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updated 2/2/2012 11:06:51 AM ET 2012-02-02T16:06:51

Guests: David Corn, Sue Herera, John Harris, Joan Walsh, Dee Dee Myers, Melinda Henneberger, Melissa rogers, Doug Brinkley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Romney`s war on poverty.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Oops, he did it again! Mitt Romney made another of those unforced errors
today that has plagued his campaign when he said he`s not concerned about
the very poor. It`s yet another opportunity for Democrats to paint him as
a rich guy out of touch with regular Americans, and worse yet, as someone
not really interested in getting in touch with them.

And now the Senate is moving on that Buffett rule to make sure some
very rich people like Romney can`t avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Yes, in the eyes of the Democrats, you could just as easily replace
Buffett`s name with Romney`s.

Plus, what about Newt Gingrich? He didn`t call Romney last night to
congratulate him. Are you kidding? He didn`t concede to Romney in
Florida. He didn`t even mention Mitt Romney`s name. Newt Gingrich`s
performance, his at times delusional speech last night, left Republicans
wondering, is Newt ready to take the GOP down in his quest to bring down
Romney? Just how much is Newt willing to hurt the man who has spent
millions hurting him?

And you may have heard Gingrich say this last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many
of you may have noticed that the Obama administration has declared war on
the Catholic church and other religious institutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Newt`s talking about the Obama administration`s
recent decision to force Catholic institutions, including hospitals and
universities, to pay for birth control, including IUDs that run counter to
the teachings of the church. The administration says the decision is based
on health concerns, but church leaders say it violates religious freedom.
We`ll have that debate here tonight.

And new tapes from the day President Kennedy was shot.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish to God
there was something that I could do, and I wanted to tell you that we were
grieving with you.

ROSE KENNEDY, PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY`S MOTHER: Yes. Well, thanks.
Thank you very much.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s President Lyndon Johnson, newly sworn in,
consoling, Rose Kennedy, the president`s mother. And we`ve got more of the
Kennedy tapes for you tonight.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" -- the duel that`s going on right now between
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney and how it reminds me of the Aaron Burr and
Alexander Hamilton real thing.

We begin with Mitt Romney saying he`s not concerned about the very
poor. John Harris is editor-in-chief of Politico and Joan Walsh is the
editor of Salon.

You know, I think -- in all fairness, we`re going to show the whole
thing. This isn`t the first time, of course, that Mitt has said he was
focused on the middle class. NBC reported this afternoon he said something
similar back in October. But his choice of words this morning were
certainly eye-popping for people like me and everyone watching.

Let`s listen to what this front-running candidate for the Republican
nomination for president said on CNN today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m in this
race because I care about Americans. I`m not concerned about the very
poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I`ll fix it. I`m
not concerned about the very rich. They`re doing just fine. I`m concerned
about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right
now are struggling.

SOLEDAD O`BRIEN, CNN: I think there are lots of very poor Americans
who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?

ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I`m
not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has
holes in it, I will repair them.

We will hear from the -- from the Democrat Party the plight of the
poor. And there`s no question it`s not good being poor, and we have a
safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on
middle-income Americans. My campaign -- I mean, you can choose where to
focus. You can focus on the rich. That`s not my focus. You can focus on
the very poor. That`s not my focus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, John Harris, I don`t know how to explain this
guy. He gets deeper and deeper into this pit of strange talk. He`s
talking about being president of all the people, and he`s basically writing
off people he doesn`t think about, he doesn`t care about. And he`s saying,
I only care about, I guess, the segment of voters he thinks will be the
swing voters. And he`s openly saying, I don`t really care about them. And
he says -- it`s an odd thing when he says, We hear from the Democrat Party
the plight of the poor and there`s no question it`s not good being poor.

There`s no question it`s not good being poor? What does he mean by
that?

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO: Well, I certainly agree with you, Chris, that
he has a pretty bad case of foot-in-mouth disease with the way he put that
quote in. It seemed like he was even given a chance to clean it up in the
interview and he didn`t take advantage of that.

I mean, I can`t pretend that I don`t know what he was trying to say
and said inartfully, which is that the focus of his policy proposals is
aimed at the middle class, the focus of what his specific policy remedies
are trying to achieve. So I don`t think that he was saying what you said
and the way you characterized that, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m just reading the transcript.

HARRIS: I think he was saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... read it again? We can read it again.

HARRIS: ... I don`t care about the poor...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Democrat Party the plight of the poor...

HARRIS: ... that`s not the focus of his policies.

MATTHEWS: ... and there`s no question it`s not being poor -- it`s not
good being poor and we have a safety net to help them that are very poor,
but my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. My campaign --
well, you can focus on the rich. That`s not my focus. You can focus on
the very poor. That`s not my focus.

Well, all right, I`ll play it as it lays. What do you think, Joan?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Well, Chris, you know, I appreciate John
trying to give the man the benefit of the doubt, but he`s got a problem.
He looks like he`s somebody doing an imitation, trying very hard to do an
imitation of a regular guy, and he keeps saying things like this. So
that`s problem number one.

In terms of what he actually said, I think we need to call him on the
fact that his policies -- he supports the Ryan budget. The Ryan budget
cuts a lot of programs for low-income people. So you know, he talks about
the safety net like it`s some kind of hammock and the poor are just lying
in it while the rest of us work.

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: That`s garbage. And finally, his tax plan actually raises
taxes on the lowest 20 percent of Americans, while it gives a tax break to
millionaires. So in terms of very specific policy, he is not out to help
the poor, and he may well hurt the poor. We should say that.

MATTHEWS: You know, I want to get back to something, John, that`s
real. And I don`t think I`m looking for something here that isn`t there.
You know, there are a lot of people in this town, and I talk about it, when
you drive through Washington at 6:00 o`clock in the morning, there are some
really struggling people getting up at 6:00 o`clock in the morning in tough
neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods a lot of them, working very
hard.

They don`t have much money. They`re poor. They`re poor and they`re
working. Do you think he knows that there are people go to work every day
who are poor, that they don`t lie in a hammock, that they`re not taken care
of? Do you think he gets it? I`m talking about the reality of life in
this country.

HARRIS: I`m talking about the reality of life for many millions of
people, what you describe there, is very remote from Mitt Romney`s
experiences. There`s no question about that. For that matter, it`s remote
from the experiences of many people in our profession who, in journalism,
cover these campaigns.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

HARRIS: The fact of the matter is most Democrats also put the -- make
their political appeals aimed at the middle class, rather than the poor.
Poverty has not been -- endemic, lasting, deep-rooted poverty has not been
a leading agenda item in this country for a long, long time. The one
politician who tried to put it there recently was John Edwards, perhaps not
the ideal messenger in retrospect. But poverty has not been on the agenda.

The points that Joan is making that the safety net is not some kind of
hammock for most people in this country -- you know, we`re far removed from
that debate.

MATTHEWS: It just seems strange. It`s one thing not to be reading
Michael Harrington`s "The Other America" every weekend over and over again,
a great book about that very world. But to show -- anyway, I found it
callous and weird.

Here`s Romney -- by the way, he`s had a history of making comments
that would seem to indicate he`s not very concerned about the poor. Here`s
what he said back in October to a newspaper editorial board in Las Vegas
about the foreclosure crisis. Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Don`t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its
course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in
them, fix the homes up, and let it turn around and come back up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I love it! You know, get the people out of the houses they
live in and they own, they can`t pay their mortgages, then just fix up the
houses and sell them to -- rent them to renters.

Anyway, let`s just look today -- here just today, President Obama
responded indirectly to those comments by Romney. Let`s listen to the
president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is wrong for anybody
to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible home owners is
to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I refuse to accept that, and so do the American people!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Do you think there`s a smart political calculation in
recognizing that there is tension between the middle class and the poor,
and actually between the middle class and the rich? I mean, the Democrats
are focusing on the tension between the rich and the middle class, talking
about the Buffett rule, making sure the rich pay their taxes and don`t
escape scot-free. There is tension, I believe, between the middle and the
top.

But is it -- do you think the Republicans realize there`s a tension --
or there is a tension between the poor and the middle class, and they`re
playing on that distinction, John?

HARRIS: Well, that tension is one that was exploited for a long time.
I haven`t seen it being as much of a feature of our politics in recent
years, but in decades past, that was a critical tension, the so-called
lunch bucket voter feeling that people on Welfare were ripping him or her
off.

I don`t know that I think Newt Gingrich -- excuse me, Mitt Romney was
trying to revive the politics of George Wallace or Richard Nixon from the
early `70s. But I do think in his remarks, including on the foreclosures,
he reveals that these are kind of abstractions to him. He`s looking at
this as an economist would -- would look at the housing problem...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: ... rather than with a clear understanding of the concrete
human dimensions of real people, you know, getting booted out of their
homes or facing enormous economic distress. He is discussing this as
though at a great distance, a remove.

MATTHEWS: I think he`s looking at it from the position of a person
who owns a lot of property, Joan, someone who is thinking about how they
can make the best use of the property. Do they let people continue to
scrape the money together to try to pay their mortgages off, or do they
dump them from the property, foreclose on them and start renting the
property? It`s a point of view of a land owner, not of somebody struggling
to own a house.

WALSH: Oh, my gosh, Chris!

MATTHEWS: That`s just the different way he`s looking at it.

WALSH: Exactly! It`s exactly the perspective of a wealthy person, a
person involved in banking, a person involved in real estate, who doesn`t -
- simply doesn`t get that for most of us, our houses -- if we own a house,
it`s the only asset we own. And we invest our hopes and dreams in it.

And when people lose their homes, many of them are losing everything.
And that`s what`s happened in this housing crisis. You`ve seen people
slide back into poverty. You`ve seen African-Americans and Latino families
lose most of their net worth after fighting so hard to gain it.

So every time he opens his mouth on a topic like this, he does reveal
a compassion deficit, an empathy gap, that he just hasn`t spent any time in
the shoes of people who have to worry about money or housing.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, the two best comments made so far, I think, are
yours and Soledad`s. Soledad`s question to the candidate was, You don`t
think poor people struggle, just middle class people struggle? And you`re
used to the word "hammock," which I will never forget, that the safety net
is not a hammock. John and I, I think, both appreciate it because it
teaches us that even though you get a break from the government if you`re
really bad off, it does not make your life good.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: It is not a good life to be poor. And anybody who thinks
so is oblivious to life on this planet.

WALSH: Most poor people work.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Get up at 6:00 o`clock in the morning, drive through D.C.,
the poor neighborhoods, people are waiting at bus stops. They`re not going
off to Disney Land...

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... or to the golf course!

WALSH: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: They`re going to tough jobs, making beds and doing jobs
that don`t pay enough to get you above the poverty line! Anyway, John
Harris, thanks for joining us, as always, the head of Politico, and Joan
Walsh, of course, from out West.

Coming up: Newt Gingrich didn`t call Mitt Romney last night to
congratulate him. Do you think he might? Do you think he ever will? He
didn`t even concede losing in Florida last night. This is hot. It`s
nasty. He also gave a rather delusional speech last night, Newt Gingrich
did, about what he`s going to do the first several days he`s president of
the United States. That guy`s a long way from running this one.

You`re watching HARDBALL right now, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, catch this news. President Obama now leads all four
Republican challengers in the crucial battleground state of Ohio, according
to a PPP poll -- Ohio! Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard." Against
Mitt Romney, President Obama has a 7-point lead in Ohio, 49-42. The
president beats Newt Gingrich there by 12, 51-39. He beats Ron Paul by 10,
48-38. Well, that`s close. And the Republican who does best against Obama
in Ohio, Rick Santorum. The president`s margin over Santorum is just 6,
48-42. Santorum -- watch him going for VP. That`s what`s going on. He
wants to be on Romney`s ticket.

We`ll be right back. That`s what he`s doing, he`s going...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I think Florida did something very important coming on top
of South Carolina. It is now clear that this will be a two-person race
between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts
moderate.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was a defiant Newt
Gingrich last night in a speech that made no mention of conceding a huge
loss to rival Mitt Romney down in Florida. Gingrich plans to come back
from his Florida defeat and continue to fight for the Republican nomination
all the way. But does Gingrich think he can win it, or is he simply
looking to tear down Romney?

MSNBC political analyst David Corn`s Washington bureau chief for
"Mother Jones" and Dee Dee Myers served as White House press secretary for
President Clinton.

Dee Dee, my sense is that Romney has humiliated and hurt Newt
Gingrich. Newt Gingrich is not always a nice guy. In fact, rarely so.

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right.

MATTHEWS: But he has been pounded so hard personally, his reputation
torn to shreds. It`s going to be a long walk back for this guy to say,
Good luck, Mr. Romney.

MYERS: No question. But I mean, this is a particularly nasty
campaign. As we`ve seen, 92 percent of the ads run by both the campaigns
and the super-PACs were negative. That`s probably an unprecedented number.
We haven`t gone back and looked at every primary, but I -- you know, this
is just desperately negative.

That said, there have been a lot of negative campaigns where the
losers have graciously reached out to the winner because -- not because
it`s the right thing to do, because it`s in their self-interest that
they...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: ... and they feel that...

MATTHEWS: ... as much a pol as I am. Why is it in Newt`s self-
interest...

MYERS: Because if he ends up being the nominee...

MATTHEWS: ... to thank...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: ... because he has a chit with the Romney supporters, who
watched it that night, who said, Look, my guy won...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: He might get their vote in November. He might get their
money. He might get their support. He might get their, you know, being on
board. If he`s going to be the nominee, he needs to bring the party
together.

MATTHEWS: That`s Mitt`s job to do this.

MYERS: Doing things like this -- it`s Newt`s job to do that. If
Newt`s up there, if he wins...

MATTHEWS: Oh, if he wins.

MYERS: Yes. It`s in his interest. Plus...

MATTHEWS: Oh, I see what you mean.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: I mean, he thinks he`s in. I`m saying if you`re Newt and you
think you`re in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... remarkable assumption there. A lot of people think
Newt`s out of the race...

MYERS: But that`s Newt`s assumption. That`s why he`s there!

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: But there are a
lot of reasons for Newt to do the right thing. One is to do...

MATTHEWS: Oh, you think it`s right thing?

CORN: No, no. I think being gracious is the right thing.

MATTHEWS: Do you think so?

CORN: I think so. But the thing is, he still...

MATTHEWS: Would you do it?

CORN: He still -- of course. You have to do it. You know that in
politics...

MYERS: But it`s about self-interest!

CORN: But there are two things going on here. One is his own spite
and bile prevents him from doing this.

MYERS: Right.

CORN: Right? The other thing is, I do think he believes he has a
chance to win. And why? Because Romney still is not right with the base.
You know, 33 percent of the Republican...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: ... electorate still doesn`t want Romney. And anything can
happen and...

MATTHEWS: You guys are smart! You think Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think he should be thinking like a winner, not a loser.

CORN: Newt is the last man standing. He has to play this thing out.
but the question we have is whether he`s going to be -- you know, lead
Pickett`s charge and try to win this time, or whether he`s going to become
the suicide bomber...

MYERS: Right!

CORN: ... that blows everything up in the GOP.

MATTHEWS: Oh. You`re following my old advice I wrote in a book once
and I forgot about, which is, don`t get mad, don`t get even, get ahead.

CORN: Right.

MYERS: And look like a winner to be a winner. And he looked like a
loser last night.

MATTHEWS: So you believe that if he really thinks he has a chance to
win, he`s got to be a little more charming. Well, here Gingrich vowed to
take the Republican primary fight, as you suggest, through every state of
the country. Let`s listen to his plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Now, you`ll notice that a number of folks are holding up a
sign about 46 states to go.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: We did this in part for the elite media because, you know,
the same people who said I was dead in June and July and said I was gone
after Iowa, who seemed totally quiet the night of the South Carolina
victory, are now going to be back saying, What`s he going to do? What`s he
going to do? What`s he going to do? So I just want to reassure them
tonight. We are going to contest every place and we are going to win, and
we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, by the way, I don`t think the elite media or any
media I know doesn`t want Newt to keep this fight going! We like this
fight. It`s a good fight to watch, and it may be important to watch.

This morning on "The Today Show" by the way, Mitt Romney, the front-
runner, said Gingrich didn`t even call him last night.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, actually, Newt didn`t
call after Iowa or New Hampshire. I called him after South Carolina, his
win there, but he didn`t call again last night. The other candidates all
called. But I don`t know. I guess Speaker Gingrich doesn`t have our phone
number.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Now, there...

CORN: I love...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There is rubbing it in. He is rubbing it in.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: That`s not that appealing either, because, well, he didn`t
call me.

MATTHEWS: He didn`t have my phone number. Whenever he does that
laugh...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CORN: But we have talked about this before. Newt Gingrich is not a
nice person. He comes across as mean and nasty.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Romney is?

CORN: Well, I think he`s maybe gracious, but polite.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: I think he`s polite and maybe has better manners.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever had somebody spend -- I`m trying to do the
math on this -- $16 million in Florida alone destroying your reputation?
Not only disagree with this guy about Iran or something, this guy is a bad
person, $16 million.

CORN: For 34 years, Newt Gingrich has called Democrats Nazis, Neville
Chamberlain, communists, socialists. He says Obama wants to destroy the
country. He has no claim to having a more dignified...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Two wrongs don`t make a right.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Yes. Here is another reason to worry about it. Newt is not
in control of his emotions, right? He is feeling hurt. He`s feeling
people -- what happens if he is president of the United States and he gets
in a tiff with Netanyahu and Netanyahu wants to call him to talk about
their plans to bomb Iran over -- you know, you can`t do that when you`re
playing...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: It is not personal. It`s business.

MYERS: It`s business, exactly. He needs to watch...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take look at last night. A couple things. He
talked about the Obama campaign. Let`s take a look at Romney. Actually,
let`s take a look at Newt last night. Here he is, Newt trying to make his
speech all about his ideas and proposals for a possible Gingrich
administration.

This was the most informative look at a presidency to be I have ever
seen. He went through every bill he is going to sign, every executive
order he is going to sign, all his foreign policy initiatives, where he
will have the U.S. Embassy in Israel, everything. It was the most detailed
account of something that will probably never happen.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s listen.

MYERS: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I will ask them to immediately pass the repeal of
Obamacare.

I will ask them to immediately pass the repeal of the Dodd/Frank bill.
The very first executive order will abolish all of the White House czars.
All this is going to happen about two hours after the inaugural address.
OK?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Before we get to go to the various balls that night, we are
going to have a work period, because this is going to be a working
presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And I`m going to have ice cream after dinner every night.

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s like Boys State, isn`t it, or Girls State
here, what I`m going to do.

CORN: Well, you know, at another point in the speech, he said, I have
been studying what America must do since 1958.

He was 15 in 1958. So when you talk about having these grand ideas...

MATTHEWS: I believe that part.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Yes, yes.

CORN: You knew what you were going to do when you were...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I knew what I was going to say about a president.

MYERS: Once again it wasn`t a particularly effective speech. It was
somewhere between being petulant and actually giving a visionary speech.

MATTHEWS: OK. I want to ask you. You can be the masters of the
Cloth Hall here and you will decide in a minute what Romney should do to
bring this guy into good order.

On "MORNING JOE" today, which is great this week , Romney continued
his ridicule of Gingrich in Jerry`s (ph) down there on South Beach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Sometimes I have to chuckle when I listen to people think
that Newt Gingrich is the conservative in this race. My record is
conservative. I believe the people of this country will recognize that as
time goes on. Here in Florida, Tea Partiers and the people who call
themselves conservative voted in a majority for me. That`s a good sign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Sometimes I have to chuckle."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I would like to be there when that guys chuckles.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I still think he looks like the Hall of the Presidents.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... where the guy stands up, the statue of the president?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know. What do you think? He doesn`t know about
the poor. He doesn`t think -- I think he is treating Newt like one of the
poor people.

MYERS: Right. You know, when he gets off his talking points and lets
his true colors fly, he shows...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did you shoe colors?

MYERS: It`s true colors.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: True colors. Excuse me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, I have to tell everybody I was at my bus stop
in Northwest Philadelphia recently -- Northwest Washington recently, and I
saw this beautiful mature woman like a European film star at the bus stop.
It was you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You have your portrait on one of these big bus stops in
D.C.

MYERS: I did for a while have my...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What was that product?

MYERS: It was Jones New York, the clothing maker.

MATTHEWS: That was so fashionable.

MYERS: Well, thank you.

MATTHEWS: It was tasteful and it was classy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Corn. And thank you, Dee Dee Myers.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: On behalf of Jones New York, thank you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Up next: why Newt Gingrich is beginning to remind people of
his famous "Monty Python" bit.

You`re watching HARDBALL. Remember this one? Only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and now for the "Sideshow."

First up: no giving up. Newt Gingrich is standing by his decision to
stick out the race until the convention in August, but with pro-Romney
super PACs shelling out to bombard voters with negative ads about the
former speaker, Newt`s campaign could be in pieces by convention time.

Take this e-mail released by Politico -- quote -- "Newt equals the
Black Knight in `Monty Python`: had his legs and arms chopped off in
battle, still wanted to fight."

Well, here is how the Black Knight fights on even when he has been
dealt enough blows to have lost all his limbs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I`m invincible.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You`re a loony.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: All right. We will call it a draw.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I see. Running away, eh? Come back here and
take what`s coming to you. I will bite your legs off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s cruel. Just like in that duel, Newt shouldn`t count
on team Romney, by the way, to back off, no matter how much damage they
have done. They can just keep on whacking him, as you saw there.

Next up, first lady Michelle Obama appeared on "The Tonight Show" last
night. How does she think the rivalry stacks up between President Obama
and Mitt Romney? I mean, about the two men`s ability to carry a tune, that
is? Let`s hear the two contenders and the first lady`s review.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing): I`m so in
love with you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY (singing): For purple mountain majesty above the fruited
plain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Did he say to you,
honey, at the Apollo tonight, I`m going to sing?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: No.

LENO: Was that spontaneous?

M. OBAMA: That was completely spontaneous.

LENO: Yes.

M. OBAMA: He does have a beautiful voice.

LENO: Did you hear Mitt Romney sing? What did you think?

(LAUGHTER)

M. OBAMA: I saw it in the green room.

LENO: Right, right.

M. OBAMA: It`s beautiful.

LENO: Beautiful.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now, that`s class.

And, finally, when small becomes big. The president`s delegate
selection process is a quadrennial mystery to most people. For instance,
how did Alaska, whose caucuses will get little attention, wind up with more
delegates than South Carolina?

Well, Alaska, with a population of just over 700,000 people, will send
27 delegates to the convention in Tampa. Compare that to South Carolina
with a population close to five million but with only 25 delegates. Alaska
ended up with this oversized delegation because the Republican National
Committee penalized some states for moving up their primary dates.

By the way, that item brought to us care of the "Alaska Dispatch"
newspaper.

Up next: The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions
to pay for birth control as part of its health care reform law. And that`s
got Republicans and many religious leaders calling foul. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The Dow Jones industrials finished up 83.5 points. The S&P 500 gained
11 and change, and the Nasdaq added about 34 points. The long wait is
over. Facebook has filed for its IPO. The offering will likely take place
in the second quarter and it will raise $5 billion.

And Amazon.com shares off more than 7 percent today. The online
retailer`s profits managed to beat expectations, but heavy spending on its
expansion efforts took a bite out of its results.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- and now back to
HARDBALL and Chris.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the Obama administration has suddenly found itself in a fight it
would like to avoid, of course, with the Catholic Church, an issue about
new rules under the administration`s health care reform act that will
require organizations like religious charities and hospitals -- that
includes colleges -- to provide birth control insurance coverage for their
employees.

Here`s how New York Cardinal designate Timothy Dolan explained his
objection to the regulation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIMOTHY DOLAN, NEW YORK CARDINAL DESIGNATE: Never before has the
federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the
marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This
shouldn`t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in
the Bill of Rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now to explain this to everybody are
"Washington Post" reporter Melinda Henneberger and Melissa Rogers, who is a
religion expert at the Brookings Institution. Melissa also served as chair
of President Obama`s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood
Partnerships. So we have two experts.

I want to understand this issue.

Melinda, explain, why did HHS under Secretary Sebelius, Kathleen
Sebelius, do this right now during an election year, issue this
requirement?

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": OK.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers all have to provide free
contraception to their employees. Religious employers, who make up a tiny
percentage of employers in this country, said we cannot do what violates
our conscience, what violates our church rules. Give us an exemption of
conscience not to be able -- just to be able to not give free contraception
that we don`t even believe in to our employees.

This was sort of a worst-case scenario, where I`m trying to figure out
how it could have been handled more poorly. But I can`t. So the president
has a one-on-one meeting with the guy you just saw, Tim Dolan.

MATTHEWS: Archbishop of New York.

HENNEBERGER: Yes. And he is assured -- they come out of it, he is
feeling good. He comes out of it thinking, yes, this is going to be
handled with some sensitivity. He understands our concerns. He gets it.

And so at the last minute, on January 20, as everybody is showing up
in town for the March for Life, all of these Catholics who support -- who
are pro-life and who supported Barack Obama, at great risk, I mean, really
took on so much criticism, are really thrown under the bus.

The woman, Sister Carol Keehan, who single-handedly practically
delivered -- there would have been no health care reform unless she who
runs the Catholic Health Association had supported it -- is just left out
to dry by him saying, no, you have to violate your conscience to stay in
the business that you feel God called you to do in serving the poor and the
sick.

MATTHEWS: OK. The way it was read from the pulpit on Sunday was not
just contraception being something that prevents the fertilization of the
human egg by the sperm, to be very technical, but also what they call
abortive methods, like IUDs and morning-after pills.

So the church sees a greater problem for them, not just contraceptives
narrowly defined. So this is the issue. And I`m asking you the politics,
Melissa. Tell me, is everything she said right, the way this happened?
It`s just a tragic conflict of view, or what?

MELISSA ROGERS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I think the problem is -
- yes, Melinda explained it very well -- the problem is that there is an
exemption in the regulation, but it`s not broad enough. So it doesn`t
cover these Catholic...

MATTHEWS: Who does it exclude?

ROGERS: It excludes things like most Catholic universities, most
social service organizations.

MATTHEWS: It excludes the Catholic universities?

ROGERS: I`m sorry. It does not allow the Catholic universities to
refuse to provide this coverage.

MATTHEWS: Right.

ROGERS: So they are subject to the mandate.

MATTHEWS: So universities and hospitals and all have to basically
provide insurance for their employees, which includes no co-pay, full
coverage for any form of birth control including morning-after pills.

And why did the administration believe -- well, why did they do it?
Why did Sebelius do this?

ROGERS: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: Knowing -- let me just be political here, and not take
sides on this, although I do have a side.

ROGERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: I think I do. I`m not sure I do, actually.

But let me ask you this. Why did they do it in the middle of an
election year, when you have got a third or a quarter of the country is
Catholic and they are the swing voters of this country? A lot of the other
ethnic groups and religions and groups in this country are pretty much
identified with a party. Catholics tend to swing back and forth. They are
the Reagan Democrats.

They`re the people that make up their mind maybe two weeks before an
election. You know?

ROGERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: These are tricky voters.

ROGERS: Yes, absolutely.

I think they had a good goal in mind, which is -- in my view, expanded
contraceptive coverage is a good thing. The problem is, they struck the
wrong balance here on religious liberty. We shouldn`t, in my view, require
objecting religious employers to pay for and offer their employees a plan
that they preach against every...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s White House Press Secretary Jay Carney trying
to explain. I think it`s a tough job for Jay, explaining the reasoning for
this mandate in yesterday`s White House briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will work with religious
groups during a transitional period to discuss their concerns. But this
decision was made after careful consideration by Secretary Sebelius. And
we believe that the proposal strikes the appropriate balance between
religious beliefs on the one hand and the need to increase access to
important preventative services for women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a tough one because all the time the
government, especially our democratic government or any government
responsive to the voters, the people, tries to avoid fights with religious
organizations -- Jewish, Catholic, whatever. They try to avoid issues.

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Religious freedom is built
into our First Amendment. So, this is not to me a tough call. I mean, the
only exemption --

MATTHEWS: Well, will there be an appeal process? Will the president
back down or should he back down? I`m asking.

HENNEBERGER: The only exemption they have is for institutions that
primarily treat their coreligionists. So, of course, you don`t want that.
Of course, you want institutions to be open to all so now it`s a double
whammy where you`re being really --

MATTHEWS: OK. By the way, I`m very proud of the work my wife and I
have done, minimal work. But I am very proud of the work with Catholic
charities because as you just said, Melinda, it is open to everybody.
Everybody gets advantage of these things. And it`s wonderful --

HENNEBERGER: That`s the mission.

MATTHEWS: This is a sad thing that there is this conflict. I think
it is almost like Beckett, you know, in history, this conflict between
church and state and it ain`t simple.

ROGERS: I think we can fix this and I hope the president does. I
think that expanded contraceptive coverage can be offered and even to
employees of objecting religious organizations, but we should just not
require the objecting religious organizations themselves to pay for and
offer that. I think there are other ways to solve this problem.

HENNEBERGER: The irony though is that the very strongly pro-choice
folks who push so hard for this are going to get nothing if Obama is not
re-elected because Catholics don`t turn out for him.

MATTHEWS: OK.

HENNEBERGER: There won`t be a health care reform bill to argue over.

MATTHEWS: Watch this issue to matter among Reagan Democrats.

HENNEBERGER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Among relatively conservative Democrats who make up their
mind each election who to vote for, for president.

HENNEBERGER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Melinda Henneberger, I thought you did a good job.
Melissa as well. Thank you for coming on. Maybe they`ll find some way
through this.

Up next, new audiotapes of the day Jack Kennedy was assassinated.
These things are coming out now. I guess it`s anniversary, things are
starting to come out.

Some chilling stuff here about Rose Kennedy talking to Lyndon
Johnson, kind of a cold conversation if you consider the situation. Maybe
everybody was in shock. But you`re going to hear it in a minute.

This is HARDBALL, only MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann says she is not
negotiating with the Romney campaign about endorsing the former
Massachusetts governor for president. "The Boston Globe" reported the
talks were underway between the one-time rival camps but Bachmann called on
"The Globe" to retract that report and denied others that said an
endorsement of Romney was imminent. Bachmann`s former debate coach moved
over to the Romney campaign and is credited with helping Romney and those
two key debates leading up to last night`s victory for him in Florida.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

And new tapes from President Kennedy`s assassination have been
released, adding to the story of this elusive hero. Presidential historian
and Rice University professor, Douglas Brinkley, joins us right now.

Douglas, thank you for joining us.

Here is a telephone conversation -- you and I talked about it earlier
today between Rose Kennedy, of course, the mother of John F. Kennedy, and
newly sworn in President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird, his wife, aboard Air
Force One, just hours after the shooting in Dallas.

Let`s listen to the brand new tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Mrs. Kennedy?

ROSE KENNEDY, JFK`S MOTHER: Yes, yes, Mr. President.

LYNDON JOHNSON: I wish to God there was something that I could do.
And I wanted to tell you that we were grieving with you.

KENNEDY: Yes, well, thanks a mill -- thank you very much.

LYNDON JOHNSON: Here`s Bird.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much. I know. I know you loved Jack and he
loved you.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: Mrs. Kennedy, we feel
like we`ve just had --

KENNEDY: Yes, all right.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON: We are glad that the nation had your son --

KENNEDY: Yes, yes.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON: -- as long as it did.

KENNEDY: Yes, well, thank you for that, Lady Bird. Thank you very
much. Good-bye.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON: Love and prayers to all of you.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t know what to say about that, Doug. It
strikes me as a terse conversation. Maybe it`s all shock. Not much heart
there. It`s strange -- a strange conversation.

DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It`s very strange. And
obviously, there`s no love lost between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
But I think Rose Kennedy was obviously in shock and had to take the phone
call, but didn`t want to stay on the line very long. And got off it,
probably just didn`t help the scenario any that John F. Kennedy is dead and
he was killed in Texas, Lyndon Johnson`s state.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

Do you really think that -- it`s hard for me doing all the work on
it, you`ve done it too about that relationship between Jack Kennedy. I
know he picked Johnson for his own needs to win Texas and win some of other
Southern states. They were never buddies before. Probably never buddies
again.

But what is your thinking about the real sentiments involved between
those guys, the two presidents?

BRINKLEY: There was no relationship there by 1963. You know, Bobby
Kennedy lived to loathe Lyndon Johnson, as did Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy
family. There was always the feeling that Johnson`s presidency wasn`t
real, that there was really just a co-op of Kennedy policies and the proof
in the pudding that Bobby Kennedy geared up to run in 1968 over Vietnam and
wanted to, you know, in many ways help cripple Johnson`s presidency.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I mean, Kennedy had these weird -- he laughed at them
as kind of a river boat gambler. He called them landslide because he only
won that election, that he ever won for, the `48 election in the Senate by
87 votes, used to kid him about having a dishonest election.

But he also said, Doug, you know about, which was he felt
uncomfortable being in his presence. He didn`t like being in the same room
as Lyndon Johnson.

Let`s go to something really important in history about Kennedy.
That`s the Vietnam War. Here`s a new tape that just came out, November
20th, that was just released, November 20th, 1963, just two days before the
assassination. Kennedy had his eye on the situation in Vietnam that fall.

Here is just, as I said, just two days before he got killed, talking
about what he was going to follow up with south Vietnam, U.S. ambassador to
south Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: They were going to have a
briefing book for me by Saturday. I think I ought to be back here until
maybe 7:00. Then I have to see Cabot Lodge on Sunday and then have to get
in touch with him on Monday. So, you ought to have something to take to
Texas with me.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What`s your sense of where we would have gone? We went
with 500,000 troops, of course, as our complement of troops over there,
subsequent, beginning in `65. Do you think Kennedy would have -- I`ve got
my own views, what are yours? Do you think Kennedy would have escalated
the way Johnson did and made this into an American war in Vietnam?

BRINKLEY: I absolutely do not. The evidence is, I think, growing
all the time that John F. Kennedy would not have been suckered into Vietnam
the way Lyndon Johnson was. I say that was Mike Forrestal. I`d written
the biography of James Forrestal, his father -- I used to interview Mike
Forrestal.

But John F. Kennedy had gone to Mike Forrestal and actually wanted a
plan how to get out of there.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRINKLEY: There was a feeling that it was a lost cause. And Kennedy
gave a world peace speech. He was starting a new kind of foreign policy.
And remember, the generals didn`t do John F. Kennedy -- as you know, Chris,
from writing your own book -- they didn`t do him well by the Cuban missile
crisis. Kennedy just laughed off the generals in the end.

So the thought that he would be so overwhelmed by what the military
was telling him about Vietnam, the way Johnson was, doesn`t seem very
likely.

We`ll never know because there was an election in `64 that affected
Vietnam. We don`t know if Kennedy would have responded to a Gulf of Tonkin
incident, on and on and on. But you cannot say that John F. Kennedy wasn`t
looking for a way to get out of that mess.

MATTHEWS: I absolutely agree with you. I think -- we don`t ever
know the future when someone has been killed. I absolutely believe based
upon his experience in going over to see the French war in Indochina in
`51, opposing the entry of U.S. troops, certainly the use of U.S. firepower
in `54 with the NVN foe, he always knew the issue was nationalism and all
the more troops we could put in there would simply increase their
nationalism. They would resent us even more the more troops we put in.
And that turned out to be the case.

BRINKLEY: Completely agree. And also keep in mind in connection to
our previous -- you know, the comments we had. There was such a thing as
you know of new frontiersman. There was something different about Jack and
Bobby Kennedy`s relationship to the military than, say, Lyndon Johnson.
And, you know, a lot of people were loyal to the Kennedys. Stewart Udall
as interior, for example, even though they stayed on with Lyndon Johnson.

And Kennedy was getting his footing. He had won the big showdowns in
Berlin by not being a militarist. And he won it in Cuba by not being a
militarist.

The notion that he would squander his entire presidency on the gamble
of Vietnam wasn`t in the cards and he was backing away from over-committing
the United States in the fall of `63. I`ve been writing on Walter
Cronkite, and Cronkite did a famous interview at Hyannis Port with John F.
Kennedy. And Kennedy drops, it`s in your book, and Kennedy drops bomb on,
you know, Cronkite`s first half an hour nightly news of distancing America
from Vietnam to a degree.

So, you started seeing in the fall, Kennedy wasn`t -- hadn`t bought
into the idea that if the dominos were going to fall if we lost South
Vietnam, even though the domino theory was in effect.

MATTHEWS: Every time I hear a candidate for president say, I`m going
to listen to the generals on the ground and take their instructions, I go,
wait a minute, you are running to be their boss. You are running to be a
U.S. commander-in-chief. Your job is to tell them what the mission is.

Hey, thank you so much.

By the way, Kennedy was already thinking about colored TV at the `64
convention. I guess he figured he was going to win the nomination and he
was going to get re-elected. He`s already planning ahead right at the end
there. It`s sad but it`s also positive in the way he was so optimistic.

Doug Brinkley, one of my favorite historians, one of the best in the
country, thank you so much for coming on from Rice University, as always.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the duel -- it`s really a duel
of words, so far, between Newt and Mitt. Will it get worse?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

The thousand injuries of Fortunato, I had borne as best I could, but
when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." Those were opening words
to Edgar Allen Poe`s short story, "The Cask of Amontillado," of how one
man`s desire for revenge toward a rival led to him burying the rival alive.
Well, that was a tale of horror, of course, a dark if brilliant fantasy.

For a case of real-life revenge and real-life American history and
politics, think of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Burr and Hamilton
held a duel that led to the death of Hamilton, the country`s first treasury
secretary. Hamilton had said something to someone about Burr being
despicable.

So, here we are, watching something between the horror of a great
poet`s imagination and what we read in our history books. Newt Gingrich
has a deep and abiding case against Mitt Romney right now. Romney has
spent millions with the single purpose of destroying Gingrich as a
candidate. Oh, not just that -- destroying him as a public figure,
rendering him as repellant in the country`s mind. And he`s lucky to still
make Wikipedia.

He`s attacking not just Newt the politician but Newt the person.
He`s vilifying him, villainizing him, trampling him so deeply into the dust
of Iowa and Florida that even liberals are starting to root for Gingrich.

So, here`s a question: how is this going to end? Romney keeps
ridiculing Newt, rubbing it in, laughing over the man`s defeat. He`s out
there publicly enjoying Newt`s humiliation, chortling over it.

This isn`t professional. It isn`t smart and it`s going to reap
trouble for Romney.

There`s only one reason for Newt to give up this hunt and that`s for
Romney to get him, too. If Romney thinks adding insult to injury is going
to get Newt or anybody to move on, he may be good at business but he`s no
politician.

Alexander Hamilton could have pulled back on calling Aaron Burr
despicable. Could have, but didn`t. We don`t have duels these days. We
don`t have talk of duels, except, of course, when Senator Zell Miller talks
to me. But we do have politics.

Newt ain`t quitting this fight. This political duel is going to
continue and it`s going to get more deadly. There`s a presidential
nomination at stake and Romney`s cruising for more bruising. And liberals,
believe it or not, are rooting for the Newtster.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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