updated 7/15/2015 9:25:45 AM ET 2015-07-15T13:25:45

Show: HARDBALL

Date: July 14, 2015

Guest: Sen. Bob Corker, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Mathew Littman, David

Ignatius, John Feehery, James Clyburn, Amy Walter, Michael Tomasky

                CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bargain or bomb?

                Let`s play HARDBALL.

                Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Los Angeles.

                What`s it going to be, a deal or no deal?  A deal, or let them go

nuclear?  A deal, or bomb them?  A try for peace, or all-out war?  You buys

your ticket, you takes your chance.  What ticket are Obama`s critics

offering that doesn`t lead to war?  John McCain once sang "Bomb, bomb Iran"

to Beach Boys music, and now some on the right are singing it for real. 

Obama`s the one trying for peace.

                Also on HARDBALL tonight, yes, it`s true, it can happen to you. 

Donald Trump is now the front-runner officially for the 2016 Republican

presidential nomination.

                Anyway, the Iranian deal finalized in the early hours of this morning

will limit Iran`s nuclear capability for at least a decade in return for

relief from sanctions.  President Obama said the deal isn`t built on trust,

but rather on verification.  And he warned Congress he would veto any

legislation that tries to block the deal.

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

                BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Today, because America

negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the

spread of nuclear weapons in this region.  Because of this deal, the

international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of

Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

                I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue and I welcome

scrutiny of the details of this agreement.  But I will remind Congress that

you don`t make deals like this with your friends.

                (END VIDEO CLIP)

                MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by NBC chief foreign correspondent

Richard Engel, who`s in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Richard, let`s start with the

United States.  In simplest terms, why did we make this deal?

                RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think the U.S. made this

deal because it felt the sanctions regime couldn`t last forever, that there

were states, notably Russia and China, that were keen to break it, that the

idea of putting sanctions in place was that the sanctions would eventually

lead to a deal.  So there was the pressure, and there`s also a hope.  So

there was a push and a pull.

                And I think the hope is that by having a deal, by reaching out, by

encouraging the people who are on the streets of Tehran tonight, that you

can help engage with Iran, help empower some of the reformist elements who

got elected in Iran`s last elections and have a historic rapprochement and

try and bring more peace to this world with a fewer number of dangerous

weapons.

                So it has quite lofty ideals.  We`ll see if it works.  It is a big

gamble, though.

                MATTHEWS:  Well, the option on that gamble would be to basically have

no deal and eventually have to bomb their facilities, it seems to me.  And

if that`s the case, you guarantee the hostility of the Iranian people, left

to right, including the secular people, the Rouhani people for time

eternal, right?

                I mean, there is almost a guarantee, is there not -- you`re the expert

-- that if we don`t deal with them and we bomb them that that means the end

of any chance of rapprochement in our lifetimes?

                ENGEL:  Well, it really -- it depends on how you view changing

regimes.  How do you convince a hard-line rogue regime to come out of the

dark and become more moderate, become more responsible and reasonable in

its behavior?

                You can either -- this is Israel`s point of view -- continue to punish

that regime, to strangle them militarily, to strangle them financially, and

eventually, according to this theory, they will cry uncle and they will

change their ways.

                Traditionally, that hasn`t worked.  The more pressure you put on a

rogue regime, the more you isolate rogue regimes, the deeper they retreat

into their shell and the more hostile they become.

                The other approach, the other philosophy is the one that this

administration has been trying with Myanmar, been trying with Cuba, to try

and offer some incentives, offer a different path and see if that works, to

see if there is a historic opportunity...

                MATTHEWS:  Yes.

                ENGEL:  ... to change the dynamic.  Israel doesn`t believe that with

Iran, with the theocracy that is in place there, where for so many years,

destruction of Israel has been a bedrock of the foreign policy there, that

you can coax the regime enough to convince them to change their ways.

                MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  Can you objectively, or is it entirely

subjective, to tell us what the hopes are there?  Is it possible that

opening up this kind of engagement with Iran, after all these years of

hostility, could permit the middle over there to shift toward non-hostility

to the United States?

                ENGEL:  It`s possible.  There are some encouraging signs.  Just

tonight, if you look at what`s going on in Tehran, people are in the

streets.  Ali Arouzi, who is our bureau chief there, is desperately trying

to make his way back to the bureau, but he is stuck -- right now -- but he

is stuck in traffic because so many people are out on the streets honking

their horns, cheering, celebrating.

                They see this as a real moment to celebrate, a moment of renewal, of

hope when they could maybe improve their lives, their freedoms, their

financial freedoms, their ability to live a decent life in Tehran.

                Now, the hard-liners in Iran, I think, will try and resist this.  They

will try and take the money and not change the society.  So I think there`s

going to be a struggle -- a struggle there.

                But giving an option to a hard-line regime in some ways is like giving

it a Trojan horse.  It can upset the regime from the inside and cause it to

change dramatically.  I think that`s what`s under way in Cuba.

                The question is, is Iran ready to embrace that change, or will, as

Israel believes, Iran just take the money and then eventually crack down on

the people who are out on the streets tonight, tell them that the deal is

off, effectively, and move on?

                There is also one other scenario.  I can just imagine the horrible

disappointment that the people who are on the streets of Tehran tonight

feel if, in a few weeks, the U.S., because of internal domestic disputes,

decides that they can`t carry out this deal.  That would be a huge blow to

U.S. credibility, as well.  So that is also on the line.

                MATTHEWS:  I`m glad you said that because I think we all should know

that as we watch this debate at home.  Thank you, Richard Engel over in Tel

Aviv.

                Senator Bob Corker is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

He joins us right now.  Senator Corker, this deal -- I mean, I guess I`m

looking at the option plays here.  We`ve all known the options, continue

the sanctions, if you can.  If you can`t, you can`t.  But if you can`t get

China and Russia to go along with continued sanctions, you`ve got to deal,

it seems to me.  If you don`t deal and they continue their march toward a

nuclear weapon, the pressure in this country will be to bomb them.  Am I

right or wrong in that assessment?

                SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE:  Well, Chris, I think, you know, just

saying that whatever deal has been negotiated is the deal -- I mean, it`s

pretty amazing to look at where Iran has come over the last two years.  I

mean, they were a -- they are a roguish nation that had a boot on their

neck, and with six important countries, they have come out and actually

achieved every single goal they wanted to achieve.

                So look, I hear you, and I understand you`re trying to create a

context that makes it very difficult for Congress to vote its conscience,

but I think that`s what`s going to happen.

                Look, we`ve got 159 pages today, a portion of the deal.  There`ll be

more that`s coming.  There are certifications that are due from the

secretary of state and the DNI.  We`ll have robust hearings.

                And I think, at the end of the day, regardless of you sort of painting

a one-sided context to this...

                MATTHEWS:  Yes.

                CORKER:  ... and I understand why you`re doing that -- I think people

are going to want to vote their conscience.  But we want to go through a

thoughtful and deliberate process and understand this fully.

                And let me just say one last thing.  I mean, it is kind of remarkable

that we`ve gone from dismantlement to managing their proliferation, and

unlike April 2nd, where people were somewhat surprised with the specificity

that came out, in this case, my sense is as we`ve gone through this

document, I think it`s eroded in a way that will cause some concerns.

                But again, I want to make sure we honor this process and do it in the

right way, and I want to make sure that we create a vehicle and a method

for people to vote their conscience on what they believe is best for our

country.

                MATTHEWS:  Well, the deal faced sharp opposition, Senator, from hawks

in Congress -- you know that -- even before the details were out there. 

Let`s watch some of the commentary.

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

                REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  It`s going to hand a

dangerous regime billions of dollars in sanctions relief while paving the

way for a nuclear Iran.  And we`re going to do everything we can to get to

the details, and if, in fact, it`s as bad a deal as I think it is at this

moment, we`ll do everything we can to stop it.

                SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS:  This proposed deal is a terrible,

dangerous mistake that`s going to pave the path for Iran to get a nuclear

weapon.  The American people are going to repudiate this deal, and I

believe Congress will kill the deal.

                SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRES. CANDIDATE:   We`ve ensured hey

become a nuclear nation.  We`re going to ensure that there`ll be a nuclear

arms race now.

                You`ve created a possible death sentence for Israel.  This is a

virtual declaration of war against Sunni Arabs.  This is the most

dangerous, irresponsible step I`ve ever seen in the history of watching the

Mideast.

                This is a terrible deal.  It`s going to make everything worse, and I

really fear that we`ve set in motion a decade of chaos.

                (END VIDEO CLIP)

                MATTHEWS:  Senator, even the real hawkish people out there -- I`m not

sure all the Israeli (ph) agree with that, if Assad agrees with that -- is

that if we bomb all the known facilities, nuclear facilities in Iran

because we can`t get a deal with them, that we won`t really stop them for

long, maybe a few years.

                Here`s a program that the president has laid out with Secretary Kerry

that would stop them for 10 years.  Why not take a peaceful wait (ph), a

10-year moratorium, rather than a violent means to a shorter-term delay in

their nuclear program?

                CORKER:  And Chris, I think people will be weighing it.  It`s really

more of an eight-year, as we`ve gotten into the details today.  There`s a

transition date at eight years, where things dramatically change.

                But look, I know you just laid out some of the hawks, and look, I

respect the orientation of the program that you`re on.  But I think if you

also went and looked at...

                MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s my orientation, Senator.  Senator, let me

explain to you how the orientation works here.

                CORKER:  But -- but let me -- let me -- let me...

                MATTHEWS:  It`s mine.  It`s mine, not somebody else`s.

                CORKER:  OK, but let me speak then and say there`s also a host of

people on the left that have already applauded.  So I think, in fairness,

there are people that have -- are pretty solid in where they stand.

                But I think there are some qualitative issues of how this has been

completed relative to PMD, the previous military dimensions, relative to

research and development, relative to ballistic testing, relative to how

the sanctions evolved.  Those kinds of things -- anytime, anywhere

inspections.  I think there`s a number of people that will be looking at

qualitatively, how are those resolved.  And they will be making up their

mind.

                So in any issue like this, Chris, people end up being solidly in

different places.

                MATTHEWS:  Right.

                CORKER:  I think Congress is going to vote its conscience, and we

provide -- we`re going to provide the forum for people to do that in a very

educated and thoughtful way.

                MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Senator.

                CORKER:  Thank you.

                MATTHEWS:  By the way, just a point of information.  I`ve had this

view of this since I first started rooting for Obama because I hoped and

prayed he would take this approach to the Middle East and our dangers over

there and try to be optimistic and hopeful.

                CORKER:  Yes.

                MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you so much for coming on, sir.

                CORKER:  Absolutely.  Thank you.

                MATTHEWS:  Senator -- thank you.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen is a Democrat

from New Hampshire.  She sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and the

Armed Services Committee.  Thank you so much, Senator.

                My view of this is if you bomb all the facilities over there, like

some of these people want to do, just go out and bomb them right now,

you`ll slow them down three or four years, at the most.  But if you have a

deal with them to relieve sanctions and get them to quit for 10 years and

hope that things will be different at the end of those 10 years, that`s a

smarter option.

                What`s your view?

                SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE:  Well, I think a negotiated

agreement is better than military action, assuming it`s an agreement that,

as you point out, is going to keep them from getting to a nuclear weapon in

the next 10 years.

                There are parts of this agreement, as I understand -- I haven`t had a

chance to review it yet -- but that not only address 10 years but some

things like, keeping them from doing the metallurgy that they would need to

have to get a weapon is delayed for 15 years.  They`re looking at the

supply chain and the mines and all for uranium.  That`s even longer.

                So I think we need to closely examine this deal and make sure that the

verification mechanisms are there, make sure that we know what`s going to

happen with the sanctions.  And I hope that`s what Congress is going to do,

rather than to come to a decision immediately that this is not a good

agreement.

                MATTHEWS:  Well, when I look at it, it takes the president to override

-- to override the president, you need 67 votes in the Senate.

                SHAHEEN:  Right.

                MATTHEWS:  If he can hold 34 away from voting to override, he can

sustain this treaty.  Is that a reasonable hope on his part, that he can

hold at least 34 senators to support the treaty?

                SHAHEEN:  Well, I think it is.  I think that was the way the

legislation was designed, to give Congress input but also to make sure that

this is an agreement that has the support of enough members to make sure

that it`s a good agreement, and that`s what we`re beginning to look at now.

                You know, this is only day one.  It`s disappointing for me to hear so

many people already coming out without having a chance to review the

agreement and saying this is a bad deal.

                Well, we need to take a look at it.  We`ve spent years negotiating

this, and now Congress needs to spend the next 60 days looking at what`s in

it, making sure that this is an agreement that we can support and not

automatically saying that people don`t support it without ever looking at

it.

                MATTHEWS:  What`s your estimate of our ability to just destroy all

their nuclear program right now, just turn it into nothing?  Do we have

that capability, if we chose to go that right-wing hawkish direction, which

I think is the alternative to what we`re talking about here?

                SHAHEEN:  Well, that is the alternative that many people who don`t

like the agreement are talking about.  And I think a negotiated option is

better than a military option.  I don`t think people want to go to war.

                And what we`ve heard from some of the experts is that even if we

bombed the sites in Iran, that it would delay the nuclear program only, as

you pointed out, for a couple of years, and that`s not an answer to what we

want.

                MATTHEWS:  OK.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.  By the way,

congratulations again on getting reelected.  I covered your campaign.  It

was a great campaign.

                SHAHEEN:  Well, thank you.  I`m glad to be here and at this momentous

time.

                MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

                Coming up, the over-the-top reaction to the Iran deal from some

Republicans running for president.  You`ve heard some of it.  By the way,

Jeb Bush, who seems like a moderate sometimes, calls it "appeasement." 

Lindsey Graham calls it a "death sentence for Israel."   And what`s their

alternative?  Is it to bomb Iran?  I think so.

                And later -- today`s announcement is another huge legacy achievement,

if you will, for a president who`s having a very successful summer

historically.  The president said interesting things happen in the fourth

quarter.  I guess he`s proving it.

                Plus, it`s Tuesday, and that means it`s time to rev up the right-wing

clown car, the Tuesday clown car.  It`s in the center ring tonight as

Donald Trump takes the lead.  Believe it or not, you heard it here, he`s

now the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in

2016 -- the leading candidate!

                Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this deal just struck between the world

leaders and the government of Iran.

                And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

                MATTHEWS:  Long-time Arizona senator John McCain will face a primary

challenger in his 2016 reelection bid.  State senator and physician Kelli

Ward announced today that she`ll take on the five-term incumbent.

                McCain has had a rocky relationship with the right wing of his party

out in Arizona, but in 2010 he easily beat former congressman J.D. Hayworth

in a primary battle, with McCain earning nearly 60 percent of the vote that

time.

                We`ll be right back.

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

                MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

                More now on today`s historic nuclear agreement with Iran. 

                While the president is hailing the deal as a step towards a more

hopeful world, the Republican field for president is slamming it as a

disaster.  But what is their alternative out there?  What do they want, a

deal, no deal, or just go bomb Iran? 

                Marco Rubio responded today by saying that -- quote -- "I expect that

a significant majority in the Congress will share my skepticism of this

agreement and vote it down."

                Scott Walker thinks this deal -- quote -- "will be remembered as one

of America`s worst diplomatic failures."

                And here`s Jeb Bush`s reaction.  "This isn`t diplomacy.  It is

appeasement."

                Mike Huckabee went even further, saying: "Shame on the Obama

administration.  John Kerry should have long ago gotten up on his crutches,

walked out of the sham talks and went straight to Jerusalem to stand next

to Benjamin Netanyahu."

                And Ted Cruz offered this rebuttal -- or prebuttal -- yesterday

saying, "This deal, if it is consummated, would transform the United States

government into being one of the leading financiers funding terrorism

against Americans."

                Mathew Littman was a speechwriter for Vice President Joe Biden.  John

Feehery is a Republican strategist.  And David Ignatius is a columnist with

"The Washington Post." 

                David, I want to start with you.  What was the option play for the

president?  I have been saying three options, deal, no deal, bomb them.  Is

there something else? 

                DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Well, you could

just leave the situation as it is, walk away from the table. 

                MATTHEWS:  No deal. 

                IGNATIUS:  And say, come back when you`re ready to talk seriously and

assume that things will stay in place. 

                What struck me about the deal -- I read every page of it today -- was

that there had been a lot of fear that Secretary of State Kerry would pull

back from the Lausanne framework that he negotiated in April.  In fact, the

squishy parts of that Lausanne framework are actually made more solid and

there`s some new quite useful controls on Iran that have been added. 

                So all this talk about a cave-in, I just don`t see it in the text of

the deal. 

                MATTHEWS:  Let me go to John Feehery. 

                John, it seems like there`s some real extreme talk on the Republican

right.  Some of it, I think, is just being supportive of Israel

politically, which is not a bad move to make in any primary.  And the other

is just this very extremist, almost assassination of the morality of this,

like there`s something wrong with the effort to even do it.  It`s very

strong criticism we`re getting from the right here, very strong. 

                JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, listen, it`s campaign

season.  So, that`s a big part of it.

                And, as you said, it`s always good to be a friend of Israel in a

campaign season.  I think that Bob Corker is taking a more measured

approach.  And I think that, as the chairman of the Foreign Relations

Committee, he`s right to do that.  And I think that he will be the lead

spokesman on behalf of the Senate on this. 

                And, really, I think the Republicans have to take a look at this

agreement.  But there also is a third option, Chris, and that is a better

deal. 

                MATTHEWS:  How do you get it? 

                FEEHERY:  And one that Israel is not -- you know, doesn`t think is an

existential threat to their existence. 

                MATTHEWS:  Of course, but how do you get that deal?

                (CROSSTALK)

                MATTHEWS:  Just we have Russia and China. 

                FEEHERY:  You know what? 

                MATTHEWS:  No, John, you have to have other players here.  We have to

get -- we can`t have a sanctions program of any significance, just us.  It

requires the world to sanction them.  Russia and China were at their

limits, apparently.  Go ahead. 

                FEEHERY:  Well, I agree with that.  But you also don`t have to freeze

out Israel, which is what happened during this whole negotiation.

                And I think that there`s a lot of different players here, Chris, and I

think the Israelis have a right to be really concerned about this deal, not

only for long term, which is nuclear, but also for the short term, which is

$150 billion in the Iranian coffers which they could to finance terrorism. 

And I think that`s a legitimate threat. 

                MATTHEWS:  Isn`t there a larger -- look, let`s go to regional rivalry

here. 

                MATHEW LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes. 

                MATTHEWS:  It`s like England would never allow a strong power to

dominant the continent of Europe.  Israel is never going to let a country

like Iran become the major regional power. 

                LITTMAN:  Well, they shouldn`t.  I mean, I don`t...

                MATTHEWS:  Even if they`re not nuclear. 

                LITTMAN:  But John is right.  Israel has a right to be concerned. 

                MATTHEWS:  Right. 

                LITTMAN:  It`s status quo.  Iran doesn`t have a nuclear weapon now,

right?

                MATTHEWS:  But they`re getting one.

                LITTMAN:  But what they will have is a lot more -- but what they will

have is a lot more money. 

                And if they choose to finance terrorism with that money, they can do

that.  The bet that Obama is making is that Iran liberalizes, which is a

tough bet.

                MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I agree with that.

                LITTMAN:  I can`t -- you can`t say 100 percent that that`s what is

going to happen. 

                MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.

                Try the other way.  Let`s go the other way, all three of you.  All the

experts, military, tell us, military experts, if you go in there with a

strong bombing campaign and you bomb every target that you think is

credible, they will be back at it in two or three years. 

                LITTMAN:  I`m not saying to bomb Iran.

                MATTHEWS:  So, we`re holding them off 10 years with this deal.  What

good is bombing, which is the ultimate right-wing alternative?

                (CROSSTALK)

                LITTMAN:  This may not be a great deal, but there is no great deal to

be had. 

                This just may be the best of a bad world.  Iran is capable of getting

a nuclear weapon.  In order to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, you

basically may have to pay them off.  That might be true.  It`s not a great

situation for anybody, but you can`t -- there is no alternative.  I think

Obama is making the best of a bad situation. 

                MATTHEWS:  David, what`s the case?  Because we keep hearing it. 

People use phrases like everything is on the table, which means either

threaten them with an attack on the nuclear facilities or actually deliver

one.  But is that a credible alternative?  Is it? 

                IGNATIUS:  Well, you certainly could attack certain facilities and set

back the Iranian program. 

                I think this exclusive focus on the nuclear issue is a mistake.  The

problem here is less the agreement, which I think is stronger than many

expected six months ago.  The problem is Iran, Iran`s behavior.  Iran is a

reckless destabilizing force in the Middle East.  It`s at war in Yemen. 

It`s at war in Iraq.  It`s at war in Syria.

                And concerns from the Israelis and from the Saudis and Emirates and

the whole region are, I think, justified.  So, I wish people would focus

more -- and President Obama`s point is, it`s easier to deal with that

problem of Iranian bad behavior if the nuclear issue is off the table for

10 years or whatever the precise calculation is.  It`s easier to deal with

the real problem of a revolutionary, destabilizing Iran. 

                FEEHERY:  But, David, I have a question for you.  And I just -- I

agree with everything you said.  The big question is, is it easier to deal

with them with the sanctions off or the sanctions on? 

                And I get the whole thing about the Russians and the French and

everybody wanting to get the sanctions done with, but the fact of the

matter is, this is the best time to strike a much better deal than I think

with only the nuclear issue.  And your point is exactly right, that they

are a bad force and we have got to try to find a way to moderate them.  And

bombing is not a good option.  It`s a terrible option. 

                (CROSSTALK)

                MATTHEWS:  David, answer that charge.  Do we really have a position of

strength now?  I get the sense, from listening to you and others, that our

position of strength is waning, that we don`t have many more weeks of this

position when we can call the shots. 

                IGNATIUS:  I think that Obama has been in retreat from the Middle

East.  I think he`s coming back.  We are engaged in Iraq in a significant

way.  I think there`s more coming with Syria. 

                I think we have signaled to our Sunni allies, Saudi Arabia, the UAE,

that we`re going to stand with them.  We`re going to support their getting

arms, their taking actions to prevent further spread of Iranian influence. 

So I think our position is not as weak as it was.

                But I think, Chris, your point that bombing the nuclear facilities,

the options that Israelis and Republicans imply are out there, are just --

don`t serve America`s interest.  They don`t even serve, I don`t think,

Israel`s security interest, because Iran would come back so quickly and in

a more menacing way. 

                LITTMAN:  But these countries -- let me just say, John, the Republican

Party, these guys have come out, Jeb Bush, says it`s appeasement.  Scott

Walker says we can do sanctions by ourselves. 

                I mean, some of these positions are really ridiculous.  No matter what

Obama does, there`s always this fantasy that there`s a better deal because

Obama is doing it.  But this just may be the best of bad alternatives. 

                MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you so much, Mathew Littman. 

                We will have John Feehery on again and again and again on this. 

                Thank you, John.

                FEEHERY:  Thank you. 

                MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Mathew, and thank you, David, as always, for

your sober opinions that teach us all. 

                Up next, Hillary Clinton courts lawmakers up on Capitol Hill today,

meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Asian Pacific Caucus, the

Hispanic Caucus.  Can she keep the Obama coalition intact?  She is

certainly trying. 

                And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

                MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

                Hillary Clinton stormed Capitol Hill today, holding meetings with

half-a-dozen Democratic Caucus groups, courting her party`s top lawmakers

as the front-runner of the 2016 presidential race.  There she is. 

                President Obama has been accused of having a frosty and somewhat

distant relationship with his former colleagues on the Hill, but, today,

Clinton showed a true veteran insider move, choosing to walk the Capitol`s

labyrinth of basement corridors to go from the House to the Senate.

                Senator Bernie Sanders` campaign, by the way, is doing better than

many would have expected.  But Clinton is comfortably ahead in all the

national polls.  Still, some top Democrats are holding off their

endorsements.  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for example, certainly has

nice things to say about Hillary Clinton.

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

               

                REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  The secretary

pleased the members with her discussion about fairness and growth.  When

she enters the Oval Office, she would be one of the most prepared to do so. 

                (END VIDEO CLIP)

               

                MATTHEWS:  How many is too many flags?  Anyway, but she has not

officially endorsed Hillary Clinton.  The speaker hasn`t -- the former

speaker hasn`t done it. 

                Five of the six chairs, by the way, of the Democratic caucuses that

Clinton met with today have also not officially endorsed her candidacy. 

                The famous Tip O`Neill dictum that every politician must ask for your

vote directly never goes out of style. 

                And joining me now is the assistant Democratic leader of the House,

U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn.  He was in one of those meetings with Hillary

Clinton today. 

                Congressman Clyburn, with all due respect, I have got to pop you with

the toughest question.  Did she follow the rule that you know all about? 

Did she ask for your, Jim Clyburn`s vote or support for president of the

United States?  Did she ask you? 

                REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA:  Not directly. 

                Thank you for having me.

                But, no, she did not ask directly.  I think Mrs. Clinton knows very

well that I have made it a practice that, for as long as South Carolina

becomes -- remains a pre-primary state, that is one of the four states that

are allowed to move before the primary season opens, when -- Iowa, New

Hampshire, Nevada and, of course, South Carolina. 

                In order to keep from jeopardizing that spot that we have in the

calender, I have made it a practice not to publicly get involved in

anybody`s campaign after the South Carolina primary.  And she knows that. 

But we had a very cordial meeting.

                By the way, I was in three of her meetings today. 

                MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, just you have given us the protocol that you`re

honoring, and I respect that.  But can you, Congressman Clyburn, imagine

endorsing Bernie Sanders, Webb, Chafee, or who is the other guy running,

Chafee -- O`Malley running? 

                CLYBURN:  O`Malley.

                MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine endorsing any one of them?

                CLYBURN:  Oh, I have got a very good imagination.  You know me very

well. 

                (LAUGHTER)

                CLYBURN:  So, yes, I can imagine it.  We will see what happens as the

campaign progresses. 

                MATTHEWS:  What was Hillary Clinton`s pitch to you fellows today and

women?   What was -- did you hear something different today that you

thought was a new appeal she was making to win -- to lock up this

nomination? 

                CLYBURN:  You know, I think everything was pretty much the same on

substance. 

                I saw a style today that I had not seen before.  And I have talked to

quite a few members, both in the full Democratic Caucus.  I talked to a few

members after the Congressional Black Caucus meeting, and they were

ecstatic as to how comfortable she was, how personable she was in making

her presentations.

                And I thought she acquitted herself very, very well today.  Usually,

you hear things that people are a little bit concerned about, but I didn`t

hear anything that she ought to have any real concerns about after her

performances today.  

                MATTHEWS:  That`s great to hear.  I love politicians, when they get

together and they are warm towards each other. 

                CLYBURN:  Absolutely.

                MATTHEWS:  Thank you, U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, who has yet to

announce his favorite for the Democratic nomination, until the South

Carolina all-important primary down there. 

                CLYBURN:  Thank you. 

                MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir. 

                CLYBURN:  Thank you. 

                MATTHEWS:  Up next, President Obama`s best week extends now to a great

month and possibly his best summer ever -- what this Iran deal means for

his presidential legacies coming up ahead.  And it`s a big one. 

     You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

                MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I`m Milissa Rehberger. 

Here`s what`s happening.

                Kentucky`s governor declared a state of emergency after severe storms

left two people dead and six others missing. 

                Closing arguments began earlier in the trial of James Holmes, who is

accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in a shooting at a

Colorado movie theater back in 2012. 

                And Harper Lee`s "Go Set a Watchman" went on sale today and is flying

off the store shelves.  It is number one on Amazon`s bestseller list.  It`s

also number one at Barnes & Noble -- back to HARDBALL. 

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

                BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The list is long.  And

my instructions to my team and my instructions to myself have always been

that we are going to squeeze every last ounce of progress that we can make

when I have the privilege of -- as long as I have the privilege of holding

this office. 

                (END VIDEO CLIP)

                MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

                That was President Obama at the end of a June -- a June press

conference reflecting on his string of big victories, but also assuring us

that he`s anything but a lame duck.

                Actually, what turned out to be a pretty good week for the president

at that time, at the beginning of this month, is turning into President

Obama`s best summer ever, as his hot streak seems to be continuing.  First,

the president scored a huge win on his trade deal in Congress, followed by

landmark decisions at the Supreme Court level, ensuring the survival --

which is very important -- of his health care law, and also legalizing gay

marriage nationwide which he has been supporting. 

               

                And good news on the economic front, too.  The unemployment rate

dropped to 5.3 this June, the lowest in seven years. 

               

                And then, the president turned to foreign policy where he took the

extraordinary step of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba after

54 years of freezing that country out.  And, of course, today, the

president made history with the announcement of an agreement over Iran`s

nuclear program, capping off a historic summer of second-term

accomplishments. 

               

                Joining me at the roundtable tonight to discuss President Obama`s

legacy, Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National

Committee, Amy Walter is national editor of "The Cook Report", and Michael

Tomasky with "The Daily Beast".

               

                Michael, let me put this -- it seems like the president is like he was

in the campaign against Hillary Clinton, looking like he was the sleeper. 

He was falling behind in delegates and all of a sudden, he came along with

this amazing strategy of winning in the caucus states and winning with

proportionality and all of us who we were sitting around as worrywarts and

he went scooting right past us in the final curve or pretty much the final

curve.  He seems like his administration, his two terms of presidency of

his, seems to be following that pattern of scooting along late in the game,

as he calls it, the fourth quarter. 

               

                MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Well, I have to admit, he knows

how to finish strong.  And there`s no doubt about that.  The president has

had a good year, a good summer, and a lot of that, interestingly enough is

due, maybe ironically, is due by the actions of others, whether it`s the

Republicans in Congress delivering his trade deal, the Supreme Court

upholding his health care bill and even recently, you know, world partners

coming to his rally on the Iran deal.  He has been able to get those

opposite pieces to work for him in a significant way.

               

                And, you know, I think it`s put the Republicans in particular in some

interesting positions to defense against, but I have to give the president

credit for at least winding up this year rather strongly. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  And, Amy, you know you know, the politics as well as I do

of this.  I mean, it`s not like he`s going for the usual suspects, the

stuff everybody likes, the Democratic coalition.  He took on the trade

unions with trade, many of the hawkish supporters with Israel with regard

with this deal with Iran.  Listen to Netanyahu on this one.  He was already

in the Congress and the chamber itself, attacking on this before it

happened. 

               

                So, he`s not like going for the easy stuff. 

               

                AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT:  No, but here`s the real

question for Barack Obama -- when these results are going to result in an

increase in his overall job approval rating.  I mean, what`s interesting is

he has had a very good summer.  I think you`re seeing part of Democrats

feeling better about not only how he`s doing but the chances for Hillary

Clinton.

               

                And yet his approval rating, it`s like he has this very narrow trading

range.  He`s stuck right now about 46 percent.  We know historically for

the person who wants to follow a two-term president, it helps to have that

president up above 50 percent.

               

                MATTHEWS:  Yes.

               

                WALTER:  I don`t know that this president is going to get there.  And

if he`s not there now, I don`t know how he gets there by the time we hit

2016. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  What`s his ceiling based on?  I mean, if he gets 80 percent

or so of the Democrats or 85 percent, who he`s having problem with,

independents?  He`s never going to get most Republicans.  So --

               

                WALTERS:  That`s right.  So, it`s these people who define themselves

as independence who, quite frankly with more Republican leaning than they

are Republicans.  I think, also, there was a time at which, not that long

ago, Republicans, even if they knew they weren`t going to vote for a

Democratic president or a Democrat knew they weren`t going to vote for a

Republican would at least have given them credit for doing well, whether

that was Bill Clinton in the `90s or Ronald Reagan in the `80s.  Those days

are sort of gone.  So, maybe now 46 is the new 50. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  I think that`s smart.  Michael, Michael Tomasky? 

               

                MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST:  I agree with that, Chris.  I think

we`re done with the age of 66, 67 percent approval ratings as politicians

leave office.  Bill Clinton had that.  Ronald Reagan had something like

that.  Barack Obama is not going to get close to that. 

               

                However, I do think if the economic recovery continues and if wages go

up in 2016, I think he could get north of 50. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  Well, explain that because -- 

               

                TOMASKY:  Maybe about 52.

               

                MATTHEWS:  Michael, you`re both on to something.  Here is Bill

Clinton.  He gets impeached.  I know everybody has forgotten that but he

was impeached. 

               

                TOMASKY:  Yes.

               

                MATTHEWS:  He was impeached.  It`s going to be in his obituary, fourth

or fifth draft now, maybe seventh draft.  And yet he comes back as he left

office with about a very high 60-some percent rating.  So, people say he

didn`t tell us the truth about the affair he had.  I don`t care about the

affair he had.  I guess that`s what we`re saying. 

               

                But we like something else about him.  I would argue it`s economic

good times.  Times kept getting better.  We kept coming up with new toys,

new electronics stuff, everyone had something in their pocket and they just

loved being around in the `90s. 

               

                So, it`s environmental.  It`s how things feel that tells you how you

like a president.  Your thoughts? 

               

                TOMASKY:  Yes.  That`s exactly right. 

               

                Incidentally, I just looked this up the other day.  Jeb Bush talked

GDP growth, as far as the eye can see.  We don`t have that.

               

                MATTHEWS:  That`s true.

               

                TOMASKY:  We averaged 2.8 percent over the last 40 years.  But the

last four years of the `90s were four consecutive years of 4 plus percent

GDP growth.  And you`re right, and that`s basically what it was all about. 

               

                Obama is not going to have that.  He`s not going to get close to that

and returning to Iran the verdict will be out on Iran for a long time.

               

                But I think Cuba is a no-brainer.  I think that one is very clearly

his. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  By the way, I know I`ll be accused of saying this.  I`m

going to say it, Michael Steele, but in terms of politics I believe in

economics.  So, I`m a Marxist determinist in that sense.  Economics drives.

               

                You know what Harry Truman`s growth rate was when they said it was a

big upset in 1948?  Do you know what the growth rate of this country was in

1948, Michael?  Guess? 

               

                Explain why he got re-elected -- 6. 

               

                TOMASKY:  Six.

               

                WALTER:  Yes.

               

                MATTHEWS:  Six.  It was booming.  The farm situation was booming for

farmers.  Stupid pollsters that stopped polling about, what, Amy, two

months before the election didn`t get it.  Times were great.  Truman won,

an unsurprising victory if you look at the economics.  Thank you.

               

                The roundtable is staying with us. 

               

                And up next, it`s time for the clown card Tuesday, which we saw over

here.  Donald Trump now leads, catch this, not just the clown car that he`s

steering.  He`s leading the circus.  He is now the official front-runner

for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.  Live with that one.

               

                And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. 

               

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

               

                MATTHEWS:  A day after commuting the sentences of 46 convicted drug

offenders, President Obama is rallying support for new criminal justice

reforms.  In an address to the NAACP annual convention in Philadelphia

today, the president pushed for shorter sentences for nonviolent offenders. 

On Thursday in Oklahoma, he`ll continue his push as he makes the first-ever

trip by a sitting president -- catch this -- to a federal prison.  That is

Johnny Cash stuff. 

               

                We`ll be right back.

               

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

               

                MATTHEWS:  We`re back with the roundtable, Michael Steele, Amy Walter

and Michael Tomasky. 

               

                And it`s time now for the Tuesday clown car. 

               

                First up is Donald Trump, who is now leading the Republican field. 

According to the latest "USA Today"/Suffolk University poll, Trump is at 17

percent right now, three points ahead of his nearest rival, Jeb Bush who`s

at 14.  They`re followed by Scott Walker at 8 percent, Ted Cruz at 6

percent, Marco Rubio at 5 percent. 

               

                Michael, your party seems to have a problem of mush.  There`s nobody

in the way of Michael`s -- there`s nobody in the way of Donald Trump.  If

there was anybody serious up there, like an Eisenhower, or a Reagan or even

a Nixon, I don`t they`d be pushed aside as easily as this guy pushed them

aside.  Your thoughts?

               

                STEELE:  Well, no, I kind of disagree with that.  And just for the

record --

               

                MATTHEWS:  OK.  Is Bush strong?  Is Jeb Bush the party`s choice?  Why

is he in second place? 

               

                STEELE:  Chris, you have people still coming into the race.  You still

have at least one more candidate who`s going to announce for the office

next week. 

               

                So, my thinking is I`m not really judging this the way a lot of folks

are looking at it right now.  Trump has got momentum.  Absolutely, no doubt

about that.  This is an opportunity for the Jeb Bushes in the party to sort

of push back on him if they want to. 

               

                But I think the telltale moment, and I want to see how the party and

country reacts after the first debate in a couple weeks` time.  So, all of

this right now is just fun fodder.  We`re having a good time, and Trump is

ahead of the polls.  It means nothing until after that first debate. 

               

                WALTER:  Or after the first two debates. 

               

                STEELE:  Or the first two debates.

               

                WALTER:  Yes. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  Amy Walter, how do you push the guy back, if he`s being

prejudice against Hispanic people, which he sounds like and this is an

ethnic thing?  How do you push back without shaming him and forcing him

into a third-party situation?  Is he going to walk away? 

               

                I have to quit politics because I`ve been accused as being a racist so

I`ll fold my tent and go away.  He ain`t going to do that. 

               

                WALTER:  He is the most dangerous -- 

               

                MATTHEWS:  If he cares for that (ph).

               

                WALTER:  That`s right.  He`s the most dangerous candidate in politics

because he`s got a lot of money, he has absolutely -- we discussed this in

the green room -- no shame.  And he has nothing to lose, right? 

               

                So, the more you push him, the more, you know, sort of engaged he

gets.  It`s like what you learned about, not letting a bully -- you know,

not engaging with a bully.  He can keep going and keep going and keep

going.

               

                Look, I agree with Michael Steele, that I think that now that he is on

top, the media scrutiny is going to continue.  It`s not just going to be

about what he says about Mexican-Americans.  It`s going to be what his

positions have been on a host of issues.  What his personal finances are. 

What he`s said and done. 

               

                The scrutiny is going to start.  The scrutiny will continue in the

debates.  And we`ll see if he`s still on top. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  That`s when he turns on us, by the way.  That`s when he

turns on -- 

               

                (LAUGHTER)

               

                MATTHEWS:  Anyway, after announcing his -- you get this, Tomasky,

after he announced his candidacy, Wisconsin Governor Scott walker took to

FOX News, where he called the Democratic push for minimum wage a lame push. 

Let`s watch.

               

                (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

               

                GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The left claims

they`re for American workers and they just got really lame ideas, things

like the minimum wage. 

               

                (END VIDEO CLIP)

               

                MATTHEWS:  He might pay for that, Michael Tomasky.  It`s a lame idea

if you`re working as a dishwasher somewhere, you`re working at a fast food

joint, you know, a big increase in your wages may seem important to you and

the people you`re feeding. 

               

                TOMASKY:  He`s not going to pay in Republican primary process, but if

he`s the nominee and if he makes it to a general, there`s no question that

he`s going to pay about that because his opponent is going to be for, is

presumably it`s going to be Hillary Clinton, is going to be for a $10 or

$12 minimum wage.  I wonder if Scott Walker even knows.  If we were -- if

we had Scott Walker on this show and were to ask him what the minimum wage

would be in this country if it had kept up with inflation since 1978, or

what it would be if it had kept up with productivity since then, I bet he

wouldn`t even know the answer to those questions. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  What is the answer? 

               

                TOMASKY:  It`s about $12 in the first case and about $19 in the second

case. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  Yes, I once proposed working for a center for Utah, Frank

Moss (ph).  I proposed taking it as an automatic increase, take the

productivity, inflation out of the gutter, and bring it up by both

standards so we`d have a real minimum wage.  That did not pass the

Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. 

               

                Anyway, thank you, guys.

               

                TOMASKY:  By the way -- no, sorry.

               

                MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

               

                TOMASKY:  By the way, Mitt Romney supported indexing the minimum wage

to inflation in 2012.  That would be a no-go, a big no-go in this

Republican Party. 

               

                MATTHEWS:  I`d index it to productivity and to inflation.

               

                Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele.  Thank you, Amy Walter.

               

                WALTER:  Thank you.

               

                MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael Tomasky.

               

                TOMASKY:  Thanks.

               

                MATTHEWS:  We`ll be right back after this.

               

                (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

               

                MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with this, "I refuse to be impartial

between the fire brigade and the fire."  Well, those were the words of

Winston Churchill. 

               

                Let`s apply them to the nuclear deal just struck between the world

powers and the government of Iran.  Who is the fire brigade here, the

people who struck this deal or those who are out there whacking away at it? 

               

                The treaty opens up Iran to inspection and keeps it from getting near

building a nuclear weapon for a decade.  What do the critics of the deal

proposed us doing?  Well, for one thing, not signing the deal.  That means

Iran has no restraints on heading toward a nuclear weapons arsenal, and no

way of us knowing how quickly it will get to having one.  In other words,

it will only be a question of how quickly we`ll have to bomb them. 

               

                Is there another way to look at this?  Is there any other way we could

enforce sanctions against Iran except through agreement with other world

powers including Russia and China?  If we can`t get them to go along with a

tougher deal and can`t get Iran to accept one, is it reasonable to assume

we got the best deal here? 

               

                So, it comes down to three options really -- deal, no deal and bomb. 

And that really comes down to two options.  Deal and delay the Iranians or

don`t deal and get quickly around to bombing them, which will only have the

ability of delaying them in building a bomb, what we get done by the deal

we have now.  Isn`t it better to get what we want without going to all-out

war? 

               

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

               

                "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

               

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