have an
opportunity to speak? The case isn`t concluded yet.

NELSON: I understand that. And I`ve asked Mr. Zimmerman if he needed more
time to talk to his attorneys. And if he does, I will afford it to him.

Mr. Zimmerman, how much more time do you think you`re going to need to
discuss this with your attorneys?

ZIMMERMAN: I assume it will depend on how long the recesses are, your
honor -- the end of the day.

NELSON: OK. Well, if your attorneys have finished with two witnesses
before the end of the day, do you think that you would then know whether or
not you want to testify?

WEST: Your honor, on Mr. Zimmerman`s behalf, that decision...

NELSON: I`m asking your client questions. Please, Mr. West.

WEST: I object to the court inquiring of Mr. Zimmerman as to his decision
about whether or not to testify...

NELSON: Your objection is overruled!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Judge Alex Ferrer, you have been in that position of advising
a defendant of their 5th Amendment right. I want you to read those tea
leaves. What was going on there?

ALEX FERRER, FMR. FLORIDA DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: There`s an underlying
current of friction between the two of them, clearly. It`s been present
throughout the entire case. And it just bubbled to the surface today, like
it has on other occasions.

The judge doesn`t need to know right now. There are still two witnesses
left. He can wait and make his decision at end of the two witnesses. But
by the same token, Mr. West really didn`t have to make a point of it
because even if he said, I don`t really think I want to testify right now,
he could change his mind, and later on, after the two witnesses, I changed
my mind. so it doesn`t really matter.

It`s just -- it seemed like each one of them was playing on a power play
against the other, and it just bubbled up.

SMERCONISH: Joseph Haynes Davis, I watched that and I said to myself, if
and when George Zimmerman writes his book, the story I expect to hear is
that he wanted to take the stand and his lawyers didn`t want him to do so,
and we just saw a representation of that. How did you read that moment?

JOSEPH HAYNES DAVIS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I read the moment,
counselor -- and thank you for having me -- as Judge Nelson saying, Look,
this is my courtroom -- and pardon me for using some vernacular -- I`m not
playing with you. I mean, she`s in charge of the courtroom. I`ve
practiced in front of Judge Nelson periodically a couple of times. She`s a
very, very good judge. She`s a very, very honorable judge. And she`s a
very, very smart judge in terms knowing where she wants to go how she wants
to conduct that courtroom.

And I think in that instance, it was Judge Nelson saying, Look, this is my
courtroom. This is how I`m going to conduct it. I understand your
client`s 5th and 6th Amendment rights. I`m not going to trample over those
rights, but I am going conduct this courtroom the way I`m going to do it,
and you just need to sit there and let me do it because I am going to do my
job.

SMERCONISH: But Lisa Bloom, help me get into George Zimmerman`s head, if
you can. I mean, I find it very hard to believe that with 90 percent of
the defense case in, he still doesn`t know whether he wants to or is going
take the stand?

LISA BLOOM, NBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it`s possible. Look, he hasn`t had a
lot time to talk to his attorneys because they`ve been fighting this case,
yesterday until 10:00 PM, and he`s got a curfew, he has to go back home.
In fact, his curfew had to be extended last night.

If I can defend Don West for a moment, who I think is also an outstanding
attorney -- I think he`s an honorable person.

DAVIS: I agree.

BLOOM: He`s not a potted plant. He`s there to fight for his client. And
he`s essentially trying to say, You know what? It`s too early. Don`t put
my client on the spot like this in front of the national media. He
shouldn`t have to answer this question until the final witness for the
defense is called, so don`t put him on the spot. And that`s what Don West
was trying to say.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Judge Alex, this Dennis Root who testified today, the
defense expert -- and I`ve got to believe because they couldn`t get the
animation video in as evidence, they tried to get in through him what they
wanted.

I don`t -- you know, you`re the judge. I`ve tried cases. It just seemed
to me like he went way beyond the bounds of what I would expect to hear
from an expert. Were there aspects of his testimony that you found
yourself saying that`s really not something you`d look to an expert to
answer?

FERRER: Absolutely. He was allowed to testify about all kinds of things.

SMERCONISH: Yes.

FERRER: He got into -- he got into the psychology. Some of the things he
got into, the prosecution, frankly, didn`t object. They sat back and let
the questions be asked, leading questions, questions beyond his expertise,
non-responsive questions where he continued -- he would -- they would ask
him one question and he would expand into entire areas.

Some of the questions they did object to, and Judge Nelson allowed it in,
but basically, they fought and fought to keep out the animation, and then
they ended up doing a re-enactment with a dummy in front of the jury and
allowed the defense to do the same. I`m not really sure why they were so
lenient on this witness.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Davis...

FERRER: They should have (INAUDIBLE)

SMERCONISH: ... how could he speak to the physicality of Trayvon Martin
versus George Zimmerman and who was in shape and who wasn`t in shape, and
so forth, essentially saying who would have had the upper hand in a fight
like this?

DAVIS: I tend to agree with you. I mean, that, to me, is not very
possible. But I think that this jury will be able to put that in
perspective and weigh it when they go into their deliberations.

I agree with you that, you know, it was a bit -- a bit peculiar with the
testimony of Mr. Root and his scope of his testimony, and so forth. But I
think that this jury will be able to see through that and see and tell that
-- listen, the deceased victim cannot testify himself and say who was the
stronger individual.

SMERCONISH: Lisa Bloom, you have been talking extensively about the gun
position, and so forth, and I couldn`t wait to ask you about this.
Assistant state prosecutor John Guy used a mannequin to re-enact the
encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN GUY, PROSECUTOR: If this person, this mannequin, were carrying a
firearm on their waist, where would the gun be right now in relation to me?

DENNIS ROOT, DEFENSE EXPERT WITNESS: It would be at your left inner thigh.

GUY: Right here, right?

ROOT: Yes. If he was right-handed, it would be at your left inner thigh,
yes, sir.

GUY: Right. Underneath my leg.

ROOT: Yes, inside your leg.

GUY: OK. Were you aware that the defendant described to his best friend
that when he slid down, the defendant slid down, that Trayvon Martin was up
around his armpits? Were you aware of that?

ROOT: No, I`ve not heard that. No, sir.

GUY: OK. Well, where would the gun be now?

ROOT: Now the gun would be behind your left leg.

GUY: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Lisa Bloom, you told me on Monday night on HARDBALL that you`d
gone back and reread aspects of this case and that you thought something
had been overlooked thus far by the prosecution. And when I saw that
today, I said, this is what Lisa was talking about.

BLOOM: Yes. I know. I was hoping that John Guy was going do it in the
courtroom today, but he didn`t. On the re-enactment video, when George
Zimmerman is asked where he holstered the gun, he demonstrates, apparently,
reaching back behind his right hip to his back side, OK?

So this witness had it wrong. And the prosecution was not able to correct
that because they apparently are not aware, at least so far, unless they`re
saving this for a big moment in closing argument, that George Zimmerman had
the gun holster not only inside his pants, covered by his shirt and a
jacket, but on the back side of his hip. That`s where he demonstrates on
the video with his hand that it was.

I want to say something else about the mannequin. I don`t like the fact
that the prosecution is really conceding the defense version of the case.
We have the prosecution on top of the mannequin, just like the defense
attorney did. They didn`t use the mannequin. I would have had it standing
up because that is one theory of how this fight happened and when the
shooting could have happened.

I would have had George Zimmerman on top, as a number of witnesses had him,
and Trayvon Martin on the bottom. I would have had it moving around in a
dynamic situation. I mean, to just do it same way the defense did I think
gives the jury the impression that everybody`s now on the same page, that
at the time that the bullet was shot, George Zimmerman was on the bottom,
Trayvon Martin was on the top.

SMERCONISH: Well, Joseph Haynes Davis, to Lisa`s point, I have been
surprised at just how much of George Zimmerman`s version has been able to
come into evidence in this case. Now, I recognize he gave police
statements and a re-enactment. But truly, for what purpose would he have
testified? Because his version of events has so clearly been put in the
record, as the example she just illustrated.

DAVIS: I think -- I think Ms. Bloom is correct in that it is a little bit
interesting, to say the least, that there was nothing being distinguished
by the state`s turn with the mannequin.

And counselor, you are absolutely correct. Listen, George Zimmerman has
testified, so to speak, by the statements that have been played over and
over again with his interviews, with the Sean Hannity interview, I should
say, and much, much more. So he has no reason to testify at all.

As to whether or not he really thought about it, when he didn`t know what
to say when the judge asked him, well, we will never know that because we
will never know that.

SMERCONISH: All right, closing arguments tomorrow. Thank you so much,
Lisa Bloom, Joseph Haynes Davis, Judge Alex Ferrer.

Coming up: Remember way back to November, when Mitt Romney won the support
of just 29 percent of Latinos and Republicans vowed to win them back?
Well, fast forward to today, when much of the GOP has decided that
immigration reform will just create more Democrats. Reform could be dead,
and with it Republican presidential hopeful in 2016.

Also, you may love Walmart. You might hate Walmart. Few people are
neutral. So pick your sides as the giant retailer battles local
Washington, D.C., government over whether it should be forced to pay its
own higher minimum wage. Walmart is threatening to pull out of the city.

And it may be nothing more than a cry for attention, but Sarah Palin is
talking about a Senate run. Is she aware, by the way, that a Senate term
is six years?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this. We are number two, the U.S. is, in one
category that should not make us proud.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: As expected, the Texas house has passed strict new
restrictions on abortion, and now it`s back over to the Senate. Thousands
of protesters on both sides of the abortion rights debate have flooded
Austin as lawmakers consider the bill, which bans abortions after 20 weeks.

As the house voted late last night, hundreds filled the capitol rotunda
chanting "Shame on you!" The bill died last month in the state senate
after Democratic senator Wendy Davis filibustered it, preventing it from
meeting a midnight deadline.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America can be a
lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We must remember
that the vast majority of immigrants are decent people who work hard and
support their families and practice their faith and lead responsible lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If you were a former president, lawmaker, or anyone in politics for that
matter, chances are you were talking about one thing today, immigration
reform. A series of key meetings and events spanning the day in Washington
and beyond refocused the political conversation on an issue that has united
Democrats and divided Republicans.

As you saw in that clip, at 9:00 AM, former president George W. Bush waded
back into political relevance, using the opening of his institute as a
platform to press the case for reform. At 11:00 AM, Obama held a lengthy
strategy session near the White House with the Congressional Black --
Hispanic Caucus. And across town at 3:00 PM, all 234 house Republicans
were scheduled to meet in a veritable immigration therapy session.

But if you think it all points towards some hope for progress on the issue,
then you probably didn`t see the headline on Politico today, "Immigration
reform heads for slow death."

What`s going on, you ask? Well, here`s the answer. Republicans walked
away from their 2012 debacle hellbent on fixing their problems with
Hispanics, and now they`re hellbent on making them worse. In private
conversations, top Republicans on Capitol Hill now predict comprehensive
immigration reform will die a slow, months-long death in the House.

Let`s get right to it.

Joining us is MSNBC contributor and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt and
Jim VandeHei, executive editor at Politico, who reported that story.

Jim VandeHei, isn`t the rub of this the fact that we have hyper-
partisanship and consequently, so few Republicans in the House are
representing Hispanics in their districts, consequently there`s no
accountability when they go home?

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICO: That`s a huge part of it.

This House Republican Conference is very conservative. They come from
mostly rural districts. They have mostly white constituencies. But most
of all when they go home, they`re not hearing much of a call for
comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

They don`t hear from their constituents that that`s a top concern. So, for
the vast majority of House Republicans, they look at the bill that passed
the Senate and they said there`s no way we would ever touch anything that
approximates that if it comes through the House.

And so that`s where John Boehner finds himself. As we speak right now, you
have all these Republicans sitting in one room talking about immigration
reform. You have leadership saying, come on, we have got do something,
guys, we have got do something. But the rank and file is saying, sure, we
will do something on border security. But all of the other stuff, they`re
just not interested in doing it.

And that`s the reason that it`s really hard to see how immigration reform
gets done, despite the fact that George Bush is for it, despite the fact
that Marco Rubio`s for it, despite the fact that Steve Schmidt will
probably advocate for it right now as smart politics and smart policies.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me ask him, because, Steve, there`s a theory with
growing momentum that Republicans don`t need Hispanic votes, that they need
more white votes. For example, this is conservative activist Phyllis
Schlafly voicing that argument in a May radio interview.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: The people the Republicans should
reach out to are the white votes that -- the white voters who didn`t vote
in the last election and there are millions of them.

And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give
us a series of losers, which they have given us with Dole and McCain and
Romney.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, Karl Rove disagrees, writing in a recent "Wall Street
Journal" op-ed that -- quote -- "A Reagan-like percentage of white voters
would yield a much narrower win today. That`s because the non-white share
of the vote had doubled to 28 percent in 2012 from 13 percent in `84. The
reality is that the non-white share of the vote will keep growing. If the
GOP leaves non-white voters to the Democrats, then its margins and safe
congressional districts and red states will dwindle."

Who has the right answer, Steve Schmidt?

STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Karl Rove is right. It`s a
foolish argument.

Certainly, when you look at the white vote, Mitt Romney underperformed with
certain sections of that white vote. But this is a straw man argument. In
2004, George W. Bush was reelected. He got 44 percent of the Hispanic
vote. The electorate in the next presidential election will be 2 percent
less white than it was in 2012, which was 2 percent less white from 2008.

So, if we are to be a national political party, we can`t perform in the 20s
heading into the teens with Hispanic voters, the fasted growing population
segment in the country. This is an enormous problem for the country. The
House Republicans fancy themselves as people who have solutions to big
national problems. At least that is what they say rhetorically. But when
it comes to fixing these problems they seem to be AWOL from the field.

SMERCONISH: But, Steve, all politics are local. And they`re not focused
on 2016. They`re all focused on themselves in 2014.

SCHMIDT: Well, there`s no question. The point that you made, that Jim
made, is that House Republicans, because of gerrymandering, because of
redistricting, same is true for the Democrats, most House members are
absolutely insulated from national public opinion. And we see that playing
out very clearly in this.

SMERCONISH: Here`s an amazing illustration of how far the GOP has come
since the days of party legends like Ronald Reagan, a clip from the 1980
debate between Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the children of illegal aliens should be
allowed to attend Texas public schools free?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, if those
people are here, I would reluctantly say I think they would -- they would
get whatever it is that they`re -- you know, what the society is giving to
their neighbors.

These are good people, strong people. Part of my family is Mexican.

(APPLAUSE)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rather than making
them or talking about putting up a fence, why don`t we work out some
recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here
legally with a work permit, and then while they`re working and earning
here, they pay taxes here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Hey, Jim VandeHei, what happens to a Republican in a GOP
primary who stands up and says either of those things?

VANDEHEI: You know, it`s not clear.

I mean, House Republicans would say, listen, in their district, if they
said those things, they might get clobbered in a primary. It`s really not
clear at the national level. What Steve said was really important. It`s
not a debate. It`s not a political debate about the numbers.

The numbers, you cannot dispute. If you go back to 1992, when Bill Clinton
wins, 87 percent of the electorate is white. You look at the last
election, you`re down into the 70s. Each and every year, with total
predictability, about 3 percent to 4 percent you see a reduction in the
percentage of voters who are white. That doesn`t change. There`s no
demographic analyst in the country who is going to say that that changes.

The population of Hispanics keeps growing. The population of Asians keeps
growing. The populations of white keeps shrinking. So, at some point,
Republicans have to reckon with this. If they become the mostly male,
mostly white, mostly conservative, mostly Christian party, that might be
good in an individual district; it just kills them at the national level
and that`s the tension that is playing out.

You have the George W. Bush camp on one side and you might have what you
call the Tom Cotton camp or the Steve King camp or the Michele Bachmann
camp in the House. They are just too radically different realities.

SMERCONISH: Right, but the latter of -- but the latter of those caucuses
wins primaries, and therein lies the issue.

Steve Schmidt, thank you so much.

Jim VandeHei, good to see you.

VANDEHEI: Take care.

SMERCONISH: Up next: Everything nowadays is partisan, even President
Obama`s alleged favorite food. Stick around for the "Sideshow."

And, by the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you just need to know
how to spell Smerconish. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: President Obama reignited an old Washington debate yesterday
afternoon. The hot button issue this time? Broccoli.

After speaking at a kids` state dinner for a group of 54 8-year-olds at
White House, the president was overheard claiming that broccoli was his
favorite food. Yes, you heard that correctly. Broccoli. The offhand
remark was met with such disbelief that it sparked a Twitter frenzy that
trended all afternoon. But here he was earlier that day explaining his
change of heart on vegetables.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My family, when they cooked
vegetables, they would just like boil them. Remember that? And they would
get all soft and mushy, and nobody wanted to eat a pea or a brussels
sprout, because they tasted horrible because they were all mush.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Broccoli, you could...

OBAMA: Broccoli, you would -- it would be all mushy. And now I actually
like vegetables because they are prepared right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Even skeptics at "The Washington Post" got in on the action,
facetiously complaining that Obama`s assertion was like saying that your
favorite computer game is Microsoft Excel and calling for his impeachment.

Of course, we have seen tempers flare over this delicate subject before.
Many remember the famous broccoli debate of 1990. Here was then President
Bush 41 weighing in on the controversial vegetable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. BUSH: I do not like broccoli.

(LAUGHTER)

G. BUSH: And I haven`t liked it since I was a little kid. And my mother
made me eat it. And I`m president of the United States. And I`m not going
to eat any more broccoli.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, in response to that comment, the broccoli growers of
California presented 10,000 pounds of the vegetable to the White House.
That`s half a ton of broccoli, which first lady Barbara Bush received with
her characteristic wit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are leaving these several boxes of the product here
for your use at the White House.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Along with some very good new recipes, which you might
use that you just might intrigue the president to take the plunge into the
wonderful world of fresh broccoli.

B. BUSH: I`m going to overlook the fact you think my cooking is not up to
par. And I`m going to tell you the honest truth. The president is never
going to eat broccoli, but I am never going to eat the pork rinds ever.

Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have a...

B. BUSH: Let me tell you, that`s why you stayed married 45 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: When you think of Obama, Bush, and the politics of broccoli,
it turns out that healthy eating has had bipartisan support in the past.

Now, take a like at this 1951 print advertisement. Do you recognize the
spokesperson? You guessed it. It`s Ronald Reagan as the spokesperson for
V-8 vegetable juice. The Gipper was the spokesperson for the brand in the
early `50s, which may help explain why he remained healthy enough to later
become our nation`s oldest president. And in case you were wondering, V-8
doesn`t contain any broccoli.

Up next, Wal-Mart at war with Washington, D.C. Pick your sides.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow lost eight points, the S&P 500 added less than a point, and the
Nasdaq was actually up by 16. Applications for home mortgages fell 4
percent last week, this as interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages
hit their highest level in two years. Shares of Apple edged down after a
judge ruled the company conspired with five publishers to raise e-book
prices. A trial on damages is expected to follow. Apple denies any
wrongdoing.

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

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s a battle of wills in the nation`s capital, and it doesn`t have
anything to do with Congress. The retail giant Wal-Mart had planned on
opening six new stores in Washington, but is now saying they may back out
at least some of them, and that`s because late this afternoon, the city
council passed a bill that would force Wal-Mart to pay its workers more
money. The minimum wage in D.C. is $8.25. The legislation forces large
retailers like Wal-Mart to pay a minimum of $12.50 an hour.

Critics say the legislation targets Wal-Mart unfairly, since it offers
exceptions for companies with unionized work forces.

Alex Barren, the regional general manager for Wal-Mart, wrote in an op-ed
in "The Washington Post" earlier this week, saying -- quote -- "We have
said that this legislation is arbitrary and discriminatory and that it
discourages investment in Washington. Wal-Mart is the largest employer in
the country with more than 1.3 million workers and 4,005 stores. The
company earned $17 billion in profits last year."

And many Wal-Mart critics say that means they can and should pay their
workers more. But should a city be able to force the company to do so?

Stephen Moore is the senior economics writer on "The Wall Street Journal"
editorial board. David Madland is the director of the American Worker
Project at Center for American Progress.

David, why can`t the market sort this out? If you don`t like Wal-Mart,
don`t shop at Wal-Mart. If you don`t like the wages they pay, don`t work
there.

DAVID MADLAND, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, we have things like a
minimum wage to ensure that when workers work hard, they have enough so
they`re not living in poverty.

And, also, by those kind of policies we actually help the economy because
we ensure that workers have some basic purchasing power. And that`s really
the core problem with the economy today is that workers don`t have enough
purchasing power, so businesses really aren`t out there able to invest.

SMERCONISH: But it`s almost like a mind-set of a kleptomaniac at a big
department store who says, you know what? I`m going to take a couple of
bed linens because they can afford it, they wouldn`t miss it. Isn`t that
really what Washington`s saying?

MADLAND: I think what they`re saying is that large profitable companies
need to pay their workers a living wage.

Now, also, when companies don`t do that, it imposes large costs on
taxpayers. The studies show that the typical Wal-Mart store, because of
the very low wages it pays its workers, is a burden to government, to
taxpayers of about $1 million in aid that they need to provide sort of for
poverty workers in things like food stamps, things like housing subsidies.

So, really, this is about insuring that when companies come into town and
provide jobs, which is a good thing, that everyone benefits, not just a few
people, that workers get good wages, but also taxpayers benefit as well.

SMERCONISH: You know, Stephen, I talked about this on the radio today and
I heard from a number of callers who said, as merchants, it`s just
impossible to compete as a main street entrepreneur with Wal-Mart when they
come to town because they have got such an assortment of products and
they`re willing to undercut anybody else at any level.

How do you compete with them when they come to town?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMIC WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well,
it`s very difficult.

There`s no question Wal-Mart has, what do they always say, everyday low
prices. And you go into Wal-Mart today, and you can get dam near
everything you want for 99 cents. By the way, Wal-Mart, if you look at the
history of every government intervention program and social welfare program
to abate poverty, there has probably been no greater poverty abatement
program in the history of this country greater than Wal-Mart, because Wal-
Mart has raised living standards of poor people by making everything from
toothpaste, to diapers, to cell phones much more affordable to them.

Now, here`s the problem with this argument. Gee, why shouldn`t they pay
higher wages 12.50 an hour? And the reason that this is kind of an
imbecilic policy is that Walmart has a choice. They have six stores that
they are looking at opening up in the Washington, D.C., area, oftentimes by
the way in very undeveloped areas, poor areas that need the jobs that need
the economic development.

Here`s the problem with saying pay the people $12.50 an hour. Those --
Walmart is now saying they may not open up those stores. So, it`s not
whether these workers have $12.50 an hour. These workers are going to get
nothing because the store may not be there.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Consequently, those district residents are
going to have to go to Virginia or Maryland for the goods.

MOORE: That`s right.

SMERCONISH: Stephen, respond to this though. A 2011 study by the
University of California study at Berkeley analyzed what it would mean if
Walmart increased the minimum wage for all of its employees in the U.S. to
$12.

One argument that Walmart uses, is that it would increase costs for
customers. But according to this study, quote, "Even if Walmart were to
pass 100 percent of wage increase on to consumers, the average impact on a
Walmart shopper would be quite small, 46 cents per shopping trip or $12.49
per year for the average customer.

Respond to that logic.

MOORE: Well, here`s the problem with this. I mean, look, most of the
workers who start at Walmart, they are unskilled workers, not very well-
trained. What Walmart -- in fact, they`re mostly starter jobs. You don`t
want to get rid of starter jobs, because if you don`t get a starter job,
you can`t move up the table.

When I talk to some of the Wall Street executives about this issue, one of
the things they told me is that 3/4 of their executives who make between
$50,000 and $125,000 a year, 3/4 of them started in minimum wage jobs. So,
don`t take away the minimum wage job or you`re not going to have medium
sized and higher paying jobs later.

SMERCONISH: David Madland, can I show you a "Washington Post" editorial,
if we can put that up, because "The Post" took a position. And here`s what
they said, from "The Post" about what the city council had been proposing
and has now passed.

"The hubris of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, that`s what it`s
called, is matched by hypocrisy. Council members who backed the measure,
first sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson, claimed only to be looking out
for D.C. workers struggling to keep pace with the cost of living in the
district.

Apparently, they aren`t worried about people who work in fast-food
restaurants, the unionized grocery stores carefully exempted or countless
other businesses or for that matter about some of their own government
employees who make less than $12.50 an hour. And if conditions are so dire,
why the four-year lag in compliance for existing retailers, that is, non-
Walmart, covered by the measure?"

Isn`t that really the hypocrisy of this, if there was an exemption carved
out, and so that, really, it`s singling out only Walmart for punitive
measure?

DAVID MADLAND, CTR. FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Look, it`s not singling out
Walmart actually. There`s a number of large retailers who also would be
affected, Costco, Home Depot, they`re already in the district and some of
them, like Costco, already pay higher wages than we require under this
bill. You can quibble with some of the details, and, really, I think
everyone, you know, could be paying a higher wage. So, that would be you
ultimately want to go.

But, really, the big picture here, and Stephen`s concern, really, is about
any minimum wage, any effort to raise the wage that workers get paid, he
would be opposed to. And I think that`s really what`s important to
understand is that worker working full time which most in many of these
people like a Walmart store would be, should not be living in poverty.
They should earn enough to have a decent life and decent paycheck.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: You know what? I have to leave it there, Steven. I wish I
had more time.

MOORE: An $8 is better than no job at all. I mean, that`s really the
point here.

MADLAND: And the $12.50 is best of all.

MOORE: You`re not going to have $12 an hour jobs.

SMERCONISH: Stephen Moore and David Madland, thanks so much.

MOORE: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Up next, it may be just another tease, another cry for media
attention, but Sarah Palin says she`s considering running for the Senate.
That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Sarah Palin for Senate? She says she`s thinking about it.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Ted Cruz needs reinforcements
there in Washington. Tea Party -- rise up again. Let`s get more of them
in there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

That was former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential
nominee Sarah Palin yesterday talking to radio host Sean Hannity about need
for reinforcements for Tea Partiers like Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate. She
also told Hannity that she`s considering her own run for the Senate against
incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PALIN: I`ve considered it because people have requested me considering it.
But I`m still waiting to see, you know, what the lineup will be and hoping
that, there again, there will be some new blood, some new energy, not just
kind of picking from the same old politicians in the state.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, when asked by HARDBALL if the former governor would be
the ideal candidate to challenge Senator Begich, the National Republican
Senatorial Committee demurred on Palin but said, quote, "The ideal
candidate to defeat Mark Begich will be chosen by Alaskans not anyone in
Washington, D.C." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

So, is Palin a serious Senate candidate in 2014 or is she merely trying to
create some buzz in an effort to remain relevant in politics sort of like
her campaign for president in 2012 that never happened?

Joining me to discuss this is "The Washington Post`s" Dana Milbank and "The
Hill`s" A.B. Stoddard.

A.B., anytime I hear a candidate say, you know people are asking me to do
this. I mean, Donald Trump dusts that line of every four years.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: Yes. I mean, actually he has plans to visit Iowa
and he`s going to drum up another vanity candidacy, I`m sure, in 2016
because it`s fun for him. If you have money, want power, and if you have
power, you want money.

Sarah Palin is a good businesswoman. I don`t think she`s running for the
Senate or anything else. She wants to keep the role that she has going.
It`s made a good living for her.

She`s just re-signed with FOX News. And if she runs for the House and
Senate and loses, the game is over -- the speeches, the reality TV shows,
the books, et cetera.

SMERCONISH: Dana --

STODDARD: So I think she`s teasing again.

SMERCONISH: Dana, isn`t the tell when she refers to, quote, "new blood and
energy"? By what standard?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think the tell is all over this one.
And A.B. is right. She wants to get her name out there. She wants to be
mentioned on HARDBALL. She wants to be relevant.

Could you imagine they used to call the Senate the world`s greatest
deliberative body? With Sarah Palin, it would be the world`s most
debilitated body. It`s already barely functioning and would utterly cease
to function altogether, which maybe why journalists should be inviting
there to create more of --

SMERCONISH: All right. But don`t spoil all of our fun yet, because I have
more questions about this.

A.B., if I am Ted Cruz and I`m in the Senate and I`m a rising star, do I
want her as a colleague? Because she sucks a lot of oxygen out of that
room.

STODDARD: You know, that`s a very good point. And, of course, she -- he`s
already competing with Rand Paul for some of the oxygen right now. But she
endorsed Ted Cruz and he was thankful for that. But she also endorsed Joe
Miller, who she`d be challenging in a Republican primary in Alaska and she
thought he was a terrific and surging candidate.

Now, he spent four years as a former judge and lawyer getting his ducks in
a row to run. And I imagine that she`d have a tough time running against
him. I don`t know that her approval in Alaska from the numbers looks
strong enough to take him on.

So, not only as Dana points out it would be bad for the Senate to have more
people coming in and saying no, but Ted Cruz is doing well on his own and
he wants to be a star, named respective 2016 candidate even if he doesn`t
intend to go through with it.

SMERCONISH: And, Dana, similarly, from a branding standpoint -- at the
RNC, is this good news? I mean, is that really the image that you want to
convey? Because if her name was on the ballot just in Alaska in 2014 --

MILBANK: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- nationally, that would be the persona of the party.

MILBANK: Exactly. It`s not really a question of so much -- what`s
important here is whether she can win in Alaska. It`s a very conservative
state. And Begich really got in there by a fluke because of the whole Ted
Stevens thing going on.

Yes, the real question for Republicans is do they want Sarah Palin to be
the face of the party in 2014? So that people can run against her in every
other state. You know, once she`s in the Senate, well, then, it`s already
a circus. What`s the problem of having one more ring bearer, I suppose.

But -- so that`s not the damage for the Republicans. But that it becomes
the Palin ticket in 2014.

SMERCONISH: And I joked at the outset about it being a six-year term, but
she would have to explain herself for leaving the gubernatorial situation.

Anyway, thank you, Dana Milbank. And thank you, A.B. Stoddard.

We`ll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

Word came this week that the U.S. is no longer the most obese nation. That
distinction now belongs to Mexico.

According to a United Nation`s report, here are the top 10 obese nations:

About 70 percent of Mexican adults are considered overweight; 32.8 percent
are obese.

But the U.S. isn`t far behind with an obesity rate of 31.8 percent.

Having spent last week in Italy, I noted that European nation was not on
the list, despite a terrific culinary culture. "With all that good food,
why aren`t the Italians more obese?" I`ve wondered.

It`s a subject I got into with an Italian tour guide after I told him I was
surprised I didn`t have a headache the morning after putting a serious dent
in a bottle of Chianti Classico.

Driving on a beautiful Tuscan morning somewhere between Montepulciano to
Pienza -- Piero, my driver, told me that the short answer about the wine
was sulfites, but that it was part of a larger issue.

My friend, with a pretty good girth, said: "I might be fat but my doctor
says I`m healthy. No high blood pressure. And no diabetes."

His weight, he said, was attributable to eating lots of food -- but good,
fresh food.

In the Italian countryside, that means lots of meat and fish, pasta, beans
and vegetables. My friend had traveled to the States, where he noted --
you people eat junk.

"No one loves cafe," he said, "More than Italians but you`d never see us
walking out of a Starbucks with one of those huge drinks."

Come to think of it, I hadn`t seen a Starbucks. Nor any fast food. He
told me the McDonalds I`d seen in Florence was built for the Americans.

Punto, the local grocery store I visited a couple of times in a small
village, was about the size of a neighborhood WaWa or 7-Eleven, only inside
you wouldn`t find someone to make you a sub or hoagie. You`d find a full-
time butcher, another person selling cheese and bread, and a full-time
produce manager.

Piero told me, quote, "We call your processed food `jewelry`, because it`s
imported and it`s expensive. And we won`t be fooled by appearance if it
doesn`t taste good. If it`s not fresh, we`re not buying it."

Punto was open in the morning and in the early evening. The hours off in
the afternoon might no longer facilitate an enormous meal and a nap, but
they do prevent people from eating at desks in cubicles.

The point is that it`s a food and a lifestyle issue. The food reflects the
lifestyle. Their priorities are different than ours.

When I got home, I checked on the Italian life expectancy and rate of
obesity. In Italy, it was 82.09 years in 2011, according to the World
Health Organization, compared to 78.64 in America.

And our rate of obesity is double Italy`s of 17.2 percent. That`s
according to the UN report.

The explanation from my Italian friend was confirmed by Dr. Kenneth Thorpe,
the Chair in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory`s
Rollins School of Public Health.

He told me: "Yes, we eat more processed food, heavier on fat, sugar and
corn. And the Europeans generally eat fresher food and smaller portions.
It`s the difference between fresh food versus processed food"

Here`s the obvious point: It`s not only how much we are eating -- it`s what
we are eating as well.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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