updated 2/23/2015 10:36:19 AM ET 2015-02-23T15:36:19

Show: HARDBALL
Date: February 20, 2015
Guest: David Ignatius, Ken Pollack, Michelle Bernard, Dana Milbank, Keith
Carson

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Patriot games.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, filling in tonight for Chris
Matthews in New York.

"Let Me Start" tonight with those patriot games that Rudy Giuliani is
now playing. Tough talk started as a shot at the president`s love of
country, and things have only spiraled from there.

It began as an attack on what Republicans see as a weakness for
President Obama, the soft talk about the root causes of terrorism. The
cool and calm way he tends to talk about terrorism prompted Giuliani to say
this. "I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn`t love
you. And he doesn`t love me. He wasn`t brought up the way you were
brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."

Whatever point Giuliani was trying to make has now been consumed by
talk about Giuliani himself. "America`s mayor" has responded by launching
an all-out media blitz. In the face of criticism, he has upped the
rhetoric even higher. This was Giuliani on a tear last night on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, HOST, "THE KELLY FILE": Mr. Mayor, do you want to
apologize for your comment?

(LAUGHTER)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Not at all. I want to
repeat it. The reality is, I -- from all that I can see of this president,
all that I`ve heard of him, he apologizes for America, he criticizes
America. I think that is a perfectly reasonable opinion, that the
president in his comments, if we look at all his rhetoric, has not
displayed the kind of love of America, the kind of love of American
exceptionalism that other American presidents have displayed.

I`m right about this. I have no doubt about it. I do not withdraw my
words. We haven`t even mentioned some of the communists and leftists who
educated him as a young man! But all we need is Reverend Wright, 17 years
in that church, and that man condemned America over and over and over
again, and he remained a member of that church?

(CROSSTALK)

KELLY: ... wasn`t there for those sermons.

GIULIANI: The other parishioners didn`t tell him about it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: In other interviews, he`s offered some head-scratching
reasons for these kinds of comments. We`re going to get to those in just a
minute.

Meanwhile, though, the fallout continues to grow, now includes
Giuliani`s former administration staff member, Mike Paul, who said this
about his former boss. Quote, "I believe his comments were disrespectful
to President Obama, his family and America."

Mike Paul joins us now, along with Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer
Prize-winning columnist from "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political
analyst.

So Mike, let me start with you. A former aide to Rudy Giuliani -- we
have your words there criticizing him for this. You know this guy. You
worked up close with him. Do you recognize this man? Have you seen this
Rudy Giuliani before?

MIKE PAUL, FMR. GIULIANI ADMINISTRATION STAFFER: I haven`t seen this
Rudy Giuliani before. And the reason why I haven`t seen this Rudy Giuliani
before is that we were working on city issues and we weren`t working on
national issues and global issues.

And I have to say, you know, I`ve got to keep it a hundred (ph) here,
like Larry Wilmore says on Comedy Central, but this is no joking matter.
You actually saw the mayor with a nervous laugh while he was on Fox News.
And I actually think that this is an abomination, what he`s saying. I want
to separate myself as far as possible from him when I hear him say things
like this.

KORNACKI: Well, where -- where do you think it`s coming from? I
mean, so there`s a separation, you`re saying, between city stuff and the
national stuff, but I mean, this is clearly something he feels strongly
about. He`s had opportunity after opportunity to take this back.

PAUL: That`s right.

KORNACKI: Instead, he keeps going further. So it certainly -- I get
the sense he`s thought about this a lot. He`s thought about questions like
this a lot. And you never got any inkling that Giuliani felt anything like
this?

PAUL: Here`s what I see. I see a man that is still very interested
in being relevant within the political process nationally. We`re gearing
up for a presidential campaign, and he wants to make himself relevant.
These are my opinions as to what he`s doing.

And I think as he`s scratching and trying to hold onto some relevancy,
I think he put his foot in his mouth. He`s going to continue to realize,
especially in a city like New York and a state like New York, which
continues to be his base, by the way, where three fourths of the people
that live in New York City, for example, people like Gene and I fully know,
are three quarters people of color. This is his base. This is the place
that he governed for more than one term. And you have a president that is
now -- the president of the United States, as he so wisely and articulately
said during his State of the Union, has won twice.

Respect the man. Respect the presidency of the United States, the
seat that you, yourself, Mr. Mayor, were running for. I don`t think that
you want to also have comments that come back to bite him. His family is
also feeling this. You know as a mayor that your family and yourself were
attacked personally. There`s no reason for personal attacks. Keep it from
a policy perspective and from a political perspective, but do not attack
the man personally.

He obviously loves his country enough to have not only run once but
twice, and won both times. Be respectful.

KORNACKI: All right. Well, Giuliani is adamant that his attack on
President Obama does not reflect any racial prejudice. This is what he
told "The New York Times." He said, quote, "Some people thought it was
racist. I thought that was a joke since he was brought up by a white
mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools. Most of this he
learned from white people."

Gene Robinson, I wonder what you make of the point that Mike was just
making there, Mike saying he thinks this is Rudy Giuliani catering to a
national Republican conservative base. What do you make of that?

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
first of all, I think somebody should tap him on the shoulder and say, Stop
digging. You know, as he tries to explain this and justifies it, he digs
himself a deeper hole and sounds more ridiculous. And frankly, that`s the
way he sounds to most of the country.

I think if he`s playing to anybody, if there`s anybody you can play to
with this, it`s the far-right fringe of the Republican Party, the fringe
that is just irreconcilably opposed to President Obama and everything he
stands for, everything he ever was or ever will be, who just can`t stand
the idea that he`s president.

Those weren`t the people that Giuliani sought to represent when he ran
for president. So you know, in terms of a base, I think he`s forsaken what
used to be his base, and what he`s going for now, I don`t see where that
gets him, except further and further out on the fringe into irrelevancy.

KORNACKI: Well, Giuliani defended his comments also on Sean Hannity`s
radio show yesterday. Let`s take a listen to that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GIULIANI: President Obama didn`t live through September 11. I did.
President Obama didn`t almost, you know, have a building fall on him.
Myself and my police commissioner and my fire commissioner did. And I lost
10 of my very close friends. Excuse me, it`s a little bit emotional for
me. But it`s also real.

These people are dangerous. When they start chopping the heads of
Christians off, when they start bombing Jews, we`re -- we`re -- we`re
moving in a direction that`s exceedingly dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So let`s talk about the politics of it here for a second,
Gene, because this all started at an event where Scott Walker, Republican
presidential candidate, was in attendance. He`s since been asked about
this -- OK, you were there. Rudy Giuliani said this. He showed no
interest of wading into this. A lot of these other Republican candidates
have now been asked about it. They`re sort of trying to talk a fine line
of not condemning Rudy Giuliani on this.

So we say he`s walking towards the fringes. At the same time, he`s
put himself smack in the middle of this Republican presidential race.

ROBINSON: Well, they`re running for president and they -- they --
look, what is the first thing they run into is Iowa, where you have to be
far right to have a chance to win. And so, you know, understandably,
they`re approaching this in a sort of gingerly fashion. But ultimately,
they`re all going to be asked about it and they`re going to have to comment
on it.

And let me say one thing about what Rudy Giuliani said in that clip.
You know, 9/11 was a national tragedy. It wasn`t just a personal
tragedy...

PAUL: That`s right.

ROBINSON: ... for him. It was a tragedy for the whole country.
President Obama did live through 9/11. I lived through 9/11. I -- you
know, many hours later, as I`m driving home from "The Washington Post," I
go across the bridge and see the plume of smoke over the Pentagon, where
people who I know had lost relatives and lost relatives on those planes.

So he cites it as a personal tragedy, as if somehow, he owns 9/11. He
did a good job as mayor. You know, leave it at that. Let`s commend him
for that. But it`s everyone`s tragedy.

KORNACKI: Yes, I wonder, Mike, again, somebody who knows him,
somebody who`s seen him up close -- I mean, we all know 9/11 in terms of
the public`s image of Rudy Giuliani. It has everything to do with what
happened that day, with his leadership on that day, that sort of thing.
But it also seems like -- to hear his comments here, it seems like that
might have changed him in terms of -- in terms of how he presents himself
to people.

PAUL: He`s been told by many an aide and by many that are close to
him after 9/11 that he needs to be more humble with his approach of talking
about it. He had the fire union, for example, make an ad, a very powerful
ad, the New York -- FDNY fire department`s union, who came out against him
because he has positioned himself as America`s mayor, and that he made a
lot of money and he made -- rebuilt his reputation off of the backs of
others.

I actually think that he has lost the throne of being able to be
successfully called "America`s mayor" anymore, quite frankly, not only
because of his recent comments but the way he positioned himself after
9/11.

The best approach, the best way to describe yourself after 9/11 is to
say, There were men and women who put their lives on the line in the city
that I governed, but they did the work. They are the ones who sacrificed
themselves. And a large percentage of the money that he`s made and a large
percent of the reputation he gained needs to go back to those men and
women.

KORNACKI: So what kind of -- Gene, in terms of the legacy here,
you`re talking about for the moment is he marginalizing himself, but right,
he will always be connected. When we look back at history, this dark day
in American history, September 11, 2001, Rudy Giuliani and what he said and
what he did that day in the immediate aftermath, that they will always be
an integral part of that story.

At the same time, this is where we are, you know, 13 years later.
What kind of legacy do you think he`s ultimately working toward here?

ROBINSON: Well, he`s writing new chapters in that legacy, and they`re
not favorable ones, frankly. And yes, we will always remember him on that
day. We will remember him as brave and stalwart and in command and all the
things he was on that day. I have those recollections. It was the day of
my life I was proud of Rudy Giuliani. I was proud of George W. Bush after
-- right after 9/11.

But the mayor -- I think, you know, it`s absolutely right that he is
forfeiting his status as "America`s mayor," and these new chapters in the
legacy that he`s writing are really -- it`s just really a shame. It`s
really a shame.

KORNACKI: Yes. Well, we`ll see now. Early days of this Republican
presidential race, we`ll see when these candidates start coming to New York
for money and for endorsements, too. We`ll see if Rudy Giuliani is still a
part of all that.

Anyway, though, thank you now for -- to Mike Paul, Eugene Robinson.
Appreciate you both joining us.

And coming up, inside the battle plan to retake Mosul from ISIS may
involve U.S. ground forces.

Also, you may be ready for Hillary, but they`re not ready for a
coronation. It`s a big debate brewing in Hillaryland over the dangers of
breezing through the Democratic nomination without a real fight.

And the Oscars are this Sunday. For some folks, there`s a big cloud
hanging over Hollywood`s biggest night due a lack of diversity. The red
carpet will be the whitest it has been since 1998.

Plus, is it cold enough for you out there? The big chill across
America is setting records from New York all the way down to Miami, leading
to some incredible pictures. That is coming up in what we`re calling our
"frozen sea (ph) lock (ph)."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: The Department of Justice is fighting back against a Texas
judge who ruled in favor of a stay against President Obama`s executive
action on immigration. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Department of Justice
has made a decision to file a stay in this case. I would anticipate that
they will file documents at the district court level on Monday at the
latest. We believe that when you evaluate the legal merits of the
arguments, that there is a solid legal foundation for the president to take
the steps that he announced late last year to reform our broken immigration
system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Now, if granted, a stay would set aside the judge`s ruling
Monday and protect about four million immigrants from deportation.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: We`re back with news of the battle that is coming in Iraq.
As many as 20,000 Iraqi military and Kurdish forces could be involved in
the fight to retake the key city of Mosul, which ISIS captured last June.
A senior U.S. official told NBC News that they will be backed by U.S. air
strikes and possibly American ground troops. It`s expected to begin as
early as April.

Questions, though, do remain. Is the Iraqi military ready? What role
will American ground troops actually be playing. And why exactly is the
U.S. letting the plans leak at all? What happened to the element of
surprise?

Jim Miklaszewski is NBC`s chief Pentagon correspondent. He joins us
now. So Jim, start with the strategy here. They`re putting this out
there. You`ve got the second largest city in Iraq. You`ve got the Kurds
to the north. You`ve got the Iraqi army to the south. What is the plan
here that they have to take that city?

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you`re not the
only one asking the questions as to why they would release this publicly.
Late today, Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain -- McCain
being the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- sent a letter
to President Obama complaining about this, saying that it revealed detailed
plans of a potential operation that could jeopardize the lives of U.S.,
Iraqi and coalition forces. And they asked the president, saying those
responsible have jeopardized our national security interests and must be
held accountable.

Now, officials here will tell you that by releasing it in advance,
they`re trying to put the ISIS fighters in a defensive crouch for some
period of time and give some of those 1.5 million civilians in that town
time to leave before any operation begins, Steve.

KORNACKI: Well, so is the idea there that instead of having ISIS
maybe spread a little bit, ISIS is being contained within the city, trying
to fortify it for the next six weeks?

MIKLASZEWSKI: That`s one of the reasons they give. But I can tell
you there are serious doubts that this plan would work, in the short term
anyway, because it would be carried out by some 20,000 to 25,000 Iraqi
military forces with about 3,000 Kurds.

And nobody yet has any confidence that the Iraqi military would carry
out the job. After all, when ISIS first swept into Iraq about nine months
ago, you know, the Iraqi forces just threw down their weapons and fled. So
there`s not a whole lot of confidence that the Iraqis can carry it out
without some serious support from either the Kurds, and of course, the U.S.
military.

And there could be a possibility that U.S. ground -- the soldiers that
would call in air strikes would -- could be on the ground but not involved
in direct combat, or that special operations forces could be called on any
rescue mission or to go into Mosul and take out Iraqi (sic) leadership.
Those plans, however, would require the approval of President Obama.

KORNACKI: All right, thank you, Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.
Appreciate that.

And for more on this, I`m joined now by Ken Pollack. He`s the author
of "Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb and American Strategy" -- he`s a former CIA
analyst -- "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius, who just returned
from the region.

David, let me start with you. Jim Miklaszewski just set it up there
very nicely, very well. This is the same Iraqi army that basically fled
last year when confronted with ISIS. Is there any reason to believe the
Iraqi army is in better position right now to go in and to take back the
second largest city in Iraq?

DAVID IGNATIUS, "WASHINGTON POST": The army, from what we hear, has
better officers, has had additional training, is better motivated. There`s
no question that the change from the Maliki government to the Abadi
government has led to better oversight of the army.

That said, it strikes me that this plan for a quick attack on Mosul
ignores precisely the questions that Jim Miklaszewski raised in his report.
First, the idea that this Iraqi army force would be joined by the Kurdish
Peshmerga -- it goes contrary to everything I heard in my travels from the
Kurds. They feel that entering this largely Sunny Arab city of Mosul
outside of Kurdistan would create political problems for them and for the
Iraqi government. That`s just for starters. The strange thing is, they`re
in a position now to squeeze Mosul. They have cut off much of the road
access to the city. ISIS can`t resupply. They`re being ground down. It`s
a strange time to rush this operation, before, according to the people I
talk to, it`s really ready.

KORNACKI: Well, so, Ken, if this is the timetable, if we`re looking
at like six weeks from now there`s this aggressive attempt to retake the
city, it does raise the question -- and we were talking about this a minute
ago -- if this Iraqi army is not up to the job, if it quickly proves that
it hasn`t improved enough from last year, what happens then from an
American standpoint?

Are we talking about ground troops? Are we talking about a
significant U.S. military presence to make sure this operation that we have
now telegraphed doesn`t fail?

KENNETH POLLACK, FORMER CIA MILITARY ANALYST: Let me make a few
points, Steve.

I think you have got a bunch of different stuff in there that is worth
responding to. First of all, let`s remember, what they have already said
is that they`re not going to be using the newly trained Iraqi armed forces.
What they`re going to be doing is relying on existing Iraqi formations that
have done a much better job.

We should remember part of the Iraqi army collapsed back in June.
Another part of the army was battling ISIS in Anbar, fighting very hard,
retaining its cohesion and really stalemating ISIS in Anbar. And it`s
those forces that they`re now talking about using up in Mosul, so the
better forces.

Second point, I don`t think anybody is talking about American ground
forces in Iraq. I think it`s very clear. President Obama has said over
and over and over again he`s the guy who was elected to get the U.S. out of
Middle Eastern wars, not to get us into new ones. This new authorization
for the use of force, he inserted this language which I find bizarre about
no major offensive operations, I think, again, as a way of making it clear
that he doesn`t want to do this.

But I think the last point that`s worth thinking about is the politics
of all of this. And there are many dimensions of that. First, there`s the
attack that David was already alluding to. Mosul is a Sunni city. Most of
the Iraqi military is Shia and most of the fighting that`s been done by the
Iraqi military has been done by Shia militias, who are really not welcome
in Mosul.

But you have got a prime minister in Baghdad. I was in Baghdad last
month. And you have got a prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who is trying
very hard to do the right thing, but he believes that he`s going to be
judged by whether or not he can take Mosul by the spring.

I think that that`s a questionable assumption. I put all of the
Iraqis, including the prime minister, to the test on why they believe that,
but it`s a very widespread perception. And I think that`s the most
important thing that is driving this timetable is the prime minister`s own
belief that his political fortunes hang on whether or not he can retake the
city in the spring.

KORNACKI: Well, David, how likely is it that this is the timetable
that everybody sticks to, that we really are looking at six weeks, give or
take a few days, six weeks from now, this offensive begins? How likely is
that?

IGNATIUS: My own guess is that it`s not going to happen in six weeks
because it really is rushing things.

Talking today to officials, senior officials in the administration and
to a senior Iraqi official, what I was hearing was that some delay is
likely. I think Ken is right. Prime Minister Abadi needs a win in
general, with ISIS on a roll from Libya to Iraq in recent months. There`s
a desire the take this big prize back.

But my guess is that cooler heads will prevail. If it`s not possible,
and I don`t think it will be, to use significant numbers of Kurdish forces,
as Ken suggested, even if you use the more experienced Iraqi security
forces, Iraqi army forces, why rush it, when you risk what would be a
really embarrassing and damaging setback?

KORNACKI: But, Ken, quickly on that, to follow up on what just David
was just saying there, though, if, as he says, cooler heads prevail and
this is not brought about in the next six weeks, now that it`s out there,
now that it`s been telegraphed, does it look like a win for ISIS if the
next thing we hear is, you know what, actually, we`re not ready for this,
we can`t beat them right now?

POLLACK: Well, hopefully, what you will see at that point in time if
they do make the decision to delay the operation -- and as Dave and I are
both suggesting, there are real strong rationales for doing that -- but if
they do, they will mount small operations elsewhere.

And, look, I think the truth is, I hope that they were lying to all of
us when they announced this campaign against Mosul with this level of
specificity. It does run contrary to kind of all judgments about military
operational security.

And I think that there are lots of different ways to spin it. And I
think that you have been seeing Iraqi forces making gains here and there on
the ground, some of them quite important. As David pointed out, just last
month, they cut the crossing from Syria into Mosul. That was extremely
important.

So, I think that there are ways to mount local offensives, smaller
offensives into other parts of the ISIS-controlled territory and
nevertheless create this sense, which Prime Minister Abadi needs and
President Obama perhaps too, that the military campaign is making progress,
it`s building up steam, without necessarily taking on what could ultimately
be a very big problem in Mosul if the situation isn`t right for that
offensive.

KORNACKI: All right, thank you, Ken Pollack, David Ignatius.
Appreciate that from both of you.

And up next, the winter of our discontent. Much of the country finds
itself in a historic deep freeze. We just smashed a 120-year-old record in
Washington. It is going to get worse up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FROZEN")

IDINA MENZEL, ACTRESS (singing): Let it go, let it go. I am one with
the wind and sky. Let it go, let it go. You`ll never see me cry!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Queen Elsa from Disney`s animated film "Frozen."

With record-low temperatures across the country today, it feels like a
real-life eternal winter. In fact, police in Kentucky are blaming this
recent cold snap on that famed Disney character, posting a fake warrant for
her arrest to Facebook yesterday.

It reads -- quote -- "All points bulletin. Harlan City Police
Department has issued an arrest warrant for Queen Elsa of Arendelle.
Suspect is a blonde female last seen wearing a long blue dress, is known to
burst into song `Let It Go.` As you can see by the weather, she is very
dangerous. Do not attempt to apprehend her alone."

With temperatures 15 to 40 degrees below average right now, the so-
called Siberian Express is punishing regions in the Eastern and Central
United States today. Check out this massive ice formation at Niagara
Falls, though the flow of water hasn`t completely stopped. It actually
hasn`t done that since 1848. The ice there still is not expected to melt
entirely until -- get this -- until May.

Near Buffalo, a fountain in Letchworth State Park is frozen solid.
You`re seeing that there. It`s towering 50 feet into the air like a giant
ice sculpture. It`s amazing. Take a look at this photograph. This is the
imprint from the grill of a Jeep Grand Cherokee left behind in a sheet of
ice after that vehicle pulled out of a North Carolina parking lot.

Joined now by Keith Carson from The Weather Channel.

Keith, how cold it is out there?

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH CARSON, THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Oh, it`s brutal, Steve.

And, by the way, that picture, I put it up on Twitter yesterday. And
in the Photoshop world, people didn`t believe it until I showed them a
couple of different angles of that ice grill, and different name for an ice
grill, not the rap kind of ice grill.

And let`s talk about what is going on windchill wise. Take a look at
this, Boston four degrees, but it feels like 17 below in Buffalo. It feels
like two below in Chicago. And this cold air got all the way down into the
Southeast earlier this morning. So, contrast what`s going on in the
Eastern United States to a place we usually consider quite cold, Alaska.

And most of Alaska, maybe Fairbanks the exception, is warmer than what
we`re seeing across the East. It`s a very persistent pattern we have been
for the past couple of weeks. We call that a trough in the East and a
ridge in the West. And that`s going to continue tomorrow morning.

Each one of these dots represents where we think we`re going to see a
record low temperature tomorrow morning, Newark coming in at 7:00, Windsor
Locks coming in at five below. You head down into parts of the Carolinas,
Richmond, you`re coming in around 10, in Virginia, Norfolk coming in around
11.

We are going to see these temperatures into the single digits one more
morning. But, overall, I don`t see any pattern change here. We looked
into the midrange forecast seven to 10 days out. It`s the same story.
Somebody`s warm. It`s the West Coast. But the East continues very cold.

Take a look at what happens as we head into next week. We get these
little lobes of cold air from Canada just continuing to sink down all the
way Tuesday, Wednesday. By the way, some computer models spinning up
another nor`easter, another storm system with snow on Wednesday.

Come back around to next Friday and this map looks pretty much the
same, the Rockies the dividing line. To the east of that, we`re seeing
that cold air and to the west is where we`re seeing the warmer stuff. So,
I don`t see any real change to the pattern here, unfortunately. People are
tired of it in the East. We`re going to have to deal with it a little bit
longer.

And in the short term, that cold air is setting up some ice in some
unlikely places, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock. Steve, we`re actually
getting some snow down here at The Weather Channel headquarters in Atlanta.
You know what happened last time we saw snow in Atlanta. So, we will see
what happens.

KORNACKI: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: This is the first time in my life I -- in the middle of
February, I have eve thought to myself, I would rather be in Anchorage.
Some bad news you had there too.

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: Anyway, but thank you to Keith Carson with The Weather
Channel.

Good luck with that snow in Atlanta, by the way.

I`ll tell you, I would probably still rather be there than in New York
City.

Anyway, up next, why some of Hillary Clinton`s supporters want to see
a competitive presidential primary in 2016.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A fire is burning at Dubai`s Torch Tower, one of the tallest
residential skyscrapers in the world at 79 stories. There`s been a full
evacuation and no injuries reported yet.

The dispute at West Coast ports is still unresolved as a deadline
looms. And Labor Secretary Tom Perez has told both sides that if a deal is
not reached, talks must continue in Washington next week.

And U.K. counterterrorism officials are searching for three teenaged
girls who may have run away and traveled to Syria -- back to HARDBALL.

KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.

Despite some recent negative headlines for Hillary Clinton, Democratic
National Committee members who gathered in Washington this week say they
simply don`t care. They`re still ready for Hillary. There was some
divide, however, over whether Hillary should face a competitive Democratic
primary in 2016.

Even Democrats who are supporting her said it would be good for the
party if Hillary faced a test, this according to Politico.

Bob Mulholland -- that`s a Democrat from California who was wearing a
"Ready for Hillary" pin said -- "I want an all-out battle all the way to
June.

Cordelia Burks, vice chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, who is
supporting Clinton, said: "I wish we would have some other candidates
running. I think it would give the nation the opportunity to have a
debate."

By Jim Burn -- he`s Pennsylvania`s Democratic chairman -- he said,
"Hillary does not need a primary."

And Stanley Grossman -- he`s a Democrat who lives abroad -- said, "I
think what we need is absolute unity."

For more on the debate over whether a debate is what`s needed for the
Democrats, let`s bring in the roundtable.

Jamelle Bouie is with Slate. Michelle Bernard is president of the
Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. And Dana Milbank is
an opinion writer with "The Washington Post."

So, to me, this says all you need to know about the state of the
Democratic Party for 2016. They interviewed four people there. Two of
them said they want a competitive primary.

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: Two said they don`t. They`re all backing Hillary. You
can`t have a competitive primary unless there`s people out there saying,
here`s the other candidate we want, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Yes.

MICHELLE BERNARD, FOUNDER, BERNARD CENTER FOR WOMEN, POLITICS AND
POLICY: Yes.

MILBANK: Yes. No, it`s true, Steve.

In a sense, it`s almost as if it`s an incumbent president running
again. That`s really the feel that it has right now. I`m certainly of the
view that it would be good for the Democrats and good for Hillary Clinton
if she had some competition.

That doesn`t mean a bloodbath, like it was in 2008, but it could be
just somebody to keep her on her toes, somebody to keep her in the news so
that she`s not forgotten while the Republicans are out there, and somebody
to keep her in the game, because she is going to have to be formidable when
she gets to the fall.

KORNACKI: Do we think -- do we think the Clintons, Michelle, on some
level -- I mean, look, she was told in the run-up to 2008 and probably
believed she was the inevitable Democratic nominee, there`s no way anyone
else out there is going to be able to touch her.

And then the next thing you know, she`s in this race with Barack Obama
and she can`t win. So I imagine she`s haunted by that to some degree. At
the same time, this is clearly not a situation where you have somebody like
Obama breathing down her neck. Do you think on some level the Clintons do
actually look at this and say, yes, she at least needs a sparring partner
for the next year?

BERNARD: Well, I don`t think they look at it and say she needs a
sparring partner.

I think probably how they`re looking at it is, there`s no reason for
her to make an announcement now. You know, competition is always a good
thing. And I think that the Clintons would probably understand that. She
doesn`t need it. She is -- I can`t imagine who would -- who could possibly
catch up to her in the polls at this point in time.

And, from that standpoint, there really is no reason for her to
formally announce and get into the race. On the other hand, what could
come out of a -- out of a good competition on the Democratic side are new
ideas, and also, you know, as we saw during Hillary Clinton`s book tour,
she was not absolutely prepared for primetime and she could use the
practice to get ready for whoever she inevitably is going to be going up
against in the Republican Party should she actually take the ball and run
with it.

KORNACKI: Yes, I mean, Jamelle, I`m trying to ask myself the same
question. I can`t come up with who would be the strong -- maybe not strong
enough to beat her but strong enough to give her a real credible challenge
in 2016. I struggle with the names. I also struggle with, you think back
to 2008 and there was Iraq. I mean, there was a huge chunk of the
Democratic base that was never going to forgive her for Iraq.

Where is the content with Hillary right now on the base? Is there
anything you can point to, hey, this is the issue that could animate
something?

JAMELLE BOUIE, SLATE: I think the biggest source of discontent with
Hillary right now in the Democratic base is just her connections to Wall
Street. She, for most of her career, has been known as a centrist
Democrat, with close ties to high finance. And so, that is the kind of
thing that can form the base of a challenge to her primary candidacy, but
the problem is the one person in the Democratic Party who best represents
that discontent has already said she`s not going to run, has been --

KORNACKI: It`s Elizabeth Warren, right.

BOUIE: It`s Elizabeth Warren and she`s been adamant about the fact
that she`s not going to run. So, that -- you know, I don`t know who else
can capture that energy. My thought is Vice President Biden decided to
run, I think he would be best positioned to provide some sort of challenge
to Clinton, but that`s really about it.

KORNACKI: Boy, a big risk for Biden, too, from a legacy standpoint.
If you`re a sitting vice president and you run and get trounced like that,
that`s a risk.

The chairman of the Democratic Party in New Hampshire, home of the
crucial first primary in the nation. He was actually on HARDBALL earlier
this month. And even he played coy about whether there should be fierce
competition and even debates on the Democratic side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Should there be as a matter of
principle, debates heading toward the Democratic primary next year, a year
from now? Should there be as a matter of principle, debates?

RAYMOND BUCKLEY, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEM. CHAIR: Well, there have to be
more than one candidate to be able to have a debate. And we don`t know if
there`s going to be more than one candidate at this point.

MATTHEWS: Are you supporting the idea of debates? I`m going to say
this until you answer me. As party chair, do you want to see debates in
the New Hampshire primary if there are multiple candidates?

BUCKLEY: If they`re legitimate candidates, sure. I can imagine if
they`re legitimate --

MATTHEWS: Why are you so hesitant? Are you so afraid of Hillary
Clinton and her peeps that you won`t just say, damn it, we need to have
debates, this is the Democratic Party, we believe in debates? Say it,
please?

BUCKLEY: Well, we don`t know if the secretary has decided to run or
not. So, it`s a little premature.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Michelle, I think we know the answer whether she`s decided
to run or not. I do think, you know, Bernie Sanders, he actually looks
like he might run. I remind people he has to become a Democrat first,
slight technicality there. But let`s say he goes ahead and does that,
Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton debate, is there some risk for Clinton
there? I mean, he`s a feisty guy.

BERNARD: He`s a feisty guy. I mean, the risk is that -- there are a
couple of things. I think the major risk is that there are progressives
and people who are truly on the very far left of the Democratic Party that
are going to have questions about Hillary Clinton`s candidacy and the
legitimacy of how, quote-unquote, "liberal" she is. Questions will arise
about the fact that the Clinton foundation has now gone against its
previous policy of not accepting money from foreign governments and they`re
doing that now. So, you`ll see people on the left begin to question that.

And, quite frankly, whether it`s Bernie Sanders or not, I actually
believe that Mrs. Clinton`s candidacy in whatever form it takes is always
going to be haunted by the ghost of Elizabeth Warren. We live in a
populist country right now. People love her. Elizabeth warren may say
she`s not running but so will Hillary Clinton. And I think time will tell.

I think that Elizabeth Warren could possibly be talked into running.
And that would be the danger for Hillary Clinton, only because there are
many progressives who are looking for new and different ideas.

KORNACKI: Dana, do you see the possibility? Elizabeth Warren, you
know, made pretty definite statements here. Do you see the possibility?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it`s not just the statements
that she`s made, it`s her staff. And she`s not doing anything to prepare
for it.

But there is this huge energy there and the progressives are not
necessarily enthusiastic about Hillary. And that`s why having some sort of
a competition pulling her more in a populist direction would actually be
good for her in the end. So, maybe it is a Bernie Sanders, some sort of a
sacrificial lamb put up there and, you know, allows himself to be co-opted
by Hillary Clinton.

KORNACKI: Well, I`ll let you tell Bernie he`s the sacrificial lamb
and see you deal with that reaction.

Anyway, roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, with the Oscars just two days away, the Democratic
congressman from North Hollywood wants to meet with the Academy`s president
about the lack of diversity in this year`s ceremonies. So, has all this
talk about Oscar politics been justified?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: The former first lady of Virginia was sentenced today for
solicitation and violation of federal public corruption laws. Maureen
McDonnell will serve up to one year and one day in prison following her
conviction in September of last year. She and her husband, former Governor
Robert McDonnell were found guilty of accepting $170,000 in direct payments
as gifts and loans. Bob McDonnell was sentenced up to two years in prison
just last month.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK

KORNACKI: All right. We are back.

This year`s Oscar discussion has been dominated by lack of diversity
among the nominees. The whiteness of the nominees is most pronounced in
the high profile categories -- best actor, best actress in a leading role,
best supporting actor, best supporting actress.

California Congressman Tony Cardenas who represents North Hollywood
and the San Fernando Valley, that`s where the movie industry is king, he`s
angry about that lack of diversity. Cardenas wrote a letter to Cheryl Boon
Isaacs. She`s the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences, she`s an African-American.

He writes in part, "I write to express my shock at the lack of
diversity in this year`s Oscar`s nominees. I want to work with you to
improve diversity in the academy membership in the entertainment industry."

Back with the HARDBALL roundtable right now with Jamelle, Michelle and
Dana.

Jamelle, I`ll start with you. It is striking, those major categories
we just looked at there when you just put the pictures up and take a look,
it becomes clear, wow, that`s basically an all-white roster you`ve got
there.

Where do you think this comes from?

BOUIE: I think this is partially a pipeline problem. You know, if
you look at the films that were -- if you look at the top ranked films in
2014, not just ones given the best picture nomination, but the ones that
were kind of in the running before you even knew the nominations, there
just weren`t that many films that had sizable casts with people of color
that had leading actors and leading actresses who were people of color.

So, even before you get to the whole process of choosing which is the
best picture, or which of these movies might be the best picture of the
year, you have -- you just don`t have very many non-white actors in that
pool of films. Then after you get from there, I think you have to look at
just the composition of the academy electorate, the kind of people who are
choosing these nominations.

I`ll say for my part that there are some choices that I find just kind
of baffling. Not for reasons of diversity even but just for reasons of
craft. There are directors and actors who clearly deserve some sort of nod
and didn`t get one. And I think it has a lot to do with who exactly is
making the nomination, which is a group of mostly older white people.

KORNACKI: Yes, that`s interesting. I think we have the statistics
here. The academy voters are 94 percent white, 77 percent male.

At the same time, what Jamelle is saying there, is when you just look
at this, every year it seems -- I can go through my picks from the last 20,
30 years, how did they ever nominate this actor, how did they ever not
nominate this actor? There`s always this subjective thing where, you know,
that`s ultimately -- this is like judging a figure skating contest in the
Olympics. It is not a basketball game where you keep score. It is judges
sort of giving their opinion.

So, is that really where the issue lies here, it is in the composition
of who`s casting those ballots?

BERNARD: I don`t know. It`s not just a matter of who`s casting the
ballots. Obviously that`s important but they really, regardless of the
racial makeup, they are a representative of the culture and how the country
at large feels. And if you look at how the country has been doing over the
last year or so in terms of race, we have a lot of problems in every part
of the United States society and culture.

One of the things that you have to ask yourself or at least I ask and
I think that the rest of -- that the non-voting academy members should be
asking themselves is how do you have a movie like "Selma," for example,
where the director has done something extraordinary. It is one of the
first times I can remember in American history where you watch a movie
about the civil rights period from the perspective of a woman and you not
only see a portrayal of Martin Luther King as a man but you actually see
the civil rights movement from the perspective of women and women take the
helm in that movie, how Ava DuVernay was not nominated, one has to ask.
How the fellow who portrays Martin Luther King in Selma, which to me is a
movie that stays with you forever is not nominated in the best actor
category.

All I can ask myself is if there is some sort of race fatigue because
last year was such a big year for "12 Years a Slave." Are there people in
the Academy who sit back and say we`ve got race fatigue, we did too much
politics last year, we did race last year, so we`re done with race and we
don`t have to -- we don`t have to pay attention to the people of color who
deserve awards in 2014?

KORNACKI: Well, 2014. We`ll see with all the debate this has
generated this year if that produces changes for 2015. That would be the
story after the Oscars. Again, they`re on Sunday night.

Anyway, thank you to Jamelle Bouie, Michelle Bernard and Dana Milbank.
Appreciate you all joining us.

You are watching HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And, finally, let me finish tonight with this. If you`ve
been following the early phase of the 2016 presidential campaign, it`s what
they like to call "the invisible primary", then you`ve probably heard all
the buzz about Jeb Bush, about his shock and awe fund-raising strategy,
working feverishly behind the scenes, tapping his family`s massive network
of Republican friends and allies, raking in some serious money.

The idea of all this, of course, to create an early demonstration of
massive and overpowering strength, one that will scare off rivals and make
clear to everyone that Jeb Bush is on his way to being the Republican
candidate for 2016.

I see a problem with there strategy though. Problem is his last name.
Maybe not for the reason you`re thinking of. Instead, it has to do with
the Republican Party, with the base of the Republican Party, the Tea Party
and how they think of George W. Bush`s presidency.

The key to that, when George W. Bush was elected in 2000, the GOP base
was with him. He was their candidate. They were with him even though he
talked like a moderate. He talked about compassionate conservatism.
Remember all of that?

Well, the right was fine with that in 2000 because they wanted to win.
Bill Clinton had beaten them in the government shutdown. He had beaten
them in the 1996 election. He had beaten them in impeachment. Every
attack Republicans hurled at Clinton only seemed to make him more popular.

So, Republicans wanted their own Clinton. They wanted someone warm,
someone who wouldn`t scare off voters, and that is why they turned to
George W. Bush.

But what did they get? What did the GOP base get for eight years of
president George W. Bush. If you ask them now, they`d say at the didn`t
get much. They`d say they got more government. They got new agencies, new
programs, more spending. That`s what compassionate conservatism meant,
after all.

Then they got an economic meltdown, the GOP wipeout in 2008. And, of
course, they got Barack Obama. That`s what they got for going with the
moderate in 2000, for making winning their priority back then.

That`s how to understand the Tea Party. Yes, it is the Republican
base revolting against Barack Obama, we know that. But it is not just
that. It is also the Republican base revolting against the idea of doing
what it did with George W. Bush ever again, of going with the moderate just
to win.

The Republican Party is a very different place today because of George
W. Bush. Now, here is his brother, borrowing his old playbook, trying to
talk like a moderate but he may find that this party, the Republican Party
that emerged from George W. Bush`s presidency is not interested in going
down that road all over again.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Chris Matthews returns to the anchor desk on
Monday. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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