updated 3/19/2015 10:54:11 AM ET 2015-03-19T14:54:11

Date: March 18, 2015
Guest: Michael Shear, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Beto O`Rourke, Zerlina Maxwell, Mike

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: The White House rebukes Bibi.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

"Let Me Start" tonight with Bibi Netanyahu`s big win and signs of new
trouble ahead for his relationship with the White House. The Israeli
leader swung far to the right in the final days of the campaign.

He backtracked on earlier promises by vowing to never support a
Palestinian state, came to Congress and brazenly called out the U.S.
president for negotiating what he called a "bad deal" with Iran, and he
boasted to the Israeli press about being able to stand up to the U.S.,
complained about an international conspiracy of leftists supposedly
throwing money into Israel to oust him from office.

Yesterday, Netanyahu warned his supporters that, quote, "Arab voters
are going to the polls in droves." That was while the election was taking
place yesterday that he said that.

Those comments got a rebuke from White House spokesman Josh Earnest
today. He told reporters the administration, quote, "is deeply concerned
about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens. It
undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our
democracy, an important part of what binds the United States and Israel

Others close to the White House also weighed in, last night President
Obama`s former senior adviser, David Axelrod, tweeting, quote, "Bibi`s
shameful 11th-hour demagoguery may have swayed enough votes to save him,
but at what cost," and the president`s former press secretary, Robert
Gibbs, warning there will be further bumps in the road.


relationship between the president and the prime minister that you could
actually see getting worse in the next few weeks, if an Iran deal comes
through, before it ever has a chance to get better. I think it will be
very challenging, despite the fact that there are a lot of things that are
mutually important to both countries as it relates to foreign policy.


KORNACKI: And NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea
Mitchell joins me now from Jerusalem. Andrea, thanks for taking a few

So that question, then, of whether there is going to be a price to be
paid by Netanyahu -- he`s been reelected, but he did it by making those
comments about Arab voters. He did it by renouncing the two-state

Is there going to be a cost for him going forward for the way he won
this election?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it`s a cost of
his relationship with this administration. I think the bet is that he`s
going to be around a lot longer than Barack Obama, at least a couple of
years, if not a full four-year term. So he has been reelected with a
strong mandate for these hard-line policies.

There`s another price, of course, which is the domestic price. A lot
of Israelis are very concerned about the lack of peace talks with the
Palestinians, about the fact that if they believe that going forward,
they`re going to be a democracy, they either have to give the Palestinians
-- and Arab Israelis already have the vote, but they have to include more
and more people because of the demographics in their country.

And if there isn`t a two-state solution, what are they going to do?
Are they going to absorb the west bank? Are they going to absorb the rest
of the Palestinian territories? This is a huge problem for them. Either
they will become not a Jewish state, which is not an alternative for
Netanyahu, for anyone here in Israel, or they`re going to have to deal with
some sort of homeland for the Palestinians.

Tonight, the administration is saying it`s reevaluating its entire
policy. It`s entirely conceivable that they will revisit the whole
question of whether they support Israel at the United Nations against
recognition for the Palestinians.

KORNACKI: Wow. And you say, though, in terms of this result,
obviously, it is a mandate, at least in the short term, for Netanyahu. And
he did it...

MITCHELL: Absolutely.

KORNACKI: He did it after coming to the United States, taking a lot
of heat for making that speech in front of Congress, saying in front of
Congress, basically, This is a bad deal your president is negotiating right
now. So now in the wake of these results, if those negotiations the
administration is in right now do produce a deal with Iran, what is this
emboldened Netanyahu with his new mandate going to do?

MITCHELL: Well, first of all, he believes that his trump card is the
Republican-led Congress. They invited him, and he showed up despite the
disapproval of the White House.

The president will have a correct -- publicly correct relationship
with the leader of Israel. He has to. It`s a key ally. But the bottom
line is they`re counting on members of Congress to move ahead with some
sort of unilateral sanctions. There`s Democratic support, Tim Kaine and
other Democrats, for unilateral sanctions against Iran, or the threat of
sanctions against Iran, which could blow up a potential nuclear deal. So
that is the next big bump in the road. And it`s more than a little bump.

KORNACKI: All right, Andrea Mitchell from NBC News in Jerusalem,
thanks for the time tonight. Appreciate it.

MITCHELL: You bet.

KORNACKI: All right, and as I mentioned, Prime Minister Netanyahu`s
last-minute appeal to his supporters yesterday, warning that, quote, "Arab
voters are going to the polls in droves," was strongly rebuked by the White
House today about those comments, "The Atlantic`s" Jeffrey Goldberg
writing, quote, "Netanyahu, of course, wasn`t dog-whistling here. He
didn`t refer, say, to people in Israel`s north who don`t have Jewish
interests at heart, or some other such variation. Instead, he screamed,
The Arabs are coming."

I`m joined now by "New York Times" White House correspondent Michael
Shear and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the group J Street, which
describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace.

Well, Michael, let me -- let me start with you. In terms of the
implications for the way Netanyahu won this for domestic politics in the
United States when it comes to Israel because when it comes to Israel,
there`s been sort of a bipartisan consensus for a long time, Democrats and
Republicans, whether it`s a Democratic White House, Republican White House,
they protect Israel at the United Nations, Andrea Mitchell in that report
right there raising the possibility that this administration now with this
reelected Netanyahu may not protect Israel the same way at the United

Is this becoming a partisan political issue here?

MICHAEL SHEAR, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think the partisanship was
obviously when the prime minister came to the Congress and spoke at the
invitation of the Republicans and to the great consternation of the White
House and many Democrats in Congress. I mean, so that has already been
there, and I think this probably only intensifies it.

I think the interesting thing that you saw today was the sort of dual
messages that the administration was sending just literally hours after
this election result, on the one hand, having Secretary Kerry, you know,
reach out and congratulate the prime minister, but reserving the
president`s phone call -- that hasn`t happened -- and at the same time, the
president`s spokesman really delivering a pretty blunt message of
disapproval about the way in which he won this election, which I think was
intended to put some distance, some further distance between the president
and the prime minister, which already, of course, is a pretty poisonous

And so I think, as Andrea said, the relationship will be polite, but
it will never be close.

KORNACKI: Yes, and Jeremy, we talked, too, about, you know, the
closeness between Netanyahu and the Republicans in Congress over here, the
Republicans in Congress who invited him over to speak. So now Netanyahu
has gone and renounced the two-state solution, the Palestinian state living
side by side with the Jewish state, Israel. Netanyahu has renounced that.

That is something in this country, Republicans and Democrats have both
been in favor of, at least in recent times, the two-state solution,
President George W. Bush a strong advocate of the two-state solution.

With Netanyahu making this turn, do Republicans in this country now
make that same turn, do you think?

JEREMY BEN-AMI, J STREET PRESIDENT: Well, I think there`s already
been a move within the Republican Party in that direction. There`s been a
few congressional letters and resolutions to that effect. There`s been
debate over party platforms in a couple of states. I think that there`s a
real possibility that you see the Republicans break in a way that aligns
them very clearly with Israel`s right wing.

And I think that makes a lot of sense, that the policies that
Netanyahu is advocating are very close in world view to the policies that
the Republicans here advocate, and they have a lot in common. And
similarly, I think that the Democrats and Barack Obama and the folks in
Israel at the center-left there who favor a diplomatic resolution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- two states for two people -- I mean, they
have a lot in common, as well.

So I think the break makes a little bit of sense, but it`s a real
shame for the U.S.-Israel relationship.

KORNACKI: Yes, well, Michael, I mean, are we entering into uncharted
territory now in terms of the United States relationship with Israel? I`m
trying to think of a precedent for the kind of rancor that exists -- not
just rancor, but serious, you know, disagreement over basic, fundamental
policy here that exists between this administration and the administration
in Israel now.

SHEAR: Well, and I think, you know, Andrea put her finger on it,
like, if you want to measure how bad this relationship has gotten, let`s
watch what happens at the United Nations, right? The United States has
always been -- always had Israel`s back, always been the one to put the
kibosh on any sort of resolution that comes out of the U.N. that Israel
doesn`t like.

You know, could we see a resolution that endorses a two-state solution
with the 1967 borders, something that would be anathema to Prime minister
Netanyahu -- is that something that the United States could let actually
happen and not veto on behalf of its ally? That`s -- you know, those are
the kinds of questions we should be watching as we assess just how bad the
relationship can get.

KORNACKI: Yes, and Jeremy, just quickly, when you look at public
opinion in Israel, do you think as the -- as Netanyahu grows further and
further apart, perhaps, from President Obama, can you see a scenario where
that public opinion begins to change in Israel, where they say, Maybe we
don`t want to be having this distance between an American administration
and us?

BEN-AMI: Well, you know, there`s a real split in Israel. There`s a
solid third of the country that supported Bibi Netanyahu and the hard-right
parties, and they responded well to the conflict with the United States and
the conflict with Barack Obama, to the racism that you heard about and to
some of the other outlandish statements that were made.

And then there`s another whole segment of Israeli society that`s
adamantly opposed. You know, 72 percent of the country thinks it`s going
in the wrong direction in Israel. Bibi Netanyahu`s favorability is under
water. So he`s already got a very strong opposition. The results last
night reflect the divide in Israel that exists.

KORNACKI: All right, thank you to Michael Shear, Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Appreciate the time.

BEN-AMI: Sure.

SHEAR: Thank you.

KORNACKI: Coming up, terror in Tunisia, 19 people are dead after
terrorists opened fire at a museum. It is the latest in a string of brutal
attacks on four continents. And in the political debate here at home,
those attacks are sharply driving up support for war against ISIS.

Plus, authorities in Japan are investigating a threat against U.S.
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. We will have the latest on that. And 2016
politics -- Hillary Clinton showing real strength against the Republican
field, Barbara Bush changing her tune on her son, Jeb, and Donald Trump may
-- may -- be running. Yes, right. The roundtable`s got all that covered

And then finally, what`s Dick Cheney talking about when he tells
"Playboy" that he thinks President Obama has been playing "the race card"?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


KORNACKI: Despite the controversy over her e-mails, Hillary Clinton
is trouncing the Republican field. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new poll from CNN and Opinion Research, Clinton leads
Rand Paul by 11 points in a national general election match-up, and that is
as close as any Republican matched against her gets. Marco Rubio does next
best, still trails Clinton by 12 points, 55 to 42.

Clinton would also beat Mike Huckabee by 14 points nationally, 55-41
Clinton in that one. And Jeb Bush trails Hillary Clinton by 15 points,
Clinton 55, Bush 40. Scott Walker, who is surging among Republicans these
days, is also down 15 against the former secretary of state, again 55 to 40
there. And with Chris Christie as the Republican nominee, the score is
also 55-40 for Hillary.

We`ll be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. At least 21 are dead in a
traumatic incident near the Tunisian parliament. An American-born Air
Force mechanic has been arraigned in court on charges that he tried to join
up with ISIS. And the new defense secretary is on the hotseat up on
Capitol Hill. It was a wild, and as we`ll also see, a horrific day, which
has refocused all of our attention and all of our fears on violent

Start with the horrific events today in Tunisia, where gunmen dressed
in military uniforms opened fire in the country`s capital city at a museum
near parliament, killing at least 19 people, most of them foreign tourists.
Two of the gunmen were killed in a police raid. Their accomplices may
still be at large. The attack comes after ISIS fighters from Tunisia
circulated a video on line that warned the country that they would not be
safe under their current government.

I`m joined now by MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann and Jessica
Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard and author of the new book "ISIS, the
State of Terror."

So Evan, let me start with you -- still trying to piece together
exactly what happened in Tunisia, no official notification of who`s
responsible for this. Does this feel like ISIS to you?

people when they think about ISIS, they think about foreign fighters from
places like Iraq or Saudi Arabia. What a lot of people don`t understand
is, is that one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters, maybe the
second or third largest contingent of foreign fighters under ISIS in Syria
and Iraq are Tunisians. They are among the most populous nationality.
They are being killed in suicide bombings and other attacks inside of these

And where are they coming from? They coming from Tunisia. There`s a
rat line of folks that are going back and forward, not to mention the fact
that inside of Tunisia, you have a group called Ansar al Sharia, the same
group, a branch of the same group that was allegedly behind the Benghazi
consulate attack.

So look, it`s a surprising thing. It`s a small country in North
Africa. It`s not a country that a lot of us associate with extremism or
violence, but there`s a very active pro-ISIS movement there. These folks
are well armed and they`re killing people. This is not the first act of
violence that`s occurred.

KORNACKI: Yes, how equipped is Tunisia to deal with this? Because we
say there was -- there was sort of a general warning from ISIS saying, Hey,
if you keep this same government, you`re in trouble, and now this happens.
How prepared is this country to deal with it?

KOHLMANN: Well, look, it goes both ways. The Tunisians have quite --
quite effective and efficient security services. They have received a
tremendous amount of support from European nations and European partners.

On the other hand, Tunisia has been racked by instability over the
last few years. There is tremendous problems there right now in terms of
people sorting out the aftermath of the Arab spring. A lot of people in
Tunisia are looking for democracy. There is a very vocal small minority of
people that are looking to use the Arab spring as an opportunity to bring
violent and radical Islam into control in Tunisia. And as you can see
today, the targets of that violence -- you know, they`re disturbing, I
mean, tourists at a museum.

This is even upping the scale from al Qaeda, which previously attacked
a synagogue in Tunisia. Now they`re going after a museum, ISIS. So again,
it`s disturbing to see, but it`s not that altogether that surprising.

KORNACKI: All right, well, we have seen a flood of extremist acts
targeting the West recently, Evan`s talking about there. In October, an
Islamic convert killed a Canadian soldier and opened fire inside parliament
there. Two months later, a self-radicalized Muslim cleric took 17 people
hostage in a Sydney cafe. Three of them died. In January, Paris was
rocked by three days of terror because of al Qaeda-linked terrorists. More
than a dozen died there. And last month, a gunman who swore allegiance to
ISIS went on a rampage in Denmark and two died.

At the same time all of this is happening, we are seeing a growing
appetite to commit U.S. ground troops to the Mideast. A mid-February poll
conducted by CNN had 47 percent of Americans supporting U.S. ground troops
in the Mideast. A CBS News poll released around the same time had the
number at 57 percent. Our own NBC poll last month saw it jump to 66
percent, two out of every three. Also, a Quinnipiac poll this month
putting it at 62 percent.

So Jessica, let me ask you about this. Just -- you understand and
you`ve written so extensively about sort of the mindset of ISIS. And I
keep hearing -- when we see polls like that, I always hear voices that say,
Well, that is exactly what ISIS wants. They want to whip the United
States, they want to whip the West into a frenzy, get the U.S. to commit
troops. That will ultimately help them with their recruitment. That will
ultimately sort of enhance their profile.

So how does the United States -- how should the United States be
reacting to this? Are we just playing into their hand if we do what these
polls are saying people want us to do?

think that King Abdullah of Jordan is absolutely right that the presence of
Western troops, ground forces, will help them mobilize.

I think that the best people to respond on the ground are actually
Sunni Muslims because it`s part of their strategy to have a -- to goad the
West into -- to appearing there to fight it out for the end times battle
that they`re anticipating. And also, of course, the -- if we see too many
Shia troops, that is also part of their strategy. They`d like to see a
sectarian battle, as well.

KORNACKI: Do you think, though, when you -- we have seen examples of
this last summer in Iraq. Do you think the strength that ISIS has shown
lately, without a presence from the United States, without a -- sort of a
significant presence from the United States, are the forces that you`re
talking about capable of defeating something as powerful as ISIS?

STERN: Well, I think they clearly need support from us and from

It needs to be an international response. And we need -- part of it
needs to be diplomatic. Part of it needs to be political. Part of it does
need to be military. But the ground forces, in my view, at least for now,
it`s much better if they are Sunni Arab.

KORNACKI: Well, Evan, you look at these polls, and you can see -- the
cause and effect is obvious here. We look at beheadings, we look at Paris,
we look at all of those things and the natural reaction in this country is
to be horrified and to say, we want to do something about this. We don`t
just want to sit back and let this happen.

When you look at your understanding of ISIS, when you look at that and
you look at the appetite in this country of that, what is the smartest
thing the United States can be doing in response to this?

KOHLMANN: Well, look, in an ideal world, we would be doing exactly
what Jessica is talking about. We would be having Sunni Iraqi and Syrian
fighters liberating their country, FSA fighters, other fighters who are
legitimately Sunnis, right?

Unfortunately, we don`t live in a perfect world and the world we live
in right now, it really appears like we have two options. Either we get
involved or we let Iran take care of business. Now, neither of those
options is a good option. Both of them are bad. The question is, what
other options do we have right now?

The Iraqis are not capable of liberating their country on their own.
Not the Shiites, not the Sunnis, not the nonaffiliated. And anyone who has
any doubt about that, look what is going on in Tikrit right now. For the
last month, Iraqi officials have been saying every single day, we`re one
day away from taking Tikrit. We`re not one day away from taking Tikrit.

KORNACKI: Are you seeing a role for U.S. ground forces?

KOHLMANN: My -- this is my problem. If we don`t commit U.S. ground
forces, what is the alternative?

If someone can come up with an alternative to that that works and that
makes sense and that -- again, I`m all for that. I think the problem is,
is we seem to be going through every option and exhausting all of the
options, and they don`t seem to be working. Diplomatic pressure didn`t
work. Getting our allies involved didn`t work.

It`s great having the Jordanians and the UAE contributing one bombing
out of every 50 in Syria, but that`s, A, not going to make any difference
and, B, they are not committing ground troops. In the absence of any
Sunnis committing ground troops, save, again, Sunni areas, the question is,
is, like who can we actually count on to do this?

And unfortunately it keeps coming back that we don`t seem to be able
to count on anyone except ourselves.

KORNACKI: All right, thank you to Evan Kohlmann and Jessica Stern.

The new secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, addressed the threat of
ISIS while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee today. He
said the group is metastasizing beyond Syria and Iraq.


ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We not only need to defeat
ISIL. We need to defeat them in a lasting manner. And that`s always the
difficult part. We can defeat ISIL, but defeating them in a lasting manner
means having somebody on the ground who keeps them defeated after we assist
them in the defeat.


KORNACKI: Congressman Beto O`Rourke is a Democrat from Texas, a
member of the Armed Services Committee. He joins us now from the Capitol.

Congressman, thanks for taking a few minutes.

You heard, I think, a little bit of that discussion before you came on
here. I`m just curious to get your take on that, the idea, as Evan
Kohlmann, our terrorism analyst, was just saying here, his assessment of
this is, look, it would be great if somebody else could lead this fight on
the ground against ISIS. But he`s not seeing any indication yet that
anyone else is capable or willing to do it.

What do you think of that take on this?

REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Well, I feel like we have tried that

Of course, we invaded Iraq in 2003. We spent tens of billions of
dollars training, equipping and advising their army, only to see them melt
in the face of an inferior enemy, ISIS, on the field of battle. Our
country strategy is to train, equip and advise that army again.

And what I think that is going to produce is additional failure. And
ultimately it`s going to be demand and beg the question, if we really want
to achieve the president`s goals of defeating and destroying ISIS, won`t we
have to commit our own ground forces?

And with -- if we do that, what`s going to change in the future? How
are we going to ensure that Iraq does not devolve again into sectarian
violence? I think what we`re missing right now is an overall political
strategy that asks some very basic questions, like, does the state of Iraq
really make sense? Does Syria really make sense?

Is ISIS a symptom of the need to reorganize these places, to admit
that perhaps there should be some kind of Sunni homeland, some kind of Shia
homeland, some kind of Kurdish homeland? The current political boundaries
don`t make sense. And I don`t think that the U.S. military alone can
resolve this.

This is an issue of statesmanship and statecraft and political
solutions. We need some of that, frankly, from this administration. And
when it comes to ground forces, I don`t think they should be the young men
and women at Fort Bliss deploying over into Iraq and to Syria. I think it
should be the Jordanians. I think it should be the Saudis. I think it
should be the Turks. I think it should be the Qataris. It should be those
who have the most to gain or to lose in the outcome.

KORNACKI: Should be is one thing, but as Evan Kohlmann was saying, he
was saying, should be is one thing, but what is actually going to get the
job done may be something else.

Are you open in any scenario to using U.S. ground forces against ISIS?

O`ROURKE: I am, as soon as we have a strategy.

I think the men and women who serve this country so ably overseas, who
constitute the greatest fighting force this world has ever known, they
certainly want our support. And they have that. But I think what they
want even more is a strategy and a plan.

I`m 42 years old now. I was a senior in high school when this country
first announced military actions in Iraq. That`s that country. You look
at Afghanistan, we`re 14 years in there. You look at our military
operations in Yemen, you look at our military operations in Libya, you look
at our military operations in Pakistan, none of those countries and our
position in those countries are the better for current military-only

We need a strategy. We don`t have that today. And I`m not willing to
devote to commit U.S. forces and U.S. lives if we don`t have a plan.
That`s what we need from this president, this administration and, frankly,
from the actors in the region who have the most to gain or lose.

KORNACKI: Well, while all this is happening, there`s an authorization
for military force that is collecting dust in Washington. Republican hawks
think it does too little. Liberal doves think it does to much. The White
House says they have the authority they need to combat ISIS anyway.

This was John Kerry testifying before Congress last week.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president already has
statutory authority to act against ISIL. But a clear and formal expression
of this Congress` backing at this moment in time would dispel doubt that
might exist anywhere that Americans are united in this effort.


KORNACKI: And in the president`s letter to Congress requesting a vote
on that authorization, he wrote that -- quote -- "Existing statutes provide
me with the authority I need."

Congressman, what do you think of that? If you guys in Congress
cannot come together and agree on some kind of new authorization for the
use of American military force, the administration says, that`s OK, we
already have the authorization we need.

What do you think of that?

O`ROURKE: It`s a bit of a ridiculous situation.

The president has been at war in Iraq and Syria for six months now.
He would now like Congress` approval of that war, while failing to ask to
repeal the underlying statute that he`s relying on to prosecute that war,
so basically saying, it would be nice to have your approval and your stamp,
but if I can`t get that, I`m going to go ahead and prosecute this war

Again, the defense secretary said today that approval from Congress
would send a message to our troops that we support them.

Those troops will have our support regardless. What those troops need
is a strategy and a plan. You look at everywhere that we have intervened
militarily over the last 20 years, and I see failure. I do not see
success. I do not see our interests being met.

In fact, I see us creating more problems, ISIS being one of them, than
the problems that we`re solving. So I think on -- especially on behalf of
the soldiers whom we ask to fight this nation`s wars, we need a plan and a
strategy, and to date, we have not had one.

KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Beto O`Rourke, thank you for your
time. Appreciate it.

O`ROURKE: Thank you.

KORNACKI: All right.

Up next, the latest on that threat against Caroline Kennedy, the U.S.
ambassador to Japan.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Authorities in Japan have launched an investigation into a series of
death threats made against U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.
She`s the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy.

According to reports, the threats were made by a man who was speaking
in English in several telephone calls to the U.S. Embassy in Japan last

NBC News senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing joins us now.

Chris, what do we know about this?

a series of calls. The man spoke English. But we don`t know that it was
unaccented English, which is important.

Look, this stuff does happen frequently, not just there, but to
embassies around the world. But they also take it very seriously. It also
comes at a time where a number of things are coming together. First of
all, the first lady just landed in Japan. There -- she`s there on an
education initiative. Former President Bill Clinton is there. In fact, he
had dinner with Caroline Kennedy last night because there`s a big symposium
on her late dad, JFK. So he was very popular there.

And in addition to that, there`s been a lot of concern about
diplomatic security in Asia because of what happened to Ambassador Mark
Lippert in South Korea. As you will remember, he got knifed in the face
and the neck, and had to go to the hospital for several days and had 80

So, State Department officials tell us that while there is no
increased security at the embassy in Japan, they won`t comment on her
personal security. And a White House official told me the president has
been briefed on these threats against Ambassador Kennedy -- Steve.

KORNACKI: All right, NBC`s Chris Jansing at the White House, thanks
for that.


KORNACKI: All right.

Up next: Former first lady Barbara Bush changes her mind on her son
Jeb running for president. She used to be against it. Now she says she`s
for it. Trouble is, Jeb is not getting the same love from the rest of his
party. The roundtable is next with that and all the news from the 2016

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


Here`s what`s happening.

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And the Federal Reserve is not in any rush to hike interest rates.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen says, "Just because we removed the word `patient`
from the statement doesn`t mean we`re going to be impatient`" -- now back

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The 2016 presidential cycle is in full swing today with lots of
developing news in the race for the White House. Bush backlash is
intensifying, with new poll numbers out that do not bode well for the
Florida governor.

One supporter Jeb is counting on has fully evolved on his candidacy.
That is from his mom. Also, Rand Paul plots his announcement and sets a
withdrawal date. Trump says he is exploring yet again. And early primary
and caucus state Democrats are ready for Hillary now, not later.

Joining the roundtable to unpack the 2016 news is Zerlina Maxwell, a
contributor to "Essence" magazine. Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC political
analyst. And Mike Paul is a former aide to Senator Al D`Amato.

But let`s start with this new CNN poll that shows Jeb Bush with the
highest unfavorable ratings among all of the 2016 Republican contenders; 47
percent of all Americans say they have an unfavorable view of the former
Florida governor. That`s three points higher than Hillary Clinton, whose
favorable score is also a whopping 22 percent higher than Jeb, 53 percent
viewing Hillary favorable, only 31 percent the same for Jeb Bush.

As we showed you earlier, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio both do marginally
better than Jeb when matched in a head-to-head contest against Hillary

So let`s talk about this for a second because I find this fascinating.
I think we`re used to, for understandable reasons, thinking of the Bushes
as sort of the face of the Republican Party. So, a Bush wants to run for
president, so of course the Republicans are for him, of course he`s the
most electable one.

A 31-47 favorable/unfavorable -- I went back and I looked. George W.
Bush, this same point in the 2000 cycle, you ready to this, 60-8, 60
favorable, eight unfavorable, his brother, all these years later, 31-47.

That says to me there`s something about the Bush name that is not
sitting well with a lot of people.


I mean, I think that it`s a combination of two things. One, I think
he`s getting a little bit of the negatives that his brother earned in his
eight-year tenure as president of the United States. And so that`s fair or
unfair, you know, depending upon where you start out in terms of your

But I also think it`s because we know a little bit about what he would
do if he were to win the presidency. We know that his foreign policy, for
example, would be led by the neocons. And is that something that American
people are ready for?


KORNACKI: Well, that`s coming back into favor, though, it sounds


KORNACKI: And that`s the other thing we`re talking about, that the
appetite for intervention is ramping up.

But what do Republicans think when they see, like, a poll like that?
Because part of the pitch for Bush here is, this -- get on board because he
can win. You want to win finally. He can do it. You look at a poll like
this, if you`re a Republican, it`s got to give you a little pause.

the things we also know is that they really don`t know this governor from

You know, we`re not in Florida. The rest of the country doesn`t know
him. And he has not just one brother, but a father that is branded with
the Bush name. So, he`s taking on that legacy.

It`s almost like being in a car and you`ve got two cars behind you and
all of the bugs are it hitting your windshield. Some of the others are
kind of getting the backdrop of your lead, but you better take on the
legacy of two other people before people know who you are.

KORNACKI: Well, the new poll suggests that people have had enough of
the Bushes, as we`re talking about. It wasn`t long ago that Jeb`s own
mother agreed with that sentiment. Here`s Barbara Bush in 2013, just two
years ago, with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show.


MATT LAUER, TODAY: Would you like to see Jeb run?

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: He`s by far the most qualified man
but, no, I really don`t. I think it`s a great country. There are a lot of
great families. We`ve had enough Bushes.


KORNACKI: A few weeks ago, Barbara Bush weighed in via Skype at one
of Jeb`s public events on literacy and former first lady said she had,
quote, "changed her mind".





JEB BUSH: Hey, mom. How are you doing?

BARBARA BUSH: Just great. Just listening in. Anyway, what do you
mean "too many Bushes"? Are you talking about literacy? That`s not what
I`m talking about, but I`ve changed my mind.


KORNACKI: Now, Barbara Bush is doubling down, even dialing for
dollars to help fund raise for Jeb`s likely presidential campaign. Mrs.
Bush sent out a fundraising letter announcing she was setting out the Run
Jeb Run Fund. She writes, "When the idea of Jeb running for president
first came up, I was hesitant. You may have heard about that. When you
see the pounding candidates, their spouses and even their children take,
what mother wouldn`t be? Jeb is our best chance of taking back the White
House in 2016 and I hope that you`ll join me in pushing him to run."

Yes, obviously, he`s going to need his mother to push him into this
race, clearly decided to run, I love this legal pretense you have to have.

But, Jonathan, there`s one of these -- I think this is one of the
great ironies of modern political history that in the Bush family, it was
always supposed to be years ago, Jeb was the one who`s supposed to run. He
was the son who was supposed to run. He loses that `94 Florida governor`s
race. George W. Bush wins in Texas.

The roles are reversed, and now, Jeb has to finally run in 2016 with
all of this baggage.

line is, we`re not a banana republic. You know, this idea that we have
these dynasties, it`s trouble on the Democratic side, too, with the

But with the Bushes, we`re not talking about sort of history-making
with the first women president, potentially. We`re talking about three
people from a same family who are not -- no offense to all of them -- but
they are not enormously gifted Americans. They are decent public servants.
You might disagree with them, but they are serving the broad middle range
of American political families.

So, the idea that -- as Barbara Bush said herself, that out of more
than 300 million Americans, we have to go again to the same family. It
doesn`t sit well with a lot of people.

KORNACKI: She was tapping into something there.

ALTER: And so -- but the point is, these polls right now are
irrelevant because nobody knows anything about the other candidates. So,
they don`t have anything negative on them yet. The only polls that matter,
in terms of the match-ups with Hillary Clinton, are the ones a year from

KORNACKI: Here`s where I disagree with that. I think when they don`t
know with Scott Walker, there`s not much we can read into it. They know
the name Bush. When you`re testing the name bush right now and it`s coming
back 47 percent negative, I think that`s telling you something.

ALTER: It is telling you something but, remember, Scott Walker and
Rand Paul and these others, they are in their honeymoon period with the
American people because they are unknown.

KORNACKI: Right. No, no --

ALTER: So, all these Republicans can project all of their desires
onto --

KORNACKI: That`s true. That $100 million that Jeb will race --


ALTER: And not just the negative on them, we`ll see that they have
their own serious flaws.

So, what happens is that at this point all of us obsess over these
polls. Do you know that Michele Bachmann was running the Iowa straw poll,
you know, four years ago.


ALTER: These are --

KORNACKI: The thing that should alarm the bush people, though, is the
polls at this point when they show walker doing that well, it shows the
appetite is there. And I think what thing that it shows the appetite for
somebody else is there. One thing it says to me as well is that you look
at Bachmann, she had a lot of flaws that were pretty obvious and exposed.

When you look at Walker, there`s a potential there, I think -- this
scares the Bush people a little bit, to put it together, in a way that Newt
Gingrich couldn`t against Mitt Romney, in a way that Bachmann couldn`t, in
the way that Herman Cain couldn`t. This is a guy who survived elections in
a very tough swing state. There`s a potential that didn`t exist with
somebody like -- the self-destructive potential with Gingrich was always

ALTER: He`s just going to have to fight for this nomination. He`s
going to have to earn this nomination. But at the end of the day, this is
true, always in politics, the best politician wins and we don`t know yet
whether Jeb Bush is rusty or whether he can bring it --


ALTER: -- a year from now. But to try to project how they`re going
to --

PAUL: The same with Hillary, to be fair.

ALTER: Well, Hillary doesn`t have any competition in the general

KORNACKI: In the general.

secretary of state, she had to do that shake and grim and sort of door-to-
door politics with the world leaders. I think the criticism that she gets
that she`s not a people person, I think that`s a moot point at this stage.

PAUL: Yes, but that`s not the same. Talking with another world
leader is not talking to Sandy with an ice cream in her hand or kissing a

MAXWELL: Right, but I think her authenticity has improved over the
past eight years when she was secretary of state.


KORNACKI: Look, we said Jeb Bush, he lost that race in Florida,
Hillary lost in `08, so they both have high-profile losses, interesting if
they`re matched up (ph).

The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, Dick Cheney says President Obama and Eric Holder have been
playing the race card. We`ll tackle that one next.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


KORNACKI: Well, here`s one Republican making a big push for President
Obama`s choice to be attorney general, Rudy Giuliani. In a letter to
Senator Lindsey Graham, the former New York mayor praises Loretta Lynch,
says President Obama deserves to have his choice of nominees even if he
disagrees with some of her views. Giuliani urged Graham to share the
letter with fellow Republican senators, many who have come out against the
Lynch`s nomination. Giuliani`s support for Lynch could give some of those
wavering Republicans the political cover they need to vote to confirm her.

We`ll be right back.


KORNACKI: We are back.

It`s well-known that former Vice President Dick Cheney will take any
opportunity he can to slam to slam the Obama administration. But his
latest political reflections appear this week in a very unlikely outlet,
"Playboy" magazine. Former veep spoke with James Rosen of FOX News in a
wide-ranging nine-page interview in this month`s issue.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the issue is when Cheney
accused President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder of playing the
race card.

Here`s what Cheney said about how he thinks the president and Holder,
who both the first African-Americans to hold their officer, handle
criticism. Quote, "I think they`re playing the race card, in my view. To
say that we criticize, or that I criticize Barack Obama or Eric Holder
because of race, I just think it`s obviously not true. My view of the
criticism is merited because of performance, or lack of performance because
of incompetence. It hasn`t got anything to do with race."

We`re back with the roundtable with Zerlina, Jonathan and Mike.

I think what he was responding to there, what he was trying to say, is
the president, Eric Holder, I believe Holder made comments that some of the
criticism that the administration received, some of the criticism he
receives, Obama receives, has to do with race. Cheney then took that and
said they are implicating me, they are implicating everybody who criticizes
them, not seeing that distinction there.

PAUL: The classic Cheney-like style. I think it was inappropriate.
I think when we get into these discussions with a race perspective, it
shows the bad side of who we are in our country. Not locally as we look at
it locally ourselves, but as others look at us from around the world. And
I just think it was a cheap shot.

When we get into those kind of things, and we did that together here
on this program a couple of weeks ago when one of my former bosses, Rudy
Giuliani, was going after our sitting president, not respecting him -- you
know, one of the things that I really don`t like is when the Republican
Party says that we have to honor the office of the presidency, and we talk
about ethics from that perspective. And then we turn around and slap
somebody else who`s in office.

It shows how unethical and immoral those kind of decisions are.

ALTER: It doesn`t have any class. You know, George W. Bush, whatever
you think of him, is handling this with some distinction, in his
relationship with the Obama administration.

And I think that Dick Cheney, who obviously reads "Playboy" for the
articles, you know, is reflective of the values of a political hack. And
this is a real transformation, because if you go back to the First Gulf
War, whatever, even if you didn`t favor that war, he was a distinguished
secretary of defense. He served his country over many years, in some roles
as White House chief of staff, in Congress, very credibly. And in a way,
that really impressed a lot of people on both sides of the aisle.

And now, he just -- every month, it seems like he does something that
takes it lower and lower and lower in history`s --


ALTER: It`s really kind of sad, and in some ways kind of
inexplicable. Almost like some of his friends think he`s a different
person. If you ask somebody like Brent Scowcroft who served with him, you
know, during in the Gulf War, he told me one time, I don`t know what
happened to Dick Cheney.


KORNACKI: Strictly in terms of his views on policy, this is the guy
who as secretary of defense made the case for why we shouldn`t have gone
into Baghdad in `91, and then he becomes one of the architects of going in
12 years later. What changed?

Racial politics also in the spotlight today on the Senate floor. Take
a look at what Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said about the holdup in the
confirmation vote for attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Durbin
compared Lynch who is black to Rosa Parks.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Loretta Lynch, the first African-
American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the
back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar. That is unfair.
It`s unjust.


KORNACKI: Well, I`ve got to ask this, Zerlina. Is that playing the
race card?

MAXWELL: I don`t necessarily like the comparison to Rosa Parks, but
he is correct that not only is Eric Holder received unprecedented attacks,
but Loretta Lynch has also been held up for longer than any other person.
Why is that? That`s the question.

KORNACKI: But, yes. And is he saying it`s because she`s black, or is
he caught up in this, another one of these ridiculous, sort of, tug-of-wars
between Congress and the president?

MAXWELL: He may not be saying that explicitly. I will say it
explicitly. She`s being held up because she`s black. Eric Holder was
unfairly attacked all along because he`s black. It is attacking President
Obama by proxy.

I don`t think that we can continue to say that race is a card. Race
is an identity. It`s a lived experience. And so, one of the things that
is true in terms of electoral politics, there`s a reason why three-quarters
of South Asians, three quarters of Asians, three quarters of Hispanics, and
90-plus percent of black people voted for President Obama two times. And
that is because these dog whistles can be heard by people --


KORNACKI: I want to be clear. So, are you saying that the
Republicans do not want her to have that job because she`s black?

MAXWELL: Well, I think they have a strong dislike for the president
of the United States because he`s black. That`s one of the reasons. And
it`s an attack on him via proxy.


KORNACKI: What do you make of that?

PAUL: I agree with her 110 percent. And it`s the exact same reason
that I went up to my old boss on this program and said the same thing about
Rudy Giuliani. You know, going back to what John said a little while ago
about the relationship between the sitting president, and the previous
president, and his father, and Clinton before him, those examples should
not be taken lightly. It was a son who looked at his father and said, you
know what, our parties disagree.

I like the relationship I see as a former president. He talked to his
son about it, and he said this is the right way to handle it. You`re going
to be polled ironically by people like Cheney and others in the Republican
Party who are going to want you to attack and want you do other things --
be presidential. Understand the difference between staff and being a
president. And do the right thing.

And I honor them, both sides.

KORNACKI: We`ve got to cut it there. Sorry. We`re right up against
the break.

ALTER: Playing the race card, definitely, but not just because she`s
black, in the case with Loretta Lynch. They do this to all of Obama`s
nominees, white and black.

KORNACKI: That`s what I`m asking about. I could see in this
situation if there was a white nominee for attorney general, the
Republicans continue to make this ---


KORNACKI: They`re holding up a --

MAXWELL: They do it when the person is black. They question the
race`s intelligence. They don`t that with every single white nominee.

PAUL: Very convenient when they are --

KORNACKI: Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Alter, Mike Paul, appreciate the

We`ll be back right after this.


KORNACKI: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks fore being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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