updated 3/6/2014 12:13:16 PM ET 2014-03-06T17:13:16

HARDBALL
March 5, 2014

Guests: Rep. Elijah Cummings, Michael McFaul, Wayne Slater, Dawnna Dukes,
Eva Moskowitz


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Point of order.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. The nonstop partisan attacks on our
president remind me of the joke about the young postal worker. When the
postmaster told him he was the fastest mail sorter he`d seen, his response
was, You just wait until I learn how to read.

Well, the right-wing assault on President Obama is just like that, nothing
to do with the information, only with the relentless desire to throw
punches at the White House so fast, people can`t even figure out what
they`re punching at.

Well, today on Capitol Hill, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings finally had
enough of the relentless rat-tat-tat of attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: If you will sit down and allow me to
ask the question? I am a member of the Congress of the United States of
America! I am tired of this!

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well --

CUMMINGS: We have -- we have members up here each who represent 700,000
people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Cummings had just witnessed a typical assault. Committee
chairman Darrell Issa had just choreographed another day of beating the
dead horse of the IRS so-called scandal. Like Benghazi and "Obama care"
and now Ukraine, it`s the, "Bang, bang, bang, bang" of the conservative
arsenal. Just say the words, and the peanut gallery explodes. Say all
four, and it levitates with glee. Don`t worry. Any fool can do this --
Benghazi, Benghazi, IRS, IRS, "Obama care," "Obama care," Ukraine, Ukraine.

Joining me right now is the U.S. congressman involved here, the leader
here, I`d say, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the House
Committee on Oversight and Governor Reform. Also, David Corn joins me from
"Mother Jones," an MSNBC political analyst .

Let`s start with the far right`s obsession of the IRS, sir, which earlier
today erupted into one of the most dramatic scenes you will ever see in a
congressional hearing room. It started with Oversight Committee chairman
Representative Darrell Issa recalling IRS official Lois Lerner to the
witness stand after she previously took the 5th in a hearing last May.
Well, she took the 5th again today, but not before Issa made a spectacle
out of the proceedings by berating her with 10 consecutive questions about
this non-scandal. She didn`t answer any of them.

When the bank -- when the ranking member of the committee, our guest,
Elijah Cummings, tried to interject, Issa literally cut off his microphone
and declared the hearing over. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISSA: Ladies and gentlemen, seeking the truth is the obligation of this
committee. I can see no point in going further. I have no expectation
that Ms. Lerner will cooperate with this committee, and therefore we stand
adjourned.

CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman, I have a statement. I have
procedural question, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural
question.

Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do
this. This is -- we`re better than that as a country. We`re better than
that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask a (OFF-MIKE)
And now you`re turning me off.

ISSA: We`re adjourned.

CUMMINGS: I don`t care. I am asking a question. I am a ranking member of
this committee, and I wanted to ask a question. What are we hiding?
What`s the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

ISSA: You`re all free to leave. We`ve adjourned, but the gentleman may
ask his question.

CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural
question, and it goes to you trying to help you get the information, by the
way, that you just asked.

ISSA: What is your question?

CUMMINGS: I`m -- I`m -- no, let me say what I have to say. I`ve listened
to you for the last 15 or 20 minutes. Let me say what I have to say. I
have one procedural question --

ISSA: Ms. Lerner, you`re -- you`re -- you`re released. You may --

CUMMINGS: But first I would like to use my time to make some brief points.
For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation
-- (OFF-MIKE)

ISSA: We`re adjourned. Close it down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "We`re adjourned. Close it down." That`s democracy.

It didn`t end there. Issa continued his attempt to silence Congressman
Cummings. Let`s watch the whole moment here. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISSA: What is your question?

CUMMINGS: If you will sit down and allow me to ask the question I am a
member of the Congress of the United States of America! I am tired of
this!

ISSA: Well --

CUMMINGS: We have -- we have members up here each who represent 700,000
people! You cannot just have a one-sided investigation! There is
absolutely something wrong with that, and it is absolutely un-American!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear, hear.

ISSA: We had a hearing. We have adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to
ask a question. You have no question.

CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

ISSA: I gave you an opportunity (OFF-MIKE)

CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Whoa. And it went on like that. Whether the hearing was
technically over or not, it didn`t matter to the Democrats on the panel.
U.S. Congressman Cummings, you kept talking. And Lois Lerner sat there and
listened. Congressman Gerry Connelly, a Democrat from Virginia, then
spoke. Both you and Connelly were shouting to the room because the
microphones had been disabled. And this went on for about five minutes.

Well, anyway, after Chairman Issa walked out of the hearing room, he went
straight to reporters to say that you were, quote, "slandering" him. Issa
also proclaimed that he was moving forward with the investigation.

Congressman Cummings, this looked like you guys were there as a studio
audience to sit there and watch this opera bouffe go on, whereby the woman
took the -- the official took the 5th Amendment. Everybody knew her answer
would be the same. And then he goes through this operatic process of
asking 10 questions for the cameras, not for the person in the booth there,
in the witness chair.

CUMMINGS: Yes. We -- you know, the 10 questions, Chris, I think, were
basically, he wanted to, I guess, embarrass her. But the key here, Chris,
is that over the past nine months, this investigation has been conducted.
But several months ago, Russell George, the IG appointed by a Republican
administration, by the way -- the IG -- said that there was no White House
involvement with regard to these IRS so-called targeting, nor was there any
political motivation. That was already stated.

And we have now interviewed, in a bipartisan way, 38 witnesses from IRS.
They spent $14 million over the past nine months answering subpoenas from
Chairman Issa and other Republicans. And there is no evidence.

But they want us to believe -- and that`s what this is all about, I think -
- that the president -- that is, the White House had something to do with
these efforts on the part of the IRS.

Now, keep in mind, if we were really looking for the truth, we would bring
forward the man who said he started all of this, the conservative
Republican 20-year veteran of the IRS who said he was the one that started
it.

Now, Chairman Issa has refused to bring him before our committee and the
country so that he can explain what he was doing, and even he said there
was no political motivation and the White House was not involved in this
whatsoever.

MATTHEWS: Let me bring in David Corn here for a second. David, looks to
me like, totally apart from the procedures of the committee and what
happened there -- it looks like it`s part of this continual updating, if
you will, ripping off of the scab of the IRS talk.

Of course, they do it on health care again. They had yet another vote on
today health care. Benghazi, they talk about it every 15 minutes, and now
Ukraine. They need this consistent list of drums to beat over and over
again. They got to keep them alive. They got to have hearings, even
though Lois Lerner wasn`t going to testify, even though there`s nothing
there to ask her --

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes. They don`
--

MATTHEWS: Keep it alive through November.

CORN: Yes. They don`t want this to fade away. Congressman Cummings is
right. If you look at some of the testimony that he`s released, it shows
that there was no specific targeting only of Tea Party groups, which is the
essence of the Republican charge, and that it was connected to the White
House. That has totally evaporated.

So what do you do? You bring forward someone in a circus, in a Soviet-
style, you know, show trial capacity who you know is going to plead the
5th. And so you just ask these questions -- Isn`t it true that this --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: -- Isn`t it true that, knowing that they will not answer, rather
than bring forward people who might tell you what really happened.

What happened at the IRS, as you know, was a problem. There is something
to investigate. It`s not a political witch hunt, but something went wrong.
But they don`t want to do that. So the idea is just keep bringing up --

MATTHEWS: What went wrong?

CORN: What went wrong was they were targeting groups on the left and the
right, in the middle, on the basis of --

MATTHEWS: But no direction from the White House at all.

CORN: No direction from the White House.

MATTHEWS: Congressman -- Congressman, you`re ranking member of the
committee. You know everything there is to know. Is there any reason to
believe that somebody in the White House -- I mean, anybody in the White
House -- ever made a call over there and said, Screw the right-wing groups?

CUMMINGS: There`s no evidence of that whatsoever, and Chairman Issa knows
that.

Keep in mind, Chris, what I was trying to do today was follow up on
something that Chairman Issa had been involved in. That is, getting a
proffer from Ms. Lerner`s attorney. And basically, he would have told us
what her answers to those questions would be, and it would not be binding
on the committee and they could still pursue her in any way they wanted to.

But he didn`t even want to hear that. That`s why he shut it down. And the
attorney had offered to do that.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a personal aspect. Did you feel personally
indignant, and fairly so, that he was not treating you as ranking member,
the way he should? You know the protocol on the Hill. Was he breaking
with protocol? How would you characterize what saw in the movie -- in the
pictures there?

CUMMINGS: You know, I can`t -- you know, Chris, I`ve been around long
enough, 63 years on this earth. And I`ve got to tell you, I don`t get
caught up in the disrespect thing. I`ve seen so much of it.

But what I do get caught up in is distractions. When you distract me from
finding the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, when you
cherry-pick information and put it out there, but don`t give me the entire
picture and only present the evidence that you want to hear, and that`s to
your liking but excludes other evidence -- that`s what I`m more concerned
about because I think that`s unfair to our committee and it`s unfair to the
American people. And it goes against our credibility as a Congress and a
committee.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. As I said, the far right does tend to use Benghazi
as its universal theory connected to any issue as an excuse to attack
President Obama. There is no topic too out there for them to cry Benghazi,
by the way. And this was just -- here was just a few of them. We`re tying
together this because they do it all the time -- Benghazi, IRS, health
care, and now Ukraine. Let`s watch it again here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is a symptom of greater
problem. It really, in many ways, started with Benghazi when our consulate
was overrun and our first ambassador was killed in 30-something years in
the line of duty.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: One of the problems with all of this focus on
Syria is it`s missing the ball (ph) from what we should be focused on,
which is the grave threat from radical Islamic terrorism. I mean, just
this week is the one-year anniversary of the attack on Benghazi. When it
happened, the president promised to hunt down the wrong doers. And yet a
few months later, the issue has disappeared.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It`s a way for us to get information in the
case of the talking points composition. We`ve been totally stonewalled
throughout that process.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: We`ve had a couple of years
in Washington with a lot of -- a lot of situations like that IRS thing,
Benghazi, et cetera. We have a president that runs away from press
conferences like this, never takes accountability, never fires anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s like being Rudy Giuliani or somebody, you got to
go on a Sunday show or something, all you have to do is remember the three
words, IRS, Benghazi and health care.

CORN: Or Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

MATTHEWS: Yes, just --

CORN: Let`s just look at what Ted Cruz said because this is really kind of
telling. How long did it take to get Osama bin Laden? Ten years. And the
president, as we know from the whole back story, was dedicated, devoted,
and pushed the bureaucracy to do what it could and took a gutsy call at the
end of the day to go after him.

And now he`s saying a few months after Benghazi that we haven`t gotten the
guys yet, and that shows the president is weak and feckless? This stuff
doesn`t pass the laugh test! But yet his base, his audience, the people
who Giuliani is talking to, the people who --

MATTHEWS: The peanut gallery is laughing.

CORN: They are -- they --

MATTHEWS: They love it out there!

CORN: They want to hear the Benghazi stuff over and over. And it`s a
dishonor to Ambassador Chris Stevens. We should be talking about Benghazi
--

MATTHEWS: Well --

CORN: -- in a serious way, not using it as political fodder.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Elijah Cummings, sir, thank you so much for coming
on tonight --

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: -- after a strange day in the U.S. Congress. It wasn`t a good
day for the chairman of that committee. Thank you so much, as well, David
Corn for coming on.

Coming up: The crisis in Ukraine. Former secretary of defense Robert
Gates, a Republican, has a message for President Obama`s right-wing
critics. Cool it. Tone down the rhetoric. Stop the crazy talk about
missiles and get behind the president. This is Gates talking.

Plus, last night in Texas, the establishment wing of the Republican Party
won some big battles. But make no mistake, the Tea Party already won the
war down there. It`s a Mad Hatter -- by (ph) the Mad Hatter of that Tea
Party down there, Texas senator Ted Cruz himself, who pushed his party
further to the fringe.

And the red hot debate over charter schools, up in New York especially.
The latest fight pits New York City`s new Democratic mayor against a
leading charter schools operator, as well as the governor. By the way, she
says the city has a lot to learn about how to teach kids.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the prepubescent behavior of the Republican
Party. That`s right, prepubescent.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: How much has Chris Christie`s political trouble hurt him at
home? We`ve got some new polling. And for that, we check the HARDBALL
"Scoreboard."

According to a new Rutgers Eagleton poll, New Jersey voters prefer Hillary
Clinton for president more than governor -- their own governor. It`s
Clinton 51, Christie 41 in a state home -- well, in a state home to more
Democrats than Republicans.

And finally, in the week we (ph) saw (ph) a poll out of Virginia showing a
tight race, here`s one with a different result. It`s from Roanoke College,
and it`s Hillary Clinton by 8 in that swing state, 48 to 40.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The president and his administration
have come under strong criticism by conservatives this past week for not
being tough enough with Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This president does not understand Vladimir
Putin. He does not understand his ambitions. He does not understand that
Vladimir Putin is an old KGB colonel bent on restoration of the Soviet --
of the Russian empire.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The U.S. is behaving in a way
that tells the world we`re in decline, that we`re in withdrawal. We`ve
created a leadership vacuum in the world. And it is being filled by the
Putins of the world. It is U.S. weakness that has shaken the world.

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE: The perception of him and
his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, I --
lookit, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills
for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and
equivocates and bloviates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Mom jeans" -- I`ll never get over that one.

Anyway, let`s not forget Ted Cruz, who wrote yesterday, quote, "Vladimir
Putin running rampant in Ukraine showcases how the Obama administration`s
abdication of global leadership is making the world a more dangerous
place."

At least one prominent Republican is urging the bugle-blowing crowd to cool
it. Former secretary of defense Bob Gates, who can criticize people, told
"The Washington Post`s" David Ignatius, quote, "I think considerable care
needs to be taken in terms of what is said so that the rhetoric doesn`t
threaten what policy can`t deliver." Gates, a Republican himself, urged
the GOP senators to, quote, "tone down" their criticism and try to be
supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.

Anyway, meanwhile, it was a day of heavy diplomacy over in Europe today,
and for the first time since the crisis in Ukraine began, Secretary of
State John Kerry met face to face with his Russian counterpart, Sergei
Lavrov. Afterwards, he expressed hope for a de-escalation of tension.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Russia made a choice. And we have
clearly stated that we believe it is the wrong choice, that is, the choice
to move troops into Crimea.

Russia can now choose to de-escalate this situation. And we are committed
to working with Russia, together with our friends and allies, in an effort
to provide a way for this entire situation to find a road to de-escalation.

The United States is ready to work with all parties to make that happen,
and to make it happen as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel today.

But, if diplomacy fails, the U.S. and its allies have said they could put
in place sanctions against Russia in a matter of days.

Howard Fineman is, of course, editorial director of The Huffington Post and
an MSNBC political analyst. And Michael McFaul just stepped down as U.S.
ambassador to Russia. He`s now a fellow at the Hoover Institution and an
MSNBC analyst.

Mr. Ambassador, it`s great, and I`m fortunate for us to have you.

Give us your sense of the limits of this crisis. Is there a sense in your
mind right now, based on your experience, that Vladimir Putin has probably
pushed as far as he`s going to go, or you think he might go further?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC ANALYST: Chris, I don`t think he`s decided.

I don`t think he knows the endgame himself. This was an impulsive move
that he did in Crimea. This was not some grand strategy that he`s been
plotting for decades. And it was a response to the collapse of the
government in Kiev.

And he was very frustrated by that, so he decided to do this in Crimea. I
do not think he knows where to go next. It could escalate. And you have
got to remember, when there are soldiers running around with guns
threatening people, as we saw today in Crimea, unintended -- unintended
consequences can come of that.

However, at the other point, I do think it was a good meeting that
Secretary Kerry and Lavrov had today to keep the door of diplomacy still
open.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that what our -- let me ask you an open
question. What is our diplomacy aimed at? Is it cooling the jets of the
new government in Kiev, so it doesn`t cause trouble by giving a situation
that the Russians could take advantage of? Is it to keep their morale up,
so they don`t give in too easily to Putin`s pressures? What is it?

MCFAUL: Definitely to cool their jets. And I think the Ukrainian
government has behaved very responsibly, given the circumstances.

Second, to shore them up -- they`re on the verge of an economic collapse.
We need to help them. Our European allies need to help them. And if
critics of President Obama wanted to help them, that`s what they should be
focusing on in the U.S. Congress, an aid package to Ukraine, not unlike the
aid package that we delivered back in 2008 to Georgia, the billion-dollar
aid package.

And third, to focus is to find a way for Putin to ramp -- to get off the
off-ramp, as the administration has been calling it --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCFAUL: -- find a face-saving way to back away. That`s the third
element of the diplomacy today.

MATTHEWS: Of course, that was the way we got through the Cuban Missile
Crisis. Kennedy gave Khrushchev an out by saying, we take out the Jupiter
missiles in Turkey under the table there.

Anyway, at a Senate hearing today, John McCain grilled Secretary of Defense
Chuck Hagel about Russia. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Mr. Putin`s -- denies that there are troops
in Russia. When Mr. Lavrov says today that they can`t withdraw Russian
troops because there are no Russian -- no Russian troops in Crimea, does
that have some echoes to you of Cold War?

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think Secretary Kerry
addressed this pretty clearly in his comments specifically about your --
your point about no evidence -- no credible --

MCCAIN: I was asking -- I was asking for your view, sir.

HAGEL: I agree with Secretary Kerry.

MCCAIN: Which is?

HAGEL: He laid it all about, we don`t accept anything that Putin said as
fact about why they had to protect the so-called ethnic minority in Crimea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Howard, it`s amazing to watch John Kerry.

We were talking during the quotes there. I -- I get the feeling Kerry`s
very formality, the way he speaks even without contractions, I am
concerned, that strong formality, normally we laugh at that kind of
stuffiness. But it seems to be working here. It keeps things calm and
professional in these -- in these talks so far.

I will bet he`s like that with Lavrov, with Sergei Lavrov.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he`s known Lavrov
for a long time. They have talked many times behind closed doors together.

Kerry at least thinks he has a pretty good relationship with Lavrov. And
they`re talking. And these are old pros here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And Kerry knows Lavrov going back to the Foreign Relations
Committee, way, way back. Lavrov`s been around forever.

And they`re probably sitting there thinking, OK, how do we -- how do we
cool this situation? I think that`s what`s happening. Lavrov`s not going
to say that publicly. I think that`s what`s happening privately.

According to people I talk to who know the region well, the Ukrainian --
the provisional Ukrainian government now is very shrewdly appealing to the
oligarchs and the wealthy businessmen in the eastern part of the Ukraine to
stand with the new government, to stay with the new government, not to
foment Russian nationalism in those parts of the east, because those rich
businessmen don`t want their businesses taken away by the Russians.

They want to stay part of the Ukraine.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And the Ukrainians have done a very good job of limiting the
damage for now to the Crimea area.

And they`re sort of hemming -- they`re hemming Putin in, in the area that
he`s put himself.

MATTHEWS: Well, there was some tough talk today from former Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton last night at a fund-raiser for the Boys and Girls
Clubs in California.

She drew a parallel between some of what Putin is doing to Adolf Hitler in
the run-up to World War II, specifically Putin`s decision to issue
passports to Russian speakers down in the Crimea. A local paper, "The Long
Beach Press Telegram," recorded what she said, which, for the record, was a
violation of parameters laid out by event organizers, although that`s --
that rule`s been broken before.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Now, if this
sounds familiar, it`s what Hitler did back in the `30s.

All the Germans that were, you know, the ethnic Germans, the Germans by
ancestry, who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other
places, you know, Hitler kept saying, they`re not being treated right. I
must go and protect my people.

And that`s what`s gotten everybody so nervous.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it should be noted that Secretary Clinton also made clear
that she backed the president`s diplomatic efforts on Russia.

Mr. Ambassador, I think I generally -- and I think everybody on this show
has said, let`s stop all references to Hitler in perpetuity. They never
quite clear the logic here.

But let me ask you, as an expert on Russia, the concerns about Russia and
the concerns about the Russian-speaking people and about the naval port
down in Sevastopol, and all about the Crimea, and also all the Russian-
speaking people who live in the eastern part of Ukraine, is that to say
they want to return? Is there -- is there a call among the people of the
Eastern Ukraine who speak Russian that they want to become part of Russia
again? I hear the opposite.

What do you -- what do you know?

MCFAUL: Well, opinion polls taken in Ukraine before the crisis escalated
to where it is now underscored that people don`t want that in Eastern
Ukraine and even in Crimea.

Remember, in Crimea, only 60 percent of the population there is Russian.
The other 20 percent are Ukrainian. The other 20 percent are Tatars.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MCFAUL: Moreover, Russians don`t want to be meddling in the internal
affairs of Ukraine, if you trust opinion polls done in Russia.

So, I don`t think there`s a big appetite among the people involved here to
split Ukraine in half and to go back to -- you know, to a debate over who
is part of Russia and who is not. And with respect to the naval base, the
naval base has been under agreement with the -- the government of Ukraine.
That`s not in jeopardy.

Nobody has raised the idea that that needs to be closed. And, with respect
to Russians in Crimea, let`s just be clear. Not a single ethnic Russian
has been harmed in Crimea so far in this entire crisis.

MATTHEWS: You must have been a great ambassador, sir. It`s great to have
you on here. Thank you so much, Ambassador Michael McFaul, who formerly
was dispatched to Moscow.

Thank you, Howard Fineman, as always.

Up next: As the right fawns over Putin, while bashing Obama -- I don`t
think fawns is the right word -- Stephen Colbert picks up where Sarah Palin
left off. That`s next in the "Sideshow."

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You hear all these stories about people on food
stamps, they`re going off to Vegas, and they`re -- they`re able to draw out
money at casinos.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Yes, you do hear all
of these stories.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Whether or not they`re true or --

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: -- indicative of widespread abuse, it`s not really the point
here, because you hear them.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: And as a reporter on a news network, it is your job to pass them
along through your mouth hole.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: As your slogan says, FOX News, we read the chain mails your
grandma gets in her inbox out loud like they were true.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Time --

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow."

That was Jon Stewart last night on the tendency of food stamp critics to
overstate the degree of abuse and fraud in that program. It`s all word-of-
mouth.

Anyway, back in June, the Web site PolitiFact verified that 97 percent of
food stamp benefits are in fact paid in the proper amounts to people who
are really eligible. That`s 97 percent, pretty good for anybody. And most
of the remaining 3 percent is a result of error or even underpayment, not
fraud, according to the article.

Anyway, next up -- I don`t think the people on the right even heard that.

We have already discussed here on HARDBALL the president is under fire from
some on the right for his handling of the conflict between Russia and
Ukraine. They say he`s being weak in face of Russian aggression. Sarah
Palin is even criticizing him for wearing mom jeans while Vladimir Putin
wrestles bears. And she should know. Remember, she kept an eye on Putin
from Alaska, remember?

Well, leave it to Stephen Colbert to pile on as well. Here`s what he said
-- or had to say about President Obama`s leadership just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": What does Russia`s latest
Crimean crime cri-mean?

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: It means I get to run one of my favorite graphics. This is "Cold
War Update."

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: The president of the United States is getting outplayed.

I mean, look at what he wore Saturday during a tense 90-minute phone call
with Vladimir Putin. No tie, jeans with a jean shirt.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: What is this, casual doomsday?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Meanwhile, on the other end, you know Putin is shirtless,
stroking a tiger, looking into an infinity mirror.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)`

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Next up: Lone Star lunacy. Establishment Republicans may have
won down in Texas yesterday, but the real winners are the Tea Party again
and its mad hatter, the leader of them all, Ted Cruz.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. I`m Veronica De La
Cruz. And here`s what`s happening.

President Obama traveled to Connecticut, where he continued his push to
raise the minimum wage. He says increasing it would lift millions out of
poverty.

The Senate voted to block the president`s nominee to head the Justice
Department`s Civil Rights Division, casting down on his confirmation.

And while on Air Force One, President Obama spoke with British Prime
Minister David Cameron about the crisis in Ukraine. They discussed the
country`s new government and efforts to stabilize its economy.

I`m Veronica De La Cruz -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Election night in Cruz country. Last night, the Lone Star State held
primaries for some of its biggest political prizes, including governor,
lieutenant governor, and U.S. Senate. A few Tea Party challengers fizzled,
some in spectacular fashion, which we will get to in a minute.

But make no mistake about it. The Tea Party made a big splash in these
contests. If you want proof, just look at how NBC`s First Read summarized
things down there last night.

Quote: "If the GOP establishment largely won the battle last night, the Tea
Party has already won the war. Every Republican running for the office up
and down the ballot did so by running hard to the right and hard against
President Obama, even in cases that have nothing to do with the president.
Nearly every race was a contest to see who was the bigger red hot, who
could hate the president the most, who was the purist conservative."

Well, the leader of the Lone Star circus, of course, is Senator Ted Cruz.
While he wasn`t on the ballot, it`s not too difficult to see what`s going
on here. Cruz`s brand of wacko brand Tea Party purism looks like it`s
reshaping the state in his personal image. Candidates pretty much ran on a
simple message: We hate Obama. We love Ted Cruz.

Well, if you needed proof, you got it last night. Texas is Cruz country.

Wayne Slater is with "The Dallas Morning News," and Dawnna Dukes is a
Democratic state representative down there in Texas.

I want to go to Wayne first.

Wayne, is this right, what I just said? Check me on this. I looked at
Dewhurst. I looked at the way they all campaigned. Even the so-called
centrists or center-leaning are right-wingers down there.

WAYNE SLATER, COLUMNIST, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Oh, yes.

Look, the Tea Party won the debate here, won all these races on the
Republican side of the primary ballot before a single vote was cast. You
had in the lieutenant governor`s race the establishment candidate finishing
second to a talk radio, conservative talk show host, state senator who
called immigrants invaders. They were part of an invasion.

And in the lieutenant governor`s -- or the attorney general`s race, you had
a commercial, which was very successful for the guy who came out first,
which was basically of Ted Cruz.

It was sort of like watching these commercials -- it was like watching that
scene in "Spartacus," where, you know: "I am Spartacus. I am -- "

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: "I am Spartacus," yes.

SLATER: Everyone was saying, "I am Ted Cruz, I am Ted Cruz."

So, that`s what you saw up and down the ballot. The message was defined by
the Tea Party. Everyone followed it whether or not there were a few
fizzles at the top of the ballot.

MATTHEWS: Well, quickly, what happened to the state of Texas that voted
for Hubert Humphrey back in `68? When did it switch to the hardest of
hardest rights?

SLATER: Well, of course, the first switch was what happened in a lot of
the South and that was Ronald Reagan in 1980 and presidential years. And
really as a function -- I think a longtime function again with many
Southern states of civil rights over the years. You really saw the
emergence in strength of the Republicans with George W. Bush in 2004. And
after that as you know, there hasn`t been a Republican -- a Democrat
elected to statewide office in 20 years.

The last time a Republican was elected governor of -- Democrat was elected
governor of Texas was Ann Richards in 1990. So it`s been a long, long time
and a long, long roe for Democrats in the Lone Star State.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk to one right now, Representative Dawnna Dukes.

Representative, thank you so much for joining us down there.

STATE REP. DAWNNA DUKES (D), TEXAS: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What`s it feel like? I mean, you are surrounded by people that
are a 180 from you and your political thinking, even if you`re a moderate
Democrat, they`re pretty far to the right of you, right?

DUKES: Oh, they are far to the -- they`re so far to the right they`re off
the earth, Chris. Their ideas are just unbelievable. And they are very
much like Ted Cruz. They don`t think. They just parrot and do whatever
they think is going to make them to appear to be the most conservative and
have the most hatred for people who are in the greatest need.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what I want to get to about. We`ll get to the
issue of social justice for a minute, but the personality of Cruz always
amazes me. I can see the appeal of a Rand Paul. He`s kind of a
libertarian. I don`t think he`s a hater. He just sort of wants total and
utter freedom, because he read "The Fountainhead" 4,000 times and probably
"Atlas Shrugged" a million times. But he believes in it. Fine.

Barry Goldwater was like that. He wasn`t an evil guy.

But Cruz looks like a guy that`s out to get people. He votes against every
nominee. He attacks Chuck Hagel out of defending our country there, as
some sort of a guy selling us out to the North Koreans. He makes these
personal attacks on people`s patriotism.

There`s something about him I really don`t think is good for the country.
He even looks and acts like Joe McCarthy. Why do people in Texas think
he`s the second coming of what? Joe McCarthy? Why do they like him?

SLATER: I got to tell you, Chris. Ted Cruz doesn`t like when you compare
him to Joseph McCarthy. That gets under his skin. He`s told me that.

But I think part of this is he reflects a kind of loud, direct,
unequivocal, unnuanced, I -- we don`t want to do what they want to do.
They meaning the liberals and certainly in the last eight years, President
Obama.

So, he really is a perfect mouthpiece for both the social conservativism of
Texas as well as the Second Amendment rights of Texas. And, frankly,
although a lot of us know that Ted Cruz is primarily in this, the suspicion
is, for Ted Cruz in the 2016 race, he does reflect a kind of reflexive lone
star, I don`t want to get along with any of these liberals mentality. And
that pays dividends.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask Representative Dukes. Here`s my big question, the
powerhouse question of the night. We all hear about the demographics in
Texas, the large number of the Hispanic voters who are becoming citizens
growing up in the country, growing up in the state, becoming active,
involved in politics.

When does it become a purple state? When does it become the riders of the
purple sage again? When`s that happen?

DUKES: Well, I think you should not and no one should count out Wendy
Davis who has run --

MATTHEWS: OK, go for it. Make a case. Can she win?

(CROSSTALK)

DUKES: -- in a senatorial district twice that was 53 percent Republican.
She is now running for governor of Texas. We never saw energy of the type,
of the sort, of the size that we saw when Wendy Davis did the filibuster.
There were hundreds of thousands of people who showed up.

And let me tell you, women are mad in Texas. Democrats are mad in Texas.
People who have not voted in a very long time are mad in Texas.

And the best thing that could happen is to have the farthest right wing
fruitcake on the ticket run against her. So that she --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is that Greg Abbott you described?

DUKES: He is definitely one of them. With Greg, we can go after him on
the redistricting battles that he has fought tooth and nail, that were
important to people. He`s fought the Medicaid expansion. There will be a
litany of issues that people are angry about. Those are the people who are
starting to turn out the vote and have a lot of excitement about Wendy at
the top of this ticket.

MATTHEWS: OK, thanks so much for coming on, State Representative Dawnna
Dukes.

DUKES: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Dawnna Dukes, I`m going to learn that name and hear it many
times.

Anyway, thank you, Wayne Slater. You always give us the goods.

Up next, the debate over charter schools. It`s a red hot fight right in
New York City. Did they succeed where public schools have failed or do
they just grab the best students and therefore get the best numbers?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: St. Patrick`s Day comes early today in Northern Ireland. Former
President Bill Clinton was at the University for Ulster, endowing a chair
for the study of peace. It`s named for my old boss, Speaker of the House
Tip O`Neill and the Irish leader John Hume.

O`Neill along with Ted Kennedy and New York Senator Pat Moynihan and
Governor Hugh Carey were the Americans who led for peace in Northern
Ireland, between Catholic nationalists and Protestant loyalists. O`Neill
later won Ronald Reagan`s support in getting British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher to back the historic reconciliation. All of which led to
the Good Friday peace accords that finally ended the troubles.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

As a candidate for mayor, Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, committed to lead New
York City in a new progressive direction. Included in de Blasio`s promise
was he aimed to slow the growth of so-called charter schools in favor of
more traditional neighborhood public schools.

Making good in his promise, the mayor has now cancelled an agreement,
negotiated by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, which would have allowed
three new charter schools to operate in public school buildings.

Well, de Blasio`s decision has ignited an intense debate and has awoken a
sleeping giant, some say. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, I didn`t think
he was sleeping, he typically avoids however political controversy and
shuns the national spotlight. Well, he rallied, the governor did, in
opposition to the mayor. Big fight between the two of them.

Even "The New York Post" called Governor Cuomo a class act. That`s a right
leaning newspaper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: You are here, 11,000 strong. You are
braving the cold to stand up for your rights. And Senator Skelos is
exactly right. This is the most important civic lesson you will learn
because this is democracy, and this is how you make your voice heard.

And we are here today to tell you that we stand with you, you are not
alone. We will save charter schools!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Boy, that`s pretty dramatic for Governor Cuomo.

The three charter schools de Blasio plans to close are run by Eva
Moskowitz, who the mayor has often criticized, the new mayor, and he
actually publicly attacks her. "The New York Observer" wrote about de
Blasio/Moskowitz rivalry today, saying, quote, "If you thought that brass
knuckle political payback was something practiced exclusively in the
western banks of the Hudson River, well, you were wrong." He`s obviously
talking about the Christie crowd over there.

Joining me now is herself, Eva Moskowitz, thank you -- founder and CEO of
Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City.

Eva, thank you. I agree with you, and I want to make sure you understand
I`m playing devil`s advocate here.

But I will ask you the question. When you go to public schools, there`s a
million kids in public school in New York and some kids go to the
neighborhood schools, the ones they would walk to if they`re lucky.

OK. They get everybody. Charter schools get students who are maybe
smarter, maybe, they get kids who definitely -- parents who care a little
bit more about their upbringing, because they make an effort, they have a
little more money perhaps, a little more resources.

Is it fair to compare the results of the two kinds of schools and say
charters are better because they get higher numbers?

EVA MOSKOWITZ, SUCCESS ACADEMY SCHOOLS: Actually, in New York City,
district schools are zoned according to zip code. So, you have much more
affluent kids.

Charter schools we admit by random lottery, if you look at our numbers,
you`ll see the same number of special needs children, English language
learners, title one kids.

So, I really don`t think that`s a fair statement. People keep trying to
explain away our results, instead of asking, well, how did you get the
results?

We got those results because our kids work incredibly hard, our parents --
you know, we encourage our parents to come in on Saturday and our faculty
is very, very talented and our leaders are very, very talented. And we
train our teachers and our leaders.

I think there`s an attempt to do a gotcha which really undermines our kids
in Harlem, are outperforming the kids in wealthy suburbs, and that`s a lot
of hard work.

MATTHEWS: OK, to what extent -- you alluded to it and I think that`s
important -- what role does the parent play, because the parent, just
answer this -- I don`t know the answer -- to get into a charter school,
doesn`t the parent have to play a more active role than the typical parent
of a public school neighborhood kid, a district kid.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSKOWITZ: Actually, that`s not the case. It`s very hard to enroll your
child in district kindergarten. I`ve done it as a parent myself. Whereas
in a charter, we bring the application to parents, and we have a very, very
high percentage of parents in the neighborhood applying, and it`s way over-
subscribed. So, thousands of parents get turned away.

MATTHEWS: So, why are people -- explain the politics of de Blasio. I
think he won because people like the idea of harmony in his own household.
They love the picture of him and his son and all. I like that all, too.

But do you think he got elected because he campaigned against charter
schools?

MOSKOWITZ: No.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that was part of his mandate?

MOSKOWITZ: No, he was anti-charter, but I think his rhetoric is something
I deeply believe in. There are educational haves and educational have-
notes, there is inequality in New York City and the state and the country.
And progressives like myself, we share that view --

MATTHEWS: Why are you being nice to him and he`s being so tough on you?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, my brother brought me up to be gracious.

MATTHEWS: Are you going to win this fight? Are you going to be around?

MOSKOWITZ: I think we will, because parents are very determined, and it`s
actually just morally wrong. He`s trying to close the highest performing
middle school in math in the entire state of New York in fifth grade. I
don`t think anyone can get away with that. It`s 194 kids who`ve been with
us since kindergarten. They have a right to a great free public education.

MATTHEWS: Eva, it`s great to have you on. By the way, I never say anybody
get better press, you get great press. Thank you, Eva Moskowitz. You may
well deserved it.

MOSKOWITZ: Thanks so much for having me.

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

I sometimes think -- let me correct that, I generally notice that whenever
President Obama takes a position, the other party attacks it, then takes
another position for itself. It reminds me of how as a kid, my older
brother Burt would root for the New York Yankees, forcing me out of the
second oldest birthright to root for the Cleveland Indians, of course. How
he`d root for the Navy, and, of course, forcing me to take the side of the
Army. How he would root for the North in the Civil War, and I would have
to root for the South.

Well, has the Republican Party of John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the
Sunday morning voice I call them, become the second brother of American
politics? Obama takes a Heritage Foundation program on health care, the
individual mandate, one that Republicans used to like, but now, because
they have to play the rebellious brother have to attack.

The Democrats control the administration, which includes the IRS. So,
Republicans have to attack that.

The Democrats control the State Department, so again, little brother has to
go on the attack.

And then, of course, it`s Ukraine. Does any party in power have the answer
for Vladimir Putin`s -- have to answer for Vladimir Putin`s behavior? Does
that make you a big brother?

Yes, a lot of this is just sheer partisan robotic behavior. If the purpose
of the opposition is to merely oppose, the Republicans have got that down
just about perfectly. If it`s just to play the role of the second brother,
they got it cold. An 8-year-old can play their game -- as I recall, I did.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END

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