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updated 5/17/2010 11:57:29 AM ET 2010-05-17T15:57:29

Guest Host: Chuck Todd

Guests: David Gregory, Julia Boorstin, Maria Teresa Kumar, Bill Nelson, Ed Markey, Chris Van Hollen, Mike Pence, Tom Tancredo, Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Martin

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  Obama gets angry.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd in Washington.  Chris Matthews is off tonight, getting an honorary degree in Chicago—that time of year.

Leading off tonight: Crude awakening.  When we saw President Obama dress down the oil companies responsible for that gulf oil leak, a lot of folks openly wondered today, Where‘s that guy been?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have to say, though, I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter.  You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the blame of finger at somebody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  The president‘s tough line comes on the same day that estimates of the leak have grown from 5,000 barrels a day to perhaps as many as 70,000.

Also, can a more popular President Obama rescue his party in the mid-terms?  Maybe not.  There‘s a warning in our latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll that what may be good for the president may not be good for congressional Democrats.

Plus, there‘s growing evidence that Americans are willing to put up with racial profiling if it means their safety.  We‘re going to get into that with two people on opposite sides of this debate.

And it‘s the final countdown to the biggest political night so far this year until the mid-terms, and we couldn‘t end the week without one last look at who‘s up and who‘s down in the top three Senate primary fights coming up next Tuesday.

And finally: it‘s no secret that politicians want to be side by side with big-time athletes.  So wait until you see what Cleveland‘s politicians have done, hoping to keep Lebron James in town.  Let‘s just say this.  This is one group of singers who may not be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But first we‘re going to start with the president‘s tough words today for those oil companies responsible for the disaster in the gulf.  Senator Bill Nelson is a Democrat from Florida, and he‘s been an outspoken critic about the entire offshore oil drilling plan that the president debuted before this disaster in the gulf.  And he joins us now.

Senator, let me just start with this.  Today was a very angry President Obama.  Was this—is this one of these cases that this an appropriate time to get angry, or would you have rather seen the president do this, say, a couple weeks ago?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA:  Well, Chuck, amen to the fact that he‘s getting angry.  And he certainly has plenty to be angry about because this is an oil industry that has been cozy with the regulator, which is now his administration.  And they haven‘t clamped down on these guys, and we‘re seeing, very sadly, the results of it.  Now, would the president have been angry two weeks ago?  It‘s my understanding he‘s been on a slow burn as he has seen that oil continue to gush out in the Gulf of Mexico.

TODD:  Well, Senator, actually, let‘s just take a listen to a little bit more of what the president did say today and he addressed all of these oil companies.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I have to say, though, I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter.  You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else.  The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn‘t.

But it‘s absolutely essential that, going forward, we put in place every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again.  This is a responsibility that all of us share.  The oil companies share it.  The manufacturers of this equipment share it.  The agencies and the federal government in charge of oversight share that responsibility.  I will not tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  What role did the federal government play here?  Where did they drop the ball?  We know—I saw that “New York Times” report today about the Mineral Management agency.  But is this something that—has the Interior Department been a little bit slow in the last year?

NELSON:  Not only the last year, but the last dozen years.  This has been an incestuous relationship, Chuck, for years, in which the regulators basically let the oil industry call the shots.  And you remember about five years ago, all these stories about the sex parties and the pot parties.

TODD:  Right.

NELSON:  This is what‘s going on with a government regulator that is supposed to be keeping check so that something like this doesn‘t happen.  And Chuck, I‘ll say, if they don‘t get this thing stopped in the near term and have to wait for that relief well, this oil is going to cover up the Gulf Coast and it‘s eventually going to go all the way down around Florida.

TODD:  I‘ve seen those reports.

NELSON:  Yes.

TODD:  I want to talk about this bill that you had that was trying to lift the cap on damages with BP.  It‘s been sidelined.  Are you—are you convinced that taxpayers will not have to end up paying for any of this clean-up, or do you think it‘s inevitable that taxpayers are going to get stuck with some part of this bill?

TODD:  Well, just like the president said, all the parties are now pointing the finger at somebody else, and they‘re going to try to get off the hook.  And that‘s why we need to raise this limit from a piddling $75 million to liability of $10 billion.  And remember, it was the Republican Senate that blocked us yesterday from unanimously consenting to pass this bill.  We‘re going to keep trying that next week, over and over and over.  And they better not object.

TODD:  All right, Senator Bill Nelson, it looks like—I‘m guessing you were at Cape Canaveral today.  That looks like the backdrop there.  Is that right?  Did the launch go well?

NELSON:  It was a beautiful launch.

TODD:  All right.

NELSON:  Beautiful launch, but it‘s bittersweet because it‘s down to the last few.

TODD:  That‘s right.  All right, Senator Bill Nelson joining us from Cape Canaveral there in Florida.

All right, turning now, Democratic congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts.  He‘s chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  This is going to be right in your wheelhouse, sort of what‘s next.  And I want to focus in on this Mineral Management agency.  We saw this report today.  And we had a scientist in “The New York Times” that was quoted.  And he said he ran into problems last year—this is in 2009, so this is on everybody‘s watch at this point, not just the Bush administration, but the Obama administration.

Let me read you this quote.  He said—he wrote a letter.  He said, “The purpose of this letter is to restate in writing our concern that the BP Atlantis project presently poses a threat of serious, immediate, potentially irreparable and catastrophic harm to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its marine environment and to summarize how BP‘s conduct had violated federal law and regulation.”

And he wrote this letter a year ago.  This is—what‘s going on here?  Is this just a very hard thing for the Interior Department to somehow take back control of this agency?

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, first of all, as Senator Nelson just said, this is an agency with a troubled past.  A lot of these decisions were made in April of 2009, but President Obama is not able to put his person in place until July of 2009, when many of these decisions were made.

Now, I actually wrote on that question, as well, and the MMS agreed to open an investigation, which they have, on that issue that you‘re raising right now.  There is a new sheriff in town.  There is a different attitude.  We heard that from President Obama today.

But just to be clear, during the Bush administration—and you know, let‘s get very clear about this.  The companies we‘re talking about here, BP, Halliburton, they‘re names that everyone is familiar with.  During the Bush administration and right up through 2009, until Obama got his team in place, they were still doing business with MMS.

TODD:  Well, let‘s hear what the president said about this agency. 

He came down hard on them today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  For too long, for a decade or more, there‘s been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill.  It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies.  That cannot and will not happen anymore.  To borrow an old phrase, we will trust, but we will verify.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  What‘s a future of oil drilling in this country?  Let‘s be realistic here.  I mean, is it dead, or eventually dead?

MARKEY:  The expansion of it?  BP and other oil companies engaged in a whole generation of boosterism, that accidents couldn‘t happen.  They actually said nothing could go wrong here.  And obviously, they weren‘t prepared for a worst-case scenario.  And boosterism led to complacency.  Complacency led to a disaster.

The only way drilling can begin again in a serious way is if, like President Carter naming John Kemeny (ph), the president of Dartmouth, to do a complete evaluation after Three Mile Island...

TODD:  Right.

MARKEY:  ... we have the same kind of independent evaluation of what happened here, the safety precautions are put into place, and the American people‘s confidence can be rebuilt.  Right now, BP is still not allowing the Woods Hole scientists to go in and to evaluate what happened down there, how large is this spill, and that is just absolutely outrageous.

TODD:  I was just going to say...

MARKEY:  BP should not be able to veto an independent scientific analysis of how bad this spill is.

TODD:  From afar, it does seem as if it isn‘t clear how much the government and BP are working together.  They say everything is—you know, the government will say, No, no, no, we have people at the BP command center and we‘re telling them how to do this thing.  Are you convinced everything is being done?

NELSON:  In my opinion, when you think that MIT is coming in, but they‘re talking about shooting golf balls into the leak to stop it...

TODD:  Right.  Shredded tires.

MARKEY:  ... it‘s more like the PGA.

TODD:  Right.

MARKEY:  When you think about what kind of protections are going to be built in for the coastline, and they‘re talking about nylons and hair?  There wasn‘t proper safety precautions that were put in place.  This is an emergency, almost, you know, on the run, make it up kind of a response.  It‘s completely unacceptable.  It can never be allowed to happen again, which is why the president is right to call a time-out on new drilling permits being granted before—until we put the safety precautions in place.

TODD:  OK, very quickly, does this mean the energy bill, though, is probably on hold for the next six months while this clean-up is finished?

MARKEY:  Not necessarily.  I think that lessons can be learned in a relatively brief period of time.

TODD:  Quickly—a quick enough way to get an energy bill this year?

MARKEY:  I think it actually once again reinforces that we only have 2 percent of the oil reserves in the world, we‘re 5 percent of the population, and we consume 25 percent of the world‘s oil on a daily basis.  It only once again shows how deep out in the ocean we have to go, how far down we have to go to find the final oil resources in our country.  Renewables, wind, new battery technology, solar...

TODD:  Right.

MARKEY:  ... that has to be the future.  I think we could actually wind up with a political reverse takedown...

TODD:  We shall...

MARKEY:  ... where this actually helps pass a bill.

TODD:  We shall see.  Congressman Ed Markey, I know you‘re very happy about your Celtics.  We‘ll see how they do against Bill Nelson‘s Orlando Magic.

MARKEY:  Inevitable.

TODD:  All right.  Thanks very much.

Coming up: Our new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that what may be good for President Obama may not be good for Congressional Democrats.  Can he save them?

But in one minute, our countdown of the top primaries so far to watch in 2010.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Tuesday night is primary night in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas and Oregon.  And with that, we‘re going to rank our top 10 primaries to watch this year from the NBC News political unit.  Number 10, right now, the Republican primary for governor in California.  Don‘t look now, but Meg Whitman—she may be in trouble.  Number nine, the Utah Senate Republican primary.  Bennett may be out, but the fight‘s on to see who will succeed him.  Number eight, the South Carolina governor‘s race.  There‘s four Republicans facing off, and whoever wins will be heavily favored in November and a king-maker in 2012.

Number seven is that Arizona Senate fight between John McCain and J.D. Hayworth.  And at number six, the Republican primary for Senate in California, that three-way race between Tom Campbell, Carly Fiorina and Chuck Devore.  We‘re going to have the top five primaries later in the hour.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  After they drove the car into the ditch, made as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  No!

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  You can‘t drive!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  We don‘t want to have to go back into the ditch!  We just got the car out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama last night at a fundraiser for House Democrats in New York.  Can his party hold onto those keys?  Maryland congressman Chris Van Hollen is the guy in charge of trying to make that happen.  He‘s the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

And Congressman, I want to take a look—I want you to take a look at our new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll and some numbers that show a split between the president and congressional Democrats.  Forty-nine have positive feelings about the president, but it‘s just 37 percent for the entire Democratic Party.  Fifty-one percent think President Obama is more concerned about average Americans than large corporations and the financial market.  Just 35 percent say the same thing about your party.

And here are the breakouts of that comparison.  President Obama does much better in the Northeast and the West, with young voters, Hispanics, independents, undecided congressional ballot voters.  So Congressman, I ask you this.  What‘s with the disparity with between how folks are viewing the president and how folks are viewing congressional Democrats?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), DCCC CHAIR:  Well, a couple things, Chuck.  First, I think the speech the president gave last night that you just quoted on your show shows that the president is beginning to very clearly draw the distinctions that are at stake in this election, that you‘re going to have a choice, at the end of the day, between two candidates, a Democratic candidate that has been working to get the economy out of the ditch, and Republicans, who essentially want to adopt the same policies that got us in the ditch to begin with.  And why would you want to hand the keys, as the president said, back over to them?  And so I think drawing that distinction will help.

I took a close look at your poll.  As you know, Congressional ratings are always behind presidential ratings.

TODD:  Right.

VAN HOLLEN:  But there were two other important points there.  One is that people do not see the Republicans as a viable alternative to Democrats.  The Democrats in Congress were, of course, not where we wanted to be in your poll, but Republicans were even worse off.  In 1994, when you had that big Republican takeover in Congress, people saw them as a viable alternative.

And second, on this issue you raised about the Wall Street banks and who‘s on your side...

TODD:  Right.

VAN HOLLEN:  Again, we‘d like to be better, the Democrats in Congress.  We passed the Wall Street reform bill.  But your poll shows that people understand clearly in big numbers that the Republicans in Congress have been on the side of the big banks.

TODD:  Right.

VAN HOLLEN:  And so, again, at the end of the day, these are choices in each of these elections, and Republicans have proven time and again that they‘re on the site of the big oil, the insurance industry...

TODD:  Right.

VAN HOLLEN:  ... and the big Wall Street banks.  And so there are going to be some very clear choices.

TODD:  Well, I—all right, we‘re going to apparently go poll number for poll number here.  I‘ve got to throw another one right back at you from the same poll.  We found by 2-to-1, people preferred two to one, people preferred different parties controlling the White House and Congress -- 62 percent would like to see a different party control Congress.  Translation, they would like to see, in this case, Republican control of Congress and a Democratic White House, apparently, in this case.

So there is this sentiment of, quote, a “check and balance” politically, particularly with independent voters.  What do you say to independent voters about one-party rule in Washington?

VAN HOLLEN:  Well, I think one of the things independent voters are also very frustrated about is the fact that some things have not been able to move through.  They watched the Wall Street reform debate.  They see what‘s happening in the Senate, with Republicans trying to slow that process down.

And at the end of the day, I think that independent voters, like other voters, want to see reform.  They do not want to see business as usual.  And if you look at the votes we‘ve had in the House of Representatives, when it came to the recovery bill and the economic effort, Republicans in the leadership—They all voted to help the bail-out of the banks, but when it came to help Main Street, not a single one voted for it.  Not a single one voted for Wall Street reform and not a single one voted for our effort to take some of the money away from the big banks and give them to students for student loans.

So every day, there‘s more evidence that the Republicans in Congress want to take us back to economic policies that helped the same folks that did great during the George Bush years.

TODD:  All right. 

Congressman Van Hollen, who is in charge, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

You have got a tough job on your hands this year. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  But it seems like you‘re enjoying it.

Thanks very much. 

VAN HOLLEN:  Hey, good to be with you, Chuck.

TODD:  All right. 

Well, let‘s turn now to the moderator of “Meet the Press,” David Gregory. 

Just immediately, on this split, President Obama on the side of average Americans...

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Right. 

TODD:  ... congressional Democrats, it was—Peter Hart, the

Democratic pollster, he said he was stunned.  He said he was floored by

the result.  He said, normally, Democrats, in general, win that—quote

“average American” question.  And here was congressional Democrats losing it by a big margin. 

GREGORY:  You know, I think a lot of this is the fact that Americans just aren‘t very happy with Washington, how Washington is working.  And I think members of Congress are always going to bear the brunt of that more than the president does, because the process of legislating is such an ugly process. 

TODD:  Right. 

GREGORY:  And, so, you know, so many Americans are making adjustments in their lives.  And they look to Washington and don‘t see any adjustments being made here in the way business is being done.  And it leaves them with a petty sour taste in their mouth. 

TODD:  You know, we have heard reports that Speaker Pelosi and the leadership not happy that, when the president goes out—OK, at a fund-raiser, he will say bad things about Republicans.  But then he will go out to a Youngstown, Ohio, where he‘s going Tuesday, and he will trash all of Washington. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  And they say that‘s what contributes to that...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Right.

And—and the president knows—I mean, this is an inside-or-outside thing. 

TODD:  Right. 

GREGORY:  The president wants to capture as much of that outside-Washington vibe as he can. 

And, remember, when Scott Brown got elected and the pickup truck and getting all those independent voters, even up in Massachusetts, that‘s when you saw this kind of return.  Even today, as he‘s talking about BP, he‘s talking about that he cozy relationship between the regulators and big oil companies. 

TODD:  That was 24 days ago, that oil rig blew up.  He got angry today.  Too long? 

GREGORY:  Well, I mean, I think it‘s a question of what it is government can really be doing. 

I do think that there was a moment this week where you have these -

the people running these companies who come and say, no, it was this guy‘s fault.  It was this guy‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  It was amazing.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  That is a pretty ridiculous spectacle. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I think the president is right about that.  I think a lot of people feel that way.

I mean, this is a results problem. 

TODD:  Right. 

GREGORY:  We have got oil spewing into the Gulf and nobody seems to know how to fix it. 

So—but what I‘m getting at is, I think the president is trying to tap into that populist streak, too, that‘s running through the country, when it can be used to his advantage. 

TODD:  Is there an odd danger here that what‘s good for the president may be—not to be—may be a—a—more of a change election result in November, which will mean a lot of Democrats, a lot of incumbents...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Well, I think—look, even—in the White House, as you well know, they expect they‘re going to lose seats, because they got a lot of seats in—going back to ‘06 and in ‘08 that they probably are going to lose when you have any kind of challenge to the status quo. 

I think the best thing—I was looking at some races—or some states, rather, where the president is popular, that those who are on the ballot are doing better than if he‘s not doing as well in the state.  You know, you think about, you know, Missouri, for instance, or Florida, where his numbers are down. 

But I think, generally speaking, if the president is able to go out there and help Democrats make a case, as you heard Congressman Van Hollen say, this is what we have done in this economic climate to actually achieve something, I think in the end that it helps mitigate the losses. 

TODD:  What do you got this Sunday?

GREGORY:  We‘re going to talk about the politics of Elena Kagan and the Supreme Court, as well as the politics of the Gulf oil spill, and look ahead to what—I don‘t know if you‘re calling it—I‘m trying to call it the mini Super Tuesday coming up. 

TODD:  I know.  I have been calling it super Senate Tuesday. 

GREGORY:  Super Senate Tuesday.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  We will take that.  We will take that. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  But we have got our political roundtable breaking—breaking it down and trying to get at what is—what‘s driving this anti-incumbent wave, which I think is very...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I think Mitch McConnell one of your guests. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  See if you can get Mitch McConnell—if he‘s actually going to go to Kentucky on Tuesday. 

GREGORY:  This is a big question.  Will he be down there?  It may say something about whether his guy is going to win.

TODD:  It‘s a fascinating little proxy fight that he‘s dealing with. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  All right, David Gregory, we will see you this Sunday. 

GREGORY:  Thanks, Chuck.

TODD:  Thanks very much. 

Coming up:  How far will Cleveland politicians go to keep basketball star LeBron James in town?  You have got to stick around for this.  You have got to stick around for the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Back to HARDBALL, and time now for the “Sideshow.” 

First:  We are LeBron.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the playoffs, their star player, LeBron James, could very well jump ship to another NBA team next season, so a bunch of big Ohio names—OK, supposed big Ohio names, including Governor Ted Strickland and Senator Sherrod Brown, have just put together a video to try to convince LeBron to stay. 

Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES (singing):  Please stay, LeBron.  We really need you.  No bigger heart is going to love you half as much as we do.

It‘s a choice you‘re making.  Will you go or will you stay?  What will we do with that big sign if you move away?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  No Bernie Kosar, no Drew Carey, but still some interesting names there.  It really warms the heart. 

All right, next:  Beat the press.

Check out this HARDBALL-worthy moment at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie‘s press conference yesterday.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  Tom.

QUESTION:  Governor, do you think (OFF-MIKE) 

CHRISTIE:  You know, Tom, you must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America, because, if you think that‘s a confrontational tone, then I—you know, you should really see me when I‘m pissed. 

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  I love when people say they don‘t want to have argument. 

That‘s what we were sent here for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Let me say this.  In a climate like this, that‘s probably the sort of thing that‘s going to keep guys like folks in office, getting mad and showing it, authentic moments like that.  It‘s very interesting. 

Moving over to Connecticut, talk about getting a tad off-message.  The former head of the WWE, Republican Linda McMahon, is looking to replace Chris Dodd in the Senate.  So, this latest campaign mailer, amid a huge oil crisis in the gulf, couldn‘t have come at a worse time.  Right next to a giant picture of an oil rig, McMahon put out this message to—quote—“reduce burdensome regulations and increase offshore drilling,” saying it will create jobs and increase energy supply, without cost to the taxpayer. 

Cost to the taxpayers?  We will see.  Not sure people in the Gulf believe that.  Look, the president himself, though, stuck by his oil drilling proposal today even in the Rose Garden as he was getting angry. 

And, finally, looking ahead to the weekend, newspaper icon and legendary horse race handicapper Jack Germond, he showed up on “The Daily Rundown” to give his picks for the Preakness.

Well, drumroll, please.  He‘s picking Jackson Bend to win it all, boxing—he‘s going to box in Jackson Bend Super Saver, the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and who is a crowd favorite after that winning race, and Lookin at Lucky. 

You know, there‘s something, -- there‘s nothing like Baltimore at Preakness time.  It‘s just—especially that infield.  Going to be a little crazy with all those Baltimoreans. 

All right, up next:  Lock and load.  The National Rifle Association kicked off its annual conference today.  And the list of speakers is a who‘s-who of 2012 Republican presidential contenders, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour. 

We‘re going to talk to one of those potential contenders as well, Indiana Congressman Mike Pence.  That‘s next. 

But, as we go to break, we got to give a little bit more of “We Are LeBron,” don‘t we?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  ... what changes we must make.

We will rename every street LeBron, if that‘s what it takes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  New York is overcrowded.  Those people are unbearable. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES (singing):  And, don‘t forget, the Knicks and Nets are terrible.

Please stay, LeBron.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow capping a rocky week with another triple-digit decline that could have been a lot worse—the Dow Jones industrials finishing 162 points lower, but off its lows, it was down more than 250 points.  The S&P 500 also off its lows, down 21 points.  And the Nasdaq sliding 47 points. 

Two big declines to close out the week, but all the major indices are finishing in the green, despite lingering concerns about the European economy—those concerns driving the euro to an 18-month low against the dollar today and losing 4 percent of its value this week. 

Credit card companies taking it on the chin, after the Senate voted to limit fees charged on credit and debit card transactions, Visa and MasterCard shares plunging more than 8 percent. 

And, in economic news, consumer sentiment edged up in May, while retail sales rose for the seventh straight month. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 20, 2000)

CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR:  I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore.

(LAUGHTER)

HESTON:  From my cold, dead hands!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Charlton Heston‘s words at the 2000 NRA Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It became a rallying cry for guns rights activists.

At today‘s convention, also in Charlotte, North Carolina, speakers like Sarah Palin and Haley Barbour took on Obama and the Democrats.

Indiana Congressman Mike Pence also spoke at the NRA Convention this afternoon.  And he joins us now. 

And, Congressman, before I get to this, let‘s take a listen to what some...

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Hey, Chuck.

TODD:  ... Republican leaders did say today at the conference. 

Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI:  I know all of you believe in the right to—for our public to keep and bear arms, that you all believe in the Second Amendment.  I suspect you all agree with me on a lot more than that. 

SEN. JOHN THUNE ®, SOUTH DAKOTA:  Never quit battling for our Constitution.  Never quit defending our Second Amendment.  God bless you.  And may he continue to bless these United States of America. 

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I was going to tell the tech guys, no need to load up the teleprompter.  I got everything that I need on the palm of my hand.  It says, “I am the NRA.”

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Seems like a pretty raucous atmosphere there.

Congressman, let me start—let me just start simply with this. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Is it a—this Congress, it‘s a Democratic Congress, but is it fair to call it a pro-gun Congress? 

PENCE:  Well, let me say it certainly is a liberal Democratic Congress, I think when you look at the pattern of the borrowing, the spending, the bailouts, and the takeovers of the last year-and-a-half.

Judging from the response I got right here in this hall in Charlotte today and other speakers received, people get it, that this is a big-government liberal Congress.  And, you know, while we heard from a couple of our Democrat colleagues who support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, I think that the objection that people feel about liberal governance in Washington, D.C. today, what you were just talking about with David Gregory, is an objection that covers the broad spectrum of frustration with that liberal agenda. 

TODD:  But, on the issue of guns itself, is it—it‘s not as if there are big debates over issues.  It‘s not as if any NRA-backed proposal has lost in this Congress, has it not? 

PENCE:  Well, I—no, I don‘t—I don‘t think it‘s lost at all.

I think the president‘s nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, her comments that have now come to the fore in a memorandum in which she said that she was not sympathetic to the notion that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was an individual right when she was working for Thurgood Marshall, I think these are very real issues.

TODD:  OK.

PENCE:  They will certainly play into the—the hearing and the debates over the president‘s nominee to the court. 

And, as I said, going forward, I think, you know, the—the American people are recognizing, the people here at the NRA Convention are recognizing that, while, you know, we may have a slim pro-gun majority, between every Republican and a handful of Democrats, we have got a liberal majority on Capitol Hill, a liberal presidency, and I think the American people are growing weary of it. 

TODD:  Congressman, what do you make of the fact that in our—you brought up the conversation I had with David Gregory.  We were talking a lot about our NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll. 

PENCE:  Yes. 

TODD:  And there was a real—there‘s a real gap here.  While—look, there‘s negativity to both parties.  The Republican Party brand is still a mess.  It‘s still upside-down.  More people have a negative view of it. 

But the Tea Party movement, more people technically had a positive view of it than a negative view.  Is the Republican brand not the one to run on this year, and you got to run as a conservative or a member of the Tea Party? 

PENCE:  Well, I think that really all depends on what Republicans continue to do on Capitol Hill. 

People have said to me, well, is the Tea Party movement and this authentic grassroots movement around the country going to be a positive to the Republicans this fall? 

And, Chuck, I often say, well, that‘s really up to Republicans.  If we continue our principled opposition to the borrowing, the spending, the bailouts, and the takeovers, and we continue to demonstrate that our party is returning to a practice of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and reform, then I think—I think those Americans, many of whom were here at the NRA Convention today, those Americans will know where to be in the fall.

But I think the onus is on the GOP, because, you know, quite frankly, as those polls suggest, I—I don‘t think we so much lost our majority in 2006 as we lost our way.  I—I said that from the podium today, and there was a great deal of agreement in the room. 

TODD:  Right. 

PENCE:  The American people, I think, were disappointed with runaway federal spending and even bailouts under Republican control.  But I think they‘ve been taken aback, as I saw in a “Wall Street journal” article...

TODD:  Right.

PENCE:  ... one gentleman said, The Republicans were bad, Democrats are worse.  I think they‘ve been taken aback by the runaway spending and bail-outs and takeovers under this administration and Democrats in Washington.

TODD:  Congressman, if Republicans do succeed and win back Congress, win control of at least the House or maybe the House and Senate, do you still elect the same leaders, or does that message have to be, You know what, we need a new set of leaders among congressional Republicans, as well, because that‘s the message we got from voters?

PENCE:  Well, I think, it is my fondest hope the American people will give us a renewed Republican majority on Capitol Hill this fall.  There‘s still a lot to be done between now and then to get that done.

But look, let me say emphatically we have new leaders, whether you‘re talking about the Republican leader, the Republican whip or yours truly.  These are—these are three people that were not in Republican leadership during those years when Republicans got swept up in the expansion of government under the Bush administration, the expansion of an earmarking culture.

TODD:  All right...

PENCE:  And so you know, if the American people reward Republicans with a new majority, they‘re going to get new Republican leaders to boot.

TODD:  All right.  Congressman Mike Pence, part of the 2012 cattle call—is that fair to say—or you let us say it?

(LAUGHTER)

PENCE:  I was just honored to be here, Chuck.

TODD:  All right.  Fair enough.  Congressman Pence, we‘ll be watching you on the campaign trail, potentially in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina?

PENCE:  Thank you.

TODD:  We‘ll see.  All right, thanks for joining us.

Up next: With that new illegal immigration law in Arizona, there‘s growing evidence that Americans are comfortable with some forms of racial profiling, at least in the name of safety and security.  We‘re going to debate whether that‘s a good thing next.

But coming up in one minute, those top five primaries to watch this election cycle.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  And now for those top five primaries that we‘re watching so far this year.  Number five right now, the Nevada Senate Republican primary for the right to take on Harry Reid.  That primary is June 8.  Number four is Tuesday‘s Kentucky Senate Democratic primary.  While the Republican race gets most of the headlines, this is the one that‘s going to be closer on Tuesday night.  Number three, the Republican primary for Senate in Kentucky.  Rand Paul has a big lead over Trey Grayson.  It‘s a proxy fight over Mitch McConnell.

The number two, the Arkansas Democratic primary.  Can Blanche Lincoln avoid a runoff against Bill Halter?  We‘re going to find out Tuesday night.  And of course, the number one primary to watch this year, particularly if you watch HARDBALL, is Tuesday night‘s Pennsylvania Senate fight between Democrat Arlen Specter and the surging Joe Sestak.

HARDBALL‘s going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We got a window into people‘s tolerance, apparently, for ethnic discrimination and profiling in the latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  After hearing the key principles of the Arizona immigration law, nearly two thirds support it.  And two thirds believe it will lead to discrimination of Latino immigrants who are in the United States legally.  Additionally, a majority approve of using racial or ethnic profiling in combating terrorism.  Have we become a nation of profilers?

Tom Tancredo is a former U.S. congressman from Colorado, and Maria Teresa Kumar is executive director of Voto Latino and an MSNBC contributor.

Congressman Tancredo, let me start with you.  I‘m sure you‘re not surprised by the poll results.  I‘m not, either.  But is that a good poll result?

TOM TANCREDO (R-CO), FORMER CONGRESSMAN:  Well, you know, it‘s

certainly a reflection, I think, of human nature.  Profiling in general

yes, I think it‘s OK.  I think that, you know, if you‘re going to—if you‘re looking at a young male Arab buying a one-way ticket with cash -- yes, I absolutely think it‘s a good thing to look closer at that.  That‘s a profile.  Race is one part of it.  Same thing, if there‘s a white skinhead walking down the street with tattoos all over his face that are swastikas and carrying a baseball bat, I want the cops to pay a lot more attention to him than I do the black teenagers who may be going down the street with a basketball.  So profiling is, in and of itself, I think, OK.

The problem is when you try to pull out one aspect of it, that being race.  That is not good.  And of course, the Arizona law, no matter what everybody says about it, including the president of the United States, who‘s never read it, or his attorney general, who‘s never read it—I‘m amazed, frankly, that there is that much support for it, considering how inaccurately they have portrayed it.

This law goes one step farther to try it make sure that you don‘t use only race as a profiling characteristic, and that‘s as it should be.  You should never, ever do that.  I would never support a law like that.

TODD:  All right, let me...

TANCREDO:  I am not surprised that people say, I‘m—you know, You want to profile for national security reasons?  It‘s OK.

TODD:  OK.  Any level of profiling...

TANCREDO:  Profile, not racial—racial...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Maria, let me move to you.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, VOTO LATINO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  I think that...

TODD:  I understand what you‘re saying, Congressman, and he laid out what he thought were the ingredients of when you should profile.  Is there any level of profiling that‘s acceptable?

KUMAR:  Actually (ph), Chuck, the last couple high-profile terrorists that this country has seen have not been Arab, they haven‘t been Latino, they haven‘t been black, they‘ve been white.  And what happens is that what we should do is we should pay close attention to individuals of where they travel, who their co-workers are and what their activities are.  And that, unfortunately, does not have a race.

The fact that that—you know, “Jihad Jane” is the first one that comes to mind.  She was white.  The same thing with the individual that joined al Qaeda early on from Marin.  It‘s—this is—it‘s a dangerous and slippery slope.  What‘s happening right now in Arizona is dangerous for our country.  We have 46 million Latinos in this country that are here either as Americans because they were born here -- 60 percent of all Latinos are American-born—or they‘re here legally.  And what we‘re doing is, unfortunately, is we‘re creating a system where, as an American, just because you may not—because you may look foreign, all of a sudden, you can be asked for your papers.  And that‘s not American.

TODD:  But what do you say to...

TANCREDO:  Untrue!

TODD:  ... the average American...

TANCREDO:  Totally untrue!

TODD:  Hang on, Congressman.  Let me—let me follow up here with Maria.  What do you say to the average American that says, Boy, that was a Pakistani individual who tried to blow up Times Square?

KUMAR:  Right.  And Timothy...

TODD:  And suddenly...

KUMAR:  And Timothy McVeigh...

TODD:  And then they get scared.

KUMAR:  Right, but...

TODD:  I understand that.  But they get scared.  What do you say to them to comfort them and say, You know what?  Look, it‘s—your—your gut instinct may be to do one thing, but this is why you shouldn‘t do it?

KUMAR:  Right.  Well, I think one of the things is that what we do need to do is that we need to make sure that law enforcement has enough money to do intelligence work.  That‘s number one.  And also, we can‘t impose racial profiling.  The majority of law enforcements are saying racial profiling doesn‘t work.  Don‘t impose laws on what they feel that actually limits them and lets them allow them to do the work that they need to do.

TODD:  Congressman, going back to the Arizona law, how can you guarantee that certain—that certain law enforcement might not end up simply profiling an Hispanic in a car, might not simply just ask for papers after they‘ve pulled them over for a broken taillight?

TANCREDO:  Because—because if that—well, if they get pulled over for a broken taillight, if they ask them for, quote, “papers,” like I would be asked or you would be asked, by the way, and we have—everybody in this country would be asked for their papers—because—because we‘re calling them that now because we‘re trying to make that—we‘re trying to make it in a negative way—“papers.”  It‘s your ID, you know?  That‘s usually what it is.

TODD:  But there are some people who do have...

TANCREDO:  When we do that...

TODD:  ... a driver‘s license and...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Right.

TANCREDO:  Yes.  A driver‘s license.  Exactly right.  But now, if you don‘t have a driver‘s license, if you are speaking—perhaps you can‘t speak English—there have got to be other things than just race.  And that‘s what‘s in the bill.  And that‘s what‘s so unfair for the president, the attorney general, the lady that I‘m debating here—it is so unfair of you to characterize this bill that way when it goes the other—you know, another step and says you cannot use that.

And believe me, any law could be misapplied.  The law against speeding, right?  But if a cop only pulls over black people or white people, for that matter, that is a misapplication.  That is a violation of the 14th Amendment.  Any law could be misapplied.  But in this case...

TODD:  All right, we got...

TANCREDO:  ... the way you write it...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Maria, I‘ll let you respond...

TANCREDO:  ... makes me feel as though you‘re going to be OK.  It‘s a good law.

TODD:  All right.

KUMAR:  I think...

TODD:  Very quickly, Maria.

KUMAR:  I think it‘s a dangerous law.  I mean, the fact that today, without even the passage of the law, we have one in nine Latinos that have been asked for their papers, regardless of their status, Americans that have been asked, we‘re in trouble.

TODD:  All right, Congressman Tancredo, Maria Teresa Kumar, I got to leave it there.  But believe it or not, I swear I almost saw a common ground there about intelligence and profiling specific actions.  Well, who knows?  Maybe there is common ground that could be found on this subject.  All right, thank you both.

TANCREDO:  You bet!

TODD:  Up next: What a night we have coming up this Tuesday with Senate primaries in four states—Arkansas, Kentucky, big governor‘s race in Oregon, and of course, the big battle in Pennsylvania between Specter and Sestak.  We‘re going to get all the latest on these hot races straight ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right, welcome back to HARDBALL -- 70, 72 hours to go and we want to be sedated.  The big primary votes—Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky.  Chris Matthews is going to be at the Lowe‘s Hotel in Center City in Philadelphia on Tuesday night watching all the results come in and what—and especially what happens with Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak.

So with us now, “The Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza, who‘s managing editor of Postpolitics.com, and Jonathan Martin—J-Mar—of Politico, senior political writer.

Guys, we got to go quickly.  So (INAUDIBLE) I want to start with you.  You got some breaking news, Kentucky Senate, Rand Paul.  What‘s up?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM:  AP is now saying that Rand Paul is taking his negative ads off the air against Trey Grayson.  That says to us he‘s very confident in his victory, taking his foot off the gas here a little bit against Grayson.

TODD:  Chris Cillizza, Mitch McConnell—is he going to be with Rand Paul on Tuesday night?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POSTPOLITICS.COM:  I think he‘s going to be with him.  They are supposed to be at a unity rally on the following Saturday, Chuck, but we don‘t know if he‘s going to—I don‘t think he‘s going to be there Tuesday night with Rand Paul.  My guess would be -- look, Mitch McConnell didn‘t get to where he was because he‘s not a practical politician.  He‘ll get behind whoever winds up winning.

TODD:  The real nail-biter in Kentucky—Conway, Mongiardo—too close to call?

CILLIZZA:  I think it‘s actually—yes.  It‘s a fascinating race because, as you pointed out, nobody pays any attention to it because Rand Paul and Trey Grayson get all the ink.  But it‘s—it‘s probably going to be the closer of the two races.  You‘ve got two statewide elected officials, one from Louisville, one from eastern Kentucky.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Yes, fascinating stuff.

TODD:  All right, Jonathan, you just came back from Pennsylvania.  These tracking polls—Specter now back on top in the Muhlenberg tracking poll.  He leads 45 percent -- 45 (INAUDIBLE) to 41 at this point -- 45-43.  But he‘s an incumbent at 45.  What undecided vote‘s going to Specter, right?

MARTIN:  Exactly right.  All the rules of gravity would tell you that Specter‘s going to have a hard time winning on Tuesday.  But who knows who‘s going to show up on Tuesday.  If it‘s a low-turnout race and he can get that Philly machine working for him...

TODD:  Right.

MARTIN:  ... Specter could pull it out.  But all—right now, we‘re—you know, it‘s—it‘s (INAUDIBLE)

TODD:  Chris, we haven‘t heard anything about the African-American vote in Philadelphia.  What—you know, what‘s going on with it?

CILLIZZA:  Well, Arlen Specter better hope that that‘s a big story coming out of this election, that this vote turned out hugely for him.  Look, President Obama has been on radio for several weeks in the Philadelphia area, targeted at the African-American vote.  He‘s on TV now.  That‘s what that‘s about.  Arlen Specter has to recreate the Ed Rendell 2002 gubernatorial primary mechanics against Bob Casey.

TODD:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  Win huge in Philly, in the Philadelphia media market, don‘t lose that bad in the rest of the state.

TODD:  All right, Arkansas.  We know Blanche Lincoln‘s going to be the leading vote getter.

MARTIN:  Right.

TODD:  But is she going to be—is she going to be at 50 percent plus 1?

MARTIN:  It seems like probably not, right?  And that could make the runoff really, really interesting.

TODD:  She can‘t win (INAUDIBLE) can she?

MARTIN:  I think it‘ll be  very, very tough for her to do that.  It looks like she‘s going to have a runoff.  In a race with two other candidates, how do you get 51?

TODD:  Chris, what is...

CILLIZZA:  And Chuck, I—Chuck, I...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... Bill Halter—what‘s going to stop Bill Halter‘s momentum?  You know, he was moving, moving, moving, and then he sort of stopped.

CILLIZZA:  You know, it‘s weird because Blanche Lincoln has run the opposite of what a lot of—you would advise incumbents to run.  She‘s run on being the chairman of the Agriculture Committee...

MARTIN:  Right, Ag Committee!

CILLIZZA:  She‘s run on being in Washington.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  I think it‘s worked, to an extent.  Arkansas has that small-state mentality, OK, this person can deliver for us.  But I agree with you, in a runoff, it‘s going to be tough.  One quick thing.  D.C.  Morrison, the third guy in that Democratic primary, is running to the right of both of them...

TODD:  Of both of them, right.

CILLIZZA:  ... in the primary.  It‘s possible that some of those people go to Lincoln, though I agree, in a one-on-one, why do you go to the incumbent if you‘re not already with her?

TODD:  Yes.  D.C.—a guy named D.C....

MARTIN:  And by the way, Specter...

CILLIZZA:  D.C. Morrison!  It‘s a Dickensian name!

MARTIN:  Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MARKEY:  Also, Chris—Chris, Specter—really interesting—running on the same thing in PA.  I saw him in Pittsburgh the other night...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  ... the pork he‘s bringing back...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  All right, very fast.  We got 30 seconds.  The special...

MARTIN:  Lightning round!

TODD:  House special, Pennsylvania 12, the Murtha seat.  Two weeks ago, everybody said Republicans were going to win it.  They‘re going to lose this special?

MARTIN:  Democrats could win the state for one reason.  They are really going after the Republican, hitting him hard on economic issues, ignoring D.C., ignoring Obama...

TODD:  Wow.

MARTIN:  ... destroying the Republican.

TODD:  That‘s a big deal.  Jonathan...

CILLIZZA:  And Chuck, if they do...

TODD:  ... Martin, Chris Cillizza...

CILLIZZA:  If they do, give credit...

TODD:  ... I got to go, brother.

CILLIZZA:  ... to the—if they do, give credit to the DCCC for that ground game.

TODD:  All right.  That‘s it for HARDBALL.  Thanks for being with us, both of you.  I‘ll get you back.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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