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updated 4/18/2011 1:04:15 PM ET 2011-04-18T17:04:15

Guests: Mark Halperin, Eugene Robinson, David Corn, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Rep. Dan Lungren, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Jack O‘Reilly, Jimmy Breslin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The cake is baked.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: BFF, the Republicans and the Paul Ryan budget.  BFF—“best friends forever.”  Republicans got themselves hitched this afternoon to the Paul Ryan budget.  The Ryan budget is now the Republican budget.  And when they wake up tomorrow morning, they may find there‘s no getting out of this.

Can they really defend tax cuts for the rich, for big corporations, the death of Medicare?  They‘re going to have to because Democrats won‘t let the voters forget it.  They got it on the record today.  Just wait until you hear what President Obama really has in mind for the Ryan Republicans.  It‘s, of course, our top story.

Plus, a top Republican consultant now says Mitt Romney will never be president.  Trump calls Barack Obama the worst president ever.  That‘s Trump.  What‘s he, a talk show host now?  And Jon Huntsman‘s mash notes to President Obama are revealed.  Chaos across the aisles.

Also, Texas has joined the Joe McCarthy parade of states considering bills to protect themselves against the threat of Sharia law.  Except there is no threat.  Why is Texas doing this?  Because some are convinced Dearborn, Michigan, is now under Sharia law.  Yes, sir, they heard it on the radio!  We‘ll get the facts from the mayor of Dearborn itself.

And it was 64 years ago today that Jackie Robinson broke the color bar in baseball, perhaps the first significant step in the Civil Rights movement.  Legendary columnist, author and raconteur Jimmy Breslin joins us here to talk about the man who made Robinson‘s arrival possible.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with Donald Trump re-seeding the grassy knoll of conspiracy theorists.

Let‘s begin with the Republicans passing the Paul Ryan budget, which they did.  Congressman Dan Lungren‘s a California Republican who voted for the Ryan plan.  And Congressman Elijah Cummings is a Maryland Democrat who voted against it.

Mr. Lungren, Congressman, thank you for joining us.  This was basically a party-line vote today, 235 to 193.  The Democrats all voted no, all but four Republicans—and those four Republicans almost always vote against things—voted for it.

Are you worried that you are now on record for demolishing Medicare?

REP. DAN LUNGREN ®, CALIFORNIA:  No because I‘m not on record for demolishing Medicare.  I‘m on record for saving Medicare.  CBO has said very specifically Medicare will go broke in nine years.  The status quo is what kills Medicare.  Those who will not face up to the truth are what kills Medicare.  What Paul Ryan has brought forward and what we Republicans have now adopted is an adult approach to dealing with a serious problem.

We‘ve got to go beyond this idea of promising things that we cannot keep and putting burden after burden after burden of debt on our children.  And that‘s what our effort is to do here.  This nonsense that we‘re trying to kill Medicare only makes sense if you ignore the arithmetic, and one thing Congress cannot do is repeal the laws of simple arithmetic.  And it shows that Medicare is, frankly, on a path to oblivion unless we save it.  This was an attempt to save Medicare, to save the safety net, not to break it, not to kill it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Jay Carney, the spokesman for the president—the press secretary—says it ends Medicare as we know it.  Is that your view, Mr. Cummings?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  Yes, it is.  And you know, as I listen to my colleague, I have to be very frank with you, I‘m appalled.  And I think it‘s very unfortunate that while they are destroying Medicare, they‘re giving tax breaks and subsidies to the oil companies and certainly giving tax breaks to millionaires on the backs of our seniors.

Come on, now.  You give somebody a $15,000 voucher to buy health insurance.  You know, Chris, somebody, say, 65 years old with a heart condition, high blood pressure and diabetes, who‘s going to insure them?  I mean, think about it.  And when that—if that premium does not cover their insurance, they‘re just out of luck.  And so—

MATTHEWS:  Well, respond to that, Mr. Lungren.  That‘s a good charge.  That‘s the way I look at it because these vouchers—they don‘t cover the whole cost of a health care plan, do they?  And if they did, where would be the savings here?

LUNGREN:  First of all, let‘s make it clear, if we‘re talking about someone 65 and older—anybody 55 and older will not be affected by any changes whatsoever.

MATTHEWS:  Until they‘re 65.

LUNGREN:  The process in which we—

MATTHEWS:  Until they‘re 65.

LUNGREN:  No, no.  Absolutely not.  If you‘re anywhere between 55 and older, the current program of Medicare is yours.  You keep it with no changes whatsoever.

MATTHEWS:  OK, 54 then.

LUNGREN:  We are grandfathering in the grandparents.

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  Those who are 54 and under have to face the fact that the system will be broke by the time that they are eligible for it, and so we have to do something to reform it.  And what Paul Ryan has suggested and what we have adopted is an approach that allows people to have consumer decision making to allow them to be able to, with the amount of subsidy that they get from the federal government, make their own choices, just like part D in Medicare right now, in which individuals who are over 65 are allowed to make their own choices.  Not only is there a tremendous satisfaction with it by every poll that‘s been taken, but the numbers—that is the overall cost to the government has—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

LUNGREN:  -- gone down by 40 percent!  That‘s what we need to do, save the system.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Cummings—Mr. Cummings.  The way I understand it is the government is not going to give an older person after this plan kicks in enough money to buy an insurance policy.  They‘re going to give this woman, usually a woman that age, in her 70s or 80s, some money.  But then she‘s got to come up with the difference.  She‘s got to make up a difference and buy a policy, if she can find a company that will insure her with her conditions.

CUMMINGS:  That‘s exactly right, Chris.  And it‘s interesting that Congressman Lungren talks about Medicare part D, the prescription drug program.  As you probably know, the president has said one of the things that he wants to do is he wants to make sure that we use the same systems that the veterans use, and that is get a discount with regard to prescription drugs.

The Ryan plan throws that out the window, and we‘re paying 40 percent more than we could be playing if we use—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

CUMMINGS:  -- our bulk purchasing power.  So you know, this is a real problem.  And I can tell you the seniors in my district—I met with them on Monday—they are livid, even the ones who are 65.  They know that it doesn‘t apply to those over 55, but they‘re thinking about their children and generations yet unborn.

MATTHEWS:  OK—

CUMMINGS:  We can do better.

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  -- and generations unborn.  They ought to be concerned about the fact that we‘re piling debt that they cannot live with and that the system is going to go broke.  What do you tell those seniors, Congressman?  What do you tell those seniors when you have to admit to them that in nine years, Medicare is going to go broke?  You going to—

CUMMINGS:  What I say to that—

LUNGREN:  -- promise them something that we can‘t afford?

CUMMINGS:  Let me tell you what I tell them.  I tell them to call your Republican congressman and tell them to stop giving subsidies to the richest of the rich and stop helping the oil companies so much, be worried about them—

LUNGREN:  This is—this is the same old song.

CUMMINGS:  -- and concern themselves with—no, it‘s not the same old talk.  It‘s not.

LUNGREN:  It‘s the same old song.

CUMMINGS:  And you know it.

MATTHEWS:  Is it true?

CUMMINGS:  You still haven‘t answered the issue.

LUNGREN:  The president—

CUMMINGS:  You still haven‘t answered it.

LUNGREN:  The president‘s—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

LUNGREN:  The president‘s commission that was established to look at our overall situation—fiscal situation—recommended that we flatten the tax code by taking out those exemptions, including corporate welfare that‘s out there, and bring down the overall rate so that we can compete worldwide.  That is not giving it away to the rich, that‘s following a bipartisan prescription that was presented.

But if you‘re going to demagogue it and claim that it‘s—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

LUNGREN:  -- for somehow  helping the rich at the expense of the young people, we‘re never going to have an adult conversation on this!

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t it a real tradeoff here between—I mean, I‘m looking at the numbers.  You‘re cutting money going to Social Security—or Medicare, rather.  You‘re saying you‘re saving the money there.  But you‘re also allowing the rich to get another tax extension, another tax break.  Why are you giving tax breaks to people that make millions of dollars a year at the same time you‘re saying you‘re broke and have to cut Medicare costs?

LUNGREN:  If you would look at the recommendations, it‘s not only bringing the rates down, it‘s getting rid of many of the exemptions and exceptions that are there that bring those rates down, in effect, for the very rich.  It is to try and make us a job-producing economy right now.  That‘s the way we‘re going to work our way out.

And the idea to have one of the highest rates of corporate taxes in the world is not the way to create jobs here.  We‘re trying to have a job growth program along with a fiscal program that has some responsibility to it.  We‘re tired of—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

LUNGREN:  -- frankly not telling the truth to the American people. 

That‘s where we are right now!

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the president.  Here‘s the president.  He was caught on the mic last night at a fund-raiser talking turkey, politically, I guess, but let‘s hear him.  He didn‘t know he was being recorded for the press.  But here he is.  CBS reported today an audio of President Obama last night talking to contributors to the Democratic Party in a closed-door reception.  Let‘s see what you both think of the president‘s words.  Here he is, President Obama.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I said, You want—you want to repeal health care?  Go at it.  We‘ll have that debate.  But you‘re not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget.  You think we‘re stupid?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, are you—do you think the voters want to get rid of health care, Mr. Lungren?  Do they want to get rid of Obama‘s health care bill that they fought for last year?

LUNGREN:  They don‘t want to get rid of health care, they do want to get rid of a program that was adopted last year that neither brings costs down nor makes it more accessible, nor has a positive impact on our overall budget.  No.  I find people in my district and wherever I go saying, Change that.  That‘s not what we intended when we voted for the president.

MATTHEWS:  Change it.

LUNGREN:  And when you have over 1,050 waivers granted by the Department of HHS because either unions or business or even entire states can‘t afford the program, maybe that‘s a pretty good indication it‘s not working.

MATTHEWS:  Well, didn‘t you just give away the argument, Congressman, by saying, Change it?  Because before there was a health care bill passed by the president, the Republicans never passed a health care bill.  And now you want to reform something that you didn‘t even create.

LUNGREN:  First of all, it‘s not true.  The Republicans did pass—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

LUNGREN:  -- an encouragement by way of subsidies to the states to establish high-risk pools to deal with those people who had difficulty getting policies.  What we ought to do is build on that.  We ought to build on health savings accounts.  We ought to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines.  All of those things we have worked for in the past, and in most cases, passed in the House when the Republicans were in control.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LUNGREN:  It never made final law, but we‘re going to still work on those things.

CUMMINGS:  But at the same time—

MATTHEWS:  But it wasn‘t a health care plan.

CUMMINGS:  And Chris, at the same time, they fail in their plans to insure the 40 million people—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CUMMINGS:  -- who don‘t have insurance.  Come on, now.

MATTHEWS:  I want you, Mr. Cummings, to respond to the president again.  Here‘s something else he didn‘t know was being broadcast.  In all fairness, he was talking to a bunch of contributors.  It wasn‘t off the record, but he didn‘t know it was going out on the air, but it did.  Here‘s CBS, more of that tape from the president last night, on Paul Ryan.  It gets personal here.  He‘s talking about the congressman.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is the same guy who voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill, but wasn‘t paid for.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Lungren, you‘re a Ryan guy as of this afternoon, so you might as well defend him.  Is it true he didn‘t vote to pay for those two wars, didn‘t pay for the Bush tax cuts, didn‘t pay for prescription drugs?  Is he only a born-again guy now on fiscal responsibility, Paul Ryan, your leader?

LUNGREN:  No.  No.  I was on the Budget Committee with him for any number of years.  He presented proposals to try and respond to those questions, number one.  And number two, I‘m sorry—I‘m really sorry that the president‘s engaged in ad hominem arguments.  I mean, the president basically said Paul Ryan, as he was sitting there in front of him at that speech he gave at George Washington, was, in fact, un-American.  The Speaker of the House—former speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi today in her remarks suggested that we Republicans were un-American with respect to our proposal.

I‘ve never accused this president of being un-American.  I‘ve never accused Nancy Pelosi of being un-American.  I mean, it just seems to me those kinds of criticisms are beneath—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LUNGREN:  -- the president of the United States.  Let‘s talk about the facts, not talk about personal attacks.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I agree with you completely.  Let‘s stop calling people not members of our country, when they are.  That‘s a fact.  I‘m with you on that.  Mr. Cummings, your last word.

CUMMINGS:  Yes, one of the fact is, is that they‘re also block-granting Medicaid.  And basically, they know what that means.  They‘re cutting over $771 billion for Medicaid, giving it to some governors who are already cash-strapped.  And a lot of people will—when the need is the greatest, will not get the assistance.  We can do better.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, thank you—

(CROSSTALK)

LUNGREN:  -- and asked for that.

MATTHEWS:  My fellow Americans, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Congressman Dan Lungren, Notre Dame guy from California.

Coming up: Republican strategist Mark McKinnon said his party‘s de facto front-runner for president, Mitt Romney, can‘t win.  McKinnon‘s an interesting guy.  We‘re going to figure out what he meant.  Why can‘t the guy who‘s leading—at least used to lead the polls can‘t be president?  We‘ll talk about it.  And what is Jon Huntsman doing stuff here—well, we‘ll talk about him in a minute.  He‘s kind of fascinating.  He used to work for Obama, didn‘t he?  Anyway, we‘ll be right back.  It‘s a sad state of affairs for the Republican field.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you can now add Pennsylvania to the list of states where voters seem to have buyers‘ remorse about their new Republican governor.  Tom Corbett, the Republican governor of Pennsylvania there, is upside down in his approval rating, according to PPP, and if voters had a chance to redo November‘s election, they‘d go with the Democrat by a 5-point margin, 49 to 44.

Similar polling has turned up the same results in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Georgia, all states where voters say they have buyers‘ remorse about their new Republican governors.  Maybe it‘s just the mood of the country.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Donald Trump has been all over the news these past few weeks, but his headlines say as much about him as they do about the field of Republican candidates who may run for president in 2012 -- in other words, more about them, I should say.  The candidates getting the ink these days are the ones who really can‘t win the presidency, we think—I think.  The candidates who could win don‘t get any attention.

Well, “Time‘s” Mark Halperin is MSNBC‘s senior political analyst.  Thank you.  And Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist—“Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson is also an MSNBC political analyst.  Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

We‘ve got a lot to cover, about five points I want to hit.  First of all, is this Mark McKinnon—Mark McKinnon‘s a pretty well respected guy.  He‘s a great writer, great thinker, and I think an independent.  Here he is laying out for why Mitt Romney, who many thought was the one whose turn it was, can‘t win.  Bad timing—McKinnon says he‘s, quote, “an entirely conventional candidate in an entirely unconventional time in American politics.”

Second, he‘s not a true Tea Party kind of guy.  Third, the Republicans are running in 2012 against Obama‘s health care, and Romney, of course, championed his own similar bill up in Massachusetts.

And lastly McKinnon says, quote, “Nobody really thinks or talks about Romney as the prohibitive favorite he should be.”  In other words, it‘s his turn.  Republican rules usually say, Gene, it‘s your turn, whether you‘re Nixon after Eisenhower or whatever, or Reagan after Ford.  It‘s your turn.  You get the job.  It‘s his turn, but nobody seems excited about it.

So what do you think of assessment by McKinnon that this guy‘s not—it‘s not his year?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s a pretty good assessment.  And the point I keep coming back to is number three, the fact that so much of the Republican enthusiasm about this upcoming election is based on—on opposition to “Obama care”—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROBINSON:  -- or to the Obama health care reform, when, in fact, it‘s basically based on “Romney care,” the individual mandate that he imposed in Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

ROBINSON:  I don‘t know how he gets past that.  I don‘t know how he gets past the primaries with that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it seems to me—Mark, that seems to be a good point by Gene.  It‘s almost like it‘s even bigger than the cap-and-trade bill that nailed a lot of Democrats last time.  Once you‘re on it, you‘re on it.  I‘m thinking about the same thing with the Ryan health care bill—the Ryan budget thing today they all (INAUDIBLE) But let‘s talk about this guy.  Is he in trouble.  Is he really out of it, Mitt Romney?

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Mark McKinnon is a really smart guy and it‘s a great list, but I‘ll say three things on the other side.

Number one, it‘s the weakest field any of us have ever seen in our lifetime.  And so the one who is the nominee of anyone who is currently being talked about is going to be a flawed candidate with a lot of problems.

Two, Romney has been laying low.  He has pursued a purposeful strategy of staying behind the scenes.  He‘s not tried to put forward an alternative narrative, something that the press and the public can latch on to that would kind of put some of these issues in the background.

And until he does that, I‘m not willing to say as a dire thing as Mark McKinnon has.  And, finally, finally, this is clearly an anti-establishment year.  But the bottom line is, the Republican Party is still in an establishment party.  They always pick the person whose turn it is.

And there‘s no one who has got a greater claim to that than Romney.  And in the end, if that doesn‘t happen, it‘s defying what we have all seen in the post-Reagan era in the party. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let‘s take a look at another thing, moving along here.  It‘s Jon Huntsman, the other guy, the other LDS guy running.  He wrote to President Obama back in 2009.  He worked for him as ambassador to China.

Quote: “You are a remarkable leader.  It‘s been a great honor getting to know you.”

Well, that‘s fine.  He also said something.  Here‘s another quote from

him.  It‘s a letter to Bill Clinton.  Let‘s take a look at that while we‘re

at it, more mash notes.  Here‘s a letter to Bill Clinton from

JOHNSON:  Huntsman—quote—“I have enormous regard for your experience, sense of history, and brilliant analysis of world events.  Please save some time for me when I‘m in New York the next time.  I must report that Secretary Clinton has won the hearts and minds of the State Department bureaucracy, no easy task.  And after watching her in action, I can see why.  She‘s well-read, hardworking, personable, and has even more charisma than her husband.  It‘s an honor to work with her.”

Well, that‘s a lot of mash and a lot of love. 

Is that the kind of thing that can seriously, Gene, be used against an R?  I think he‘s got a bigger problem with disloyalty.  You accepted an ambassadorship from somebody, which is an incredible honor.  It‘s a personal representative of a representative.  And then you turn around for no change in the world and say I‘m going to run against this guy. 

My thought, it‘s a question of loyalty.  What‘s your thought? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I think Republican voters would forgive him disloyalty to Barack Obama.  But that‘s the problem. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  The problem is, he worked for the guy.  And he praised the guy and he praised Clinton.  Again, you have got a Republican primary problem there.  And I‘m trying to imagine how that‘s going to play in the Iowa caucuses.  And I think not very well.

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN:  I respectfully dissent from what you both said. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s why you‘re here.

Mark, does he have a Mormon problem, Huntsman?  Is he considered a good member of the Mormon Church?  Whereas Mitt is a very good Mormon.  Is there going to be an intramural issue there with those two? 

HALPERIN:  There is an intramural issue, but I think he‘s probably a good enough Mormon for the purposes of being nominated. 

Look, this is, I say again, a weak field.  If Huntsman comes back from China and turns out to be a world-class candidate, almost supernaturally good, I don‘t think whether he served in the administration, how he left, that will not matter. 

He‘s got much bigger questions to answer than a couple of pro forma letters, like, can he campaign in Iowa and New York, can he raise money, can he give a speech, can he come on HARDBALL?  He‘s a total cipher.  And so I don‘t think this stuff will matter at all. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A total cipher.  I like that.  What‘s a cipher?  Define that wonderful word for everybody in this context.

HALPERIN:  He‘s a blank slate.  Nobody knows what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Empty suit.  OK.  Is he an empty suit or you just don‘t know if he‘s an empty suit?

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN:  I don‘t know.  I doubt it.  But he might be.  We don‘t know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I like the way you‘re working tonight. 

Let‘s go.  Mark, you go first this time.  The Tea Party.  Look at all these guys kissing up to the Tea Party.  They‘re all going to the Tea Party, Pawlenty, Santorum, Roemer, Cain all in New Hampshire today, Palin in Wisconsin at a rally tomorrow, no surprise there, Trump at a Tea rally down in Boca Raton.  They‘re all doing it. 

Here‘s Donald Trump, by the way, on “Hannity” last night on where he ranks and where he ranks Obama.  He‘s beginning to sound like a former top-rated show on this network.  Listen to the word he uses here.  Let‘s listen, the phraseology here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HANNITY”)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS:  I always said that the worst president was Jimmy Carter.  Guess what?  Jimmy Carter goes to second place.  Barack Obama has been the worst president ever.  In the history of this country, Barack Obama is number one. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, that‘s kind of—is that hyperbole, Mark, or is that talk?  Is that serious, worst president in the world? 

HALPERIN:  It‘s—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, worst president in history, I should say. 

HALPERIN:  It‘s very representative of why Trump keeps rising in the polls, because he‘s saying the things—

MATTHEWS:  Hyperbole. 

HALPERIN:  -- with a style and with a—a hyperbolic style, but also he‘s saying what Republicans want said. 

If you look at your average Republican who is going to participate in primaries and caucuses, they think Barack Obama is the worst president of their lifetime.  And somebody else who is saying that with brio and elan is going to get a lot of attention.  

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here we go, brio and elan.

Here‘s Trump.  He‘s tops in the latest PPP poll.  Now, this is a Democratic listing poll here, but it‘s got 26 percent of the primary voters, people who vote in primaries, for him.  He‘s trailed by Huckabee way down at 9 percent behind him, and Romney, Gingrich, and Palin rounding out the pack. 

But that‘s an amazing week for Trump. 

Gene, this is one of most amazing.  This guy, he could be quicksilver.  This could be flavor of the week.  We have seen it.  I have never seen this much excitement about a candidate who‘s not actually going around—somebody said to me today—one of our producers said, he doesn‘t actually go on the campaign and shake hands and—by the way, he doesn‘t shake hands, Donald Trump.

Is that going to be a problem?  He doesn‘t shake hands with people. 

Will that be a problem? 

ROBINSON:  That‘s kind of a problem, yes ,if you don‘t shake hands.  I think you have got to do that to campaign. 

Look, this is an amazing phenomenon.  Despite his obvious panache, however -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Brio, panache.  What else we got here? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Elan.

ROBINSON:  Trump will say anything.  He has said in the past that George W. Bush was the worst president we have had. 

So anything will come out of his mouth if you wait long enough.  And he happens to be now saying things that really are red meat to the Republican base, and so he moves up in the polls.  But I remain deeply skeptical of his—quote—candidacy”—end quote. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, real quick with you, Mark, he reminds me of a kid or somebody before a game where you do trash talk, where you try to get the other side ticked off.  And it works.  I know guys do it in sports.  You say stuff and when you get near them, you just egg him on.  But why is it working with Republicans so—one more time, the brio argument, what is this about?

HALPERIN:  There just—there aren‘t that many people in our society, in business, in politics, even sports who are brands unto themselves who people like and gravitate towards. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HALPERIN:  And he‘s been doing this at a high skill level in terms of getting attention and talking—and having his finger on the pulse of the public for longer than any of these other people who are running. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I never—I have underestimated his ability, his ability to do—whatever this contest is this week, he‘s winning it. 

Congratulations, Donald. 

HALPERIN:  Well said, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You have done it this week.  I don‘t know what you‘re doing exactly.  But whatever this is, this thing, this reality show, game show, political event, you‘re winning.

Thank you, Mark Halperin.  Thank you, Gene Robinson. 

Up next, what‘s wrong with this picture?  It‘s a new stamp from the Postal Service with a very big mistake.  Where do you think that is?  Guess.  New York?  Nevada?  Where do you think that picture was taken? 

Stick around for the “Sideshow.”  You‘re watching on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  And time for the “Sideshow,” which gets better all the time.

First off, born in the USA, obviously. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I was talking to a group earlier.  And I said, you know, I grew up here in Chicago.  I wasn‘t born here. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Just want to be clear. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I was born in Hawaii. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I guess you could call that, what the president said there was a joke there about a joke. 

Next up, who‘s that lady?  To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, the post office has issued this commemorative stamp.  Look at it.  The hitch?  It‘s the wrong Statue of Liberty.  They put on the replica.  See it there from the—not from New York, but the New York Casino in Las Vegas, instead of the real thing. 

A spokesman for the post office said that while the post office regrets the error—quote—“We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway.”

They would have quoted—they would have photographed the one out in Vegas.  I find that very hard to believe they would have done that on purpose.

Anyway, moving back the politics, a cease and desist.  In Iowa this week, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann called Planned Parenthood—quote—

“the Lens Crafters of big abortion.”

Well, that didn‘t sit with the eyeglass chain.  They requested that Bachmann stop using Lens Crafter in public comments.  Well, her spokesman says she will comply. 

And to end on a much lighter note, last night, Jon Stewart picked up on what President Obama said or, rather, didn‘t stay during his big budget speech.  Good stuff coming here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”:  President Obama is just going to say it.  He‘s going to be honest.  He‘s going to keep it real.  There‘s going be a tax increase, people. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  My plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code.

STEWART:  What? 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Spending reductions in the tax code?  The tax code is not where we spend.  It‘s where we collect. 

You managed to talk about a tax hike as a spending reduction. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Can we afford that and the royalty checks you‘re going to have to send to George Orwell? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Actually, what he said reminds me of that old phrase from the ‘70s: revenue enhancement.  Remember that one? 

Anyway, up next:  Texas considers a bill to stop something that doesn‘t exist.  We‘re going to take a walk through this crazy Republican house of mirrors when we return. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks lost a little steam towards the close, but still posted modest gains.  The Dow Jones industrial average added 56 points.  The S&P 500 tacked on five, and the Nasdaq gained about 4.5. 

Mixed earnings and upbeat economic reports driving the markets today.  Techs were under pressure after Google beat on earnings expectations, but surging employment costs sparked fears that its new CEO may be chasing revenue a bit too aggressively by spending too much money.  And outsourcing giant Infosys from India missed forecasts as rising expenses and a stronger rupee—that‘s their currency—squeezed margins. 

Bank of America‘s profit came up short of expectations on steep mortgage-related losses.  But Charles Schwab, the broker, delivered a debt as rising markets fueled trading and fees from clients. 

Finally, some upbeat economic news, inflation still subdued, at least when you exclude food and energy.  It was up just 0.5 percent in March.  Consumer sentiment, industrial production and utilization, and also Northeast manufacturing, you can all of them there, all on the rise. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide --  now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back other HARDBALL.

Well, you can add Texas to the growing list of states seeking to ban the nonexistent threat of Sharia law.  State Representative Leo Berman, who is also, incidentally, but not surprisingly, a birther, introduced a bill that bans Texas courts from considering foreign laws like Sharia. 

He pointed to the city of Dearborn, Michigan, as proof that Islamic law is already being practiced in the U.S.  But where did Berman get his so-called evidence—quote—“from listening to the radio.”  That‘s what he said.

We invited Representative Berman on the show tonight, but he couldn‘t come on due to a scheduling conflict.  We will try to get him on sometime.

So let‘s bring on Dearborn Mayor Jack O‘Reilly, MSNBC political analyst David Corn, who is also the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones.”

How do these stories that—it‘s always like crazy Middle Eastern stories you hear about these rumors or stock market rumors on Wall Street, Mayor, that get started and all of a sudden changes the world, somebody gets killed.  How did this get started, this rumor that you have got Sharia law in your city? 

MAYOR JACK O‘REILLY, DEARBORN, MICHIGAN:  It comes from YouTube and postings that a couple of people have been putting on YouTube since 2009. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s doing that? 

O‘REILLY:  It‘s called Acts 17 Apologetics, two gentleman who have an agenda. 

And they started this whole notion of Sharia law in Dearborn.  And I‘m just amazed, because these people pick it up.  And Representative Berman indicated what was the harm that was going to flow from Sharia law.  And it was women.  He was going to protect women. 

And I put forth that one of our own, Dearborn‘s own Rima Fakih, who has for the last year served as Miss Universe—or Miss USA Universe, is a modern, intelligent woman who has served in a beauty pageant contest and been successful to win in the United States.  And she‘s a modern Muslim woman from Dearborn. 

So, the things that he indicated are what we should be afraid of, burqas and restrictions and all kinds of things, certainly don‘t exist using her as the model. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he probably believes, this guy, Berman, that the reason she won the beauty contest is because we‘re honoring Sharia law.  I don‘t know what kind of mind he‘s got. 

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Listen, the sad thing here is that Mayor O‘Reilly has to waste his time -- 

MATTHEWS:  And the clown is about to show up in his city.  You know that, don‘t you, the pastor or whatever his name is.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  -- again and again saying we don‘t have Sharia lie in Dearborn. 

I mean, Leo Berman, this Texas legislator, says—said a couple of

weeks ago, YouTubes are infallible.  And that‘s what he—that‘s what he -

-

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  He also said that he heard, he heard that Barack Obama had 25 different Social Security numbers. 

So, he‘s doing this, and it forces everyone to sort of say no and call him out.  And it‘s just one of these rumors.  But it exists for a reason. 

You know this, Chris, we‘ve been talking about this for two years now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he says this guy, Berman—I believe that Barack Obama is God‘s punishment on us today.  On his birther bill, he said, this bill is necessary because we have the president whom the American people don‘t know whether he was born in Kenya.

What is this?  You have to deal with this on the back end.  You‘re getting a hint and you‘re an elected official of a big city and a good city and it‘s diverse.  What do the Muslim people in your community believe when they hear these attacks as if they‘re somehow changing the culture of our country negatively like this?  I would say negatively.  We don‘t need Sharia law.  Go ahead.

O‘REILLY:  Well, they‘re anxious, Chris, because if this kind of thing catches on—I mean, there‘s no foundation for it, we all do.  But if it catches on, what‘s the consequence?  I mean, if you use fear—this is what it is—if you use fear to drive hatred, what‘s the consequence?

And I know that maybe Representative Berman hasn‘t got the second part of hatred in his mind, but he‘s using fear so he can solve a problem that doesn‘t exist, because he can‘t solve the problems that do exist.  When you can‘t meet the needs of your people, you create a new need and then say, “Hey, look what I did for you.”  And that‘s just what‘s happening here.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about our times that‘s in the water right now, metaphorically about—it‘s almost like the Professor Howard Hill and the music man.  We got trouble in River City.

CORN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we got trouble in River City.  All kinds of things are coming.  The bad stuff is coming, the poolroom is coming.  The Sharia law is coming.  We‘ve got a foreign president.

What is it in the water right now that makes people—is it because we have an African-American president?  I don‘t want to be that dumb about it.  Is it that dumb?

CORN:  I think that is a part of it for some people.  This is all part of the effort to delegitimize Barack Obama.  You have a birther now saying that Sharia law is about to take over in America.  Funny, he didn‘t say that when George W. Bush was president, now, did he?

So, I think there is a connection here.  I think the mayor is right. 

We have 2 ½ wars going on.  The economy is still in tremendous trouble. 

And this is what people are saying.

Arizona yesterday passed a birther bill.  This is taking up oxygen. 

It‘s taking up time.

MATTHEWS:  You have to show your circumcision or something—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You wrote that in your column today.  It‘s that funny, Mr.  Mayor.  It is that insane.  They want to say announce, hey, it‘s not good enough that he shows the certificate, that he had coming out of the state of Hawaii, which is Mike Isikoff, our investigative reporter went out, went through the whole thing again.

It‘s all in the records out there.  He‘s as American as any one of us. 

It‘s all there.

CORN:  It‘s turning into a joke.  But Donald Trump blows hot air on here and if flames go up.  Tim Murphy wrote that story for us today that said if you don‘t produce your long-form birth certificate, we‘ll take a circumcision certificate in Arizona.

I mean, this is—this is a possible law in a state.  And this is what they‘re debating and doing.  Rather than say immigration or the economy?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mr. Mayor, how is Dearborn doing?  How‘s your city is doing?

O‘REILLY:  We‘re doing great.  But I think you hit the key element here, Chris.  We are anxious right now.  We have tough times and we have a lot of challenges.  And people are concerned about the future and what‘s going to happen to them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

O‘REILLY:  And what‘s happening is people are playing on that for political gain.  And that‘s just bad public policy.

What we have to do is assure people that we have a plan that we‘re going to execute it, which is what I‘m going do in Dearborn.  We know what we have to do.  We‘re engaging the community.  And we‘re saying we have a plan.  We‘re going to succeed.

This is what we have to do.  It‘s not easy.  But we can get there, and we can make it work.  That‘s the message every elected official should be focusing on, and they‘re not.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Mayor, I like you already.  Thanks for coming on this show on HARDBALL.  You belong here, sir.  Thank you.

David Corn, thank you.

Up next, Jackie Robinson, the great Jackie Robinson, broke the color bar in Major League Baseball on this day in 1947.  Everybody is wearing number 42 today in the whole Major Leagues and the man responsible for giving himself a chance to prove himself in the Majors, manager Branch Rickey.

Well, the great Jimmy Breslin has written a book about Rickey and he‘s coming here to talk about it.  Right there, Jimmy Breslin, what a day to have him on—the day that 42 gets honored across the Major Leagues.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s more on the so-called birther bill passed by Republican lawmakers down in Arizona.  The bill would require political candidates to provide proof of citizenship before being allowed on the ballot.  It‘s the first of its kind of the country, a full embrace of the birther craziness that has captured the Republican Party.  But the Arizona bill supporters say it has nothing to do with President Obama.  That‘s what they say, right?

The bill now goes to Governor Jan Brewer who has five days to sign it, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Sixty-four years ago today, Jackie Robinson became the first black player in Major League Baseball.  He was rookie of the year, a six-time all-star in the national league‘s most valuable player in 1949.  He played 10 seasons for the old Brooklyn Dodgers, played in six World Series and helped the Dodgers win it all in 1955.

You‘re looking at the pictures.  He also stole an awful lot of bases.

In 1997, Major League Baseball retired the Hall of Famer‘s number 42 uniform.  And for all Major League teams today, and today, all Major League teams are wearing 42 in today‘s games across the country, both leagues for his historic role.

Jimmy Breslin, my friend, has a book out about my man, Branch Rickey, who brought Robinson to the Dodgers and broke the old white rule, only whites could play baseball.  It‘s called “Branch Rickey.”

Jimmy Breslin, sir, you‘re a great writer, a famous writer.  Why did you write about Branch Rickey and not Jackie Robinson?

JIMMY BRESLIN, AUTHOR, “BRANCH RICKEY”:  Because that‘s where it came from.  Let me tell you where it came from.

Branch Rickey, it was 1945, war still was on.  But he had a pound of paper on his desk.  The Brooklyn Dodgers, he was the president.  A pound of paper on Jackie Robinson, and said, “I‘m going put him in to baseball.  I can‘t do it with the war still on.”

           

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BRESLIN:  Minister of the church in Forest Hills in Queens is where he lived.  The minister was lifted for the Army.  Rickey picked up a missile, and went to the church, climbed the steps to the pulpit, Protestant church.  He came from Ohio Wesleyan.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BRESLIN:  He lectured them on religion.  He took the place of the minister, and then he got tired.  He started to tell them—women are there—“I‘m going to put a black into baseball the minute this war ends.  They sat there.  They were the only people in the world that knew that he was going to do it.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

BRESLIN:  He then went back to Brooklyn, got (INAUDIBLE) the war ended, the scout came from Maine, go out to Chicago and get Rickey—get Robinson and bring him in here.  He didn‘t know one black from the other.  He had to ask the black, which one is it playing it?

MATTHEWS:  There he is watching it there.

BRESLIN:  So forth (ph).

MATTHEWS:  We‘re watching Jackie Robinson take the bases.

Let me ask you, whites afraid to compete with blacks?  What was the nonsense that blacks couldn‘t play as good as whites?

BRESLIN:  He came out—I‘m starting to tell a long story.  He came because he brought him into Brooklyn, sat him down, and he said, “Do you know why you‘re here?”  And Robinson said, “Yes, to play for some black team you must have.”  And Rickey said, “No, the reason why I brought you here, I brought you here to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

BRESLIN:  He put him in to shock and he spent four hours abusing him, calling him names, throwing punches at him, to try to get him used to the other people who were going to despise him.

And that‘s where it came from.  It didn‘t come from any place else. 

It was Rickey by himself started the whole thing.  And -

MATTHEWS:  So, he picked a great player.  But he also picked a guy, Jimmy, who could take the crap he was going to take.

BRESLIN:  Well, he just spent four hours giving the worst treatment he‘d ever heard in his life.  Threw punches at him.  That was Rickey.

MATTHEWS:  Let me quote you from your book.  Here‘s the exchange you write about between Robinson and Rickey, the guy who hired him, quote, “Mr.

Robinson said, ‘Mr. Rickey, do you want a ball player who‘s afraid to fight

back.‘  And Rickey replied, ‘I want a ball player with guts enough not to

fight back.  You‘ve got to win this thing with hitting and throwing and

catching ground balls, nothing else.‘”

BRESLIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So, he lived up to his contract.  He didn‘t fight back.

BRESLIN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  How about—what‘s this story—I grew up in the Philly, you know—what‘s this about the Phillies, the guys in the dugouts were giving him hell?

BRESLIN:  Everybody was.  Everybody.

MATTHEWS:  Other white players were yelling at him?

BRESLIN:  Yes.  And that persists till today.  Ask Obama.

MATTHEWS:  So, what‘s the connection with Obama?  What happened to the election night?  You went to a school, Jackie Robinson High School.

BRESLIN:  Yes.  I want to—where the ballpark had been.  It had been knocked down, and they built a school.  I went to the night—the election night—Obama is the election night.  And we talk and it‘s all blacks and it‘s a black neighborhood.  And I talked to a woman how she felt with what‘s going on on the election.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRESLIN:  She‘s relative to Jackie Robinson.  He won.

MATTHEWS:  She voted for Jackie Robinson.  Thank you.

Jimmy Breslin, the name of the book is “Branch Rickey” by Jimmy Breslin, the great writer.

This is going to be—do you think—back to my question.  Were the whites afraid of black competition?  That‘s why they kept the blacks out of baseball for all those decades?

BRESLIN:  Just because they‘re black.

MATTHEWS:  It was just racial prejudice.

BRESLIN:  That‘s funny.  You don‘t need anything else.  They‘re against Obama.  Why are they against Obama for?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think, my friend.  Thank you.

BRESLIN:  It‘s race.

MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Breslin, the book is it called “Branch Rickey.”  It‘s in your bookstores now, Viking.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with how Donald Trump is feeding the conspiracy theories out there.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the grassy knoll.  That was the place in Dallas—near the Texas Book Depository—that the crazies believe people shot at President Kennedy from.

Well, to the conspiracist mind, it‘s important to always have a grassy knoll.  It‘s their grotto of denial, a place to travel mentally and find deliverance from reality.  Those who don‘t like reality need a grassy knoll to get through the night.

I do not wish to do injustice to these desperados.  I know exactly why people need grassy knolls.  They need them because they cannot bear the suffering that truth brings to the heart and to the mind.

How could some loser—some misfit who went to the Soviet Union because he thought he liked communism and believed he could find a happy life there, then came home and fall hard for Fidel Castro on the rebound, how could this squirt kill the regal Jack Kennedy?  It doesn‘t balance out, does it?  How could a nobody kill such a great somebody?

Well, worst yet, how could a man of a hard left—a communist—kill Jack Kennedy.  Why wasn‘t it a right-winger who killed him?  Then we could blame it on them?

I‘ve got it.  We‘ll come up with a conspiracy theory—don‘t actually have to prove anything, of course, that says—just say it.  Just say it.  It really was a right winger.  It‘s that guy - oh, those guys over in the grassy knoll.  Don‘t you get it?  It was the right wing that killed our hero.

Well, a half century later, we‘ve got a new grassy knoll, another place for retreat for those who can‘t stand a hard truth.  The truth is that Barack Obama is the president of the United States.  Got it!  President of the United States, duly elected leader of the country living right there in the White House.

And they can‘t stand it.  They can‘t stand that it is, in fact, a fact.  No way around it.  No way.

Just look at the history books.  Look at the newspaper.  Dang it!  This guy is president.  He was elected president.  A majority of the people wanted him president and went out and voted for him.

How do we change that?  How do we change that reality?

I got it, with this—it didn‘t happen.  You see, he wasn‘t born here.  He‘s not eligible to be president.

I read it somewhere that he‘s from somewhere else.  Can‘t put my finger on it but he‘s not really an American, you see?  Not natural born anyway.  He‘s from out there somewhere.

So, last night, the boobs in the Arizona legislature voted to require the candidates for president henceforth approved other documents besides the official document that the state of Hawaii issues as a birth certificate.  They want circumcision, baptismal records.  They want something that nobody‘s ever wanted before from any candidate before.

What they really want is the same thing grassy knoll people want even now—deliverance from the truth they cannot handle.

Donald Trump—take a bow for giving new hope to grassy knollers everywhere.  Wow!

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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