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updated 5/9/2012 2:22:29 PM ET 2012-05-09T18:22:29

Guests: Chris Cillizza, David Corn, Tyler Mathisen, Bob Brady, Michael Walden, Sam Stein, Joe Solmonese, Pete Williams, Andrea Mitchell, Evan Kohlmann

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bomb plot foiled.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening I`m Chris Matthews in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Leading
off tonight: Terror plot foiled. We have this late-breaking story. The
CIA says it foiled a plot by an al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen to destroy a
U.S. passenger jet. It was supposed to happen around the one-year
anniversary of the raid on Osama bin Laden.

Well, the plot apparently involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb
that failed to detonate over Detroit on Christmas in 2009. We`ll have the
latest on this story at the top of the show.

Plus, debating gay marriage. It was a great case of "Tell me what you
really think." Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor of
same-sex marriage. It`s assumed he was speaking for himself, not for the
president. Opposing gay marriage is no longer a slam dunk for Republicans.
Americans` attitude towards gays and gay marriage are changing incredibly
fast. But how Biden`s from-the-heart declaration will affect the election
is anyone`s guess.

Also, President Obama kicked off his reelection campaign the other day
by rejecting the question, "Are you better off than you were four years
ago?" He said the right question is, "Where are we going to go from here?"
Romney, he said, wants to go back to the policies that got us into this
mess. Two new polls out today say this race is a toss-up.

And one thing that keeps team Obama up at night are all those new
voter ID laws that Republicans are getting written into state laws. Their
real effect will be to keep Democrats from voting. Thing is, it may just
work. How`s that for democracy?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the civic need to get people to the
polls now more than ever.

We begin with that failed terror plot. Andrea Mitchell is NBC`s chief
foreign affairs correspondent and Pete Williams is NBC`s justice
correspondent.

Pete, lead us in to this, what we know about what the CIA discovered,
and how they stopped this tragedy from happening.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, this, they say, is a great
success for intelligence, that the plot was to happen around the one-year
anniversary of bin Laden`s killing by the U.S. Now, of course, that was
last week, and they say that the plan was to get someone, a suicide bomber,
to get on board an airliner coming to the U.S.

Now, they say no specific airline or flight had been chosen, no ticket
had been purchased, but they say that a suicide bomber had been recruited.
And that`s when intelligence stepped in, shut the plot down -- and this is
quite remarkable -- actually recovered the device.

Now, it`s described as a more sophisticated version of the underwear
bomb, as you mentioned, that Umar Abdulmutallab was wearing on Christmas
Day on an overseas flight bound for Detroit. Like that device, it had no
metal parts, and right now, the United States is trying to see whether the
device could have been detected by the full-body scanners that are now
deployed in many airlines -- many airports for flights that are bound to
the U.S.

Now, they say they can`t be certain, but they suspect it`s built by al
Qaeda`s in Yemen`s master bombmaker, the same man who designed the
underwear bomb, and also the bombs that were hidden in printer cartridge --
toner cartridges that were sent on cargo planes, intercepted on flights
that were destined for Chicago.

So it`s described as a great success, Chris, for intelligence, and a
further sign that al Qaeda in Yemen is still the number one plot -- number
one threat to the U.S.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Andrea Mitchell for the political context. If
you were to blow up an airliner flying from Yemen to the United States,
filled with people from Yemen, people from our side working with them, what
would be the firepower politically of blowing up a plane in that route?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, that would be a
huge...

WILLIAMS: OK, I`m gone.

MITCHELL: ... a huge political explosion, as well. But let me give
you a few more details.

As you just heard that Pete Williams is running off. We`re all
reporting on this at the same time.

First of all, the White House, the National Security Council, has put
out a statement now, Chris, and the statement is that the president was
first informed of this in April by John Brennan, his top counterterrorism
official. He directed Homeland Security and law enforcement and
intelligence agencies to take whatever steps were necessary.

I am told separately that we were working very closely with Saudi
intelligence on this because this man, al Asiri, who was the master
designer of bombs and still is at loose, we believe, in Yemen, had also
designed the bomb that did successfully explode.

It was an attempted assassination in 2009 against a top Saudi
official, the son of Prince Nayef, the interior minister, who is himself a
top counterterrorism official. He was injured in that attempted
assassination in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

So you had three known instances where al Asiri did design bombs. One
was the cartridge bombs that Pete Williams pointed out. The other, of
course, was the underwear bomber in 2009. And then the successful attempt
-- the attempted assassination that did blow up against this Saudi
official.

One other thing. Saudi officials, Saudi intelligence reportedly
cooperated with the U.S., Chris, in trying to find this suicide bomber and
actually find the device. And it has been suggested to me -- and we need
more corroboration of this -- that finding the suicide bomber and the
device did lead to this Sunday`s attack in Yemen on a leading al Qaeda
official, reportedly the man who replaced al Awlaki as the leader of al
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

So these may well be connected, that the intelligence developed with
this thwarted plot did lead to a successful drone attack in Yemen. We
don`t know -- we don`t have a second source on that. I`m just suggesting
that it has been -- it has been told to me that these are connected, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Andrea, step back from the -- what we`re doing now, the
police reporting on this, the news-breaking part. Give us the context.
Maybe it needs to be explained one more time. What`s al Qaeda trying to
accomplish in the Saudi peninsula? Why is it targeting us? Why is it
using people from Yemen? What`s it trying to disrupt geopolitically with
these attempted attacks?

MITCHELL: Well, as you know, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, now
mainly located in Yemen, is considered the greatest threat against the
United States. These are the terrorists, first Awlaki and then his
successors, who have been trying repeatedly to attack the American
homeland.

Since Osama bin Laden was pretty much removed from any kind of
operational leadership -- and we know from his final letters and his
communications that he was aspirational. He did want to attack President
Obama. He did want to attack the then leader of U.S. forces in
Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, then following that, of course, the
head of the CIA. But at the time, he no longer had the operation ability
with al Qaeda, main al Qaeda, the central organization.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MITCHELL: But these splinter groups, mainly located in Yemen now, as
well as in Somalia and a couple of other places, have been increasingly
attempting to fill that vacuum. And that is the main focus of American
intelligence, and American drone strikes, with the cooperation of officials
in Yemen.

MATTHEWS: Hold on there, Andrea. Let`s go right now to Evan
Kohlmann. He`s an NBC -- he is our NBC terrorism analyst. He joins us by
phone.

Evan, again, back to that question. When we`ve been listening to the
top administration people from the president on down recently, we`ve been
hearing that Yemen is the belly of the beast, if you will, in terms of what
we`re facing as a threat.

What do you -- what comes to you when you hear this report in terms of
the politics, the ambitions of al Qaeda as it still survives in these
splinter groups?

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST (via telephone): Well,
unfortunately, I think it`s one of the great untold foreign policy issues
going on at the moment. It`s not an issue in the presidential election,
but maybe it should be because if you look at what`s going on in Yemen
right now, there`s a sustained campaign by a fairly large grouping of al
Qaeda operatives in a large area of Yemen, and they`re threatening to take
over several strategic locations. And the Yemeni government doesn`t really
seem to be capable of stopping them.

In the meantime, we have now Yemen serving as the basis for
international terrorist plots. And this is fairly predictable, actually.
If you asked me a week ago what al Qaeda faction stood the greatest chance
of launching an attack against the United States, I would have guessed -- I
mean, frankly, I would have guessed it would have been AQAP, al Qaeda in
Yemen.

MATTHEWS: What would this do to our relations with that Yemen
government -- Yemeni government? Would this be an attempt to embarrass the
government, bring it into sort of disrepute? What would be the political
goal, just to hurt the United States or to hurt our relations with a
somewhat friendly government?

KOHLMANN: Look, I think they want to demonstrate that they`re still
relevant. They want to show that despite the loss of Osama bin Laden,
despite all the drone strikes that have been taking place in Yemen, that
this organization is still capable of moving forward.

But the question is, can it really do so, especially in light of the
loss of not only al Awlaki but now of Fahd al Quso. That`s the operative
that died just on Sunday.

This guy was instrumental. He was behind the -- or he was involved
with, anyway, the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. This guy`s been
involved in almost everything. And he was also the one who stood very
prominently when AQAP claimed credit for the underwear bomb plot.

So I think, you know, it`s certainly very important to see these
victories, but at the same time, I think this is going to be an ongoing
problem. And there are no easy solutions in Yemen. It`s a very difficult
country in which to navigate. I don`t think there`s any obvious military
solution.

MATTHEWS: Right.

KOHLMANN: And certainly, you know, the political ones are not very
availing (ph), either.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about our own protection against terrorism
tactically here. We have an underwear bomber attempt right now, much like
the one over Detroit which was caught just in time, where, actually, that
failed.

Here we have a situation -- how would you get on an airplane -- what
kind of an airport would allow you, what kind of a TSA system would permit
you, a passenger, to get on a plane wearing an underwear bomb? Is it
feasible anywhere in the world to pull this off, to get through
surveillance?

KOHLMANN: Yes, I think that was part of the issue is, is that when al
Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- when AQAP claimed credit for the initial
underwear bomb and the subsequent cargo bomb plot, they said very
specifically that according to their estimates, there was nothing in
present airline security regulations that would be able to stop this on a
second occasion. It would all come down to intelligence, whether or not we
would be able to identify the actual operative who is going to carry this
out.

And in fact, you know, at least from the initial details in this
latest plot, that sounds to be what happened. I think, you know, we`re
going to stand a much better chance of stopping this kind of thing if we
try to tend toward finding out who the operatives are designated to carry
these devices, rather than trying to scan every single passenger, looking
for, you know, a device that is getting increasingly small. It`s getting
increasingly technologically developed.

You know, these guys aren`t -- they aren`t fools anymore. They`re not
tourists. They`ve spent a lot of time doing this. Ibrahim al Asiri, the
individual who presumably built this latest bomb, he sent his own brother
in a suicide mission to try to kill a Saudi official.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KOHLMANN: This guy -- you know, he`s got some experience in this, and
I think we have to -- you know, we have to understand that we`re dealing
with, you know, a fairly trained expert.

MATTHEWS: Evan, let`s talk about the expertise. Right now, we`ve
heard about tonight just the breaking news, the CIA has discovered and
thwarted a plot by a member of al Qaeda, or a splinter group in Yemen, al
Qaeda in Yemen, to get into an airline, a passenger to get past
surveillance, to go past the equipment of the TSA over there, to get on a
plane.

My question to you is, how do these devices work? How can a passenger
carrying something so small in his clothing, in his underwear, that`s
capable of blowing a hole in an airliner?

KOHLMANN: Well, I mean it`s a liquid explosive. And it`s carried in
various separate components, and at least if we go by the model of Umar
Abdulmutallab, those components are only combined when that individual is
on board the aircraft.

But I mean, again, it`s -- you know, the actual instructions for how
they built this, AQAP published those instructions on the Internet. And
they published them in English, with the note that they were hoping that
other people would take these designs and replicate them.

And there have been other incidents that, unfortunately, have
suggested that perhaps that is the direction in which we`re going. There
was an individual stopped at one point traveling through Somalia carrying
what appeared to be some kind of liquid explosive inside his clothing.

So you know, let`s hope that these are isolated circumstances. But
that is part of the issue, is that AQAP, al Qaeda in Yemen, has tried
encouraging other terrorist factions to take up this particular recipe and
use it in their own operations.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the future of terrorism. When you go
to bed at night and you think about it, an old question, is this the kind
of spot opportunity where somebody`s going to get some training, is going
to find a willing recruit with a limited amount of very state-of-the-art
equipment, they`re going to -- it`s not going to be 9/11 again.

It`s not going to be the Cole even. It`s not going to be Khobar
Towers. It`s going to be one person, perhaps, destroying a whole airplane
filled with perhaps 300 people. That`s what the next target will be.

KOHLMANN: Well, I mean, let`s hope so. Let`s hope so. But I think
part of the issue...

MATTHEWS: Hope so? Why would you hope for that?

KOHLMANN: Well, I mean, let`s hope that they`re only aiming that
small. But that`s not what they`re talking about in their propaganda. I
mean, if you look at what they`re discussing, they`re talking about going
after strategic targets.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KOHLMANN: They`re talking about oil installations, oil pipelines,
supertankers, the kind of thing that would drive oil prices through the
ceiling and would cause an economic crisis. They`re talking about other
kind of major strategic-style attacks that, you know, we -- we presume that
because of the fact that they`re aiming for a suicide bomber here or there,
that their aims are limited. But I don`t think that`s the case.

And I think, you know, judging by their propaganda, or at least what
they`re talking about, their estimation is that by doing this, they can
destabilize international airline travel, they can destabilize commercial
markets, just by one suicide bomber.

MATTHEWS: Right.

KOHLMANN: So I mean, it all depends on what perspective you look at.
But they certainly have the aim of doing as much damage as they can
possibly achieve.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Evan Kohlmann. And thank you, Andrea
Mitchell earlier tonight, and Pete Williams, all contributing to this
report.

Andrea, any more on this we should know as we close this story
tonight?

MITCHELL: Well, just that the president is again thanking all of the
people in the counterterror community, who in Homeland and the FBI and in
U.S. intelligence did counter this threat. They say that no Americans were
ever in danger. No airline was ever at risk.

They clearly found the suicide bomber and his device, importantly,
through American intelligence. And because according to Pete Williams`s
reporting, there was no metallic materials involved, this was a more
sophisticated device than the previous attempts.

It was similar, but upgraded from the al Asiri designs. It may be he.
It may be some other apprentice of his, but it is typical of his designs,
his designs against the Saudi leader, the cartridge bomb, and also the
underground bomber -- the underwear bomber. Excuse me.

MATTHEWS: So it`s -- so thank you so much, Andrea Mitchell. Of
course, it ends up tonight as a good news/bad news story. Good news, we
caught it. Bad news, it`s still coming at us.

Vice President Joe Biden came out in support, by the way, the other
day of same-sex marriage. He wasn`t speaking for the administration, most
people think. But there`s no telling how Biden`s "Tell me what you really
think" moment -- how it will affect the election. This is an issue that`s
going to matter, I think. And that`s ahead in the next moment.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Hollywood`s back with Obama. Actor George Clooney is
hosting the president for a record-breaking fund-raiser this Thursday.
According to "The Hollywood Reporter," the event is already sold out and
expected to bring in $12 million to the reelection campaign. That would be
the biggest presidential fund-raiser in history. The event will be held at
Clooney`s home, and the studio heads and other celebrities are all expected
to attend. I guess it`ll be a big ticket out there.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s been a dramatic day for supporters of same-sex
marriage. Yesterday, the vice president of the United States told David
Gregory on "MEET THE PRESS" that he was, quote, "absolutely comfortable"
with gay marriage.

Well, those comments focused attention on the president, of course,
who has said his views on marriage equality are "evolving." Well, why is
this still such a tough topic for the White House?

Let`s get to it. Joe Solmonese is the executive director of the great
Human Rights Campaign and Sam Stein covers the White House for the
Huffington Post.

I want to go to the politics. Then we will get to the advocacy here.

But, first, let`s take a look at what Vice President Biden actually
said on "Meet the Press" yesterday in response, apparently spontaneous
response to the question put by David Gregory. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just think that
the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what
this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you
love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that`s what
people are finding out. Is what -- what all marriages at their root are
about.

I am vice president of the United States of America. The president
sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men
marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women are
entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil
liberties.

And quite frankly, I don`t see much of a distinction beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I have to say before we get started here,
congratulations to "Meet the Press." This is exactly the kind of thing
"Meet the Press" is known for, Sam, getting to the tough question.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And perhaps it struck Vice President Biden by surprise. It
certainly struck the White House by surprise.

But he came out with a from-the-heart response, what he really
believes, apparently, without any kind of guidance or coordination, it
looks like. Right? This was from the heart.

STEIN: Well, it shouldn`t -- it shouldn`t have struck him by
surprise. They have been pressed on this issue repeatedly, often by gay
publications, gay -- reporters gay publications.

And it`s always been a vexing issue for this president. From my
reporting, I get the sense that Biden really did speak from the heart. He
wasn`t operating off talking points. And you can see by the trouble it`s
causing the administration, including in this briefing room today, that
they were not prepared for it.

And the walk-back has been as big a story as the comments itself. At
first, they said that Biden was speaking on his own volition. And then
they said, well, he didn`t say anything that was different from the
president. But if you look at it objectively, there is daylight between
Biden and the president, who is stuck on a very long evolution still.

MATTHEWS: Sure. Yes, the president says he`s evolving.

I want Joe to respond to this.

Here he is, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, trying to
explain this. He repeatedly was asked about the issue of same-sex marriage
today. He said the president said in the past his views were evolving.
Carney insisted that remained true. So this is a tough job for a
presidential press secretary. Let`s watch Carney in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: There are very few people who think that the president is
not going to, after November, whether he`s re-elected or not, come out in
favor of same-sex marriage.

Why not just come out and say it and let voters decide? It seems --
it seems cynical to hide this prior to the election.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jake, I think the
president`s position is well known. He`s spoken to this. It`s gotten a
great deal of coverage. I don`t have an update to provide you on the
president`s position. It is what it was.

QUESTION: It`s pretty rare when somebody runs for office saying, in
effect, "I`m getting ready to change my mind." And you have really savaged
Mitt Romney for changing his mind. And I`m wondering if -- if you don`t
run some risk of looking, kind of, too clever by half here.

CARNEY: Look, I don`t have an update for you on the president`s
personal views. That`s the answer he has and I don`t have a new answer for
you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go to my friend Joe Solmonese.

This is a tough one, because I know where you stand, Joe, and I`m with
you. But here`s the president of the United States, who`s trying to get
270 electoral votes this fall. He has government -- states like North
Carolina he has to win, and he has to win perhaps in Virginia, maybe not
have to win in North Carolina, but certainly Virginia, Ohio, states, where
there`s been trouble before on this front. Look at what happened to John
Kerry back in 2004 when Karl Rove and Don King and those people connived
with the Cuyahoga County black ministers and cost him that state.

So this is tricky business. What do you think the president wants to
do here? What`s your sense? You`re his ally.

JOE SOLMONESE, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Well, you know, I
think Sam`s absolutely right when he said that allies, and myself among
them, have pushed the president, have pushed the administration to come out
in support of marriage equality.

We have done that ongoingly and will continue to do that, not just to
avoid the sort of antics that you saw over the last 24 hours, most recently
with the White House press briefing, but for the substantive merits, and
the message that it sends to people all across the country. And that is
what I hope is not lost in the words of Vice President Biden yesterday.

He said some very powerful things. He talked about being moved by the
individual story of a couple that he met and their children.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SOLMONESE: And, so, substantively, I think it makes a huge difference
all across the country in the circumstances of people`s lives.

I think it would certainly energize people out there, some segments of
the electorate out there. And, of course, we`re fighting, you know, in a
number of states across the country to preserve marriage equality, in
Maryland, in Washington, and, of course, North Carolina, and Minnesota, and
trying to fight a proactive ballot measure in Maine.

So I understand the complexities of it. But what I hope is not lost,
you know, are the strong words of the vice president, the strong words of
the secretary of education this morning and then...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let`s hear this -- you are ahead -- you`re
jumped ahead of us.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at Arne Duncan, the secretary of education,
because although Biden may have spoken on his own, he didn`t speak alone,
because here`s Arne Duncan today answering a very direct question on
"MORNING JOE" about this issue of gay marriage.

Here`s the secretary of education. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")

QUESTION: Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able
to get legally married in the United States?

ARNE DUNCAN, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Yes, I do.

QUESTION: OK. So have you ever said that publicly before?

DUNCAN: I don`t know if I have ever been asked publicly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: This is an amazing case of outing people`s political views
here, to use another reference here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Sam, I am surprised that they`re all sort of like free-
boating -- freebooting it, I guess is the term.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They`re -- is everybody allowed to speak their conscience
now on this issue in the administration?

STEIN: Except the president, apparently, because no one actually
believes that the president is not supportive of gay marriage. It`s not a
-- it`s not -- he was as a state legislator. He did sign a document saying
he supported it.

They disavowed that, said it was an aide who did that, but no one
actually believes that the president personally is opposed to it. It`s
just a practical political matter. I`m reporting tonight that there`s a
top-ranking Democratic official trying to elaborate on why he`s still
evolving.

They look at states like North Carolina, where there`s this -- there`s
this ballot initiative that would say marriage is only between a man and
woman.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEIN: It`s going to pass, in all likelihood. And they look at that
and they say, listen, if you put make -- gay marriage on the ballot right
now in November, that could be 10,000 votes in North Carolina. There was a
14,000-vote margin in that state in 2008. They say why risk it?

MATTHEWS: Right.

STEIN: Well, there`s an upside to it as well, if you do come out
publicly in support of same-sex marriage.

MATTHEWS: This is -- Joe, it`s great to have you on.

Sam, it`s great to have you on.

I love this topic and I know you do, too, Joe. It`s a very important
cause, but it`s also great to watch politics in action.

SOLMONESE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: As we cover this story, the president`s thinking. Right?
He`s evolving.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He will be evolving all night long, probably, to use his
phrase. It will be so interesting to see where he ends up. At least the
Democrats believe in evolution. How`s that for them at least?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Coming up: the forum -- well, some Republicans don`t
believe in evolution and don`t evolve themselves.

Anyway, thank you.

We have got the kickoff of the Obama campaign coming up next, the
themes he`s going to run on. We will see what they are.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: As we told you at the top of the hour, the CIA has foiled a
terror plot. The plot involved a suicide attack against a jetliner headed
to this country, our country.

And the bomb was said to be a more sophisticated version of the device
the underwear bomber tried to detonate more than two years ago. Officials
say no airlines were ever in immediate danger.

Coming up: President Obama formally kicked off his reelection
campaign by avoiding the question, the old Reagan question, are you better
off than you were four years ago? Instead, the president`s trying to
convince voters now that better times are ahead and he`s the guy to get us
there. Will it work?

Well that`s ahead. This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow sheds 30 points. The S&P gains a fraction. And the Nasdaq
was up one. Uncertainty over Eurozone debt sent the Dow down earlier, but
it did manage to bounce back a bit and reclaim the 13000 level. Could have
been a lot worse.

Meanwhile, benchmark U.S. Crude closed below $100 a barrel, $98 a
barrel there. And pump prices are falling, down seven cents over the past
two weeks, according to the Lundberg Survey, now at $3.85 a gallon on
average nationwide.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to move
forward...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ... to the future we imagined in 2008, where everyone gets a
fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the
same rules!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: That`s the choice in this election, and that`s why I`m running
for a second term as president of the United States!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s President Obama formally kicking off his reelection campaign on
Saturday with rallies in the key battleground states. You`re going to know
them well, Ohio and Virginia. Watch those states. And we saw the outline
of his campaign theme, his pitch, if you will: We`re on the right track,
but there`s more to do. We`re on the right track, but there`s more to do.

And the president made clear Mitt Romney is not the one to do it for
us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He doesn`t seem to understand that maximizing profits by
whatever means necessary, whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax
avoidance or union busting, might not always be good for the average
American or for the American economy.

(BOOING)

OBAMA: I don`t care how many ways you try to explain it.
Corporations aren`t people. People are people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: But with six months until Election Day and two new polls
showing Mitt Romney and Barack Obama nearly even right now, both candidates
are in overdrive to define the other.

Chris Cillizza is with "The Washington Post" of course and David Corn
is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and author of the great new
book "Showdown," great book to buy. You can get it -- there it is -- get
it right now. Both are MSNBC analysts.

Let me go to David Corn on this, because it seems to me that this is
going to be a campaign that`s going to be great to cover on shows like
this, and all across MSNBC and our competitive stations as well. This is
going to be about ideology. This isn`t going to be about what the
unemployment rate happens to be this week. It`s going to be about where
we`re headed. Who are we as a country? What do we believe in? What
philosophy should drive us?

The president laid down that marker today. It`s about what you
believe we should be. It seems to me, over the weekend, he`s made the
point that he wants this campaign to be a battle of ideas and purpose.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, you`re right about
that, Chris. And I hate to plug my own book, but he spent much of 2011
setting up the campaign exactly in this fashion.

He wants it not to be a referendum on him and the economy, for obvious
reasons. He wants it to be a choice in values and visions between what he
has to offer, a progressive set of values and visions, and the Romney view,
which is he calls -- backwards on tax policy, and look how he just
described Romney. He basically called him Mr. Monopoly, a guy who just
cares about profits and such.

So he wants this debate now. And, also, he doesn`t want to give
Romney a nanosecond of an opportunity to start moving back to the center
after that weird and wacky and crazy Republican primary season. So that`s
why he`s coming out strong, and just trying to keep and define him defined
as severely conservative and a guy who may know the value of profits, but
not the value of values.

MATTHEWS: And, Chris, what Romney seems to want to do is say, hey,
gang, let`s all go to B school.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s all go to business school -- no, really. Let`s all
try to make as much money as we can any way we can make it. Let`s all be
like that. And, by the way, if you vote for me, you can be like me. You
can be just like me.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I would put it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s -- that`s what he`s offering.

CILLIZZA: I would put it slightly differently. I think what he`s
basically saying, Chris, is -- it`s a variation on your point. I think
what he`s saying is, look, we tried a guy who didn`t have deep experience
in the private sector as president.

And, in Romney`s assessment, that didn`t work. What he`s pitching
himself as is a guy who has spent his life fixing the problem, which is
turning things around. Now, you can agree or disagree with this concept,
but turning things around, the Salt Lake City Olympics. Companies with
Bain he would put in there. He would put Massachusetts in there, though
many people would disagree.

Turning things around, that he is a fix-it artist and the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How is that different than Gordon Gekko? Chris, how is
that different than Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street," greed is good?

CILLIZZA: Well, he would say -- and, again, I`m not defending Romney,
but what Romney, I think, would say is that, and he does say, things like
Bright Horizons, Staples, that they invested in lots of companies that did
well and eventually helped the economy.

That`s the case he`s making, Chris, which is, I have the right
experience, the unique experience for this time and place; Barack Obama
does not.

The experience he is touting is very clearly kind of that business
school/private sector experience.

MATTHEWS: Right.

CILLIZZA: They just think that contrast works. Now, it doesn`t
always work. But they think it will work now against Obama.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to cover the good, the bad and the ugly.

And here`s some ugly. This afternoon, Mitt Romney answered President
Obama`s weekend rallies in Ohio and Virginia with his own town hall in
Cleveland. He took questions from the crowd, including this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... microphone right behind
you.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a president right now that is operating
outside the structure of our Constitution, and I want to know -- I want to
know -- I want -- yes, I do agree he should be tried for treason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He should be tried for treason. That`s what she said to
Romney. On the course of his answer, Romney did not challenge the premise
here, even address her comment that Obama should be tried for treason.

But a reporter followed up on the rope line. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Governor Romney, do you think President Obama should be
tried for treason like the person who asked you?

ROMNEY: Of course not.

REPORTER: No? Why didn`t you say anything? Is there a reason you
didn`t say anything like Senator McCain did four years ago? Governor, is
there a reason you didn`t correct her? Is there a reason you didn`t
correct her or say that you wouldn`t?

ROMNEY: I answered the question.

REPORTER: OK, but you don`t agree with her answer?

ROMNEY: I don`t correct all the questions that get asked of me. I
obviously don`t agree he should get tried.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: David Corn, that`s kind of fussle (ph) to allow somebody
to stand in front of you and accuse the president of treason and not say,
wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute here. Let`s keep this
legitimate here. Let`s be an American. He`s an American. I`m an
American. We`re both within the law. Let`s stop this kind of talk.

It would have been, yet again, a Sister Soulja moment -- that`s what
we call when you stand up against your own crowd when they get out of line.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: We`re still waiting to see any act or
moment of courage from Mitt Romney on this whole campaign. We saw it
briefly with John McCain back in 2004 when someone accused Barack Obama of
being an Arab and he said, no, he`s a good American, we just happen to
disagree.

You know, when you and I have talked about this before, Chris. Again
and again and again, Mitt Romney has played footsie with either birtherism
or the far right excessive rhetoric, in which he gets up there. He doesn`t
say what they say, but he says Barack Obama doesn`t understand the
uniqueness of America. He doesn`t understand the American experiment.

So he`s out there sort of doing a more light version of this idea
that there`s something foreign or there`s an other quality to Barack Obama.
It`s been part of his campaign from the get-go and he doesn`t seem to be
moving away from it, even as he tries to court independent voters now.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a question, Chris Cillizza. Can he keep
getting away with this I`m the American home team? I`m America`s team?
This guy is not quite on the team of Americans, without the press saying,
wait a minute. Objectively speaking you`re playing to the worst elements
in American society when you try to get in to this nativism, this sense
that people are crooks if they don`t agree with you politically, or they`re
traitors, even?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, let me -- let me preface
this by saying this will be an unpopular opinion with you and David, I
think, in this -- in this circumstance, and I`m not saying this for every
circumstance in which this comes up, but in this circumstance when I
watched it, it struck me more as Mitt Romney, an awkward candidate who is
not good on his feet than Mitt Romney silently condoning views that are
clearly outside of the mainstream of society and should be outside of the
mainstream of society.

He`s not someone, even like McCain, who is a little bit more able to
kind of take in things and spit them out in real time.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CILLIZZA: I think if he had his druthers, he would have rather said,
you know what, there`s no place for that, than have the follow up on the
rope line and then have this conversation that we`re having. I attribute
it more to his awkwardness than any sort of hidden agenda that he has in
terms of condoning some of the views that are out there.

MATTHEWS: OK. We`ll you`re right on that. Chris and I agree.

CILLIZZA: Oh, all right.

MATTHEWS: David and I agree --

CILLIZZA: Oh, OK.

MATTHEWS: I think your verdict is diminished capacity. Anyway,
thank you. You go with diminished capacity. I`ll go with he knew what he
was doing and David agrees with that.

Thanks, guys, for coming on tonight.

Up next: those new voter ID laws around the country aren`t cutting
down on voter fraud, but they are certainly shrinking the number of
Democrats who are registered to vote, getting out to vote apparently. For
the Republicans who pushed those laws that might be, you think maybe, the
point?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, France actually elected its first socialist
president in more than 15 years.

The effects of Francois Hollande`s victory this weekend will be felt
right here at home, of course.

First, Hollande has promised to end his country`s involvement in the
Afghan war. That`s big enough. He`s going to announce the French pullout
at this month`s NATO summit back in the United States in Chicago, actually,
this month. And second, Hollande campaigned on a promise to buck the
current trend toward economic austerity in Europe.

Many Republicans in this country are arguing for stricter austerity
measures, but it`s left many European countries mired in deeper economic
trouble. Not exactly a good role model over there for what people like
Mitt Romney are pushing here.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With just six months to go before the election, Republican lawmakers
are jockeying to rewrite voter identification laws in ways that would
undeniably suppress voter turnout among city dwellers, minorities and the
elderly. In other words, voters that usual support Democrats. Big
surprise there.

Republicans say it`s all to prevent voter fraud, whatever that is,
these days. Democrats say it`s a solution in search of a problem. And it
will have big consequences come November.

Well, U.S. Congressman Bob Brady is a Democrat from Pennsylvania.
He`s also the chairman of the Democratic City Committee in Philadelphia,
the organization there.

And Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center in New York
University of Law.

So let`s start with the real guide. Congressman Bob Brady, you`ve
got a city organization you`ve got to get into the streets.

What happens when these older people who live in row houses, don`t
own cars, don`t have driver`s licenses, want to vote Democrat? How are you
going to help them given the new law in Pennsylvania?

REP. BOB BRADY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: The new law is disenfranchising
them. They have to come up with a photo ID. If they don`t have a driver`s
license, they got to apply for a non-driver`s license photo ID.

And they have to show different types of ID at the polls. They show
an either an ID from a college that`s dated. They got a passport. They
got to show a city, state or federal ID. And if they don`t, they have to
acquire that.

And how do they acquire that? They have to go and get a birth
certificate, a raised certificate -- birth certificate or Social Security
card.

The ironic part about it, in order to get a Social Security card, you
got to show a photo ID. So, you got to get a photo ID to get a Social
Security card to get a photo ID.

Totally ridiculous. All kinds of money being spent and it is just
voter suppression.

MATTHEWS: Suppose one of your committee people and one of the row
house neighborhoods all over the city -- forget racial stuff, ethnic stuff.
Anybody calls up who is 75 years old and said, I`ve never driven a car. I
haven`t driven a car in five years. I don`t have a driver`s license. What
do I do? I want to vote for Obama.

What does your committee person tell that person to do? This process
sounds hopeless.

BRADY: It is hopeless. We`re trying to educate everybody as best we
can right now for those that don`t have a driver`s license or don`t have a
voter -- a photo ID. And we`re trying to do this as best as possible.

Plus, we`re in court. We`re going to court next we are with the
NAACP and the ACLU. We`re going to go to court and try to -- the most
restrictive law in the United States. We`re trying to appeal it.

MATTHEWS: Michael, this is really, I think, brutal. What they are
saying to people is you can show up as you`ve done all your light. Suppose
you voted in every primary for 25, 30 years. Suppose you vote in every
general election.

You walk around the corner. You go where you`ve always voted. You
walk in the door and this person says, "Where is your photo ID?" The
person says, "What would that be? I didn`t go to college. I don`t have a
car. I don`t have a driver`s license. You mean I can`t vote?"

You can have a provisional ballot, but within six days, you got to
show up with a government issued photo ID card.

How the heck is anyone going to do that who doesn`t even -- how do
you get to city hall? You got to take a subway. You got to get down there
with some money. You got to know how to do it. And you`re probably
intimidated to do it in the first place.

This looks like voter suppression to me. Your thoughts.

MICHAEL WALDMAN, BRENNAN CTR. FOR JUSTICE: It really is quite
remarkable at a time we ought to be expanding democracy and upholding
everybody`s right to vote, instead these very carefully crafted laws in
Pennsylvania and in other places, they really make it harder for seniors,
for poor people to vote are being passed. And, you know, you see
situations in a lot of places where you have to go to the DMV office to get
the paperwork, but you basically have to have a car to go the distance to
get to the DMV office.

These kind of laws we don`t know how big an impact they will have.
But we do know that about 11 percent of people who are eligible to vote in
the country don`t have a driver`s license. So we can certainly expect it
will make it harder if nothing else, for a lot of people to vote. And it
isn`t needed to protect the integrity of our elections.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Brady on the political impact
statement in Pennsylvania. Most poll shows Democrats ahead with the
president in Pennsylvania by, you know, somewhere around 10 points right
now. How many -- if this election gets closer, how many votes is this
going to take away from you, this new law?

BRADY: If it takes one vote away, it`s wrong. You know, voting is a
right. And the argument is that you need a photo ID to get on an airplane.
You need to photo ID to cash a check.

They are privileges. We have a right. People born in the United
States, American citizens have a right.

We are taking that right away. And that is wrong.

If we miss one vote, two votes, that`s wrong. We`re trying to get
people to come out and vote, increase the voting. And here we have this
ridiculous law that`s going to decrease it and put a poll tax and an
inconvenience on people that want to vote their right to do.

MATTHEWS: I think everybody watching, including me, ought to get in
this and help people get to vote. This has nothing to do with party
politics. It may have an impact that`s political, but I go to tell you --
denying older people the chance to vote because they don`t have money is a
poll tax.

Michael Waldman, what`s going to be done to counter this thing? Is
there a movement that should be nonpartisan really to deal with this?

WALDMAN: Yes, in Pennsylvania and around the country, what`s
interesting, as you saw last year, this big wave of laws cutting back on
voting rights, the worst since the Jim Crow era. But what you`ve started
to see this year is a real fight back and some successes. So that voters
in Maine repealed the law that they passed up there to end Election Day
registration. You have seen in Ohio, voters have put a petition on the
ballot.

MATTHEWS: Well, keep up the good work, Michael. Whatever you`re
doing, keep doing.

Thank you, Mr. Brady.

BRADY: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming on the show. It`s great
to have you on. Good luck. I`ll be glad to help.

People ought to get out and help. Get those people registered.

BRADY: You`re doing it right now. You`re doing it right now. Thank
you. Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It`s up to the committee people, the good committee
people.

BRADY: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the civic need we all
have to getting people out to vote, what I was just saying, and I mean it.

You`re watching HARDBALL. We`ve got to vote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I think people who want to vote should be allowed to vote, don`t you?
We shouldn`t be out there putting undue burdens on people. We should be
encouraging the people to vote, not discouraging.

But I also think it`s the good work, the chosen work of political
parties to get the voters to the voting booth. They have a calling which
is to activate voters. And it looks like this new thing of requiring
government-issued photo ID cards is creating a real challenge here.

I`d like to hope that organizations, and not just Democratic
organizations, will be out there this summer, in places like Philadelphia,
getting people to deal with this bureaucracy, to get themselves a voter ID
card. That means getting the raised birth certificate and a Social
Security card you need to get that voter ID card. It`s going to be a real
challenge.

But I can`t think of a better role for party people, committee
persons like my grandfather once was and civic groups to get people in a
position to cast a vote this November. That`s pretty basic.

And here`s the point: it`s not a partisan activity to help people
exercise the right to vote. It may help one party more than the other. I
would think the Democrats. But that is because the decision to set this
new requirement could keep a disproportionate number of Democratic voters
from casting their ballot. Is there anyone in this country right now who
would dare stand up and say a person who has been voting for years, the
same way, should all of a sudden be denied their vote?

I think we should all think about ways we can stop that from
happening. As I said in my interview a moment ago with Congressman Brady,
this could be a great hoorah for the old big city political organizations,
the committee people, could run down the street list, they`ve got them, go
to the doors of persons on the list. Find out who hasn`t got a government-
issued photo ID card and help them get one. It`s the kind of political
work you can`t do on TV and that in itself is reason enough for the local
political workers, the real committee people out there like my grandpa used
to be, that could really get to work on this one.

And we on TV should be encouraging them in the effort every bit of
the way. This is a good cause. Get people to vote.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Reverend Al Sharpton starts right now.


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