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updated 4/12/2010 10:39:59 AM ET 2010-04-12T14:39:59

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Chris Matthews, Pete Williams, Howard Fineman, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Cillizza, Rex Rammell, John Heilemann, Charlie Cook

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Supreme decision.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.  Leading off tonight: The liberal hour.  When a car drove up to the White House this morning at 10:30, it carried a letter that could change history and alter the landscape of the fall political season.  The letter was from liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens notifying President Obama that he would retire at the end of the Court‘s current term.  Stevens has been on the Court since 1975 and has upheld the liberal wing of the Court.

Will President Obama appoint a leader to replace Stevens, even if it risks a filibuster and a grueling losing battle right on the eve of the mid-term congressional election?  It‘s our top story.

One clue on how the Republicans might react could come from New Orleans, where the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is going on.  Today Sarah Palin accused President Obama of coddling our enemies, and last night Newt Gingrich called President Obama‘s White House, quote, “the most radical administration in American history.”  Howard Fineman will be here to talk about that.  Plus—he‘s down there.

Plus, we have the pro-militia Republican candidate for governor out in

Idaho.  He told “Nightline” that he has no problem if local militias,

quote, “show a little force” to prevent the federal government from

instituting health care reform.  We‘ll ask Rex Rammell—that‘s his name -

what he meant by that, “show a little force.”

And I got a nice mention on Fox last night.  It was pretty positive, actually.  I‘ll show you in the “Sideshow.”

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with some thoughts about our rights as Americans, including the right to choose who we marry, a matter now on its way to the Supreme Court.

Let‘s start with Justice Stevens‘s retirement from the Supreme Court.  Pete Williams is NBC‘s justice correspondent.  Pete, big topic.  I know you‘ve been thinking about it for a while.  What do you think the president‘s thinking?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think he‘s thinking a couple of things.  One is, how can he get somebody through the Senate, given the political climate that he faces now?  I guess the calculation he‘s going to have to make is, does he choose a relatively moderate Justice who would be easy to get confirmed, or does he choose someone who has perhaps a little more well developed legal pedigree, a little more well developed record of decisions or statements that are liberal that will be a tougher fight.  And I think that‘s the question they‘ll have to make in the White House.

This question about a leader, it‘s important for a couple of reasons.  John Paul Stevens is in an unusual position because when he retires, he‘ll be the third longest-serving Justice in American history on the Supreme Court.  So he‘s had the years it takes to get into a position where he can...

MATTHEWS:  There he is as a young man...

WILLIAMS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... when he first went on.

WILLIAMS:  Right, 1975.  So he‘s had the years to get into that position.  No matter who the president appoints, they‘re not going to be able to come in and take that mantle from Justice Stevens.  The Supreme Court is a social institution.  It‘s a matter of personalities.  It‘s going to take a while for someone to emerge.  Now that person might be Anthony Kennedy, for example, might emerge as the next leader, or Stephen Breyer or Ruth Bader Ginsberg...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s sort of a hard to predict guy, isn‘t he, Anthony Kennedy.

WILLIAMS:  He is.

MATTHEWS:  On issues like the Lawrence case...

WILLIAMS:  He is.

MATTHEWS:  ... you never know where he‘s going.

WILLIAMS:  But the same—people said the same thing about John Paul Stevens in his first decade or so on the Supreme Court.

MATTHEWS:  What about the possibility of picking someone who‘s not from the Court?  We‘ve heard about Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan, who just was reelected.  We think about Janet Napolitano...

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... who was—we understand was vetted the first time around, when Sonia Sotomayor was picked.  Would this president be shocking if he said, You know, we have enough judges on the bench, let‘s pick some people like Earl Warren, Whizzer White, people from the past who didn‘t spend their life on the Court?

WILLIAMS:  Not shocking at all.  He said that he wants to try to get that level of experience.  Other Justices have said it‘s valuable to have people who have elective experience.  Justice Stevens said the same thing about Sandra Day O‘Connor.  But if you‘re going to put that list together, you have to add Elena Kagan.  Now, she‘s never run for office, but she‘s not been a judge, either.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to try some things after you‘re gone.  You give us the analysis.  I want to enjoy some of the politics of this because there are people with immense legal ability.  Hillary Clinton is out there.  She‘s possible.  Anything‘s possible.  I guess one question is do they want the job?  Is this a desirable job?

WILLIAMS:  It depends, you know?  It‘s an isolating job, to some extent.  Many Supreme Court Justices have said the only people they can really talk to are other Justices.  It takes a certain temperament.  You have to really love the law.  Now, that‘s why, oftentimes, presidents go with people who have been judges.  They‘ve proven that they can live that kind of life...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  ... and that that sort of isolation—it‘s a very scholarly life.  You spend a lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t give a political opinion.

WILLIAMS:  Right.  You spend a lot of time reading.  So it takes a different personality to do it and...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s...

WILLIAMS:  ... some people don‘t want it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at the president, what he said today about his thinking, at least what he‘s thinking out loud.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities, an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.  It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, there‘s a political estimate (ph).  You know, I think in history, the great Brown case of ‘54, when the Supreme Court said you can‘t have separate but equal, they found an inherent right to equal treatment and not separate treatment in the Constitution—Earl Warren led that decision.  Earl Warren was a Republican governor, a guy that interned Japanese people during the Second World War, hardly a liberal.  Ike said he wished he hadn‘t picked him, but he did.  Is this still a possible—I want to go back to the question of a leader coming from outside the bench.

WILLIAMS:  Well, sure, it‘s possible.  But you know, the characteristics the president mentioned there are—I can‘t imagine that any president wouldn‘t say the same thing.  That‘s the sort of 20,000-foot level of what the qualifications that you want.  He said the same thing before he chose Sonia Sotomayor.

Now, one thing they won‘t have this year, Chris, probably, if we look at the list of potential people, is someone who had Sonia Sotomayor‘s, you know, really inspiring personal story—family came here from Puerto Rico, she grew up in public housing projects and found herself in the Ivy League and then as a federal judge.  Any of the nominees you‘re looking at here probably don‘t have that kind of compelling story.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Pete.

WILLIAMS:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Pete Williams—so much for that.

Let‘s go now to Amy Klobuchar.  She‘s a member of the United States Senate, of course, and a member of the Judiciary Committee, and she‘s represents the state of Minnesota.

It‘s so great to have you on, and I have to start with this question.  Do you believe that, given the politics right now, the president has a free hand?  He‘s named a woman who comes from an Hispanic background, a poor person‘s background, and in many ways, that meets a lot of the standards Democrats like to meet in terms of representative people.  But here‘s a—

I think it‘s a fairly rotten comment here by Glenn Beck about that kind of, if you want to call it ticket balancing or constituency mending—here he is talking about in a very nasty way.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I mean, if he‘s smart, he will find a gay, handicapped, black woman who‘s an immigrant.  That‘s what—because that way, he can just say when—I mean, she could be the devil.  She could say, I hate America, I want to destroy America.  And that way, they‘ll only be able to say, Well, why do you hate gay, immigrant, black handicapped women?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Senator, isn‘t it amazing how you can make a good living talking like a guy on the commuter train after three drinks?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, seriously.  That‘s not exactly—that‘s the kind of stuff I heard growing up.  You know—you know, that kind of stuff is so uninspiring...

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, you know, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... and yet I guess it has an audience.  Your thoughts.

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, it wasn‘t just what you heard growing up.  This is what Glenn Beck said during Sotomayor.  I mean, he was saying the same kind of stuff, attacking her, attacking her qualifications, when she was number one in her class, when she had done so well throughout her career, you know, calling her emotional, all of these things, and it got out there.  But in the end, you heard people like Lindsey Graham voting for her, saying, you know, maybe he wouldn‘t have picked her, but she was clearly qualified and he was proud to vote for her.  So in the end, she got confirmed.

I think the hearings, while they were difficult at times, they were fair, and that‘s what we want to see again.  And all this garbage and all of these kinds of comments—what really matters is that the president puts someone on there that‘s qualified, someone who has, as he has said, a record of excellence, someone who is an independent thinker.  That‘s what‘s going to matter.

MATTHEWS:  You have to wonder, by the way, before we get off that commentary, what‘s to be laughed at, to be mocked about a person who‘s handicapped in any way, a person who‘s black, a person who is an immigrant.  What is chuckle—what‘s the chuckle-able part of that, the laughable part that he finds so much fun?  Except he‘s playing to people that who problem don‘t like any of these people.  Just a guess.

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, I think Rush Limbaugh learned what happened when he did that with Michael J. Fox.  So you know...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

KLOBUCHAR:  ... people can laugh at people.  They can do whatever they want on these shows, but in the end, the American people know you want someone that‘s qualified, no matter what their background is.  And I think that‘s what the president said.  He stands for that, and people know that he‘ll pick someone that‘s qualified.

MATTHEWS:  Senator, the good news about that is it helped Claire McCaskill raise some money from out of state.  That was one good...

KLOBUCHAR:  Yes, I remember that, over a million dollars, I think.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you seriously about how you look at it.  Do

you think the president has a free hand in terms of constituency, doesn‘t

have to be a minority this time.  He‘s just done that.  Doesn‘t have to be

a woman.  He just did that.  I mean, looking at it in terms of the kind of

is it about leadership this time, regardless of background or gender? 

Is that what he wants?  Is that what you‘d like to see, a leader on the Court to match Scalia‘s candlepower, on the liberal side of things?

KLOBUCHAR:  You know, I don‘t—I don‘t think he‘s going to cross this box and X this box so the Court is—clearly, has diversity on that Court now.  That‘s important.  But I think what he needs—I do like the idea of someone who is a powerhouse, someone who‘s going to come in there with some oomph and be able to argue a case.

You look at what Stevens just did with Citizens United, with that strong defense that he wrote, where he basically said, You know what, guys in the majority?  Corporations aren‘t people, people are people.  And so I think you want someone with that kind of oomph.

And as Pete pointed out just before I got on, mostly likely, the leadership in the Court will also emerge from that people that are already there.  You can‘t necessarily expect someone just to get on there and take charge.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about two hot cases that may be coming before the next Supreme Court coming in October.  One is health care.  Do you think there‘s a plausible defeat coming its way for the individual mandate?

KLOBUCHAR:  You know, I really don‘t because when you look at past cases and you look at major decisions on Medicare and other decisions in the health care area that have been upheld, and I would predict that the health care bill will be upheld.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s any chance that Ted Olson and David Boies will go all the way to the Supreme Court and win on their challenge to Prop 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California?

KLOBUCHAR:  That is up to the Justices.  I don‘t have a crystal ball. 

We‘ll see what happens.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a feeling on it?  Do you have a wish?

KLOBUCHAR:  I really don‘t.  I think that—you know, I have always believed the best way to do this is have states make their own decisions, and you know, I think that—and part of that, we‘ll just have to wait to see what the Court does on that.  I really don‘t know which way they‘re going.

Our focus right now this summer, as you know, Chris, is going to be getting a Justice confirmed and getting a Justice done soon because—and you look at Stevens, you know, when he was up, it took only three weeks to get him done.  Sandra Day O‘Connor after her name went to—really officially went to the committee was something like a month.  The average is 102 days.  There‘s no reason we shouldn‘t be able to get this done by August, otherwise we‘ll just have eight Justices to decide these important cases if you go after October.  So I‘d really like...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

KLOBUCHAR:  ... to get this moving ahead and have a fair hearing coming up and a civil one, which to a certain extent, happened with Sotomayor.  Not all the time, but I hope we can have another civil Judiciary Committee and get this done.

MATTHEWS:  Well, among my favorite senators, the two senators from California, the senator from Missouri I mentioned, Claire McCaskill—you‘re one of them.  I‘d hate to...

KLOBUCHAR:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... see leave the United States Senate because I think you do represent people very well.  But would you be interested in being a member of the Supreme Court?

KLOBUCHAR:  No, Chris, I couldn‘t wear black every day.  Look at me.

(LAUGHTER)

KLOBUCHAR:  No, I am—right now...

(CROSSTALK)

KLOBUCHAR:  ... I am not going to abandon the people of Minnesota in the middle of...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

KLOBUCHAR:  ... these difficult economic times.  I think it‘s important that we have consistency in representation and get things done...

MATTHEWS:  And that was a Shermanesque...

KLOBUCHAR:  ... for the state.

MATTHEWS:  ... statement from you, right?  Shermanesque.

KLOBUCHAR:  There you go...

MATTHEWS:  Shermanesque...

KLOBUCHAR:  Shermanesque.  As I said the other day on Rachel‘s show, I couldn‘t because of my past speeches, you know, all the times—remember Sotomayor, the wise Latina woman?  You can‘t imagine how many times I referred to myself as a wise Slovenian woman, Chris.  It‘s over.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the best.  Thank you.  Have a nice weekend.

KLOBUCHAR:  Good-bye.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m glad you‘re going to be...

KLOBUCHAR:  Thank you for having me on.

MATTHEWS:  ... one of the people deciding this thing, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Coming up: Newt Gingrich says Obama—well, this is Newt Gingrich, remember—said the president is the most radical administration in American history—the most radical.  Sarah Palin says the president is coddling our enemies.  We‘re going to get to some of that on-scene stuff in New Orleans, where some of the biggest names in the Republican Party are gathered right now for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.  And fortunately for us, we‘ve got—well, we‘ve got Howard Fineman down there.  He‘s going to talk about what‘s going on in terms of these high-profile Republicans being asked to quit their jobs right now.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Let‘s have a positive campaign this September and October between the things we say yes to—lower taxes, more jobs, less spending, lower deficits, lower interest rates—and the things they say yes to—higher taxes, fewer jobs, bigger government, more bureaucracy, more powerful politicians.  We need to make sure it‘s a choice of two positive versions, not Obama versus anti-Obama, but America versus a secular socialist machine.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Thursday night at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference down in New Orleans, where thousands of conservatives are meeting this weekend to bask in the glow of the likes of Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin, and of course, trash President Obama.  What kind of leadership are these leaders actually offering?

Well, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is on the scene.  He‘s an MSNBC political analyst and he‘s on the ground in New Orleans.  And Chris Cillizza sits here.  He writes “The Fix,” which I read regularly, at “The Washington Post.”

Howard, you‘re there on the spot.  What‘s it smell like?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it smells like caribou jerky, for one.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  This is from the Sarah Palin PAC.  They distributed it to everybody all around town.  Everybody in “reporters row” has several of these.

Sarah Palin blew the doors off the place earlier today.  You know, she is just the world‘s greatest living conservative sound bite artist.  She reminds me of Pat Buchanan in his heyday, or on the other side, James Carville in the ‘92 Democratic race.  She just had the people cheering.  They loved her.  Not everybody thinks she should run or could win, but in terms of jacking up the crowd, she was absolutely sensational.  At least that felt that way in the room here.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at a fight that‘s brewing here.  Here‘s President Obama on ABC‘s “Good Morning America,” reacting to Sarah Palin‘s criticism of his nuclear policy.  Let‘s listen because there‘s going to be some reaction from the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The last I checked, Sarah Palin‘s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.  If the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I‘m probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he goes.  And here‘s Palin today in New Orleans, reacting to the president.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE:  Now, the president, with all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer...

(LAUGHTER AND CHEERS)

PALIN:  ... and as a part-time senator and as a full-time candidate, all that experience, still no accomplishment to date with North Korea and Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, apparently, she says “nuc-u-lar,” like Bush does. 

She (INAUDIBLE)

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTON POST”:  She does say “nuc-u-lar.”  That is

that is...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

CILLIZZA:  ... that is confirmed.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand why you wouldn‘t say the word properly, anyway—if you had any interest in it.  She doesn‘t have any interest in it.  But isn‘t it a mistake for the president to get down in the ditch with her?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes. 

And I think, look, he‘s a guy who is at least going to try to answer the question asked of him.  The question asked of him was, Sarah Palin said this about nuclear weapons and your policy.  What do you think? 

He—if you watch that, he essentially said, I don‘t think much of it.  Moving on. 

So, he tried to address it.  But, yes, of course it is.  It‘s great.  This was a great day for Sarah Palin.  The president of the United States got into a little tiff with her and then, as Howard pointed out, like it or not, Chris, she speaks in sound bites, and that‘s the way in which most people...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s all she has to do.

CILLIZZA:  But that‘s the way most people consume news. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me—Howard, you mentioned it.  Pat Buchanan, at his peak, and Pat‘s rule, the Nixon rule in the old days—and it‘s a darn good rule—attack up.  Don‘t attack down.  Attack up. 

FINEMAN:  Right.  Right.  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And there‘s the president attacking Sarah Palin, which is attacking down, which gives her a direct shaft of opportunity to go right at him. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And she did it here today. 

And I must say this whole group, really, the whole Republican Party, is attacking up.  You know, I think there‘s a straw poll here and everything.  To me, it‘s less about that.  I don‘t think this crowd is all that concerned with picking out a presidential candidate right now, because Barack Obama so dominates the landscape that he is the motivating factor here. 

He‘s what‘s on everybody‘s mind here, his plans, what they view as his evil intentions, his desire for world domination and socialism of government, you name it.  They have got Obama on the brain, and they are attacking up.

And Sarah Palin right now is the sharpest point of the lance for them. 

And that‘s why she was such a big hit here today. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:   Howard, let me give you—both of you guys—it seems like you‘re down there advertising something like a hot new car.  In the old days, it would be a Thunderbird.  And they would say, oh, go back and drive a Volvo. 

Can this Tea Party crowd that gets so excited by Sarah Palin and by Bachmann and the rest of them then go back a year or two from now and pick some spare tire like the Republicans always do for their nominee for president?

It seems like, if you listen to them, Howard, they are demanding somebody that‘s going to be like them.  Here is Palin, by the way, on Republican slogans.  But I don‘t think you can just settle back into the usual boring Republican nominee for president after all this excitement.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  A lot of commonsense conservatives can relay some slogans that the majority of Americans like a lot better than that, like repeal and replace. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

PALIN:  And the bumper sticker, “How is that hopey, changey thing working out for you all now?”

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

PALIN:  Or my favorite, “Don‘t retreat, reload.”  And that is not a call for violence. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s not a violent proposal, but if somebody goes

shoots somebody in the next couple days and she has just said reload, people are going to draw a connection. 

CILLIZZA:  You know, Chris, I think your...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you talk like this?  Pat used to do that with lock and load.  But this is getting in a very interesting environment here.

CILLIZZA:  Remember the crowd—first of all, remember the crowd that she‘s talking to.  This is 3,500 or so Republican activists. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What does reload mean to them? 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  I would—I will tell you this, Chris.  I only speak for myself.  When I saw the list with the targets on it, I did not think—I have to say I was with John McCain on this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s her list. 

CILLIZZA:  That‘s her list with her targets. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s where she targets all the Republican members of Congress who—the Democrats she wants to knock out. 

CILLIZZA:  Target is a word that‘s used quite regularly in politics about who...

MATTHEWS:  Reload?  Where is it used? 

FINEMAN:  Chris, Chris, Chris...

CILLIZZA:  I said targets is a word that‘s regularly... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, target is used, but reload is sort of particular.

CILLIZZA:  Target is a regularly used...

MATTHEWS:  Howard, your thoughts about this gunplay talk? 

FINEMAN:  OK. 

Well, in this crowd, that didn‘t mean anything other than organize and vote to kick them out. 

CILLIZZA:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  This is an established crowd here now.  You know, this is not the Tea Party here.  These are 3,000 to 3,500 people who are the new sort of establishment of the Southern Republican Party. 

Now, they are sympathetic with the Tea Party.  But when she said that here, what she was saying is, I‘m willing to say tougher, more aggressive things than anybody else, which goes to your point, Chris, about how they‘re going to—the Republicans could ever go back to bland rhetoric after listening to Sarah Palin.  That‘s what it‘s about. 

Now, how other people outside of this ballroom here all across America and, you know, watching on the Internet or reading it online or whatever would react is something different. 

Sarah Palin knew that she was teasing the crowd, and because later in the speech, she said something like, oh, shoot, and then corrected herself and, said, oh, my God, I said the word shoot. 

She is flirting—she flirts...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

FINEMAN:  ... with the edge, but that‘s what gives her the power and the appeal, even in a fairly establishment crowd like this one here. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  It‘s so interactive in a sense, because she talks about reading off her hand. 

CILLIZZA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  She talks about how she‘s going to get reaction.  And then she says, how are these for slogans?  She‘s like trying out—you were saying applause lines.  She likes to—what do you think about these applause lines?  She‘s like working with the audience. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Go ahead, Howard, yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Yes.  No.

She even got mileage out of reading-the-hand thing, because she said here today, oh, well, that‘s the poor man‘s teleprompter.  And it—everybody here instantly knew that she was making fun of Barack Obama when she said that. 

I mean, she even gets mileage out of the things that embarrass her. 

It‘s really remarkable. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s very interactive.  It‘s very smart.

CILLIZZA:  What she does, Chris, is, when you watch—let‘s say you watch three days of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. 

She stands out, not just because she‘s Sarah Palin.  She stands out because it‘s just different in kind.  The way in which she approaches it, she‘s not—she‘s not giving this sort of very serious speech.  It‘s a back-and-forth, call and response kind of thing. 

She says, do you love your freedom?  That‘s how she started it.  You don‘t—it‘s hard to imagine Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty giving a call and response. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question is, it‘s all sale and no cargo, maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But I‘ll tell you, if Al Gore had 10 minutes of her, he would be president. 

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman and...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... Chris Cillizza.

Up next: a little word association game from Jay Leno and Barney Frank.  What does the congressman think when he hears names like Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney?  Coming up, Barney Frank on these characters. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now for the “Sideshow.”

I got a nice mention on FOX News yesterday.  Here it is, FOX‘s Patti Ann Browne throwing to fellow anchor Chris Wallace. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS)

PATTI ANN BROWNE, FOX NEWS:  Glenn Beck returns in a moment, but, first, Chris Matthews previews “Special Report.” 

Hi, Chris. 

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  Hey, Patti Ann.

Coming up, we will preview the weekend‘s big gathering of Republicans in New Orleans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, my pal Chris Wallace and I are very different.  I can‘t say I would have let that go. 

But if you have to be confused with somebody at FOX, I think I hit the jackpot. 

And, speaking of name games, Congressman Barney Frank, one of the sharpest guys out there, played word association last night with Jay Leno. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  Give me a one-word answer. 

Sarah Palin. 

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: 

Quitter. 

LENO:  Quitter.  OK.

Mitt Romney. 

FRANK:  Flip-flopper. 

LENO:  Flip-flopper. 

FRANK:  Is that one word or two?

LENO:  That‘s two words. 

Let‘s see.  John McCain. 

FRANK:  Old. 

LENO:  Old.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK:  But I want to say this.  Look, I...

LENO:  Is he 2 years older than you, Barney? 

FRANK:  Yes, he is.  And that‘s important. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK:  That‘s important, because I...

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK:  John McCain gave me the hope that I would not die without being younger than the president. 

LENO:  Right. 

FRANK:  I mean, I—you look to the president as an authority figure.  You start to get older than the president, you‘re looking for the wheelchair. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, right on Palin, direct hit on Romney, cheap shot on McCain, though he softened a bit, Barney did, by talking about himself getting older. 

Time now for the “Big Number.” 

Yesterday, day one of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, there was an elephant in the room that no one acknowledged.  Out of all of the conference speakers yesterday, everyone who spoke on that podium in New Orleans, a city that is still rebuilding, how many mentions of Hurricane Katrina were there? 

Zero.  Zip.  Nada.  Nothing.  In fact, Sarah Palin this afternoon was the first speaker to even mention the Bush-led disaster.  It reminds me of something FDR once said.  Never mention the word rope in a family where there‘s been a hanging.  No mentions yesterday of Hurricane Katrina—tonight‘s “What were you Thinking?” “Big Number.” 

Up next:  There‘s a pro-militia member running for governor out in Idaho who has joked about hunting President Obama and told “Nightline” he would have no problem if local militias—quote—“show a little force” to prevent health care reform. 

Well, his name is Rex Rammell.  And, when we return, I‘m going to ask him what he meant by those statements. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks on fire today, with the Dow popping past 11000 for the first time since September of 2008.  The Dow Jones industrials adding 70 points, settling just below 11000 at the close, the S&P 500 climbing eight points, and the Nasdaq jumping 17 points. 

Energy stocks leading the rally, after a bullish first-quarter update from Chevron.  The company says it expects a return to profitability as pricing and refining margins improve. 

Gas company Atlas Energy soaring more than 20 percent after agreeing to buy into a joint venture that could yield massive amounts of natural gas. 

Smartphone-maker Palm surging nearly 11 percent, as rumors continue to swirl that it could be the target of a takeover bid, but Alcoa taking a bit of a beating today on a couple of ratings downgrades, as the aluminum-maker gets ready to kick off earnings season on Monday. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In the first three months of this year, threats to members of Congress are three times higher than a year ago.  Police say nearly all the threats are from opponents of health care reform. 

And the health care overhaul is one of the main things that has Dr.  Rex Rammell upset.  Rammell is running for Republican—in the Republican primary for governor of Idaho, challenging incumbent Governor Butch Otter.  He wants government out of his business and the state‘s business, and says it‘s time to resist, whether it comes from state militias or Tea Party groups.  He says his platform is resistance.  And he would prefer it to be nonviolent, but he‘s willing to do what it takes. 

Welcome, Dr. Rammell.

What‘s wrong with our form of government?  What don‘t you like about our government, the form of it, the way it works?

REX RAMMELL ®, IDAHO GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Oh, I believe that the—we have gotten off-track, Chris. 

The federal government was never to be everything to everyone.  In fact, the founders wanted just a limited federal government to take care of the things that the states couldn‘t.  And the problem is, is that the federal government has usurped state authority over just about every aspect of our lives.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RAMMELL:  And—and then the states are pushing back now. 

MATTHEWS:  What—what government in the world do you think is better than ours?  Give me one example in the world where you have studied where you think there‘s a better form of government somewhere than the one we have in this country? 

RAMMELL:  You know, I‘m not a... 

MATTHEWS:  Just give me an example of a country you like better than ours. 

RAMMELL:  I‘m not an authority on world governments. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is there any standard you‘re holding, any other kind of a government you would like than the one we have? 

RAMMELL:  Yes, I‘m holding the standard to the original Constitution that was written back in 1787.  I mean, that‘s the government we should have, and we don‘t have it right now.  That‘s the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Should we have an Air Force? 

RAMMELL:  Oh, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  But that wasn‘t in the original documents. 

RAMMELL:  Oh, sure it was. 

The Constitution talks about the United States building a military. 

And that‘s part of the military. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I said an army.  It said an army.  I didn‘t know whether you were a strict constructionist or not.  It said an army and a navy, raise a navy and raise an army. 

RAMMELL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But it never said anything about an air force.  But you think it‘s OK to interpret the Constitution that way and have an Air Force? 

RAMMELL:  Well, the Navy has planes, doesn‘t it? 

MATTHEWS:  No, but there‘s an Air Force.  That‘s OK with you? 

(CROSSTALK)

RAMMELL:  Yes, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m just wondering how liberal you read the Constitution.  Is the Social Security system OK?  Is it all right to have a Social Security or not?  Would you like to get rid of it? 

RAMMELL:  No, I don‘t think the federal government should be involved in the entitlement programs.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RAMMELL:  And, in fact, the proof is that they‘re failing. 

MATTHEWS:  Should we get rid of Medicare as well? 

RAMMELL:  That‘s evidence enough right there that the federal government should never have gotten involved, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Should we get rid of Medicare... 

(CROSSTALK)

RAMMELL:  I think that‘s a state issue.  Yes, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, those are state issues.

MATTHEWS:  Get rid of Medicare, OK.

Well, we have a democracy, and people vote for these things.  That‘s the form of government.  And I wonder what you criticize in the form of government.  You disagree with the way decisions were made.  Are you against the right of the people to make those decisions? 

RAMMELL:  Number one, Chris, we don‘t have a democracy.  We have a republic. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RAMMELL:  And what we have today does not even resemble what we used to have. 

Take, for instance, the health care issue.  They have been—they are buying votes to get it passed.  Thomas Jefferson said something I think is very appropriate for our day.  He said, when injustice becomes the law, resistance becomes our duty. 

I don‘t believe that the health care bill is a just law.  It was—votes were...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RAMMELL:  ... bought and paid for to pass it.  And, therefore, it‘s our duty to resist it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there have been a lot of changes in the 20th century. 

I would like to run through which ones you don‘t like. 

You don‘t like Social Security.  You don‘t like Medicare.  You don‘t like entitlement programs, period.  What about letting women vote?  Was that a good decision that was made in the 20th century?  Was that a good change?  Women weren‘t allowed to vote back at the time of the original documents. 

RAMMELL:  Well, it is part of the Constitution.

MATTHEWS:  Pardon me?

RAMMELL:  Chris, it is part of the Constitution.  Therefore, it is appropriate, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But women weren‘t allowed to vote until the 20th Century. 

The constitution never allowed women to vote. 

RAMMELL:  When the constitution is amended, Chris, then we respect it as citizens across the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RAMMELL:  I don‘t remember the Constitution being amended saying that the federal government shall provide Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and universal health insurance.  And maybe I missed it.  Has it been amended recently? 

MATTHEWS:  No, but it was amended to allow for income tax.  Do you think that was a proper amendment to the Constitution?  It‘s part of it now. 

RAMMELL:  No, I don‘t like the 16th Amendment, but it is the law of the land.  As far as the Constitution goes, I would like to see the 16th Amendment repealed and the 17th, as far as that goes. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the one that allows people to vote at 18.  Is that a good change? 

RAMMELL:  Yeah.  I think that‘s fine.  You bet. 

MATTHEWS:  So how do you decide which changes you like and which you don‘t like?  Because obviously we‘ve gone through an evolution over time.  Black people can vote.  They couldn‘t vote.  They were slaves at the time of the Constitution.  That was in the Constitution.  They were counted as two-thirds of a person, but they didn‘t get to vote themselves at that time.  The Constitution writers thought that was OK.  You don‘t think it was OK, do you, to have slaves? 

RAMMELL:  Chris, let me sum it up this way: anything that is in the constitution today that is properly interpreted is fine by me, and fine by the people in Idaho.  It‘s when President Obama gets outside of the United States constitution that I have a problem.  With the health care bill, cap and trade, a lot of the—

Out in Idaho, we have a lot of public land issues.  I don‘t believe that the federal government should own and control two-thirds of the state of Idaho and 60 percent of the west.  That‘s not in the Constitution, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the United States government should be allowed to reserve land, wilderness land for future generations?  Do you think we‘re allowed to have Yellowstone and Yosemite and Grand Canyon?  Is it OK to reserve some land from development?  Is that OK?  Or is that unconstitutional as you see it? 

RAMMELL:  It‘s the state‘s rights to do that, not the federal government.  I don‘t have a problem with wilderness if the states agree to it.  I do have a problem having wilderness in Idaho when it‘s the people on the east and west coast that are making the decisions.  That I do not agree with. 

MATTHEWS:  So somebody like me who grew up in Philadelphia and lives in Washington, in the suburbs, who values something like Grand Canyon or Yosemite, I have no right to a call on that?  It‘s up to the people who live in those areas?  That‘s the way you see it? 

RAMMELL:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Grand Canyon doesn‘t belong to America, it belong—

RAMMELL:  Do you want me telling what you you can do with Philadelphia?  Do you like the people of Idaho telling you what you can do on the east coast? 

RAMMELL:  No, but I think if we had the Grand Canyon, we wouldn‘t have the right to destroy it, and turn it into a resort. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris, you have the Atlantic seaboard.  Isn‘t that a treasure? 

RAMMELL:  So your views are that Teddy Roosevelt was wrong?  He wasn‘t a proper constitutionalist because he was out there protecting our lands from development.  You think that was wrong and unconstitutional? 

RAMMELL:  That‘s correct.  I absolutely do. 

MATTHEWS:  And what else—

RAMMELL:  Those are decisions for the people that live in those states. 

MATTHEWS:  And what form of revenue would you have for the federal government, if not the income tax?  How would you finance the armies that we send overseas, the other national programs?  How would you finance them? 

RAMMELL:  You know, we financed this country on tariffs for decades. 

And if that didn‘t work, then some kind of excise tax. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought you were a libertarian.  I thought you were a free trader.  You wouldn‘t be for tariffs? 

RAMMELL:  No.  No.  I‘m OK with tariffs.  I also agree with free trading.  I‘m just saying, that‘s the way it used to be. 

MATTHEWS:  You said that‘s the—how do we finance our armies and all these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Who pays for those wars?  You say no income tax. 

RAMMELL:  I think right probably now the most fair system would be a federal sales tax. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re for a federal sales tax.  Put that on your platform, sir.  Good luck with that one.  I might agree with you. 

But thank you, Rex Rammell, for coming on HARDBALL and expressing your views pretty clearly.  People know where you stand now, sir. 

Up next, Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, the deal maker on health care reform, won‘t run for re-election.  How does that hurt the Democrats in the November midterms?  Well, we‘ll see.

Florida‘s Charlie Crist, by the way, puts down the rumors.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN:  I felt that main mission, my main goal, legislative goal, was accomplished.  It just came to the point where I said, I‘ve accomplished what I want to do.  Either I run again and I‘ll be there forever, or time to make the break.  It‘s time for me to make the break.  It‘s time for me to move on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, there, of Michigan announcing he‘s not seeking re-election.  The nine-term congressman who is opposed to abortion—he‘s opposed to abortion, let‘s keep it simple—received threatening phone calls and was targeted by Tea Party activists after striking a deal with the White House and signing onto health care reform.  By the way, that included less restrictive anti-abortion language than they wanted. 

For more on Stupak‘s departure and what it means to the Democrats, let‘s turn to Charlie Cook, editor of “The Cook Report,” and NBC News analyst, and John Heilemann, contributing editor for “New York Magazine,” co-author of the big book “Game Change.”

Charlie, is this bad news?  And why so?  What does this do to your overall sense that this is just going to be a bad, bad year for the Democrats? 

CHARLIE COOK, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”:  This is a bad break for

Democrats.  We at “The Cook Political” report had Bart Stupak running for

re-election rated as a solid Democrat, and now we moved it down to tossup. 

It‘s going to be a very, very tough district for Democrats to hold.  It‘s up in Travers (ph) City, in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  This isn‘t Detroit.  This isn‘t an Ann Arbor.  It‘s very, very rural.  It‘s not the kind of district Democrats are doing well in these days.  I think it will be a very tough one to hold.

We‘re sort of looking—when we do our seat by seat, just one at a time, Tip O‘Neill, all politics is local kind of rating, we‘ve got it right now at about a 30-seat loss for Democrats, not quite the 40.  When you look at intensity, you look at where independents seem to be, how they‘re behaving these days, where it‘s going—you and I have talked a million times.  I think this thing—I think it‘s heading over 40.  Something has to change if Democrats are going to be able to save their majority. 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah.  That‘s true.  Let me go to John Heilemann.  Your thoughts on this.  I mean, Nate Silver is damn smart, like Charlie is, also talking the possibility of a real dread possibility out there for the Democrats this year, a real dread one, a real disaster.  Losing the House could happen. 

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK MAGAZINE”:  I saw Nate Silver‘s post today, Chris.  You know, it‘s pretty interesting.  I think what‘s interesting about it is that his upside scenario for Democrats is only losing 20 or 25 seats.  That‘s if everything breaks the right way for them. 

Certainly, Charlie‘s forecast of right now 30 or a little bit north of 30 seems just about right.  You know, the Silver forecast, on the downside, I mean, is really staggering numbers.  He‘s talking about there being a one in ten chance of Democrats losing 50 or 60 seats in the House.  That‘s only a one in ten chance.  But when you start having conversations like that, that paints a pretty dire picture for Democrats.  And I don‘t see any reason to think he‘s wrong or that Charlie‘s wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, we hear the same arguments on the blogosphere, et cetera.  One of the arguments which will be advanced if the Democrats get wiped out is if they‘d only gone farther, if they‘d only done the public option—it‘s fair to argue it—that it would have done better.  Do you know any candidates out there who are really progressive, who are doing well in those tough districts, tough districts that are not clearly Democrat districts?  Anybody pushing the envelope and winning that way? 

COOK:  Those arguments are doing real, real well in Democratic primaries, and in sort of Democratic base districts.  But, you know, the polling just doesn‘t justify that course of action among independents.  That‘s just not where independents are right now.  And, you know, they‘re very, very skeptical about the role of government.  They‘ve turned real sour.  I mean, even independents that were sort of opened to it at the beginning of the process no longer open to huge reform. 

So I don‘t think that‘s—I mean, I understand why these folks fervently believe it.  But I don‘t think a lot of them are sitting in swing districts and looking at the polling data, and talking to the independent voters that are—these are not happy campers.  They take a very dim view of Congress and everything Congress is doing. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, we were watching a lot of tape coming in with Howard Fineman down there in New Orleans today, John, John Heilemann.  I‘m just wondering, where are the happy campers of the Democratic party these days, people having as much festivity?  The other day in Minneapolis with Sarah and Michele Bachmann, they‘re having the time of their life.  Are Democrats happy anywhere? 

HEILEMANN:  It‘s hard to find a lot of really happy Democrats.  You find a lot of Democrats running—running off.  You know, Bart Stupak‘s, you know, a good example.  Here‘s a guy who—whatever you think about his position on substance, he‘s a guy who has been trashed vociferously by the left, first, for his position on abortion, holding up the health care bill, and then attacked vociferously by the Tea Party.  I think, you know, found ultimately he didn‘t want to keep going on in that environment. 

I agree with you entirely, Chris.  Although I would say that I think that Republicans—though there‘s a lot of energy there and you say they‘re partying, I think their problem, to the extent there‘s a problem, is it seems too aggressive.  It seems more angry than it does joyful and optimistic. 

MATTHEWS:  People like strength, too.  We all know that.  Thank you, Charlie Cook, have a nice weekend.  You too, John.  Continued good luck with “Game Change.”

When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts about our inalienable rights to life, liberty and, yes, the pursuit of happiness, and that big case on same sex marriage that‘s heading to the Supreme Court.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight by talking about our fundamental

rights as citizens of this country.  “We hold truths to be self-evident,”

we said that in our Constitution—actually, we said that in our

Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal, that they are

endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these

re life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

How many countries in the world—what other people would have thought of that last right, the pursuit of happiness?  I don‘t think it was an after-thought either.  People didn‘t fight and die for independence over tax policy.  They did it to be free, to carry on their lives in freedom, real freedom. 

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War, said “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

That Liberty Clause is a powerful part of our Constitution, as is the 14th Amendment itself.  How the Supreme Court understands it is the looming question should it some day consider Proposition 8, the California initiative that banned same-sex marriage. 

Two men now fighting Prop 8 may soon be before the Supreme Court.  They are Ted Olson, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount, and David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the recount.  They are working together to overturn Prop 8 as an unconstitutional denial of fundamental rights. 

The person who replaces retiring Justice John Paul Stevens could be a leader on the liberal side of the Supreme Court who recognizes people‘s liberty to form a same-sex marriage, who sees the need here for equal protection of the laws.  Equal protection of the laws, it should be remembered, was the grounds for the Supreme Court decision that gave the 2000 presidential election to Ted Olson‘s client, George W. Bush. 

It‘s hard to think of a case that will be more historical than the one now working its way from California.  Same-sex marriage deserves a ruling.  Do we as Americans have the right to engage in the same-sex marriage?  Do we have the right to equal protections of the laws in this matter?  In choosing our marital partner, do we have the fundamental right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness or don‘t we?  That is the question, and the strength with which President Obama picks the next Supreme Court nominee will begin to answer it. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Catch us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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