updated 2/17/2015 4:09:25 PM ET 2015-02-17T21:09:25

Show: HARDBALL
Date: February 13, 2015
Guest: Rear Adm. John Kirby, Matthew Rosenberg, Dana Milbank, Danny
Vargas

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: ISIS on the attack. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

And as the U.S. Congress shows bipartisan hesitation over President
Obama`s request for war powers, the enemy shows new strength. ISIS forces
recently attacked in Anbar province, attempting to overrun a city there, Al
Baghdadi, and today 25 ISIS fighters nearly penetrated an Iraqi military
base containing about 400 U.S. Marines. The ISIS fighters were killed. No
Americans or Iraqis were killed.

However, the question -- who`s winning this war that Congress is being
asked to wage? I`m joined right now by Rear Admiral John Kirby, the
Pentagon press spokesman.

Admiral, thank you for joining us. And that`s my question. It looks
to me, and it`s based upon your statements today, that ISIS is still on the
offensive.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: No, I don`t know that I`d
say that, Chris. They certainly have been on the offensive the last couple
of days, but our assessment is that, strategically, they`re very much still
in a defensive crouch.

I think we need to keep this in perspective. Al Baghdadi, the town
near the base at Al Asad, is actually contested right now. We don`t assess
that it`s completely fully in their control. And this attack never really
got beyond the perimeter, the extreme perimeter of a base that`s roughly
the size of Boulder, Colorado.

So I`m not saying we`re not taking it seriously, but I don`t know that
I`d say that -- I can go as far to say that ISIL`s now back on the
offensive.

MATTHEWS: Who`s -- who took that land back? Who took that territory
back from the offensive -- from the -- assailant (ph) by -- by ISIS forces?
Who...

KIRBY: Iraqis...

MATTHEWS: Americans took the forces (sic) back or Iraqi forces it
back?

KIRBY: Iraqi security forces have been battling with ISIL in al
Anbar. And again, I think would describe the situation still as very
contested. I don`t want to call it one way or the other. But it`s Iraqi
security forces that have been doing the fighting there in al Anbar.

MATTHEWS: So here`s my question to you, and I know it`s a terrible
question, but every -- most Americans are angry beyond -- every day they
see these -- a guy being burnt to death with gasoline, a real soldier, for
no other reason than sadism and theater of some sick kind. You see a young
American killed, and we don`t know how she was killed, but she was killed
because she was there. And it`s very personal with us as we watch this
because of television.

And yet -- and we don`t want this side to win. Yet we don`t see how -
- if you look at the map and the countries of Iraq and Syria, you don`t see
how anybody can close in on them. We don`t have much faith in the Iraqi
army. Of course, we hear about the Free Syrian Army being trained at some
point. We see about the good fighting being done by the Kurds, and we see
the great air force work, the air attacks being done by the Jordanians.

But how do you kill ISIS at this point? Who`s doing the killing?

KIRBY: Well, that`s a great question, Chris. I`d say that, first of
all, this isn`t just about killing them, it`s about degrading and
destroying their capabilities, about shrinking their ability to govern and
to control area, assessed area, important area, population centers. And
the air strikes are having a dramatic effect on them.

What you didn`t see -- you know, when they lost Khobani -- they just
happened to time the loss of Khobani with videos of the execution of those
two Japanese hostages because they knew it was a big strategic defeat for
them, and they didn`t want to admit that. But they got kicked out of
Khobani.

In Iraq, they`ve lost hundreds of square kilometers of territory, and
it gets -- shrinks a little bit more every month. They don`t have the same
influence that they once had.

The other thing, Chris, that we`ve said is this is going to take a
long time. This is not something that we`re going to achieve in just a
matter of months. You have to remember we`ve only been at this for about
eight months now of just kinetic air strikes.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KIRBY: It`s going to take a while.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you so much, Rear Admiral John Kirby. Thank you
for your service to the country.

KIRBY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by NBC chief foreign correspondent
Richard Engel, who`s over in northern Iraq. Richard, thank you. My same
question to you, looking at it from your vantage point right now. How is
this war going? Are we winning, or are they where they`ve always been, in
control of that territory?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the admiral was right
on many points. The ISIS is being harmed by the air strikes. They are
losing territory. The air strikes have forced them to change their
communications. Some of the top leaders have gone underground. They`re
not using Skype and the Internet the way they used to be.

But the problem is much bigger than just fighting the militants and
killing their leaders. ISIS has grown up and established control in the
very big cracks of many unresolved conflicts. They are growing up in the
space where the Iraqi Kurds and the government of Baghdad don`t get along.
They are getting in the space between the Free Syrian Army and the
government of Bashar al Assad.

So until these big questions are settled -- this region where I am
now, northern Iraq -- does this become an independent state? Does Assad
get to stay, or is there really a rebel movement that the U.S. is backing?
Until these questions are unanswered -- or until they are answered, ISIS
will still find a way to operate, it seems.

MATTHEWS: Well, a quick yes or no. Does the United States have a
strategy for answering those questions, the future of Assad and the future
of the Kurds, et cetera? Do we have a policy?

ENGEL: Most people I speak to say absolutely not, no. Most people I
speak to are incredibly frustrated, that they say there is a military plan
in action. They are very happy with the air strikes. They are happy that
ISIS leaders are being bombed. But they don`t see at all a clear political
vision of what Iraq is supposed to look like at the end of this.

Right now, the U.S. is backing three different forces in Iraq. It`s
backing the Iraqi army and it`s backing the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces
where I am now, and it`s backing some Sunni tribes in Anbar and other
places. It`s backing three different sides who all hate each other and
want different things for the future of Iraq. So I don`t see exactly how
that is going to lead to a peaceful and stable outcome.

MATTHEWS: You`ve been reporting on the atrocities committed by ISIS
against the Yazidi women. Let`s watch a bit of it, and then you`ll be on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENGEL (voice-over): The U.S. started bombing ISIS to stop an
atrocity, the systematic slaughter of a small religious minority called the
Yazidis, who were trapped in the Sinjar mountains of northern Iraq. But
not all of the Yazidis were saved. Thousands of men have been killed, and
Yazidi women by the thousands, too, were taken as slaves.

We met 12-year-old Huada (ph) and 19-year-old Farida (ph) in Dohuk in
northern Iraq. They had been bought and sold, raped and beaten for months
before escaping from their tormentors. Farida didn`t want to show her face
but told us her painful story.

"What did you say to them," I asked her. "We said we are human
beings," she said. They said, "You are our property." They said, "You are
infidels, and we will do what we want with you."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: What -- is this what goes on in war, in the most basic kind
of war where you win and you take the other side`s women and rape them? It
seems so -- barbaric`s an old word, but what is it? This is pretty...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... basic stuff.

ENGEL: It doesn`t -- it doesn`t happen in modern war, frankly.

MATTHEWS: Right, obviously.

ENGEL: It is not the kind of thing that has been happening for -- in
I would call in the civilized world or in a lot of places for a very long
time. This group, ISIS, is proudly reviving an ancient practice of...

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s what I mean.

ENGEL: ... enslaving the enemies, taking infidels as bride, as booty
of war, and carrying out absolute atrocities against them. This is not an
isolated case of two young women, one of them just a girl, who were
captured. The village that those two girls were from was entirely taken.
The men were marched out into the fields and gunned down, around 500 men
killed execution-style, made to lay on their bellies when they were machine
gunning their backs.

And then the women, hundreds of women, were taken back, to Raqqa
mostly, which is the ISIS stronghold in eastern Syria, and then distributed
in an open auction among the men.

And ISIS is very proud of this practice. And then once the men have
taken possession of these women, there is an internal market. They sell
them from one to the next to the next and make them wash their clothing,
make them clean their quarters. And if they put up any kind of resistance,
they`re locked in ISIS jails. They are beaten.

The older woman, the 19-year-old girl who we spoke to, that you just
saw that clip of -- she tried to kill herself seven times while she was in
ISIS hands before she quite amazingly managed to escape, crossing the
desert on foot for hours and hours until she found a safer place and
someone was able to pick her up.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you. NBC`s Richard Engel who is over in Dohuk,
Iraq. Thank you, sir.

Meanwhile, back here in Washington, the prospects for passing an
authorization for military action against ISIS seems to be running into
roadblocks on Capitol Hill. There are strong critics both on the left and
the right.

I`m joined by "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson and global
editorial director for the HuffingtonPost Howard Fineman. Both are, of
course, MSNBC political analysts.

Horrible. I -- I -- you`re better at some of these words. Basic, I
was trying to get at, sort of Cro Magnon is the word I...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: The sort of the basic barbarity of -- of the booty of war
being the women. And grab the treasure, grab the women, kill the men, rape
the women. I mean...

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it`s
just horrible, atavistic, awful, primitive...

MATTHEWS: Yes, primitive.

ROBINSON: ... horrible -- it`s just awful. And it so enrages the
conscience...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: ... of -- of -- of any human being that...

MATTHEWS: Is this because they`re a different religion, the Yazidis?
We don`t know Yazidis here in this country, but...

ROBINSON: They`re...

MATTHEWS: ... is it because they`re a different religion?

ROBINSON: I believe so. They`re infidels and they`re unworthy, and
therefore, you know, they`re -- you can treat them that way, I suppose.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s try to figure ourselves out. According to the
latest NBC Marist poll, when given the details of what the president is
asking for in terms of authority for war, a majority of Americans say they
want Congress to vote -- this is interesting -- in support of the
president`s authorization for military force in that resolution. Two
thirds of Americans also expressed confidence the United States and its
allies will be able to defeat ISIS. And the country is open to U.S. troops
on the ground. Only about a quarter say they`d support sending a large
number of U.S. ground forces. Four in ten Americans say they`re open to
sending a limited number of U.S. troops. Only 26 percent say they`re
against sending any.

Howard, that`s kind of hard to read, and these things are very mobile.
These numbers move...

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Yes, they are.

MATTHEWS: ... the minute there are casualties, the minute something
goes wrong, the game`s over.

FINEMAN: Well, the American people are often more sensible than the
people they choose to lead them here. I think in this case, they`re
expressing the ambivalence and the confusion that you see here in
Washington. On the one hand, when they see the pictures and hear the
reporting of people like Richard Engel, they say, We`ve got to do
something. Yes, we support the idea of use of military force. Yes, we`re
crossing our fingers, and we think it can work, maybe, military force
maybe. But when you also ask them, you know, Do you support or oppose the
current plan, do you think the current plan will work, they`re confused
about it. They`re hesitant about it.

And that very ambivalence and confusion is embodied in the proposal
that the president is putting forth.

ROBINSON: Right.

FINEMAN: This proposed authorization for the use of military force
lays out the horrors that Richard Engel was describing in graphic detail.
But then what it says is, OK, we`re going to go there only for three years.
We`re not going to have enduring offensive ground combat operations. We
don`t think that large-scale American military involvement is the right way
to do it.

So the president is expressing, I think, a lot of the ambivalence that
the American people have.

ROBINSON: And then -- so you look at that, which is -- and you go
through that, and you say, OK, what is going on here? What are we doing?
And then the backdrop is what`s actually happened -- happening. So you
listen to Richard Engel, and in Iraq, we`re supporting three different
groups that hate each other, right, that have different -- totally
different visions...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: That`s in Iraq. That`s the place where it`s going better,
OK? In Syria, the people we`re supporting, the Free Syrian Army, the
moderate rebels, we`re -- our policy is such that they`re getting
clobbered, right, by ISIS, the people we hate, the people we`re trying to
defeat, and Assad, the dictator, who`s equally horrible, who we say has to
go.

FINEMAN: By the way...

ROBINSON: They`re the ones who are thriving.

FINEMAN: By the way, what Gene just described is a microcosm of what
we`re doing in the entire region. We`re supporting Sunni, Shia and Kurds
throughout the region. The Saudis are our close allies, the ultimate
Sunnis. We`re trying to make a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. They`re
the ultimate Shias. This whole region is a hall of mirrors. This
authorization proposal reflects that. The views of the American people...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me...

FINEMAN: ... reflect that.

MATTHEWS: ... pull back the macro here, the macro analysis here.
It`s confounding. How about a micro analysis. You`ve got a boy over
there, a son over there, or a husband. How can you -- as John Kerry once
said, how can you ask them to be the last person to fight for a war? How
do you even know what the war is and if there`s any chance?

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What are you fighting for, just to show we`re fighting?

ROBINSON: No, it`s got to be better defined. It`s got to be better
defined now. And I think that`s why -- you know, it`s interesting on the
Hill. Look, I think this Hill debate is -- is -- is great. I don`t know
if it`s going to go anywhere, but it needs to be had, right? And the
initial reaction is -- you know, there`s concern from the left, there`s
concern from the right, as there should be, totally different reactions.
And so maybe we`ll get someplace. And they ought to -- they`ve got to ask
these questions.

MATTHEWS: I`m afraid...

ROBINSON: There`s got to be -- there`s got to be a narrative here.
There`s got to be...

MATTHEWS: Here`s the explosive model in math, where they`re going
different directions. One wants more restrictions, one wants no
restrictions. They`re not coming together. The right and the left are...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: No, it could happen.

FINEMAN: And by the way, I`m not convinced that there will, in the
end, be a positive vote in favor of this authorization...

MATTHEWS: Yes. How`s he...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: ... that explosive math...

MATTHEWS: Can the president support...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: He says in the letter that accompanies this proposal,
although existing statutes provide me with the authority that I need to
take these actions.

MATTHEWS: 2001.

FINEMAN: That one. That one.

MATTHEWS: Hey, guys, you`re the best, and you can`t solve it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s not your job to solve it, to understand it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... to understand the darn thing. Anyway, thank you, Gene
-- and it does get down to our fighting men and women over there and what
they can conceivably achieve. It can`t be a war of attrition against ISIS.
Anyway, Howard Fineman, Gene Robinson.

Coming up -- as America debates a new war with ISIS, the war in
Afghanistan we thought was over is escalating, but under the radar. We`ve
got the cloak-and-dagger story of how U.S. and Afghan troops are using an
al Qaeda leader`s laptop they captured to attack militants in secret night
raids.

Plus, is 2016 still in the cards for Chris Christie? More and more
Republican insiders say they just don`t think the Jersey governor can win
their party`s nomination.

And this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of "Saturday Night Live."
We`re going to look at some very funny intersection of comedy and politics
and how comedy can destroy a politician like Gerry Ford.

I`m going to finish with the profound sense of loss we felt this week.
Three guys died this week. The older you get, the more you know them.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber has now resigned. The
four-term Democrat quit this afternoon. He`s been embroiled in an ethics
scandal fueled by allegations that his fiancee used his office to land
contracts for her consulting business. Kitzhaber had resisted calls to
resign and vowed to stay on the job. At one point this week, he had
decided to resign but then changed his mind. In recent days, he lost the
support of the state`s top Democrats. Oregon secretary of state Kate Brown
will assume the office. She`ll be the first openly bisexual governor.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Obama ran as the
president to ends wars. In a 2012 campaign stop, the president gave a
timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This November, you get
to decide the future of the Afghanistan war. You know, Governor Romney had
nothing to say about Afghanistan last week. Yes, he hasn`t offered a plan
for the 33,000 troops who will have come home from this war by the end of
this month.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: He said that ending the war in Iraq was tragic. I think it
was the right thing to do, and I said I would do it and we did.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I said we`d take out bin Laden, and we did.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, and I set a
timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, then in May of 2014, the president gave a new
timetable for the Afghanistan drawdown. The plan would bring the U.S.
force there to 5,500 by the end of 2015 and bring all U.S. troops home by
the time he leaves office in early 2017.

Well, now the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan wants
some leeway. General John Campbell is reported to want to keep more than
5,500 troops into 2016 to keep training centers open longer than currently
planned, but to still end the military mission in Afghanistan entirely in
2017.

Part of the reason for slowing the Afghanistan withdrawal may be this
news reported by "The New York Times" today, headline, data from seized
computer fuels a surge in U.S. raids on al Qaeda. In this excerpt: It`s
all in the shadows now, said a former Afghan security official who
informally advises his former colleagues. The official war for the
Americans -- the part of the war that you could go see -- that`s over.
It`s only the secret war that`s still going. But it`s going hard."

Will President Obama agree to slow the Afghan withdrawal?

Joining me right now is Matthew Rosenberg of "The New York Times."

You wrote the article I mentioned.

And Laith Alkhouri, who is terrorism analyst at Flashpoint Global and
an MSNBC terrorism analyst.

Gentlemen.

Let me start with you, Matthew -- Matt, rather.

How does it all fit together, the fact they found this laptop, they
know the plans of the al Qaeda group there? Does that mean we see an
opportunity that`s worth waiting around for?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think they do see an
opportunity. I think they always planned on keeping some guys there to
keep going after the remnants, they would say, of al Qaeda.

But our understand is there`s been quite a jump in the number of kind
of black special operations, and who exactly are these targets? The White
House has always kind of drawn out, we`re going after al Qaeda. The
Taliban, that is an Afghan problem now.

But there`s a lot of gray area there. And they seem to be going after
a lot of guys who maybe aren`t strictly al Qaeda. It`s a broad thing and
there`s no clear line there and that`s kind of what we see here. There`s
still a lot of action.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, isn`t it impressive when you read -- maybe it was
your article that I was reading today there`s a lot more casualties on the
Afghan army side, that they`re getting a lot of hits from al Qaeda or the
Taliban. Who`s hitting them?

ROSENBERG: The Taliban. And that`s one of the problems and probably
why General Campbell wants to keep guys there, is the Afghan army is a work
in process. The war is not over.

Maybe the large American part of it is, but the Afghan army, its
logistics is troublesome, it can`t fly at night, its air support really
isn`t there, its medevac really isn`t there. And the Americans still have
a lot of work to do before they can say this military is ready to stand on
its own.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Laith on this, Mr. Alkhouri.

This whole question of Americans, we thought we were getting out of
Afghanistan because maybe it`s like we thought we were getting out of
Vietnam, because we had Vietnamization. Is there an Afghanization problem,
that we thought we could have an army that would replace us when we left
and is that not the case?

LAITH ALKHOURI, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, this is the problem.

The problem, this is our longest war and we still yet cannot decide on
a very specific date on when we`re going to withdraw. But I think al
Qaeda`s problem remains a problem and the Taliban`s problem remains even a
bigger problem, because al Qaeda operatives are integrated into the Taliban
ranks.

But even to add to that, the Taliban are really strong today. They`re
not actually being weakened. They`re very strong in eastern Afghanistan
and they have been carrying operations against Afghan security forces. And
Afghan security forces remain pretty weak. And they need U.S. airpower at
least to conduct successful operations.

But I think they also need U.S. intelligence gathering that would lead
to more precision targeting to take out a lot of those shakers and movers.
In the case of taking out taking out Abu Barack al-Kuwaiti, who had the
treasure trove of intelligence on his laptop, this is extremely important
because this kind of data could include locations and names of operatives,
possible plans for attacks in the future and so on and so forth.

So it`s really extremely important that we take a step back and look
at the withdrawal date with more flexibility.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the opportunity we talked about there.

We have a laptop we captured. The laptop tells us about the network
of enemies. Al Qaeda wasn`t there when we went to Afghanistan the first
time, right, in 2001?

ROSENBERG: It was there. They were fleeing already. And they moved
-- a lot of them moved into Pakistan and they have kind of filtered back.
You know, that border is really porous, so guys are moving back and forth
constantly.

I think when guys are in Afghanistan, the Americans actually prefer it
because they can actually send special forces guys with the Afghans out
after them, rather than drone strikes and the Pakistanis.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What are we doing, going around, finding the bad guys and
killing them? Is that what we`re doing?

ROSENBERG: Basically, yes. And it has worked when it comes to the
Taliban. The Taliban has had a kind of turn in their middle ranks. It`s
created opportunities to gather more intel, more turncoats. But that`s
basically what one of the successes has been for years, going out and
whacking guys every night.

MATTHEWS: Laith, can we tell now about the, what`s the word,
durability of the Afghanistan government if we just pulled out completely?
If we just got out of there, would they have much of a life ahead of us or
would it be Taliban control within a matter of months or years? Months?

ALKHOURI: I don`t believe they have much durability if we completely
withdraw right now.

In a sense, you know, the Taliban is extremely integrated and it`s
mixed with the tribes in eastern Afghanistan, eastern, southeastern
Afghanistan. So it`s really important if you want to marginalize the
Taliban and, you know, eliminate al Qaeda`s forces, we would have to really
integrate the Taliban into the society and get the tribes to be on the side
of the Afghan government and not exactly support the Taliban in their
insurgency.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a fundamental question, Laith, because
you`re an expert. I have always been skeptical of these occupations of
Third World countries, other countries, because, except for the British,
who were able over 200 years to establish or to share, if you will, to put
it generously, the idea of democracy and a form of government with the
Indian people, and they did accept it because it fit their culture, the
idea of the congress, party, and the challenge to that.

But if you`re going to leave a country eventually, what can you really
do there while you`re there? Eventually, you leave Afghanistan and it goes
back to the status quo ante. The same thing with Iraq. Why would a
country be changed fundamentally by the presence of a bunch of Americans,
even if they do, some of them, learn the language?

ALKHOURI: I mean, it`s a process that could even take generations.

You know, an entire -- and a society so defiant like Afghanistan
that`s been through occupation by three major world powers is not going to
be, you know, changed overnight. It`s going to take generations. But it`s
really important that, when we leave Afghanistan, we don`t leave it
completely destroyed and in shambles.

MATTHEWS: I know.

ALKHOURI: We don`t leave the security forces incompetent. We need to
make sure at least some of the peace remains before the Taliban end up
taking over Helmand or another province and establishing yet another
emirate, so it`s really important.

MATTHEWS: Yes. The trouble is the American people are not good
colonizers. They want to come home.

ALKHOURI: Indeed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The British like to go to Third World countries, remote
places, and live for a couple generations. You say generations, the
Americans are waiting for the movies to arrive and then they`re waiting to
get home.

Anyway, thank you, Matthew Rothenberg -- Rosenberg -- it`s a lot less
complicated than that. Laith Alkhouri, thank you, sir, for your expertise.

ALKHOURI: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next -- I read "The Times," by the way, every day.

Up next, a special "Saturday Night Live" edition of the "Sideshow"
with the most memorable skits from the past 40 years.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

"Saturday Night Live" is celebrating its 40th year on air this
weekend. And this Sunday night, NBC will air a three-and-a-half
anniversary special starting at 8:00 p.m.

As a preview, here`s a look back at some of "SNL"`s leading cast
members playing American presidents, starting with Dana Carvey as George
Herbert Walker Bush in a debate against Michael Dukakis, who is played by
Jon Lovitz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DANA CARVEY, ACTOR: All I can say is, we are on the track. We`re
getting the job done. We can do more, but let`s stay the course, 1,000
points of light.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVEY: Well, unfortunately, I see my time is up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Mr. Vice President, you still have a minute and
20.

CARVEY: What? Well, no, I must have spoken for at least two minutes.
Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Governor Dukakis, rebuttal?

JON LOVITZ, ACTOR: I can`t believe I`m losing to this guy.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: In 1992, the late Phil Hartman stepped into the role of
Bill Clinton. In his most classic sketch, he explained foreign policy
while making a pit stop at McDonald`s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Do you favor the decision to send military forces
to Somalia?

PHIL HARTMAN, ACTOR: That`s a good question. Yes, I do, and let me
tell you why. You see, right now, we`re sending food to Somalia. But it`s
not getting to the people who need it because it`s being intercepted by
warlords.

Filet of Fish sandwich, aid from Italy, warlord.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the role of George W. Bush was a perfect match for
Will Ferrell. Here`s Bush explaining his regrets with Vice President
Cheney, played by Darrell Hammond, just before they left the White House in
2009.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Here is my regret, that I didn`t have me a vice
president like Joe Biden. I mean, look at those two going out for burgers,
laughing it up.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: I needed that kind of V.P., the kind that did dumb stuff to
make me look smarter.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: You know? Instead, I got the one guy that scares me more
than my dad.

(LAUGHTER)

DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: We had a different chemistry, sir.

FERRELL: Yes, the chemistry of acid in the face.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, perhaps the most celebrated political parody in
recent memory was Tina Fey as former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Here she is with Hillary Clinton played by Amy Poehler at a joint press
conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TINA FEY, ACTRESS: You know, Hillary and I don`t agree on everything.

AMY POEHLER, ACTRESS: Anything.

(LAUGHTER)

POEHLER: I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any
foreign policy.

FEY: And I can see Russia from my house.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

POEHLER: I believe global warming is caused by man.

FEY: And I believe it`s just God hugging us closer.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

POEHLER: I don`t agree with the Bush doctrine.

FEY: And I don`t know what that is.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We will be talking more about the legacy of "Saturday Night
Live" later in the show.

Up next: Are Republicans already giving up on Chris Christie? The
roundtable is next, and you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The FBI said it will look at evidence in the case against Craig
Stephen Hicks. He is the man charged with murdering three young Muslims in
North Carolina. However, the FBI has not launched a formal investigation
into those murders.

New England is preparing for another blizzard this weekend. Along
with high winds, parts of the region could see up to two feet of snow.

And Gary Owens, the announcer for "Rowan & Martin`s Laugh-In," has
away. He was 80 years old -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, does Chris Christie still have a path or a prayer to the
presidency? Many Republicans doubt that the New Jersey governor can win
the GOP nomination in the wake of the bridge scandal and his general public
demeanor. The conservative "Weekly Standard" is the latest to cast
skepticism over Christie and says he should just pack it in.

Andrew Ferguson writes: "A thin skin has been a feature of Chris
Christie`s public life as well and over the last several weeks it has been
much in evidence. In London, he didn`t appear a hardworking public servant
losing patience with a bleating reporters. He had the air of a plutocrat
irked that the little people weren`t doing what they were told."

Governor Christie`s bad publicity comes as polling shows 52 percent of
New Jersey voters disapprove of his job performance. Only 37 percent have
a favorable view of him.

Joining the roundtable tonight, Dana Milbank, an opinion writer with
"The Washington Post." Michelle Bernard is president of the Bernard Center
for Women, Politics and Public Policy. And Danny Vargas is former chair of
the Republican National Hispanic National Assembly.

Great. Diversity reigns.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK. We were a little slow on that in the beginning of the
show, but I always like to keep it going here.

But, here, Dana, is this guy -- it`s almost like Humpty Dumpty sat on
the wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. There`s never going to be a
middle level for this guy. He`s either going to be up here or down there.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Yes. No, on the presidential rubber chicken circuit, this guy is just
being eaten for lunch.

MATTHEWS: Is that what he`s eating? Is that what he dines on?

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Not enough rubber chicken.

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: That`s your line, not mine.

MATTHEWS: Just skip the French fries.

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Not to be persnickety, but I don`t think we can even say
that he`s in the top tier anymore. The polling numbers you were citing...

MATTHEWS: Where in Iowa would you have to go to find someone of his
cut, sort of a snarky, big city guy, little attitude?

MILBANK: You can`t find him.

And that`s why, instead of being his thin-skinned self, he`s trying to
be subdued and speak to the Iowans. And guess what? They find him flat
and boring. The shtick doesn`t work.

MICHELLE BERNARD, FOUNDER, BERNARD CENTER FOR WOMEN, POLITICS AND
POLICY: I think it`s -- I think we`re being really premature.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think he can be president of the United States?

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: I think he can be president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Really?

BERNARD: I really do.

MATTHEWS: Well, again to my question: Where in Iowa are you going to
find a Chris Christie?

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: Well, look, I don`t -- but it`s not just Iowa.

I mean, what really is going to happen -- what happens to Chris
Christie is going to depend largely on what happens with Bush and whether
the two of them -- how they do in polling...

MATTHEWS: OK. Suppose...

BERNARD: ... and whether he`s up in 2016.

MATTHEWS: Let me give you the ideal scenario. Bush falters because
nobody goes for him. They don`t care about the label, the dog doesn`t like
the dog food. The voters up in New Hampshire don`t go for him. Christie
doesn`t get touched by the indictments if there are any. It doesn`t get
touched anywhere near him.

Do you think he can still get out there with his personality and sell
it?

BERNARD: Yes, here -- this is why I think Chris Christie is the
misunderstood secret bullet of the Republican Party. He wins in a state
that is a blue state. He overwhelmingly won women by like 55 percent of
the vote.

MATTHEWS: Have you seen his numbers?

BERNARD: I`ve seen his numbers right now but you just said it, he`s
up and he`s down. In 2016, we don`t know where he`s going to be. But what
we do know is that in two elections back-to-back he is a Republican who got
women to vote for him even though he`s not pro-choice, he`s pro-life. He
got African-Americans to vote for him, he got Latinos to vote for him. He
got Democrats -- 64 percent of independents voted for him in the last
election.

MATTHEWS: I know a Latino guy pretty close at hand sir. Tell us, I
don`t think he had a big number among minorities except for governor, it`s
always better to get a vote than you do a Senate race.

BERNARD: He`s the only Republican that knows how to get them to vote
for him.

DANNY VARGAS, FORMER CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATL. HISPANIC ASSEMBLY: He
did get a material portion of the black and Hispanic vote. I`m from New
York city originally so his style of politics works really well in New
York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, that sort of rough and tumble
attitude works really well.

Does it work well in Iowa? Probably not.

MATTHEWS: How about New Hampshire?

VARGAS: It may, it may. But I think a lot of it depends on what we
see happening between now and 2016. If foreign policy becomes --

MATTHEWS: You have a radio voice, you know that? I envy that voice.
I love that voice.

VARGAS: If foreign policy becomes a stinkey wicket and what the
American people see and they need.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s sticky wicket and not stinky wicket.

VARGAS: If what they see is they need somebody that`s going to be
tough on the international stage and be able to stand up toe to toe, nose
to nose against some of these really tough dictators that we have out there
on the foreign stage, then maybe his brand of politics might play well and
he`s been going out there on the Internet --

(CROSSTALK)

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: There`s a lot that has to happen.
He has to get around Jeb Bush. He has to get around Scott Walker. He`s
got to get around Marco Rubio.

MATTHEWS: Well, the U.S. attorney, too.

MILBANK: He`s got to get around that, too. But there are a lot of
other possible people vying for the mainstream who aren`t so tainted.

MATTHEWS: Well, I got to go back to you because, Michelle, he does
believe he can win.

BERNARD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So what`s he thinking about that gives him that upward zest
to keep going? Because he`s not pulling back.

BERNARD: He`s not polling well right now, but we`ve seen that before
with him so it doesn`t really matter. He could be up in 2016. There are
two establishment candidates that can win the, quote/unquote, "Reagan
Democrat", people in the middle. We`re not talking about what you have to
do in the primaries, but once somebody gets the actual nomination, it`s
going to be -- it`s either going to be Christie or it`s going to be Bush.

I think he`s waiting and he`s saying to himself is this going to be a
McCain/Giuliani scenario and maybe Bush will implode? Maybe he will be
able to raise more money? Or maybe, just maybe Bush ends up not winning.
Is the United States after a Republican primary really going to vote for
Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz?

VARGAS: His path is not going to be the path of sort of conforming
himself to sort of the stereo typical what the pundits, what the
consultants are trying to get him to be. His path is to be himself. If I
were to advise him, I`d say Governor Christie, be yourself. If you want to
be a tough guy, be a tough guy. He`s gone to Israel and said I`m going to
stand strong with our ally in the Middle East, that`s the attitude he needs
to portray. He can`t be the squishy --

BERNARD: He`s got to be himself but I`ll tell you, I think on foreign
policy, that`s the one -- and I`m a big fan of Chris Christie`s.

MILBANK: Clearly.

BERNARD: But foreign policy is an area that bothers me because I say
to myself is this really the person who I want to see trying to negotiate
peace in the Middle East and losing his mind and saying, you know, kind of
screw you --

MATTHEWS: The more moderate Republicans always have to offset their
centrism with a hawkish foreign policy. They feel they have to do that.

You may like the hawkish foreign policy but it`s tricky in the middle,
for the suburban guy, the suburban housewife who may be in the middle
politically. My mom always was. You don`t know how they`re going to vote.
They never tell you how they`re going to vote. You can`t rely on party
vote.

VARGAS: His problem is the same problem Giuliani had. I supported
Giuliani early on, is the fact that the conservative base does not trust
Chris Christie in terms of being a conservative. They don`t think that
he`s a conservative on social issues --

BERNARD: But they don`t trust bush either.

MILBANK: At the very least he`ll be more interesting to cover than
Jeb Bush.

MATTHEWS: When we come back, our favorite "Saturday Night Live" cast
members. We`ll have a little competition here and the presidents they
portrayed, the roundtable.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Virginia was reliably Republican until Barack Obama came
along, but new polling suggests Hillary Clinton can keep it in the
Democrats` column.

Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to a new poll from Christopher Newport University, Hillary
Clinton leads Jeb Bush in Virginia by five points, 48-43. Secretary
Clinton`s lead grows to seven against Chris Christie. It`s Clinton 49,
Christie 42. Against Rand Paul, Clinton leads by 10, Clinton 52, Paul 42.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are back.

Well, "Saturday Night Live" turns 40 this weekend, and to celebrate,
"Rolling Stone" magazine has ranked all 141 cast members from best to
worst, God help that guy or woman. These are their top six selections,
however. Bill Murray came in sixth place, Dan Akroyd is fifth. Then Mike
Myers at fourth, Tina Fey at third, Eddie Murphy at second, and the first,
of course, John Belushi. That`s a subjected ranking, of course, by them.
There`s no question who holds the top spot when it comes to my personal
favorite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to HARDBALL, I`m Chris Matthews.
Man, oh man. You didn`t just drink the Kool-Aid, you went back for
seconds. Zip it, go back to Fraggle Rock, let the grownups talk about
politics.

Man oh man, there`s more testosterone in the Pentagon right now than
in Mike Tyson`s urine. Brady, I`ve seen more natural looking smiles on
pumpkins.

Paul Begalia, your lab experiment gone wrong, anything let to say for
yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next time, I come I`m going to have that you
keep the insults to a minimum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut up.

Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, shut your hole, shut your hole.

Stick around I`m going to watch a videotape of myself, you`re watching
HARDBALL.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ha! OK, (INAUDIBLE) the golden years.

Anyway, of course, we`re back now with our roundtable: Danny,
Michelle, and Dana. Who wants to go first? We`re going to do this
chronologically.

So, let`s go --

BERNARD: Me.

MATTHEWS: No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Chevy Chase.

MATTHEWS: You like Chevy Chase the most and he destroyed Jerry Ford?

MILBANK: For political reasons, as a political comedian, I like him
the most. And it`s not even that he was the best at it, he wasn`t
particularly a good likeness of Ford, but without him, he was the pioneer
that made it OK to laugh at politicians. You don`t have Dana Carvey. You
don`t have Will Ferrell doing George W. And you wouldn`t have, you know,
whoever is going to do Mike Huckabee eating Twinkies this time.

He made it possible --

MATTHEWS: Was the pratfall which he did over and over again, did that
bring down Jerry Ford, make him look like a --

MILBANK: I think Jerry Ford brought down Jerry Ford because he was
the accidental president. But Chevy Chase turned him into the accident-
prone president and made him a national laughingstock. To his credit, Ford
played along, I think that played well, but it helped demystify the
presidency after Watergate. So, it wasn`t all bad for Ford. He was going
down anyway.

MATTHEWS: It was good.

Your thoughts? Your favorite?

BERNARD: My favorite, Dana Carvey. Hats down. I first love him for
the church lady.

MATTHEWS: Can you do the church lady?

BERNARD: Can I do the church lady?

MATTHEWS: Please?

BERNARD: No, I can`t do church lady.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that special?

(LAUGHTER)

BERNARD: I won`t even endeavored to do it.

But then his impressions of Bush one, you know, in his impersonations,
he said things that the public was thinking like -- I can remember watching
the debates, being interested in politics and thinking to myself, he`s a
nice guy but how is he winning this election? How is this happening? He`s
sort --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did he look a little prissy the way that Carvey play him,
to put it lightly? Prissy?

BERNARD: Well, I wouldn`t use prissy. He looked sort of particular
about things I think is a better way to say it. And, you know, things like
the thousand points of light which I actually like, but there were people
who started saying, what is that? Is the Republican Party trying to be a
nice party that believes in people and that we saw that iteration come down
in his son a few years later.

MATTHEWS: It splashes over because when George Senior was asked if he
wants coffee, he would say just a splash. Who is your favorite?

VARGAS: Phil Hartman, I`ve got to say Phil Hartman was a fantastic.
He was a straight man, he was a funny, he did characters. He did the cave
man lawyer which was hilarious. He did Frank Sinatra that was just
impeccable.

But when he did Bill Clinton that brought down the house. There is
not too many people that can do both, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. He
had a great skit with Ronald Reagan where Ronald Reagan was playing sort of
a dopey guy, and then when people left the room, they would bring in his
staff, and he was leader and defining military strategy. It was just
hilarious. Phil Hartman was fantastic.

MATTHEWS: You know, with the loss of Robin Williams not too long ago,
Jonathan Winters, these are troubled guys, a lot of these geniuses.

BERNARD: Yes.

MILBANK: Chevy Chase wound up at the Betty Ford Clinic. I mean, the
genius goes --

MATTHEWS: Belushi, of course. The troubled nature, and the reason
they resort to drugs, is there is something in them that is not together.

VARGAS: And Phil Hartman died tragically. I mean, his wife killed
him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BERNARD: And Robin Williams interview after interview talked about --
I think a lot of comedians will tell you that they use comedy because it is
a different way -- completely different way than actually how they feel.

MILBANK: The real source of so much humor is pain, and that`s why
some of these pain characters who are very much.

MATTHEWS: That`s why the Jewish comics were the best over the years,
they had so much pain. No growing up, they (INAUDIBLE). So, Jackie
Gleason was the great artist exception because he could actually show pain,
those bulging eyes --

BERNARD: People like Richard Pryor, showing pain.

VARGAS: The longevity of "SNL" over 40 years is just impressive.
They have done through ups and downs, it would have been canceled so many
years, it hadn`t had the legacy --

MATTHEWS: But the pearls to Sunday night. You know, great writers,
by the way, don`t write all great novels, but they`re remembered by their
great ones. Clint Eastwood is going to be remembered by the good stuff,
you know? And you can talk about the chair all you want, but in the end,
it`s going to be trouble -- "Trouble with the Curve" is going to be
remembered.

Anyway, thank you, Dana Milbank, Michelle Bernard and Dana Vargas.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a statement of loss. The older
you get, the more attention you pay to who dies. The reason is obvious, we
know more of them.

And when we pick up the newspaper in the morning, either you and your
spouse will greet each other with the news.

Dean Smith died last weekend after years of dementia. Bob Simon died
in a car accident this week on the West Side Highway. David Carr died last
night in "The New York Times" newsroom.

We read they`re gone, we read how they died, and then we realize, yes,
they are truly gone. Coach K of Duke spoke for all of us when he said he
could never imagine Dean Smith dying, the coach of the University of North
Carolina`s men basketball team. He just didn`t see vulnerable to mortal
reality.

It`s precisely what I thought when I got the news. Could there be a
greater model on the college campus or in life than Coach Smith. I had
dinner once with Bob Simon over Jerusalem and found him that evening a
quite courtly gentleman of the old school. He`s the kind of guy who makes
you want to be humble in his presence because that`s how he is. And you
see how well it suits him and suits the man.

I met David Carr after a Broadway opening one night and couldn`t
believe that this low key, again, regular guy, could be the literary wonder
he is in print. You don`t think of great writers being low key regular
guys.

Anyway, enough said. Next week`s news will be filled with more
losses, it always seems this is the time of year that the flurry comes.
We, of course, are thought by someone who knows that we know not the day or
the hour. And we the living carry on. After all, we call it the Irish
sports page for a reason.

But the one good thing to come when someone`s times is to think
quietly and humbly ourselves about the good and loss people who now finally
grab our attention and wonder, perhaps, of all the others, of their cut,
who deserve our notice as they continue to walk among us.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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