updated 7/28/2014 9:17:47 AM ET 2014-07-28T13:17:47

HARDBALL
July 25, 2014

Guest: Robert Costa, Mark Krikorian, Kevin Appleby, Joe Watkins, Clarence
Page

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: A kinder, gentler GOP?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight: Are potential Republican candidates in 2016
trying to exorcise the ghost of "47 percent"? If you were paying attention
this week, one topic kept coming up among Republican hopefuls, poverty.
Senator Rand Paul talked about poverty during his speech to the National
Urban League this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The poverty problem -- it`s not new,
and it`s not going away easily. Black unemployment`s still twice,white
unemployment. And I don`t accuse the president of not caring. I think he
does care. That`s why we have to talk about policy. It`s just about
caring. I think there are people in both parties who care. We`re trying
to -- we got to come up with a policy that does better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And he`s certainly not alone, The Washington Post reporting
today, quote, "The last time Republicans began running for president, there
was a race to be the most confrontational, the most unbending. Mitt Romney
said he was `severely conservative.` He got caught mocking the 47 percent.
Rick Perry called the Federal Reserve `treasonous.` Rick Santorum said he
was `for income inequality.` What a difference a disastrous election, two
years and terrible polling make. If 2012 was a contest to be the toughest,
the 2016 presidential Republican primary is likely to include a competition
to appear the most compassionate."

This week, Jeb Bush talked about the need to -- the need for
compassion in dealing with the unaccompanied children at the border. Marco
Rubio talked about helping single parents by giving them tax credits and
education reform. And Paul Ryan unveiled an anti-poverty plan that, maybe
surprisingly, didn`t call for gutting anti-poverty programs, like his
budgets in years past have done.

The plan would consolidate funds for those programs at the federal
level and give grants to states. Low-income individuals would work with
case managers to design programs to get them out of poverty.

Ryan also talked about the need for judges to have more discretion in
sentencing non-violent offenders. Here he is today with Chuck Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), FMR. VICE PRES. CANDIDATE: The problem is,
Chuck, our safety net isn`t working the way it ought to be. We have all
these government programs with all these rules and regulations that are
stovepipes of formulaic, fragmented programs that don`t make a lot of
sense. And the whole argument here is if the status quo would be working,
I`d be supporting it. It`s not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So is this the return of compassionate conservatism, or is
it an elaborate bait and switch, as many progressives suspect?

David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and MSNBC
political analyst. Robert Costa`s a national political reporter for The
Washington Post.

David, I`ll start with flattering you. I admit you are the reason we
talk about the 47 percent right now. You guys put that tape out behind the
2012 election. Are you in their heads? Is it right now, Republicans
looking ahead to 2016 and saying, I don`t want to be the guy who`s caught
on tape saying anything like that? I don`t want anyone...

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don`t...

KORNACKI: ... linking me to what Mitt Romney said then?

CORN: I don`t think anyone wants to be caught on tape like that ever
again.

KORNACKI: Right!

CORN: But I`m not buying this as sort of a trend story, as we like to
point out in the media. I still think that, overall, the Tea Party base is
going to be the main force driving the GOP nomination in 2016, and they`re
not looking for kinder, gentler poverty programs.

Now, you start breaking this stuff down, you know, Rand Paul and --
and -- and Paul Ryan both come from this libertarian perspective, where
they`ve long been critical of social programs and have believed that
there`s a libertarian way to deal with this, a way that hasn`t really
seemed to work in real life, and they`ve never really put their, you know,
real policies behind that.

Rand -- excuse me -- Paul Ryan came out yesterday, as you mentioned,
talking about case workers for everybody who`s in the social safety net.
Well, you know what? If you did that, you`d have to spend -- we at "Mother
Jones" did the calculation -- $30 billion!

KORNACKI: Right. And this is -- this is...

CORN: And so -- and so...

KORNACKI: ... the author of the austerity budget, so this is a
different...

CORN: So -- that`s not for benefits, that`s just to pay the case
workers. So is Paul Ryan really going out there and push Congress and his
Republican comrades to expand government...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Yes, but what is the appetite for that Robert? Because, I
mean, obviously, you say compassionate conservatism, you think back to the
1990s. You think back to Republicans who lost to Bill Clinton, you know,
who cares more about the middle class, who cares more about poor health
care like that. And that`s where George W. Bush and compassion and
conservatism came from. But obviously, it worked for them in 2000 because
the party was there with him.

Is there a disconnect now, where the Paul Ryans or the Marco Rubios
see this and they see the general election, but the base isn`t there?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": I think the base ahead of the
midterm elections is certainly not there. They`re not clamoring for some
kind of poverty agenda on the Republican side. And even when you have Ryan
out there, and Marco Rubio and Rand Paul giving these speeches in urban
areas, and the minority audiences, where are they on the minimum wage?
They`re not talking about indexing the minimum wage to inflation. So
they`re trying to engage with new audiences, but when it comes to policy,
they know they can only go so far with this conservative base.

CORN: And also -- remember, they also -- they want to repeal "Obama
care," which is giving insurance to 20 million more Americans, most of them
on the low end of the scale, many of them from minority communities.
They`re not doing anything on immigration. Marco Rubio is running from
immigration. So it`s a very, very limited -- we`re not talking Bobby
Kennedy here. It`s a very, very limited way of trying to change their...

KORNACKI: Well, that`s -- that`s one of the other differences, too,
when you think back to the 1990s. The Republicans were -- they killed
health care reform before it ever got through in the 1990s, so they -- they
were able to say, Oh, we`re going to do something better with George W.
Bush. But as "The New Republic" points out, in his budget, Paul Ryan cuts
food stamps by $137 billion, but in his anti-poverty agenda, he doesn`t cut
food stamps at all.

And Chuck Todd asked him about that this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: Your
poverty plan is -- numbers-wise sort of conflicts with your budget plan.
In your budget plan, you call for some cuts in certain -- in certain anti-
poverty programs, including food stamps. You`re not calling for that here.
You`re actually calling for some expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
So which -- which Paul Ryan proposal is -- is the one -- does this mean you
would change your budget proposal to reflect your new poverty plan?

RYAN: I didn`t want to get into a debate over the funding levels of
the status quo. We could keep doing that over and over again. I want to
talk about how to reform the status quo. The fact is that this program
could occur under any funding level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So Robert, David was talking about this a minute ago. I
mean, this is -- this is -- this is a departure from the Paul Ryan we know,
who is sort of -- you know, nothing is more important to him than budget
deficits, austerity, getting to -- you know, bringing down the budget
deficit as quickly and as dramatically as possible. That`s not what this
plan`s about. Is he going to start taking heat from the right on this?

COSTA: We`ll see. I mean, Paul Ryan`s a complicated spokesman. He`s
trying to return to his roots as a former Jack Kemp aide, talking about
poverty, giving these upbeat speeches about some kind of agenda. At the
same time, he was on the Romney ticket and he was part of that 47 percent
campaign. So is he the perfect spokesman for this new movement? I`m not
so sure.

And Ryan just told it to Chuck Todd. He`s not attaching his poverty
recommendations to his own budget. That`s because he knows House
Republicans, generally speaking, don`t want to back it.

KORNACKI: But he`s on -- he`s on his own on this.

CORN: Well -- well, the numbers don`t add up, you know? He was
trying to cut food stamps, slash food stamps. Now he`s talking about,
Well, we -- you know, not changing the levels but changing the way the
program works. But to do a lot of the things that he says needs to be done
on the poverty programs would cost more money, not less. So would he cut
benefits to restructure the program? So there is...

COSTA: (INAUDIBLE) messaging.

CORN: Well, yes, it`s -- well, that`s right. It is messaging. He
wants -- he obviously wants to stand out as somewhat different from the Tea
Party Republicans, while still having this hawkish budget reputation.

KORNACKI: Well, there`s...

CORN: And you know, at some point, the rubber hits the road and he`s
going to caught between the two.

KORNACKI: And the other -- the other thing is, I mean, where did this
appetite in the Republican Party for sort of being budget hawks come from,
being deficit hawks come from, this sort of appetite for austerity? And I
always -- it always occurred to me that it was sort of a response. We say
the Tea Party came up in response to Barack Obama. That`s true. But it
also came up in response to George W. Bush, didn`t it? It came up in
response to the perceive excesses of compassionate conservatism. He grew
the government too much. The deficit got out of control, and we, as
Republicans, need to purify ourselves.

So to talk about returning to compassionate conservatism now, you`re
basically telling the Tea Party, you know...

COSTA: Right...

KORNACKI: ... that`s the reason you exist.

COSTA: Real quick, I was the bathe Capitol today and I asked a lot of
Republicans, what do they think about Ryan`s speech? And they really told
me that it was not just about having some kind of contrast with the
austerity message. It`s because they see Elizabeth Warren on the left.
They see new populism rise in the Democratic Party. And they`re scared,
not really ahead of 2014, but ahead of 2016. Can they combat that populist
rise on the left? Can they have some kind of response?

KORNACKI: Well, earlier this week, Jeb Bush said that the majority of
unaccompanied children who`ve crossed the border in recent months should
probably be sent home. His views are certainly in line with most
Republicans, but the former Florida governor emphasized the need for
dealing with them compassionately -- that word again. Quote, "There is a
reason and a need for compassion. These children are trying to escape
horrific gang violence and dire conditions in their native countries, but
the ease with which so many of them are illegally entering the U.S.
underscores the inadequacy of our border security. We now have a
humanitarian crisis on our southern border that demands strong leadership
that respects the rule of law."

The tone was somewhat different from Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: This president has caused the problem by
enticing children into America by waving in front of them the prospect of
amnesty. This president has promised them all sorts of free goodies, like
free food, free clothing, free health care, free transportation, free
entertainment. And until that stops, you cannot anticipate that people
around the world won`t try to break into America because America is going
to be their sugar daddy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And Brooks also said the way to resolve the issue was to
buy one-way commercial airplane tickets off of Travelocity to send the
children home.

David, this seems -- that`s the problem right there, though, from the
standpoint of a Republican who wants to, you know, sort of bring compassion
back within the party, it`s...

CORN: Right.

KORNACKI: ... what Mo Brooks did there is so easy, and it just speaks
right to the base. And what Jeb Bush has to do is couch everything and...

CORN: There`s a great saying that nothing concentrates the mind like
a hanging. In politics, nothing concentrates the mind like a presidential
primary. So all this pre-positioning that`s going on now, Jeb Bush trying
to be -- look tough but sound compassionate -- all that stuff is going to
get filtered and vetted and I think really ground down when you get to the
presidential primary because if he tries to be compassionate about
immigration, Ted Cruz or somebody else running...

KORNACKI: We saw that with Rick Perry, right?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: They will make these either/or issues. You won`t be able to
straddle the line. Paul Ryan will not be able to straddle the line between
someone who wants to improve poverty programs and even devote more
resources to do it, and somebody who wants to cut the budget. All this
stuff is going to really be pushed to one side or the other.

KORNACKI: Well, are we`re seeing -- but are we seeing -- we call
that, you know, the Republican establishment, for lack of a better term,
Robert. But is this what we are seeing here, that the Republican
establishment is waking up, thinking ahead to 2016 and saying, I don`t want
our nominee dragged to the right on that on issue after issue in the
primary because it`s going to come back to haunt us in the fall, like it
did with Romney, maybe even worse?

COSTA: Right. I mean, and you asked a great question of who is Paul
Ryan actually speaking to? Who`s Marco Rubio trying to speak to when he
speaks about poverty? I think they`re speaking to the political class, the
Republican financial establishment, the people who fund presidential
campaigns. They want to hear a new message on poverty and on income
inequality, not necessarily the conservative base. And so ahead of the
2016 race, as they position themselves, this appeals to those kind of
donors who want to hear a fresh message.

KORNACKI: Yes, they`re saying that now. But again, if the base is in
revolt against you, all the money in the world...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Yes, it won`t matter. Eventually, they will have to play to
the base, and if the base doesn`t move or doesn`t change -- they can`t grow
the base, as we like to say in politics...

COSTA: But there could be a populist type candidate I think on the
Republican side...

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: ... Santorum was talking about this blue collar
conservatism...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Santorum`s getting off the message of, I`m for income
inequality.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: There`s always that chance on the Republican side. No one ever
really grabs for it.

KORNACKI: All right. Well, thank you, David Corn, Robert Costa.

And coming up: The Obama administration`s plan to allow Honduran
children directly into the U.S. as refugees, no border crossing needed. As
you can imagine, there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue.
We`ll hear from them in a moment.

Plus, impeachment fever -- 57 percent of Republicans say it`s time to
kick the president out of office. The only thing they`re missing is a
reason. "Too bad, but I don`t like this guy" is probably not an
impeachable offense.

And a new survey finds that the majority of Americans no longer see
health care, the deficit or the economy as, quote, "extremely important"
issues. Could that be because President Obama`s policies have achieved
improvement in all three areas?

And finally, from "Funny or Die," why Mary Poppins (INAUDIBLE) in
favor of raising the minimum wage.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Something`s happening in Kansas. We`ve got another poll
showing the Republican governor of that state in serious trouble. Let`s
check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Governor Sam Brownback, a former U.S. senator, is now down 8 points in
a new poll by Survey USA and KSN News. Brownback trails Democratic
challenger Paul Davis 48 to 40 percent. Keep in mind that`s an automated
poll, but it`s worth noting because it is now the third poll we`ve seen
this year showing Brownback, the Republican, trailing in that very red
state.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Obama administration thinks
it might have a plan to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors at the
border, but it`s certain to be met with some protest on the right.
According to "The New York Times," the White House is considering allowing
children to apply for refugee status before they ever leave home. The
majority of children who`ve trekked to the U.S. border from Central America
come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Honduras in particular has
been hit hard by gang violence.

The potential proposal would start with a pilot program in Honduras,
allowing thousands of children to be screened there before they set out on
the dangerous and uncertain trip to the States.

"The Times" reports, quote, "Children would be interviewed by American
immigration employees trained to deal with minors and a resettlement center
would be set up in the Honduran capital with assistance from international
organizations, like the International Organization for Migration.
According to the draft, the administration is considering opening the
program to people under 21. It also suggested offering entry on emergency
humanitarian grounds, known as humanitarian parole, to some of the
applicants who did not qualify for refugee status."

And by the way, the news comes on the same day President Obama and
Vice President Biden sat down at the White House with the leaders of
Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration
Studies. He opposes the plan. Kevin Appleby is the director of migration
policy with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he supports it.

So Mark, I`ll start with you. The case for doing this, you know,
pretty simply here is we have thousands of children, tens of thousands of
children crossing the border and causing a crisis right now. So why not go
there -- why not go to the source of this and try to address the problem
there?

MARK KRIKORIAN, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: It`s illegal
immigration is what -- is what we`re seeing here. It`s parents and family
members in the United States paying smugglers to bring their kids here.
That`s what it is. This is not a refugee flow, it`s a regular illegal
immigration flow.

KORNACKI: The most striking thing about these kids crossing the
border, so many people crossing the border, is they are turning themselves
in right away. So why not bring that process down to Honduras?

KRIKORIAN: Because they know that they`re going to be allowed to
stay. The government gives them a paper and delivers them free of charge
to their relatives. This proposal essentially would be the government
taking over the entire smuggling process. So instead of paying smugglers
to get to the Rio Grande and then the federal government delivers them to
their relatives in the United States, which is what`s happening now, the
federal government would take over the whole smuggling process straight
from Honduras to the front doorstep.

KORNACKI: Well, look -- well, Kevin, you respond to what you just
heard.

KEVIN APPLEBY, U.S. COUNCIL OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: Well, that`s a
little silly. What this plan will do is it`ll take the smugglers out of
the process. If you go to the source and give these kids a chance to
express their fear and get refugee status and bring them to the U.S. And
you could also take them to other countries. It could be a shared regional
burden.

You`d take away that market from the smugglers. They won`t have kids
to take up to the north. So it`s a very innovative idea. It`s something
that`s been done before. In Vietnam, it was done successfully. It`s been
done in Cuba. And we can do it again. It`s a humanitarian way to do it.

KRIKORIAN: What about the ones who get turned down? They`re just
going to come anyway! So this is -- this -- this isn`t -- this will have
no effect on the flow in the sense of the number of people coming into the
United States. So those who are turned down will just come anyway, and
they`ll say, Well, look, that was a couple weeks ago I was turned down.
Things have changed. And they`ll entered into the system. They`ll be
appealing forever. And they`ll also stay here!

KORNACKI: It does raise, Kevin, the question, though, of what -- the
children who are here right now, I mean, we`re talking about potentially
putting a pilot program in place that would take place over a two-year
period. So, you`re dealing with children who are here right now.

It does raise the question of what happens with them.

APPLEBY: Well, I think we should honor the law that`s in place, the
domestic law TVPRA, which the House unanimously voted for in 2009. And we
should honor their due process.

And we can do it within the system. We just have to resource the
system. The court cases take years for the kids to get to the court.
Speed that up. Give them due process. Not all of them will get to stay.
Forty percent at most will get to stay, and the others are going to be sent
back. But at least we honor the law and we honor our international
obligations by doing that.

KORNACKI: All right.

Well, after meeting with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El
Salvador today, the president made clear there were only a few cases where
refugee status would be granted by the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under U.S. law, we
admit a certain number of refugees from all around the world, based on some
fairly narrow criteria.

And, typically, refugee status is not granted just based on economic
need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty. It`s
typically defined fairly narrowly. You have a state, for example, that was
targeting a political activist, and they need to get out of the country for
fear of prosecution or even death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: In the United States, in order to be considered a refugee
legally, a person must demonstrate -- quote -- "that they were persecuted
or fear persecution due to race, nationality, political opinion, or
membership in a political social group."

Some experts say it`s that last category, social groups, that might
apply here. They say, potentially, the children could count as a social
group, although other experts disagree.

So, Mark, that gets to the -- the idea here is that this is fairly
stringent. And I guess we can talk about the interpretation of it. Fairly
stringent criteria. A lot of these kids probably won`t qualify. So, why
don`t you think they would just be sent home when they go through that
process?

KRIKORIAN: So far this fiscal year, two-thirds of the supposedly
unaccompanied minors applying for asylum have been OKed right away. And
more of them will be OKed later.

The majority of them who are coming illegally across the border are
already getting political asylum, which is basically the same type of thing
as a refugee status. It`s the same thing.

So, the fact is, this is not a narrowly defined, stringent program.
That final category you described, membership in a particular social group,
is one of these loopholes that judges have used and lawyers have used to
define expansively almost anybody they want.

So, I can -- I will tell you right now -- and I`m willing to take a
lunch bet right now that, if they do this, a very large, shockingly large
share of the people applying for refugee status, if they do it in Honduras,
will actually get it will and be brought to the United States.

KORNACKI: All right, response to that. Basically, he`s saying a
slippery slope here.

APPLEBY: Well, I don`t have a problem with somebody getting refugee
status if they meet the law.

I mean, the United Nations has said that about 58 percent of these
kids have an international protection claim. That doesn`t mean they`re all
going to get refugee status. But at least they should get due process.

KORNACKI: Well, how many -- I guess part of the question is because
we -- a few minutes ago, you were talking in terms of probably a lot of
people won`t qualify this, you were thinking.

But what is your sense of who would and who wouldn`t qualify? How do
you determine? How do you look at one of these countries? How do you look
at Guatemala, where you`re talking about plagued with gang violence or
something? How do you come up with like what the definition is for
somebody who qualifies for refugee status, because everybody would like to
escape gang violence, obviously.

APPLEBY: Right.

KORNACKI: But where does that meet the definition of, OK, this is a
refugee?

KRIKORIAN: A few people in Detroit would want to escape gang
violence.

APPLEBY: Well, that`s a slur against Detroit.

But if someone -- if a government, like a failed government in
Honduras, cannot protect their citizens, then they have a right to
international protection, and that`s what`s going on here.

They are failed governments in both Honduras and El Salvador. They
can`t protect these kids. There`s whole cities that are controlled by
these gangs and by these drug networks. And they can`t be protected, and
that`s where the international law comes in and protects these kids.

As I said, not all of them are going to get it. They may be eligible
for other forms of relief as well, a visa under the special juvenile
immigrant visa as well. So, there`s different types of relief that may be
available to them.

All we`re saying is, they should be able to articulate their fear and
present their case. And some of them might not meet it.

KORNACKI: All right, and we will see. As I say, this is the outlines
of a proposal here. We will see if the White House actually puts this
together a little more firmly in the future.

But thank you to Mark Krikorian and Kevin Appleby. Appreciate the
time.

And up next, you may have seen that poll showing Darth Vader leading
some well-known presidential candidates. Last night, he got a pretty big
endorsement. That`s next in the "Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": I heard
that Hillary Clinton recently threw a baby shower for Chelsea.

AUDIENCE: Aww.

FALLON: And Hillary even made the cutest quilt for the baby. Take a
look at the -- isn`t that a nice quilt? Adorable. Adorable.

(CROSSTALK)

FALLON: Very nice. Thoughtful.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Pretty clever.

Back to HARDBALL and time now for the "Sideshow."

She may play as an ice queen in her role as Claire Underwood on "House
of Cards," but on Wednesday night, actress Robin Wright showed off some
insane dance moves with Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show." Take a look at
this. Maybe we will see more of that in season three, even if it is a
little bit out of character for her.

Next up, Thursday marked an unfortunate anniversary for Democratic
lawmakers hoping to boost the federal minimum wage. It`s been five years
since the hourly rate was last raised. It was set at $7.25 an hour back in
2009. But proponents of a livable wage are a getting a little publicity
for their cause this week.

The folks at the comedy Web site Funny or Die created what can only be
called an alternate ending to the iconic Disney film "Mary Poppins." But
in their version, Poppins quits her job because she just can`t make ends
meet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: In every job that must be done, you must be bad
in more than fun. You get your paycheck and, snap, federal and state
income tax, Medicare, Social Security. Why, you`re living below the
poverty line.

(singing): And every job you start to do can quickly go askew. The
pay`s too low. I can`t live on this dough. Just a $3 increase can make a
living wage. It makes a living wage. It makes a living wage.

Just a $3 increase can make a living wage. I don`t get these birds
for free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Not bad.

And, finally, the news that Darth Vader is currently outpolling many
real-life candidates for president provided some comic relief to Beltway
journalists in an unusually busy week. But even they couldn`t expect this
campaign to take off so fast. Believe it or not, the fictional candidate
clinched a big endorsement last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Nation, these numbers
don`t lie. So, based on these results, I`m now officially endorsing Darth
Vader for president of the United States.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: The electoral is becoming more and more diverse. And
there`s no question he`s a strong black candidate.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: And he has got a plan to put Americans back to work with a
massive infrastructure program.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Plus, Lord Vader is a veteran fighter pilot who knows what
it`s like to work in an Oval Office.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: So, vote Vader/Binks 2016. Mesa prove this message!

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Up next, a majority of Republicans say it`s time to impeach
President Obama. The trouble is, they don`t have a single legitimate
reason.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.

Israel and Hamas have reportedly agreed to a 12-hour pause in the
fighting. The 18-day conflict has left more than 820 Palestinians and 38
people in Israel dead.

A third child has died in Philadelphia after two carjackers lost
control of a vehicle and plowed into a mother and her children on a street
corner.

And a raging wildfire in Washington has now burned about 300 homes.
The massive 400-square-mile fire is the largest recorded in that state`s
history -- back to HARDBALL.

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Whether it`s Benghazi, the border crisis, or his birth certificate, we
have seen how the far right will use almost pretext to call for President
Obama`s impeachment. And just today, Senate candidate Joe Miller in Alaska
joined with Sarah Palin, calling for impeachment and saying the president
is -- quote -- "usurping powers that the Constitution does not authorize."

But a new CNN/ORC poll released this morning reveals a lot about
American attitudes toward impeachment, finding that a wide majority of
Americans do not believe that President Obama should be impeached. That is
of course unless they`re Republicans. The results show that 65 percent,
about two-thirds of all Americans do not feel that President Obama should
be impeached, while 33 percent think he should.

But if you look inside the numbers, you will see how they skew along
party lines. Take a look at this breakdown. A majority of Republicans
favor impeaching the president, 57 percent of them, compared with only 13
percent of Democrats.

Joining me now are MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Capehart of "The
Washington Post," Republican strategist Joe Watkins.

So, Jonathan, I will start with you because I know you have been
writing about this.

And that number, two-thirds of the public says they don`t want this to
happen. But a clear majority of Republican voters say they do want it to
happen. We have seen this story play out in other contexts, where the
public says no, but the Republican Party says yes. The government shuts
down, for instance.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

KORNACKI: Do you think Republicans in a certain circumstance would go
forward with this?

CAPEHART: Yes.

KORNACKI: Try to impeach him?

CAPEHART: OK.

So, what we have been happening -- what`s been happening since last
summer is, you have had Republican members of Congress actively and
publicly saying that they would want to impeach the president. The one
thing that they would always follow that up with is that, well, because the
Republicans -- the Democrats control the Senate, we probably wouldn`t be
able to convict.

My contention is, if the Republicans take the Senate in the midterm
elections, there will be such pressure on Speaker Boehner to bring up
articles of impeachment.

KORNACKI: Even in that, they wouldn`t have the two-thirds needed to
convict at this minute. They would...

CAPEHART: Right, so impeachment is a two-step process. Impeachment
is the first step. You only need a simple majority of the members of the
House to impeach.

You need then to go to the Senate, where you need two-thirds of the
Senate, or 67 votes, to convict. For a lot of these people who want to
impeach the president, the first step is enough. They don`t need a
conviction. They`re so desperate to put an asterisk next to the name of
the president that to successfully impeach the guy, no matter what the
articles of impeachment are, that`s good enough for them.

But the psychological barrier of Democrats controlling the Senate is
what`s keeping it at bay.

KORNACKI: So, Joe, listening to this, it raises a number of questions
for me, but one of them is this. What would they impeach him for?

JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, that`s the question, Steve.
That`s a great question. And I don`t see anything the president`s done
that`s worthy of impeachment.

To bring up a president on charges of impeachment, it`s happened three
times. Andrew Johnson of course was impeached by Congress. He was
acquitted by the Senate back in 1868. Richard Nixon had articles of
impeachment drawn against him. He resigned before he could be impeached.

And then President Bill Clinton of course was impeached by Congress in
1998-`99, but of course he was acquitted as well by the Senate. And we
also know what the backlash was.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: But what do they -- but what do Republicans -- what do you
hear from Republicans? You don`t believe this, but plenty of Republicans
are out there saying it. What do you hear from them in terms of why they
would want to do it?

WATKINS: Well, I don`t hear anything with any gravity or specificity,
because, again, for somebody -- for a president to be impeached, that
president would have to commit treason or some -- some heinous crime, some
terrible crime that`s worthy of impeachment.

The president hasn`t done that, certainly not to my knowledge, and not
to the knowledge of the people with whom I talk. And there`s no sense of
will for it, especially when you -- if you talk to Speaker John Boehner or
others in the leadership positions in the House and certainly the Senate.

There`s certainly no will to impeach the president. He hasn`t done
anything worthy of impeachment. But we have embarked on, sadly, over the
last couple decades, given the strong partisanship and the divide in the
country that exists, this idea, this notion of impeaching our president.

So, when Bill Clinton was president, Republicans gave him a hard time.
He was impeached. He was acquitted by the Senate. In 2005, President Bush
had articles brought up against him, again in 2006.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Hang on. The push against Bush was quickly shut down. To
the extent there was a push, it was quickly shut down by Nancy Pelosi.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: But, in 2008, Dennis Kucinich and Robert Wexler brought 35
articles against him. It died, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Back the Republicans in 1998 actually impeached a
president. That`s sort of the modern precedent we`re talking about here.

But back in 2006, on the subject, Democratic House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi was unequivocal in her opposition to impeachment when the subject
was raised with then President Bush.

WATKINS: That`s right.

KORNACKI: She said -- quote -- "I have said it before and I will say
it again. Impeachment is off the table."

WATKINS: That`s right.

KORNACKI: So, she shut it down right there. Sure, you had errant
voice or two, I don`t -- has John Boehner shut it down with that same
vigor? Or has he simply said, I`m against it?

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: John Boehner shut it down. Their voices are saying --

KORNACKI: Jonathan, just one second, Jonathan, then go ahead.

CAPEHART: Speaker Boehner answered a question from our own Luke
Russert. You know, Sarah Palin just called for the president`s
impeachment. What do you think? And he said, I disagree. That`s not
unequivocal. And again --

KORNACKI: He`s scared of his base.

CAPEHART: Exactly, and he`s been scared since 2010 or 2011 when they
came to Washington. This is a guy who`s many times done things that people
view as something to throw a bone to the Tea Party base, to throw the bone
to the conservative base. And then he ends up being devoured by that same
base.

That`s why I`m of this belief that the lawsuit that Speaker Boehner
has now, suing the president is going to eventually lead to the impeachment
of the president --

KORNACKI: They don`t get their way in the lawsuit.

CAPEHART: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: That`s the question, Joe. I hear what you`re saying here,
this is a huge political mistake for Republicans. What happens, sort of to
Jonathan`s point here, these voices keep speaking out, impeach, impeach,
impeach, impeach. And then let`s say Republicans do well as they fully
expect they`re going to, let`s say they do in the midterms this year, let`s
say they take the Senate, they build their majority in the House. How --
these Tea Party voices screaming impeachment now say see, the country wants
it too? How do you, if you`re John Boehner, stop it then?

WATKINS: It`s a huge mistake if anyone pushes to impeach the
president in 2014 an election year when Republicans have a chance to win
majority in the Senate and, of course, retain control of the House, and
maybe even build that majority, because it`s a huge distraction and there`s
going to be backlash, just as there was when Bill Clinton was impeached.
The same thing becomes true if you look at the 2016 presidential election.
I mean, why would Republicans want to embark on any kind of a witch hunt to
impeach the president without any reasonable charges?

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: I know, but it`s the same question of why would you want to
shut the government down.

CAPEHART: Exactly. I mean, it was a huge mistake to play with the
full faith and credit of the United States, with the debt ceiling fight in
2011. It was a big mistake to shut down the government on the fool`s
errand or promising that they would overturn the Affordable Care Act and it
didn`t happen.

So, that`s why I firmly believe that they once again, Steve, will go
down this road of doing something that makes absolutely no political sense
to the rest of us but for some reason makes sense to the Tea Party base of
the Republican Party that is not grounded in reality. We have seen this
movie before.

KORNACKI: Yes, what`s clear -- I mean, listening, Joe has a level
headed approach to this and certainly, it`s clear John Boehner doesn`t want
to go down this road. But it really does feel like the question of his
speakership on this and so many other topics is, is he going to reach a
point where he feels he has to, and he`s going to -- this one I think he`s
going to hold at bay as long as he absolutely can.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Capehart and Joe Watkins.

Up next, people aren`t as worried these days about the economy, about
the deficit, about health care as they were a few years ago. Could that be
because President Obama`s policies actually help on all three fronts?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: In the last two elections, no state voted more like the
country as a whole than Virginia. So, is he Virginia looking for 2016?

Well, let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to a new poll from Roanoke College, Hillary Clinton leads
Paul Ryan in that state by nine points. It`s Clinton, 47, Ryan, 38. Ryan
comes the closest among all the Republicans polled.

Against Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton`s lead is 10 points, 44-34.

Clinton leads Rand Paul by 10 as well. It`s Clinton, 47, Paul, 37.\

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: We are back.

Three years ago, Americans told pollsters they were concerned with
three issues: the economy, the deficit and health care. CNN/Opinion
Research polling from 2011 found majorities viewed those three issues as
extremely important.

And now, well, not so much. According to the latest CNN poll, none of
those three issues is any longer considered extremely important by a
majority of Americans.

So, what`s changed? Could it be that President Obama`s policies are
actually working and people no longer see them as so important because
things have gotten better?

The metrics on all three are pretty clear. So, why hasn`t President
Obama received more credit?

Clarence Page is a columnist for "The Chicago Tribune". And Beth
Fouhy is senior editor of MSNBC.com.

So, Clarence, I`ll start with you, on the question of the economy, I
guess of the economy, I could see, this has been a slow and unusually slow
recovery, this has not been one of those robust -- you know, the next thing
you know, we`re all back on the recovery, I get that.

But on the deficit, the evidence couldn`t be clearer, from where we
were to where we are.

Health care, this is the president who expanded the social safety net
of health care.

So, where is the credit on this?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, if you`re going to wait for
Republicans to give him credit, you`re waiting for a long time, Steve. But
the fact is that we all know that if the economy`s going well, then the
president at least doesn`t get as much heat as he or, someday, she will
when the economy is not doing well. But there`s a little question as much
as President Obama`s policies have been working they`ve had a positive
effect.

People on the left say, if he had to have done more spending, the
economy would be even more robust. I tend to subscribe to that view,
frankly. But there are others who say, well, he didn`t go far enough in
cutting the deficit.

KORNACKI: Do you think he should be out there -- you don`t want to
take a victory lap or anything right now especially because the economy is
not doing great right now. We can certainly say. But shouldn`t he be out
there --

PAGE: We`re in a right direction.

KORANCKI: It`s in the right direction. Like on the deficit, I don`t
hear anybody talking about the deficit at all any more. And I remember the
level of almost hysteria about that a few years ago. Should he be out
there saying, you guys wanted this addressed and guess what, we addressed
it.

PAGE: Well, deficit hawks, quite sincerely, are a bit of a cult. I
mean, they`re the core of the Tea Party. They`re the core of supply side
conservatives, and it`s something -- when the deficit is going down, hardly
anybody notices. Notice that? They will notice when government spending
is spending money, but when government is not spending money, you don`t
notice it unless you happen to be on the end of folks` benefits run out or
whose food subsidies are not enough.

Then, you`re going to feel it. They don`t have a big enough voice in
our society.

KORNACKI: So, Beth, is there a longer-term thing for Democrats? I
mean, President Obama is not going to be running probably for anything ever
again. But in 2016, certainly, his legacy is something that`s going to be
on the ballot, no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

Is this something where Democrats are looking at this, is saying, this
is the seeds of something a few years from now is going to sprout into
something electorally?

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC.COM: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, Steve, everybody
has to get through 2014, of course, and the thinking is that Republicans
will do very well. But it`s not because of issues, it`s because of the
specific races and because in the midterms, almost every presidential
second term, the president`s party does not do very well, so in this case,
the Republicans do have a very good chance of getting a lot of new Senate
seats, potentially taking the Senate, but we don`t feel like it`s a big
wave election that we did in 2010 when people were very upset about the
stimulus spending, very upset about the financial bailout and upset about
Obamacare which hadn`t come into effect yet but had been very much poisoned
in the world of public opinion by Republicans.

This time doesn`t feel like that. And I think it`s because for the
very reasons you say, there aren`t any big compelling issues out there to
motivate people one way or the other.

So, Republicans at this point are just kind of playing trench warfare,
just hoping they can drag their candidates over the finish line in November
2014 because a more Republican contingent of voters is going to come out.
That older, whiter base that tends to vote Republican rather than the
younger, browner group that is the president`s coalition.

KORNACKI: Right. The presidential versus the midterm -- here`s why
Americans might no longer be as concerned about the economy, deficit, and
health care. Since President Obama came to office, we have seen the number
of jobs lost taper off over time to a steady increase in job gains. In
fact, recovery has now made back all of the jobs that were lost during the
recession.

And what about the deficit? Issue of deep concern to Tea Party
activists. The deficit has actually been cut more than in half, from $1.4
trillion in 2009 to $649 billion in 2014.

We now 13 million people have signed up for health coverage including
Medicaid under Obamacare.

Clarence, the deficit jumps out at me, too, because if you take a step
back here and look at history, you remember Ronald Reagan getting punished
early in his presidency because the deficits were suddenly exploding
because of his tax cuts, because of his defense spending.

PAGE: Right.

KORNACKI: 1982 midterms.

By 1984, he won 49 states, the deficit had gotten much worse, but
because the economy was strong, people sort of stopped caring. I remember
--

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Right, I remember President Clinton in the `90s, too, I
always wondered did he really get credit for reducing the deficits or just
for the economy being strong?

PAGE: Well, Al Gore should have given him more credit, been willing
to run with him in 2000, he probably would have won. You know, it`s like
Jim Carville says, what part of the years didn`t you like, the peace or the
prosperity?

You know, when we don`t have a prosperity, then we really notice it.
I think right now, the economy is starting to recover. Happy days aren`t
here again, but they aren`t as sad as they were four, five years ago. So,
we`re seeing a lot of apathy, ironically.

This is an off-year election which is really important right now, is
what issues do fire people up? Well, they`re base issues, on the left and
the right. If voter ID becomes a big issue now, you would see more black
voters turning out like you did in 2012 or immigration may yet turn out a
lot of Hispanic voters.

KORNACKI: Thank you, Clarence Page, Beth Fouhy. Appreciate it.

And when we return, let me finish with the long game for President
Obama and the Democrats.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Let me finish tonight with the long game for Democrats. We
just talked about some of the very big areas where the current president
and his party can claim real successes. The deficit is down. The
Affordable Care Act is working, mostly. And the economy is finally showing
some real signs of life.

We also talked about that always looming possibility of Republican
overreach. It`s the right`s absolute determination to fight and oppose
President Obama on everything will ultimately lead Republicans down the
politically suicidal path of impeachment.

So, there are reasons for Democrats to feel optimistic that they`ll
get a payoff for the ballot box for all of this. But remember, President
Obama`s approval rating is still in the low 40s. That`s not a good place
to be heading into this fall`s midterm elections.

The playing field is stacked against Democrats this year as well.
Their magic number is 17, that`s the number of seats they need to gain if
they`re going to win back control of the House this fall, if they`re going
to start moving on an agenda of their own again and not just responding to
the Tea Party`s agenda.

But it is almost unheard of for a president`s party to gain any seats
in a midterm election. Just think back to 1998 when Republicans were
trying to impeach Bill Clinton and the country revolted in that year`s
midterm elections. It was a huge, stunning victory for Democrats. It was
one so shocking that it forced Newt Gingrich to step down as House speaker.

And how many seats did they gain that year? Well, the answer is five.
In what was one of the best midterm elections ever for a White House party,
they managed to pick up just five seats. That`s less than 1/3 of the 17
they need this year.

That`s why there`s a longer game at work here for Democrats. 2014 is
part of it. They have to avoid getting wiped out this fall. They have to
keep the 17-seat gap in the House from getting much worse. That`s the good
news for them, that right now at least, it doesn`t look like a big
Republican wave is building and it does look like Democrats can at least
hold their own this fall.

And if they can do that, then it sets up the real battle in 2016.
Maybe the economy will be a little stronger then. Maybe health care will
be more popular. More established part of the safety net.

In 2016, Republicans won`t just get to take shots at the White House,
they`ll have to put up a candidate of their own. They`ll have to write a
platform of their own. Run on an agenda that may not sit that well with
most Americans.

There could be a huge opportunity for Democrats, in other words. Run
a strong candidate at the top of their ticket, like, say, Hillary Clinton,
and they could capitalize on all of this. That`s when they could take back
the House, keep the Senate and the White House, too, and that`s when after
finally, four years of gridlock, they could put themselves back in position
to do what they did in the first two years of the Obama presidency -- to
use their power to do big things.

That`s the long game for Democrats. 2014 is important to it, but
2016, that`s the ball game.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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