May 23, 2013
Guests: John Podesta, John Feehery, Sahil Kapur, Michael Scherer
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Obama tells it like it is.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. President Obama was at the top of his
form today, speaking logically and authentically to the American people
about something truly important, protecting the U.S. in a time of danger.
Most powerful, I think, was the clarity of his arguments regarding drones,
the targeting of Americans who are making war on their country right now,
and what to do with those prisoners down in Guantanamo Bay. On each point
of action, he raised the quite reasonable question of whether a
conscientious president can avoid acting as he has done.
Most powerful, I think, was the manner in which he handled the woman who
kept calling out, interrupting him. While I have no idea why his hosts
down there allowed this to go on as long as it did, the president managed
to present the call-out as an example of democratic government in action.
It was, I believe, the kind of presidential leadership many of us applaud.
It probably helps that I agree with everything the president said today.
John Podesta is chairman of the Center for American Progress. He was White
House chief of staff during President Clinton`s administration. And
"Mother Jones" Washington bureau chief David Corn is an MSNBC political
First, the unexpected. The president was twice interrupted -- actually
more than that -- by a very loud protester. Let`s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will insist that judicial
review be available for every detainee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
OBAMA: Now, ma`am, let me -- let me finish. Let me -- let me finish,
ma`am. Now, this is -- this is part of free speech is you being able to
speak, but also you listening and me being able to speak, all right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the president obviously didn`t let it throw him. However,
he ended a very strong speech, I think, on a powerful note about what
victory in a war on terrorism would actually look like. And he even
managed to tie in, as I said, that woman who was interrupting him. She`s
from Code Pink. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our victory against terrorism won`t be measured in a surrender
ceremony on a battleship or a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory
will be measured in parents taking their kids to school, immigrants coming
to our shores, fans taking in a ball game, a veteran starting a business, a
bustling city street, a citizen shouting her concerns at a president.
And long after the current messengers of hate have faded from the world`s
memory alongside the brutal despots and deranged madmen and ruthless
demagogues who litter history, the flag of the United States will still
wave from small town cemeteries to national monuments, to distant outposts
abroad, and that flag will still stand for freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And the president also defended the targeting of Americans
believed to be fighting against their own country, our country.
Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that four Americans
had been killed in drone strikes, though only one had been specifically
targeted. That was Anwar al Awlaki, who the president today reminded
people was involved in the planning of the 2009 attempted bombing in that
airplane over Detroit.
Here`s what the president said about targeting Americans who make war on
this country. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: To begin with, our actions are effective. Dozens of highly skilled
al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken
off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted
international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities, and our
troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.
It is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to
result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim
world. The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more
confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in
support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me go to David Corn. David, you were watching this tonight
-- today, rather. I was overwhelmed by it because -- not because it was
great oratory. It wasn`t. It was clarity. It was like a Bill Clinton
speech, very logical. In fact, it was Clintonesque in this. I mean this
very positively. He was able to incorporate what wasn`t on that
teleprompter. In fact -- let`s just say that outspoken person from Code
Pink that wouldn`t stop, who should have made her point and then stopped,
but didn`t. And he held on. He kept cool.
DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What I thought was
remarkable about this speech -- and we haven`t seen this to this extent --
is we have a commander-in-chief, president of the United States, grappling
in public with some of these very real dilemmas between civil liberties and
security concerns, real security concerns.
I think what he said won`t sway or win over those people who criticize him
from the civil libertarian left and right, but you can see that he thinks
about this stuff seriously.
And more importantly, he was really calling for a new realism when thinking
about terrorism, that it`s not going to be this, you know, perpetual war,
that we have do be able to put terrorism and the challenges it gives us
within a context, and that was the -- you know, we`re not going to have
this war on terrorism forever.
And I think you`re going to see McCain and other folks react very, very
strongly to that, to this sort of trying to put this into perspective and
context. I thought it was a very mature approach. But I don`t think, you
know, the Republicans are going to enjoy it that much.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think -- I think it`s fair to say we have -- and I like
him, a center-left president. And he was speaking today to his center-
right -- center-right, center-left audience that likes, basically, his
approach, which is centrist. But he was also, seemed to me, really
understanding of the left.
JOHN PODESTA, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes.
MATTHEWS: He was talking to them in a way he never talks about the right -
- we can understand why -- intellectually, with sympathy to their point of
PODESTA: Well, Chris...
PODESTA: You know, Chris, I`ve been critical of the president on this one
for not being out more in front of what the law was that underlie (ph) the
drone strikes and explaining that to the American people, sharing the
underlying legal analysis with the Congress.
But I think he seized the initiative today. He spoke, I think, across the
board to the entire political spectrum. But I think he really made the
case to his base and to the left that this was a just war, this was a war
of proportion, this was a war of self-defense, and it was a war that was
being waged on legal grounds.
That`s a very important message in the United States. It`s also a critical
message to our allies and to people around the world.
MATTHEWS: Well, you both have a similar mindset, I think, maybe a notch or
two to the president`s left, which I like for this purpose of this
conversation. So let`s take these issues.
The use of drones -- the president`s defense was very logical, as I said,
and very clear. He said we can`t go in boots on the ground. We can`t
start wars because they could lead to mission creep and we could end up
fighting a little local war that becomes a big war if we put boots on the
ground to get a bad guy.
On the other hand, he said, we can`t let somebody out there just sit and
plan our demise and just say, Well, that`s the rules of the game, we got to
live with this. So I thought he narrowed it down to what he had here.
We`re looking at now a drone. We have the technology. They have the
element of surprise. We use the technology against those who think they`ve
got an edge on us in surprise.
I thought it was a good argument. What did you think -- use of drones to
get the bad guys.
CORN: Well, it was interesting to me because while he was justifying the
use of drones, he also was announcing they`re going to become more
restrictive in the use of drones.
MATTHEWS: Explain what he said.
CORN: Well, he said the criteria is very -- is going up. We know that the
use of drones have been cut back in the past couple of months, and he
himself talked about how sometimes drones have caused civilian casualties
and that has turned the population against the United States in
Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. And that`s something to be factored
If you compare this to the Bush-Cheney approach, which was that the
commander-in-chief was supreme and could basically do anything with
executive power in this war on terror, here was a president coming forward
and saying, I`m going to ratchet back. I`m going to be more restrictive on
drones and give Congress more oversight, something that -- John is right,
he hasn`t done enough of so far.
MATTHEWS: So right now, he`s basically put the same rules of engagement,
if you will, (INAUDIBLE) restrictions on hitting non-American nationals.
PODESTA: Very close. And I think that they were trying -- I think he was
trying to -- we won`t see the playbook, the so-called playbook. That is --
that is still a classified document. But it will be shared completely with
Congress, which I think is a very important point.
But it looks like they`re drawing the program in. They`re using it only
for very high-value targets, for senior leadership of al Qaeda and
affiliated organizations. And I think that`s a very important move.
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the president here defending. We wanted to
show you this a minute ago, but here it is now, something very important,
the rules he`s going to follow, has been following in terms of targeting
American citizens believed to be fighting against this country.
Let`s listen to this very important point here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the
government to target and kill any U.S. citizen, with a drone or with a
shotgun, without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones
over U.S. soil.
But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is
actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States
nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a
plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper
shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That`s my side of the argument in our family fights, by the way,
MATTHEWS: We have this fight. David Corn`s family, too, and maybe your
family. What I say -- these people have declared war against -- I don`t
like to use the word turncoats. (INAUDIBLE) they hate our country enough
to send bombers in here. What are you going to do about it?
PODESTA: ... two points. One is he took off the table this kind of canard
that`s been developed on the right that he`s going to use drones to go in,
and you know, shoot people in the United States. He said off the table.
And the other thing I think is -- and it occurred yesterday, as well, with
the Holder letter to Senator Leahy. They put very strict restrictions on
targeting and hitting U.S. citizens. And Awlaki, who was the one person
targeted by the U.S., was clearly involved in acting to try to send bombers
over to the United States and...
MATTHEWS: He laid that out really well.
PODESTA: ... imminent threat.
MATTHEWS: You know, he also talked about wanting to blow up an airplane
over Detroit, with the killing of maybe 100 to 200 people, as what this guy
was doing at the time.
Let me go back to what I thought was a very interesting rhetorical move
here. He said "or a shotgun." In other words, he was saying the principle
here isn`t what technology we use, although we have the most advanced.
It`s whether we have the right ever to attack an American or shoot an
American or kill an American who`s out -- who has basically changed sides.
CORN: Well, people...
MATTHEWS: And that`s a tricky one, but I don`t have any problem with it.
Where are you on that, David?
CORN: Well, people get -- people get very worked up about drones as
opposed to SWAT teams, special operations forces, or shotguns, all of which
can be used to kill people.
CORN: And so I think he was saying the principle here isn`t inherent to
drones. It`s the bigger principle. Can you kill an American citizen
abroad, and under what conditions?
And if you look at the letter that Attorney General Holder sent yesterday
that John just mentioned and what the president said today, they`re trying
to come up on paper, at least, with a pretty restrictive set of criteria.
It will be up to Congress to oversee it and make sure there are definitions
of what`s imminent. What does it mean to be...
CORN: ... imminent threat against the United States, a violent imminent
threat, because we`ve seen in some of the paper that`s come out, you know,
over the last year or two that sometimes their definition of imminent is
But you know, they`re coming up with guidelines that are good on paper.
And if they give Congress the oversight and Congress actually acts on the
CORN: ... problematic part of the equation, this could be a better regime
than what we have now.
MATTHEWS: This gets to the very question. Let`s look at this, what he
said about closing Gitmo, because it gets to this question, What to you do
with bad guys? I use that term in terms of East-West fighting, whatever
you`re (ph) calling it right now, bad guys out to get the United States who
we don`t have a case against in terms of a court. But we know what they`re
going to do the minute they get out, come back and try to hit us again.
Here`s what he said about the problem of Gitmo and that whole question of
closing that prison down there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain, which is how
to deal with those Gitmo detainees who we know have participated in
dangerous plots or attacks but who cannot be prosecuted, for example,
because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible
in a court of law.
But once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this
legacy problem can be resolved consistent with our commitment to the rule
of law. And I know the politics are hard, but history will cast a harsh
judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who
fail to end it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This is our family fight again. What do you do with people you
know are out to get us but you can`t make a case against them? Podesta.
PODESTA: Well, look -- look, I think this is a very small number. First
PODESTA: ... 86 have been cleared to leave...
PODESTA: ... out of 166. Most can be tried. We have a very small number
MATTHEWS: OK, less than 50. What do we do with them?
PODESTA: Less than 20 probably.
MATTHEWS: OK, what do we do with them?
PODESTA: I think that in certain cases, they can (ph) be held as enemy
combatants. But I think it`s a very small number. And what the
president`s, I think, now finally being reinvigorated to do is close Gitmo.
MATTHEWS: ... got to put them somewhere. Can he put people like that in
the United States?
PODESTA: He can put them in a supermax...
MATTHEWS: Without charge?
PODESTA: ... in the United States at one 15th the cost...
PODESTA: ... of the -- of the holding...
MATTHEWS: All I know is he lets anyone like that go, like some people are
-- just let them go, they come back and blow up a bunch of Americans, and
whose fault is that?
Anyway, thank you, John Podesta. David, thanks for the quick showing up
MATTHEWS: I know you watched the speech, as important as I -- as
importantly as I did. I think it was a major speech.
Coming up, the IRS story -- back to that now, rathouse (ph) or whatever
we`re (ph) going to call it. Is the White House`s bungled response -- is
so important -- it`s all -- this isn`t right or wrong, it`s about
incompetence, I think. Guess who we`re going to talk about? Reince
Priebus. Talk about a disaster, that idea that he`s head of a political
party is an embarrassment to both parties. We`re going to talk to him and
some of the crazy stuff Mitch McConnell`s been saying -- the president`s
opponents and their blame -- and their baseless charge.
Also, Virginia Republicans clearly haven`t got the "stay away from divisive
social issues" memo, that (ph) anybody wrote one on that side. Their new
candidate for lieutenant governor -- wait until you catch this act. He
says Planned Parenthood has been more lethal to African-Americans than the
KKK. He compares black voter support for Democrats to, of course, slavery.
Is this the talk of somebody who actually wants to win an election? By the
way, good luck, Cuccinelli. He`s a great running mate.
Plus, call it what you want, the nuclear option if you`re crazy about it.
I don`t believe that. Getting rid of the filibuster for appointments to
your own cabinet. Seems like a reasonable idea, and Harry Reid is talking
about it seriously. You don`t have to get 60 votes in the Senate just to
name your commerce secretary. Are we going to get rid of filibustering?
And most of us are embarrassed by old high school photos of ourselves, or
some are. Well, see if you can spot a 17-year-old future president in that
picture, in his 1979 -- what a kid -- prom picture. We`ll be right back
with more about that.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: We`re coming right back to talk about RNC chairman, the
inimitable, the infamous Reince Priebus and his claim, and that`s all it
is, that President Obama is engaged in guerrilla warfare. Didn`t you
notice? And lawlessness. That`s what Reince had to say, and that`s coming
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, disorganized, piecemeal, messy
-- those shouldn`t be words used to describe a crisis communications
strategy, but certainly not at the White House. Well, the rolling
disclosures amid (ph) the IRS controversy has dealt some serious blows to
the administration`s image and credibility.
And not helping matters, yesterday`s House hearings, where a top IRS
official, Lois Lerner, took the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination,
only fueling GOP cries of a cover-up.
And now NBC News congressional correspondent Kelly O`Donnell is reporting
as I speak that a source tells NBC News that Lerner has been placed on
Well, it`s no surprise the conservative rhetoric is escalating, led by none
other than RNC chairman Reince Priebus. While there`s no denying the
administration missteps, I have to ask, what right does he have to speak on
any matter involving ethics?
Karen Finney and Ron Reagan are both MSNBC political analysts. I`ll let
you both speak your mind because that`s why you`re here, Karen and Ron. My
view is this. Screw-ups are not need for penitential action, simply
But when Reince Priebus has the nerve to cross the line into giving us
moral leadership, we all must laugh, laugh heartily. The administration`s
bungling of the IRS issue has opened, of course, the door for GOP
featherweights like RNC chair Reince Priebus to launch some serious
accusations. They`re not serious coming from him, they should serious.
Priebus tweeted -- which is a perfect means of communication for him --
yesterday, "Great show with Sean Hannity tonight. It`s lawlessness and
guerrilla warfare and Obama`s in the middle of it." This is what a leader
of a political party talks like, a 13-year-old.
This morning, he doubled down on those accusations. Here he was on
"MORNING JOE. " I don`t know why they put him on. I guess they`re open to
all people`s points of view on that show. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")
REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think it`s
evidence of political warfare gone amok on behalf of the administration.
I`m entitled to an opinion that this is political guerrilla warfare and
You don`t think that the administration`s in the middle of this? You don`t
think the White House is in the middle of this?
PRIEBUS: They have already admitted it.
And you have the IRS targeting conservative groups, Tea Party groups and
any person critical of the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.
PRIEBUS: What would you think?
PRIEBUS: I mean, give me a break. But to the extent of how far it goes
and how far up it goes, the evidence has to come in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Karen, I mean, let`s just take the logic of his sentences.
I`m entitled to -- you can`t have an opinion on everything that`s worth
MATTHEWS: I can say the moon is made of blue cheese. That`s my opinion.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Sure.
MATTHEWS: But it isn`t worth anything.
FINNEY: Oh, sure.
MATTHEWS: Here`s a guy saying, I am accusing the White House of
intervention in the IRS screwups over there...
MATTHEWS: ... the targeting of the Tea Party and the patriot groups. Of
course, I can`t tell you any information, I have no evidence, but it`s my
FINNEY: Right. And can I also remind you that this is the same man who,
as chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, was implicated in a vote-caging scandal
which was about suppressing votes of minorities and college students.
Oh, guess what? We saw that again when he was chairman of the RNC. I`m
just suggesting somebody who...
FINNEY: ... about guerrilla warfare.
MATTHEWS: So he was doing that when he was in school?
FINNEY: When he was chairman of the RNC in Wisconsin, but point being...
MATTHEWS: So there`s a pattern because nationwide -- we`re going to go
into this in a moment -- tremendous pattern under him of dozens and dozens
and dozens of states under Republican control systematically denying voting
hours when African-Americans tend to vote.
MATTHEWS: Come. Look at this. There were at least 180 voter suppression
bills introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011, all of which
were introduced by conservatives, according to The Advancement Project, a
nonprofit civil rights organization.
MATTHEWS: And it`s all under Reince Priebus.
Never has he taken a thing back. Never he has done anything except
celebrate to keep just minority people, ethnic minorities.
FINNEY: Yes, also students.
MATTHEWS: But poor people, people that live in rowhouses, kids that don`t
have cars, anything that doesn`t have that makes it harder to vote, he has
championed the closing of the door.
MATTHEWS: And then he comes out and says there`s some conspiracy with the
president that he can`t even prove.
FINNEY: Right, guerrilla warfare was the -- that -- if that map that you
just showed wasn`t guerrilla warfare, I don`t know what it is.
But here`s the thing, Chris, I want to just say. I think this for Reince
Priebus -- this is about 2014. While we all believe that it`s an overreach
-- and I think it is -- he also recognizes that this scandal is an
opportunity for them to galvanize the Tea Party base.
FINNEY: You know there`s been a split between the Tea Party and the
establishment of the Republican Party. Heading into 2014, this is how you
MATTHEWS: What do you think of that, Ron? This is a way to get the
Republican center-right and the reasonable right feeling the same sort of
goose bumps of excitement over the fact that they now have Obama on the
ropes and then they can crush him in 2014?
RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Indeed. Reince Priebus earlier of
course was cautioning his own party to not overreach.
MATTHEWS: Did you call him "Wrench" Priebus? I prefer Wrench Priebus. I
like that. It`s better than Reince. Call it him Wrench.
MATTHEWS: He`s kind of a blunt object.
REAGAN: However you pronounce that.
Anyway, he was cautioning people not to overreach, not to talk about
impeachment. And he comes out with this lawlessness thing. Well,
lawlessness, that implies breaking the law, which in a president could be
grounds for impeachment.
So, it`s the dilemma of the Republican Party. Here they have been handed
these scandals, if you want to call them. But none of the scandals
actually implicates President Obama. And they`re desperate to do that.
They`re desperate to get their base fired up. And their base will believe
anything they say about President Obama.
REAGAN: He doesn`t need facts.
MATTHEWS: To make Karen`s point, let`s take a look at what -- let`s take a
look at what Boehner, the speaker of the House, had to say. He also is
making the point that somehow Obama was working over there with his green
eye shades, working over there in a long row of typewriters, whatever they
still have over there, going over the numbers.
Here he is blaming the president for -- I bet President Obama doesn`t know
where the IRS is in Washington, certainly not in Cincinnati. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Drip, drip, drip. Every
day, there`s something new. Now, we don`t know how deep this extends
within the administration, and that`s why our committees are going to
continue to investigate this.
But what is most troubling in this White House is that the lights are on,
but there doesn`t seem to be anybody at home. The Treasury Department knew
about this last year. The White House was made aware of it last month.
Yet no one, no one thought that they should tell the president, fairly
inconceivable to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Inconceivable. True, actually. In fact, that`s -- the great
irony of our 180 views of things between me and Boehner is that I think he
should have been told so he could have jumped on it.
MATTHEWS: He thinks he wasn`t -- he thinks he was told.
MATTHEWS: "The Washington Post" -- just a minute -- "The Washington Post"
reports today that senior White House aides, including the president`s
chief counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, were focused on shielding Obama from the
issue despite the flammable politics of the story.
Here`s what she said, Ruemmler -- somebody said in the paper today:
"Ruemmler`s lawyerly" -- and that`s a good word for it -- "lawyerly focus
sometimes conflicts with political imperatives. The absence of such
dominant first-term personalities as former adviser David Axelrod and of
course former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who could bridge those
differences between politics and the law has left the White House
scrambling to contain its public image and public damaged, in fact. Unlike
most senior White House aides, Ruemmler, the president`s counselor, has no
campaign experience. And a former colleague said she wasn`t really
interested in politics."
MATTHEWS: So here`s my question. And this is not critical of the
president`s ethics, what I think are incredibly above the standard of what
we have gotten used to.
I think he would have been better off if somebody the minute the chief of
staff, McDonough, had gotten ahold of this information, the preliminary
report of where this thing was headed, he should have walked in there, Mr.
President, you got to get on top of this. This is the galloping horse of
history. Get on that horse. Go out to the lectern and say, I have only
got an early report on this. I just heard about it. We`re getting to the
bottom of it. The first time I get more information, there`s going to be
people on administrative leaves and heads are going to roll over there if
this happened, if it happened.
And that way, he would be the prosecutor of the case, instead of what looks
like at least the political defendant.
FINNEY: I actually agree with you on that.
And I think what they were thinking, though, is, well, let`s try to get all
the facts and get all the information. But one of the things...
MATTHEWS: That worked out.
FINNEY: Well, but also, when you`re in government -- you can do that when
you`re in a campaign and you control everything. When you`re in
government, you don`t know what you don`t know. They didn`t know that
Lerner was going to get up there and do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what? McDonough should have found out. He
should have found out. That`s what is called leadership.
This president is taking an unforced error. He is in trouble over
something he didn`t do wrong. And when you let that happen in the White
House, you`re not serving the guy.
Anyway, Ron, I wish we had more time. Do you have a last quick thought
about how they screwed this up?
REAGAN: Let me play devil`s advocate on the last point. What if the
president had been brought in early? Wouldn`t the Republicans then be
saying -- be accusing him of tainting the investigation?
MATTHEWS: Not if he`s standing at the lectern -- not if he`s standing at
the lectern blasting Lois Lerner, blasting Shulman, blasting Miller, and
saying these are not good public officials. No. Ron, nice try.
REAGAN: But you don`t blast somebody until the facts are in.
MATTHEWS: You had the facts. It`s in the preliminary report.
And what we did know is on March -- on April 24, the preliminary results
were in about what exactly we have been talking about. In fact, it all
leaked out well before the president spoke, exactly what we`re talking
about, targeting of patriots group, targeting of Tea Party groups. Exactly
what we know now, we know then.
Thank you, Ron Reagan.
MATTHEWS: I know.
REAGAN: All right.
MATTHEWS: I know.
REAGAN: You bet.
MATTHEWS: You disagree with me.
MATTHEWS: And you have entitlement to do that.
Thank you, Karen Finney. Good luck with new show.
And be sure to catch Karen -- well, there it is right on my screen.
MATTHEWS: Her new NBC show, MSNBC -- some day, it will be NBC, if it gets
boring, but it`s going to stay here.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, starting June 8.
Up next: the story behind this 1979 photo of the president. Yes, you`re
looking at a 17-year-old future U.S. president. There he is. He was good-
looking guy then.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."
First, Jon Stewart said he thought the congressional hearings with IRS
officials would shed actually some light on the subject. Wrong. Things
didn`t quite pan out that way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Perhaps in this
hearing, we would finally get the details of how these groups were targeted
and who was responsible.
STEWART: I want a full accounting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was unaware, I believe, at the time that it had
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When someone spotted it, they should have run up the
chain, and they didn`t.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know anything about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t know at that time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not aware of that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know.
I don`t know.
I have no memory of anyone doing that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t know that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not personally responsible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: I show up to work drunk.
STEWART: I, uh -- I don`t know how to read.
STEWART: I`m only here because I won a radio contest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He`s the best.
All that dodging led to this headline from "The Washington Post": "How the
IRS Scandal Is Like `The Simpsons.`"
Well, it all has to do with that famous Bart Simpson line. And here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SIMPSONS")
NANCY CARTWRIGHT, ACTRESS: I didn`t do it. Nobody saw me to it. There`s
no way they can prove anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that, that`s pretty -- I didn`t do it and you can`t prove
Anyway, finally, "TIME" magazine did some digging into President Obama`s
past. We`re talking about the 1979 high school prom pictures. Well,
here`s 17-year-old Barack Obama, or Barry, as he was called, at the end of
senior year with his date, Megan Hughes, the young lady on the far right.
There she is and a few others friends.
They also tracked down a yearbook note from Barack to Kelli Allman, the
girl on the left there, which reads in part: "You are extremely sweet and
foxy. You really deserve better than clowns like us. You even laugh at my
jokes. I hope we can keep in touch this summer. Call me, and I will buy
you lunch sometime."
What a -- what a cool guy.
Up next: Weren`t Republicans going to try to be more inclusive and less
divisive on social issues? Not in good old Virginia. Republicans there
just picked a candidate for V.P. -- for lieutenant governor who compares
Planned Parenthood to the KKK and African-American to Democrats to -- you
guessed it right -- slavery.
That`s ahead. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC
A volatile day for stocks ends with just modest losses, the Dow falling
just 12 points, the S&P finishing down four, while the Nasdaq lost three.
One big winner today, Hewlett-Packard, shares surging 17 percent after the
company`s strong earnings report.
Meantime, jobless claims plunged by 23,000 last week. That was more than
And an upbeat report on the housing market. Sales of new homes rose 2.3
percent last month. That, too, was better than expected.
That`s it from CNBC. We`re first in business worldwide -- now back to
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
After Mitt Romney`s loss last November, Republicans regrouped, of course.
They reassessed and renewed a pledge to broaden their tent, make it bigger,
and encourage more Americans to become Republicans.
Well, a party autopsy report out this spring found -- quote -- "Our
candidates and officeholders need to do a better job talking in normal,
people-oriented terms. And we need to go to communities where Republicans
do not normally go to, to listen and make our case."
But Virginia didn`t seem to get that memo. Not only is their Republican
candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, a darling of the Tea Party, the new
candidate for lieutenant governor, Bishop E.W. Jackson, might even be
further to the right than Cuccinelli.
And that`s one of the big races in the country this year, Virginia. "The
Washington Post" reports: "In his failed bid the GOP nomination in last
year`s U.S. Senate race, Jackson called gays and lesbians perverted and
very sick people." That will win their votes.
And take a look at this video he posted in 2012.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BISHOP E.W. JACKSON (R), LIEUTENANT GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The Democrat
Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights
leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the
tens of millions.
Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK
ever was. And the Democrat Party and their black civil rights allies are
partners in this genocide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s hard to beat that. Virginia Republicans seem to be
saying, we lose when we nominate moderates, so we`re going to win with true
believers like the bishop there.
Anyway, John Feehery is here for defense. He`s a Republican consultant.
And Salon`s Joan Walsh is in the DA`s position tonight.
MATTHEWS: MSNBC political analyst.
John, I -- since you`re a buddy of mine, I have to ask you, what do you do
when you`re stuck with a lieutenant governor candidate who won on his own
at a convention, certainly with no help from Cuccinelli. He`s probably --
he has already said, I will not answer for that guy.
How do you win an election in a state that you and I now know, and Joan
knows, is no pretty much the average state? The results coming out of
Virginia these days are just about the same as the national average. It`s
not right-wing, it`s not left-wing. It`s in the middle.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, what you need to do is
you need to make this about Terry McAuliffe and not about your lieutenant
I don`t think that most voters in Virginia are going to vote for the
lieutenant governor in this race. They`re going to vote at the top of the
ticket. But you raise some important points, Chris. And that is that the
Virginia selection system is broken.
They cannot do a convention anymore. They have to go and let everyone have
a chance to vote in a primary. If they had voted in a primary, a guy like
Pete Snyder could have been very competitive in a general election, and we
wouldn`t have this problem, when it would have been easier for our
candidate to keep the focus on Terry McAuliffe, who`s a very flawed general
MATTHEWS: OK, now, that`s a good -- your advice there, I think to
capsulize it, is, Joan, for purposes of rebuttal, hide the guy.
I don`t think we`re going to let him hide, because on this show, we`re
going to remind everybody from Alaska to Maine that this is the
Republicans` idea of a candidate for -- for statewide office.
Your thoughts, Joan? Because I think he represents the redolent -- the old
-- not the old -- the crazy wing of the party. Your thoughts?
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: He does. And he`s going to be the gift that keeps
on giving because he`s unapologetic. He came out today and told a local
paper he doesn`t -- he stands by everything he said. He tweeted today that
gays are icky.
He wants attention. He wants attention. He`s using this as a platform for
And I mean, Cuccinelli can`t have it both ways. He`s campaigned with him
but he doesn`t support any of his statements. So, it`s going to be a
really interesting dodging act.
The other thing, Chris, candidates like this also tar the party nationally.
Todd Akin became not just a Missouri problem, but a national problem, a
Mitt Romney problem.
And they don`t just drive away gays in this case or women necessarily.
They drive away young people, because young people are clamoring for the
GOP to be more socially tolerant on gay issues, more socially tolerant
So, it has this nationalizing effect to just say despite what we heard from
Reince Priebus, we`re not going to have a rethinking. We`re just going to
be the same old nuts.
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this -- speaking of which, let`s take a
look what some of the Bishop Jackson sound bites sound like. Here`s his
Twitter account. "I do believe Obama is the antichrist. But Christians
who follow Obama would probably follow the antichrist. Are they
And another gem. "If Bill Clinton was the first black president, Barack
Obama is the first homosexual president, based on their respective
You know, I`m going to be equal opportunity attacker here, John Feehery. I
think the election of mayor of New York, Anthony Weiner, parking the
Wienermobile in front of the Gracie mansion is a disaster for the national
Democratic Party if he were to win that office. I think it would be a
symbol to your party of what`s wrong in -- you would be able to say the
Democratic Party is sick.
But this kind of stuff, are you going to stand there and say -- or sit
there, you`re sitting, and say you can hide this guy, Cuccinelli, and you
can hide this guy, Bishop Jackson, from the national press when they`re
running in a big state like Virginia?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I don`t think we can. He reminds
me a lot of on Alan Keyes, ran against Barack Obama. You know, we could
have won that seat.
MATTHEWS: Trucked him in at the last minute. I mean, you didn`t have a
FEEHERY: We could have -- we could have beaten Barack Obama, then he
wouldn`t be President Obama today.
This is the serious choices that the party makes when it puts guys like
this up. We don`t know where this ends up. We might be putting up a
Democrat now who`s going to become president who we can`t even -- you know,
this is what happens when you put up terribly flawed candidates. You give
Democrats a chance to win.
And, you know, Terry McAuliffe might easily win now if we don`t keep the
focus on him which I think is really sad.
MATTHEWS: Well, Joan, the problem that Terry is trying to defend, it can`t
be defended, is real life Republicans show up at these conventions. They
are members of the party. They have Republican buttons on their chest.
They are registered. They are part of the party. They of sound mind -- if
you want to call it sound mind -- and body, pick these characters.
WALSH: Well, right. They`ve done this in lots of states. The states that
have nominated conventions as opposed to primaries really have a lot of
trouble and it goes to the people who, God bless them, they really believe,
they really turn out, and the more moderate forces in the Republican Party
don`t turn out, might turn out for a primary. So they`ve taken over the
apparatus in a lot of states.
And we all know Virginia`s a purple state. It really could go either way.
So to have the Republican Party branded for another election cycle as the
party of nuts and crazies, especially when it comes to issues of women and
President Obama and gays and lesbians is a real problem.
FEEHERY: Let me say quickly, Chris, I don`t think this is going to brand
the party. You`re going to have Chris Christie running in New Jersey.
He`s going to win pretty easily. He`s going to be much more of a standard
bearer than E.W. Jackson will be.
And to your other point, that is that, you know, Anthony Weiner -- you
know, being the New York mayor is a big deal and to have him be the nominee
I think could really brand the Democrats in a way that would be kind of
WALSH: I don`t think he`s going to be the mayor.
MATTHEWS: Well, that is my concern. If he ever gets that far, the
Republican Party will never stop talking about it. It will be like 9/11.
Every sentence will include Weiner.
Anyway, thank you, John Feehery. It will be funny, too. By the way, it
will funny, no matter what says it, because it would be a joke if you`re a
mayor of New York.
Anyway, thank you, Joan. It`s great to have you on as always.
Feehery, you`re great.
Up next -- you know how I say that? Like Clinton says, I like the tie.
Anyway, we`re talking seriously now about changing the Senate rules.
They`re talking about getting rid of the filibuster rule right now. Harry
Reid is the leader for cases when you`re picking your own cabinet members.
This is going to be a big development in the U.S. Senate and could be a
healthy one. Coming up in the next minute.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, Anthony Weiner did hit the campaign trail in New York one
day after announcing his campaign to be city`s next mayor. But his
campaign is off to rough start when his logo, by the way, behind the words
"Weiner for mayor," there`s an image of a bridge and a city skyline. Well,
he may be running for mayor of New York but that`s the Roberto Clemente
Bridge, the skyline of Pittsburgh.
The folks of capital New York noticed the error, and the logo has since
been changed. Too bad the candidate can`t be changed.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back HARDBALL.
Senate Majority Harry Reid, and this is big news, is fed up with the
Republican foot-dragging and blocking of President Obama`s executive and
judicial nominees and he may be ready, Harry Reid, to do something really
historic. In the way Republicans threat three upcoming high profile
nominees, Richard Cordray for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas
Perez for labor secretary, and Gina McCarthy to head the EPA, will likely
determine whether Reid does take the unusual step of trying to change
Senate rules so that these kind of presidential nominees are approved with
a simple 50-vote vote, because you have the vice president.
On the Senate floor today, we got a preview of just how nasty this fight
could get. First up, Harry Reid calling out his Republican counterpart,
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He should take a long look in the
mirror and he should spend some time honest reflection of Republican`s
contributions for the gridlock threatening the historic institution before
he claims that, quote, "there`s no real problem here."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, McConnell hit back, tossing in the IRS troubles with good
measure, or for good measure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: He wants to have no debate.
Do what I say and do it now. This is the culture of intimidation that
we`ve seen at the IRS, that we`ve seen at HHS, at the FCC, at the SEC, and
now, here in the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining right now are: Sahil Kapur, congressional
correspondent for "Talking Points Memo", and Michael Scherer, who is White
House correspondent for "Time" magazine.
Sahil, tell me what you think are the chances. Let`s do the bottom line
What are the chances that Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, with 55 votes,
supposedly in his pocket, he could have them here, Democratic votes, to
change the Senate rules so the president can at least get his cabinet
members agreed to by the Senate with 50 votes with the control of
presidency or 51 if they don`t?
SAHIL KAPUR, TALKING POINTS MEMO: I think -- I think Majority Leader Harry
Reid is going to face a significant amount of pressure to move forward with
the nuclear option if the Republicans block these three nominees.
MATTHEWS: OK, speak -- speak the language -- don`t use nuclear option, OK?
What are we talking about? Getting rid of filibuster or majority vote, you
KAPUR: Right. So, using an option that let`s the majority leader change
the rules of the Senate with a bare majority. Usually it takes a two-
MATTHEWS: Yes. And to go ahead and push that through by majority vote?
MATTHEWS: Under the principle that the Senate rules could be changed by
majority vote or the fact that it`s a new Senate or what would be his
rationale for being able to do that without breaking the rule that you need
60 votes to get something done?
KAPUR: Well, the Constitution allows the majority leader to do this. It`s
never been done before in a partisan vote. The rules have never been
changed on a partisan vote.
But the -- you know, Democrats also argue that there`s never been this kind
of obstruction. That`s also unprecedented. And a recent nonpartisan
government report found that President Obama has dealt with obstruction for
his judicial and cabinet nominees on a level that none of the last five
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, Sahil has made a good point there, Michael. I
didn`t even think about this. There`s two historic things that have to
happen here -- to change the rules the way they would do it with only a
majority vote would be in itself historic and then to change the rule by
getting rid of filibuster regarding candidate appointments, executive
appoints, that maybe some appellate judge levels would be historic also.
MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME MAGAZINE: And I don`t think there`s any chance this
is going to happen. The reason is Harry Reid does not want to do this.
MATTHEWS: It`s a head fake?
SCHERER: It`s a head fake. And there`s precedent for it. In 2005, Harry
Reid was on the opposite side of this fight. He was standing up to Bill
Frist saying, how dare you, this is a seizure of power by President Bush.
MATTHEWS: The same argument?
SCHERER: The exact same argument he was arguing against. And what
happened? Republicans pushed forward on it, they had a gang of 14, they
got a compromise, some of the held up judicial nominees got through, some
didn`t get through. That`s the playbook we are looking at now.
Reid is going to raise this as an issue. Raise the profile of --
MATTHEWS: Will it go to vote?
SCHERER: No, I don`t think it will get to a vote where they`re actually
going to change the rules on a partisan -- no, they`re not going to go
MATTHEWS: What do you think? How far do you think this is a head fake or
do you agree it is, that Harry Reid won`t go all the way, and actually have
a vote, a majority vote to change the rules? Sahil?
KAPUR: You know, it`s unclear. Michael may well be right. It`s not --
Reid has not made any decisions on this. But I don`t think --
MATTHEWS: Why is he floating it? What does he get from floating it? Why
are we talking about this? All my life, I`ve wondered why --
KAPUR: It`s leverage.
MATTHEWS: OK, explain.
KAPUR: It`s leverage for him. It`s a negotiating tactic. And McConnell
is taking his threat seriously. Just today, we found out that McConnell
wanted to hold a vote on President Obama`s nominee for the D.C. circuit
next week and Reid filed for cloture and McConnell caved on that. It`s a
small cave, but it`s still, you know, it`s still a concession that he made.
And McConnell wouldn`t be doing that. He wouldn`t be raising the volume
and ratcheting up, you know, the pushback in the opposition if he thought
Harry Reid was bluffing.
MATTHEWS: The problem is -- Sahil, my problem with you, both of you guys, I
think the problem with the 60-vote thing is this. I can see it on major
piece of legislation like health care, because it changes history, or even
civil rights. I understand that.
But if you do it every time, like cabinet appointments, who`s going to be a
secretary of commerce, for example, or something, you`re basically allowing
the fact that this country is never going to have anything more than a
roughly 50/50 split politically. It`s always going to be around 55
senators. It`s never going to be 62 again.
In the House -- you know what I mean, Sahil? Your thought, too, on that?
I mean, if we`re never going to have more than sort of a thin majority,
either party controlling either House, you`re basically creating a road
block system in the fact if you keep demanding 60 votes.
KAPUR: It`s an entirely different -- it`s an entirely different
conversation when you`re talking legislation and nominees. Just as you
pointed out, because nominees -- most of them, all cabinet nominees are
temporary. Legislation is permanent.
And a lot of Democrats, many of them aren`t saying so publicly but a lot of
them privately have concerns that if when Republicans get to power, they
might do things like try to gut abortion rights with majority vote. So,
there are a lot of concerns about that.
MATTHEWS: Nobody is talking about changing the filibuster role for
legislation. They`re just talking about for appointment.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
KAPUR: They are not talking about that now.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s a modest step, but it may happen. It may happen.
Sahil, thank you, Kapur. Thank you, gentlemen, for coming. Thank you,
KAPUR: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish with why Republicans are making it
too easy for Democrats by being so crazy.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.
The single concern I have about the right wing weighing down the Republican
Party as it`s doing in Virginia is that it makes it too easy for the
Democrats. They don`t have to try all that hard to win the center and
thereby, hold majority support in this country. Otherwise, I take a "live
by the sword, die by the sword" attitude towards the Republicans.
If candidates are ready to go running off to the fringe to run primaries
and conventions, they should have to carry all that baggage on their backs
come November. If Cuccinelli is willing to run so far right in Virginia to
win the party base out there, if the party is nutty enough to run that
character they put up as lieutenant governor, let them reap the whirlwind.
Most people will vote for the Democratic ticket in Virginia simply to avoid
voting for the fringe. And so be it.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
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