updated 2/27/2015 11:58:54 AM ET 2015-02-27T16:58:54

Show: HARDBALL
Date: February 25, 2015
Guest: Rep. Charlie Rangel, Ron Fournier, Nicholas Confessore, Jonathan
Allen, Danny Vargas, Jennice Fuentes, Sabrina Siddiqui

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Terrorist arrests here in the United States
and a nasty fight with Netanyahu.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in Boston.

We`ll get to those FBI arrests today and what they say about the scariness
of Islamic terrorists right here in this country, the in-your-face daring
they are showing, even to the point of threatening to kill President Obama.

But we start with the hottest fight over Mideast dangers between the right
wing here and in Israel against the Democratic Party of the United States.
If you believe in bipartisan backing for Israel, the bad guys are Bibi
Netanyahu and John Boehner. It`s not clear which two of these brazen guys
started this fight, but it`s getting hotter every hour.

For whatever reason, this pair decided to get the jump on the president of
the United States. They pulled a secret move to have the Israeli prime
minister, who`s facing a close election with the more moderate Zionist
Party, speak to a joint meeting of the American Congress without ever
letting the president know.

Who made this decision to keep this secret? Did the Israeli ambassador
ever get assurances that the president would be duly informed? Did he? Or
was this a quiet little deal between the Republican opposition and
Netanyahu`s party to attack the president just as he`s working to prevent
Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

We know this tonight, this fight is escalating. The national security
adviser to the president now calls the Netanyahu speech and the way it was
secretly put together destructive to U.S.-Israeli relations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What has happened over the last
several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued...

CHARLIE ROSE, PBS: By the Speaker of the House.

RICE: ... by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister
Netanyahu on two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides,
there has now been injected a degree of partisanship which is not only
unfortunate, I think it`s -- it`s destructive of the fabric of the
relationship.

It`s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that
way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that
way. And when it becomes injected and/or infused with politics, that`s a
problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And Secretary of State John Kerry is hitting Netanyahu on his
history of hawkish statements, including one pushing the United States to
invade Iraq, saying how great it would be for the region. It was a very
tough shot by the secretary, a sign of how tough this fighting is getting.

I`m joined now by U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York.
Congressman, you`ve been around a long time to know. What is Boehner up
to? What was he up to in cooking this deal in the first place to secretly
bring Netanyahu into your chamber without ever telling the president?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, it`s embarrassing for the bi --
non-partisanship that we have between the Republicans and Democrats, but
for the Republicans to go beyond our politics and bring it over to Israel
and to bring our friendship and our loyalty to that great country and to
this type of thing over here, it just doesn`t make any sense at all.

You know, I couldn`t figure this out, but Chris, when you look at this, it
could be an old class B movie, something that Woody Allen would have had,
because I didn`t find out until recently that the Israeli ambassador comes
from Florida. He`s formerly a Democrat, (sic) a Republican activist, as
his father was. So he goes over to Israel, and now he`s coming back here
playing friendship with his Republican partners and either to help Mitt
Romney or to help his buddy Bibi over there.

But all of this is at the historic friendship of two democracies that are
joined at the hip. It`s not worth the little political advantages that
they can achieve.

MATTHEWS: Well, this kind of politics reminds me of the guy that he used
to work for. That`s Newt Gingrich. I mean, this seems a little bit not
even gimmicky, but nasty.

What`s going to be the scene like next week when the prime minister of
Israel shows up in what looks to be a partisan situation? Will members of
the Black Caucus be there? Will members of the Democratic Party show up?

RANGEL: Well, that`s exactly the kind of questions -- and I`m glad you
didn`t use the word "boycott" because we don`t want to be considered
boycotting a world leader, and certainly not the leader of a country that
we affectionately support as being in our national security interests.
There`s no one that believes that they can injure Israel without injuring
the United States of America.

But having said that, there are just a lot of people that believe that,
Don`t put us in the position to have to select between the political effort
being made by Republicans here and the president of the United States. You
know, we don`t -- I could have differences with the president, and
foreigners can have differences with the presidents, but they don`t state
those differences with the support of the American people and the United
States Congress. You don`t do this in the House of Representatives. It`s
wrong to do it.

So a lot of people are not going to be there, but I thought -- and I hope
this is not over -- that a bunch of Senate Democrats says, Listen, we`ve
got to find some way to get out of this. Why don`t you come over? We have
a private meeting. We talk. Then you go back to Israel, get involved in
your election, and said you talked with both of us. But don`t have it as
though that if you`re not there in the House of Representatives that you
boycotted Israel.

It`s just so totally unfair, and it takes a lot of chutzpah for someone to
want to fight my president in my House of Representatives. And I`ve been a
long-time friend of Israel not just because I`m fond of their democratic
ideals, but because our security in America depends on their security in
the Middle East.

MATTHEWS: Well, you sound like a lot of Democrats tonight. Thank you so
much, U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York.

RANGEL: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Charlie Rangel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu escalated his attack today on a potential deal
with Iran. He said, quote, "From the agreement that is forming, it appears
that they, the world powers, have given up on that commitment and are
accepting that Iran will gradually within a few years develop capabilities
to produce material for many nuclear weapons. They might accept this, but
I am not willing to accept this."

Well, meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State John Kerry offered a
very direct challenge to Netanyahu`s credibility on matters of war and
peace. Now, this is really tough. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The prime minister, as you recall, was
profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading
Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that
decision. He was extremely outspoken about how bad the interim agreement
was, during which time he called it the deal of the century for Iran, even
though it has clearly stopped Iran`s program, and more importantly, he has
decided it would be good to continue it. He may have a judgment that just
may not be correct here. And you know, let`s wait and hear what he says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more now, I`m joined by Ron Fournier, editorial director for
"The National Journal." Ron, it just seems to me that John Kerry has
ripped the bark off now. They`re going to fight. He`s saying that
Netanyahu`s just another corner -- well, regular hawk out there, like all
the other hawks we got in this country and over there, who always want to
attack, always want to claim there`s nuclear weapons is the issue, weapons
of mass destruction, and here he is again, just like he was in Iraq.

This is a stone-cold assault on Netanyahu, although I think it`s worth it
this time to do it. My feeling is he better start fighting back because
Netanyahu is coming here next Tuesday to stick it to Obama.

RON FOURNIER, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": I agree with everything, except John
Kerry being the right guy to criticize Remember, John Kerry voted for the
war before he was against it, so I don`t know if he should be second
guessing Bibi. But let`s back up here...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he speaks for the administration and our -- just a
minute. He speaks for our country right now, not for John Kerry. Just
make that clear.

FOURNIER: Let`s have the president of the United States, who called it a
dumb war and voted the right way. He`d be a better spokesperson on that.

But let`s back up on where we do agree. Politics is supposed to stop at
the water`s edge. We`re supposed to have one commander-in-chief. Now,
there are checks against the commander-in-chief, but none of those checks
has ever been a foreign leader, which is what John Boehner is letting
happen here, is letting Bibi Netanyahu use the well of our House, the well
of Congress, as the sound stage for his political advertisement.

And I think that`s deplorable, and I think Susan Rice in this case is
right. It is very destructive for our relationship, and now you see it
spiraling even further with John Kerry taking the bark off of an ally.
Bibi made a big mistake here. Boehner made a bad mistake here. And it`s a
bad precedent not just for U.S.-Israel relations but going down the road.
What`s happened to the idea that we had some bipartisanship around what the
commander-in-chief does?

MATTHEWS: Is Netanyahu over here -- here`s my question to you because I
got a comment on this, a tough comment at the end of the show. I want to
make sure I`m right here. If Netanyahu thought it was bad form to speak in
the country thanks to Boehner and not tell the president, why didn`t he,
the minute he heard the president didn`t know about this invitation, say,
Wait a minute, I`m not coming over there unless it`s a bipartisan
invitation?

I certainly wouldn`t come into the country -- in other words, he always had
the option, Netanyahu, of saying...

FOURNIER: Oh, yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... I don`t care what Boehner cooked up, I`m not coming without
a bipartisan invitation, and never has done that since the day this thing
started. He`s has insisted on this fight. He wants this fight.

FOURNIER: Yes, because -- he wants this fight. He wants the political
commercial that the Republicans are giving him. He`s two weeks away from
an election. He thinks this is going to help him politically. I`m not so
sure it will, but then again, I`m not an Israeli political reporter.

But there`s no doubt one what`s happening here. He is using the Republican
Party as a wedge to promote himself politically in Israel and to drive a
wedge between what has always been at least some comity, at least some
bipartisan togetherness when it comes to foreign policy.

Like I said, we only have one commander-in-chief. We can`t let another
foreign leader play us off each other on a situation as serious as this.
It`s really, really bad form.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Ron. When you listen to Secretary Kerry and others,
you get the impression, and my impression is the same, that what Netanyahu
wants is all these talks with Iran to go down to nothing, that nothing gets
done...

FOURNIER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... the whole thing is undermined, and we end up in that
position we never wanted to be in of having to choose between letting them
have a nuclear weapon and going to all-out war by bombs-away over there,
where we do all the bombing, all the hatred of the Shia of the world, all
of the hatred of Hezbollah, all the hatred of every single Iranian, whether
moderate or secular or fanatically religious. All of them will hate us the
minute we attack them there. We will have a permanent hatred all over the
Middle East against us.

FOURNIER: Look I...

MATTHEWS: My question is, is that what Netanyahu wants? Does he really
want us to be forced into a position of bombing...

FOURNIER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... all-out bombing of Iran? Is that what he wants?

FOURNIER: Yes. He has decided -- and I can understand where he`s coming
from. He really thinks that the worst thing we could do is have a deal
with Iran. I don`t happen to agree with him, but that is what he thinks.
And that is what many people in the Republican Party think and that`s
certainly what the speaker thinks.

So what they`ve decided -- and in this case, you have the Republican Party
in cahoots with another country. They decided they`d rather blow up the
president`s deal than -- than to have it go through. And I just think
that`s really bad form here, and down the road. What happens when we have
another crisis? Are we going to let our allies play off our commander-in-
chief all the time like this?

MATTHEWS: I`ve never heard of an American political party merging with a
political party of another country before, but...

FOURNIER: That`s what`s happening here.

(CROSSTALK)

FOURNIER: You know, some day -- I don`t know if the Republicans have
forgotten maybe they might have the White House some day. Is this how they
want to be treated in a situation of war or near war?

MATTHEWS: I know. The president of the United States should call foreign
visitors to this country. Anyway, thank you very much, Ron Fournier, for
that strong statement. I agree with what you said.

Coming up, the ISIS threat. Three Brooklyn men are under arrest right now,
charged with aiding the Islamic State. Authorities say they were trying to
get to Syria or carry out attacks here at home, including threatening to
kill President Obama. This is serious business. We`re coming back with
that.

Plus, Scott Walker`s up and big right now in Iowa. This guy has come from
nowhere. Maybe his strength with the base right now is the reason he won`t
answer questions about evolution or whether Obama is a Christian or not.
He wants those right-wing people to be with him. Is this guy Republicans
want to take on Hillary Clinton? Could be.

And Republicans in Congress are fighting over funding the Department of
Homeland Security still. Mitch McConnell and Boehner aren`t speaking to
each other, haven`t talked to each other in two weeks. There`s a united
party. And President Obama is going on offense, pushing his executive
actions on immigration at a town hall today in Miami. Can he get real
reform? That`s my question.

Finally, let me finish with this crap storm that Netanyahu has started and
seems to be enjoying.

And this is HARDBALL, live from Boston, where they`re in the 100 club.
More than 100 inches of snow here buried this city so far this winter.
That`s more than 8 feet right now, and it`s already the second highest
total snowfall in history. You should see it. You drive down the street,
there`s eight feet of snow on both sides.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: A jarring rebuke in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been
forced into a runoff. Emanuel got 45 percent of the vote in yesterday`s
mayoral election. He needed 50 percent to win reelection outright. Now
he`s the runner-up -- he and his runner-up, Jesus Garcia, will meet in
April in the city`s first ever runoff for mayor. That`s not the way they
do things in Chicago. Emanuel is still the favorite to win, of course, but
last night`s result is a major political blow for a political leader with
such a high national profile and high national ambitions.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, three Brooklyn men, as you`ve
heard, have been arrested and charged with contempt and conspiracy to
provide material support to ISIS, according to authorities. Two of the
suspects, age 19 and 24, allegedly planned to travel to Syria to wage jihad
themselves, the younger of whom was apprehended at JFK airport while trying
to board a flight to Istanbul.

Authorities say the third suspect, who`s 30 years old, allegedly helped
finance the deal. Anyway, authorities say they also discussed terror
attacks here at home if they couldn`t get to Syria, even to the point of
threatening to kill President Obama.

Well, joining me right now is NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams.
It seems so brazen, Pete, what you read, stuff on social media, openly
talking about what their plans were?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Very brazen. Not clear how well-thought
out it was or whether it was just sort of popping off something. They
talked about putting a bomb on Coney Island, shooting police officers,
shooting people at the FBI, shooting the president.

They didn`t have any guns. They didn`t have any explosives. It`s
certainly very worrisome talk. And interestingly, Chris, you know, we
assume that the FBI has a pretty good handle on people that are spouting
off about these things in the U.S. But apparently, what got this started
was a post on a Uzbeki-language Web site, in which one of these men
basically was asking for sort of "Dear Abby" jihad advice. He said, you
know, I`m in the U.S. I may not be able to get out of the country. If I
were to kill the president here, would that constitute martyrdom for me?
Would that qualify as the right kind of jihad?

And when the FBI found out about this, they sent two agents to his house,
to his apartment in Brooklyn, and he said, according to prosecutors, Yes,
that`s what I said on this Web site, and I believe it. It wouldn`t have to
be the head of ISIS who told me to do that. It could be anybody in a
leadership position, and I would try to assassinate the president.

They talked to him twice. And even though he realized the FBI was onto
him, according to court documents, he continued planning. He and his
apartment roommate both plotted, bought airplane tickets to fly to Syria,
and this third man, they say, financed them. But so they...

MATTHEWS: Was he Mirandized? Was he Mirandized when he talked like this,
he starts talking about how he`s going to kill the president with the
agents right there in front of him on the record?

WILLIAMS: No, he would not have been Mirandized because he wasn`t in
custody. Miranda is a custodial question. But according to the
prosecutors who spoke today in court, after these men were arrested, both
of them said, Yes, we did plan to go to Syria. And they would have been
Mirandized then.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it seems like a wider net. You know, we see what happened
-- it`s all allegations at this point. It has to be decided in court. But
you had the Boston Marathon bombing, and suspects there, of course, are
people from the Soviet Union, the old Soviet Union. Now you`ve got these
guys from the old Soviet Union.

This isn`t just a Middle East situation anymore. This seems like a
worldwide potential jihad situation, at least in terms of these people.

WILLIAMS: Well, it is. You`re right, because the authorities say that
folks are coming from all around Syria, not just from Western Europe, not
just from Eastern Europe, but all over the place, a sort of global movement
to try to join with the ISIS group in Syria.

And the FBI director surprised us a little bit today by saying that his
agents now have investigations opened in all 50 states of people who are
interested potentially in joining a terror organization.

MATTHEWS: That`s a lot of pool of hell out there.

Anyway, thank you so much, Pete Williams, as always.

Joining me right now with more is MSNBC terrorism analyst and former FBI
profiler Clint Van Zandt, and Jim Cavanaugh, who is an MSNBC analyst and
retired ATF special agent in charge.

Let me go back to that question with you, Clint.

It seems to me that we have surprising enemies out there, suspects at least
in this case, but there they are, coming from the stans, from the former
Soviet Union, and then of course from all over the Soviet Union. Nobody
thought of them as particularly involved in what looked to be a Mideast
conflict, in Islamic State down there in Syria and Iraq.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, as you suggest, we have got the
Boston bombers who came forward. We look at their background.

The Internet is just -- just ripe breeding ground, Chris, that is taking
place. You know there are 90,000 tweets a day concerning ISIS, individuals
talking back and forth. I mean, whatever latitude we give the NSA, how do
you monitor 90,000 tweets between people talking about ISIS?

You know, if we say 80 percent of them have nothing to do with active
terrorism, that`s still a lot of people talking back and forth on the
Internet. And these three guys, so brazen, even though, like, Jim
Cavanaugh and I would go up, knock on the door, talk to them, they are so
still brazen or so stupid or so confident that they continued with their
actions.

And we have seen in New York and other places what one lone wolf with an
axe or with a handgun or with a rifle can do. So, part of the challenge
is, it doesn`t have to be this large ISIS cell. All it has to be is one or
two inspired individuals who go out on the street and buy a $500 handgun.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, FBI Director James Comey revealed today that they
are investigating potential ISIS sympathizers in all 50 states, as you say.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: So, we have investigations of people in various
stages of radicalizing in all 50 states. This isn`t a New York phenomenon
or a Washington phenomenon. This is all 50 states and in ways that are
very hard to see, because it`s highly unlikely that it`s going to be a
federal agent who will first see or hear about someone acting in strange
ways on social media or acting in a strange way at a religious institution
or an educational institution or in the community.

It`s going to be a deputy sheriff. It`s going to be a police officer who
knows that neighborhood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Jim Cavanaugh, what do you make of this customer? The guy says
he wants to kill the president. He says it when he`s being talked to by
agents. Maybe he wasn`t Mirandized yet, but he must have known he is
talking to police and he`s incriminating himself.

JAMES CAVANAUGH, MSNBC ANALYST: Right.

Well, Chris, people talk, you know? And when you sit down in an interview
like that, I mean, this guy is buying into this jihad talk, and he`s
talking to the agents, like Clint said. It`s a noncustodial interview, just
like Pete described. You don`t have to give them a Miranda warning.

But you`re trying to see what he`s made of. Who is he? What does he want
to do? Maybe he wants to help law enforcement. Maybe he wants to quit
doing this. I think the agents are giving him a chance. He`s a young man.
He could have taken any path there, but he went right back to the killers.
And that`s what he decided to do.

And one of these three guys` mother took his passport, and he`s lucky,
because what happens when they get to Syria, ISIS takes their passport.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: And the question is different than the FBI.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How many people in this country are still suspect -- are still
susceptible to this? Because we like to believe that we`re pretty good at
assimilating people. You know, the melting pot is our tradition.

And yet these people apparently were more transitional. They didn`t really
become American, if you will. I`m just wondering how many people are
saying here on their way to the jihad, rather than having become part of
this country. Your thoughts?

CAVANAUGH: Well, there`s a smaller number than the larger certainly Muslim
communities, a small number.

But we always saw these numbers, you know, in the Joint Terrorism Task
Force. The FBI did a fabulous job here, the NYPD as well and the Joint
Terrorism Task Force, by looking at this over the long period, taking the
interactions with the guy, seeing that he was predisposed. He was most
likely picked up by the NSA overseas and it was ferreted into the Joint
Terrorism Task Force.

And they just let the guy talk. And once they committed the overt acts,
the three of them...

MATTHEWS: OK.

CAVANAUGH: ... by going to get the airplane to go to Syria, then the
arrest was made.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, gentlemen. I just can`t believe a guy tells anybody
who works for the government that he`s out to kill the president.

Clint Van Zandt, thank you, and Jim Cavanaugh.

It`s pretty brazen, if not ballsy.

Up next: Is Scott Walker the GOP front-runner now to take on Hillary
Clinton? It`s early, but he`s showing amazing strength in Iowa. These
numbers are astounding. The Republican Party is looking for new people of
the right with some executive experience. They want new and right. It
looks like that combination.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I got a chance to actually talk to your
new senator. I have talked to her a few times before.

But I got to tell you, I -- I appreciate the fact that you have sent
somebody who is not only a Midwesterner like I am, but who is a fellow
Harley-Davidson rider like I am.

(LAUGHTER)

WALKER: That means she knows how to castrate a hog and that she knows how
to ride a hog as well.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was of course Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker testing out his Midwest
appeal in Iowa last month and kissing the ring, of course, of Iowa`s
castrating senator, Tea Party favorite Joni Ernst.

Well, that is one start endorsement Walker would like to nab before next
year`s all-impossible Iowa caucuses. So far, Iowa Republicans like what
they see in Walker, amazing numbers there. A new poll just out from
Quinnipiac shows him, the governor of Wisconsin, with a commanding lead. I
mean, you don`t see leads like this this early.

Twenty-five percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa say they will
support Walker. Rand Paul is a distant second down at 13, so 25 almost
doubles 13, followed by Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush, way down
there with Bush.

But it`s not just the mainstream Iowa Republicans who like Walker. The Tea
Party likes him, too. Look at this -- 33 percent of Tea Party Republicans
in Iowa like Walker now, followed by Rand Paul way down at 15 percent,
Carson at 11, Cruz and Huckabee sitting at 10, and Bush again near the
bottom at 3 percent. I think the dog doesn`t like the dog food.

This poll shows some early strength for the Wisconsin governor. He`s
hitting a sweet spot in the GOP between the Tea Party, evangelical and
establishment wings. He seems to hit all of the buttons. But it also
shows the weakness, dare I say, of one Jeb Bush.

Jonathan Allen is Washington bureau chief for Bloomberg News. And Nicholas
Confessore is a political reporter for "The New York Times."

Jonathan, you first.

I believe in this poll, for one reason. I have seen now the pacer bunny
way out in front of everybody else, which tells me that somebody they don`t
really know, they like to profile, executive, tough on unions, tough
generally, evangelical, Christian, if you will, and young.

He seems to be what they want, a younger version of somebody who shares
their values, but has executive experience, without becoming part of the
establishment. He seems to have the sweet spot. What do you think,
Jonathan?

JONATHAN ALLEN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, throw in the fact that he has won
three elections in a state that goes Democratic in presidential elections
and the fact that he just beat a pretty strong female candidate for
reelection to the governorship.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ALLEN: And he`s a strong-looking candidate right now. Of course, we don`t
know a lot about Scott Walker yet. And there are 11 months and a lot of
money to be spent on defining him and for the other candidates to define
themselves, Jeb Bush included.

But I think he`s one of these guys who has got a chance to combine the
conservative base and the establishment. And he`s going to have a whole
lot of money. He`s able to tap into that Koch donor base. He`s been able
to do that as governor before, the anti-union efforts he`s had. So, I
think Scott Walker is looking pretty good right now, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, let me ask -- let me ask the same question to Nicholas, because it
seems to me that we agree here, that he has something. But he has the -- I
always think elections are two stages, first the profile. What`s the guy`s
sort of general description? He matches what they want.

And then, as you say, Jonathan, you have to fill it in and see if he can
measure up to his profile.

But what is it, Nicholas? Again, just so everybody watching gets it, what
is there -- what is it about Walker that puts him so far ahead of the pack
right now, starting off?

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, I think he`s a guy
who`s got conservative credentials. He also has an authentic connection to
evangelical voters in a state where they`re an important part of the
process.

But he`s also -- he`s also fought the good fight, as far as they are
concerned. He`s really -- Chris, he`s part of this vanguard of GOP
governors in the Midwest that have basically taken on and defeated
Democrats and unions in what was once their stronghold.

It`s really a model for Republicans in purple states. He`s won in a purple
state. As Jonathan said, he`s won three elections in four years. These
are all things that voters care about. They are all looking for a winner
this year.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you. You stay with us, Nick.

Is it possible that Bush -- you know the old story about the dog won`t eat
the dog food, no matter how good the label, no matter how good the
advertising. The dog doesn`t like the taste of the dog food. I haven`t
seen any evidence yet of an appetite for another Bush in the grassroots, in
actual people like in Iowa. His numbers down there our abysmal, 3 percent
among Tea Party people, Nick.

CONFESSORE: Yes, absolutely.

I mean, look, I think he hasn`t had actual contact with voters for a
decade-and-a-half. That`s a long time to be out of that seat. He`s got to
prove he can do it. He will be at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action
Conference, this week. And we will see if he still has his chops.

But, look, like, I think people remember the Bush years, even in Iowa. And
remember that a lot of the conservative dissatisfaction with the GOP
establishment began in the Bush years. There was a lot of criticism of
government spending and eventually even the war in Iraq. So, there are
some memories there of how his brother handled the presidency that are not
actually that great for conservative voters.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let me go back to Jonathan.

It seems to me that I thought they would have to choose between some wild
man and beating Hillary. But maybe in Walker, they found somebody who is
not a wild man who can beat Hillary.

ALLEN: Yes. I think that`s exactly what the Republican Party is looking
for, somebody who excites the grassroots.

Look, George Bush, when he ran in 2000, the difference between him and his
father was he came from the conservative side. He had the star power there
and was trying to make sure that he could get the sort of moderate
Republicans that John McCain had been winning over, some of the
independents who lean Republican.

Jeb Bush is like the elder Bush, and starts out on the moderate side of the
party trying to win over the real passion voters. I think it`s going to be
hard for him to do, but certainly, again, he`s going to have a lot of money
to do it and certainly has a lot of time to do it.

MATTHEWS: I think that "Read my lips" line will be removed -- will be
repeated again.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Allen.

I also noticed that Jim Baker the other day said he likes the old man and
like Jeb, and never mentioned W., which makes sense.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Which we all know why.

Jonathan Allen, Nicholas Confessore.

Up next: Republicans on Capitol Hill are fighting with each other now over
funding the Department of Homeland Security as it goes down to the deadline
for renewal. McConnell and Boehner aren`t even speaking to each other.
They haven`t met each other for two weeks. Is this any way to run a
government? What happened to the Republican majority? It sounds like the
House and the Senate are at war with each other, the Republican-led House
and Senate.

Anyway, you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, it`s chaos inside the Republican Conference right now. House Speaker
John Boehner told his caucus today that he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell haven`t spoken to each other in two weeks.

The hard-liners out there sound like they`re itching for a revolt, by the
way. It`s all playing out just two days before funding at the Department
of Homeland Security runs dry. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is
trying to rally support for his plan, which is a split vote to avoid a
shutdown at DHS. He wants a clean funding bill and a separate bill to
countermand the president`s action on immigration.

It`s a plan that would likely need a huge number of Democratic votes to
pass in the House. Will Boehner swallow that embarrassment?

Well, today, he refused to show his hand when faced with questions from
reporters. Here he is, the speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I`m waiting for the Senate
to act. The House has done its job to fund the Department of Homeland
Security and to stop the president`s overreach on immigration. And we`re
waiting for the Senate to do their job.

Until the Senate does something, we`re in a wait-and-see mode. I`m waiting
for the Senate to pass a bill. At the end of the day, the Senate has to
act. I`m waiting for the Senate to pass a bill. There`s a lot -- I don`t
know what the Senate is capable of passing.

QUESTION: Is Congress going to avoid a shutdown of DHS?

BOEHNER: I`m waiting for the Senate to act. The House has passed a bill
to fund the department. It`s time for the Senate to do their job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s Mickey Mouse time, obviously.

Republican Congressman Peter King actually said that. He told reporters:
"We can`t allow DHS not to be funded. People think we`re crazy. There are
terrorist attacks all over the world, and we`re talking about closing down
Homeland Security. This is like living in the world of the crazy people."
This is Peter King of New York.

The roundtable tonight, Danny Vargas is a Republican strategist and was
chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. Jennice Fuentes is
a Democratic strategist -- so we got some balance there -- and was chief of
staff to Democrat Congressman Luis Gutierrez from Illinois. And Sabrina
Siddiqui is a reporter with The Huffington Post.

I want to start with Danny.

What is the Republican goal here? It seems to me they don`t -- they want
to generally against illegal immigration, which makes sense. Most people
are against illegal immigration. But once they have made that point, how
do they want to end it? How do they want to -- how does the Republican
Party hope to end this process where the way people come in this court I
country is coming in here illegally? How are they going to stop that with
the politics they`re playing right now? I don`t see how it got to there if
they don`t have a bill to do it.

DANNY VARGAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, as you know, Chris,
the Republican approach in the House of Representatives is to go with the
piecemeal approach. Not this big, huge mass of comprehensive bill that we
saw in the Senate. That`s not going to happen in the House of
Representatives that`s controlled by the Republican Party. What they do
want to move forward with is something that the American people broadly
accept and agree, and as that we do have to have increased control and
security at the border, they see too much lawlessness at the border, they
want to make sure that we have an approved legal immigration process and we
have a guest worker process because of the 11 million that are undocumented
--

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: -- are looking here for jobs.

MATTHEWS: Well, everybody is for that. That`s a good thing. The problem
is their method.

Why do they ever think they`ll get the Democrats, ever, ever, ever to agree
on stopping illegal immigration until they deal with the people here that
they need to be taken care of? How do they deal with that?

If they don`t deal with the 11 million here as part of the process, a
comprehensive process, the Democrats cannot sign on to any tough new
employment checks to make sure people here are legally working here. The
Democrats won`t agree to any of that as long as you don`t take care of the
people here.

VARGAS: Right. And I think that`s the bone of contention. The bone of
contention is what to do with the 11 million. I think Republicans by and
large can move forward with a process by which they might be able to become
legal. It`s the path to citizenship that is the thorniest issue. I think
many Republicans are saying that has to be on the table, many Republicans
were saying that it can`t be on the table. I think until we get to that
point, we can --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How can it not be on the table? Danny, I`m going to keep
fighting with you on this. How can it not be on the table? People here
for 20 years are not going to be kicked out of the country. It`s not going
to happen ever, ever, ever. It`s not going to happen.

VARGAS: I will tell you, Chris, I speak to folks who are on undocumented
status today and almost every day and many of them say, you know what, as
long as I get to stay here legally and provide for my family and make sure
that my kids get an education, citizenship is not anywhere on their
priority list. So, if we can find a way so that many of those undocumented
immigrants can stay here legally, get out of the shadows, provide a legal
pathway for them without citizenship, many of them will applaud for that.

MATTHEWS: Jennice, what`s the Democratic goal here? Is it truly to pass a
bill that deals with illegal hiring? Which is the main attraction of
people come to this country, people come to this country not to do bad
things. They come here to get a job. If you start to get illegal hiring
and also deal with the people here, that`s comprehensive. We all know
that.

I never hear the president make the case for enforcement. I hear
deportations are raucous and terrible and inhuman in many ways, but he
never talks about a process to stop illegal immigration. He never talks
about it. That`s why I think Republicans never want to help him, because
he doesn`t want to help them make their case that this was a serious bill
that was passed by the Senate a couple of years ago, a truly comprehensive
bill and should be enacted.

JENNICE FUENTES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Exactly. And they bring it up on
the House side. Danny is talking about comprehensive or piecemeal, we
haven`t had any because there hasn`t been a stomach on the Republican side
to have the courage that to the floor and see what happens. What is
irresponsible is what`s happening now, because, quite frankly, it`s like
the Republicans do not know how to celebrate even a modest victory. Well,
that judge in Texas handed them with the modest victory and they should
just understand that the money is already going to be controlled. They
cannot use that money for the executive action.

So, why not just celebrate that moment instead of bringing us to this
peril, this moment of crisis that we may not have, our staff at DHS.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How come Democrats never talk about enforcement and stopping
illegal immigration? I never hear a Democrat talk about stopping illegal
enforcement.

FUENTES: The Democrats do talk about enforcement and President Obama has
deported more people.

MATTHEWS: Who? Who?

(CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: President Obama has deported more people than both Bushes
combined.

MATTHEWS: This is a joke because people are still going to come here to
get a job if he can get here illegally and what have Democrats ever done
anything stopping illegal hiring?

FUENTES: Excuse me?

MATTHEWS: What do the Democrats -- I`d say it again, I asked you five
times. When are the Democrats going to get serious about enforcement?
Because unless they get serious about enforcement, the Republicans are
never going to go along with any kind of deal.

FUENTES: I don`t know why you say we`re not serious about enforcement
because we are. If deporting -- if grabbing mothers from the workplace, a
mother state --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`re not getting anywhere. People are going to come here
illegally forever the rest of our lives --

FUENTES: That`s not an enforcement question. That`s more of an economic
question. They are coming because there are jobs and there`s job that they
can get.

MATTHEWS: They are illegal jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: There are all kinds of jobs. Most of them -- half of them pay
and they pay Social Security under somebody else`s number. To say that
they are here, they are not making money, they are not paying taxes would
be incorrect. They come here because they can find the jobs. The
enforcement needs to be the workplace.

MATTHEWS: Never mind. It`s not happening.

OK. I`ll ask the question again 100 times because this is why we never get
immigration reform. The one side doesn`t want to deal with the reality
that these people here to stay, the 11 million. And the Democrats don`t
want to deal with the fact that as long as we have illegal jobs in this
country, all of the walls, all the deportations are not going to stop.

We`ll be right back. The roundtable is staying with us.

And this HARDBALL -- I just want a law that ends this conversation -- the
place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we showed you that Scott Walker`s got this big lead in
Iowa and look at this. Look, he`s surging in Texas as well.

According to the University of Texas and "Texas Tribune" poll out this
week, Ted Cruz is on the top with 20 percent of the vote, with Walker a
close second in Texas at 19. He`s right on Cruz`s back. In fact, back in
October, Walker had just 2 percent of the poll and he is moving up. Jeb
Bush and Ben Carson are further back, of course, with former Texas Governor
Rick Perry falling from second to fifth down there. He ain`t going
anywhere.

This is big because Texas moved up in the primary calendar and will vote at
the beginning of March. So, it`s going to matter, and it looks like Walker
is doing well down there in Texas, even against Cruz.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

And just minutes away right now, we`re going to bring you our exclusive
presidential town hall on immigration moderated by my colleague, Jose Diaz-
Balart, which was taped just a few hours ago today.

Well, during the big event today, President Obama called out Jeb Bush by
name to get his party`s leadership in the House to act on the bipartisan
bill that the U.S. Senate passed in the last Congress. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate Mr. Bush being
concerned about immigration reform. I would suggest that what he do is
talk to the speaker of the house and the members of his party, because the
fact of the matter is that --

(APPLAUSE)

-- that even after we pass bipartisan legislation in the Senate, I gave the
Republicans a year and a half -- a year and a half -- to just call the
bill. We had the votes. They wouldn`t do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m back at the roundtable, Danny, Jennice and Sabrina.

Sabrina, I want to start with you.

Do you think the president wants the issue of immigration in favor of the
people, Hispanic community especially, and other liberals, who want them to
get a better break in this country, or does he want the bill to pass? Is
he really out there helping the Republicans buy into this thing or just
enjoying the fight, because it`s good politically for him?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, HUFFINGTON POST: I think to a large extent, this is a
winning political issue for Democrats, and that`s part of the message that
you get from this administration. Now, they obviously took the executive
action far too late in the eyes of most of the Latino community, and even
though they believe they have the superior message to that Republicans who
haven`t acted at all to pass the bill, the president, as we saw, was
throwing some verbal punches out at Jeb Bush who is a contender in 2016,
and already setting new battle lines around immigration, because he knows
this is a winning political issue for him, and for Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Danny, what`s the president going to do at the courts, in the
Supreme Court -- it`s Republican now, 5-4 at least -- what happens if they
strike down all his executive orders on immigration?

VARGAS: This one in particular, the circuit court judge put an injunction
against it for procedural matters. It wasn`t even a question of
constitutionality. It was because he hadn`t filed with the federal
registry with enough time for public comment. So, I think that`s a
procedural hurdle that the administration has to overcome.

But I think more politically, I think the American people do want to see a
fair and sustainable solution to immigration reform. What they don`t want
is amnesty, writ large, they don`t want amnesty, but they also want see
some compassion. So, I think the Democrats keeping this as a political
football for their advantage, I think at some point that political football
has a shelf life.

And I will tell you that President Obama had -- when he came into office,
he said in his first year, he was going to tackle immigration reform. He
had a majority in the House. He had a super majority in the Senate. He
did absolutely nothing about immigration reform.

So, I think it`s a little cynical to say the president is now coming to the
table talking about immigration reform when he could have done it then. I
think we need to move forward as a nation to craft a sensible immigration
reform policy --

MATTHEWS: Right, you say, OK --

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: -- that meets the need of our security -- our security, our
economy and our nature as a country.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s determined -- I want to ask all three of you. Do you
think we can stop illegal immigration with legislation? Can we stop
illegal immigration and stop talking about it, just deal with it, like we
do other issues? Can we get rid of illegal immigration? You first Jennice
and then, Danny, and then, Sabrina.

VARGAS: OK.

FUENTES: Yes, I think we can absolutely take steps to take care of the
first problem with undocumented, which is basically the 11 million
undocumented that are here.

MATTHEWS: Can we end illegal immigration? Just answer that question. Can
we end it through legislation?

FUENTES: Can we end illegal immigration with all hands on deck? Of course
we can. Of course we can figure out a way that people don`t have to come
here undocumented and stay, because I can tell you, a lot of the immigrants
don`t come here necessarily want to stay here. People will say, no, of
course, I want to stay and have American children.

You want to go back to your country if you can. You have the circular
migration that you could actually get away with and come here to work and
go back in an easy, efficient, reliable way. You probably would use that,
of course.

MATTHEWS: OK. Your question, Danny. Are you optimistic -- Danny, are you
optimistic we could some day, in the next five or 10 years, sit down, both
parties get, a chance for people who have been here for a while, to stop
the illegal hiring, the whole bit? The whole bit, we know what it is. Do
you think they`ll ever agree on that?

VARGAS: Here are the three or four things that need to happen. One, we
need to make sure that we do a better job of securing our borders and
controlling our border so we have operational control. Number two, there
does need to be a legal viable system by which it meets the needs of our
economy. A guest worker program that we used to have in this country that
works really well --

MATTHEWS: I know.

VARGAS: -- that allows folks to come in, take seasonal jobs when they
couldn`t find American workers, and be able to go back to their home
countries. That is the way to be able to stop the need for illegal
immigration to meet jobs.

Look, I`ll be honest with you, I know that along the border we`ve had two
signs, one says keep out (ph), and the other one says we`re hiring. So,
that --

MATTHEWS: I know. That`s the irony of this whole conversation. That`s
why --

(CROSSTALK)

VARGAS: But a guest worker program, the labor unions in this country are
against the guest worker program. That`s been part of the problem.

MATTHEWS: I know.

(CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: Everybody was coming here documented, is not necessarily coming
in through the border. I think we have to make it clear that our problems
of undocumented immigrants are not through the Mexican border necessarily.
I think they`re coming through the airports and they overstay their visa.
So, let`s be honest when we talk about enforcement and immigrants, where
they`re coming through.

MATTHEWS: I just want to stop the illegal hiring.

Anyway, thank you, Danny Vargas. Thank you, Jennice Fuentes, and Sabrina
Siddiqui.

We`ll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this crap storm that Netanyahu
started. All the prime minister had to do to avoid all this fighting with
Washington was to speak out. That`s what he could have done, speak out the
second he heard that the invitation for him to address the U.S. Congress
was issued without the knowledge of an American president.

All he had to do was say, I will come if this invitation is bipartisan, and
certainly only if the president of the United States has approved it. All
he had to do was that, just say, I don`t like the way this thing has been
handled. I have no intention to do this under the table. No intention of
disrespecting the president of the United States, because even if we
disagree, I will not abuse the historic ties between our two countries,
with Democrats and Republicans alike.

Here`s a thought, the prime minister can say at the front of his remarks
next week that he didn`t know. Nobody told him that the president was not
duly informed of his invitation and he is sorry the whole thing went the
way it did. Just say you didn`t know this thing was carried out in the
dark, that`s if you were not party to this subterfuge.

If, Mr. Prime Minister, you knew from the outset this was all the way to
blindside the president and therefore humiliate him, well, that`s the
problem, isn`t it?

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

Stay tuned, of course, right now, for our exclusive town hall with
President Obama.


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BE UPDATED.
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