updated 4/20/2015 9:38:07 AM ET 2015-04-20T13:38:07

Show: HARDBALL
Date: April 17, 2015
Guest: Robert Costa, Nancy Palmer, Sabrina Siddiqui, Jeremy Peters

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Chicken hawks.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.

Tonight, we live in the land of the chicken hawk, always with a love
of war but not an actual appetite. He speaks and writes a tough game, but
flies away at the prospect of actual combat.

For example, you can hear the cries of the chicken hawk growing loud
for a quick air strike on Iran but not a peep for the grim struggle on the
ground in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Forty-seven Republican senators
wrote a letter to the ayatollah trying to derail the negotiations over
nuclear weapons in Iran, but you can`t find one Republican senator ready to
pass a war resolution against ISIS.

What gives here? Does the right like to blow the bugle, only to
scramble when they have to send in troops? David Corn is the Washington
bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and Flashpoint Global Partners Evan
Kohlmann is an NBC News terrorism analyst.

Let`s start -- first of all, Republican leaders and their right-wing
allies love blowing the bugle for war. They love the notion of war. Let`s
watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ISIS says they want to
go back and reject modernity? Well, I think we should help them. We ought
to bomb them back to the Stone Age!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They`re barbarians,
and we`re over there kind of poking them in the nose. We`re not really
there to defeat and destroy.

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I would hit them so hard and so
fast that they wouldn`t know what happened.

REP. LOUIS GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I think it`s time to bomb Iran.
Anything that resembles a nuclear facility with centrifuges, it`s time to
bomb.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Israel struck Iraq`s nuclear program
in 1981, and they didn`t reconstitute it. Israel struck Syria`s nuclear
reactor in 2007, they haven`t yet reconstituted it. Rogue regimes have a
way of getting the picture when there`s a credible threat of military force
on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, enough of Bates Motel. Let`s go to John McCain, who
is normally at least cerebral at times -- at times. Here he is telling
what he thinks is a joke about bombing Iran. Let`s catch this act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many times do we have to prove that these
people are blowing up people now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon.
When do we send them an air mail message to Tehran?

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I mean, that old -- that old Beach Boy
song, Bomb Iran? (SINGING) Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh! David Corn, that captures, I think, the level of
thought here. It`s easy to talk about bombing Iran because it involves a
bombing raid by a couple of courageous American pilots, and it`s a quickie,
it`s over with, they think, another cakewalk. Of course, it never ends up
being a cakewalk -- whereas an actual war with ISIS is actually happening
now.

We`ve got allies in the field, the Iraqi government, the Iranian
forces, the Shia militia, but we can`t get the Congress, the Republicans --
Republican senators, Corker, the Foreign Relations Committee -- nobody
actually wants to get involved in saying, This is what we should be doing
over there in terms of a war resolution. Explain.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: This is an
amazing and stark juxtaposition. When it comes to diplomacy, when Barack
Obama is out there trying to negotiate a very difficult deal to, you know,
try to prevent war with Iran, what happens? The Republicans want to
intervene when they don`t necessarily have a strong constitutional role in
this and they`re hot to trot.

When it comes to Iraq, when the issue is what to do in a hot war and
military action, Republicans are basically like Monty Python`s knights.
They`re screaming, "Run away, run away." They don`t want to have debates,
they don`t want to have hearings about what to do about this war
resolution, where they arguably have much more of a constitutional role in
the matter.

And that`s why when it comes to Iran, they want to obstruct Obama.
When it comes to Iraq, they want to be in a position to blame Obama. They
don`t want to come up there and be on the hook and even get any buy-in on
what is a very difficult proposition, and it`s a project that the American
public is really not that keen on in terms of military involvement, further
military involvement in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: Evan, I have a sense that there are politicians, just a
guess, people like Bob Corker and the rest of them...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They`re all politicians, let`s face it, but the Republicans
who love to talk like hawks, they love to be warriors and John Wayne and
Ronald Reagan and all this -- We`re going to go bomb them back to the Stone
Age -- you heard the talk there, even from somewhat less serious people
like Donald Trump, although he doesn`t know he`s less serious, he just is.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think anybody told him yet, but he is less serious.
And yet when it comes down to the actual grim fight of sending people over
on new tours, where you have to do another year or so away from your
family, maybe getting killed or dismembered and those people going over
there -- and Republicans don`t want to push that button.

Explain how people say they want to fight, they say they want to meet
the security concerns of the United States, but then all of a sudden -- you
know, I love this idea of a quickie pilot, go over there and knock them
over, and then we come home, and somehow, there`s a cakewalk and we don`t
get hurt. It`s a bite-sized war.

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: I think that`s the first thing
we need to disabuse these folks of, the idea that we can simply bomb Iran
surgically with no repercussions for us, easily, simply cleanly. That is a
pipe dream of the utmost significance, or the utmost level. There`s no way
that would happen.

Iran controls the terrorist group Hezbollah. Hezbollah for the last
few years has not been directly attacking U.S. interests. I guarantee you,
if we bomb any location inside of Iranian territory, Hezbollah will start
targeting us actively, and they will target us in ways that we are not able
to stop. So that idea, that this is cleanness (ph) or bloodless or there`s
some kind of silver bullet solution to bomb Iran into submission -- that
does not exist.

In the meantime, you`re right. In Iraq, there`s a shooting war that
we don`t have much choice right now to get involved in, and nobody seems to
want to commit the assets to actually solve the problem. Look what`s going
on in Ramadi right now. This is shameful. American soldiers lost their
lives in 2004 and 2005 and 2006 to try to control this city, to get it back
and stable, and secure hands, and we`re letting fall to ISIS right now.
And we`re talking about Iran, a country that we don`t even have to fight.

That is a very sad state on the political scene right now and the
impact it`s having on U.S. foreign policy.

CORN: And you know, Chris, you know, the issue that Evan brings us is
incredibly difficult, how to respond to ISIS in Iraq using the Iraq
military, the Shia militias that are allied, many with Iran, and dealing
with the Kurds. It`s a very complex issue to which nobody seems to have
the best and right answer.

You know, anybody responsible in Congress, even someone like, you
know, Senator Corker, who I think is trying on Iran not to go with the
yahoos on the right -- they have an obligation to try to work with the
president and come up with a best possible options, but they`re completely
ignoring that while they`re playing these games to try to obstruct
negotiations that aren`t even over yet and that -- and that don`t -- that
are not a pressing crisis, no matter what Benjamin Netanyahu says.

So they`re really giving up a tremendous responsibility that they do
have to pursue this political vendetta against Obama because he`s trying to
solve the Iranian issue without military action.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a political question. It`s a little tricky,
but we`ve got to get to it. You know, Netanyahu, you must mentioned him --
and I always think of that, too, David, how Netanyahu came over and sort of
defined, as he it, American foreign policy and security interests. He said
Iran is a much more serious threat, that ISIS really isn`t anywhere in that
same ballpark.

Is Israel -- he represents Israel, of course. Is Israel not afraid of
ISIS? Because you don`t hear him talking about ISIS at all, really, not
like he talks about Iran.

CORN: Well, that`s a really good question. I mean, he is more
worried about Iran, and if he was to talk about ISIS, it may take, you
know, our eyes off the ball...

MATTHEWS: I see.

CORN: ... that he cares most about.

MATTHEWS: Evan, you answer that question because let`s just -- in
geopolitical terms, why isn`t Israel as concerned about ISIS, which is a
hot war situation, where the bad guys, people we think are the bad guys,
and I`m sure Israel thinks are the bad guys, are winning?

KOHLMANN: Well, I mean, I think the answer is this. I think the
Israelis see the Iranians as the greater strategic threat. ISIS...

(CROSSTALK)

KOHLMANN: ... getting their hands on atomic weapons any time soon,
but the Iranians might. And then I think more of the point, right now,
Iran is backing Bashar al Assad, the regime that`s in Damascus. I don`t
think the Israelis fully appreciate that ISIS might be worse for them than
Bashar al Assad. They hate Bashar al Assad so much, they loathe him so
much, they`ve gone through so much with him that I`m not sure they`re
convinced that anything could be worse than him.

And I think they`re making a mistake because ISIS is a much more
difficult threat to contain than what they think. It`s not just a matter
of shooting across a border and keeping people in place. It`s not going to
work like that.

So I think the Israelis -- to be fair, they have a reason to respect
Iran and to think Iran is a threat, but they might be underselling the kind
of damage that ISIS could cause them if they`re right up against the Golan
Heights, which is exactly the direction that they are pushing towards.

MATTHEWS: Well, the situation in Iraq remains a mess as of today. A
car bomb killed at least two people outside the United States consulate
over there in Irbil. The Kurdish medical office -- medical -- or official
tells NBC News that one American`s among eight that were injured today,
wounded.

Here`s the State Department informing reporters about that incident
today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: A vehicle-borne improvised
explosive device was detonated directly outside an entry point on the
perimeter of the U.S. consulate in Irbil today. There are no reports of
injuries to chief of mission personnel or to the local guards. We do not
have any details on who`s responsible at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Evan, they`re coming at us over there. Who do you think
did this?

KOHLMANN: Well, look, we don`t know for sure, but it certainly looks
like either ISIS or a group that may be affiliated or sympathetic to ISIS.
And I think that`s part of the problem, is, is that even in Kurdistan,
which is a region that technically is full of American friends, there are
still people there that don`t like us.

There`s Ansar al Islam, which is a predominantly Kurdish group. It`s
a terrorist group. It doesn`t like ISIS, but it likes al Qaeda, and it
doesn`t like the United States. And they could just as well have been
responsible for this as ISIS.

Our interests are going to be targeted. I mean, let`s face it. We`re
there. We`re a target. ISIS wants to try to scare us out of that region.
They`re going to do everything they can. This is just the beginning.
They`re going to go after our interests. They`re going to go after our
personnel as long as they`re able to.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The great irony, gentlemen -- I`ve got to leave it at this,
but and I`ll get back to it at the end of the program -- is that the
Republican Party has been scoring lots of political points as the hawkish
party of late, without ever committing itself to the real hot war going on
against ISIS. It`s a great, terrible irony. Politicians ought to be
accountable for their rhetoric and be accountable to actions which support
improving our security, not just talking and blowing that bugle.

Anyway, David Corn, as always, you know what you`re talking about.
Evan Kohlmann, thank you so much for your expertise.

KOHLMANN: Sure thing, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up -- here comes Huckabee. The guy who talked about
"uncle sugar" and "Kenyan Mao-Maos" wants to make his mark on this
Republican race. He won Iowa back in 2008. Will he now be the spoiler? I
think he`s going to be the spoiler, by the way, keeping the religious right
vote away from Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Walker, Scott Walker.

Plus, there`s nothing fun about being poor, but now a strict new law
in Kansas is making it illegal for people on welfare to go to the movies or
to a local swimming hole on taxpayers` money. Critics say the law is
cruel, but the state`s Republican governor says it`s about helping people
become more self-sufficient.

And this week, the 2016 race did get under way for real, so who`s got
the inside rail coming out of the gate? And where`s this thing headed
between now and the first debate, believe it or not, coming up this summer.
It`s happening. And we`ll keep you going, and we`re going to ask our
roundtable who`s winning this thing.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this whole idea of voting for the
person, not the party, and how dangerous that is.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama is demanding that Congress hold a vote on
his nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Here`s the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the top law
enforcement job in the country! What are we doing here? And -- and I have
to say that there are times where the dysfunction in the Senate just goes
too far. This is an example of it. It`s gone too far. Enough! Enough.
Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let
her do her job. This is embarrassing, a process like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the president nominated Lynch back in November.
She`s been waiting longer for a confirmation vote than any other attorney
general nominee in 30 years, and yesterday, Senate Democratic leader Harry
Reid said he`d try to force a vote on Lynch. He`d need Republican help to
do that, but his plan was foiled today when two Republican senators who
support Lynch told NBC News they wouldn`t allow the vote -- wouldn`t allow
the vote.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR. GOV., PRES. CANDIDATE: You know, I wasn`t
sure that I would ever be able to love a state as much as I love my home
state of Arkansas. But tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was former Arkansas
governor Mike Huckabee winning the Iowa caucuses back in 2008. Huckabee
lost the GOP nomination that year to John McCain, but now it looks like he
wants another crack at it. Late today, Huckabee told reporters he`s formed
a presidential exploratory committee. And just moments ago, he said this
about his 2016 campaign plans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: May 5th is the day I`ll make an announcement, and I hope
people will come to Hope, Arkansas, and not just to tour the Bill Clinton
birthplace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Huckabee has a history of colorful talk. Here he is on
gays, women, and his favorite punching bag, President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe you`re born gay or you choose to be
gay?

HUCKABEE: I don`t know whether people are born that way. People who
are gay say that they`re born that way. But one thing I know, that the
behavior one practices is a choice.

Here in Iowa, you would not have people who would just throw the F-
bomb and use gratuitous profanity in a professional setting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

HUCKABEE: In New York, not only do the men do it, but the women do
it. And you know, you just are looking around and saying, My gosh, this is
worse than locker room talk. This would be considered totally
inappropriate to say these things in front of a woman. And for a woman to
say them in a professional setting -- we would only assume that this is a
very -- as we would say in the South, that`s just trashy.

So I`m beginning to think that there`s more freedom in North Korea
sometimes than there is in the United States.

I`ve said many times publicly that I do think he has a different world
view, and I think it`s in part molded out of a very different experience.
Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings, and you know, our
communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.

Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he`s
against the Jews in Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Robert Costa is a political reporter with "The Washington
Post." He joins us now from Nashua, New Hampshire, where the Republican
field is gathering up there this weekend. And Ron Reagan is an MSNBC
contributor.

Ron, I was just wondering where these madrassas are in Honolulu.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I guess there were some in Indonesia, but this shot at this
guy is right up there with the Mao-Mao charge. It`s -- he`s some third
worlder. He`s not one of us. It`s again and again, even after all these
years!

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but Huckabee`s
constituents, or who he thinks his constituency, is. They believe this
kind of stuff. They nod their heads when they says this kind of stuff.
They tune into his TV show when he says this kind of stuff. This is, you
know -- this is, you know, his stock and trade.

MATTHEWS: Well, Robert, it seems to me he`s narrowing his
constituency when he takes shots at the big cities. You know, OK, the
language may be a little racier in big cities, I can live with that, but
what`s the point of saying it unless you`re cultivating the anti-big city
vote that doesn`t like the sophisticates or even the trashy-talking people?

I mean, what`s the point? Does he intend to rule this country without
ever coming into contact with New Yorkers -- New Yorkers?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, you know where the anti-big
city vote does pay attention is in Iowa. And if you`re an evangelical
conservative, if you`re Ted Cruz, if you`re Rick Santorum, if you`re Ben
Carson, Huckabee`s a political threat.

He`s someone who could storm into Iowa, create chaos on the right, and
be helpful to someone like Jeb Bush, who ignores Iowa perhaps and goes
straight to New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS: So that`s -- I don`t like the term, but it is sort of an
appeal for a yahoo anti-big city, right, country mouse vs. city mouse.

And that is to me a very short-term strategy. I have a feeling -- I`m
going to try this out with both of you guys. I think what Huckabee
threatens to do here is own the religious right vote, the people that are
very much against same-sex and will be infuriated by a court decision, a 6-
3 decision this summer, this June that basically recognizes that right to
same-sex marriage, infuriated, the way they were infuriated by the no
prayer in public school decision in the `60s.

And they are going to get infuriated. They are all going to vote for
this guy Huckabee and that means Ted Cruz won`t get their votes. It means
that Scott Walker won`t get them and even Rand Paul won`t get them so he
will freeze them out of this because he will be so fiery. Is this possible
what he could do, just be the dog in the manger, grab the religious vote
and keep it away from them so none of the other three candidates can build
up the support they need to really take on the more establishment
candidates?

Your thought, Robert?

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: And then become something of a kingmaker as well. If he owns
the evangelical right on the Republican Party, then let`s say a Jeb Bush
looks like he`s going to get the nomination, he needs to go courting
Huckabee to get that vote from Huckabee.

But he`s not just an evangelical. He`s doing some smarter things,
too. He`s actually carved out a little exceptional niche for himself with
Social Security. Most Republican candidates are talking about raising the
eligibility age. Not Huckabee. Huckabee is saying, no, we leave the
program alone. It`s a pact with the American people that we have made.

He knows that his, you know, his constituency is an older
constituency, too, and he`s playing to that.

MATTHEWS: Yes, so he`s a politician.

REAGAN: Yes.

COSTA: Chris, a few hours ago just behind me here in this ballroom in
Nashua, Governor Jeb Bush was asked by one of these activists about a
coronation happening in the Republican Party.

What Huckabee is doing is playing on that impulse in the base. He
knows there`s a lot of skepticism about Bush. They think this is an
aristocratic movement from the GOP establishment. He`s going right at that
feeling and saying I can be your candidate and I`m against the cities.

I followed Huckabee on his book tour. It`s uber-populism. It`s God,
guns, grits, and gravy. That`s his pitch.

MATTHEWS: But here`s the problem. Somebody just complained the other
play. I forget who in the paper today was complaining that Democrats are
simply exploiting the fact that all they have to do is ask Republicans
about same-sex, would they go to a same-sex marriage, for example, in order
to kill their chances. They call it a wedge issue.

But it`s not a wedge issue. If Huckabee says this is what the
Republican Party is all about, opposition to same-sex marriage, opposition
to abortion rights, if that`s what the party is all about at its moral
kernel, then how can Democrats -- how can the Republicans always say, oh,
you Democrats are just picking up on little things here and use them
against us?

Ron, you know what I mean?

REAGAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Either it`s central to the party or it`s not. And if it is
central to the party`s doctrine, its platform, why shouldn`t the Democrats
go after it?

REAGAN: Well, exactly. It`s entirely fair for the Democrats to point
that out and this is the problem for the Republican Party.

Are they going to be the Republican Party of let`s say Jeb Bush, who
is -- you know, he`s going to cater to the evangelical right, you know, to
the extent that he has to, but he`s not really of them, or is it going to
be somebody like Huckabee or, you know, potentially a Ted Cruz, somebody
like that, who really is tight with the evangelicals, and, you know, at
least pretends not to believe in science and things like that?

MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s right.

REAGAN: These are two radically different visions of the Republican
Party.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to you, Robert.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Robert, you have got to play this straight, Robert, but
here`s the straight question. Those debates are going to be coming up this
summer, and as much as the Republican organization is going to try to
control them and keep away moderates and liberals and establishment
journalists, somewhere along the line, these candidates are going to be
asked fundamental questions about their world view, about science, about
evolution, about abortion rights, about sexuality and identities, sexual
identity.

Are they going to try to avoid all those issues? Is that the
Republican game plan? Is this Reince Priebus` plan, protect them from
being studied by people so we can`t look at them anthropologically, you
know, keep them away from us?

COSTA: I have checked in with all these Republican presidential
campaigns today here in New Hampshire, and they look at horizon, and they
are worried, Chris, because they see the Supreme Court about to decide this
summer on same-sex marriage.

And so as much as the Republican Party may want to avoid an internal
battle on the social issues, it`s coming, and you know who recognizes that?
Huckabee. He sees the party is going to be battling this in the summer.
He wants to be there in the center of it and perhaps ride that momentum
into the nomination.

MATTHEWS: Well, it happened before back in the `60s when the Supreme
Court outlawed public schools having prayer in school, and all of a
something called the moral majority was created because of that, Robert.

So there`s -- I got to -- Ron, there`s a precedent on this.

REAGAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Once the Supreme Court acts, whether it`s Roe v. Wade or
it`s Brown, Brown case or anything else, it does ignite the right.

REAGAN: Yes, there`s a backlash, exactly.

I think we have to say one more thing about Mr. Huckabee as well. I`m
not entirely sure that he`s running for the presidency. I don`t know that
he really thinks he can be elected president. I may be wrong about this,
but he -- you know, let`s -- he spent the last some years as a television
host. He may be running, as some people do, just to kind of help his
career along for after the election.

So we should keep that in mind, too.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is he going to be the next reverse mortgage guy; is that
what you`re saying?

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: Possibly.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Robert.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: It`s a crowded field. It`s a crowded field for Huckabee.

MATTHEWS: Is he for real?

COSTA: I think -- I have been following him on campaign trail and I
know what it`s been. It`s been a book tour. And Huckabee knows it`s a
tough time for him. Cruz was at Liberty University. Evangelicals are
looking at a lot of different contenders.

I think Ron is right. Huckabee may explore for a while and may end up
not running.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Robert Costa. You`re becoming my
favorite straight reporter out there, very much so. Thank you.

And, Ron Reagan, thank you for coming on, my friend.

Still ahead, the roundtable and where this presidential race is headed
it is a comes out of the chute this week. What a first week and they are
all joining in this race.

Up next, some of the biggest news stories of our time through the eyes
of a reporter who covered them, John Palmer.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN PALMER, NBC NEWS: About a minute after the launch of the space
shuttle Challenger from Cape Canaveral this afternoon, there was a huge
bright ball of fire, an explosion in the air about 28 miles west of the
Cape Canaveral launch site.

It was just after the NASA controllers told the crew aboard the
Challenger to go to full throttle that the explosion occurred.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

That was certainly a horrible day, the death of the people on the
Challenger. NBC`s John Palmer there was breaking the news of the space
shuttle Challenger tragedy back in `86.

In his 50-year career, 50-year career in broadcast news, John Palmer
distinguished himself as an outstanding correspondent, anchor, and reporter
from his beginnings in local news to landing a spot on "The Today Show."
Palmer was an eyewitness to history as it unfolded.

But it was in 1980 that Palmer got the scoop of a lifetime during the
Iranian hostage crisis. In April that have year, he was the first to break
the news that the Carter administration rescue attempt had failed in the
Iranian desert. It`s called Desert One. Here`s how he described it at the
time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J. PALMER: Last night, just after 11:00, NBC News learned that there
was unusual activity here at the White House.

When I arrived to see what was happening, the street adjoining the
White House was crowded with official cars. The lights were on in the
Executive Mansion, and the press room was deserted, but the presence of
many Secret Service agents indicated the president was in the Oval Office.
The rescue mission had been aborted, and eight Americans had died.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Before his death in 2013, Palmer was able to finish a
memoir about his life in journalism. "Newscatcher," he called it, which
was published soon thereafter.

I`m joined right now by his John Palmer`s wife, Nancy Palmer.

Nancy, thank you for joining us.

How did John get that scoop? Because I do know one thing about
journalism. When there`s a lot of fuss going on, it`s a big sign that
something is going on, so just look for a fuss, people in there around work
at the wrong hours. And I love the fact that there was nobody in the press
room, except John Palmer. Your thoughts, your memories?

NANCY PALMER, WIFE OF JOHN PALMER: He told me about it. I was
working with him at the time.

He saw a lot of food left that the staff had been eating, and the
answer he kept getting is I have nothing for you from the one press aide on
duty, which doesn`t mean there`s no story. He just won`t going to tell
him. And John just toughed it out, got in there, finally did get to Jody
Powell and say, I know something is going on.

And at that point, he had his cameraman put the lights on, on the lawn
on the White House, and he said, I`m going out there and say something`s
going on. And I need more, but I have got enough.

And Jody wasn`t happy about it, but Jody did arrange to finally tell
him the details, and John had to bargain to get it on before Johnny Carson
ended "The Tonight Show," so he would get the national audience, which did
not make Jody happy.

But I think it made the viewers happy to know what was going on, so he
did get the story. He got the Merriman Smith Award for breaking it.

MATTHEWS: Everybody thinks that the White House is a great beat, but
the problem with it is, it`s almost like feeding time at SeaWorld, because
you`re in that press room and, you know, you only get told what they want
to tell you, so have you to develop these back-channel sources.

You have to have people basically willing to rat out the White House
in the White House. I worked at the White House, and I know that the guys
like John Palmer and Lesley Stahl were always working people around the
edges of power to say, oh, come on, tell me what`s going on. Don`t be so
squeamish. Don`t be so loyal.

Isn`t that what the job is, getting behind the scenes to the people
that aren`t supposed to talk?

N. PALMER: Absolutely. And you left out Sam Donaldson and Bill
Plante. They called themselves Larry, Moe, and Curly sometimes.

But they are out there are to -- you have to do it that way, and John
had this Southern charm and this ease about him, but he was also very
competitive and made sure he had his own sources and got the stories, and
he did.

MATTHEWS: So you had your first date during -- when I was working in
the Carter White House as a speechwriter. That`s when you two got
together, you and John.

N. PALMER: John invited me to the White House, and I didn`t know if
he was just being nice because I worked in the office and didn`t get out
much in the newsroom, or if he was interested. And we didn`t find out
because we didn`t know when you`re a guest of the White House you don`t sit
with the person you come with.

So I sat at one end of the East Room and he was at another. So I
didn`t get to know him that well that night, but we had a more proper date
a week later.

MATTHEWS: And at one point, you were kept from your wedding by Ronald
Reagan. Explain that quickly.

N. PALMER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Why did Ronald Reagan screw up your wedding day?

N. PALMER: Ronald Reagan called John to say congratulations and
launched into a long story about how he married his Nancy 30 some years
earlier, and kept talking and talking. And John wasn`t going to hang up on
the president of the United States.

So, he was late to the church. That`s usually the bride`s job, but he
was.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, Reagan was being nice.

Anyway, thank you so much. The name of your book is "Newscatcher."
It`s about the real talent and profession of getting the story first.

Thank you very much, Nancy Palmer.

N. PALMER: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: Up next: the strict law that makes it illegal for welfare
recipients to go swimming, even at the local swimming hole or to the local
Bijou, to the movies, on the government`s dime, the taxpayers` dime. They
are getting tough in Kansas.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s
what`s happening.

A SpaceX capsule carrying 4,000 pounds of supplies docked at the
International Space Station earlier. And it will return to Earth in May
carrying experiments and discarded equipment.

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is recovering from heart surgery
at an L.A. hospital. He underwent a quadruple bypass on Thursday.

And stocks ended sharply lower today on concerns about trading
regulations in China. The Dow slid 279 points after falling more than 350
points at the worst levels of that session -- and now we`re going to take
you back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us say to all
those who are able-bodied will be given an opportunity to work for their
welfare grants. We will not make them lifetime recipients of a dole as
clients of an ever-growing welfare bureaucracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Ronald Reagan on the woes of welfare back in
1975.

This week, another Republican governor has his own lament. Kansas
Governor Sam Brownback signed a new law blocking his state`s welfare
recipients from using their government-provided debit cards to purchase
alcohol, tobacco, pro or college sports tickets or paying for services at
nail salons, even local swimming pools and movie theaters.

And while many states restrict what welfare recipients can spend their
money on, the new Kansas law is thought to be the most restrictive in the
country. The conservative Republican governor there says the new law
motivates Kansans to get off welfare and work. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: There`s a human toll of misguided
compassion, and what we are attempting to do here is put work programs and
work requirements to help people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, critics call the law punitive and judgmental. It
also limits ATM withdrawals to $25 a day. I have no idea how to do that.

Advocacy groups say that limit makes it tough for someone without a
checking account to pay doctor bills or transportation expenses.

And joining me right now the roundtable is the "Washington Post"
opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, "The Guardian" Sabrina Siddiqui, and "The
New York Times" political reporter Jeremy Peters.

Jeremy, tell me the thinking about it. I`ve grown up with this way
back since before Reagan, talked about welfare abuse. People signature
around and watching television all day, generation after generation, living
off the dole. Nobody likes that picture. I don`t think people on that
picture like being in it. It`s not a happy scene. It`s a loser scene in
many ways, generation after generation.

First of all, is that an accurate portrait of the person receiving
public assistance? And, secondly, is the amount of money you get so low, I
calculate it to be about $5 per person per day, that you won`t be going off
on cruise ship trips like this thing prohibits, it`s an absurdity that you
can even stack that kind of money together.

Anyway, your thoughts about the whole debate and whole incident here?

JEREMY PETER, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: I think you`re
right. I think, largely, this is based on a caricature. It`s a very
popular caricature among a lot of conservatives.

But -- I mean, I would also look at it from this point of view. It`s
not particularly innovative policy. I mean, this is one of the oldest
tricks from the conservative policy book.

Now -- but you contrast that with what`s going on among some other big
thinkers in the Republican Party, Marco Rubio and his poverty plan to
create a federal program to give states more authority to do what they
would with their anti-poverty programs. You have what, for example, Rand
Paul, Rob Portman and Mike Lee are doing on criminal justice reform. It`s
just so much -- there`s so much more innovative thinking on what to do
going on.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, you know, let me tell you. Jonathan, I
understand this whole thing emotionally, like when you have a hard day at
work you come home and kick the dog. I mean, if you`re middle class and
you`re not feeling that happy about life, stick it to the poor people.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST OPINIO WRITER: Right.

MATTHEWS: We know the politics. Everybody watching knows what this
is about. Everybody knows what this is about.

MATTHEWS: Everybody does, and -- and it`s so -- it`s wrong on so many
levels.

Look, no one begrudges the government placing limits on what people
can and can`t do with the money that`s given to them when they are at the
most vulnerable moments in their lives, but it`s really humiliating to
constantly remind those people in public what they can and cannot do with
that money, and so, for someone like senator -- Governor Brownback, we`re
not really surprised that he would go down this route, especially since a
lot of the restrictions he`s placed into law were already part of state
policy, but it`s really for him to thrust himself this way into the
national debate when as Jeremy said, a lot of people within his own party
are moving beyond the tried and true and trite welfare argument.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Sabrina, because one of the laughable parts of
this, it`s an emotional issue, the laughable part, you make 100 bucks a
week, if you have two kids at home, three people splitting 100 bucks a way,
which is 33 some bucks a week, about $5 a day. The idea that you`re going
to take that money and scrounge it together and end up on a cruise ship
liner somewhere is such a laugh.

Why do they put cruise ships on this trip -- on this deal?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: It`s laughable because it`s creating
in misconception that this is what families, low-income families are
spending their welfare subsidies on -- the same thing applies for food
stamps and the effort to drastically cut food stamps and make food stamp
recipients undergo drug testing. It`s to try to perpetuate this image that
food stamp recipients are spending that money on drugs when in fact, if you
have $29 a week which comes out to roughly $1 a day, there`s simply no way
that you`re spending it on the most essential needs for your household.

I also just want to make the quick point, you know, we
disproportionately target the poor when it comes to government assistance,
but the majority of Americans on some sort of government subsidy. Why
aren`t we making sure that people receiving student loans are putting that
money towards a degree that would potentially lead to a viable career? Why
are we not looking at how people spend their mortgage tax breaks because we
have sort of perception that`s been created that the poor are not
adequately using this money and they are not actually work when in fact
that`s not the case?

MATTHEWS: Well, Peter -- Jeremy, what would work because I do know,
we all know about food deserts, Jonathan, we all know about that. You live
in an urban area, and where I grow up the neighborhood has changed,
basically KFC on the corner and Chinese restaurant. Some people aren`t
eating the right food.

They don`t have a grocery store. They probably go shopping at the
last minute and once you get low nutrition, you got low energy, it`s a
vicious cycle. You don`t get off your butt. I know all that.

But is there any way that the government can improve it besides this
draconian stuff, any way to get people to live their lives more rationally
when they are at the bottom, is there a way, or are we just messing with
people?

PETERS: I think you just touched on it, right. Enhancing nutrition
would be one way to do it, but look what happened when Michelle Obama tried
to do that. She was pilloried by conservatives

CAPEHART: You know, Chris, to add to Jeremy`s point, how do you get
people, you know, off their butts, as you said. I mean, conservatives like
to talk a lot about the dignity of work, how the poor need to have the
dignity of work. Well, you know what the poor also need, they need to have
the government treat them with dignity and give them a leg up or a step up
or some sort of assistance so that they can actually fulfill their hopes
and dreams, fulfill their version of the American dream.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPEHART: That`s the kind of dignity that people who are on welfare
would like to see from their government.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and I wish the Democrats all these years had been just
warehoused these people, and I don`t think -- I don`t think either party
has been very good, five hours a week where you go and have to meet with
people and dress up for the occasion, you have to get up for it. A little
sense -- a little dignity that comes from just a good meeting somewhere
rather than just being hounded and made fun of.

Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

And up next, this is the week that kicked off, believe it or not, the
2016 presidential race which is not going to race into this summer. We`re
going to be having debates this summer, we`re going to have votes actually
out there in Iowa, and then we`re going to have Iowa caucuses coming up in
nine months. It`s on its gestation period right now, it has begun,
however. This campaign has reached its moment of conception, if you will.

I want to know what we`ve learned and where this is heading, and is
there anybody out there winning besides Hillary? And she is winning.

This is HARDBALL, a place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: After Iowa and New Hampshire, primary fight for president
goes to South Carolina, of course. We`ve got an early look at where the
race stands, according to a new Winthrop poll, Wisconsin Governor Scott
Walker leads the pack. He`s at 14 percent, just ahead of Jeb Bush comes in
at 13. Everyone else is in single digits. Ted Cruz is at 8 percent, as is
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul is next with 6 percent
and Chris Christie, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee down at 5 percent.

By the way, it looks like Scott Walker`s winning in Iowa, New
Hampshire and now South Carolina. He`s got something going.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable, Jonathan, Sabrina and
Jeremy.

This is the week, the 2016 presidential race truly got under way.
Hillary Clinton got into the race. And while there are a handful of
official candidates on the Republican side, up to a dozen more are likely
to join soon. The first debates are scheduled for August, just four months
from now, and the first voting in Iowa and New Hampshire is just nine
months away from now.

So, who is leading out of the gate and who have the edge moving
forward?

Jeremy, let`s talk about Hillary Clinton. She has all the
credentials, all the resume ready. I think she`s had a pretty good week,
she didn`t get hurt and I think the people out there who are not political
junkies are quite happy with the fact she`s out there hanging out with
people.

Your thoughts?

PETERS: I think that`s exactly what I would have said. I think this
week was all about not making a mistake. And by all accounts she didn`t
make a mistake. I mean, the political media could obsess about these
little things, she said her grandparents were immigrants and it turned out
that they weren`t. Who cares?

I think ultimately the vast, vast majority of Americans either didn`t
pay attention to this or thought that, you know, she did just fine. There
were no unforced errors.

MATTHEWS: I think she`s getting her sea legs, Sabrina. Bill Clinton
didn`t need to get -- he doesn`t need spring training, Bill Clinton. I
mean, he`s always in training, that guy. But she does and she`s doing it.
That`s what it looks like she`s doing, spring training, you know, getting
ready.

SIDDIQUI: I think her campaign has taken the right approach because
there`s just so much scrutiny around every move that she makes, as Jeremy
says. So, it`s good for her to do these low-key meetings with vote that`s
face to face interaction because the reality is that she does have to
contend with her familiarity. And Republicans in particular are trying to
cast her as this elitist out of touch creature of Washington.

So, the best way for her at least in the early phases because at the
end of the day there`s a long road ahead for her to really introduce
herself to the public, reintroduce herself at a national level and that
seems to be exactly what she`s doing.

CAPEHART: And you know what, Chris? I would add that watching this
week, I`ve had a sense of deja vu. Sabrina and I were talking about this
earlier where I was there in New York covering her 2000 Senate campaign
from the lofty purchase of the daily news editorial board but still
following her and watching her campaign and her listening to it and
remembering how the New York press killed her for these listening tours.
They derided the listening tour. They thought it was just theater and show
and nothing.

And when she was done listening and started speaking and talking about
how she would represent the people of New York, she floored everyone with
her knowledge of the state, her deep knowledge of very picayune things, she
will leave the country in detail, that she will weave into those remarks
from people she`s heard from people in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina,
and Nevada.

MATTHEWS: You know, that copybook of her, that she`s been carrying
around this week, I think it`s going to be in the Smithsonian Institution
someday. Have you watched the copy book where she writes down everything
people are saying to her?

I want to read it. What does it say at the top, "Jesus, Mary, Joseph"
with a cross on it? Sometimes I think she did with like Patrick Skuya (ph)
always wrote something at the top.

You know, I do why, I do think it`s fascinating. I want to read it
myself. Hillary, can I see your copybook? I want to know what you`re
learning.

Anyway, thank you, people. It`s been a good week. We all agree a
good week for Hillary Clinton and the rest of the country politically way
up in the air. We don`t know where it`s going. I don`t think so.

Anyway, Jonathan Capehart, thank you. Have a nice weekend. Sabrina
Siddiqui, thank you, and Jeremy Peters from "The Times".

When we return, let me finish with this whole idea of voting for the
person, not the party and how dangerous that idea seems in reality compared
to how nice it looks when -- well, when you`re thinking about it. You vote
for the party when you like your president.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this whole idea of voting for
the person, not the party.

Well, the problem is you don`t just get the person, you do get the
party. If you voted for George W. back in 2000, you got Dick Cheney and
the whole gang of neocons in his office and in the Defense Department. You
got a war in Iraq for your vote.

Expect the same problem the next time around. You vote for what seems
to be a reasonable Republican candidate and you get the party apparatus
with him, you get a hawkish foreign policy and a whole bunch of neocons
jumping into administration jobs, the NSC, Defense, State, anywhere you`ll
look, you`ll find hawks edging toward their favorite war, their most
desirable regime change. Believe me, we`ve been there. I`ve been there.

Why? Because even now they sit antsy and festering over there at the
American Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, or all
those front group sounding places like the Committee for the Present Danger
or emergency committee on whatever, all packed with senior fellows who busy
themselves writing op-ed columns pushing for the next regime change.

But when it comes to putting their personal or political boots on the
ground, watch them scatter. Try to find a Republican out there right now
pushing for a war resolution against ISIS. Just try and find one. Lots of
bugles on Iran and how the United States should shut the bargaining and
just bomb the place.

Why? Because that`s the stuff the armchair generals love, the notion
of a bite-size military operation, a single bombing raid, you know, a cake
walk, like the one they promised in Iraq.

This is how they get us in every time, it`s the only way to go, then
promise it will be quick and easy them. Call any one who opposes them an
appeaser. How`s all that working for you?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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