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updated 3/16/2012 2:00:35 PM ET 2012-03-16T18:00:35

Guests: Howard Fineman, Michael Steele, Tyler Mathisen, Mitch Daniels, Dana Milbank, Jill Zuckman, Maria Cantwell, Susan Collins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The battle for Joe Sixpack.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York tonight. Leading off
tonight: The empire strikes back. Up until now, the political campaigning
has been dominated by Republicans and their serial denunciations of
President Obama.

Well, today the Obama team hit back. Joe Biden was in campaign mode
at a UAW rally in Toledo, where he rallied blue-collar workers the
president needs. On the auto bail-out, Biden said the president was right
and the Republicans were dead wrong. And the president (sic) lampooned his
opponents as flat-earthers who dismiss any form of alternative energy.
Game on.

Plus, Mitt`s got the math, but Rick has the passion. And what in the
world is Newt up to? We`ll ask the man many Republicans had hoped would
save them from themselves, Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor.

Also, what was once accepted by both parties has now become yet
another partisan fight, the Violence Against Women act. And Democrats
support, of course, and paint this as another example of the GOP hostility
to women. Republicans say the Democrats are playing politics.

And if there`s one thing most people know about Mitt Romney it`s that
he once took a vacation with his dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of his
car. What is it about Romney that makes this story stick?

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with a thought about Glenn Beck.

We begin with President Obama and Vice President Biden in campaign
mode. Michael Steele was the chair of the Republican National Committee
and Howard Fineman is the editorial director of the Huffington Post media
empire. Both are MSNBC political analysts.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Howard.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look right now at Joe Biden. Joe Biden`s on
fire today. The president -- the vice president was fired up in Toledo,
Ohio. He took on the Republican candidates, naming names and leveling
attacks on all their candidates. Here`s some of his speech from today.
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitt Romney, Rick
Santorum and Newt Gingrich -- these guys have a fundamentally different
economic philosophy than we do. Simply stated, we`re about promoting the
private sector. They`re about protecting the privileged sector.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: We are for a fair shot and a fair shake. They`re about no
rules, no risks, and no accountability.

I want to tell you what`s -- what`s real bankruptcy. The economic
theories of Gingrich, Santorum and Romney. They are bankrupt!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: If you give any one of these guys the keys to the White House,
they will bankrupt the middle class again!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me start with Howard on this. It`s my sense now
that they`re beefing up the second half of their ticket. Biden`s on the
ticket, clearly. He made it clear today. And they want him to play the
role of Scranton-to-Oshkosh destroyer of Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, you`re right. That`s the crescent, Chris. It goes through
Pennsylvania, through Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and so on, battleground
states where blue-collar workers, middle-class blue-collar workers are the
key, culturally conservative yet traditionally responsive to a Democratic
message.

It`s fascinating to watch the White House try to occupy the middle
ground on private enterprise. You know, Mitt Romney is claiming that he`s
the guy who`s going to turn around the private sector because he was in the
private sector, but the White House is not going to sit back and take that
argument at face value.

They`re going to say, No, no, we actually care about the private
sector because we went in and did things like saving the auto industry.

So it`s game on in terms of who can protect the health of private
enterprise for the benefit of the working class.

MATTHEWS: Who`s more like a blue-collar worker, do you think,
Chairman Steele? Would you say Joe Biden or would you say Mitt Romney?
Who` more like one of the regular guys you might meet somewhere hanging out
with the guys.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, there`s
no -- look, there`s no doubt that Joe Biden is a regular guy in that sense.
I mean, you know, he`s a commuter. You know, he took the train to
Washington to work every day, just like a lot of commuters out there.

MATTHEWS: And he has a lunch bucket, I hear, doesn`t he?

STEELE: Oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: No, we get that. But I find it fascinating -- I totally get
all of that, but I find it fascinating that, you know, as the president
launches, you know, this harangue against the GOP team that he didn`t talk
about his signature piece of, you know, legislative success, and that`s
health care. Where`s the conversation on health care?

MATTHEWS: OK. Well...

STEELE: Where`s the...

MATTHEWS: ... let them talk. Can`t they talk about what they want to
talk? And by the way...

STEELE: Oh! OK, so...

MATTHEWS: ... when the president speaks...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: They get to talk about what they want to talk about...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: ... but we have to talk about...

MATTHEWS: No, when you get to speak...

STEELE: ... what you guys want to us talk...

MATTHEWS: ... that`s usually the way it works. Usually, when you
give a speech, you get to decide what to talk about. Let me ask you,
Michael, is it a harangue if the president gives it, but it`s a soliloquy
if Mitt Romney gives one? I mean, what`s this "harangue" talk?

STEELE: Oh, please! It`s -- look, you know, you -- the left wants to
cut it every which way in their favor. The reality of it is this. The
president`s out there campaigning. The vice president`s campaigning.
That`s great. That`s what it`s all about.

But he`s starting now because he`s getting killed because of the gas
prices. The polls are eating at his heels, and he`s trying to get in front
of that as much as he possibly can. He`s not talking about those kinds of
solutions.

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: His energy plan -- what energy plan? You know, it`s a bit
little here, a little bit there. There`s no consistent rollout of...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: ... what he`s going to do next. And again, he`s not talking
about the one thing that he should be talking about, the success of his
health care. Really?

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look at -- let`s go back to -- (INAUDIBLE)
you want to talk about health care. We`ll have a whole night on that some
night when you`re not here.

STEELE: Some night! Yes!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, yesterday on Fox News, Romney was asked about some
of his recent gaffes having to do with his wealth. Let`s watch the
possible still front-runner of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, FOX ANCHOR: You were talking about -- people ask you
about football, you talk about how you know the NFL owners. They ask you
about NASCAR, you talk about how you know some, you know, racing owners.
You talk about Ann`s two Cadillacs. And people say, He can`t relate --
he`s so rich, he can`t relate to the rest of us. Why do you keep doing
that?

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Megyn, guess
what? I made a lot of money. I`ve been very successful. I`m not going to
apologize for that.

KELLY: You know, you`re struggling, though, with the folks who make
less than $100,000, even in the states...

ROMNEY: No. No.

KELLY: ... you`ve won, you`ve struggled with them.

ROMNEY: No. No. No. Let me tell you...

KELLY: In Ohio?

ROMNEY: We -- we -- we -- we -- you don`t win a million more votes
than anyone else in this race by just appealing to high-income Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Was that Megyn or was that me, Howard? I thought -- it
doesn`t look like me, but it sounded like me. I mean, she`s the litigator.
I know she`s an attorney. She was really sticking it to him there on those
points. Like, why does he keep losing -- we saw the numbers coming out of
Alabama and Mississippi. He gets killed among below $50K, below $100K. He
is the elite candidate economically, just by the numbers.

FINEMAN: Well, I thought Megyn Kelly did a good job, but I was more
interested in Romney`s answers. They were terrible. You don`t say, Hey, I
made a lot of money.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: I mean, that just doesn`t really -- it`s not really the way
to do it, I don`t think.

What he needs to say is, Look, I understand the private sector. I
want everybody to have a chance. We`re in a battle to save the private
economy of America from overregulation, from too much government, whatever
you want, find ways to illustrate it, find ways to make it exciting. The
battle to save private enterprise -- make it exciting.

The Romney campaign has completely failed at what it should be
strongest at, which is thinking up ways to sell Mitt Romney as a true
defender of working people because he wants to save the private economy.
Instead, Mitt Romney just waves his hand and say, Hey, guess what? I made
a lot of money. Doesn`t work.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at...

FINEMAN: Doesn`t work.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at what Joe Biden said about Romney.
Let`s hear a little more from him. I know that Michael wants to hear it
from Toledo. Here`s the vice president.

STEELE: I can`t wait!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Governor Romney was more direct. Let Detroit go bankrupt.

(BOOS)

BIDEN: He said that. He said that what we proposed, and I quote, "is
even worse than bankruptcy," end of quote. He said it would make GM,
quote, "the living dead."

The guy I work with every day, the president, he didn`t flinch. This
is a man with steel in his spine. He knew that -- he knew that
resurrecting the industry wasn`t going to be popular. He wasn`t going to
give up on a million jobs in the iconic industry America invented.

He made the tough call, and the verdict is in! President Obama was
right, and they were dead wrong!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So bin Laden`s dead and GE is alive -- I mean, GM`s alive.

STEELE: Oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: GE`s alive, too, I must say.

STEELE: Look, GM is...

MATTHEWS: How do you handle those facts on the ground?

STEELE: You handle the facts with the facts. And the fact of the
matter is that that was the easy call to make. The tougher call was
letting the market actually do what markets are supposed to do and pick the
winners and losers, instead of the -- instead of the government coming in
and taking 30 percent of a private company, kicking the bondholders out,
and having them lose their hard-earned investments...

MATTHEWS: Is that the fall pitch?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: No, it`s not the pitch, but it`s the facts! You don`t want
to hear it. You don`t want to deal with the facts. Just like health care.
You want to have a special program when I`m not here! So I got to get it
in now.

MATTHEWS: I know. Well, you`re doing that.

STEELE: And the other point -- the other point, Chris, is that...

MATTHEWS: Did you see "Batman," when the guy kept coming in from the
other channel, interrupting life there, the Joker?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s just stay on the subject. There was some big news
today, Michael. We`re trying to cover it. The vice president gave a big
speech in Toledo.

STEELE: Yes, and...

MATTHEWS: The president made a big speech on energy. I want to cover
these facts.

STEELE: But what -- but what -- but what did he say? He said the
same old stuff. He`s not -- I mean, what is the plan? We don`t know what
the plan is. It`s great to harangue -- I`ll use the word again -- against
Mitt Romney and others, but the fact is, what are you going to do now to
move this economy forward?

How are you going to sustain these jobs? How do you get the
government out of owning 27 percent of GM right now? What`s the plan
forward? There`s no talking about that!

MATTHEWS: OK, well, here`s the president. Perhaps you`ll get to your
topic. Like Joe Biden, President Obama`s in campaign mode today, accusing
his Republican opponents of being stuck in the past on the issue of new
sources of energy, like wind and solar power.

The president had some fun at the Republicans` expense today. Let`s
listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lately, we`ve heard a
lot of professional politicians, a lot of the folks who are, you know,
running for a certain office...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: ... who shall go unnamed...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: They`ve been talking down new sources of energy. If some of
these folks were around when Columbus set sail -- they must have been
founding members of the Flat Earth Society. They would not have believed
that the world was round.

They probably would have agreed with one of the pioneers of the radio
who said television won`t last. It`s a flash in the pan.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of that, now, Howard? Let`s talk
about -- let`s go on to Santorum now. It seems to me that Santorum`s
running a really tough race out in Illinois because he`s up against that
Restore Our Future money, that he super-PAC which is loyal to Mitt Romney.

The latest number, that super-PAC spending about $3.3 million just in
Illinois. This is astounding money. I mean, he`s been doing -- he dropped
over $2 million down in Alabama and Mississippi. There he is doing it
again. His PAC is doing it. In all fairness, it`s probably very much in
league with him in terms of purpose, getting him elected -- totally
negative.

So here we have a Republican Party with one guy, Santorum, selling the
hard right, the Tea Party and cultural right, doing the best he can against
money coming at him when the money`s totally negative. Just -- there isn`t
really a Romney argument out there. It`s just Santorum and then this
Dresden bombing, the carpet bombing that never stops.

FINEMAN: Well, I think if you look at the Romney campaign from the
beginning, it`s always been about that. I think to some extent, he and his
people don`t have faith in Romney`s own ability to make a case, to make a
positive case.

As I say, there is a message in there and it`s about how Mitt Romney
can save the economy because he knows private enterprise. But they`ve done
a terrible job of illustrating it and making it dramatic and figuring out
ways to make Romney personally identify with it. It just -- it just hasn`t
worked.

So instead, they follow the natural instinct of most political
consultants, which is to go negative early and often and at all times.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: That`s what they`re doing. That`s what they`ve done from
the beginning and that`s what they will do -- if Romney`s the candidate in
the fall, it will be a 9-to-1 negative campaign, very little positive.
It`ll be all attack on the president.

And that`s why the president and his people felt they had to start
getting out there now. They`d set mid-March as the time they were going to
start campaigning, and they`re starting to campaign, even though there`s no
nominee yet.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s the Ides of March. Michael Steele, last word on
this. What...

STEELE: No, I...

MATTHEWS: Do you think Romney`s going to keep this up, just go
negative on this guy until he croaks him?

STEELE: I think Howard`s right about that part of it. It`s certainly
part of the game plan.

But just two quick things. The president is going out there
campaigning now and it`s because he`s getting hurt politically by the
numbers on gas prices.

MATTHEWS: Right.

STEELE: Number two, Romney is damned if he does and damned if he
doesn`t. You know, you`re telling him he`s got to go out there and be
direct, and when he is, people are saying, Why are you so direct? So he`s
got to figure out and be comfortable with himself and just do his thing and
work his way through this nomination process. The other two guys aren`t
going away. This is going to be a slog, as you know, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: And we are just batting down for it and just working out...

MATTHEWS: Well, we like a good fight here at HARDBALL. And we`re
hoping for a real good fight in Illinois. I`m hoping Santorum can hold his
own and be -- I want a really good fight come Tuesday night out there. It
looks to me like it`s coming.

Michael Steele, thank you, Howard Fineman.

Coming up, the man many Republicans hoped would have saved them from
themselves, if you will, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. There he is. He
joins us next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got new poll numbers now on the potential November
election matchups. Let`s go to the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new Fox News poll, President Obama is leading all of
his Republican rivals. Now he`s over 4 over Mitt Romney, 46-42. Against
Santorum, the president`s lead is 12, 51-39. He leads Ron Paul by the same
margin, 12 points, 50 to 38 in that case.

And his widest lead is against Gingrich, no surprise there because
Gingrich is out of this, 53 to 35, 18-point spread, as if it matters,
between the president -- which pretty much destroys Newt`s case that the
Republican Party would ever turn to him in any kind of convention.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We got a great guest now. The
Republican presidential field has now basically come down to two men, I
think, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, neither of whom is lighting a fire
among Republican voters. Many Republicans have been pining for someone
else, anyone else, a real movement conservative, perhaps, who could also
beat President Obama in November. They want a winner who believes.

Among the candidates they wish they had jumped in -- or had jumped
into the race was Mitch Daniels, who speaks to us now from Indiana. He`s,
of course, author of "Keeping the Republic." And he`s also governor of
Indiana, and in the past, long ago -- he`s like me -- he was a staff guy
before he became a principal.

I have to tell you I was impressed -- others of my colleagues were
not, but I was very impressed that when you gave the Republican response to
the president this year, the State of the Union, you were one who put cards
on the table. Of all the -- in neither party, except for you -- you were
out there talking about means testing some of these entitlement programs,
for the very wealthy -- in other words, making the kind of rational
decisions we have to make as part of any grand bargain.

Did you take heat for sticking your neck out in that regard, Governor?

GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R), INDIANA: Don`t think so, Chris. I got an
awful lot of very nice feedback for that. I told the leaders of our party,
when they asked me to make the speech, that, number one, I wasn`t much into
red meat, try to be more constructive than that.

And number two, that they knew what I thought about these things and I
would -- left to my own devices, I would be specific in a way I think our
party has a duty to be. They said, Go ahead, and I did. As far as I know,
they were pleased. And those I heard from were.

MATTHEWS: The one thing -- I mean, I`m not a Republican, but the one
thing that`s united Republicans, center, left and far right, is an absolute
belief in cutting government spending. There`s a real commonality. Forget
the cultural issues for a moment and the foreign policy issues, which
aren`t that salient right now -- a real belief that government spends too
much money and the long-term debt`s a real, real threat to our country.

And yet the two candidates now standing at the top of the fight coming
into Illinois are Santorum, who really focuses on the cultural issues -- he
really does -- and Mitt, who`s not really credible because he is a former
moderate governor of Massachusetts, who really was pretty much a moderate
Republican. He wasn`t a fiscal -- a hard-liner, a fiscal hawk.

You, on the other hand, are the real thing. Isn`t it odd that the
party`s not picking the one thing they all agree on in a candidate?

DANIELS: Well, I hope we ultimately will. I do think for the moment,
it`s a little disappointing that folks aren`t thinking a little bigger,
having a little more confidence in the American people that we can level
with them about the dangers we`re facing and about the practical steps we
really have to take if we want this -- want to fight our way through this
thing, not have a bad ending.

I think they`re being too timid, honestly. The president`s left the
field wide open. He`s AWOL on the biggest danger to our country.

He gives us 70-some minute State of the Union speech, Chris, and never
mentioned the debt.

I said to somebody...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I can argue with you on that, because there was an attempt
last year from him to go at it, and your candidates, all of them said they
wouldn`t even accept a 10-1 deal.

Now, you know no Democrat can go to the table and say I`m going to the
table, but I`m not even going to get $1 for the $10 I`m cutting in spending
in taxes. You know no Democrat can sign a deal. You have to come to the
table with a reasonable compromise, some kind of debt reduction which
includes some kind of revenues and a lot of spending cuts. But you need
both ingredients. And your party said no deal on taxes.

DANIELS: I would be happy to tell you that I would have raised my
hand, or maybe not raised, whatever the signal was, to say tell me more
about that 10-1 business.

And I wish at least one of our candidates had taken that route. But,
look, you can`t let the president off the hook. He`s proposing budgets
that make it far worse. He commissioned and then totally ignored the
Bowles-Simpson commission, which made a pretty constructive suggestion,
along the lines you just outlined.

No, he`s basically the candidate of national bankruptcy. So the door
is wide open on our side. I agree with you that our candidates have yet to
really fully take up the duty.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know -- well, since we`re getting political, now
I will make the argument from the other side. The president said that
Simpson-Bowles, although it has a hell of a lot of good stuff in it -- and
Durbin had the guts to support it and some other people stuck their neck
out for it -- it did call for an equal taxation of capital gains and
regular income.

How many Republicans are going to go along with something like that in
the end?

DANIELS: I don`t know, but there was a lot in there that no Democrat
presently is prepared to say they are for. And so it would have been an
interesting starting point. And it was I thought incredibly disappointing
that the president, who set them the sail, then turned his back on them
when they came back with a pretty decent report.

MATTHEWS: Well, my daughter worked on that report. So of course I`m
with you.

By the way, I do -- in all seriousness, I do think it was a chance
where he would have had a lot of cover if he had gotten -- by the way, some
good people were for that on both sides. Coburn was there and so was
Durbin.

Let me ask you about Newt Gingrich in this race. Do you think it is
good for the party to have a three-way when it really should come down to a
two-way at some point sooner or later?

DANIELS: It`s not for me to say. These guys have poured an
incredible amount into this. They all believe in what they are doing and
what they are advocating. It`s not for me or frankly for anybody else to
tell them to get out.

MATTHEWS: Do you think if somebody doesn`t get a majority of the
delegates before the convention, that there should be a real debate at the
convention as to who the -- should it start over again, in other words?
Should there be a real brokered convention?

If nobody has the majority, should there be a brokered convention
where you really do look at outside possibilities?

DANIELS: Whatever it is, it wouldn`t be brokered because there really
any brokers around. What you would have there...

MATTHEWS: Well, on the second ballot, there would be.

DANIELS: Well, you would have a lot of very willful people who sought
to be delegates and have their own points of view. It would be a wide-open
convention. We have not seen one, Chris. I don`t know what it would look
like.

I don`t know if it would come out well or poorly for the party. I
don`t think it`s very likely, for all the reasons that -- about which
you`re more expert than I am.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not more expert than you because you`re elected.

But let me ask you about the whole ticket. Can Romney beat Obama?

DANIELS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Can Santorum do it?

DANIELS: I think anybody can do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can Santorum?

DANIELS: It depends on the campaign they run, entirely on that.

Of course a lot of Republicans are restless right now. In my
frivolous moments, I will say the following. Given this economy, which is
very weak no matter what they say, you have record low percentage people of
working today. It`s the weakest recovery we have ever seen from a
recession like this.

Add on gas prices, add on the mounting debt, add on Obamacare, which
fewer and fewer people like, I always say it would be really hard to lose
an election to President Obama. But we have got just the team that could
do it. And...

MATTHEWS: Yes. Did you see the poll numbers I just gave you? He is
ahead, Obama is ahead substantially.

DANIELS: Yes. Well, I don`t think these things mean much of anything
right now. Chris, they change by next week.

I think it depends entirely -- it`s not so much a question of the who
we nominate as the what. What is it that we offer America? Do we have the
confidence in the American people to say, listen, we are facing a truly
serious problem? It`s not a philosophical problem.

MATTHEWS: I know.

DANIELS: It`s all arithmetic. And there are things we can do that
really won`t hurt anybody. In fact, they will spare us a lot of pain and
here they are.

MATTHEWS: Let me give you two statistics you don`t need help with,
because you know more about politics than I do. You have been elected.

More than men, women count in these elections. The Republican Party
is getting some bad P.R. on that lately, somewhat because of Rush Limbaugh
and somewhat because of the Blunt amendment going after the contraception
issue. A lot of women take umbrage at that. They say why are the men
telling us what to do? You have got 10 percent now for the first time ever
of the electoral this coming November who will be Hispanic in background.

Mitt Romney has just gotten so far right on that issue in terms of
self-deportation he`s talking about. Are you guys blowing a lot of numbers
there you shouldn`t be with women and Hispanics?

DANIELS: Yes, potentially.

Let me just take the first one. I wish our teammates -- my teammates
would stop taking the bait. They didn`t bring up this whole contraception,
morning-after issue. The president did by what I believe was a very
radical trespass of freedom, the action that his department suddenly sprung
on us all.

And the argument should not have been over -- it was incidental that
it happened to do with contraception. The argument should have been,
what`s the federal government, where do they get off telling people what
they will provide?

The fact that something is a right doesn`t mean that my neighbor
should have to pay for it for me. I have a right to own a gun, but I don`t
expect somebody else to buy me one or be made to by the government. And I
think, honestly, my teammates were trying to talk about the big issues on
the day that happened.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know, Women don`t take it that way. You look at the
polls, Governor, what women take it as is your party is telling them
whether they should get financial help to pay for birth control, which,
obviously, men and women are both concerned with. But women say this is a
really invasive thing to be told by men in politics you can`t have this
covered, where other things are covered as part of your health care.

We`re just -- why did they -- you know, you know the issue.

DANIELS: Chris, I`m not disagreeing with you. Just as I think some
of my friends here are pretty clumsy when it comes to connecting with
average people, something that`s not hard to do if you like folks and work
at it -- and some of us do.

They are also very clumsy about issues like this. The invasion here
was the invasion of people`s rights by the federal government.

MATTHEWS: OK.

DANIELS: The right answer would have been, what`s next, health club
memberships?

MATTHEWS: OK. We have to go. We`re late.

Governor, the only thing I can tell you is that Rick Santorum said at
the beginning of this campaign last fall he wanted to bring up
contraception as a major issue. He thought it was an evil in our society
and wanted to talk about it seriously. So it wasn`t just the left. But
you have got a point in terms of the bill.

Thank you very much, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

I know -- I really respect what you`re trying to do fiscally.

Up next: Newt Gingrich doesn`t have much rationale for staying in the
race, does he? And now Jon Stewart is picking apart whatever case he has.
That`s coming up on the show where Newt belongs right now, in the
"Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, Southern strategy. Newt Gingrich lost two primaries in his
backyard this week, and since then he`s been ignoring calls from his own
party to get out of the race. Newt has got his own rationale for staying
in. And here`s the reaction from the folks at "The Daily Show" last night.

Let`s watch.

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

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Rick Santorum
won Alabama and Mississippi, and Mitt Romney won Hawaii and American Samoa.

Here`s a little mnemonic device to help you remember. Places you can
get to in a Winnebago go to Santorum.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Places that require a jet or a yacht go to Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Why won`t Gingrich quit? Because, if you think about it,
he`s actually kind of winning.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Between Santorum and
myself, we will get over two-thirds of the delegates.

STEWART: Right, but you don`t get to add Santorum`s stuff to yours to
make it sound impressive.

That`s like me saying, you know, between me and LeBron James last
night, we scored 36 points.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

STEWART: That`s not your total.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, didn`t Gingrich have the same argument as the people
calling for him to drop out, that as long as he and Santorum split the more
conservative vote, this is Romney`s game?

Anyway, up next, there`s a big fight up on Capitol Hill coming now.
It`s on renewing the Violent Against Women Act -- the Violence Against
Women Act. Democrats are painting Republicans` resistance to the bill as
another example of hostility towards women. But Republicans say Democrats
are just playing politics with this. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon. I`m Tyler
Mathisen with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow up 58, the Nasdaq added 15, S&P higher by eight points, above
1400 for the first time in nearly four years. Today`s employment news
helped put investors in a bit of a buying mood. Applications for weekly
jobless claims down 14,000 to a fresh four-year low. However, producer
prices -- that`s wholesale prices -- posted their biggest gain in five
months.

Apple hit the $600-a-share mark before pulling back ahead of Friday`s
new iPad debut.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: More than one in three women in
the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by
an intimate partner in their lifetime. And every year, close to 17,000
people lose their lives to domestic violence. So, once again, this is not
just a family matter. This is a matter of life and death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back.

That was Minnesota Senator -- Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar on the
Senate floor just a few hours ago pushing the case to reauthorize the
Violence Again Women Act. It`s an historically bipartisan bill, but many
Republicans are upset now that the new version of the bill includes
provisions they have problems with. And they question the motives of
Democrats who are pushing for a quick vote.

We will have two senators who support the legislation joining us
tonight, a Republican and a Democrat.

We begin with Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat.

Senator, thank you for coming on tonight.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: Good evening.

MATTHEWS: What`s the fight over here on this? Why isn`t this bill,
which has passed before, zooming through, especially in this particular
political environment?

CANTWELL: That`s what women want to know. They want to know how
something that`s been so bipartisan in the past, the Violence Against Women
Act, that`s usually passed with great bipartisan support, may not meet its
deadline for being reauthorized.

So, after the debate on Planned Parenthood, after the debate on the
Blunt amendment, you bet women are saying, what`s going on?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look. Here`s one of your colleagues on
the other side, Jeff Sessions. He`s a member of the Judiciary Committee, a
Republican. He`s against the new version of the bill.

He told "The New York Times" -- quote -- "I favor the Violence Against
Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years. But
there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition.
You think that`s possible? You think they might have put things in there
we couldn`t support, that maybe they could accuse you of not being
supportive of fighting violence against women?"

Well, he`s accusing you of putting stuff in the bill which is
purposely put in there as a poison pill, so you people will -- well, they
will vote against it. They`re -- I totally misstated that. He`s accusing
the Democrats of writing a bill Republicans can`t sign on to.

CANTWELL: No, listen, there are provisions in here that are part of
this legislation from previous reauthorizations, these issues about making
sure women are in the country get protected so they can be part of the
prosecution`s case against domestic violence. That`s not something new.

That`s been in the legislation since 2004. So the real issue here is,
if we want to move forward and get this done by reauthorize, bring it up on
the floor, and if people have opposition, they can express their
opposition. But let`s make sure we get it done so law enforcement has a
tool, because this is -- we have so many women impacted by this, over a
million women a year. Let`s make sure law enforcement has the tools they
need.

MATTHEWS: Has there been fraud in the case of the visa aspect of
this, the immigration aspect of the bill?

CANTWELL: I have looked at the statistics, and they have denied cases
of giving people visas. And, certainly, I think that there are protections
in place.

And let`s not forget some of these cases -- and the case of my state
of Washington, these were women who were brought into the country on male-
order bride organizations...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CANTWELL: ... and then basically find out that the person that
brought them into the country for some grand idea of marriage turned out to
be -- in one case, the woman was killed.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CANTWELL: So these are protections for prosecution to give these
women who are victims the ability to testify in court and to make sure that
they are there, as opposed to just letting the violence continue.

MATTHEWS: So it does involve human trafficking, this part of the
bill? That`s terrible stuff.

CANTWELL: Right. And you`re bringing up another point. There`s
another bill that is caught in the same debate on human trafficking. And
we want to see that bill moved too.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Here`s something by the way, I want to thank
you very much. We`re going to have another senator on. I want to thank
you very much, Senator Cantwell, from Washington state.

CANTWELL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Susan Collins is a Republican from Maine, of course, and a
cosponsor of the bill.

Welcome, Susan. Thank you, Senator, for coming on.

What do you make of the fight between the two parties on this? I
know you`re with the majority who wanted to pass this bill? But what`s the
Republican opposition about?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, first of all, I can`t believe
that this issue is being used as a political football. It`s extremely
important that we extend this law. And look at how this bill began, Chris.
Originally, it was introduced by a Democratic senator, a liberal senator,
Senator Leahy from Vermont, and a conservative Republican, Mike Crapo, from
Idaho.

So how did this bill, which had such widespread, broad support end up
being a political football? It`s really totally unacceptable.

MATTHEWS: Well, who is playing politics here? Who`s playing
politics -- Democrats or Republicans?

COLLINS: Well, I have to say I truly think the Democrats are. And I
say that as a supporter of the bill. As someone who represents a state
where more than 50 percent of the murders every year are due to domestic
violence. But this bill started out in a bipartisan way and it doesn`t
make sense for Republicans to be opposing the violence against women act
and they are not.

The bill has some controversial provisions in it. We should have a
free and fair and open debate on the Senate floor and get the law extended.

MATTHEWS: I want you to respond to something here that was on
"Politico" today, on Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer`s motives in this
fight. Quote, "New York Senator Chuck Schumer believes he`s found a
political weapon in the unlikeliest of the places: the Violence Against
Women Act. Republicans have objections, but instead of making changes,
Schumer wants to fast track the bill to the floor and let the GOP block it.
Then allow Democrats to accuse Republicans of waging a war against women."

Your reaction?

COLLINS: Well, unfortunately, while I can`t speak for Senator
Schumer`s motives, that certainly seems to be what`s happening. I think
that`s a real shame because this bill matters. It matters not only to
women, but to children and to men who are being battered. If you read
Scott Brown`s book, for example, you know there are people growing up in
terribly abusive households. So, it is important that e we extend these
programs that are so helpful to so many.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, Maine Senator Susan Collins.

Up next, you probably know Mitt Romney once strapped his dog to the
roof of his car for a family vacation up to Canada. What does it say about
Mitt? This story just won`t go away.

This is one of the iconic stories of this man`s life. This is going
to be in his obit, this crazy story. But it happened.

And this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: B-Rod is behind bars right now. Former Illinois Governor
Rod Blagojevich checked in to a minimum security federal prison in Colorado
today to start serving his 14-year sentence on corruption charges, 14
years. Blagojevich was convicted on 18 counts including charges he tried
to sell the Senate seat once held by President Obama.

Before he left his Chicago home this morning, B-Rod told reporters --
supporters, rather, going to prison is the hardest thing he`s ever had to
do, but he leaves with a clear conscience, he says, and high hopes for the
future. Those were his words.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BRABENDER, SANTORUM CAMPAIGN: Look, I`ll be honest with you.
The question, I sit there like every other American and say, what the heck
was he thinking putting the dog on the top of the roof?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s a Santorum strategist John Brabender today, doubling down on
his earlier comments that Mitt Romney`s judgment is questionable because he
took a 12-hour car trip with the family dog Seamus tied to the roof in a
crate.

Well, the politics of the Seamus story made the front page of today`s
"Washington Post," and Gingrich hit Romney on the dog issue in an ad which
actually was released before the South Carolina primary. Here it goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: I have a yellow Lab named Winston. I would
no sooner put him in a kennel on the roof of my car than I would want one
of my children. Question: What were you thinking?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was an airtight
kennel, mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly.
Enjoyed himself. He was in a kennel at home a great deal of time as well.
We loved the dog. It was where he was comfortable.

We had five kids inside the car. And my guess is he liked it better
in the kennel than he would have liked it inside.

Who let the dogs out? Who, who?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, you got to wonder about who wants to be in an
airtight anything, by the way, and how do you know a dog is comfortable?

Anyway, the Web site Dogs Against Romney sell bumper stickers that
say "I Ride Inside." And t-shirts that say, "Dog Aren`t Luggage."

But here`s the number that may cost Romney politically: 43 million
U.S. households no surprise here that`s 43 million household own dogs in
America. That`s 37 percent of the U.S. households in the country. How
would those voters going to feel about Romney putting Seamus up on the
roof?

Dana Milbank is a "Washington Post" columnist and Jill Zuckman is a
public relations strategist.

Dana, this thing seems to have no -- what do you call the thing when
you can outlive it? Statute of limitation. This one`s over 30 years old,
this guy. He must be thinking, I can`t even remember putting the dog up in
that crate on the roof, and then when it got diarrhea, and it has to hose
down the roof, and it was one of his kids, Tagg, who put the story out in
the first place.

Dana, this thing -- this story has legs.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, four legs. And I think this is
going to hound Mr. Romney, so to speak, for some --

MATTHEWS: Are we barking up the wrong tree here, or what?

MILBANK: And we`re just giving him rough treatment this evening.
But I am one of those households that has a dog. In fact, my Goldendoodle
is in the control room right now and is a dog against Romney.

MATTHEWS: Is he or she offended by this treatment, have you checked?

MILBANK: Deeply offended by it. But what you have to understand is,
you know, a lot of people in America treat their dogs as if they`re there
children. There are even seat belts in cars now for dogs. You can get the
special equipment for them.

So, it`s a -- I mean, a lot of people laugh about it, but it`s not
only that large number who have dogs now, a large number have had dogs
before. And they`re going to look at this and say, that`s just weird.
That`s something alien that I can`t understand.

And so, it so goes beyond the whole canine world to say, this guy is
a little bit different from a normal person.

MATTHEWS: Well, follow-up on this, Jill. I want you to follow this.

Back in December, a "Wall Street Journal" reporter asked Romney to
give him his side of the Seamus story. I want you to listen to his
reaction. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Love my dog.

REPORTER: That`s it?

ROMNEY: That`s all I`ve got for you. Please, I`ve had a lot of dogs
and love them and care for them very deeply.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t even know about that, have had a lot of dogs.
It`s not numerical. It`s about loving one of them.

You know, Jill, people talk to their dogs all the time. There is a
relationship. What`s this guy going to suffer for this, as this gets
around again?

JILL ZUCKMAN, PUBLIC RELATIONS STRATEGIST: Well, this is not going
away, Chris. I mean, it`s not the kind of thing you go out and have a
press conference about, to try to answer all the dog questions, to make it
go away. I mean, it`s just going to be there. And it reminds me a lot of
when John Kerry went wind surfing at Nantucket during the 2004 campaign.
It wasn`t something that you could make it go away, really. It just dogged
him for the rest of the campaign. And it fed into an idea about him.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s dogging him, it`s got legs.

Watch this. Here`s the Seamus story being covered by David
Letterman. It`s turned into a recurring bit. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, THE LATE SHOW: We have a brand-new segment tonight,
ladies and gentlemen. It`s entitled, "What`s Mitt Romney`s dog tied to
today?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The St. Louis arch!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s not going to shake this story. Dana, you`re
the expert at satire, you know? You`re the new guy on the block in terms
of that kind of stuff. And I just want to ask you this. Is this going to
be like the story that got Roosevelt elected for the fourth term? Is this
going to be Nixon`s dog checkers that got him through the scandal in 1952?
Is this going to be LBJ holding up his poodle by the ears? I mean, what is
this? His beagle, rather.

MILBANK: But that`s the problem, it`s sort of the reverse checkers
now. And, of course, you`ve got this extremely well-treated dog in the
White House right now, who travels on Air Force One. In fact, when the dog
soiled the carpet of Air Force One, the entire carpeting of the aircraft
had to be replaced. So you see, there`s some disparity in treatment here.

ZUCKMAN: As opposed to the dog being replaced.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the White House doing it. Let`s listen. A
recurring bit here.

Campaign strategist David Axelrod actually tweeted this picture of
President Obama and his dog, Bo, riding together inside a car with the
message, "How loving owners transport their dogs." so they`re playing the
angle from the other side. And the Obama campaign is recruiting, quote,
"pet lovers for Obama," with advertisements like this.

So this is going to go on and this is real.

Jill Zuckman, giving it a lot of thought. We want to know how you do
the damage control here.

Dana, as always, food for thought.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the dishonesty, I got to call it
that, or whatever you want to call it, of Glenn Beck.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Glenn Beck is a nincompoop. I talked the other night about the
Catholic as well as the Mormon religion being viewed as cults in the South.
I talked about the fact that many who hold this view are voting for Mitt
Romney because they view President Obama as a Muslim.

Beck, either out of stupidity, hardness of hearing, or malice, said
that I was calling my religion and the Mormon religion a cult. I make
Beck`s dishonesty a matter of record, because sometimes people hear
something from even someone like Beck and take it as having an element of
truth.

Well, everyone who watches me says I`ve never said a word critical of
the LDS religion or my own. I`ve taken on members of the religions and
will continue to do so.

Beck is out there saying something absurd, that I don`t believe in my
own religion? He`s saying something about me that I resent more than I`ve
ever said anything about the Mormon faith. The fact is I owe my start in
politics to a couple of wonderful people of that faith.

When I first got back from the Peace Corps in Africa, I went knocking
on doors looking for a job on Capitol Hill. I wanted to work for a
senator, congressman and get started as my career in a speechwriter and
legislative assistant. The young guy who hired me and really changed my
life was Wayne Owens, the top aide to Utah Senator Frank Moss.

Wayne had been a top campaign worker for Bobby Kennedy in his
campaign for president. He later became Senator Ted Kennedy`s top floor
assistant when Kennedy was a member of the Senate leadership. Later,
Senator Moss got me a job on the United States Senate Budget Committee,
when it was first created. He made a call that got me on the job when it
mattered the most. We stayed friends for the rest of our lives.

Why would Glenn Beck go on the radio and rye to say something about
me that is so patently untrue? Good question.

I hope he corrects it. If he listens to my words at least one more
time, he should discern that I was not knocking his religion. I was
knocking the bigotry against both his religion and mine.

I assume the people watching knew that because they know me. I go by
the voting patterns which I see right there in the polls. And the sad fact
is, there are a lot of voters out there, especially in the South, with
views about the candidates` religions, which is just as I described it.

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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