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updated 5/9/2012 2:39:37 PM ET 2012-05-09T18:39:37

Guests: Steve Kornacki, Hampton Pearson, Shira Toeplitz, Larry Sabato, Lisa Graves, Elijah Cummings, Eugene Robinson, David Corn, Kristen Welker

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The crazy right rears its head.

Let`s`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off
tonight: Paging Joe McCarthy. You would think the Republican Party would
have learned its lessons from McCarthyism, but Florida`s Allen West has now
doubled down on his claim that roughly 80 members of the U.S. House of
Representatives, all Democrats, are communists.

Where`s John Boehner? And where`s Eric Cantor? Where are the
Republicans saying this is over the line? And while we`re at it, why isn`t
Mitt Romney condemning Ted Nugent`s comments? Why, even the Secret Service
is now going to interview Nugent for what he said.

Speaking of the Secret Service and that prostitution scandal, members
are being offered the opportunity to take lie detector tests. We`ll get
the latest.

Plus, let`s say President Obama beats Mitt Romney. Will he be able to
govern, or will the Senate turn Republican and do everything it can to stop
him? Tonight, an early look at who might control the U.S. Senate next
January.

And you might not know its name, but you know what it does. The group
known as ALEC, A-L-E-C, has drafted state laws favoring -- favored by
conservatives, including "stand your ground" laws. Now ALEC`s opponents
have won a big victory. The furor over the Trayvon Martin case has cost
the group so much corporate support that it`s decided to get out of the
"stand your ground" business. Big news there.

"Let Me Finish" tonight with a tribute to the man who brought us the
soundtrack of our youth, "Bandstand." (SIC) And Of course, I`m talking
about Dick Clark.

We begin with Allen West, however, doubling down on his crazy claim --
and I mean it`s certainly crazy -- that 80 House members, House Democrats,
are communists.

David Corn`s the Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones." He`s the
author of the book "Showdown," a hell of a book. There it is. You can
actually buy that book at your local book store, even go to Amazon this
very instant, for a great book on politics. Gene Robinson, of course, has
written incredibly well. He`s written a column for "The Washington Post"
all these years and has the Pulitzer Prize to his credit. Both are MSNBC
political analysts.

Well, last Tuesday in a town hall with his Florida constituents, U.S.
Congressman Allen West told a voter there that there are about 80
communists in the U.S. House of Representatives. Let`s watch it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What percentage of the American legislature do you
think are card-carrying Marxists or international socialists?

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: No, it`s a good question. I believer
that there`s About 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members
of the Communist Party. They actually don`t hide. It`s called the
Congressional Progressive Caucus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ah, the precision, 78 to 81 card-carrying members of the
Communist Party. Well, yesterday, U.S. Congressman West said of those
comments, quote, "I don`t regret it whatsoever. There`s a very thin line
between communism, progressivism, Marxism, socialism. It`s about
nationalizing production. It`s about creating and expanding the welfare
state. It`s about this idea of social and economic justice."

Gene, it`s about justice.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s
about...

MATTHEWS: A thin line. I didn`t know there was a thin line between
Joe Stalin and Barney Frank.

ROBINSON: Because there`s not.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: You know, it`s miles. It`s oceans wide. And -- and you
know -- but this is -- first of all, it`s a lie. But it -- there`s
something really cynical about this. I mean, you know, Allen West raises a
lot of money by saying crazy things.

MATTHEWS: He made over 7 million bucks now doing this kind of clown
show.

ROBINSON: Exactly. And that`s why he gets tolerated. That`s why...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There`s a lack -- it`s not just a tin ear, Gene. You and I
are old enough to remember we went through this hell, right...

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... in the `50s. Joe McCarthy really existed. He really
came out in Wheeling, West Virginia, meeting of Republican women back in
January of `50, raised -- I got 250 communists in the State Department.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He had a list.
He had a list.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, he had a claim to a list. He didn`t have a list.

CORN: Yes, he didn`t have the list.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) valise.

CORN: I mean, I -- you know, to...

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s in it for the Republicans to say stuff like
this? Why would that be red meat for these people?

CORN: Well, I...

MATTHEWS: Why does it sound so good?

CORN: Well, you know, it sounds good in the way that when Ted Nugent
gets out there and he says that this is an America-hating administration --
you have Michele Bachmann, who`s been on this show saying...

MATTHEWS: She made her -- made her bones here...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: ... saying that they`re anti-American. What they want to do is
basically drum Barack Obama and the Democrats out of acceptable American
society. They`re different. They`re not real Americans...

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... tribute to Dick Clark, I`ve got to go to a stack of
golden oldies...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... going way back to 19 -- well, actually, it`s 2008.
Here`s Michele Bachmann here on HARDBALL doing this kind of stuff. Let`s
take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So how many people in the Congress of the United States do
you think are anti-American. You`ve already suspected Barack Obama. Is he
alone or are there others? How many do you suspect of your colleagues of
being anti-American.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: What I would say -- what I
would say say is that news media should do a penetrating expose and take a
look. I wish they would. I wish the American media with take a great look
at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America or
anti-America. I think people would be -- would love to see an expose like
that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Actually, I`ve done that investigation.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: There`s 435 members of the House of Representatives. I
have to tell you, I think they`re all pro-America.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s only a casual survey, but...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: Yes, but you know, why -- why does this message connect
with anyone, right? And it`s -- it`s -- I think it`s because when people
are anxious, if things aren`t going well for them, you know, you create a
villain. There has to be, like, a bad person...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But Gene, don`t they have to be credible bad guys like
communists?

ROBINSON: For most people...

CORN: But -- but listen...

ROBINSON: ... they have to be credible bad guys.

CORN: But this is...

ROBINSON: But -- but for some people, apparently...

CORN: But this is -- but this...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But this is asymmetrical because you look at the left, if the
left is attacking George Bush or Dick Cheney or Mitt Romney, they may say
all sorts of things...

MATTHEWS: They don`t call them Mussolini.

CORN: ... but they don`t -- but they don`t say they`re anti-American.
They don`t -- they may say they`re pro-corporate. They may say they favor
the rich. But they don`t say they`re anti-American and they`re not part of
our society.

MATTHEWS: Occasionally call them stupid, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK...

CORN: But there`s something distinctly conservative about this idea.

MATTHEWS: What?

CORN: To drive the opposition into -- to characterize the opposition
as the anti-American. That is a conservative trick that goes back to the
Palmer (ph) raids of the (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at Barney Frank, who can certainly
stand up to this kind of nonsense. Here he is. He had this to say about
the original Allen West comment. Quote, "Not even Joe McCarthy would have
said anything so stupid and dissociated from reality." In other words,
another example of a liberal calling him stupid. "It`s an indication of
the significant deterioration of the Republican Party as a responsible
entity that an ignorant, mean guy like Allen West is considered one of
their stars. I ask people, When you hear something so breathtakingly dumb
and vicious as that, how do people expect us to be able to work out some
compromise with him?"

Well, Barney always finds a great example.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He`s so smart. I hate to see this guy leaving Congress.

ROBINSON: What does he really think?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... smart because it is -- it is a pretty good thing.
Whenever I or somebody pushing for a middle-of-the road solution between
these guys, they say, You got to deal with him?

ROBINSON: Yes. Yes, right.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take on -- we brought up Ted Nugent. Let`s go
to Ted Nugent. A rock musician known for his extreme right-wing views,
Nugent endorsed Romney in March -- that`s a month ago -- and is now facing
heat for remarks he made at the NRA convention this very weekend out in St.
Louis. And the Secret Service, by the way, plans on interviewing him
tomorrow.

Let`s take a look at what he said this weekend, on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN: I`ll tell you this right now, if Barack Obama
becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail
by this time next year.

If you can`t galvanize and promote and recruit people to vote for Mitt
Romney, we`re done. We`ll be a suburb of Indonesia next year. Our
president and attorney general, our vice president, Hillary Clinton,
they`re criminals.

We are patriots! We are Braveheart! We need to ride into that
battlefield and chop their heads off in November!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I would say that chopping the heads off is probably
hyperbole. Let`s just skip that for a second.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: What does he mean when he says, I`ll probably be either in
jail or dead? Does that mean he -- what?

ROBINSON: Well, that`s what the Secret Service...

MATTHEWS: I mean, it does imply that he...

ROBINSON: ... wants to know, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... because that`s what usually what happens to people who
do dangerous things toward our president.

ROBINSON: Exactly. It implies some sort of apocalyptic thing that
he`s going to be protagonist of...

CORN: Leading the revolution...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: ... find out about that.

CORN: You know, the interesting thing about this whole Nugent...

MATTHEWS: It is against the law, by the way, to threaten the
president.

ROBINSON: Oh, it certainly is.

CORN: It sure is. The thing about the Nugent basically is it`s no
surprise. Back in 2007, he held up machine guns at a concert and said,
Barack Obama should suck on this and Hillary Clinton should ride this into
the sunset. It seemed like a sexual assault reference.

And even doing that, he still sits on the NRA board. I mean, this was
an official meeting he was at, and Mitt Romney still sought his
endorsement.

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... a Romney spokeswoman, in response, perhaps, to this
sentiment, said in response to Nugent`s comments, quote, "Divisive language
is offensive, no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from.
Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil."

Let`s get back to something more close to home. I think John Boehner,
as speaker of the House, is responsible to some extent for members of his
caucus.

CORN: Sure. Yes.

MATTHEWS: And he has -- I called the office today. I know he doesn`t
have to respond to everything. But when one of your guys calls 70 members
of the other party, or 81 members of the other party, commies...

ROBINSON: Or 78. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: ... shouldn`t you say, I demur on that, or you know, I
think he`s a little over the top or -- because somebody might believe it.

ROBINSON: When you`re speaker of the House, you`re not only
responsible for your caucus, you`re responsible for the House of
Representatives and the Capitol building. And you know, you`re in the line
of...

MATTHEWS: Yes, 80 (ph) people drawing pay...

ROBINSON: ... to the presidency.

MATTHEWS: ... are commies.

ROBINSON: And to allow the suggestion that they`re anti-American
communists just because they...

CORN: Well, we know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And Gene, I want to go back to -- you know what he said the
other -- I think you and I agree with this. What`s so interesting is how
the right has done this. This charge that if you are a liberal -- in other
words, you believe in a role for government, mixed capitalism, some
government, some private enterprise -- then you`re just a slippery slope
away from Joe Stalin and the detention camps and the gulag and everything
else.

But if you were to say that to a conservative -- in other words, if
you`re a moderate conservative, then you`re really on a slippery slope to
extreme rightism...

CORN: To being a fascist.

MATTHEWS: ... and you`re over there -- you`re basically over there
with Mussolini and Hitler.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But people don`t do that. And if they did do that, there`d be
an uproar for, you know, asking people to -- you know, if Hilary Rosen had
said something like that, that Mitt Romney`s a fascist, then she`d be in
even hotter water.

But you know, you`re right about the slippery slope idea because Mitt
Romney doesn`t talk this way. But what does he say? He says Barack Obama
doesn`t understand America. He apologizes for America. He doesn`t really
believe in America.

MATTHEWS: He`s not the home team. He`s not the home team.

CORN: He`s not the home team.

ROBINSON: Right.

CORN: And it -- that`s a slope...

MATTHEWS: Don`t think this is...

CORN: ... from being anti-American...

MATTHEWS: ... going away between now and November.

CORN: ... and that...

ROBINSON: Oh, no.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think, on the -- we`re on the road to a very rough
campaign. I don`t -- I`m not saying that the Democrats are above doing
some rough stuff. But along the road to November, we`re going to hear this
alienation number on Obama. Maybe not he`s a birther, but that will allow
for the fact...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: We`ve been hearing it for four years. We`re going to
continue hearing it and it`s going to intensify...

CORN: He`s a secret...

ROBINSON: ... between now and November.

CORN: He`s a secret Muslim. He want born here. And he doesn`t get
America. He`s not one of us, even after being president for four years.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s see if this "commie" line continues because I
really do think John Boehner, who I do respect -- I certainly respect his
office and the way he`s gotten to it. He`s a fair man. He has got to say
something very soon about a member of his caucus, a star in his caucus,
who`s out there raising all this money as this -- this nut.

ROBINSON: At the very least, it`s a breach of House decorum.

CORN: Oh, I`ll bet you...

MATTHEWS: By the way...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: ... doesn`t happen, though.

MATTHEWS: He said this -- he won`t say this on the House floor.

CORN: No, that`s different.

ROBINSON: Of course not. Of course not.

CORN: Then he`ll be voted...

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, David Corn, and thank you, Eugene Robinson.
It`s good to have some vintage knowledge here of our history, our country`s
history. I don`t think Allen West has too much.

Coming up, new details on that Secret Service sex scandal coming, and
it`s getting hotter. They`re talking about lie detector tests and all that
for the agents who want to clear themselves. This is worse than an
embarrassment.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Do you want to know how close the presidential race looks
right now? We`ve got "The New York Times"/CBS News poll in the HARDBALL
"Scoreboard."

Check it out. It`s Obama and Romney right now, 46 all, even -- even,
46 all. Can`t be closer than that. And last month, the president had a 3-
point lead in that poll, so it`s tightening.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. American investigators are down
in Cartagena, Colombia, this week looking into the prostitution scandal
rocking the Secret Service right now.

According to a U.S. official, some of the agents, who are now back in
the States, have been offered polygraphs as part of their investigation.
And some have accepted the chance to take one.

NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker is at the White House with the
latest. Kristin, a sordid story to report. What have you got?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. Well, it
continues to evolve, as you just said. The Secret Service personnel have
been offered polygraph tests. Some of them have said, yes, they`re going
to take them. This investigation seems to be moving quite rapidly.

The Secret Service has launched an internal investigation. They`ve
already interviewed these 11 personnel who were allegedly involved this,
stripped them of their security clearance. And so this polygraph testing
process is the next process. We are assuming that that is getting under
way as we speak.

So members of Congress quite interested to know what the results of
these polygraph tests will be. You know, one of the things that`s been a
bit difficult for investigators is that, apparently, these 11 Secret
Service personnel, the 10 military members, are giving some conflicting
reports, which is what you would expect when there are this many people
involved in an incident. So right new, investigators trying to sift
through a lot of information.

As you said with, there are also investigators in Colombia right now
who are trying to get in contact with some of those prostitutes who may
have been a part of this scandal. That has not been an easy process. They
are trying to contact a lot of different women, trying to get all of this
information together.

And also, by the way, Chris, trying to make sure that these women
didn`t get their hands on any sensitive materials...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WELKER: ... to make sure that there really hasn`t been a security
breech -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, it seems -- not to judge anybody ahead of time, but
on the surface, looks hard to believe is this is rare occasion. If they`re
talking about 300 bucks to 800 bucks for each of these occasions -- each of
these woman -- you`re talking about 20 women, according to Congresswoman --
or Senator Collins -- you`re talking a huge operation. All the 11 women
all went back with these guys, maybe 20 women involved, all this money
involved, all this choreography of getting this all done, and yet they say
this never happens, it just happened this one night. It doesn`t click.

WELKER: Right. Well, that`s really the central question. And by the
way, investigators are still trying to nail down that figure of how many
women were actually involved. Was it 20 women? Was it fewer than 20
women? That is what Senator Collins has been told.

But you`re absolutely right. That`s the central question. Is this an
isolated incident, or is this a part of a larger pattern within the Secret
Service? Senator Collins made the statement yesterday that there are just
so many men involved, it`s hard to believe that it`s an isolated incident.

However, we spoke with Brian Stafford (ph) yesterday, a former
director of the Secret Service, who said that this absolutely is an
isolated incident. So it really depends on the perspective that you`re
looking at.

But this is such a central question, Chris, because if you speak with
folks within the administration, they say the answer to this question could
determine what happens to the director of the Secret Service, Mark
Sullivan.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WELKER: If it turns out this is isolated, he might have a long
future. If not, he might be in trouble in this instance. So they really
want to get to the bottom of this.

What is fascinating is that right now, you have members on both sides
of the aisle and the administration standing firmly behind the director,
saying that he responded quickly, in the appropriate way. He brought the
men home. He stripped them of their security clearances. So right now,
they are standing firmly behind him. There are just a few voices who are
saying maybe there does need to be an overhaul within the agency. But once
they have those answers, that will determine who stays and who goes,
essentially.

MATTHEWS: Great report. White House correspondent for NBC News
Kristen Welker, thanks for joining us.

Now to Maryland U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who`s
ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Mr. Cummings, I have great respect for you, so the question is, is
this something that`s bigger than just one bad night?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We really don`t know, Chris, and
that`s what we`ve got to find out. My conversation with Director Sullivan
led me to believe that he does not -- he believes that this is more of an
aberration. He said that he has never seen anything like this. He`s
extremely embarrassed.

But that`s what we`re trying to find out, Chris. As a matter of fact,
just a few minutes ago, Chairman Issa and I joined in a joint letter to the
director asking him for information concerning this incident, what he
knows. Is there a pattern of this?

Has there been disciplinary issues with these 11 Secret Service agents
before, and, basically, what is the policy with regard to Secret Service
agents getting together with prostitutes...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: ... or foreign nationals?

MATTHEWS: And why would they want to take a polygraph? Why would any
agent want to take a polygraph? Because they are going to want to have a
chance to at least litigate their careers. They don`t want to lose their
retirement and health benefits and besides being sacked.

It seems to me the last thing a guy would want to do if he`s one of
these situations, oh, yes, sure, I would be glad to take a lie detector
test. It seems ludicrous to offer it, unless these people are totally
innocent.

CUMMINGS: Well, no, no, Chris, Chris, I disagree with you.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CUMMINGS: In my conversation with Director Sullivan, one of the
things I said to him, I said, I always had the impression that when a
person became the member of the Secret Service, they knew that there would
be probabilities that they would take lie detector tests from time to time
and that they would go into the service understanding that.

What he said is they do, do polygraphs every five years. But I think
these guys should want to clear themselves because I can tell you, I think
the Secret Service is more -- will be harder on them in itself than we
could ever be. This is a tremendous embarrassment.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It sure is. We have always been proud, like I know you are
and I am, as Americans, of the guts of these guys defending, taking the
bullet for a president.

CUMMINGS: That`s right. That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Let`s a take a look at an interview with -- Laura Ingraham
had. Mitt Romney today explained on that show what he would do to clean up
the messes at both the Secret Service and the other question we`re asking
about the GSA in another related scandal. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW")

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What would you do right now to
do it, to fix it?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I would clean house.

I mean, the right thing to do is to remove people who have violated
the public trust and have put their playtime and their personal interest
ahead of the interest of the nation. You have got to make an assessment of
those individuals. And where people have failed or where you think they
have not gotten the level of care and caution that`s necessary, well, you
replace them.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t think he meant to say -- I`m not going edit
Mr. Romney, but I don`t think he meant to say clean house, get rid of
everybody. But what do you make of that sort of broad-brush approach he`s
offered there?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think that`s a bit -- I think we got -- I think we
have got to do the investigating, Chris.

And I think that, you know, as I said to Director Sullivan, I look at
the Secret Service on the same level that I look at the Navy SEALs. And he
agreed with me that we want the Secret Service to have such a reputation
that people can`t -- don`t even imagine them doing things like this.

MATTHEWS: Agreed.

CUMMINGS: And that`s the image that they need to have. And we have
to make sure that trust is restored.

And I think that`s the key. And that`s what we are aiming to do.
And, hopefully, we will have answers swiftly. We have asked for answers to
our questions. That is, Chairman Issa and I, we want certain answers by
May 1.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CUMMINGS: And so we hope to have some things in line by then.

But I do believe that -- I have faith and confidence in Director
Sullivan and I think that they will get to the bottom of this. But this is
a very unfortunate incident.

(CROSSTALK)

CUMMINGS: We just cannot have the Secret Service being the topic of
the news three, four, five nights in a row. I mean, that`s just -- I mean,
that`s not the way it is supposed to be. We`re better than that.

MATTHEWS: OK, great to have you on, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings,
ranking member on the investigating committee.

Up next: Stephen Colbert takes on the blame-Obama crowd rather
boldly, the crowd that always blames President Obama for everything the
government might do wrong and gives him credit for nothing it ever does
right, like catching Osama bin Laden. They never give him credit for that.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up, the recent spending scandal involving the GSA, the General
Services Administration, has caused a congressional investigation to be
launched largely focusing on GSA commissioner Jeff Neely. But the folks at
"The Colbert Report" noticed that the most recent upheaval over there seems
to spark a familiar blame game from the right-wing of this country. Guess
who tops the list of their targets?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": I haven`t talked about
this story much so far because I knew my buddies at FOX News were on it.

STUART VARNEY, FOX NEWS: We will tell you about the latest GSA
spending outrage.

The latest outrages from the GSA.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, "ON THE RECORD": If you`re not outraged,
there is really something wrong with you.

COLBERT: Watch California Congressman and Darrell American Darrell
Issa...

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: ... pull the stopper on Jeff Neely`s tub of lies.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE
CHAIRMAN: you attend the 2010 Western Regional Conference in Las Vegas?

JEFF NEELY, REGIONAL COMMISSIONER, GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION:
Mr. Chairman on the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer
based upon my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege.

COLBERT: Who is he protecting? Who is really responsible?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It happened under President Obama`s launch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That blame has to go right to the president.

COLBERT: The president is responsible for anything the government
does while he`s in office.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Notice that there are two wine glasses in that photo.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Who was the other one for? And come to think of it, who
took the photo?

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Someone else had to be in that bathroom. There`s only one
person it could be. Barack Obama!

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: They blame him for the mess over at TSA, but they won`t
give him credit, even a smidgen of it, for catching bin Laden. When in
doubt, blame the president.

Now to search for the Romney`s V.P. Well, during an interview on CNBC
yesterday, Romney weighed in on what it will take to make the cut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNBC)

ROMNEY: I can tell you that the one quality that comes to mind
immediately is that you want someone who without question could lead the
country as president if that were necessary.

I think all of the political considerations pale in comparison with
the consideration of who has the capacity to lead America at a critical
time. And I hope, if I`m the president, that eventuality would never
occur, but that has to be the key consideration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a man who was taking notes during "Game
Change."

And, by the way, Republican Senator and Tea Party supporter Jim DeMint
of South Carolina has launched his own search for Romney`s running mate.
That`s right. DeMint`s -- quote -- "Senate Conservatives Fund" Web site is
conducting a poll asking for who Romney should pick for V.P.

Well, Florida Senator Marco Rubio got off to an early start, an early
lead, in fact, but he is not exactly a shoo-in based on those ground rules
from Romney about ready to be president.

And how is this for a timing snafu? Rick Santorum is out of the race,
as we know, for president. But a bit of campaign -- of his -- remnant of
his campaign showed up in some Iowa mailboxes this week. According to "The
Des Moines Register," a letter from team Santorum reads in part: "There is
still time for conservatives if we act now to win this primary to make sure
our party doesn`t nominate a Massachusetts moderate. It frightens me to
think what will happen if Mitt Romney is the nominee."

Whoa. A little late with that one, a late hit, you might say. A
spokesperson for Santorum said the letters were printed up and sent to a
direct mail company before Santorum bowed out of the race. Anyway,
Santorum also reminded supporters in a conference call this Monday that he
has not made an endorsement since dropping out. Still holding out on Mitt.

Up next: Even if President Obama wins reelection, will the Democrats
keep control of the U.S. Senate? That`s a big question I have been
thinking about. We are getting an early look right now tonight at the
hottest Senate races. Can he keep that hold of 53-47 in the U.S. Senate?

You`re watching it, HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow slides 83 points. The S&P is off 5. The Nasdaq loses 11
points. Worries about Europe hit stocks after Spain said bad loans at
banks rose to an 18-year high. After the close, American Express posted
better-than-expected earnings thanks to increased credit card use -- eBay
is also out with profits that exceeded analyst estimates.

And strong U.S. and international sales helped boost profits at Yum!
Brands, but shares are lower in after-hours trading.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With 10 U.S. senators now stepping down this year, the fight for
control of the Senate is very much up for grabs this November, a very
important fact. And right now, how -- Democrats hold a razor-thin edge in
the upper body, 53-47, including two independent who caucus with them, and
that`s 53-47.

But the Democrats are playing defense in a number of key races. Look
at some of the tossup races where much of the media`s attention will be
focused this summer. From west to east, Nevada, Montana, New Mexico,
Missouri, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia, and Massachusetts all have very
competitive races. And all but two of them, Nevada and Massachusetts, are
seats currently held by Democrats.

We are going to take a close look now at five of those contests.
Where do the Democrats stand their best chance to lose or to win? And
where will Republicans possibly pick up some seats?

Larry Sabato of course is director of the University of Virginia`s
Center for Politics. He joins us right now. And Shira Toeplitz is a staff
writer for the great "Roll Call."

Let`s start right now with the most interesting race, I think. The
most recent call from the Boston College -- "The Boston Globe" up there in
late March recently showed a very tight race between Scott Brown, the guy
in the truck, and Elizabeth Warren, who wants to clean up Wall Street.
They are in a dead heat.

Larry, what`s your call? How does that look?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS:
Well, it`s April, but I will tell you the most important word, Chris, in
the Senate vocabulary this year, coattail, coattail.

Who is going to Massachusetts?

MATTHEWS: Especially in Massachusetts.

SABATO: We already know. It doesn`t matter that Romney was governor.
President Obama will win, I would say, 58, 60 percent, something like that
in Massachusetts. That`s a giant problem for Scott Brown, whatever the
pre-election polls say. So I think Elizabeth Warren has a good chance to
pick up that seat.

MATTHEWS: What do you think? What do you think, Shira?
Massachusetts.

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, "ROLL CALL": I agree -- yes, I agree with Larry.

MATTHEWS: Because of the coattail effect of a dramatic Obama win up
there?

TOEPLITZ: Yes.

And I think Massachusetts is inherently a Democratic state. I think
this will either be -- if the unemployment rate is high, it will be Scott
Brown by a little bit or come down to Elizabeth Warren by a lot.

MATTHEWS: I have one disagreement with you on that. I think Scott
Brown is a pure -- and I don`t mean this positively -- a pure politician.
People can read that any way they want. I mean pure. This is what the guy
is good at, getting votes, with that truck and that barber coat and that
middle class aspect of him. He is so smart at not being an elitist.

Let`s go to Virginia, your state, Larry Sabato. George Allen is
coming back after the problem he had a while back. He lost six years ago,
and he was headed for the presidency. Now he is just trying to get his
seat back against Tim Kaine, a popular moderate, I would say, governor,
former chair, recent chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Tim Kaine vs. George Allen in your state, Larry?

SABATO: Chris, I don`t know if I have mentioned the word coattail.

(LAUGHTER)

SABATO: But this is a pure coattail race.

Chris, think about it. How many voters who vote for President Obama
are going to turn around and vote for George Allen, seriously? You can
probably count them on about three or four hands, and a lot of them are
mistakes.

The same is true in reverse. Tim Kaine is not just known here as a
former governor. He is known as the former Obama DNC chair. So people who
vote for Mitt Romney are very unlikely to turn around and vote for Tim
Kaine. I think the winner of the presidential contest in Virginia gets a
bonus Senate seat.

MATTHEWS: Wow, that powerful?

Shira.

TOEPLITZ: Yes, I think it is definitely a nationalized race.

And I think the Kaine campaign is looking at the Obama campaign`s
movements. How much are they going to play in Virginia? Does that help
them or hurt them come November? If you watch Kaine`s campaign, he has
been very, very careful on certain issues to distance himself from the
president.

MATTHEWS: I think Kaine is more popular than the president in
Virginia narrowly. So let`s go with that. I don`t think he needs
coattails.

Let`s go to McCaskill right now, McCaskill in Missouri. What do you
think, Shira? She`s a very familiar face here on our show. We like her.
She has been a great open guest to us. She has got a few problems.

TOEPLITZ: I think she is the most endangered Democrat incumbent in
the Senate this cycle. I think the president`s approval ratings -- again,
Sabato mentioned coattails. They do not -- they are not very strong for
the president in Missouri. And I think she is going to have a really tough
reelection there.

She does have a very crowded and negative primary in her favor on the
Republican side, though.

MATTHEWS: Same question, but I also want to hear from you about Jon
Tester in Montana, another guy who has got a crewcut. Looks like a regular
-- there he is, looks like a regular guy, works on his tractor on weekends.
He is no Northeastern liberal. That`s for sure.

Your thoughts on him, Larry?

SABATO: I think Shira is right, by the way, on McCaskill.

But I would call Tester the most endangered Democratic incumbent.
That is a race that I see President Obama losing maybe seven, eight, nine,
even 10 points this time around. That should be enough to elect
Congressman Denny Rehberg, the Republican, and defeat Senator Jon Tester.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go finally to the hot race in Florida.

Bill Nelson has been around a long time. He is probably -- he may
well be facing Connie Mack. It`s not sure yet. He is up over Mack by
eight points, 44-36.

Again back to you, Shira. Is -- has he has been around too long, Bill
Nelson? Has he -- does he have a reason to keep getting reelected down
there, I guess is the tough question.

TOEPLITZ: Well, there is that old saying, would you rather be lucky
or good? I think Bill Nelson is very lucky, OK? He`s faced these non-
challengers now. This could be a second cycle. Republicans have a primary
problem here. Connie Mack is not a silver bullet of a candidate they`d
hope he`d be.

MATTHEWS: His dad had a great record, didn`t he? His dad was
popular.

TOEPLITZ: His dad was popular but this is many years later. And his
son is not -- so far, not running a solid campaign.

MATTHEWS: Your reading on that, Larry. That great old name
Cornelius McGillicuddy, grandfather to this guy was the owner of the A`s,
the Philadelphia A`s. This guy, has he got the magic name or not?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He`s got a magic name, but he
sure doesn`t have a magic campaign. The Republican problem in Florida is
really the same as in Missouri. They don`t have an obvious candidate.
They don`t have a clear winner.

And unless they get one, you will tip it to the incumbent, unless
Florida goes heavily for Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about coattails, which is your theme
tonight, Larry. You`re one of the experts of the country, if not the best
one. I guess because I come from a state of ticket splitters,
Pennsylvania, I`m surprised that power you`ve given to the presidential
line here.

SABATO: Chris, we`re in a polarized era, increasingly polarized.
And because of that, fewer and fewer voters who show up at a presidential
election are willing to cross ticket vote. They just stay in the same
column. If they start voting Democratic, they vote Democratic from the
White House to the courthouse. The same thing is true when they start
voting Republican.

I think it is the defining element of Senate and even many house
races this year.

MATTHEWS: Powerful stuff.

Shira, you buy that? It sounds like you do.

TOEPLITZ: Yes, I do. I agree with that for the most part. I think
you can`t underestimate at this point what ad wars are going to look like
right now, especially in states like Florida. Florida is going to see
campaign ads like it`s never seen before and they get a lot of traffic.
It`s going to be very negative between the super PACs and campaigns.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TOEPLITZ: Voters are going to be sick and tired and polarized.

MATTHEWS: Bottom line, if the Democrats can hold the Senate, the
president gets reelected, following your theory of the coattails, Larry?

SABATO: If the president is re-elected by several percentage points,
Democrats could end up with either 51-49 or 50-50 with Biden breaking the
tie.

If the president wins very narrowly, if a percent or something, I
think the Republicans are likely it take control 51-49, 52-48.

MATTHEWS: And that`s a bad situation, a president without a
government, right? A president without a Congress.

SABATO: Yes. Well, of course, the Senate is gridlock even when you
have 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. That`s what they are good at,
talking and gridlocking.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I mean, they can still a pass under reconciliation
and the budget rules.

What do you think, Shira?

TOEPLITZ: I think if the election was tomorrow, I think Democrats
barely hold the Senate at 50-50, assuming Obama does win reelection even by
a little bit.

MATTHEWS: God, it scares me, guys, because here we go back into
another two years and four years of divided government with not a clear
mandate on either side. And without mandate, how do you cut the deal to
your side`s favor.

Again, one last thought you from Larry. How do you get government --
with a government cut in half?

(CROSSTALK)

SABATO: I think we will have gridlock in all probability.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Larry Sabato, from University of
Virginia. The well known and perhaps best guy out there.

And Shira Toeplitz from "Roll Call" -- what a great opportunity to
have you on.

TOEPLITZ: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: the conservative group that pushed those "Stand
Your Ground" laws across the country are feeling the heat. They`ve lost so
much corporate support. That`s money behind them. As a result of Trayvon
Martin case, they are getting out of "Stand Your Ground" business. This is
the political side of that case.

And that`s ahead and this is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Got a hot update on that Secret Service sex scandal. A
congressional source tells us NBC News that two Secret Service agents
implicated in the scandal are resigning and one other one is retiring. The
source said the Secret Service is set to announce this personal action this
evening, would mark the first administrative action since the scandal
broke. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

That organization responsible for spreading the "Stand Your Ground"
law across the country is now standing down in the wake of the Trayvon
Martin shooting. The American Legislative Exchange Council, it`s called, a
group associated with promoting conservative causes generally is ending its
work on social initiatives, including expansive self-defense laws like,
"Stand Your Ground".

In the end, the money talked. Many top corporate sponsors as is
often the case withdraw their support from the group called ALEC after the
Trayvon Martin including, catch these big names, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft,
McDonald`s and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. By one count, 25
states today, by the way, have laws in placed that are similar to Florida`s
"Stand Your Ground" law, meaning they permit deadly force in self defense
with no duty to retreat in places outside the home.

Lisa Graves is the executive director of the Center for Media and
Democracy, which fought the laws. And Steve Kornacki writes for "Salon".

Let me ask you, Lisa -- thanks for joining us, by the way. Tell us
what you know about what the impact has been of the Trayvon Martin case in
terms of funding this organization which has been pushing these "Stand Your
Ground" laws.

LISA GRAVES, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: Sure. Well, ALEC is a
group that is largely funded by corporations. Over 98 percent of its
funding comes from everything but legislative dues.

Even though it describes itself as an organization that is focused on
legislators, this is a group lost funders in the last few weeks as people
learned about ALEC`s role in promoting "Stand Your Ground" laws. That`s
the bill that actually brought to a closed door meeting of ALEC where the
NRA presented this bill as a model. Wal-Mart was co-chair of that meeting.
ALEC ratified the bill to take it nationally.

And since then, it spread across the country.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Steve Kornacki on this.

Reporting on this, give me a sense, if you can, the impact of this
case you have been covering here. Trayvon Martin, we don`t have a jury
yet, we don`t have a case even yet. We have an indictment.

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Well, yes -- I mean, you mention that
there are 25 states now, give or take, that have laws like this on the
books. And some sort of a legislative standpoint, that`s a question now.
If ALEC is standing down, is not going to push for more laws like this, and
the question is, what about the ones that are on the books now --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KORNACKI: -- in all these states, can they come down?

And I think there, you run into two problems. The first, you look at
the states where these laws take place. They tend to be more of the sort
of conservative, gun-friendly, NRA friendly states. So you`re going to
have powerful resistance from the gun lobby, you`re going to have powerful
resistance Republicans because the Republican Party sort of uniformly pro-
NRA.

And that brings you to the broader problem which is, you know, you
have a tragedy which is putting all this in the news. Eventually, that
tragedy is going to fade from the news. If you want to get these laws off
the books, you need a concerted push. If you want a concerted push, you
really need one of the political parties, one of the national political
parties making this a point.

Republicans aren`t going to do it. And Democrats decided about 10
years ago after Al Gore, they`re not going to do it either. So you need
momentum. I don`t see where it comes from.

MATTHEWS: Yes, because Al Gore lost West Virginia, I think you can
see a whole thing -- here`s what I want to worry about because I`m a gun
control person generally speaking. I worry about it this push. People
want to have a right to carry, open carry into restaurants, open carry into
bars. It`s going back to the Wild West.

Is that going to stop because of the Trayvon Martin situation? Is
that going to in any way dampen that push for more and more guns on display
in public places when there`s booze around and stuff like that going on?

GRAVES: Well, I don`t think so. Certainly, the NRA this weekend
gave Scott Walker one of its biggest awards for pushing conceal carry in
Wisconsin, along with this Castle Doctrine bill in Wisconsin. And so, the
NRA isn`t going away.

But the NRA has been exiled in essence by ALEC. I think that`s a
P.R. move because ALEC, while it`s disbanding this committee, is not going
to do might to lift a finger to remove the damage that`s already been done.

MATTHEWS: Last thought here. Let me go to you, Steve, about this
whole question, ALEC, this organization that we`re talking about -- a
conservative organization which is well-funded, but apparently pulling back
from some of its pro-gun sort of offensives. Let`s talk about voter
registration. It`s been my sense that there`s a pretty clear partisan
aspect to this, that the Republican Party across the country, wherever it
has legislative power to states is pushing.

The Heritage is ending its controversial work on voter ID laws.
Since 2011, 17 state legislatures, they are mostly Republican, I think they
all are, have passed laws that would restrict the right to vote, make it
harder to get up election. Even earlier, you get on to your voting,
although some have not gone to effect yet and they are still under review.

As a reporter, what you can tell us about ALEC pulling out of this?
Are they still going to keep doing this?

KORNACKI: Well, again, you know, it`s sort of like with the gun
situation. The question is how much damage has already been done? At this
point, ALEC pulling out in a way, they can kind of declare victory because
the laws have been enacted in so many states.

I mean, to give you a practical example, sort of the next major
election on the U.S. calendar right now is going to be the recall in
Wisconsin. Well, Wisconsin is one of these states that put up the voter ID
law, you know, thanks in part to ALEC. That law is probably -- it`s going
to be a very close race.

You know, recall Walker, don`t recall Walker. It`s going to be a
very close race, and you`ve got a law on the books now that I think most
people would look at objectively and say, the practical effect of will this
law is to give the Republicans an advantage.

GRAVES: That`s right. I mean, this is a bill that`s been pushed
primarily by Republican legislatures, primarily by ALEC legislatures in
state after state, and we know that what it`s going to do is going to make
it much harder for college students to vote, it`s going to make it harder
for people who don`t have driver`s licenses but may have proof of ID, have
their lease or utility bill who could vote before, it`s going to make it
harder for them to vote.

MATTHEWS: Does it have enough impact to change the results of
presidential election we`re looking at?

GRAVES: I think it does, because if you shave off 1 percent or 2
percent in a close race, it could have a huge effect in state after state.

MATTHEWS: OK. Lisa Graves, thanks so much for joining us.

Steve Kornacki, thank you for this. We`re going to have more of
this.

One last thought for you, Steve, this whole question of the power of
the board room, we`re seeing it all the time. Were these organizations,
although they seem to be totally ideological, they take a lot of money from
mainstream brand names, Coca-Cola? Not just the Koch brothers, but Coca-
Cola. How is that going to be a pattern? Is this going to be a way for
progressive forces to stop some of this?

KORNACKI: Yes. No, I mean, I think that`s sort of -- the key to
what ALEC was doing was they were kind of operating in the shadows. It was
a back doorway to pursue sort of a national conservative agenda without
going through Washington, D.C., where all of this stuff gets noticed very
easily. You go to the state capitals where you know there aren`t big
legislative staffs -- you know, the media has been severely cutting back
how they cover politics and state governments.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

KORNACKI: So you can slip these things through a lot easier and a
lot of these corporations probably didn`t know what they were sponsoring.

MATTHEWS: OK. Your thought on that?

GRAVES: Well, it is the case that you can buy legislatures pretty
cheaply in the states. Some of these corporations are giving away $500
donations directly to a particular candidate and they`re also --

MATTHEWS: They just got to you.

Anyway, thank you, Lisa Graves. Just kidding. Thank you that
reporting.

Steve Kornacki, thank you, sir, as always.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a tribute to the man which is
said to be forever young who touched so many of us when we were young, Dick
Clark.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I was thinking back on my paper boy days back when I spent all those
slow summer afternoon delivering the "Philadelphia Bulletin" along the
border between Montgomery County and Bucks County. It was a long lonely
route, about five miles, and I had to ride my bike just to get to it.

But there was something idyllic about it given all that`s happened
since of course. I was thinking late today about that because I remember
standing at the doorway of somebody on a Friday afternoon, that was
collection day, waiting for the customer to get me that 30 cents for the
week of newspapers. And listening to "Bandstand" on the TV set.
"Bandstand" was a big deal back then, especially for teenagers. It was a
place each afternoon, our place, where kids a little older than me became
celebrities, just for showing up after school to dance the latest music,
celebrities with names Mary South Philly (ph0. The host of that so he was,
of course, Dick Clark who died today.

And I wonder where all those kids were when they got the news.
Probably over in Jersey, most of them, some of them still hanging on now in
their 70s in the old, narrow streets of south Philadelphia.

Dick Clark had a wonderful way of connecting to those kids, us kids.
He cared about our music, about our fun, he actually cared about us. He
was a little older, but not a day less hip.

So tonight I want to say in how much I share in all this. We Philly
people were very proud, really proud that "Bandstand" started in our old
neighborhoods and I say best to you, Mr. Clark, and also to you, Mary,
wherever you are, who made South Philly such a famous part of our great
country. Long before Rocky, long before even cheesesteaks.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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