July 1, 2014
Guest: Margie Omero, Michael Crowley, Derrick Johnson, Alexander Burns
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: So sue me.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.
"Let Me Start" tonight with President Obama`s counterpunch at the
Republicans. It was less than a week ago that House Speaker John Boehner
accused the president of abusing his authority as commander-in-chief.
Boehner called President Obama a king and announced plans to file a lawsuit
painting him as a lawless monarch.
And late last week, President Obama dismissed the suit as a stunt, and now
he`s basically taunting the GOP. Over the past 24 hours, the White House
has unleashed an onslaught of headlines signaling that President Obama will
not back down when it comes to exercising his authority as commander-in-
Yesterday, President Obama announced plans to use executive actions to
advance immigration reform, and he also announced an executive order on the
issue of LGBT workplace discrimination. The lead story in The Hill earlier
today reported that President Obama is weighing executive actions after the
Supreme Court ruled against "Obama care`s" contraception mandate.
And today, the president met with his cabinet specifically to come up with
more executive actions, telling them, quote, "We`re going to have to be
creative about how we can make real progress."
Just hours later, he spoke to crowds in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to keep on taking
actions on my own that can help the middle class. And they criticize me
for this! Boehner`s suing me for this. And I told him, I`d rather do
things with you. Pass some laws. Middle class families can`t wait for
Republicans in Congress to do stuff.
So sue me. As long as they`re doing nothing, I`m not going to apologize
for trying to do something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Michael Steele was the chairman of the RNC and Joan Walsh is the
editor-at-large with Salon. Both are MSNBC political analysts.
Joan, I`ll start with you. I`m going to guess -- and I don`t know for sure
-- I`m going to guess that might be the first time in American history that
a president has said, So sue me.
But look, I mean, the president says that, and he knows the reaction that`s
going to kick up. He knows this whole, you know, "king Obama," as John
Boehner calls him -- he knows what Rush is going to say. He knows what
Drudge is going to put up on the Web site. He knows what Hannity`s going
to saying on Fox News.
He knows this is happening. It`s almost like he`s baiting him. Is that
the strategy here?
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don`t want to say
he`s baiting him because this was happening before President Obama reacted,
right? They were suing him before he said, So sue me. And they were never
going to not sue him if he said, Oh, gee, I`m afraid of being sued. So
there was nothing he could do to make that threat go away.
Does he now seem to be enjoying it a little bit? Maybe. You know, they`ve
been calling him a king, they`ve been calling him a tyrant since he --
since, you know, January 1st, (sic) 2009. So that`s not going to stop. I
think what you are seeing, though, is both sides in an election year
playing to its base. On the one hand, you know, John Boehner`s base hates
the president. They already think he`s a king and a tyrant. This is good
politics for John Boehner.
On the other side, the president`s base is very defensive of him, thinks --
blames the Republicans for all the hard times that he`s had. And I`m sure
they, like me, enjoy seeing him sound defiant and give up on the years and
years of compromising that led to exactly nothing.
KORNACKI: Well, so -- so Michael, when I say baiting, I guess what I`m
saying is, sure, I mean, there was no stopping the lawsuit. But I think
Obama might be sensing sort of an opportunity here. Thinking back -- and
I`ve talked about this a little bit before. Thinking back to President
Clinton, 1998, the midterms that Democrats won seats in `98 when they never
was supposed to. It`s because the Republicans overreached. The Republican
opposition to Clinton was so overheated. They tried to impeach him, and it
And I almost sense the White House (INAUDIBLE) President Obama maybe
recognizes, `Hey, I can stoke this. I can stoke this Obama is a tyrant
talk. Sure, they do the lawsuit now. The lawsuit doesn`t work. Then they
go even farther and it backfires on them.
Seems like he`s trying to bait them into that.
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you`re --
I think, actually, you`re both right. I think it`s a -- I think the U.S. -
- U.S. -- the government -- I`m thinking about the soccer game! The
government right now is looking at the fact that they can bifurcate, the
administration can bifurcate this. They can play, as Joan rightly put, to
the base. But they can also goad the Republicans into saying and doing
things that furthers the narrative that will be a nice set-up for the fall
about this president.
As he said in that clip, You know, I`m going to act. While they are doing
nothing, I`m doing something. And as, you know, the economy seems to, you
know, still struggle, that`s going to be tied to the Republicans doing
And so I think the smart side of the politics here is for Republicans to
not overreach, to dial back the rhetoric, to put on the table--
KORNACKI: That`s easier said than done, though, isn`t it? I mean--
KORNACKI: -- the word "impeachment" how many times--
STEELE: I know, Steve. Absolutely. I think we`re actually kind of past
that point. So my saying it is a little bit moot. But I say it
nonetheless because I still think there are still windows here for
Republicans to make the case going into the fall without jeopardizing the
Senate, without jeopardizing other opportunities against this
KORNACKI: Well, President Obama has been energized, obviously, by these
attacks on his authority. On Friday, he forcefully denounced the Boehner
lawsuit in an interview with ABC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m not going to apologize for trying to do something while they`re
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if you get sued?
OBAMA: You know, the suit is a stunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Yesterday, he attacked Republicans as obstructionists on the
issue of immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a
serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing. If Congress will not do
their job, at least we can do ours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And today, he attacked Republicans for derailing parts of his
agenda that he says are not controversial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: People just want to see some results. And objectively, if you look
at the agenda I`m putting forward, the things that we`re trying to get
done, like just fix some bridges and roads, it really shouldn`t be
It`s not crazy. It`s not socialism. You know, it`s not, you know, the
imperial presidency or -- no laws are broken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As the NBC News political team writes in today`s "First Read,"
the White House loves the lawsuit. It only emphasizes the contrast that
one branch of government is doing something while the other branch is doing
nothing. Bottom line, the White House sees a political opportunity here.
So Joan, I mean, we were talking about how, you know, from the standpoint
of sort of rallying your base, there`s something here for both sides. We
know the Republican one. He`s the king, here we go, the tyrant all over
again. And we know the Democratic one, obviously, he`s trying to -- you
know, he`s trying to do something on the Democratic agenda here. He`s
fighting these Republicans who want to stop him.
I wonder -- we always look at sort of -- we talk so much about, Are there
any swing voters left anymore? Are there any people in the middle who are
still trying to make up their minds?
But I wonder if there are any people like that out there, if there is
anybody who`s persuadable, when you`re at 42 percent in the polls, like
Obama is right now, when your presidency`s kind of stalled in Congress,
like it is right now, at a very basic level here, the theater of this has
got to look good for him. He looks like he`s fighting, and if you look at
the issues he`s fighting for here, by the way, they`re all pretty popular.
WALSH: I think the theater is great for him. I mean, he -- you know, he -
- yes, he would love his opinion poll -- his approval ratings to be higher,
Steve, but so would John Boehner. There are few people less popular than
John Boehner and the House Republicans.
So in a battle of the president against John Boehner, he looks like a
titan. And you know, even that clip, I don`t know what he`s going to do
through executive orders on infrastructure. I`m not sure he can do
anything. But really, bridges and tunnels and roads used to be a
bipartisan affair. That kind of legislation used to pass Washington
easily. It did not use to be polarizing. It did not use to lead to
So that`s just a measure of what this president is up against and what
people really can`t stand about the current Congress.
KORNACKI: So Michael, is there any way -- because -- so again, we talk
about this -- you know, the Republican base is kind of locked in. I mean,
it`s been "tyrant" almost from day one with Obama. And the Democratic base
is kind of locked in.
Is there thinking on the Republican side -- and maybe it`s totally flawed,
if there is, but is there thinking on the Republican side strategically
that they can win over people outside of the Republican universe, outside
of Republican world to this idea that the president is overreaching with
his executive authority? Maybe it`s with immigration. Maybe it`s with the
Do you think that they actually believe they can grow that perception?
OBAMA: Well, yes. I mean, I think you start at the fact that the
president`s at 42 percent. That means there`s 58 percent of the voters out
there have a negative opinion. So you have that. That`s kind of a
And then you have decisions like the Supreme Court decision this week,
which more than smacked the president on the hand for his appointment
strategy or acting extra-executively on the issue of appointments. So yes,
there are these small narratives that have kind of -- sort of feed into the
overall narrative about this president and the theme that -- yes, he
blusters about, oh, you know, no cooperation and Republicans not helping
and not doing anything. But at the end of the day, you know, where the
rubber meets the road, the president is still falling short, and he`s
falling short in the economy, he`s falling short on jobs, he`s falling
short on a number of other things. So that kind of feeds that.
But the other side of this -- and this kind of talks about that window that
I mentioned before -- is that, you know, the House has sent bills to the
Senate that have passed the House. They`ve not all been, you know -- you
know, undo "Obama care" or on abortion. There have been some substantive
bills that have passed the House on economic development and job creation
and the like, that have gone to the Senate and stalled because Harry Reid
doesn`t even bring them through the -- let them get through the committee,
let alone to the floor. So you have that top-line narrative, as well.
So I think Republicans can frame this about, you know, this is not just
about a do-nothing Congress but a do-nothing executive, or more
importantly, an executive that does too much.
KORNACKI: All right, well, I want to thank--
KORNACKI: Very quickly.
WALSH: -- deregulation bills. You know, they`re not job creation bills.
OBAMA: Well, no, they`re -- no, that`s your opinion. But the fact is,
it`s a bill and it has gone to the Senate and the Senate has done nothing
with it. So if it`s that -- you know, show that it`s a bad bill. Vote it
down. So that`s -- you know, as the president`s sitting there, telling the
House, send me a bill -- we`ve sent you bills. You just don`t let your
Senate leadership put the bill to a vote so that we can have this debate
whether or not, as you put it, it`s a bad bill--
KORNACKI: -- that`s the story of the last few years, right? I mean, the
Republicans in the House--
KORNACKI: -- are pursuing one agenda--
OBAMA: So there`s nothing new here.
KORNACKI: -- and the White House pursuing a completely agenda. And
neither branch seems to be working with the other.
KORNACKI: Ever. Anyway, I want to thank Joan Walsh, Michael Steele for
coming on. Appreciate it.
Coming up, Republicans are thrilled with the Supreme Court`s Hobby Lobby
decision. And guess what? So are Democrats. Tonight, who really has the
political advantage on this very controversial issue?
Also, Americans haven`t been paying much attention to the gains the radical
Sunni group ISIS has been making in Iraq. Maybe it`s time we do
(INAUDIBLE) they have their eyes set on the West.
And African-Americans helped push Thad Cochran over the top in his primary
race. Now they`re saying, We want something in return, your support for
And finally, as you may know, the U.S. men`s national soccer team lost
today to Belgium in a knockout round at the World Cup in Brazil. It was a
dramatic finish. Belgium took a 2-nil lead in extra time, but the USA
fought back, scoring a goal and coming within a whisker, an agonizing
whisker of tying the match. Congratulations to the Americans for making it
as far as they did. Congratulations to Belgium for moving on to the
quarterfinals against Argentina, who also won today.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
KORNACKI: Karl Rove is ready to pour big money into Senate races this
fall. Rove`s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have reserved $20
million for TV ads. The bulk of that money is being spent in red states
with competitive Senate races. Rove`s groups are spending more than $5
million in both Alaska and North Carolina, $3 million in Iowa. It`s the
only state on Rove`s list that went for President Obama in 2012.
We`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It didn`t take long for yesterday`s
Hobby Lobby ruling to be turned into a political football. Within hours,
the Democratic Senatorial campaign committee was blasting the quote,
"Disgusting, Supreme Court decision" while asking for money from
supporters, to, quote, "Stop the GOP Senate takeover." And the Republican
National Committee declared "Obama care" defeated in a fund-raising appeal
of its own.
Both sides are appealing to their bases. And many potential 2016
presidential contenders joined in. Here was Hillary Clinton yesterday
calling the ruling deeply disturbing. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: It`s the first time that our
court has said that a closely held corporation has the rights of a person
when it comes to religious freedom, which means that the corporation -- and
closely held are often family-based, not exclusively but usually -- that
the corporation`s employers can impose their religious beliefs on their
employees. And of course, denying women the right to contraception as part
of their health care plan is exactly that. I find it deeply disturbing
that we are going in that direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: A number of potential Republican contenders for 2016 praised the
ruling, including Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal. But one
possible candidate seemed more reluctant to weigh in. Listen to how New
Jersey governor Chris Christie responds to a question about the case today
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was the Supreme Court right in its decision?
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Who knows! Is the Supreme Court
right? I mean, you know, the fact is that when you`re -- when you`re an
executive, your Supreme Court makes a ruling and you got to live with it
unless you can get the legislative body to change the law or change the
The point is, is, like, why should I give an opinion on whether they`re
right or wrong? At the end of the day, they did what they did. That`s now
the law of the land unless people in the elected branches try to change it.
This is the way you get bogged down in those things. You know what? I
don`t think that`s the most central issue that we need to talk about this
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would agree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Steve Schmidt is a Republican strategist and an MSNBC
contributor. Margie Omero`s a Democratic pollster.
I got to just say before we start, I covered Chris Christie. I covered New
Jersey politics. I remember Chris Christie. One of his favorite pastimes
is bashing the New Jersey state supreme court. So it`s very interesting to
listen to him there saying, Oh, you got to live with it when the Supreme
Court weighs in like that. But anyway, we`ll put it aside.
Margie, let`s look at the sort of the political fallout from this ruling
yesterday because most of the Republican 2016 prospects, you know, praised
the decision. But then you have Christie there, you know, saying his own
thing. We just -- we just played it.
On the Democratic side, I`m hearing basically the same thing from every
Democrat I`ve heard talk after yesterday. Seems to me the Democrats may be
a little bit more united in seeing a political opportunity here than
Republicans. Is that your read on it?
MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Yes because it reflects where public
opinion is. Public -- first of all, 99 percent of women of child-bearing
age have used contraception. It`s hardly controversial. But yet here we
are having a controversy about it. It just demonstrates how far to the
right Republicans have moved that with few exceptions, they seem to think
that this is a good political strategy for them, when we know both polling
about Hobby Lobby or more broadly about contraception, it`s very clear.
This is not something that women say -- I`ve never heard a woman in a focus
group say, God, I really wish my boss would tell me what birth control
method I could use. That would be really helpful. And you know,
certainly, my neighbor should have her boss tell her what to do.
So Chris Christie equivocating here is -- you know, I guess he`s just
trying not to get anybody angry. But it just doesn`t -- you know, it
doesn`t look very executive. I mean, he just -- you know, he`s just
saying, like, Oh, what are you going to do? It`s not really an opinion.
KORNACKI: So Steve, maybe could you take us inside sort of Republican --
the Republican world on this issue because -- is there a divide in the
party? Is the party trying to grapple with the -- on the one hand, you
know, the Republican Party, obviously, you know, huge presence of religious
conservatives in the party. That`s part of the constituency.
On the other hand, you know, contraception is something that`s used widely
across party lines by women. And the Republican Party has been facing this
gender gap for so long. Is there -- is this something that`s being talked
about inside the party, How do we handle issues like this, or is the party
more unified than I think?
STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Look, you know,
there are serious religious liberty issues that are part of all of this
debate. And you know, certainly, the Republican Party for a long time, the
majority is the pro-life party.
And I just want to talk about the politics of this a second and just set
aside for a moment the -- the legal arguments, which are more complex than
I think we have an opportunity to debate right now.
This is a very dangerous place for the Republican Party to be if they are
viewed, just as a political matter, as the anti-contraception party. Being
the pro-life party has never been a disqualifier from being able to elect
Republicans to the presidency.
But certainly when it comes to contraception, these issues were decided
seemingly in the mid-1960s. And so when you look at the reality in the
Republican Party that -- if you look at just the states Democrats have won
six out of the last six elections, there are 242 electoral votes, with 270
needed to win.
And without exception, every single demographic group in this country that
is growing, Democrats are gaining market share in it.
SCHMIDT: That includes single women, it includes younger voters. So, this
is an enormously problematic political issue for Republicans.
KORNACKI: That`s really interesting to hear. So, I`m just curious, how do
you think it`s come to this for Republicans? You`re saying contraception
is an issue that I think we all thought we wouldn`t be talking about in the
year 2014 in politics in America.
How did it come to this? Did Republicans fall into a trap here politically
speaking when the Obama administration did the contraception mandate? What
is it in the Republican universe that has made this a problem for the party
SCHMIDT: Look, if you go back to the debates over the 2012 election, I
don`t think it was particularly surprising when Rick Santorum started to
talk about these issues.
And, look, Rick Santorum, I think, is a conviction politician. I think he
deeply believes what comes out of his mouth. But the problem was -- it
wasn`t that Rick Santorum was talking about this issue on the debate stage.
The problem was that Mitt Romney and the other candidates didn`t look at
Rick Santorum and say, what are you talking about? We are not the anti-
And here`s the other -- here`s the other aspect of it. If the Republican
Party is to be viewed as a limited government party, it can`t simply be a
limited government party when it comes to regulations on business. When it
comes to the personal space and sphere, the big government wing of the
party peeping through the bedroom window is very deeply offensive to a lot
of Americans out there.
And you look in the Northeast of the country, you look in the West Coast,
the Mountain West, you look at all these places that were bedrock stable of
the -- staples of the Republican electoral calculus, it`s all fallen apart.
And so there`s just enormous cultural differences in the country on these
issues as well.
And Republicans are going to have a very, very difficult time, particularly
in the context of the immigration reform collapse. And you look at some of
these issues that we`re just on our back foot and unable to deliver as a
result the economic growth message that I think is key for Republicans to
be able to deliver to win elections.
KORNACKI: Well, all right. If you wonder why some Democrats think this
issue could give them a leg up, then look no further than some of the
reaction on the right.
Conservative blogger Erick Erickson celebrated the ruling yesterday by
tweeting -- quote -- "My religion trumps your right to employer-subsidized,
And here was FOX News personality Jesse Waters giving his analysis of why
Democrats like Hillary Clinton are making such a big deal about the ruling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Obama won single ladies by 76
percent last time. And they made up about a quarter of the electorate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It`s true.
WATTERS: They depend on government because they are not depending on their
husbands. They need things like contraception, health care, and they love
to talk about equal pay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I`m just surprised -- he`s sitting there surrounded by women --
that it didn`t provoke more of a reaction when you say something like that.
But, Margie, that`s -- these are the -- it seems to me sort of like
anecdotally, these are the sorts of moments that account for that gigantic
gap he`s talking about there, because when we talk about the gender gap, we
always -- that`s something we have sort of had in American politics since
1980 with the Reagan platform with the Republicans that year that threw out
the ERA, but now that the story really is this gap between married and
single women, tell us a little bit more about the opportunity there for
Democrats and what these comments do for that.
No, it reinforces a very clear narrative that Republicans, by and large,
are out of touch with the lives of American women. And we are not
discussing here what a primary candidate in one state said. What we are
talking about is a Supreme Court ruling decided by men that requires women
to get permission from their employer before they can use contraception,
which most women want to use.
And the tone of all the comments makes it seem like we are really not
talking about a difference of faith, but actually some real anti-woman,
tone-deaf, completely off-the-deep-end kinds of conversations.
That`s how it is going to strike a lot of women who are going to say, do
these -- do these folks really understand what it`s like to be me? And
some of these folks are commentators. They are looking for -- it`s a
different calculation than someone who is a public servant.
But you have a lot of candidates and public -- so-called public servants
running off the -- following these folks off the cliff.
OMERO: And using language that`s just really way outside what real women
want to talk about.
KORNACKI: Well, when I -- the moment I realized Democrats seemed to be on
the same page on this and seeing an advantage was when I saw that even Mark
Pryor in Arkansas, running for reelection down there this year, a state
that Mitt Romney won by 20-something points last time, even Mark Pryor was
critical of this decision yesterday.
So, the Democrats really clearly see a 2014 advantage in this.
Anyway, I want to say thanks to Steve Schmidt and Margie Omero.
And up next, the music rendition of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg`s dissent
in the Hobby Lobby case. That`s no joke. That`s in the "Sideshow." That
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
KORNACKI: Back to HARDBALL. Time now for the "Sideshow."
President Obama said farewell to his White House pastry chef at a reception
yesterday. And his remarks got some attention after he admitted to having
a sweet tooth for the White House pie, revealing that he suspects the chef
uses a secret ingredient to make them so addictive. What`s that
ingredient, you ask? Well, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We call Bill the crust
master because his pies -- I don`t know what he does, whether he puts crack
in them or--
B. OBAMA: But--
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: No, he doesn`t.
M. OBAMA: There is no crack in our pies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, be grateful the first lady was there to clear that one up.
Next up, as we have seen, the Supreme Court ruling yesterday in favor of
the Hobby Lobby has clearly fired up the Democratic base. And justice Ruth
Bader Ginsburg`s scathing 35-page dissent has become something of a
political manifesto among those who disagree with the court`s decision.
Well, singer/songwriter Jonathan Mann has become well-known for writing and
posting a new song every day on YouTube. And he was clearly inspired by
Ginsburg`s words yesterday, so much that he performed excerpts of her
dissent in a new song he posted last night.
So, here now is a clip of his latest with words from Justice Ginsburg`s
Hobby Lobby dissent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN MANN, SINGER/SONGWRITER (singing): Would the exemption extend to
blood transfusions, antidepressants and anesthesia, pills coated with
gelatin, and vaccinations? Whoa, now, the court, I fear, has ventured into
a mine field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
And we will be right back in a moment. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
In Murrieta, California, protesters blocked three buses carrying more than
100 undocumented immigrants, preventing them from reaching a nearby Border
Patrol facility. The families, including young children, were flown from
Texas and were supposed to be temporarily housed at that location.
Meanwhile, in Panama, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the crisis at
the border in meetings with Central American leaders. He said urgent
action was needed to stop the flood of children crossing the border alone.
And Tropical Storm Arthur, the first named storm of the season, has formed
off the Florida coast. It is expected to gain strength as it moves north
and become a Category 1 hurricane by Thursday, affecting the Outer Banks of
North Carolina. Forecasters say its winds could also produce dangerous are
surf and rip currents -- now back to HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The stunning military gains that the radical Sunni group ISIS has made in
Iraq aren`t simply a threat to the region. They`re a threat to the West as
well, particularly the United States.
Here is a part of Richard Engel`s most recent report for NBC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: ISIS militants have land,
weapons and ambition. And U.S. officials are now very worried.
Several counterterrorism officials tell NBC News the threat from ISIS to
American interests is -- quote -- "extremely high." They say ISIS is
developing advanced bomb-making skills and cultivating a roster of foreign
suicide bombers who could target the U.S. and Europe. And they are
bragging about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us now
And Michael Crowley is "TIME" magazine chief foreign affairs correspondent.
Richard, I`m so glad we have you here because that`s a -- I mean, we saw
that report. That`s a chilling report I think for anyone to watch, for any
American to watch.
Can you just tell us, the American -- average American watching this right
now and seeing that report, how worried should they be about the prospect
of an attack on the homeland?
ENGEL: Well, I don`t want to be alarmist or suggest that I have
intelligence of any particular attack that could be under way.
But I have spoken to officials, counterterrorism officials, U.S. officials,
other governments, and I know this group, ISIS. I have been following it
for the last couple of years in Syria, also for the last year or so in
And it is very dangerous. It has thousands of members, hundreds at least
with European passports. And it is extremely ambitious. It is not simply
interested in carving out a little mini-state. It`s now calling it a
caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria.
It has global ambitions. And, today, the leader of the group, who is now
the caliph of his self-proclaimed caliphate, gave a national address. He
issued a statement calling on Muslims from all over the world to come here
and fight. This is not just a regional problem. This is a global problem.
KORNACKI: And is this--
ENGEL: The United States and many Americans may have forgotten about this
or want to forget about this militant group, but this militant group thinks
a lot about the United States.
KORNACKI: Well, so, now are -- they think about it. Are they in position
right now? If they wanted to pull something off, are they in position now
to do it or is this something we are talking about maybe a year or two
years down the road? Is this right now?
ENGEL: I think it is right now.
I think the group clearly right now is focused on fighting in Mosul,
perhaps launching an offensive against Baghdad. But when you have that --
that much capacity, you have capacity. One senior counterterrorism
official described it this way. He said, right now, they have a lot of
suicide bombers. Think of it like a faucet that right now that faucet and
the stream of water coming out is directed at this part of the world. But
it could be easily directed at Europe or the United States. It is just the
will to do it.
KORNACKI: So, Michael, I think, when I hear this, I think about and I
think a lot of people probably think about the warnings and the sort of
ominous signs that were there in the 1990s about al Qaeda leading up to --
in the run-up to 9/11 and really obviously in the wake of 9/11.
When you look at this group ISIS, and you think back to al Qaeda and look
at al Qaeda right now, for that matter, how does the threat that we face
from ISIS compare to the threat that we faced from al Qaeda in the run-up
MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Well, I would say that, in
the very immediate term, this group is doing something that al Qaeda for
the most part wasn`t doing in the run-up to 9/11, which is fighting -- they
are in the midst of a war basically, and they`re fighting a lot of
different enemies. That`s the good news.
And they are fighting the Iraqi security forces. They`re fighting the
Assad regime. They`re even fighting other radicals with whom they have had
a split. They have essentially split from al Qaeda and they have had some
very violent fights with their Sunni radical rivals who are in al Qaeda.
So, this is a distraction that Osama bin Laden didn`t have in, say, 2000,
summer of 2001.
The bad news is that this group has -- is acquiring a huge amount of
territory, a lot of money. They are attracting foreign fighters from all
over the world, including ones, as Richard mentioned, with Western
passports, which is particularly worrisome.
And also that the -- in the past decade, the battlefields in Afghanistan
and Iraq have been a training ground for this new generation of radical
fighters, who are learning things like combat techniques, how to build
bombs. They are getting all kinds of training in radicalization, in a way
that those al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, they were -- they had training
camps and they had some of it, but it`s not the same as this real-time, you
know, frontline battlefield experience.
So, I would say that on the whole, it`s actually more alarming than al
Qaeda was just before 9/11.
KORNACKI: So, what -- I mean, we spent time you know, 9/11 happened and I
think -- you know, obviously, we spent so much time and thinking about what
could we have done, what did we miss in the run up to it, how can we
prevent it from happening again?
So, Richard, based on what Michael just said and based on what you said,
looking at this right now, what can the U.S. be doing? Is there anything
the U.S. can be doing right now to lessen this threat?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are armed
drones and aircraft patrolling the skies over Baghdad every day now. It is
a political decision that would immediate to be taken. It is not simply a
switch that you can turn on and launch a counterterrorism offensive. You
need to gather intelligence, you need to pick targets, you need to re-
When the United States was here in force for years it was watching every
town, every city here. It knew all of the players. But for the last
several years, American troops haven`t been here in large numbers. There
hasn`t been a focus on Iraq. It would take a little bit of time to rebuild
that intelligence portfolio.
But some of the tools are already here. It would just take a decision to
start using them. And some officials I have spoken to think that`s coming,
that eventually after the military advisers who are here on the ground as
they continue to realize that the Iraqi security forces don`t have the
capacity and don`t have the political leadership to stabilize the situation
that the U.S. will have to start drawing up its own intelligence package
and launching some sort of airstrikes or drone strikes.
KORNACKI: Michael, in terms of a commitment from the United States because
you know there is a war weariness in this country for understandable and
obvious reasons, and the question of how long do we need -- does the United
States need to be present over there? We can`t be present there forever.
If this is going to pop up when we leave, is it five, is it 10 years? Is
it going to pop up when we are out of there for good?
CROWLEY: Right. Is it a whack-a mole? Listen, people who study things
like insurgencies and nation states that have had, you know, civil wars and
try to put themselves back together say you`re talking five years, 10
years, much longer for these wounds to heal. So, it`s a long-term
commitment, if you want to commit.
The question is, what does this administration and the success of
presidents ready to do? I don`t think anyone knows yet. I think we`re
still sorting that out. I think that our best bet right now is that
regional allies can step in and do some of the work. Our closest allies
are Sunnis. And really need influence of the Shiites and we don`t have
much of that. So, there is not really an easy answer to that question,
One last point I will just make --
KORNACKI: Quickly, yes.
CROWLEY: You know, relative to 2001 and al Qaeda, of course, a big
difference is we have a whole counterterrorism infrastructure that we
didn`t have back then. So, for viewers who are wondering what the threat
level is, remember, al Qaeda in a way kind of caught us -- I`m not going to
say sleeping. There were counterterror officials very focused on al Qaeda.
We have an enormous counterterror infrastructure now.
KORNACKI: Right, this time -- this time, we know it can happen. I guess
that`s the takeaway.
KORNACKI: Thank you. Richard Engel in Baghdad, and Michael Crowley,
really appreciate from both of you.
Up next, African-American voters bailed out Senator Thad Cochran last week
in Mississippi. Now, the big question -- what will Senator Thad Cochran do
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
KORNACKI: Another victory for marriage equality, this time in Kentucky
where federal judges struck down that state`s ban on same-sex marriage.
The ruling, a U.S. District Judge John Heyburn puts Louisville -- of
Louisville puts Kentucky one step closer to joining the 19 other states and
the District of Columbia that now allow same-sex marriage. The decision
was immediately put on hold because it would be appealed.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The Republican Party of
Mississippi expanded its base. It reached out to Democrats and
particularly black Democrats and said, join with us, Thad Cochran is a
better choice, and they succeeded.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We are back. That was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
weighing in on Thad Cochran`s victory in the Mississippi run-off over Tea
Party challenger Chris McDaniel by courting African-American Democrats.
Whether or not Cochran was about creating big tent politics or just a
desire to win, African-American leaders are telling Thad Cochran that he
owes them. Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus told "Politico"
that they expect something in return from Senator Cochran, whether it`s
food stamp funding and programs that help poor blacks in Mississippi or
supporting a fix to the Voting Rights Act.
Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge of Ohio said, quote, "Absolutely, we have
Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia said, "Those votes were delivered. And
I`m hopeful he will be responsible and responsive to voters that pushed him
over the top."
Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver added, "What I hope happens is that he comes
to the realization that African-Americans are the reason I have this final
six years and therefore, I`m going to try and be more responsible than I
Another African-American leader looking for more support from Senator
Cochran is Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson. He joins me now.
And Alex Burns is a senior political reporter for "Politico".
So, Derrick, I`ll start with you. Just two questions here I just want to
establish for people. Last week in the run-off in Mississippi, did you
vote? Did you support either of the Republican candidates?
DERRICK JOHNSON, MISSISSIPPI: No. I did not vote. I voted in the
Democratic primary election so I could not vote in the run are-off
KORNACKI: OK, I just want to establish, the second thing is have you
spoken with Senator Cochran at all since that election last week?
JOHNSON: I have not spoken with Senator Cochran since the election.
KORNACKI: OK. If you do get the opportunity, if you were to get him on
the phone now and he had a chance to talk to Senator Cochran and say,
African-American Democrats put you over the top last week, what would you
tell him? Do you have -- what do you expect from him, what you want from
him and his next years in the Senate?
JOHNSON: Well, I would like Senator Cochran to do what he did in 2006,
that is support the authorization of the Voting Rights Act, to insure that
African-American and other disenfranchised communities across the country
would be able to cast a ballot free of vote suppression and intimidation.
In his election for example, in NAACP, we got involved after we heard
complaints and concerns that the Tea Party was going to target African-
Americans precincts and question whether or not African-Americans were
legitimate to vote in the Republican primary.
For us, access to voting is the key, despite one`s political party or
candidate preference, all Americans should be allowed to vote. And we are
asking Senator Cochran to support reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.
KORNACKI: OK. So, you want the VRA. So, now, here is my other question
for you that is simply about, it`s about leverage. It`s about what do you
have over him right now to get him to do that? Because two weeks ago if we
are having this conversation, he needs your votes or he`s not going to win
that runoff. Well, he won the runoff, we think he`s going to fall.
Let`s say he goes ahead and wins in the fall. He`s got another six years,
we don`t think he`s going to run after that. So, he doesn`t need to go
back to polls again maybe ever. He maybe never needs, you know, African-
American support again ever, so what`s the leverage or is this just, hey,
it`s the right thing to do?
JOHNSON: Well, for Senator Cochran, it is the perfect opportunity to be
the person that we believe he is. In 2006, there was no pressure for him
to support the Voting Rights Act and, in fact, he did. Now, without
pressure from the Tea Party and extreme individuals on the right, he can
now be free to be the statesman that he had proven to be over time, support
inclusion of democracy for all of the state`s citizens, all of the
country`s citizens, to ensure they are able to cast a ballot.
So, it`s not about leverage. It`s about him being the statesman that we
believe he can be as shown himself to be in the past.
KORNACKI: All right. Well, so, Alex, I mean, you have covered this race
so closely, you know about Cochran, you know the people around Cochran.
What`s your read on the situation? Are we going to see any difference on
Senator Cochran when he returns after this or did he get what he wanted and
ALEXANDER BURNS, POLITICO: You know, I think, Steve, that Cochran --
people around Cochran see him as somebody who is authentically interested
in reaching out to different communities in Mississippi, all along. As Mr.
Johnson noted, Cochran did support the Voting Rights Act in the past,
regardless of whether there was political leverage to compel him to do so.
But, you know, look, I think the bigger picture political story here, the
clip you played from Hillary Clinton where she was talking about how the
Mississippi Republican Party broadened the region, this runoff election, I
think the real test of that is whether folks like Senator Cochran or anyone
else in the delegation now steps up and says, listen, black Democrats or
independent voters who decide to participate in this primary, this runoff
election, we weren`t just talking a good game. We can actually deliver for
you maybe on the Voting Rights Act, maybe on something like the SNAP
program, or in support for historically black colleges. These are all
parts of the record that Cochran has already wracked up in the Senate.
It`s something I think is reasonable to expect him to try to do again in
the next six years, especially given the way this election just played out.
KORNACKI: All right. We`ll see -- I mean, part of the story, the politics
of the VRA, is that a lot of Republicans used to support it, but to find
the ones who will go on the record and say that now is a different story.
So, that`s the big test. Maybe we`ll use that as a litmus for Thad
Cochran. We`ll take a look and see what happens.
Thank you to Derrick Johnson and Alex Burns.
When we return, let me finish with how political tribalism is threatening
our system of government and what President Obama is doing about it.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
KORNACKI: Let me finish tonight with the long game on President Obama`s
stepped up use of his executive power. We talked about it here earlier.
Right now in this moment, the politics of this are really good for the
president. Republicans say no to a higher minimum wage, so Obama orders
all federal contractors to pay their workers more. Republicans say no to
passing legislation to cut carbon emissions and fight climate change, so
Obama orders the EPA to set new rules to reduce emissions from coal plants.
Republicans won`t touch anything having to do with gay rights, so Obama
orders same-sex couples made eligible for family and medical leave, too.
And now, this week, Republicans officially say no to comprehensive
immigration reform, and Obama says, fine, if you don`t do anything, I`ll
use my executive power and I`ll do it on my own. Now, Republicans are
howling in protest and they`re also getting ready to sue the president for
his use on executive power. But this is a battle the White House is
thrilled to have.
Think of the old line from David McCullough about Harry Truman who ran
against a do-nothing Republican Congress back in 1948, and won a race no
one thought he`d win. "There was something in the American character",
McCullough wrote, "that responded to a fighter."
I think that something is still there in the American character. We`d
rather watch our president step into the ring and fight for what he
believes than stand on the sidelines and say, nah, there is no point.
But I think we need to take a step back and think about this, too. John
Boehner and Republicans have their own cynical reasons for suing Obama. It
may be good for the system if they do, because we have entered a scary new
era in our political history, it`s an era where the two parties are
increasingly becoming distinct and isolated tribes with deep cultural,
geographic and ideological divisions that separate them.
For our system to work, there has to be at least some cooperation between
the branches of government. Since Republicans gained control of the House
in 2010, there has been none. We`ve nearly defaulted on our debt twice.
We`ve had a shut down. We`ve had a massive backlog of nominees for key
agencies in the federal courts.
You may not like that Republicans would rather stop governing than meet
Obama half way in just about anything, but they do run the House, the
people`s house. The way our system is set up, they can make that choice if
they want to. It is supposed to be on us as voters to throw them out if we
don`t like that choice. But maybe that`s the real issue here, because I`m
not sure our Founders anticipated this moment, a moment when the brilliant
system they devised is threatened by political tribalism.
What exactly can a president do under our Constitution? Whether it`s Obama
now or somebody a Republican president who`s fighting a Democratic
Congress, what can that president do when the other party runs Congress and
says it won`t do anything? It`s probably about time we got that question
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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