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  1. Headline
updated 6/30/2011 12:47:36 PM ET 2011-06-30T16:47:36

Guests: David Corn, Michael Steele, Tyler Mathisen, Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, Bob Shrum, Susan Milligan, Megan McArdle, Karen Tumlin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Give ‘em hell, Barry!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.  Leading off tonight: Wild about Harry—Truman, that is.  President Obama called out a do-nothing Congress today, saying Congress needs to stop taking vacations and do its job.  He shaped the battlefield for both 2011 and 2012.

If the poor and the sick and the middle class have to accept spending cuts, then millionaires, billionaires, corporate jet owners and hedge fund managers will simply have to pay more.  This is just what supporters on the president‘s side have long wanted to hear.

Also, how close will the 2012 election get to be?  A lot closer than 2012 (SIC), most people believe.  And a new poll shows who has the best chance of besting President Obama.  We‘ll try to figure it out ourselves.

Plus, Sarah Palin now says whether she‘s going to run for president is a tough decision.  Well, I think it‘s time to call this for what it is, a devious attempt by someone who is almost certainly not going to run to stay in the spotlight.  Maybe it‘s time we stopped paying attention.

And when Georgia passed a tough immigration law, its agriculture industry discovered it suddenly was faced with a severe labor shortage.  So what did North Carolina do?  It passed its own tough-sounding immigration law that exempts the farming industry.  It exempts the very people it pretends to affect.  In other words, it‘s a joke.

Let me finish, by the way, with the president of the United States finally telling the Republicans, in his own way, he‘s mad as hell and he‘s not going to take it anymore.  We start with President Obama‘s press conference today, including those hot words.

Chuck Todd is political director for NBC News and our chief White House correspondent.  And Howard Fineman‘s an MSNBC political analyst and the Huffington Post Media Group editorial director.

Chuck, I heard the earth move today.  The president—he is out there.  Here he is on sharing the pain.  Let‘s listen.  This is a new Barack Obama, politically speaking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The revenue we‘re talking about isn‘t coming out of the pockets of middle-class families that are struggling, it‘s coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well and are enjoying the lowest tax rates since before I was born.

If you‘re—if you are a wealthy CEO or hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been.  They‘re lower than they‘ve been since the 1950s.  And you can afford it.  You‘ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet, you‘re just going to have to pay a little more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, the president certainly operating today from fact.  We‘ve got a “New York Times” poll just out this morning that shows that the majority of the American people, all the people, basically, blame either the Bush administration—that‘s 26 percent—for the condition we‘re in right now, or 25 percent blame Wall Street.  That‘s a majority who believe that the blame lies elsewhere.  Only 1 in 12, just 8 percent, are blaming Obama.

Is that what gave him confidence today to point the finger at Wall Street and the rich of this country and saying, If we‘re going to balance the budget, if we‘re going to deal with the debt ceiling problem, got to start with those guys?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it wasn‘t just Wall Street, it was Congress in particular.  You know, the entire press conference—it started with the opening statement, Chris.  Before a question was even asked, he hit Congress for not passing three or four pieces of legislation that he believes could help the economy.  And he kept repeating a phrase, “and that‘s pending in Congress right now.”  And he would say it three or four times.

So I think it is more a couple of things.  He‘s trying to define the terms of the debate back on his side a little bit.  You know, one of the arguments that Democrats have been quietly making on Capitol Hill is that for six months, the White House has let congressional Republicans, particularly House Republicans, and arguably the Tea Party caucus, to define the terms of the debate on the deficit and debt.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  And today for the first time, you heard the president make a much more—an argument where he didn‘t sound so defensive about it.  In fact, you could tell congressional Democrats are happy.  The first word in Nancy Pelosi‘s press release was “bravo.”  And then she goes, This is the argument House Republicans—Democrats have been making for six months, sort of, like, Hey, buddy, where have you been, but also praising him for the rhetoric.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think so, too.  Howard Fineman‘s here.  Howard, it seems to me that this is a recognition a year-and-a-half before the coming election that he—the country‘s not in a good mood.  And the country‘s blaming the direction of this country on Wall Street and on the Republicans and not so much on him.  So why not keep the direction of the anger going that way?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.  And he does it in a typical Obama way, the typical President Obama way, which is sweet reasonableness—I‘m the adult in the room.  This is not about ideology.  He‘s not making some sweeping ideological argument.  He said about taxing the wealthiest people, millionaires and billionaires and corporate jets and the oil depletion allowance and so forth—he said, You know, look, I don‘t think that‘s really radical, he said.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, does he mean he‘s going to get it, or he wants to argue that he wished he could if it doesn‘t get there?

FINEMAN:  Both.  I think both.  I think he‘ll try to get it.  If he can‘t get it, he‘ll say that this Congress, this do-nothing Congress, the only thing it did was protect the richest people and the guys who fly around in corporate jets.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you two guys know this is so much redolent of what Harry Truman did back in 1948 when he faced a Republican Congress that had just come to town, basically, with its own agenda, and the country was angry at the way things were after World War II.  And Truman just stuck it to them.

Well, here‘s President Obama, basically, channeling Harry Truman again here on Congress taking vacations instead of working.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If by the end of this week, we have not seen substantial progress, then I think members of Congress need to understand we are going to, you know, start having to cancel things and stay here until we get it done.  You know, they‘re in one week, they‘re out one week.  And then they‘re saying, Obama‘s got to step in.  You need to be here.  I‘ve been here.  I‘ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis and...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  You stay here.  Let‘s get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, no surprise here, Chuck and Howard, a statement from House majority leader Eric Cantor reads, quote, “Despite the lecture from the president today, the House will not agree to a debt limit increase that raises taxes.”  And Speaker Boehner‘s statement reads, in part, “The president‘s sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the House.  The new majority in the House is going to stand with the American people.”  Boy, they‘re on their talking points.

Is he going to be able to get them off the dime with this?  Because literally, they are just sitting up there.  Basically, they don‘t care how long the clock runs.  They don‘t care—they‘re not going to raise taxes.  They‘re going to let the debt sit out there.

TODD:  You know, Chris, honestly, I don‘t know anymore.  I used to believe that there was a pretty good deal to be had here.  I think if the deal could be cut between President Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that you‘d see the oil subsidies gone, you‘d probably—you know, that that would be part of the deal.  The corporate jet thing would be part of the deal.  A couple of the other issues there that—that the president talked about today would be part of the deal.

But McConnell is not going to agree to anything until he knows that it could pass the Republican-led House.  And you know what?  Cantor and Boehner can count votes.  And there‘s a reason why Cantor backed out of the talks and there‘s a reason why you‘re hearing this rhetoric.  I don‘t think they have the votes, or even close to even cutting that deal.  If they were, I don‘t think we‘d be in the position we‘re in today.

MATTHEWS:  Can the Tea Party people that went to all those crazy meetings, that were spitting on Congress and yelling and whooping and hollering—are those people running the country right now?  I get the feeling they are, if they can veto, basically, the Congress doing anything about the debt ceiling.

FINEMAN:  By the process of elimination, they are, because, as Chuck explained, basically, it‘s Eric Cantor who is the tribune of the Tea Party here.  I think in addition to Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, the speaker, would go along with a deal like that.  I was talking to his people today.  I detected a little bit of, you know, wiggle room there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  But if Cantor bails on Boehner, and Cantor‘s the guy defending the Tea Party...

TODD:  Right.

FINEMAN:  ... that splits the Republicans in the House and then it‘ll never happen.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  That‘s basically the dynamic here.

MATTHEWS:  Well, just to rattle the cage a little bit, Chuck and Howard, here he is, the president, on how his daughters do their homework a day ahead of time.  They don‘t do all-nighters.  This is a very personal shot, a very personal shot at members of Congress, who are grown-ups, presumably, saying they‘re not as good as the president‘s kids at doing their assignments.  This is personal.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time.  Malia‘s 13.  Sasha‘s 10.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Impressive.

OBAMA:  It is impressive.  They don‘t wait until the night before. 

They‘re not pulling all-nighters.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  They‘re 13 and 10.  You know, Congress can do the same thing. 

If you know you‘ve got to do something, just do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, my reading on this is this is warfare, talking down to Congress, saying, You‘re not even as good as my teenage daughters at doing your homework, which I assign, basically.  They‘re going to go after him about his weekday golf and everything else now, aren‘t they?  Are they going to go after him on Martha‘s Vineyard?  It seems like this is open season now in the politics of who gets blamed for the government screwing up the debt ceiling.

TODD:  But they—they are.  And if you go to—Chris, you and I were having a conversation earlier about this idea that, you know, at the end of the day, the public‘s going to assign blame.  And right now, they‘re assigning blame on all of Washington, OK?  That‘s President Obama and Congress.

And I think what you saw here is a subtle attempt by the president to

say, Look, you‘re going to assign blame—and it‘s what we‘ve been talking

about, and it was the overarching theme of this press conference, which was

assign the blame to Congress.

We‘re seeing it show up in our polls.  They‘re back to their lows of where they were doing the health care debate, even when it was all Democratic-controlled there.  They‘re back to their lows of where they think what kind of change the Republicans have brought.  A majority in our polling shows that they don‘t think they brought any change.

So this is a president trying to assign blame because he knows it‘s easy for the public to see that blame.  They already don‘t like Congress in general.  They usually don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK, so this is generally, Howard, going after Congress.  Now, here are the numbers again.  I hope we can show the screen here again.  Bush administration blamed by the public—after two-and-a-half years of incumbency by Obama, still 26 percent blame W and his team for bringing the house down financially, 25 percent blame Wall Street, for a slight majority for both, the blame elsewhere from Obama.  Eleven percent blame the Congress.  I would presume that means both parties in Congress.  But only 1 in 8 -- 1 in 12, 8 percent, blame the president.

I would argue that this poll staggers me, the fact that the public—doesn‘t that surprise you?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  It‘s the most glaring number of that kind I‘ve seen in any of these polls.  By now, the conventional wisdom would have said and has said this president owns the economy.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what Romney thinks.

FINEMAN:  But it doesn‘t seem to be so.  It really doesn‘t seem to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is where the wind may change.  This day in the summer

the early summer of 2011 could be like earlier points in political campaigns, where things change because the leader of one party says, I‘m not going to take it anymore.  I‘m going to blame the other side for the hell coming at us.

Here‘s Harry Truman.  We got an old piece of footage.  This is the middle of the night, 1:45 in the morning.  It‘s about 100 degrees or more in Convention Hall at the Democratic convention of 1948.  He‘s only running about mid-30s in the polls.  He‘s about to get killed by Dewey.  And here‘s what he pulls.  He pulls a rabbit out of his pocket.  Here he is in ‘48.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY TRUMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My duty as president requires that I use every means within my power to get the laws the people need on matters of such importance and urgency.  I am therefore calling this Congress back into session on the 25th of July!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMAN:  On the 26th day of July, which out in Missouri we call “turnip day,” I‘m going to call that Congress back and I‘m going to ask them to pass laws halting rising prices and to meet the housing crisis, which they say they‘re for in their platform!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Chuck, Can Give ‘em hell, Barry—that was his nickname as a young man...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... can Give it (ph) hell, Barry, be as tough as Give ‘em hell, Harry?

TODD:  Well, look, I think that that‘s—that‘s what he‘s hoping for.  And I know we‘re talking about the Truman comparisons here, but there was another part of this press conference that made me feel as if he is learning the lessons from Clinton circa ‘95, ‘96, right?  Same thing that Obama was, Clinton was set back politically.  Republicans take over Congress, frankly, has a hard time the first six or eight months dealing with then Speaker Gingrich and Senate majority leader Bob Dole.

And Then he found his footing during the budget showdown and was able to start turning the rhetoric and saying, Fine, you want to do this.  You want to cut these things.  You know, We all got to make tough choices.  I‘m saying the choice is between a corporate airplane and funding a college scholarship.

And so what I noticed from the president today is he did a better job, more like Clinton, of trying to connect the debt ceiling to people at home, which has been some of the criticism Democrats have been saying of late that he hadn‘t done well.

MATTHEWS:  And now all he has to do is get Speaker Boehner to complain about getting in the back of Air Force Once, like Newt did, and he‘ll be in great shape.  Thank you, Chuck Todd and Howard Fineman, gentlemen.

Coming up: Fasten your seatbelts.  The 2012 election will be a lot closer, everybody thinks, than the 2008 one was.  So we‘ll see.  Let‘s find out in a minute how close it‘s going to be and what it means for President Obama‘s reelection chances because if it gets really close, it gets really close—coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  The 2012 ad wars have already begun and the Democrats are sharpening their attack against Republicans in a new commercial by Priorities USA Action.  That‘s the super-PAC run by former White House spokesman Bill Burton.  Here‘s a piece of the ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Republicans have opposed economic reforms at every turn.  And now they have a plan that would essentially end Medicare for future retirees, slash education while giving huge tax breaks to big oil and the wealthy.  We can‘t rebuild America if they tear down the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that rips the scab off.  Anyway, ending Medicare and giving tax breaks to big oil—those are the themes you‘re going to hear from Democrats across the country heading into 2012.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Right now, the 2012 election is shaping up to be a tough fight over the economy, but are enough voters ready to vote against President Obama, even if they don‘t blame him for the economic trouble?  Republicans sure hope so, but it‘s not so easy, especially when they don‘t like their options.

We‘ve got new numbers from “The New York Times” today and CBS.  The

new poll, 47 percent job approval for the president—not bad, not great -

44 percent disapproval—sort of fair to middling there -- 39 percent approval on handling the economy—I‘m amazed there are that many people happy with it, actually --  52 percent, no surprise there, disapprove.

On the big blame question, as we showed you earlier, most voters still blame the Bush administration -- 26 percent—and Wall Street -- 25 percent—for the bad economy, with hardly any change, by the way, from a year ago.  Those numbers amaze me.

Will that help the president get reelected?  MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele is the former chair of the Republican National Committee.  And Bob Shrum is a Democratic strategist.

Bob, let me start with you on this.  What do you make of those numbers?  Aren‘t you stunned that the people continue to blame the last administration much more than they blame the president for the economic calamity we‘re still in?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Oh, I think people are pretty smart.  They understand that this had its origins in 2008, that the unemployment that exploded in the months after Bush left office exploded because of that economic collapse.

And I think that the most interesting numbers in that whole poll show the president still leading—not by big margins—still leading every Republican at a time of maximum vulnerability.

Chris, you will recall that, at one point in 1983, a year before he won a landslide in ‘84, Ronald Reagan was losing in the polls to both Walter Mondale and John Glenn. 

So, I‘m not one of those people who thinks the president‘s in maximum trouble here.  I think we‘re at a turning point, a defining moment, and that‘s what I think his press conference was about today. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—what do you think, Michael, about these numbers? 

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  I

agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Obama being a little bit more popular than unpopular? 

STEELE:  It doesn‘t surprise me there.  I think that the president has done a masterful job of keeping himself in the middle of the road with the American people largely, not being able to take on a lot of the baggage from the last term of the administration.

It doesn‘t surprise me again that the numbers show that Republicans are largely being blamed for the economy.  There‘s been poor messaging coming out of the Republican National Committee, coming out of the other committees about what it is the Ryan plan is about—about, the Wisconsin debate...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but they‘re not blaming the Ryan plan, Michael. 

They‘re blaming Bush, W. himself, for the stock market and the... 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  I agree.  That‘s the specific...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody knows, by the way, who can‘t sell their house when this started.  It didn‘t start with Obama. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  But the point of it is where it started and where you are now is light years in politics.  And so the reality is you have got a chance to explain it, and we have not done a good job. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at these—pretty fair answer there, I thought.

Now, here‘s the new McClatchy/Marist poll.  It shows 43 percent say they will definitely vote against Obama.  This is very bad for him.  I think it‘s a water level, a high floor, actually, on his opposition.  Then you have got 36 percent say they definitely will vote to reelect him. 

Now, of course, that leaves 21 percent. 

Bob, this is so America, 40 percent roughly on both sides; 20 percent decide the election.  I think we grew up with this. 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I think this is—gentlemen, Michael, this is America.  The 20 percent sit out there.  They don‘t pay a lot of attention to the election until maybe a month before.  Then they begin to grind it out.  They may not even tell their partner, their spouse, how they‘re going to vote.  But they think it through at the end. 

Mike—Bob, your thoughts on that number, the 20 percent who are still holding out, they haven‘t made up their mind? 

SHRUM:  Look, I—this is a point where the president has real problems.  The economy is not recovering as fast as it should. 

I agree with Michael, by the way—and he‘s right about the Ryan Medicare plan, in the sense that putting that out there as the leading Republican issue of the last few months has been an incredible mistake from their point of view. 

They should have been talking about the economy.  It‘s not clear to me that they have much to say about the economy.  I think, as we move into next year, as we see where this economy goes, the president‘s going to be in a stronger position, especially because you have a range of Republican candidates which have left the Republican Party looking like it‘s waiting for Godot.  It keeps waiting for someone else to enter the race that maybe is going to rescue it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you like the way Bob interpreted what you said? 

STEELE:  I like the way he interpreted what I said.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Actually, you don‘t recognize your words.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  I thought, Michael—I thought—wasn‘t that right?

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  No.  He said basically they didn‘t do a good job of selling Ryan.  You made—as you said, they made a mistake of selling it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, “The New York Times”...

SHRUM:  Oh, come on.  It‘s a big mistake.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look at this, a CBS poll—it‘s central—finds just 23 percent of Republicans say they are satisfied with the field out there, and that it‘s led by Romney, only one—less than one in four.

STEELE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  At the same time, in 2007, it was about 29 percent.

People don‘t seem to like your field of candidates.  And, by the way, more evidence of that coming up here—here‘s the “New York Times” poll.  When they ask whether people are enthusiastic about the guys running for president, except mostly guys, and one—Michele Bachmann is a woman, of course—it‘s 67 percent prefer no one. 

They cannot get excited.  This is a weak field.  Bachmann, by the way, is only at 7, with Romney tied.  Herman Cain is up there with 2 percent.  McCain, by the way, is at 2 percent.  And he‘s the guy that lost last time. 

This is desultory.

STEELE:  It‘s work that has to be done.  And I think a lot of the base right now is waiting for someone to step up and take control of this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  But they know Romney very well.  What good is it?  They know him very well. 

STEELE:  Well, they—they do and they don‘t.  I mean, running in ‘12 is not the same as running four years ago. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... new aspect of Romney we haven‘t heard about? 

STEELE:  Well, because he is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is the new aspect of this guy?

STEELE:  He‘s come out.  He‘s loosened the tie a little bit.  He‘s talking with the sleeves rolled up.  I mean, look, there...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that‘s it.  That is it. 

STEELE:  No, but my point—my point is—and you know this to be true, Chris—one election cycle doesn‘t translate into the other. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

STEELE:  And the reality of it is, there‘s still a lot of time, a lot of time. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s some...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You love looking at polls, Bob.  Catch this new poll.  This is a McClatchy/Marist poll just out. 

They ask who you like for president on the Republican side.  And they also ask Republican-leaning independents to join in.  Mitt Romney, a hearty 19 percent.  Then three people in a row, Giuliani, Perry, and Palin, all nudging up behind him there at 13 and 13 and 11, none of whom have announced for president. 

So it looks like most Republicans are still looking almost 2- or 3-1 to the ones who aren‘t running as people they like.  They don‘t like what‘s being put in front of them.  Mikey doesn‘t like the cereal, Bob. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  Yes, I think that‘s right. 

And I don‘t think people are going to get enthused, Republicans are going to get enthused about Mitt Romney‘s lower arms because he rolls up his sleeves. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  I think they‘re looking for something genuinely different. 

And I think Rick Perry is probably going to run.  He has an opening to run.  He‘s the only real Southerner—he would be the only real Southerner in this race.  I don‘t count Newt Gingrich in that category.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going to run for the presidency of the republic of Texas, though, not the president of the United States.

SHRUM:  Well, that‘s his vulnerability. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He wants to secede from the Union. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  That‘s his vulnerability in a general election.  But in a Republican primary, he might do very, very well.  Remember, this is the party that nominated Christine O‘Donnell for the Senate last week. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SHRUM:  And Rick Perry is going to have money if he runs.  He‘s going to have an argument that there were a lot of jobs created in Texas. 

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t believe he‘s running. 

SHRUM:  He will have big problems in a general if he gets there.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SHRUM:  But I think he‘d be a strong candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  I predict he doesn‘t run. 

Do you predict he runs? 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  I don‘t predict he runs. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  And I think the reality remains out there that some—one of these individuals has to catch fire with the base.  They have got the lead-up to the Ames polling in August.  We will see what happens. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That guy doesn‘t—as a public figure, the guy just doesn‘t add up to me. 

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. 

STEELE:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Bob Shrum.  It‘s great to have you back.

STEELE:  Good to see you, Bob.

SHRUM:  Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next—a bird flew right by you when you made that last prescient point, by the way.

Michele Bachmann says the press wants to see a mud wrestling fight between her and Sarah Palin.  She says that.  Well, catch the “Sideshow” next.  I think she has something to do with this wrestling match. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: when stars collide.  Today, at a South Carolina Q&A, Michele Bachmann said the media wants to see a mud wrestling fight between her and Sarah Palin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The press has tried to pit you and Sarah Palin against each other.  What is your relationship with her? 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have a very good relationship with Governor Palin.  This seems to be their sideline right now.  They are trying to—they want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight. 

(LAUGHTER)

BACHMANN:  And I‘m not going to give it to them. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the fact is, it‘s in Bachmann‘s interest to keep Palin out of this race and to reduce Palin‘s influence if she starts to side with another candidate.  That fact occurred to at least one member of Bachmann‘s own team, top campaign consultant Ed Rollins, who noted this earlier in the month. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Sarah is—is—has not been serious over the last couple years.  And she—she got the thing, the vice presidential thing, handed to her.  She didn‘t go to work in the sense of trying to gain more substance.  She gave up her governorship. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bachmann says she didn‘t want this said by Rollins, but it‘s obvious to anyone paying attention here that the competition between Bachmann and Palin is real.  Only one can win the nomination.  And all the rest of this talk is irrelevant. 

Up next: lost in translation.  Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich this week went on an unofficial fact -finding mission to Syria.  Well, it was a questionable trip amid the Syrian regime‘s brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.  Well, yesterday, it got worse.  The state-run news agency over there quoted Kucinich saying—quote—“There are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria.  President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians”—close quote.

Well, no independent record of Kucinich‘s remarks are available, though the congressman himself quickly put out a statement saying he was mistranslated. 

Well, now to the “Big Number” tonight.  Today in Ohio, a federal appeals court ruled the Obama health care law, including its individual mandate, is constitutional.  With this latest decision, what‘s the law‘s overall score in the U.S. court system? -- 4-2.  Four courts, four federal courts, have upheld health care reform.  Two have declared it unconstitutional.  So it‘s 4-2 on its way to the Supreme Court—tonight‘s big, important number. 

Up next;  Sarah Palin says she‘s still thinking about running for president.  Is this a LeBron James act?  Let‘s be honest.  She almost certainly is not running.  But she knows the media spotlight turns off quickly the minute she says so.  So maybe we ought to just stop paying attention to her, but not tonight.  We still are. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good afternoon.  I‘m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another positive day, giving the markets their best three-day run in about three months, the Dow Jones industrials up 72 points.  The S&P 500 added 10.  And the Nasdaq gained 11.  It was banks leading the way higher, after Bank of America reached an $8.5 billion settlement with investors over toxic mortgages issued by Countrywide Financial. 

Meanwhile, over in Greece, the Parliament narrowly approved a five-year austerity plan.  But there‘s a trickier vote still ahead on a road map for putting it into motion. 

BJ‘s Wholesale accepted a $2.8 billion buyout offer from the private equity firm CVC Capital—not QVC—CVC Capital. 

Agricultural giant Monsanto gained on skyrocketing sales boosted by a big demand for its seeds and genetic traits technology.

And credit cards companies soared after the Fed set a cap on debit card swipe fees.  They will be much higher than suggested.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is going to be wild, if a bit troubling. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Sarah Palin hit the ground in Iowa last night for the premiere of her documentary focusing on her tenure as Alaska governor, brief as it was.  Her daughter says she‘s made up her mind about a presidential run.  But Sarah‘s not sure.  Not so sure?  Well, her daughter says she is.  At least she isn‘t saying if she will run for president. 

Isn‘t this a waiting game?  Isn‘t it getting a bit tiresome for voters? 

Susan Milligan is—writes for the “U.S. News.”  And David Corn writes for “Mother Jones.”  He‘s an MSNBC political another.

And both are—by the way, it‘s fabulous here.  Yesterday morning, on FOX News, the daughter of Sarah Palin said she knew what her mother‘s intentions are.  Let‘s get the form right.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you get the sense that your mom has not made up her mind yet, or do you think she knows and hasn‘t told us? 

BRISTOL PALIN, DAUGHTER OF SARAH PALIN:  You know, she definitely knows.  We have talked about it before.  But some things just need to stay in the family. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Not far from the tree there. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But my question, I have to ask, is, is this—remember LeBron James? 

SUSAN MILLIGAN, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He calls an hour of prime time to decide he‘s already decided to announce he‘s going to Miami, and drive those people crazy? 

(CROSSTALK)

MILLIGAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Is she doing this thing? 

MILLIGAN:  This is exactly what she is doing.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Except it‘s six months‘ long, not an hour.

MILLIGAN:  Well, because, of course, as soon as she says she‘s not running for president—and I don‘t think she is—then nobody makes any more contributions to her PAC, which, of course, funded her family vacation.  And nobody buys her book. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But do you believe—we had a big argument among the producers today.  And people take sides around here before the show. 

CORN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And one of the issues is, suppose she steps back and becomes something like Jesse Jackson is after he loses, when he used to lose those general—those primaries.

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And he would come back after a good showing in the fall—

I mean the spring and the summer—and he would come back and, you know, get an airplane and a couple million bucks to do voter registration and be all around the country campaigning for the Democratic...

CORN:  Jesse Jackson...

MATTHEWS:  Could she get some kind of gig like that with the person who does win the nomination? 

CORN:  Well, Jesse Jackson was an organizer.  He grew up as an organizer for Martin Luther King Jr.  And that‘s what he did, and that‘s what he did for the Democratic Party when his own presidential bid failed.

MATTHEWS:  But he stayed in the spotlight. 

CORN:  But it kept him in the spotlight, and it helped the party.  And it helped the party in a general.. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can she do that?  Is that her role model? 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Well, not necessarily in a general election.  In a general election, I‘m not sure Mitt Romney wants a lot of attention being taken up by Sarah Palin, because whatever she does, she will suck up oxygen and attention. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CORN:  That‘s what she‘s best at doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Because it‘s viral today.  You can‘t send her to the AAA markets.  You can‘t send her to Sandusky and places like that around the country. 

MILLIGAN:  Right.  Right. 

I also don‘t think that this is even about the party.  I mean, Jesse Jackson can help mobilize a certain part of the party.  I think, for her, it‘s all about Sarah Palin and it‘s about the TV show and about the books and about making money. 

MATTHEWS:  So you really do think—you‘re cynical.  You think she‘s cynical.  She‘s just playing this game for moolah? 

MILLIGAN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy that?  I don‘t think it‘s that simple. 

I don‘t know her.  I have never really met her.

CORN:  I do—listen, I talk to people who do believe that she herself believes that she has a providential role to play in American history. 

MATTHEWS:  Providential?

CORN:  Providential, from above.

MATTHEWS:  Has she got a messianic thing going?

CORN:  From above.  Now, that may not be running for president.

(CROSSTALK)          

MATTHEWS:  Oh, OK.  That‘s where I get off the train.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look here at—I mean, anybody can play that game.

CORN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go in—last night.

Here she is at the movie premiere.  Palin was asked if she was running here.  And here‘s her response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... thinking about that.

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  You know what I told Bristol when I heard that?  I said, Bristol, what we say on the fishing boat stays on the fishing boat.  You don‘t need to be announcing anything. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I think you got the red carpet theory because there she is on the red carpet like Nicole Kidman or, you know, Julia Roberts or somebody.  It‘s a movie star role that‘s fun.

But what‘s it add up to?

SUSAN MILLIGAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT:  I don‘t think it adds up to a candidacy.  We haven‘t seen her do any of the work that it would take to become a candidate.  She‘s not schooling herself on the issues.  She‘s not out there really building a base.  She‘s not doing any, you know, serious fundraising.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

MILLIGAN:  I don‘t think she‘s running.

MATTHEWS:  Has anybody ever figured out why a person comes so close?  She‘s a national figure.  She has with these other guys, like Pawlenty, who would spend millions and millions of dollars to get to, attention.  And all she has to do is get some briefing books, get some people around her who know their stuff.  Everybody does—

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Right, right, right.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not mentally demanding.  Get yourself on top on 20 or 30 of the top issue, maybe two or three and run for president.  What‘s so hard about it?

People that weren‘t brilliant—Nelson Rockefeller did it, a lot of guys that weren‘t the most brilliant people in the world have done it.

CORN:  She might have concluded that she can‘t win and it will hurt her political celebrity status where she sort of be beaten in Iowa by Michele Bachmann, which is a very real possibility.  And then she‘s no longer “Queen Sarah Palin.”  She‘s not the undefeated.  She is the defeated.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s assume she‘s not running.  Let‘s assume this is all a carnival act.

She does have an interest in who does win.  My contention, I‘ll try it on you experts.  She doesn‘t want somebody to win who doesn‘t win on her behalf.

MILLIGAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  She doesn‘t want a Romney to win at the expense of the Tea Party.  She wants somebody to win who says at the convention, “Come on up here, Governor Palin, I couldn‘t be here without you,” right?

MILLIGAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  So, that could be Pawlenty.  It can‘t be Bachmann, I don‘t think.  It could be Rick Perry of Texas.  Doesn‘t she have to pick a champion if she doesn‘t run or else she runs the risk as just being shut out as you say out of the spotlight?

MILLIGAN:  Well, I think for the moment, what we‘ve been seeing is that she wants people to come kiss her ring.  I mean, that‘s kind of what happened in New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  With you?

CORN:  Yes, after what she did to Mitt.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I‘m serious.  What‘s wrong with her playing -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is there any problem with somebody who isn‘t quite ready for the main reign to say, look, I can‘t win it for a lot of reasons?

CORN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe I don‘t have the background to be president.  Let‘s be honest.  And yet, I only have two years as governor.  I‘m not ready to do this.  I don‘t have the issues ready.  So I‘m going to push somebody.

What does she do?

CORN:  She has influence.  There‘s nothing wrong with leveraging that.

MATTHEWS:  Perry?

CORN:  Well, Perry first has to get into the race.  And, you know, listen, right now, we see her not putting anything on the line.  She may not make a decision until a week out from Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s do it right now.

CORN:  She‘s not going to risk anything.

MATTHEWS:  Put your cards on the table.  Susan Milligan, is she going to run?

MILLIGAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Is she going to run?

CORN:  Don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS:  What did that say?  I just missed your point.

I don‘t think she‘s running.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Guess what else?  I don‘t think Rick Perry‘s running, either.

Anyway, thank you, David Corn.  And thank you, Susan Milligan.  I think we got our pat hand right now for what it‘s worth.  It‘s Bachmann against Romney.

Up next: Georgia‘s tough new immigration law has led to a shortage of agricultural workers.  Well, this is what happens when you do what you say you‘re going to do.  They‘re getting really tough down there.  And the farm workers are leaving Georgia, the farmers down there with no workers.  There‘s nobody working down there.

So, now, North Carolina is pushing a similar get-tough bill that would exempt agriculture workers, basically exempting the people they pretend to effect.  What a joke.  North Carolina is pretending to do what South Carolina is doing to its own detriment.  This is crazy.

This is HARDBALL, coming up here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a great question.  Who‘s the least popular governor in America right now?  Governor?  It‘s Florida—I knew it—

Rick Scott.

The newly elected Republican‘s got 29 percent approval—I think it‘s going to go lower—in the latest Quinnipiac poll.  It‘s the lowest we‘ve seen in the country.  And it may help put Florida in play for President Obama.  Having an enemy like him down there is better than a friend.

Who‘s the most popular?  Just might be New York‘s Governor Andrew Cuomo.  He‘s up 64 percent approval for Andrew Cuomo, after signing the marriage equality act up there last week.  And that‘s fueling speculation he could be running for president next time around in 2016.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Georgia‘s tough new immigration law won‘t take effect until this Friday.  But it‘s already driven crop workers out of the state, and created a serious labor shortage for the farmers who need to have people to help with the harvesting.

So, North Carolina decides to head off a similar agriculture disaster when it simply exempted seasonal employees, otherwise known as “farm workers,” from its own immigration law that was signed just last week.

So, is North Carolina sending a mixed message to illegal immigrants and just giving the appearance of being tough on immigration?  Are they trying to have it both ways?

Karen Tumlin is the managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, Megan McArdle is the senior editor for “The Atlantic.”

I want to start with Megan for the reporting here.  Is that the way it‘s going on?  One state has passed something real tough that scared away the undocumented illegal workers, and the other state has said, “Well, we‘re going to pretend to be tough but we‘re going to exempt the very people that the people who are against illegal immigration want to target”?

MEGAN MCARDLE, THE ATLANTIC:  Well, look, farm work is -- 

MATTHEWS:  Am I right on the facts?

MCARDLE:  Well, I think, yes, that is certainly one way to look at it.

MATTHEWS:  How about the facts?  Is this correct?

MCARDLE:  Yes.  North Carolina has exempted its farm workers—is looking to exempt its farm workers where Georgia didn‘t and ran into big trouble.  You know, farm workers are some of the hardest jobs to fill for Americans, incredibly hard labor, and it‘s actually what most people don‘t realize—it‘s skilled labor.  You know, the people who come up and do it have been doing it since they were children and there aren‘t a lot of people in these counties left who are used to doing the kind of hard stoop labor that -- 

MATTHEWS:  These are picker.  This is hard stoop work, usually done around the end of the summer.  Right?

MCARDLE:  Yes.  Actually, they start South and they work their way North and they sort of follow the harvest.  And they work up from Mexico.

And, frankly, you know, I‘ve done some of this.  My grandfather, my family are farmers.  My grandfather had a major garden.  It‘s enormously hard work.

MATTHEWS:  How is the game—and I‘ll call it a game—usually played?  People show one kind of documentation.  The manager recruiting the workers says, fine, you‘re working tomorrow?  How is the game played?

MCARDLE:  It depends on the location.  I mean, you know, there‘s a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink, obviously, because -- 

MATTHEWS:  But is there some paper shown to pretend you‘re legal?

MCARDLE:  It depends on the farmer.

MATTHEWS:  Some won‘t even ask.

MCARDLE:  Well, as far as I know, I mean, there are definitely farmers who don‘t.  And they sometimes get caught in stings.

But, you know, the big farmers will usually I think try to pretend they‘re asking.  But it‘s very easy to come up with fake papers.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Karen.

Karen, give me a feel on this story as you see it.

KAREN TUMLIN, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION LAW CENTER:  Well, the story as I see it is you have states trying to get in the business of regulating immigration, which is at its heart a federal question.  And we need a federal solution.

So, question here is not, did Georgia dot right thing?  Is North Carolina doing something better?  It‘s when did the federal government get back into the ring, have the kind of comprehensive and just immigration reform that we need.

MATTHEWS:  Do you support a law that will be enforced?

TUMLIN:  What kind of law?

MATTHEWS:  Are you for the United States government to have an enforceable immigration law?  In principle—should we have an enforceable immigration law?

TUMLIN:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And what should it do—how should we fill—how do we fill the fields with workers that are willing to pay and get a just wage?  That‘s what most Americans want, a just wage with workers available.  Do we have guest worker program?  What do we do?

TUMLIN:  What we do is that we demand that our federal representatives get back about the business of coming up with an immigration reform system that is going to work for the needs of our society and the needs of our employers.  We simply do not have that today.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you won‘t get specific and I want to get specific.  It seems to me people come up here to the United States to work from below our border.  They want to make a good wage and go home.

Why don‘t we make that legal?  Why don‘t we make it official?  Why don‘t we regulate it formally and fairly?

TUMLIN:  That‘s absolutely what we should do.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

TUMLIN:  What we absolutely need here is to recognize the fact that we have, literally, we have, by the most conservative estimates, 8 million undocumented workers in this country with longstanding ties here to the United States.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s another issue.  That‘s a totally other issue. 

OK, fine, I agree with that.

I would say let them all stay here.  I would move on to stopping illegal immigration.

And, let me ask you, Megan, is anybody serious about stopping illegal immigration or at least regulating the immigration flow that we have today and documenting it?

MCARDLE:  Well, you know—

MATTHEWS:  Who wants to actually do it?  I don‘t hear anybody on the liberal side who wants to have actually checks on identification.

MCARDLE:  Well, I think this is the core problem that you run into, is that when you get—I mean, I think we can all agree, it‘s a pretty tough law in Georgia.  What you end up finding out is that illegal workers are filling a lot of niches in our economy that we need.  And so, what people want is they want to make a symbolic gesture against this to say, you know, we don‘t want people coming in who aren‘t documented, who are working illegally and competing with American workers—but they don‘t actually want to go and pay twice as much for their fruit or three times as much from their meat from their slaughter houses.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand—I don‘t understand why the United States is the only country incapable of having a reasonable immigration policy which is progressive in American—Megan—American, liberal, enforceable and workable.  Nobody seems to have that plan.  The liberal side, the Hispanic groups say, sure, legalize everybody here.  Fine with them on that.

Next step, let‘s have a plan that actually works.  And they say, well, we really don‘t want voter or worker ID cards.  We don‘t want anything like that.

I don‘t hear anybody except Schumer and Ted Kennedy, the late Ted Kennedy, and maybe Lindsay Graham, are the only people that are serious in this business.  Is there somebody else I‘m missing?  Megan?

MCARDLE:  The United States, unlike other countries

MATTHEWS:  I mean, Karen, let me ask Karen this question.

Karen, is anybody out there serious about true immigration reform, not just open the doors or legalize everybody, but make an official system that works?

TUMLIN:  Absolutely.  I mean, Senator Menendez last week—

MATTHEWS:  Who?

TUMLIN:  Senator Menendez, just last week, introduced legislation that is comprehensive in nature, that would create a path to legal status and also move towards enforcing immigration law.

MATTHEWS:  And he‘s for an ID card?  Is he for identification of workers so that you know when you are hiring somebody illegal or not?  Is he for that system?

TUMLIN:  The principles in Senator Menendez‘s bill include making sure that we have path to legal status so that then when you enter -- 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re dodging.

TUMLIN:  -- immigration law.  No, I‘m not dodging the question.

MATTHEWS:  Do you support having an identification—do you support having an identification system so employers can stop breaking the law, if they want to?

TUMLIN:  If that system works and it‘s not a job-killer.  What we have on the table right now is a proposal from Lamar Smith for mandatory—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Karen, that is the problem I have with the people who support immigration reform.  They‘re not really for it.  I want to see an enforceable system that works, that‘s progressive.

Thank you, Megan.  Thank you, Karen, for coming here.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with President Obama.  Giving them hell out there, finally.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight the way President Obama began it.

Give ‘em hell, Barry.  That was our cold open tonight—our headline in television talk—and it says it all.

President Barack Obama—“Barry” when he was a kid—has sounded the trumpet.  You want to blame somebody for the failure of the economy, for the failure of government to move forward—blame the Republicans and the people they represent—the same people who got us into this economic hell.

“You stay here,” the president said to the Congress today—this log-jammed by a Republican-Tea Party phalanx in the House and a 60-vote rule in the Senate, “Let‘s get it done.”  Stop taking so much time off; stop the job-killing game you‘re playing with the national debt; stop driving up interest rates by sitting on your butts and talking those tired Tea Party talking points.

Give ‘em hell, Barry!

You‘re talking like a Harry Truman.  You‘re doing what he did six decades ago in Philadelphia in an un-aired condition Convention Hall when Truman stood there—at 36 percent in the polls—and told the Republican Congress to go back to work.

In the middle of the night, as Democratic delegates suffered through the heat in West Philly, Truman fired out those Democrats by challenging the Republicans to fulfill their own promises.

Now, here‘s Obama doing the same, demanding the party of complaint to join in creating jobs instead of going after unions and other items on their ideological to-do list, like killing Medicare and protecting the wealthy.

I know full well—or I think I do—why the president let loose today.  It‘s because he just got a poll showing most people are ready to hear just what he‘s saying.  The fact is, no matter what you hear on FOX, a strong majority of this country right now blames the current economic condition on two factors: the Bush administration and Wall Street.  Only one in 12 blame President Obama—one in 12.

So, it here goes.  All the noise in this country has been coming from the right.  The Republican Party has become the country‘s complaining corner.

They hate government.  They hate Washington.  They hate Obama being president.  They hate getting up in the morning.  They hate going to bed at night.

Well, now, they‘re going to get to the feel the heat hitting their own sacred cows --- Wall Street and the crowd that slipped out of town just as the walls were tumbling down.

So get out your crying towels, folks on the right.  You‘re about to feel the heat.   The circus parade of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck has had its fun.  Defenders of Wall Street and W.  and the old order—beware!

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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