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updated 3/9/2011 3:00:55 PM ET 2011-03-09T20:00:55

Guests: Howard Fineman, Simon Hobbs, Stephanie Gosk, John Marshall, Marty Beil, John Nichols, Andre Carson, Janice Schakowsky, Bill Richardson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Right-wing purity test.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.

Leading off tonight: Republicans‘ race to the right.  For the five potential Republican presidential challengers who met last night in Iowa, it was a test to see who could go furthest right, who could make the best appeal to the social conservative base of the party.  In the first real candidate forum for 2012, believe it or not, instead of talking about the economy, these fellows talked about God, gays and abortion.  Is this the fight the party really wants to use to beat President Obama next year?  That‘s our top story tonight.

Then we jump into the political battle raging in Wisconsin.  Two polls now show the governor out there, Walker—his negative poll numbers are spiking upward, and voters want a compromise from the guy.  Can the Democrats use this attack by him on unions to rally their base?

Plus, Congressman Peter King has released a witness list for Thursday‘s congressional hearings on what he calls the “radicalization of American Muslims.”  Twenty-eight House members have signed a letter opposing the holding of the hearings.  We‘re going to hear from two members of Congress about the issue.

And President Obama has limited options, everybody knows, in Libya.  I‘ll ask former United States ambassador Bill Richardson what the president should do.  He‘ll be right here at the table.

Finally, John Ensign‘s retirement out in Nevada may open the door for the old (ph) Sharron Angle to win a seat in Congress—old “2nd Amendment remedies” herself.  That‘s in the “Sideshow,” if you want to be scared again.

We begin with the race for the right, to the right, by the Republican candidates for president.  The Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and Josh Marshall is with Talking Points Memo.  Let‘s take a look (INAUDIBLE) gentlemen, let‘s take a look at some scenes from last night.  This is the first forum of the season.  Here‘s the GOP talking social instead of economic.  Here‘s Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty talking about God last night in an effort to win, I guess, that vote.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM ®, FMR. PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR:  Once you stick your head out on the social issues, once you fight for the moral fabric of our country, you‘re labeled.  You‘re labeled.

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  -- because it means the power comes from God to each one of you personally.  You are personally sovereign.  You loan power to the government, the government does not loan power to you.  And that is the fundamental division between most Americans and the secular socialist people around Obama.

TIM PAWLENTY ®, FMR. MINNESOTA GOVERNOR:  We need to be a country that turns toward God, not a country that turns away from God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Howard, what is this, an audition for “Elmer Gantry”? 

Is this what‘s going on here?  Are they applying for a televangelist job?  They‘re running for president of the United States, which the last time I looked, had no religious test for the office under the Constitution.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Chris, they‘re running to try to win caucus votes in Iowa.  And if you know Iowa as I do, on the Republican side, in the Republican caucuses, that‘s going to be 50 percent, 60 percent or more evangelical Christians.

MATTHEWS:  What was the percentage?

FINEMAN:  Fifty or sixty percent of the people who show up—

MATTHEWS:  Show up.

FINEMAN:  -- at the caucus vote.

MATTHEWS:  They come from the church-based (ph) party.

FINEMAN:  They‘re motivated, come from the megachurches.  They come from all over.  Now, in Iowa, the farmland prices are soaring.,  Commodity prices are up.  Most of Iowa is not destitute economically.  It‘s not like Michigan or parts of Ohio or Pennsylvania.  And especially because of that, plus the strength of evangelical churches in Iowa, Iowa more than New Hampshire or even South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, you name it, other early stops—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  -- on the Republican trail, Iowa is going to be all about, on the Republican side, the evangelical vote, which is why (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Does it have the same power as Obama winning the Democratic caucuses in Iowa last time?  Does it have the power to propel you, where the only thing that can stop you is a thumping, really, in New Hampshire after that?

FINEMAN:  Possibly.  Possibly.  I think it‘s a little bit different because I think on the Republican side, the qualitative difference between what voters in Iowa are interested in and what voters in New Hampshire are interested in is greater than on the Democratic side.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

FINEMAN:  You see what I‘m saying?  But it‘s similar in that on the Democratic side last time in Iowa, it was all about the anti-war movement.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  It was all about Iraq.  And Obama as a candidate got the inside track on Hillary on the war, and he never—

MATTHEWS:  Because the war was an issue across the board.

FINEMAN:  The issue in Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  But is God?  I don‘t want to be disrespectful or blasphemous at all, but is the focus on religious issues—let me go to Josh Marshall.  Do you believe the focus on religious issue is a paramount issue for Republicans in picking a candidate to run against Obama?  Is culture trumping economy?  Would they rather have an evangelical fellow like Pawlenty, working all the way to the right to a Huckabee or even further to someone else, or would they rather have a Chris Christie show up in this race and win it as a secular candidate on the jobs and taxes issue?

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM:  I think, you know, what you really—what the Republicans really want, what—what—what the base of the party wants is not that different from what you saw, you know, in the 2010 election.  Even though that election seemed a lot about the economy and jobs, there was a backdraft about, you know, President Obama being alien to us, that he‘s a socialist.  There was a lot of kind of cultural backdraft to that, even though a lot of the discontent that they were working with was economic.

So I think part of the issue here is whether or not it‘s, you know,

about God or religion, that the -- 2010 really set the Republicans up for -

-

MATTHEWS:  OK—

MARSHALL:  -- a primary battle, even a general election battle, that‘s hard on the social issues—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

MARSHALL:  -- the kind of base red meat issues.

MATTHEWS:  So it sounds like you‘re saying, yes, these could be the deciding issues.  Let‘s take a look—in picking the candidate.  Just to make your point, Josh and Howard, here‘s an interesting—looking at Iowa here.  Look at what they all talked about.  They all focused on the issue of women‘s right to have an abortion, if you will, pro-choice issues, pro-life issues.  Here they are talking abortion last night.  They‘re all male candidates, by the way.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM:  We have an opportunity in this election to frame a great moral cause.

BUDDY ROEMER ®, FMR. LOUISIANA GOV:  I‘m a pro-life, traditional values man.

HERMAN CAIN ®, FMR. GODFATHER‘S PIZZA CEO:  We have to defend the life of the unborn.

PAWLENTY:  We have people in Washington, D.C., who believe the unborn do not have a right to life.  Yes, they do!

GINGRICH:  You had a great speaker last year in Mike Pence, and I want to say I strongly endorse his cutting out all funding for Planned Parenthood, which has become a major source of abortion in America.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Howard, language is important.  To say that Planned Parenthood is a source of abortion is pretty strong language.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Well, that‘s not the least of the strong language that even Newt Gingrich himself—not even, especially Newt was using, in terms of socialists, secular, this and that.  The trick out of Iowa, and more generally, on the Republican side, is to somehow combine the moral force of their cultural critique with something in economics.  You heard Newt attempt to do that, where he talked about individual rights, and so forth, being God-given.  Mike Huckabee, I know, I talked to one of his top advisers—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  -- said, Look, the person who‘s going to win this, this Huckabee guy said, is the one who can somehow—it‘s an obvious point—combine the two—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, sure.

FINEMAN:  -- and make their economic message sound like a moral crusade.  That‘s what they‘ve got to—

MATTHEWS:  There were so many dog whistles last night.  And we know what the term “dog whistle” means.  Some people hear them, Josh, and some don‘t.  Last night in Iowa, you heard Newt, for example, talking about moving our embassy.  This is an old issue in every presidential campaign on both sides, but it has a particular meaning, doesn‘t it, to evangelical Christians.  When he talks about moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, isn‘t that a dog whistle?  Isn‘t that a statement of very overt religiosity for the Republican Party?

MARSHALL:  Oh, absolutely.  And I think that again, you have that, you have a lot of the stuff about Israel, the Middle East—there‘s a—there‘s a—a kind of a—

MATTHEWS:  Is this rapture talk?  Is this “end of days” talk?

MARSHALL:  It‘s the politics of cataclysm that—that is—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARSHALL:  -- a dog whistle.  But again, I think—and you know, and what Howard was saying—

MATTHEWS:  See, it‘s a different message to—the Democratic Party would be concerned about the integrity and security of the state of Israel and even about the right of Israel politically to set its own capital where it would like to.  But everybody knows this is a very—what‘s the right word?  I was going to say start a fire issue.  I forget what the Latinate term for it is, but it‘s—it starts a fire—

FINEMAN:  Incendiary.

MATTHEWS:  Incendiary issue in the Middle East.  It may not seem that important to people in Iowa.  We move the capital to Jerusalem and say all the talks are over about the future disposition of Jerusalem, and you‘re just going to war with some people.  But you know, I know that everybody feels a certain way on these issues.  But these signals to the evangelical right, it seems to me, are being sent pretty clearly out there, starting last night.

MARSHALL:  You know, I think that‘s right, and I think Howard‘s point about Iowa being somewhat unique in terms of Republican politics going into 2012 is right.  But again, I think that even though it‘s really aimed strongly at evangelicals in Iowa, this is something that really is going across the country, and you see—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

MARSHALL:  -- it with appeals to nullification in different states, in the 10th Amendment, and a lot of this stuff are very kind of radical right-wing politics that, again, I think they made this bed for themselves in some ways in the 2012 election.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Speaking of that, I wonder whether Newt is going to sell out.  I‘m expecting him to show up in sandals next time he goes out there, in some sort of, you know, Christian-era robe on because he‘s becoming so Christian in his politics.  Here he is talking about morality.  I knew Newt as a sort of a GOPAC political hotshot in Washington.  Whatever you thought of him, he was very secular in his politics.  Here he is now, retooling himself on the religious side.  You‘re laughing because it may work!  That‘s why—it may work with some people.  They may say, yes, I like the new Newt.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen to Newt Gingrich in the new guise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  Morality applies across the board.  We should all base our principles on fundamental questions of morality.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, even the hand gestures, there‘s something very Christian about that.  It‘s like he‘s receiving information, and he‘s giving it to us.  It‘s something—I‘m holding my hand up, Josh.  It‘s something very Christian-era about this guy.

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think Josh is old enough to even remember this, but I have—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at my catechism books!

FINEMAN:  All right.  When Newt came on the scene—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  -- it was a sensation because here was a Republican guy

talking about science, talking about everything from brontosauri to science

fiction.  And it was all secular, I agree.  Now, it was humanistic, but it

was secular.  And he was fascinating in his ability to connect the dots and

--

MATTHEWS:  What about women couldn‘t fight in combat because the men, like, hunt giraffes, all that crazy talk?

FINEMAN:  Well, exactly, but it was—so he‘s always been an interesting guy to watch—

MATTHEWS:  But now he‘s—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  -- to watch him now, to be—well, and also, he can—

MATTHEWS:  I know he‘s—

FINEMAN:  -- you know, on the personal side—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- he‘s become a Roman Catholic.  I know.

FINEMAN:  He converted to Catholicism—

MATTHEWS:  But let‘s (INAUDIBLE) the politics of this.  He is now selling himself as an Iowa sort of born-again, very culturally conservative Christian, in a political sense.  I‘ve got to be careful about—

FINEMAN:  But only—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Newt is one of the few people to have the ambition to try to come up with some theory, some unified field force theory to combine his new religiosity with the past.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it reminds me—

FINEMAN:  And also can do it.

MATTHEWS:  -- of a guy trying to—it reminds me of the old days.  I shouldn‘t even say this, but Josh, I‘ll try this on you.  You know how the guys would try to rob a bank by wearing a zoot suit or something so strange that it would focus on the costume and ignore who was wearing it!

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- zoot suit next time!

MARSHALL:  Chris, there‘s a point of consistency, I think, with Newt, and what‘s always been about—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, good.  This is important.

MARSHALL:  -- New, going back—

MATTHEWS:  A point of consistency.

MARSHALL:  Yes, a point—going back 30 years now, is that Newt is always about “the best defense is a good offense,” and not just a good offense, a totally in-your-face, over-the-top offense.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARSHALL:  And I—you know, clearly, there‘s a religious conversion that he‘s gone through, and I don‘t second guess that—

(CROSSTALK)

MARSHALL:  -- on a personal level, but I think there‘s also—it‘s undeniable that he‘s going into this with not just one but, like, arguably two, even three, sort of, you know, relationship scandals in his past.  And so this is a good footing, very much in the new tradition, to go in with.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s blindingly audacious!

(LAUGHTER)

MARSHALL:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman, and thank you, Josh Marshall.  I like the way you said that!

Coming up—Newt Gingrich, a power to be dealt with.  Anyway, senate Democrats in Wisconsin say they no longer trust Republican governor Scott Walker, who refuses to compromise, they say, in that standoff over the rights of public employee unions to exist.  Can Democrats use this battle over the right to collectively bargain to rally their base nationally?  This is a big question for a lot of Democrats who think the answer is a big yes.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Pennsylvania, of course, went heavy for Republicans last year‘s election, but a new poll shows President Obama in good shape for next year.  The president leads three top potential challengers.  He has a 7-point lead over Romney.  That‘s a good thing to have against Romney in Pennsylvania.  Against Mike Huckabee, 10-point lead, 44-34.  Sarah Palin also trails the president by a 28-point margin.  No surprise there, although that‘s a hell of a gap.  Obama carried Pennsylvania by 10 points back in 2008.  Actually, I‘m very impressed, the fact that he‘s in good shape there.  Next step, Ohio, then on to Wisconsin.  They get tougher.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  America is not broke!  Not by a long shot!  The country is awash in wealth and cash!  It‘s just that it‘s not in your hands!  It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  That‘s Michael Moore.  Welcome back.  That‘s, of course, filmmaker Michael Moore, who knows how to talk, knows how to make a movie, this weekend showing his support for the union workers out in Wisconsin and the standoff between Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who‘s plunging in the polls, and state Democrats out there over the issue of collective bargaining.  And that fight goes on.

How‘s the fight playing right now with both Republicans and Democrats across the country, as well as back in the state, the Dairy State?  Marty Beil‘s director of Wisconsin AFSCME council 24 and John Nichols is with “The Nation” magazine here in Washington.

Gentlemen, I want you to look at a poll which shows, I think, how the public‘s reacting to the performance of the governor out there.  Governor Walker‘s unfavorable rating has shot up 10 points in the last couple weeks because of his behavior.  His unfavorable rating has risen 18 points since November.  That is a hell of a spike, from 35 percent unfavorable up to 53 percent.

I want to go to a man on the site there, Marty Beil.  Marty, what do you make of this?  What‘s caused this?  It‘s 63 percent, or 65 percent, which is about two thirds, say, Deal.  They want him to deal with the workers, with your union.  Your thoughts?  Give me a couple minutes on this.  What‘s this tell you about the fight as it stands right now?

MARTY BEIL, EXEC. DIR., WISCONSIN AFSCME:  Well, I think it‘s—I

think it‘s the Wisconsin citizens and workers finally beginning to get

their point across to this governor and to the citizens in general.  I

mean, what you see here every day in Madison and throughout this state is

that common, ordinary citizens and workers are saying, This isn‘t

Wisconsin‘s tradition, this isn‘t part of Wisconsin‘s fabric here.  This is

we‘re getting turned upside-down.

In three months, we have a 44-year-old politician that‘s turned Wisconsin upside down.  I think the citizens and the taxpayers and the voters have seen this and said, This isn‘t our tradition, we don‘t want you to go down this path.  Unfortunately, Scott Walker is pretty head-strong, pretty arrogant about things, and he‘s not budging.

But I‘ll tell you what.  At the end of the day, the taxpayers, the citizens and the workers of this state will prevail.

MATTHEWS:  I always try to remind myself, John, that most voters are not rich or very poor.  Most voters are middle class, largely defined.  And it seemed to me there was a calculation on the part of the governor of Wisconsin, based on last November‘s returns, the election returns, which were very good for the Republicans, that he could build a battle of private sector middle class people against public sector middle class people, that he could make that to be the carving issue, right down between them, and have the middle class private sector people resent deeply the public service employees and join the governor in that fight.

He made a miscalculation, I think.  What do you think?

JOHN NICHOLS, “THE NATION”:  I think he made a huge miscalculation.  And frankly, during the campaign, when I spoke to Scott—and I talked to him several times about this—he did seem to be setting up a class warfare, internal class warfare—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

NICHOLS:  -- if you will, between public sector and private sector workers.  But the problem was that he went after their union rights, and that was—that was the big mistake.  Suggesting that public employees were paid too much, that‘s an issue that he might have been able to sell.  But when he went after their collective bargaining rights, that‘s the point where you actually saw something remarkable happen. 

Within those polls, Chris, if you look at the polls, you look at union households, be they private or public, there‘s a dramatic shift going on.  The Reagan Democrats in the private sector are coming back to the Democratic Party. 

MATTHEWS:  This country‘s a lot more centrist than people realize on both—going from both ends. 

Let‘s take a look here at the new ad from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.  Let‘s listen.  They argue in this ad on the progressive side that what‘s on here is an attempt by, well, corporate power to go after the little guy.  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PROGRESSIVE CHANGE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This bill that Walker‘s proposing is going to cost me over $3,000 a year, not to mention more down the road, when we lose our collective bargaining rights. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe the issues that are being discussed for Madison are not unique to Madison or the state of Wisconsin.  These are national issues.  Money is being taken away from workers and tax breaks given to major corporations. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is Republican class warfare, an attack on the middle class.  This is a battle we need to win. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Marty Beil—Marty Beil, it looks like some of the conservative in the country are going for the kill, even though they‘re losing. 

It‘s a strange strategy, when you‘re losing a fight, as Governor Walker apparently is out there, to go on the offense.  Now, you have got Jim DeMint of Georgia, who is a pretty conservative guy, out there now saying, let‘s go for a national right-to-work law.  In other words, these guy say they believe in states‘ rights, but now what they want to do is beyond Taft-Hartley from the late ‘40s, which allowed each state to go to right-to-work, if they chose to, and Southern states largely did, but now they want to make it a national policy you don‘t have to join a union. 

What do you think of this move?  Is this a joke? 

BEIL:  Well, I think—well, I think, again, it shows that Republicans are out of touch with working men and women in the middle class.  And I think what you see here in Wisconsin and you‘re now seeing in Ohio and Indiana and other states across this country is only the first chapter in this. 

I am certain that, if the Republicans are successful in trying to move national right-to-work, you will see an outcry and demonstrations as if you have never seen them before, because people are getting it.  You know, it‘s time for workers in the middle class to take their government back, and that‘s what we‘re all about. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we even know if it‘s constitutional, John, if—Jim DeMint of South Carolina, he‘s from—if it‘s even constitutional to tell companies they can‘t cut a contract which makes employees join unions, a state government, a local government can‘t cut a contract that allows—that requires people to participate and pay dues, at least, to a union, or at least pay some money to compensate for not paying dues?  Can they come in and regiment the country according to the purposes of Jim DeMint?  Is that constitutional? 

NICHOLS:  Well, let‘s hope not.  Let‘s hope not. 

In fact, the courts have dealt with this, and up to this point, there‘s been a great deal of protection for union rights, especially in non right-to-work states. 

Now, what DeMint is doing, though, is actually I think useful in the current debate, and I will tell you why.  He is putting the reality out there.  The Republican Party, which historically, until very recently, tried to compete for at least some union votes, is essentially saying, we‘re done with that.  We are now the anti-union party. 

And if they want to communicate that message, you know, I would welcome them to do so. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they lose a lot of Reagan Democrats, I‘ll tell you that, when they do that. 

NICHOLS:  But I have got to tell you, it‘s not working—it‘s not working in Wisconsin. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thought, Jim, John, quickly—John—I mean—I‘m sorry—Marty Beil, quickly, what is going on among your union—your union more unified than ever or what?  What‘s going on? 

BEIL:  Our unions are more—our union and the unions as a whole here in Wisconsin are more unified than ever. 

I mean, the level of activity out there by my rank-and-file members in terms of protests around the state, every little city, every little town, every little burg, even John Nichols‘ hometown of Union Grove, Wisconsin, had a rally of some 200 people, unheard of in that part of the state.  Our members are involved in recall elections. 

In three days, over 2,000 volunteers are collecting signatures for recalls.  It‘s incredible. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Marty, you included, you have got some sharp union leadership out there.  I hope it catches on nationwide, that kind of sharp thinking, conceding on the co-pays right off the bat, queen sacrifice, like in chess.  We say, no, we don‘t want to do this, but we know this is the smart strategic move. 

Don‘t make the issue co-pay, because everybody who goes to work has to do a co-pay.  Make the issue rights to exist, smart, quick decision.  It takes real leadership to make quick calls like that in the huddle or out of the huddle, audibles. 

Thank you, Marty Beil.

Thank you, John Nichols from “The Nation.”

Up next:  A Republican lawmaker wants to ban college kids from voting.  Guess why?  They vote Democrat.  How inconvenient.  That‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  And time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up, Stephen Colbert took on Mike Huckabee last night for wrongly saying that President Obama was raised in—actually born in Kenya.  Here‘s Colbert. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR:  If you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours, because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather. 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Now, in case you missed it, he said Obama grew up in Kenya with his Kenyan father—Kenya, Kenya, Kenya. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  My feelings about this, folks, I have got to say, are complicated.  First off, Obama didn‘t grow up in Kenya.  He was born in Kenya—

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: -- before moving to Islamistan, where he then traveled back in time to plant his birth announcement in a Hawaiian newspaper. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Point well made. 

Next: curbing the youth vote.  New Hampshire‘s Republican House speaker, William O‘Brien, is trying to keep college kids from voting.  Why?  You have got to hear it to believe it.  Here‘s O‘Brien at a Tea Party event in January. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM O‘BRIEN ®, NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  They will have 900 same-day registrations, which are the kids coming out of school and basically doing what I did when I was a kid in school, is voting as a liberal. 

Now, that‘s what kids do.  They don‘t have life experience, and they just vote their feelings.  And they‘re taking away the town‘s ability to govern themselves.  And it‘s not fair. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he doesn‘t want all those kids voting up at Dartmouth and the University of New Hampshire and Saint Anselm because they tend to vote Democrat. 

And it‘s not just talk.  The state Republican Party is pushing through now two bills, one that would allow students to vote only if their parents had established residence in the college town itself, and another that would end same-day registrations. 

Finally, Second Amendment Sharron.  State Republicans breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when tarnished Senator John Ensign announced his retirement from the Senate.  The hitch?  Sharron Angle might run for Congress or Senate.  Angle‘s former campaign adviser yesterday said her Tea Party following and fund-raising ability could win whichever office she chooses to run for. 

If this doesn‘t concern you, by the way, ladies and gentlemen out there, I don‘t know what would—Sharron Angle, the one who says we ought to be able to use Second Amendment remedies if they don‘t like a politician.  Think about it.

Up next:  Congressman Peter King‘s hearings into the radicalization, as he sees it, of American Muslims is set for Thursday.  We are going to hear from two members of Congress who are trying to stop it, stop those hearings from being held. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks bouncing back from Monday‘s losses with a convincing rally today, the Dow Jones industrial average soaring 124 points, the S&P 500 up 11, and the Nasdaq climbing 20. 

Financials and transportation stocks the leading gainers today on easing oil prices and a strong outlook from Bank of America.  The bank is forecasting higher profits through cost-cutting, hopefully offsetting ongoing losses in mortgages.  It also says that it will start paying, it hopes, a dividend in the second half of the year. 

Most airlines saw big gains, as U.S. crude fell below $105 a barrel.  OPEC says it‘s considering adopting an official policy raising outlook to help make up for Libya‘s shutdown. 

And Boeing shares climbed today on a $10 billion deal with two Chinese airlines for 2,000 planes over the next five years. 

Netflix sinking nearly 6 percent on news Facebook is dabbling in streaming movies on its Web site for a modest fee. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have got trouble. 

A week—two days from now, the House Homeland Security Committee is going to hold a hearing, its title, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim community and That Community‘s Response.”

But the title belies the passion around these hearings.  Opponents say the hearings will single out and stigmatize one group, American Muslims. 

Joining me are two people opposed to holding the hearings, U.S.  Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, one of two Muslim members of Congress, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, you first.  Thank you for coming on.

And, thank you, Congressman. 

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS:  Thank you. 

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA:  Pleasure. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to be really tough here, but if you had had hearings on this 20 or 30 years ago, and said, I‘m going to—I‘m a Protestant guy and I‘m going to hold hearings on the radicalization of American Irish, and I‘m going to look for who might be supporting NORAID, who might be supporting the provisional wing of the IRA, and just go looking for them, and make some assumptions where we can find them, and root them out, that would have been seen as a pogrom, it seems to me, Congresswoman—

SCHAKOWSKY:  Exactly.  There‘s no question about it. 

MATTHEWS: -- and when you start rooting through an ethnic group, rooting through them, trying to find where the problem is and who the troublemakers are, as a presumption that they have got them in that group, let‘s go nail them. 

Your thoughts? 

SCHAKOWSKY:  You know, we have actually done that, during World War II, when we incarcerated Japanese Americans.  We made an assumption about all the Japanese Americans. 

But I have to tell you, Chris, not only is it counter our American values, but it‘s also counterproductive to our national security, because we have a very impressive collaboration with the Muslim-American community, many of whom live in my district.  And they have actually rooted out and foiled domestic terror plots, seven out of the last 11 times, 48 times over the last 120. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  So, you know, this is not making us safer.  It‘s making us more—less safe. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about your district.  And then I want the other congressman to talk.  Tell me about the feelings you have heard expressed to you by your constituents who are of Islamic faith about the holding of hearings about their community and their danger to America.  Your thoughts?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, there‘s a tremendous amount—

MATTHEWS:  What do you hear from your people? 

SCHAKOWSKY:  There‘s a tremendous amount of resentment, but also a very hurt feeling.  People feel hurt. 

They feel as if they‘re loyal Americans, they‘re entrepreneurs, they‘re professionals, they work for the local governments, they drive cabs.  They feel really hurt that they‘re being singled out, particularly because they do see themselves as loyal Americans, and are. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s fact. 

You know, if you‘re in my business, Congressman, you meet a lot of guys driving limousines, if you‘re lucky.  You meet them at hotels.  You meet them around the country. 

CARSON:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  You meet them at church, if they‘re Maronite Christian or Catholic.  I meet a lot of them in my church, and not a lot of them, but a significant number of them are friends.  And they must wonder, how did we get under the beacon of investigation?  What did we do? 

CARSON:  It‘s so unfortunate, Chris. 

The National Consortium on the Study of Terrorism released a report.  The report was a compilation of studies done by state police agencies across this great nation.  And Islamic jihadists ranked number 11, a distant 11, behind the Ku Klux Klan, behind neo-Nazis, anti-immigration groups and others. 

Islamic terrorism, or at least the label Islamic terrorism, is certainly a threat in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Anti-abortion people, too. 

CARSON:  Anti-abortion.  Animal rights activists as well.  It‘s certainly a problem.  We need to contain the threat, identify the threat and isolate the threat, and bring that threat to justice. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I just don‘t like the idea of going after a group of people and putting a big blanket over—a big, wet, hot blanket and saying, you‘re the trouble, let‘s find out which of you are the guilty ones. 

Here‘s Congressman Peter King making his effort to defend the hearings that are coming up Thursday.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK:  There is no other group in this country, other than al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists, which is recruiting.  We have always had neo-Nazis.  We have also had environments—always had environmental extremists. 

What makes this unique and different is, this is a homegrown group of people being recruited by an enemy from overseas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, it seems to me that one of the things we have been proudest of in our country over its history, in what is American exceptionalism, is the ability to come to this country and become an American, 100 percent. 

CARSON:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of countries—you can‘t go to Japan and become 100 percent Japanese.  You look different.  You‘re not going to be Japanese.  Or in China or other countries—a lot of countries are so monocultural, you can‘t break in, no matter what you do, no matter how many years you stay there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have had problems like that over the years, but we‘re working on them.  Is this work for or against assimilation? 

CARSON:  America—

MATTHEWS:  Is it going to work against it? 

CARSON:  Chris, absolutely.  America will not win the war against terrorism without help from Muslims.  I was one of those Muslims who worked in homeland security who helped with local law enforcement, as well as the FBI.

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re Muslim? 

CARSON:  Absolutely.  I‘m one of two Muslims in Congress.  My dear friend, Keith Ellison, is the first.  Who helped thwart these efforts.

Congresswoman Schakowsky was right.  I was reminded of a conversation that Ben Franklin had at the Constitutional Convention with Mrs. Powel.  She asked Ben Franklin very definitively, “What do we have, a monarchy or a republic?”  And he said, “We have a republic, if you can keep it.”  How do we keep it?

MATTHEWS:  Well said again.

Let me ask you, Congresswoman, your thoughts on the end.  I want you to speak for the feelings of people that you represent.  I know you have people of Islamic faith in your district.  You have a very varied district.  What‘s this going to do a week from now when they know that they‘ve been investigated as a community?

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, they feel very resentful.  I‘ve talked to a number of young people, older people, too, and it‘s created also fear in the community.  Are we going to be targeted?  What‘s next?  Are there infiltrators in our mosques on Friday?  Are my kids safe going to school with their heads covered?

So, I think it really has alienated a number of people or made them mistrustful.  I mean, these are, again, loyal Americans.  They want to be part of our society, of our communities, and they feel that they‘re being excluded and targeted in an unfair way.  And, of course, that‘s exactly what‘s happening.  This is unfair toward them.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ve heard your voices.  I hope the country hears them.  I hope the Muslim community in this country hears them, that people don‘t like these hearings.

Thank you, Congressman Carson, for coming in.

CARSON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky from out of Illinois.

Up next: Does President Obama need to do more in response to what‘s going on in Libya?  That‘s a hot question right now.  We‘ll see if there are options.

We have former United States ambassador to the United Nations, a real trouble-shooter.  Bill Richardson is going to be sitting right there in just a minute.  Stay tuned to watch Bill Richardson‘s thinking about Libya.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s hot and who‘s not?  According to a new Quinnipiac Poll, voters feel warmest towards Michelle Obama.  The first lady scored a 60 out of a 100.  Atop of the list, ahead of Bill Clinton and the rising star of the Republican Party, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Look out for Christie.  Christie edged out President Obama, who scored a 56.5 on the list.

Who are voters cool on?  Pelosi scored just 33 percent.  Harry Reid, just 35 percent.  Palin, 38 percent.  They‘re all in the 30s and they get all the publicity.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Moammar Gadhafi appeared and then disappeared from a hotel in Libya tonight, but his forces were on the offense—offensive earlier today outside the capital of Tripoli.  And there were conflicting reports that someone had approached the opposition there in Libya on behalf of Gadhafi to negotiate a possible transition of power, though later that story was denied by Libyan state TV.

NBC‘s Stephanie Gosk is in Benghazi.

Stephanie, what‘s up?  Is there any talk of a pullout by Gadhafi, or is this a fight to the finish?

STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS:  Well, there were a lot of mixed messages in the last 24 hours on this issue.  And what happened was originally it was reported that a number of people here in the interim government had said that they had been approached by the Gadhafi government with an offer, that he would be willing to step down if they would protect his family and his money and insure that they wouldn‘t go after him for human rights violations.

They then retracted that, and that came because of public pressure here.  People were nervous on the ground that they had all of a sudden decided to negotiate with Gadhafi.  And in Tripoli, Gadhafi‘s officials said uncategorically that that kind of negotiation was never under way.

So, you know, you do have on both sides a bit of propaganda going on.  But it doesn‘t seem like negotiations, if they‘re happening, are going very quickly or very successfully—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe this is too hard a call for a straight reporter—but do both sides think they can win now?

GOSK:  Yes, both sides definitely think they can win.  And you see Gadhafi digging in his heels and you see the rebellion here digging in their heels.

Although it‘s worth mentioning that on this side of things in Benghazi, with the interim government, there was a lot of very quick success here.  The protests happened.  They took over this town, this region very, very quickly.  They had a lot of momentum.

And in the last few days, they‘ve seen that momentum kind of grind to a halt.  There have been some brutal battles to the west of here in these oil towns, and we‘ve been talking about Brega and Ras Lanuf.  The rebels really stuck in the desert there and not being able to move any further west.  They want to go all the way to Tripoli, and it‘s clear Gadhafi‘s not going to allow that to happen.

And what the officials here are seeing is a government that‘s not willing to negotiate, not willing to step down, and they don‘t seem to be going anywhere.  It‘s a kind of stalemate at this point—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Sharp report.  Thank you very much for the reporting—

Stephanie Gosk in Libya.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was the United States ambassador to the United Nations for many years.

Governor, thank you.

You are very good at dealing with trouble.  No, you are.  You‘ve been to North Korea, all over the country dealing with hostage situations and really bad situations.

What is your political sense?  You‘re hearing a lot of people, even John Kerry, chairman of foreign relations, and you‘re hearing from people like John McCain on the Republican side—go in, do a no-fly zone, get involved militarily.  Should we?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR:  I believe that the international community should and we should take the lead.  Yes, I think the time has come for a no-fly zone, internationally recognized, perhaps NATO-led, with our assistance.  I think we need to take steps, Chris, the United States, to airlift humanitarian supplies, possibly some weapons to the rebels.

I have said that it makes sense to covertly find ways to help the rebels, give them some ammunition, give them some weapons.  I think the time has come to step in.

I think the president has handled it well.  He‘s calibrating his remarks.  He‘s building international support, diplomatic support, economic support.

I wouldn‘t discount this report about Gadhafi going to his opposition and saying, let‘s talk.  I think he‘s feeling the pressure.

MATTHEWS:  What about something short of that, because the president‘s holding back on no-fly, what about some kind of embargo against oil exports?  Just stop them from exporting oil.  Maybe that would be against our economic interests, but it would certainly shut down that government, wouldn‘t it?

RICHARDSON:  Pretty much, their oil operations have literally ceased.  But at the same time, any kind of economic boycott, any kind of economic sanction, any kind of efforts to ensure that the regime and the leadership doesn‘t travel, that always was a tactic that we used.  Getting some of the Libyan to peel off and go to the other side.  This is the time where I think that his internal support is eroding.  So, take advantage.

MATTHEWS:  My worry is that we‘ve had good reasons to go into other countries before, like Somalia, during the famine.  (INAUDIBLE) the country becomes a shooting war, where there‘s chasing after a warlord like Aidid or something.

And my question is: what happens after we shoot down the first Libyan plane and we‘ve killed somebody in Libya?  Will we still be the good guys?  Or we‘ll be the bad guys, the foreigners from the West?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I think we need to recognize—I remember President Clinton said that one of his great regrets was in Rwanda, not intervening.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

RICHARDSON:  I think you have to have a threshold—there‘s huge human rights violations, human carnage.  I think we‘re taking the side of democracy, of civil society, of a group of young men and women in Libya who want to get rid of their dictator.  I think in the end, tilting that way, doing it carefully, building diplomatic support, having a carefully constructed, internationally recognized no-fly zone, helping the rebels with airlifts.

MATTHEWS:  Would you go see Gadhafi if the president asked you to do it?  You‘re pretty good at this stuff.  You seem to get along with bad guys by the name that I know.  They like you.

RICHARDSON:  Yes.  Well—

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t make moral judgments about these guys in the way their used to.

RICHARDSON:  Well, if the president asked me, I would do it.  But I‘m not—

MATTHEWS:  You‘d be in Tripoli tomorrow morning.

RICHARDSON:  But—yes—but I‘m not the traditional diplomat.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that‘s why they like you.  Look at this guy, you could get along with him.  I‘m just teasing.

Let me ask you about your part in the country, politically.  It looks to me like we‘re going to have a real stalemate in the Midwest, going really tough, the east coast and the west coast would be probably be Democrat next time the way things are going.  Pennsylvania looks good.  Ohio is going to be tough.

It seems to me these elections are going to be fought in the Southwest.  It‘s going to be Colorado, New Mexico, your state, Arizona, states like that with heavy Latino, Hispanic populations.

Now, if the Republicans are sharp enough to put Rubio on the ticket from Florida, who speaks Spanish, comes from a Cuban background, could they -- could they knock out the Democrats in the part of the country they need, which is the Southwest?

RICHARDSON:  Well, the danger is that traditionally in presidential races, the Democrats have gotten 65 percent.  If you put a Rubio on on a national basis, you could increase to 35 percent that Republicans traditionally get.  However, I think President Obama is very strong among Hispanics right now, especially in the Southwest.

So I think we can survive a Rubio threat, and it would be a threat.  I think the Democratic Party cannot continue to take the Latino vote for granted.  And that means a lot of outreach.  That means progress and comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, jobs.

I mean, one of the things about Latinos, Chris, is there‘s a perception that they only care about civil rights and immigration.  They care about jobs.  They care about national defense, foreign policy.  And I think it‘s important the Democratic Party speak to them, not as an ethnic group, but as Americans.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Republican Party—I know you‘re a Democrat—you think the Republican Party, I think they do have a great opportunity with Hispanics because they‘re—it seems to me a lot of Hispanic people are business people.  They want to be entrepreneur.  They want to get a piece of the American Dream, not just get a job.  They want to have a business.

Republicans can offer that as part of their ideology, their philosophy, right?

RICHARDSON:  Well, they have—they‘ve made some progress, and they‘re the only ones that elected on a national basis three Latinos, the governor of Nevada, governor of New Mexico, and Rubio in the Senate.  So, Hispanics don‘t have any national elected officials at the Senate/governor level.  I was the last one.

MATTHEWS:  You look upon—coming from the Southwest, representing the people I should say—do you think people in the Southwest who are Mexican-American, do they look at a Cuban-American as a fellow national—fellow Hispanic?

RICHARDSON:  Yes, they do, not the same as Hispanic because like any ethnic community, you know, there‘s some divisions, there are some rivalries.  But I think a Cuban-American would be appealing to all Hispanics.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RICHARDSON:  However, I think Obama‘s strength among Hispanics is quite strong and can override that right now.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re one of my favorite politicians, Mr. Bill Richardson.

RICHARDSON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Energy secretary, U.N. ambassador, governor of New Mexico, United States member of Congress, you‘ve done it all.  But not yet, you‘re not finished, sir.  Thank you, Bill Richardson, for coming to HARDBALL.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the Republican field on 2012.  Can they beat Obama by not talking about the economy?  What‘s all this religious talk?  Is there a religious test on the Republican Party?  Is that what‘s going on in Iowa?  I think it is.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” with this strange opening of the Republican presidential campaign for 2012.  It seems to the observer like there are two different campaigns afoot here.

Out in Iowa last night, a quintet of conservatives rivaled over their religious and moral credentials with Newt Gingrich arguing the conservative principle should be based on questions of morality.  On it went last night at the forum about abortion and marriage and morality.  From the mouth of one speaker—the evils of entitlement programs such as—without daring to mention them—Social Security and Medicare.

Call this the western conference.  It‘s a battle for the cultural right with Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann still on the bench.  It‘s a battle for who can be the most right wing, the morality, the religion-based reasoning, the sharp-elbowed positioning to be the most fundamental of the fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has begun the battle for the eastern conference, those Republicans who believe that this is a fight to see who can match and outpoint President Obama on economics.  That‘s also begun.

The problem for the teams in each of these two conferences, eastern and western, is that everyone knows the real competitors have yet to take the field.  Out in the west, people like Santorum and Newt are hoping they never do because how does one of them compete with Palin and Huckabee when it comes to exciting the cultural right, the folks who head the polls and the church bus.  And now, there‘s anything wrong with that, not to say any wrong with it.

Same with the eastern conference based on up in New England—Romney can hum about trying to retread himself and keep trying to get people to forget the old set of tires he ran on last time, abortion rights to win the governorship of Massachusetts, health care, including the individual mandate once he got in office up there in Boston.

But Mitt knows, doesn‘t he, that he‘s going nowhere in this salesmanship department once the truly conservative, pro-life governor named Chris Christie takes the field.

So, the best you can say about the Republican race so far is that we know the brackets.  There‘s the west that demands culture wars 24/7 and the east that wants job and the government spending cuts that somehow—well, they‘re going to somehow create.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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