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updated 5/9/2012 2:20:48 PM ET 2012-05-09T18:20:48

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Joan Walsh, Ron Reagan, Sue Herera, Michael Isikoff, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, Peter King, Pete Seat

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bodyguards.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
In the president`s Secret Service. This is a scandal that`s not going
away. Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are skeptical
of the Secret Service`s claim that President Obama was not in potential
danger. We have the latest information about the scandal and about how
many women -- how many women were really involved here.

Also, last night the Republicans beat back the popular Buffett rule,
which would have raised taxes on millionaires. Their alternative?
Lowering taxes on most businesses. President Obama is betting that
fairness is a winning argument this November. But is it more important
than the condition of the economy as an election issue?

Plus: Mitt, they`re just not into you -- they`re just not that into
you. The new CNN RC poll -- ORC poll says when it comes to being likable,
President Obama beats Romney by 2 to 1. Don`t look now, but that may be
the most important number you hear this entire campaign -- 2 to 1 they like
Obama, not the other guy.

And what Ann Romney had to say about the story that won`t go away,
Seamus the dog on the car roof. Well, that`s back in the "Sideshow" again
tonight.

"Let Me Finish," by the way, with Mitt Romney`s trash talk about the
Obamas needing to "pack up."

We begin with new details on the Secret Service sex scandal. NBC
investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff joins me right now. What`ve
you got?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC CORRESPONDENT: This entire controversy that has
-- scandal that has rocked the Secret Service erupted because of a -- over
a payment dispute of less than $60.

Basically, what I`ve been told from sources today is this -- 11 Secret
Service agents who were down there, part of the Secret Service advance
team, went to this strip club in Cartagena, the Ply (ph) Club, and that`s
where they procured these women, bring them back to the El Caribe hotel,
register them as overnight guests at the hotel.

And the dispute arises because one woman was two agents, two members
of the elite counter-assault team. And what happened is there was a
dispute over how much she should be paid.

MATTHEWS: She wanted to be paid for individual guys...

ISIKOFF: She wanted to be paid full price for two agents. They
wanted to split the price. She complains to local police, who are
stationed at the hotel. The police go to the agents` room, bang on the
door. They refuse to open at first.

It`s unclear how the payment dispute is resolved, but the police
contacts the U.S. embassy. The embassy sends -- dispatches people down.
They immediately see that all 11 agents have brought back women as
overnight guests to the hotel. They contact Mark Sullivan, the head of the
Secret Service, and he orders them back.

But all of this over a dispute over less than $60.

MATTHEWS: Can you tell -- and this is going to be the subject of the
congressional investigation -- how much -- how systemic this is? It seems
to me the numbers involved -- we`re hearing from Senator Susan Collins, for
example, today that 20 to 21 women were involved. So maybe some of these
guys -- although some of them were -- this one case, they were sharing a
women, apparently, there were more women than there were men involved.

Here`s the question. Is this supposedly something that rarely ever
happens? And yet the numbers suggest that this is something they weren`t
exactly hiding...

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... from their supervisors. They weren`t hiding from each
other.

ISIKOFF: Look, that`s the critical question in this. You know, there
have been stories up (ph), you know, for years, you know, "wheels up, rings
off" was the motto.

MATTHEWS: I never heard it before.

ISIKOFF: I think it was sort of heard within Secret Service circles.
But you know, how much of this was apocryphal or, you know, bragaddocio as
opposed to reality, it`s hard to say. Certainly nothing of this scale has
ever been...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: My question -- well, the congressman (ph) tonight (ph) --
who went around making sure everybody had their $200? Who arranged for all
the cab fare? Who put it all together? This is a lot of people moving, a
lot of women...

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... for -- for sexual purposes in a -- in a hotel that was
checking them in as overnight guests.

ISIKOFF: Right. Yes, that`s the amazing thing...

MATTHEWS: There was no attempt to hide this at all.

ISIKOFF: There was very close -- I mean, the hotel -- first of all,
Colombian police were all over the hotel. There were four stationed at the
front -- at the front door, one on each floor...

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... investigative reporter. Just like I always say about
Watergate. Was it bad? I say imagine if they`d gotten away with it.
That`s the key question.

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: Suppose this guy hadn`t disputed the bill...

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... about the two for the price of one...

ISIKOFF: The woman. They woman hadn`t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Suppose they hadn`t disputed it. This would just be on --
would there be any investigation? Would we be talking about it? No. In
other words, it would just go on.

ISIKOFF: Exactly. I mean, and that`s the amazing thing about this.
One Colombian prostitute, you know, protests over how much she`s being
paid, and it, you know, rocks the Secret Service.

MATTHEWS: It seems like she was the one operating out of the norm,
not the rest of the people. Anyway, thank you, Michael Isikoff. Great
work.

We`re now joined, of course, by U.S. Congressman Peter King of New
York who`s chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Congressman, as
always, I ask you the gravity question first. Is this a grave matter, or
just something embarrassing to our government, to our country in Latin
America?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well,
it`s certainly embarrassing. But as far as being grave, this could have
been a national security issue. It`s something that cannot be allowed to
happen. I mean, these 11 agents could have put the president at risk.
They could have put the country at risk.

You know, you`re talking about Colombia, which has narco-terrorists
that -- you know, these women could be trained operatives who were coming
in to drug them, to get information, to steal things from them.

So no, this was -- this something that cannot be allowed to happen,
and even whether or not they were prostitutes, you cannot be bringing a
foreign national back into a hotel which is being set up in preparation for
a presidential visit. This violates all the rules of the Secret Service.

MATTHEWS: Do you think there was a real chance that one of these
women, professional sex workers, I guess they`re called these days, might
have been working with the terrorists, might have kidnapped one of these
agents? That would have been quite a story.

KING: Well, they could have drugged them. I mean, you know, it was
common, you know, with the Soviets to be drugging diplomats...

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.

KING: ... and blackmailing them, threatening them, you know, stealing
their laptops, whatever it was.

Now, I think, Chris, everything we`ve seen so far, there is no
evidence that anything was compromised. Having said that, the Secret
Service is right now down in Colombia in the process of interviewing all of
the 11 women involved.

They know who they are, and questions -- they have to get them. They
have to question them to find out exactly if they have any underworld
connections, if they have any organized crime connections, if they have any
terrorist connections, any narco connections.

So again, it appears that we may have ducked a bullet on this one, but
it`s something that just cannot be allowed to happen.

MATTHEWS: OK, Congressman, your colleagues on the left and the right
have raised questions about whether the president was actually put at risk,
the same question I put to you.

Here`s U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Jason Chaffetz
of Utah telling Andrea Mitchell today that there were real concerns by
them. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: As I travel throughout my
district, one of the questions that`s asked most of me is, Do you think the
president is safe? And I got to tell you, this puts a big question mark on
that very issue.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: They were very swift in saying that
the president was never put into danger, that there was never any threat to
the president. I beg to differ. If you have Secret Service agents there
and they`ve had their room compromised, you`ve got guests in your room, let
alone prostitutes -- they have ammunition. They have weapons, they have
credentialing. They know where the president`s coming and going, which
doors he might be going through. So to suggest so quickly the president
was never in danger -- now do they make such a swift statement? I -- I
think that begs even more questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know -- you know, Congressman King, just talking about
this as a regular person -- and you`re a regular person, as well as a
congressman -- I mean, you hear these stories, I don`t know if they`re true
or not, how the Soviets in the old days would get -- a guy would be waiting
in a train platform and he`d meet the girl of his dreams and just happen to
fall in love with them, they have an affair, turns out she`s an agent. Her
whole job is to -- is to bring him in and basically make him an agent of
the Soviet Union.

In this case, the men went out, our men went out, solicited these
professional sex workers, all brought them all back in practically a
caravan. Have you ever been to determine or get an answer about whether
this is normal behavior by our agents?

KING: No, Chris, I`ve been on presidential visits. I`ve never seen
anything like this. Listen, you know, men can be men. Humans can be
humans. Everyone has failings. But no, it cannot be allowed to happen in
a situation such as this. From all I`ve been able to find out so far, this
is not standard procedure. I`ve spoken to people in previous
administrations, people who have no reason to be defending the Obama
administration.

By the way, this has nothing to do with the Obama administration.

MATTHEWS: I know.

KING: I want to make that clear. But I`m saying people from previous
administrations, who have no reason to be defending anyone, say that they -
- this took them totally by surprise. They`re not aware of this going on,
certainly not to this extent.

And again, you know, what Elijah Cummings was saying -- and I
understand his concern, and they were real concerns, but I think we do know
that, at least as of now, it`s been a pretty full investigation on (ph)
this level (ph), that there was no compromise or threat to the president`s
security, but there certainly could have been.

MATTHEWS: OK, so a dozen guys go out to a club. It`s a strip club.
OK. This strip club had an added feature. They had professional sex
workers available on site, who lived there. They took these women back
with them to their hotel. They checked them in as overnight guests. One
of them got into a dispute with one of the agents or two of the agents over
payment. That`s the extent of it.

And the question is, is this endemic? And the other question is, did
anything happen that might jeopardize our security?

KING: OK, the second question -- so far as we know right now --
again, this is still being investigated, as far as interviewing those
women, as far as finding out whether or not those women at the club, were
they waiting for these guys, or did it just happen that this is a place you
go to to pick up women? Were they targeting these men, you know, these
agents? That`s going to be an issue. So far, it does not appear that they
were.

And then secondly, as to whether or not it`s endemic -- again, I don`t
believe it is, but that`s one of the things we have to look into.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it was a honey trap?

KING: I -- so far, it does not appear to have been. By the way,
before the interview`s over, I want to make it clear I have tremendous
respect for the Secret Service. I work with them closely. They do a
phenomenal job...

MATTHEWS: No, that`s my question, were they entrapped?

KING: Were they entrapped? No, listen, you know -- you know, these
are big boys. They have to -- they can`t afford to be entrapped. They
cannot allow themselves to be entrapped. That`s part of being a Secret
Service agent.

You know, you and I may have weaknesses. We`re not Secret Service
agents. I mean, and also, I don`t even think they should be drinking
heavily before the president gets there. I mean, these guys -- you know,
they were snipers. They have to be in top shape.

And so to me, when you`re on a mission like this, your job is to
protect the president of the United States. We saw with Ronald Reagan,
they jumped in front of bullets. I mean, that`s -- that`s what the Secret
Service is there for. They do the job almost all the time. That`s why
this is -- this has to be stopped. We can`t allow the good name of the
Secret Service to be tarnished by 11 agents.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m with you. I`m one of the guys that`s seen the
movie "In the Line of Fire" about 10 times, and I do believe in these guys,
like Clint Eastwood played in the movie.

One last question. Do you still have confidence in Mark Sullivan, the
head of the service?

KING: I do, Chris. He acted very, very quickly. As soon as it was
brought to his attention, within minutes, literally, he ordered those men
out of the country on the next available flight. He made sure that their
positions were replaced and that the president was not going to be
jeopardized by these men being taken out of the country. He moved quickly.

I met with him. I`ve spoken to him on the phone. I met with him
personally today. This is an angry man, let me tell you, because as he
said -- as soon as he got himself off the ceiling after hearing what
happened, the next thing he did was order them back out of the country.

This to him, he`s -- in 30, 35 years in the Secret Service, he is
absolutely devastated by this, and he`s going to take tough action, I`m
sure of that.

MATTHEWS: OK. U.S. Congressman Peter King of New York state, thanks
so much for joining us...

KING: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

Coming up: President Obama is betting that economic fairness -- that`s
the key word of the campaign for him -- will be the winning argument in
this campaign. Is he right, or is it more important to talk about the
state of the economy and will that trump even fairness with some voters?

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the general election campaign is well under way, and
we`ve got three new poll numbers that each tell a very different story
about where the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney now stands.
Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

First, a new Gallup daily tracking poll out today has Mitt Romney --
catch this -- leading President Obama by 5 points now, 48 to -- again, it`s
a tracking poll, just a daily poll. Next, a new Pew poll shows President
Obama with a narrow lead but still ahead. He`s up over Romney 49-45, but
he had before a 12-point lead just last month. Same story in the new
Reuters Ipsos poll. The president has a 4-point lead there, 47-43, but
he`s -- he was up at 11, so it looks like he`s slipping significantly.

And a new CNN poll shows the president with a 9-point lead. Well,
there you go back to that. We`ll be right back.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Well, to no one`s surprise, Senate
Republicans yesterday blocked an effort by the Democrats to open up debate
on one of the key tenets of the president`s campaign message this year, the
so-called Buffett rule. The White House and Democrats say it`s about
economic fairness now, an effort to get millionaires and billionaires, of
course, to pay even a minimum tax rate of 30 percent, like most of us.
Republicans say it`s just an election year gimmick, however, to distract
from the president`s record. That`s what they say.

Well, it happens to be a piece of legislation that puts the
president`s opponent, Mitt Romney, on the defensive, peculiar to him. He`s
a 1 percenter if there ever was one. Romney last year had a tax rate of
less than 14 percent. Catch that? A guy worth a quarter of a billion
dollars paying less than that, less than 14. Will their efforts to paint
Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire work?

Howard Fineman`s an expert. He`s editorial director for the
Huffington Post, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He`s also an MSNBC
distributor. (SIC) His organization has won the prize again this year.
Chris Cillizza`s managing editor of the PostPolitics.com. He`s also an
MSNBC contributor.

Do you want to pay tribute to HuffingtonPost, Chris Cillizza, while
you`re on...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... the new kids on the block, the future of American
journalism?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POSTPOLITICS.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Did
Fineman win the Pulitzer Prize?

MATTHEWS: No. No, no, no.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
No. No, no, no, no.

MATTHEWS: No, his colleague did. He`s made it very clear. He`s
proud of his colleagues. I give him credit because he`s a great man
generally.

Let`s go to this hot question -- I`m just teasing here to start this
thing. Look, it seems to me that the Republicans are banking, Howard, on
the economy taking another fall and then really having an opportunity. The
way it is now, it looks like it favors Obama. But if it takes a bit of a
fall, a so-called "second dip," they`ve got a real shot.

The president clearly wants to be prepared, if it does take a second -
- a dip, to be prepared to have some other argument to make. That`s the
way I look at what they`re up to. They don`t need this fairness argument,
but they figure it`s a little insurance policy, right? Is that right?

FINEMAN: Yes. I think the -- well, they`re going on the attack.
First of all...

MATTHEWS: But if economy booms, they don`t need it.

FINEMAN: Yes. That`s right. They don`t need it if the economy
booms. But if it doesn`t, they`re going preemptively on the attack.
That`s what incumbents often do.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: They`re trying to basically keep the other guy from getting
in the boat, in the presidential boat, so to speak, keep him out of there.
And they`re going to say Mitt Romney is uniquely unqualified because he
represents everything that`s wrong with an unfair system.

Now, look at that. What president...

MATTHEWS: He`s a fat cat.

FINEMAN: Well, he -- not -- he looks like a fat cat. He is a fat
cat. He embodies and benefits from the unfairness of the game today. And
what you`re noticing here is the president is changing the conversation.
He`s trying to change the conversation away from the current economic
conditions, however good or ill they are, to the notion that the whole
thing is stacked against middle class people. And Mitt Romney is the
embodiment of...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... the reason why.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the thrust. The main super-PAC supporting the
president is out with a new ad this week attacking Romney for his work at
Bain Capital and his refusal to release more tax returns. You only release
one year, not the 12 I think his father released. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney, he made millions off companies that
went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.
His own tax return from last year reveals he made $21 million yet paid a
lower tax rate than many middle class families. Now Romney`s proposing a
huge new $150,000 tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent while cutting
Medicare and education for us. Mitt Romney -- if he wins, we lose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So if he wins, we lose. By the way, the voice of that
narrator doing the voice-over there -- that was very nice. Didn`t have
that usual carping voice these ads have. What do you make of that, Chris?
She nicely told us this guy`s one of the one percent.

CILLIZZA: Well I would say, Chris, you know, I don`t want to get too in
the weeds but it is interesting, given what we know about the gender gap,
that it`s a female narrator of that. But that`s aside.

MATTHEWS: No, I think it`s interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: The one thing I would say about that ad is if the Obama team has
its way and we end up saying Barack Obama got reelected, it will be because
that picture, that whole ad just has one single picture from Mitt Romney`s
years at Bain Capital just kind of replayed over and over again. It will
be because they made that one picture synonymous with Mitt Romney, in the
same way that the Bush campaign in `04 made the John Kerry windsurfing --
that famous picture of him windsurfing synonymous with John Kerry.

If Mitt Romney is painted as kind of the 1 percent, if he wins, we
lose, if they`re able to say it`s about fairness, it`s not about who is
going to raise your taxes, who is going to lower your taxes, which is
usually an argument that Democrats wind up losing politically, if it`s
about fairness vs. unfairness, if they can change the conversation or tweak
it, they win.

MATTHEWS: OK. Evidence that the conversation has changed, at least
in the short run, here`s Diane Sawyer, the mainstream media I guess
personified here. Here she is at ABC News questioning Romney himself on
this very question of fairness which has been raised by the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE SAWYER, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": The story out now that
there`s an elevator for your cars in the new house you`re planning in La
Jolla, are you too rich to relate?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we don`t divide
America based upon success and -- and wealth and other dimensions of that
nature.

We`re one nation under God. We come together. This is a time when
people of different backgrounds and different experiences need to come
together.

SAWYER: Do you still think the fairness question is about envy? Is
fairness concern about envy?

M. ROMNEY: Well, I think it`s unfair that this president`s been in
office three and a half years and 93 percent of the people who have lost
their jobs have been women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard, was that a good spin out of there by the way with
that somewhat question 93 percent thing?

FINEMAN: Well, the statistics don`t quite hold up or they need
further explanation and context.

MATTHEWS: Or, by the way, who caused the recession? How about that
question? It was W.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: That was the best way out at the end. He should have gotten
to that earlier.

But I think the Obama campaign may be overthinking things here a
little bit. They`re saying let`s emphasize the Buffett rule, let`s
emphasize raising taxes on people who make a million dollars a year or
more, because that fits right into the narrative about who Mitt Romney is
as a rich guy who is not paying much taxes.

They think it`s all of one piece. What they may be missing is it`s
not a great idea for any Democrat, even this Democrat, to spend all of his
first three weeks of the general election, which is what it is, talking
about raising taxes.

Now, I know what the polls show, and I know that there is 72 percent
support for the Buffett rule, meaning 30 percent minimum taxation on
millionaires.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Only 27 percent oppose it.

FINEMAN: That`s true as far as it goes, but I question whether the
Obama campaign is feeding into some of the preconceptions about Democrats.
What do you think?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Chris, same question.

I will put it to you the same way. But let me say this. You can ask
people all kinds of question, do you think this, do you think that, and
they will give you an answer. But does it really weigh on their decision?
That`s the key question. Yes, we care about fair taxes, but how do you
vote? I vote on whether I can get a job or not and whether my kids can get
a job or not.

CILLIZZA: The other thing, Chris, that I think -- and Howard is
hitting on this -- I could not agree with him more.

I think you can pick polls. Both sides will do it for the next seven
months that affirm their viewpoint. I still think there are preconceived
notions about what the two parties do best that exist among the electorate.

That is Democrats tend to have advantages when the debate is about
education or health care. Republicans tend to have advantages when the
debate is about national security or taxes. That`s not true on every
single issue. The Buffett rule is clearly an example.

But I do agree with Howard. I wrote about this today. I compared
taxes to Democrats willingly playing an away game, Chris, using a sports
metaphor. They`re purposely kind of going into the gym of the other team.
Now, they think that this old dynamic that you can`t win on taxes is wrong,
that Democrats can win now because it`s about fairness and it`s not about
higher or lower.

But I would say go back and look historically. Democrats rarely win
when the debate centers for any extended period of time on tax policy.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: One reason they`re doing it, in addition to the point that
if the numbers don`t add up and there`s going to be further weight on the
middle class in terms of taxes, is that they have a candidate in Mitt
Romney, Obama thinks, that they can attach to this whole question. They
see it all.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s perfect for this campaign.

FINEMAN: It`s perfect for this campaign, except I`m not sure if it`s
the Democrats -- as Chris, said, it`s a home game for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What I like is aggressive politics.

We all grew up -- Howard and I especially grew up with the cowboy
movies where the soldiers would come out of the forts and fight the
Indians. And they would be on their horses. And why did they do that?
Because they`re cavalry. You come out and fight on your horses.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You don`t hide in that fort and shoot across the fence.
You go and fight these guys. Going out into the other locker room, as you
put it, going out and fighting is bracing. It shows guts, cojones, if you
will. Go out and fight them on taxes We will see how that works, but it`s
definitely nervy.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Chris Cillizza.

Like, a Democrat says, let`s talk taxes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next, bark if you believe this one. The Romneys say
Seamus just loved being up there on the roof of that car. He loves even
the look of that little box they put him up there. That`s according to
Ann.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, Mitt and Ann Romney finally gave us some more context into
that now infamous story about their family dog Seamus having an accident,
if you will, on the roof of their car during that long road trip to
Montreal. Take a look at what they told ABC`s Diane Sawyer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAWYER: Would you do it again?

M. ROMNEY: Certainly not with the attention it`s received.

(LAUGHTER)

SAWYER: You said it was most wounding in the campaign so far.

(CROSSTALK)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: The dog loved it.

SAWYER: But the dog got sick, right?

A. ROMNEY: Once. We traveled all of the time and he ate the turkey
on the counter. I mean, he had the runs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, God. The dog loved it. I still have a hard time
believing that one. Yes, put me on the roof.

Next, shades of Jimmy Carter and the killer rabbit. Our NBC embed
caught up with Newt Gingrich at the NASCAR Hall of Fame this weekend. He
wanted to talk about a run-in with an animal during a recent trip of his to
the zoo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got bit by a penguin. I
went to the Saint Louis Zoo and I got bit by a penguin. So I went off to
the zoo for a while. I found a tiger named Callista. I got to see
Callista.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What is going on? I got bit by a penguin? He said it
three times.

Anyway, a zoo spokesman said a Band-Aid sufficed to treat Newt`s
wound.

And if his trips to the zoo aren`t enough to make you wonder whether
Newt is actually still in this race for president, Herman Cain came back
and weighed in on the Gingrich candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN, CEO, THE NEW VOICE: To Newt Gingrich, I would say,
Speaker Gingrich, with all due respect, let`s get on with this, OK? He
made a great run. I even endorsed Newt Gingrich at one point because I
thought he had a shot.

Well, not now. He doesn`t have a shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a thought. If your days are spent visiting
penguins and tigers and now Herman Cain says it`s time to quit, you might
take the cue.

And, lastly, it was a sight not to be missed here in Washington, D.C.,
this earlier, the space shuttle discovery atop a Boeing 747 doing a fly-by
of the capital`s most iconic monuments. There it is. The shuttle made her
final journey from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral this morning
to its new home, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum out at Dulles Airport.

Up next, poll after poll by a margin of 2-1 voters think President
Obama is a lot more likable than Mitt Romney. And Romney`s latest bravado
might not help close the likability gap. He`s doing trash talk and it`s
not helping him, I don`t think.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow gains 194 points to close back above the 13000 mark. The S&P
up 21 and the Nasdaq adds 54, reclaiming that 3000 level. Strong earnings
from Dow components like Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson helped put
investors in a buying mood today. However, in the housing market, ground-
breakings slid 5.8 percent last month, while permits soared 4.5 percent.

And late word today that billionaire investor Warren Buffett has been
diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL .

This is a great segment coming up right now. Mitt Romney has
effectively won the nomination, we all know that, but he hasn`t exactly won
the hearts and minds of the American people.

Catch this. A new CNN opinion research poll asked who is more
likable, a pretty simple question, the president of the United States,
Barack Obama, or Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee? Well, 56
percent of those polled out there chose President Obama. Just 27 percent
for Mitt Romney.

That leaves some undecided, but 56 to 27 is serious business.

Ron Reagan is an MSNBC contributor and author of "My Father at 100."

I did read your book completely this last weekend, and it`s fabulous,
by the way.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I`m a little slow on the reading department. I recommend
it to everybody. It`s not going to kill you. It`s not a giant door stop of
a book. You can actually read it in a few days and learn something about
your dad, right, left or center, hell of a book, and I mean it.

REAGAN: Thank you. Thanks. Appreciate it.

MATTHEWS: Beautifully written.

REAGAN: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Michelle Bernard of course a wonderful person, beautiful
actually. Have you written any books lately?

(LAUGHTER)

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, not lately.

MATTHEWS: OK. But I`m sure they would be great. Anyway, she is head
the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy.

This is an easy segment to talk about because anybody out there can
decide this. Both Mitt Romney and Ann Romney seemed to exude I would say
overconfidence last night again with that interview with Diane Sawyer at
ABC.

Here`s what Mitt said he would say -- this is what he would say to the
president of the United States. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. ROMNEY: Start packing.

(LAUGHTER)

M. ROMNEY: That`s what I would like to say.

Obviously, we have a very different view. The president, I`m sure,
wants another four years, but the first years didn`t go so well.

A. ROMNEY: I got to know Michelle. She`s a lovely person. I have
never met Barack Obama, but I believe it`s Mitt`s time.

I believe that the country needs the kind of leadership that he is
going to be able to offer. And I believe he is the person that can turn
around this economy. So I think it`s our turn now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Our turn, it`s his time. What is this, Prince Charles?

I mean, that you just wait your turn?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: If that were the rule, Ron, you would be president now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Just wait your turn. Your dad was president. Just wait
your turn. And you will get the job.

REAGAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: This entitlement, it`s -- I`m not going to the verb, the
adjectives. It just strikes me as entitlement.

BERNARD: It looks like entitlement by every stretch of the
imagination.

There is nothing whatsoever that Mitt Romney has shown us yet that
indicates that he has any idea of what it is to be humble. And that`s a
huge problem. He needs to be humble. He needs to give us...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But he ain`t. You mean pretend he`s humble. You`re giving
him campaign advice. I love this. By the way, nobody can be told to be
humble. You either are or you aren`t.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: Well, indicate that you are.

MATTHEWS: Indicate that you are.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: At least try. At least try.

MATTHEWS: How do you think this is going to help his likability
rating now that he`s decided it`s time for the president of the United
States to pack up?

REAGAN: Not at all.

The Diane Sawyer interview I thought was a perfect illustration of why
people don`t like Mitt Romney. It`s because he`s inauthentic. How many
times during that interview did you watch him sort of spin his way around a
question?

It`s a little like playing -- talking to Mitt Romney is a little like
playing with a ball of mercury. I remember -- I don`t know -- when you
were a kid, you had like a little ball of mercury that you would get. In
those days, they would give it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I just blew those balloons and things, those bubbles.

REAGAN: But you would poke it and it would squirt out one way, and
then you would poke it, and it would squirt out -- you couldn`t actually
pin down the ball of mercury.

That`s Mitt Romney for you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you like the way they select who to interview them?
Every time they think they have got a real softball interview coming their
way, it turns out to be relatively difficult, like this one, because it
exposed so much, not that it was difficult questions, but it exposed a lot.

Bret Baier got the president to actually cross his legs a couple
times. What kind of an interview is this? You know what I mean? He`s
like upset.

MATTHEWS: Back to you, Michelle. This guy is on a charm offensive?

BERNARD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: No. No, he`s not on one.

BERNARD: Well, no, he`s trying to be on one, but this is his
definition of being charming. It`s a huge problem.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You mean he laughed after he says pack your bags?

(LAUGHTER)

BERNARD: Yes. He laughs after he says pack your bags, but he doesn`t
say anything positive about the president or about the country.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let me tell you the state of the land. This is the state of play,
guys. Among those who say they will vote for Mitt Romney, who say they
will -- I believe them -- the poll asked them why they are doing it. Are
they for Romney or against President Obama?

Boy, this is it, this is it. A whopping -- you don`t need the
adjective -- 63 percent of Romneys` voters say they`re simply voting
against the other guy and not for the guy -- 63, 63 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: Almost two-thirds. Almost two-thirds.

MATTHEWS: Do they want a bouncer? That`s all they want is a bouncer.
They don`t want a president. They want a guy who will at least clear the
other guy out.

But don`t they realize they`re going to get him in the bargain, Ron?
They`re getting him.

REAGAN: Yes, it`s absolutely true.

The best thing that Romney has going for him is that there is a
certain segment of the Republican Party that really just hates Barack
Obama, and so they will vote for anybody instead of Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REAGAN: But, beyond that, you have got a real problem.

And he seems to be totally, totally tone-deaf about his wealth and how
that relates to other people.

Here are some words that you should never say if you`re running for
president of the United States: Austrian Warmblood and dressage.

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: You remember when John Kerry got crucified --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He said dressage.

REAGAN: I have nothing against dressage.

MATTHEWS: How about describing the budget that cuts the poor people
as marvelous? It`s a marvelous budget.

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, if you go back to
that number, though? Here`s what I find disconcerting. If you look at the
poll we`re talking about, Barack Obama beats Mitt Romney by double digits
on likeability, honesty, confidence, values leadership, every
characteristic you can think of, but yet there is still part of the
population that`s going to say --

MATTHEWS: I know.

BERNARD: I hate Barack Obama so much, I don`t even think it`s the
economy.

MATTHEWS: By the way, you`re singing my song. It`s all hatred of
Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: I hate Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Republicans don`t all hate Obama.

BERNARD: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: There`s about a quarter of the country that does. But I
do think, there maybe more, but just about a quarter. But there are a lot
of people concerned about the economy.

By the way, if you want to hear a real love song here, here`s Rick
Santorum. He still hasn`t Romney. He told supporters, by the way, at a
conference call yesterday, quote, "As far as how you vote, well, that`s up
to you. I haven`t supported any candidate so that`s really up to you."
Say it again, Rick.

And here is a real love song from Boehner, speaker of the House, who
is head of the Republican Party of the Congress. Here he is remaining
somewhat neutral, well, it is tone. But he has formally done it without a
thrill.

Let`s listen to this -- well, a loveless marriage, I would call it,
but here it comes. His endorsement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It`s clear now that
Mitt Romney is going to be our nominee. I think Mitt Romney has a set of
economic policies that can put Americans back to work, and frankly,
contrasts sharply with the failed economic policies of President Obama.
And I will be proud to support Mitt Romney and do everything I can to help
him win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What do you think of that love song, Ron Reagan?

REAGAN: His heart was really in that, wasn`t it? Boy, you could
just feel the excitement brewing inside of John Boehner inside of John
Boehner as he talked about Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney elicits a collective "eh" from the public. And he will,
I think, throughout the election.

MATTHEWS: You know, the worse thing they said about Fritz Mondale
back in `84, run against Ron`s father was he was polenta, remember that?
Phrase for not exactly the most exciting vegetable, the polenta. But this
is worse than polenta.

BERNARD: Well, because he`s got a Republican gap. He`s got a gender
gap. He`s got a Latino gap.

MATTHEWS: Hispanic, yes.

BERNARD: He`s got an African-American gap.

MATTHEWS: Great with white guys.

BERNARD: You know, I mean, what`s left really?

MATTHEWS: White guys.

REAGAN: Yes.

BERNARD: White guys over 55.

REAGAN: He`s human tapioca, Chris.

BERNARD: I like tapioca. Don`t say that.

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s the question, I know you`re somewhere in the
middle. Ron tends to be a progressive. So, I`m going to ask you first.
If you heard this guy and you have what you have and you can`t fake it, how
do you sell being a 1 percenter?

BERNARD: Well, I mean this is the only thing I think that he can.
It`s 63 percent of the people who support him support him only because they
don`t like Barack Obama, all he can do is play on anti-incumbents malaise
and really give people more reasons not to vote for Barack Obama because
there are not enough reasons to vote for Mitt Romney. That`s all he has
left.

MATTHEWS: So, say, even I am better than this guy.

BERNARD: That`s all he has left.

MATTHEWS: That`s a real campaign them.

Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan.

REAGAN: You bet.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Michelle Bernard.

Coming up a little bit later, who does Mitt Romney think he is to
tell the president of the United States to start packing?

Well, this is HARDBALL. I`ll have more on this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s some news. Republican Governor Scott Walker
leads his likely Democrat challengers in the state`s recall selection.

Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard again. According to a new PPP
poll, Walker is right at 50 percent now, his strongest Democratic
challenger, Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, is at 46. Barrett is one of four
Democrats who will face-off next month in a primary, so he can pick up some
speed in that.

The actual recall of Wisconsin is coming up on June 5th. That`s what
it`s all about.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with "Build, Baby, Build." It used to be a big
-- do big things, the Hoover Dam, of course, rural electrification, the
great interstate highway system under President Eisenhower. Of course,
they`re not anymore.

The latest example of our national reluctance to do anything comes
from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who famously or infamously, I`d
say, stopped the construction of a desperately needed rail tunnel, a couple
of tunnels between New York and New Jersey, saying his state couldn`t
afford the price.

Well, a new GAO report just came out last week calling into question,
I`d say, Christie`s numbers and his critics suspect Christie of twisting
the facts to demonstrate supposed or pretended frugality.

Well, how can this country third, I`d ask, in the 21st century, which
we`re entering rather slowly with a 19th century or 20th century
infrastructure?

Pete Seat is a former White House spokesman for W and a Republican
strategist, and Joe Walsh is editor-at-large for "Salon" and MSNBC analyst.

Joan, I know you`re raring to go. You`re going to make -- you got
the toughest fight here. New York and New Jersey are connected. It`s
impossible to separate them unless you don`t do the job of making it
happen. This is the megapolis, the very center of our country. There`s a
traffic going through it, it`s a traffic jam every damn night. You can`t
get through there.

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It makes perfect sense to put in a tunnel. And Christie
says, we can`t afford it. It turns out it`s only about 14 percent of the
state`s share, not the 70 percent he claimed.

WALSH: Well, you know, first --

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- let me go with Pete. Let him play defense
here.

WALSH: All right. Go, Pete, go.

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he get his numbers straight, first of all?

PETE SEAT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, no, I`ll be at offense,
because if you look at the facts, the federal government did the estimates
on the project. In 2007, they said it would cost $7.4 billion.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but what`s the state`s share?

SEAT: The state`s share --

MATTHEWS: That`s what this complaining about.

SEAT: Look, the federal government said their investment will be
capped at $3 billion. So the high end of the estimate is $14 billion. So
the federal government caps at $3 billion, the bulk of the share is share
is New Jersey. New York isn`t putting any share outside of its territory.

MATTHEWS: The GAO, which is independent, just came out and said it`s
one in seven. It`s 14.

SEAT: OK. But the Federal Transportation Administration did an
estimate. They said this is going to cost upwards of $14 billion, putting
that on New Jersey.

MATTHEWS: What`s this plan for uniting New Jersey and New York with
traffic, which has to be done? The traffic is building and building
everyday, we know that. There are not less cars every year and less trucks
and less trains. There are more every year.

Why not grow? This country is growing. Why starve it? Why is he
doing that? Why is he starving his state?

SEAT: I don`t think he is starving his state.

MATTHEWS: Well, how are they going to get to New York?

SEAT: We can`t afford -- there are other ways to do that.

MATTHEWS: So, we can`t afford New Jersey to go to New York.

SEAT: Look --

MATTHEWS: How can you say something like that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Joan. It`s your turn, Joan.

My philosophy is that we developed as a country because there is a
smart combination of public and private enterprise. But the private
enterprise which we worship all the time could not have gotten around the
country without railroad. It couldn`t have gotten around the country the
big way after World War II without the highway system that Ike put in.

Things have to be done by the government for private sector
activities to occur. Like a truck can`t go down a road if there is no road
there.

WALSH: If there`s no road. That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Or a tunnel.

WALSH: Or a tunnel. Since this is a political show, I also want it
say, you know, I think Chris Christie has really damaged his brand here
because one of the things I know you praised about him, Chris, is that he
is supposed to be a straight talker, this no B.S. guy.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALSH: But the GOA report shows that this is a whole lot of B.S.
You know, he really exaggerated of the cost that New Jersey was going to
bear. I`m sorry, Pete, but you got to read the GAO report. They break it
down. They go to every fact, they go to every agency, and they say what
the cost was going to be.

Ands the governor just -- more than exaggerated. He prevaricated.
He said they are going to be on the hook for a whole lot more than they
were.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry, Joan. Let`s let him defend himself. Here he
is defending himself against building the tunnels last week after the GAO
report was released.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Here he is arguing the New Jersey taxpayers would be stuck
with the bill while New Yorkers got a free ride. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: So when they want to build a
tunnel to the basement of Macy`s and stick the New Jersey taxpayers with a
bill of $3 billion to $5 billion over. No matter how much the
administration yells and screams, you have to say no. You have to look
them right in the eye no matter how much they try to vilify you for it, and
you have to say no. You have to be willing to say no to those things that
compromise your principles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, he is out there defending his move, to shift the
money to keep the gas tax down. But what good is the lower gas tax if you
can`t get what you have to get.

SEAT: Well, look, we`re going to have to figure out some way out to
build infrastructure. In Indiana, which is where I live, we`ve done
public-private partnerships across the state. (INAUDIBLE) toll road on the
northern part of the state, over $3 billion --

MATTHEWS: Have you ever been through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel?

SEAT: Yes, I have.

MATTHEWS: OK. What did you notice about it at rush hour?

SEAT: Well, I`m not usually driving so I`m not looking around. It`s
crowded.

MATTHEWS: You weren`t driving but you`ve been to the tunnel. How do
you get there except by car?

SEAT: Yes, you take a cab to the airport.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you, what are we going to do about the
fact that our whole economy begins to almost like hardening of the arteries
because we don`t modernize, because things aren`t able to grow?

SEAT: Look, we need to find -- as I said, we need to find way to do
this. I know there is talk about hybrid and electric technology. Well,
guess what? Those cars aren`t paying gasoline tax if they aren`t putting
gas in their cars.

To your point, we need to look long-term but we also can`t afford to
foot this bill on --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you know when they built the Empire State Building, do
you know when built? Right in the middle of the Great Depression, they
built it about a year and half.

WALSH: That`s right, 1930. Al Smith put it up in 1930 in 13 months.

MATTHEWS: What would you have said?

SEAT: We need to look the our fiscal house, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. There wouldn`t be an Empire State
Building. Thank you very much for trying. You lost the argument tonight.
Joan and I won this one because it`s about the future and you don`t want us
to grow, sir.

Pete Seat, thanks for joining us. You`re a good spokesman for W.

Anyway, Pete Seat joins us. Joan Walsh, as always.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with Mitt Romney`s trash talk about
President Obama. Imagine saying this, really dignified, "start packing."

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

What sort of person do you think would tell the president of the
United States, elected by the American people, to start packing? Is this
some middleweight boxer mouthing off about his title shot, some trash
talking tackler out to sack the opposing quarterback? Sorry, Mitt. It`s
nothing of the sort. And this jive is beneath a major party candidate for
president.

You know what I`m saying? Just when you`ve got the nomination locked
up, you`ve started talking like some hot shot. And the problem is, that
it`s all reminds us that not of the true street corner hot shot but of
exactly the public personality we`ve come to recognize in you, Mitt Romney,
the last several months -- the guy who likes firing people, the guy who
brags about his wife having a couple of Cadillacs, the guy who finds budget
plans to cut programs for poor people marvelous.

It`s entitlement. It`s the belief -- well, W had it -- that he is
from some ruling class that merely has to wait a bit to get what`s coming
to him, as the Romneys now see it, their turn.

I wonder if people are going to like this. I notice that those
backing Mitt Romney now are really doing it to get rid of President Obama.
They don`t like him, they just care about who does the dirty work of
getting rid of Obama.

But have we ever elected a bouncer as president, someone whose chief
mission is to defeat the person now there? Have we ever lowered the bar so
low in terms of personality and vision that we`ve been ready to send
someone to the White House just to remove the other guy? Is it that bad
that Republicans can get excited about a presidential candidate so low in
true personal esteem, yet so heavy with entitlement to suggest his main
claim to getting the office is the removal of the current occupant?

Well, start packing. What a line. And what a statement it is about
the low level what`s being offered here and the high level of what`s being
demanded -- elect me, A, because it`ll get rid of Obama; B, because I`m
entitled to it. Gee, can`t wait for this guy.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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