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updated 5/14/2012 3:32:18 PM ET 2012-05-14T19:32:18

Guests: Joan Walsh, Michael Steele, Tyler Mathisen, John Heilemann, Harold Schaitberger, Tom Barrett, Glenn Thrush, Rob Reiner, Mark Leibovich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hooray for Hollywood.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
LA story. What made Hollywood`s A-list come out for dinner at George
Clooney`s house last night and leave $15 million behind for President
Obama? One reason, Hollywood is now happy with a president who won`t
compromise his principles.

By this I mean three key factions, the left, the Obama stalwarts and
the Hillary hold-outs. They`re all now united for the president. Rob
Reiner joins us tonight at the top of the show.

Also, we now know that Joe Biden felt he needed to apologize to
President Obama for getting out in front with his gay marriage comments
last Sunday. Sure, people inside the White House were angry that Biden
stole the president`s thunder, but why are they going public with the
rancor? That`s my question. Why splash it across all the major newspapers
today? Who wins there? That`s what I want to know.

Also, how seriously should we take the report of Mitt Romney`s high
school open antipathy -- in fact, action against a presumed gay classmate?
Should something that happened in high school be forgiven because Romney
says he`s forgotten it, or does it tell us something significant about a
man we really know very little about?

And suspicions confirmed department. Wisconsin`s governor Scott
Walker has always insisted he`s not anti-union, but now a new individual
videotape has emerged in which Walker tells a wealthy supporter he plans to
use a divide-and-conquer strategy to defeat unions and turn Wisconsin into
a right-to-work state. Scott Walker`s opponent in the recall election,
Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, joins us tonight.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with what Mitt Romney may need to do to
prove himself -- about himself, in fact, and gay people.

We begin with President Obama`s big Hollywood haul last night. Rob
Reiner`s an actor, director and activist. His newest film is called "The
Magic of Belle Isle" starring Morgan Freeman, which will be out this
summer. And John Heilemann is national affairs editor for "New York"
magazine and an MSNBC political analyst.

Rob, thank you so much for coming on HARDBALL tonight, right after
that big event last night. You were there, of course. You`re a regular,
very supportive Democrat. What was it like? What can you tell us about
the feeling, the mood, the purpose, the energizing force of the evening?

ROB REINER, DIRECTOR: Well, it was a great feeling in the room. I
mean, first of all, there were -- as you said, $15 million were raised.
But what`s I think significant about that is that about two thirds of that
money came from small donors. So the majority of it didn`t come from the
people in the room.

There were people -- they raffled off a ticket to, you know, come to
the dinner, and the people who won were sitting at our table, from Florida.
And so this to me was a significant thing.

Also, the great thing was that there were about 15 tables, and
President Obama moved from one table to the next so he got a chance to talk
to everybody. And I think it was a great evening.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the cultural feeling because I
know that tends to unite the Democratic Party these days, at least in the
theatrical world and a lot of the media world, I must say, this sense that
he`s right to be fighting for rights, in this sense, that having made that
big statement this week. What do you think that did to the evening?

REINER: Well, it definitely energized everyone there. But I think we
were -- we were in a room full of avid supporters to begin with, but
certainly, him making that -- I mean, he said -- he was very funny at the
beginning, he said, I made some news this week, you know.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REINER: He kind of made a joke out of it. But it was really a bold
percent move on his part. It was the right thing to do. We know he had
been evolving on this issue. And he came to the right place.

We always -- you know, as a democracy, we kind of, in fits and starts,
move towards doing the right thing. There was a time women couldn`t vote,
blacks couldn`t marry whites, blacks couldn`t vote, and we always seem to
do the right thing and get it right.

And I think this is -- it`s wonderful that a sitting president would
be able to support the only group, the only minority group in America that
is not considered equal under the law. And this is a big step forward to
making sure that all is taken away.

MATTHEWS: I think the old line is, America only does the right thing
after it`s tried everything else.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s take a look at the president, as you
mentioned, not so veiled reference to the news he made this week about gay
marriage and the right to gay marriage.

Here`s the president. Quote -- we don`t have the actual tape because
it was a closed fund-raiser. "Obviously, yesterday we made some news. But
the truth is, it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be.
It grew directly out of this difference in visions. Are we a country that
includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly?
And is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants?
Are we welcoming to people who aren`t like us? Does that make us stronger?
I believe it does, so that`s what`s at stake."

Let me go over to John Heilemann about this. How do you put this in
context, out there in what they used to call, and they still do, the left,
(INAUDIBLE) culturally identified people who care a lot about freedom and
rights issues, certainly, when it comes to freedom of expression in the
movies.

But here you have real unity, it looks like, among -- as I said at the
front, the people, I guess, on the left, you`d say, the middle-of-the-road
Democrats, the Hillary people, the stalwart Obama people -- they seem to
all be united now for the president.

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
you think in terms of fund-raising, Chris, mainly? I think that on that
front, there`s -- you know, you think about the Obama coalition in terms of
money back in 2008. All of those elements were in place then.

He raised a ton of money in Hollywood. He raised a ton of money from
small donors. He raised, in the end, a lot of money from former Hillary
supporters who eventually came around. Despite some reluctance, they ended
up giving him a lot of money in the fall of 2008.

The one element of his fund-raising coalition that is absent this year
-- and it`s a big problem for him both in terms of the campaign and in
terms of the Democratic super-PAC that`s allied with the president -- is
Wall Street, where President Obama raised a lot of money in 2008. And that
well has gone dry for him, so he`s looking for new sources of money.

I don`t think that necessarily this decision was calculated to have
that effect, but it may have that effect. He`s replaced a lot of Wall
Street money with gay donors. They are now -- I believe the number is 1 in
6 of his bundlers are from the gay community. This decision, as I said,
not calculated necessarily just for financial profit or dividends for him,
but it`s going to pay those for him.

And he does need that money because right now, there`s no one on
either side who doesn`t acknowledge that the president is going to be the
first incumbent president who`s going to get outspent in this election, and
that`s a significant problem.

MATTHEWS: So he will get outspent. That`s your assessment right now.

HEILEMANN: I think not just outspent but outspent by a significant
amount.

MATTHEWS: OK, television producer Normal Lear, who has a few bucks,
told "The Hollywood Reporter" this week he`s giving the maximum amount to
the president he`s allowed to donate. Quote, "He came out in support of
marriage equality. He didn`t have to do it, but he did it. And it`s what
the country needs. So let`s max out -- I said, Let`s max out."

Rob Reiner, it`s great to -- I know you`re a really good, strong
activist about this country. You`ve always been out for the right things.
Let me ask you about Hollywood and the business world. It seems to me that
the people in Wall Street, not -- let`s put it to the Republican side. I
want to stick it there.

When they invest in a Republican candidate, they`re investing in their
businesses. They want a better tax break. They want less regulation.
I`m, damn it, in a certain, weird, perverted way, they should get a tax
write-off because what they`re doing is for the money! And you guys are
doing it for cultural reasons because you share values with the president.

Now, maybe gay people, especially gay people, are concerned, and they
do get a value out of this, an interest in terms of rights, but that`s what
they have a right anyway, I would argue.

But this is interesting, isn`t it? You guys out on the coast out
there do it because you agree with the president. People on Wall Street
and business world, in Texas and around there, they give money because they
make money off Republican politics!

REINER: That`s exactly right. And it`s interesting. But the
Hollywood community is the only donor base, as you call it, that would --
that has no quid pro quo.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REINER: We don`t -- we don`t support a candidate because he`s going
to -- he might be able to do something for us. When you see the Koch
brothers throwing, you know, what`ll be $20 million to hundreds of millions
of dollars into a -- you know -- you know, a PAC, you know, they`re looking
for a payback. They want -- and they`ll get it, too. If their man gets in
the White House, they will get it with -- with -- you know...

MATTHEWS: Oil money?

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: ... regulations that are reduced to allow them to pollute and
do all the things that they want to do.

We`re the only group of donors that doesn`t ask for something in
return. We support somebody because, like you say, they share our values,
whether it comes to education, health care, the environment, the economy,
social issues. They`re in line with how we feel about things. And we look
at -- we look at the totality of a candidate, not just at a very narrow,
specific financial interest.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of Romney`s absolute straight-arrow
opposition, 180 to anything for gay people? Not only opposition to
marriage, which we still argue about in this country, but total opposition
to any movement whatever?

He says, I`m never going to evolve. Nothing for civil unions, no
rights out there, nothing in terms of equality, just absolute -- is he
just, do you think -- you`re a political guy. Do you think he`s just
saying, Maybe I can pick off North Carolina here? Maybe I can get back in
the game in Ohio, in Iowa? What`s he up to in saying nothing, I`m giving
gay people in this country, maybe 5, 10 percent of the country who`s gay
voters -- I`m not giving them nothing, not even crumbs. What`s he up to?

REINER: Well, I think, you know, John Heilemann pointed out something
interesting, which is I don`t think Obama came out in favor of same-sex
unions -- marriages in order to build his donor base up, but the end result
is that it will do that.

I think for the same -- on the same token, I don`t think Romney is
saying that because, you know, it`s going to energize his base. But the
fact of the matter is, it does energize his base.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REINER: There are a lot of Christian conservatives that probably
wouldn`t have supported Romney that might now do it if they`re single-voter
issue -- you know, they`re single-issue voters.

But I think this is a deeply held view by Romney, and I don`t think we
should diminish those feelings that he has. This is part of his religion,
and he`s entitled to his opinion. I believe he`s wrong. And I believe
history will show that -- that he is wrong on this.

I think -- you know, my good friend and colleague, Chad Griffin, was
on earlier with Andrea Mitchell, and he said, This will be the -- there
will never be another president who will not support marriage equality.
And I think that`s right. I think...

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: ... I hope Obama wins, and I don`t think there`ll be another
president after Obama that will go...

MATTHEWS: OK, you mentioned a good...

REINER: ... will go backwards.

MATTHEWS: ... man there, Chad Griffin who`s head of the Human Rights
Campaign. I just -- I was there when he was made president.

Let me go to John Heilemann. Check him on that. Is Rob right on all
those fronts, that this will energize both sides, that this will get the
Christian conservatives more excited about Romney, a guy they think is kind
of polenta, not really there for them, not much of an exciting character to
begin with.

HEILEMANN: Well, I`ll say two things. The first is I think Rob is
being maybe a little bit charitable to Mitt Romney. You know, he did in
1994, when he ran against Ted Kennedy in the Massachusetts Senate race, he
did say that would be better for gay rights than Ted Kennedy was. Now,
that may have been an implausible thing to him to argue, given Ted
Kennedy`s history, but -- he has evolved, to some extent. He`s evolved to
the right on gay rights issues.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: And I think there`s been some political calculation there,
not necessarily in terms of, like, trying to drive his base in this
election, but over time, Mitt Romney has taken more conservative positions
in a number of areas to appeal to the GOP base that he needed to appeal to
to get the nomination.

The second thing is, Chris, I think, yes, it`s going to definitely rev
up both sides. We`ve talked about the Democratic base. There`s no
question that the cultural right, the Christian conservative right, has
reacted more strongly to this than Mitt Romney certainly has in the course
of the last couple days.

The question is whether Romney sees it as in his interest to try to
exploit that or not? I think that the Romney campaign believes that any
day that`s not spent talking about the economy is a wasted day politically
for him.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

HEILEMANN: I think they may try to leave this alone because they
think the economy is the winning issue and that`s how they win the
election. So they may not try to explore this. And they will obviously
let the Christian right do what it does at the grass roots level, but not
to drive it from their campaign as much as some previous Republican
campaigns have been.

MATTHEWS: OK.

REINER: You know, I -- I agree with John on one thing. I think that
Romney probably won`t try to exploit it. But there will be surrogates out
there...

MATTHEWS: Oh, sure.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

REINER: ... in a very targeted way.

HEILEMANN: Of course.

MATTHEWS: And as you know, Karl Rove is very good at this. In the
key battleground states like Virginia and North Carolina, where these --
these kinds of issues might make a difference, you`ll see a lot of direct
mail. You`ll see a lot of robo-calls. You`ll see all of those things that
will target certain specific voting blocs...

HEILEMANN: Of course.

REINER: ... to turn -- for turnout. So it may not be right there on
the forefront of the campaign, but under -- you know, under the radar,
there`ll be a lot of stoking of those fires.

MATTHEWS: I can`t stand having Rob Reiner on this show because he
knows more than most of us in this business! He could do this with his
left hand. Thank you, Rob Reiner. You`ve gone through all the states that
are in play right now because of this development. Thank you. And good
luck with the latest film -- a Great filmmaker. Anyway, I still love "A
Few Good Men."

REINER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I love so many of those films. I still love "Princess
Bride," as you know so well. Anyway, they`re all great.

This weekend on "THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW," by the way, Andrew
Sullivan`s emotional reaction -- wait`ll you see this this weekend -- to
the president`s new stance on gay marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW SULLIVAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, BLOGGER: To tell you the
truth, I didn`t realize how important it would be until it happened. I --
beforehand, I was kind of steeled. I was, like, I don`t care, he`s going
to disappoint us again. And then I sat down and watched our president tell
me that I am his equal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. It`s just as emotional as that, as you see. Much
more from Andrew Sullivan this weekend on "THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW."

And coming up next on this show: Why are White House staffers talking
trash about Vice President Biden so openly with the press? I know why
they`re mad. He jumped the gun. Why are they talking about it so much?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Big news from North Carolina. A federal judge refused
today to toss out charges against former U.S. senator John Edwards. The
Edwards defense team had moved to dismiss the case, but the judge decided
there is enough evidence for the case to continue. That means the defense
will begin presenting its case Monday. What a story this is. The
prosecution rested its case yesterday.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. This week, there have been a lot of
anonymous White House sources talking about their irritation with Vice
President Biden. It all stems from the vice president`s appearance on
"MEET THE PRESS" last weekend, when they say he got ahead of the president
on gay marriage.

White House staffers complained to reporters openly, saying they were
enraged by the episode, and they reminded reporters that Biden had, in
fact, counseled the president to stay mum himself on gay marriage out of
fear of alienating voters.

But why are they going public? What exactly is going on behind the
scenes in the White House? Glenn Thrush is a senior White House political
reporter for Politico and Mark Leibovich is a celebrated reporter for "The
New York Times."

I got to start with the gray lady here, "The New York Times." This --
I mean, I`m not a student of the press, but I know how to read a story.
Source after source after source, high-level top campaign official, close
to the president, people on both staffs, the White House and the vice
president`s office all talking openly about the president`s concern, anger,
the White House staff`s anger at the vice president.

Why -- well, you have to explain -- I know you can`t give away your
sources...

MARK LEIBOVICH, "NEW YORK TIMES": Right.

MATTHEWS: ... but why is everybody talking?

LEIBOVICH: You know, I`m not going to ask them to stop, but I
think...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I know! It`s your job.

LEIBOVICH: Look, I mean, this is a very exacting staff. They do
things on a schedule. I mean, David Plouffe, Jim Messina, Dan Pfeiffer --
I mean, not to gave up any -- these are not my sources, but they are very -
- they have a very, very strict plan, and this week was to talk about the
campaign rollout and then a $25 million ad buy in which they would go over
their accomplishment list.

And here we are day four talking about gay marriage. It`s got them
tied into knots. I can`t speak to their motives...

MATTHEWS: Did they pull back the money when they knew it wasn`t going
to do any good?

LEIBOVICH: Not that I know of.

MATTHEWS: So they wasted the money out there on an ad campaign.

LEIBOVICH: I don`t know if they`ve wasted it, but certainly, I mean,
I think a lot of that`s already spent. I think a lot of (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Now, the vice president, as you understand the role --
without getting too personal about this from your sources -- is the role of
the vice president basically to operate within the confines, the discipline
of the White House operation? In other words, he`s a -- he`s not an
individual thinker. His job is to play a role supporting the president.
It`s an operative role, but it`s not really a creative role.

LEIBOVICH: Yes. Theoretically. I mean...

MATTHEWS: That`s the way they look at it.

LEIBOVICH: That`s the way they look at it. That`s the way White
Houses look at it. But, again, when you have someone who won -- is used to
being his own voice...

MATTHEWS: He`s been a senator for 40 years.

LEIBOVICH: For, yes, 36 years, might run for president again.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LEIBOVICH: Clearly is very interested in making his voice be heard,
because that`s how he`s conditioned.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LEIBOVICH: It is -- there is going to be a natural tension there, as
there often is in these situations.

MATTHEWS: Between a guy who is spontaneous and has an id, maybe not a
superego, but he just speaks his mind, and all of a sudden, now he has to
speak the talking points.

LEIBOVICH: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And that`s what they want.

Let me go to Glenn to check on that.

Glenn, is that problem here? He`s broken his traces. His job is to
perform. It`s not to create.

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO.COM: I`m still stuck on Leibovich being
celebrated, but I will let that go.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we have a history.

(LAUGHTER)

THRUSH: No, I think the issue here is, the White House has outsourced
a lot of the president`s job to Joe Biden.

MATTHEWS: Right.

THRUSH: Biden is the guy they sent to the Midwest, he does a lot of
the retail politicking that another president, one with a more rounded set
of skills, might do, and the other thing about it is, he is a guy who they
like to have as comic relief and they have used before to float stuff.

I don`t think it was in this case.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

THRUSH: And this is the problem. When you let the dog off the leash,
sometimes the dog bites or messes things up.

MATTHEWS: But why the anger? I can see you`re upset at someone who
is supposed to serve a purpose and sort of found another way to do it and
upset them, but why -- the irritation is going to outrage. I have read in
your covers, both you guys, outrage, irritation, antipathy.

It is not just Joe blew it. It`s Joe`s bad this week. He was a bad,
bad operative. What is that about, you first, Glenn, and then back to
Mark?

THRUSH: Because most of the time when Biden does this stuff, it
doesn`t force the president`s hand directly.

This is a very -- this is a White House -- and Plouffe and those guys
talk about the long game, but as Mark can tell you, they`re very reactive,
particularly when they see something on the front page of "The New York
Times" or "The Washington Post."

And Biden made them act. And the other thing I want to say, Chris,
is, one of the givens here is that they have been saying that they would
have done this before the convention. That was not what I was hearing in
the weeks leading up to this. I had heard...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me check Mark on that, because that`s a key point.

Was the president intending, some time before now and the conventions,
to support marriage equality? You say, Glenn, they weren`t set on that
course yet.

THRUSH: Yes, I don`t -- I had heard -- now, the thing that the White
House folks say is Obama made the decision and that changed the political
calculation.

So I`m not accusing anyone of being disingenuous. But the book on
this prior to his announcement was that the thought was it would have been
smart to do it six months ago...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did -- Biden goosed him into action or simply pushed him
into action? Did he create the idea of doing this and force the
president`s hand or simply move the president ahead of schedule?

THRUSH: Oh, I think there was a very lively debate internally about
this, and I think the sense was or the argument was by the political folks
who thought that they shouldn`t do this right away, was that the moment had
been lost and we have to wait until after the election.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m not getting an answer out of you, Glenn. Before
anything happened on "Meet the Press," before Gregory ever asked the
question, before that, was the president intending to come out for marriage
equality? Do you know or not?

THRUSH: I don`t know. I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: OK.

What do you know?

LEIBOVICH: All I know is that the first I had heard of whether he`s
going to come out for marriage equality was this week after Biden spoke.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the vice president. Any doubt he
will be on the ticket?

LEIBOVICH: No.

MATTHEWS: No. Any doubt, Glenn, he will be on the ticket?

THRUSH: No, I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: OK, I go back to my point, then. Why publicly punish him
if he`s going to be part of the team?

LEIBOVICH: Well, to put him back in his lane on some ways.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In other words, it`s a brushback pitch.

LEIBOVICH: Maybe. It`s more than a brushback pitch.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s a spanking.

LEIBOVICH: Well, yes. the ball has already been hit, if you want to
extend the metaphor.

Biden`s been pretty good for the last few years. I think what really
ticked them off is that this happened in a campaign context.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it was purposeful, that he came out with this
statement on Sunday, that he`s doing it for his own glory with the gay
community and the liberals down the road?

LEIBOVICH: I think people have theories on this. I don`t think there
is unanimity on this.

But I think, clearly, in the back of people`s minds is 2016 and is
Biden maybe doing a little flutter eye to the left?

MATTHEWS: See, here`s my question because I really like Biden, maybe
we have similar backgrounds. And I will ask you this question.

Biden spends 99 percent of his time, if not 100 percent, thinking
about one thing, how I help my friend, my friend Barack Obama. When you`re
with him, it`s all he talks about. This is all there is. This is his
life.

LEIBOVICH: Right. Right. That`s right.

MATTHEWS: And then he makes a mistake because he shows the usual id,
the Joe Biden "I can`t resist it" kind of thing.

LEIBOVICH: Right.

MATTHEWS: And they`re mad at him for that.

LEIBOVICH: They are mad at him for that.

Again, it`s not his job, at least in their view of the job.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do they say it as incompetence or independence?

LEIBOVICH: I don`t think they see it as incompetence.

THRUSH: Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead, Glenn, your thoughts.

THRUSH: It`s like humiliating to have your number two get out in
front of you on this. I think it`s just as simple as that.

I don`t think -- these guys like to control every aspect of the
staging of things, and I don`t think there is a reason for this. I think
they are angry.

MATTHEWS: And so they couldn`t hold themselves back.

THRUSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Just like Biden was accused of not being able to hold
himself back.

So they`re operating impulsively, like he did, but now they`re blaming
him through their impulse. If they`re disciplined, they`re not showing it.
My question, why publicly thrash the guy, Glenn?

THRUSH: Well, I think the why has to do with the anger.

I think one of the interesting things that will be seen going forward
is how will the Obama team try to control Biden. I think they have made a
very interesting staff hire recently. There is a guy named Scott Mulhauser
who worked for Max Baucus on the Hill.

MATTHEWS: What is his job?

THRUSH: He`s now Biden`s press guy inside the campaign. He is very
close to Jim Messina, the campaign manager.

I think you will see more of this, more controls on Biden from inside
the White House and inside Chicago.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Do you hear that too, Mulhauser?

(CROSSTALK)

LEIBOVICH: Yes, he`s new, he`s brand-new. So he hasn`t really -- he
has not had much of an impact.

MATTHEWS: Seems like they got a lot of effort to try to control him
already, from what I`m hearing.

LEIBOVICH: Yes. Look, I mean, Joe Biden has never been one for being
handled.

MATTHEWS: OK. Hey, look, you know why I like him? At the age of 29,
he ran for the United States Senate against a guy that was unbeatable, and
all these years later, he`s been successful in public life because people
really love his honesty. They love these what we call quirks. They love
that spontaneity, because he is what he is, and that`s rare in American
politics, to be who you are.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, last point, quickly, Glenn.

THRUSH: And this is why he gets away with it, because he brings
something that Obama can`t bring. That`s ultimately his leverage here.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think shows that Obama can be regular enough to have
a friend like Biden, when Obama can be a little bit ethereal and a bit
above us sometimes.

Anyway, thank you.

LEIBOVICH: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mark Leibovich. Great reporting.

Thank you, Glenn Thrush. We will have you back.

Up next: an amazing moment on the floor of the House the other day.
Actually, a congressman took back his statement and his position because he
offended one of the heroes of civil rights, John Lewis, an amazing pullback
in fight here. Sometimes, really happen on the floor.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

Now we usually reserve this part of the show to highlight some of the
lighter moments in the world politics, but today calls for something
different.

The debate over Republican-pushed voter I.D. laws took front and
center on the House floor earlier this week. These laws of course have
been seen by many as ways to cut into minority voting. The day began when
Republican Paul Broun proposed an amendment that would cut off all funding
from the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires states and
counties to get federal approval before changing their election laws.

Enter an icon of the civil rights movement, John Lewis, who was
brutally beaten as a freedom marcher back in the `60s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: It is hard, and difficult, and almost
unbelievable that any member, but especially a member from the state of
Georgia, would come and offer such amendment.

There`s a long history in our country, especially in the 11 states
that are old Confederacy -- from Virginia to Texas -- of discrimination
based on race, on color. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was
almost impossible for many people in the state of Georgia, in Alabama, in
Virginia, in Texas to register to vote, to participate in the democratic
process.

It`s shameful that you would come here tonight and say to the
Department of Justice that you must not use one penny, one cent, one dime,
one dollar, to carry out the mandate of Section Five of the Voting Rights
Act.

We should be opening up to the political process and letting all our
citizens come in and participate. People died for the right to vote,
friends of mine, colleagues of mine.

I speak out against this amendment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Minutes later, U.S. Congressman Broun was back with his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL BROUN (R), GEORGIA: I apologize to my dear friend from
Georgia if he`s gotten angry with this amendment. And it`s never my intent
to do so. I certainly wasn`t meaning to try to hurt anybody`s feelings.

I ask unanimous consent to withdraw my amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without an objection, so ordered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a condescending way to talk to someone like
Congressman Lewis. I apologize if he got angry.

Look, it`s moments like the that, however, that remind us the stakes
of these laws to prevent people from the simple right to vote.

Up next, what are we to make of Mitt Romney`s behavior back in high
school? Is it something that should be forgotten, as he says he`s
forgotten it, or does it tell us something very important about a man who
we really don`t know much about?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The Dow slips 34, the S&P up a fraction, and Nasdaq is down four.
J.P. Morgan disclosure of a $2 billion trading loss sent shares of that
company down more than 9 percent and led five brokerages to cut their price
targets on that blue-chip firm.

Meanwhile, consumer sentiments rose to its highest level since 2008.
And shares of Arena Pharmaceuticals surged more than 70 percent after its
obesity pill won the backing of an FDA panel.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ask yourself this. Would you be judged today by how you acted in high
school? Would you like that? Well, yesterday, "The Washington Post"
reported an incident from Mitt Romney`s high school years involving student
named John Lauber.

Under Romney`s lead, a group of boys -- quote -- "came upon Lauber,
tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with
tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of
scissors."

Well, why might that story matter today? Because it gives Democrats
the chance to define Romney before his own campaign does.

Michael Steele is an MSNBC political analyst and former RNC chair.
And Joan Walsh is also an MSNBC political analyst and Salon`s editor at
large.

I have very strong opinions about this topic. I`m saving them for the
end of this show.

What is your opinion when you read this article on the front page of
"The Times" today -- on "The Post" today?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I have two opinions on
it.

The first is, well, it`s 50 years ago. It was high school. High
school boys in the 1960s, OK, we understand it. The other opinion I have
is, again, this is another time where I think the campaign flubbed the
opportunity to help get him in front of the story and to define this story
in context, so that people aren`t taking current attitudes about bullying
and how they see, you know, young gay men being treated and putting --
juxtaposing them to the 1960s. So I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, what`s the second part, how did handled it?

STEELE: Well, how they handled it was poorly.

MATTHEWS: Denying it, saying he can`t remember?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Yes. I think a lot of people just kind of hit that credulity
button and went, not too much.

And you can`t come out with something that is so stark in the memory
of five other people that you were the leader on and say that you have no
recollection.

MATTHEWS: That`s why I like having you on this show, because that I
think is a pretty good statement about what happened.

The Romney campaign first responded, as you said, by saying the
candidate had no recollection of the episode. Then Romney weighed in Fox
Radio. Host Brian Kilmeade described the incident in detail to Romney,
then questioned him. Let`s still to the governor`s response.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, HOST: Do you remember any of this?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don`t remember
that incident.

And I will tell you, I certainly don`t believe that I -- I can`t speak
for other people, of course -- but thought the fellow was homosexual. That
-- that was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.

So that was not the case. But as for pranks that were played back
then, I don`t remember them all, but, again, high school days, and I did
stupid things, I`m afraid -- I got to say sorry for it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So you spot a kid on campus who is not the most popular kid
on campus. I guess he`s perceived as effeminate, presumed to be a
homosexual, as they said at the time.

And the big guys got together led by Romney. They went looking for
the kid. They chased him, found him on campus, pinned him down to the
ground, got on top of him when he`s crying and screaming for help. He --
Romney somehow got a pair of scissors and started clumping the kid`s hair
off.

Next thing you know, the kid is sort of muted, quiet. He`s sort of
tamed, beaten down, doesn`t cause that kind of trouble anymore.

Joan Walsh, this is the novel. This is the stuff you read about in "A
Separate Peace" by John Knowles. This is the stuff, by the way, we all
remember from school, the cruelty of school, how cruel it can be.

Your thoughts?

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I really appreciate
Michael`s candor about the way the campaign handled it, but I think it goes
slightly deeper than that, Chris, because when you listen to Mitt chuckle,
he chuckles after he hears --

MATTHEWS: Four times.

WALSH: Exactly, he chuckles after he hears the description of what
happened. A, I find it impossible to believe that he doesn`t remember.
But B, if I gave him the benefit of the doubt and said maybe it slipped his
mind, to hear it and to chuckle? I mean, it`s just -- there is really a
kind of empathy deficit there where if someone said to me, you did this and
I heard it, I wouldn`t laugh. I would be horrified and I would say, I
don`t remember that, but if I did, that was a terrible thing to do.

And it`s not that -- we don`t want to judge Mitt Romney by our
standards of today. We don`t want to go back 50 years and impose those
standards.

MATTHEWS: How are they different today? By the way, how is our
standard different from then?

WALSH: Well, I think we are more cognizant of the damage that
bullying does, and particularly anti-gay bullying. And so, I`m not going
to give him a pass for it, but I kind of agree with Michael. You want to
give a younger person compassion.

But what you can judge by the standards of today is his response, and
since we live in a culture where we have the "It Gets Better" videos where
prominent people are telling young, gay teenagers, it gets better, and hang
in there --

MATTHEWS: OK.

WALSH: -- to have him respond this way is really a missed
opportunity for empathy.

MATTHEWS: You know, we`re looking for who this guy is. Most people
have never met Mitt Romney personally, and I think we connected the dots.
One dot is this story, which I think is probably true, but he said he
forgot it. Another one was this week where he had a staff named Richard
Grinnell, who is basically run off the campaign because he was gay and
Romney never said, stay, I need you.

So maybe the dots are getting connected here on an unfavorable way,
on issues like this.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: I don`t know all that goes into
that second dot with Grinnell, but if you step back and look at it -- I
mean, here`s someone with the kind of bona fides in foreign policy that are
accepted because -- I mean, the people he worked for have been around. And
number two, the establishment in this town find him as very credible hire
and were very disappointed in his leaving.

So I think there was something there where the campaign, again, got
in front of him. He is sort of blocked and tackled out of position.

MATTHEWS: What about the candidate? Couldn`t Romney say "stay"?

STEELE: Well, that`s what I`m saying, exactly. You know, if you
hired him and brought him in because he`s good at what he does in
communicating your foreign policy, then yeah, I think you keep him. His
sexuality has no bearing on his ability to talk about it.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of -- Joe Klein said this week the
example where Mitt Romney stands up against any tide, anytime stands up
against anything, the sort of direction it`s moving. He never said, well,
stop, I disagree with that. He never says I disagree with what`s going on.
He just, sort of, goes along with the neocons on foreign policy, Norquist
on tax policy, the cultural right on this kind of issue.

He never says, wait a minute, I`m Mitt Romney, I`m different than
you, let me explain.

WALSH: And I`m going to take my lumps, I`m going to take my lumps
for standing up for something unpopular. But this is what I believe.

And I think part of what Michael is saying is, it was as though he
wanted to have it both ways. He wanted to be a figure of tolerance,
saying, we`ve got this guys who we think, he`s a hawk, we like his foreign
policy, he`s very credible, we don`t care that he`s gay. He wanted credit
for doing that, and he did it briefly.

But then he didn`t have the courage of his convictions and he wasn`t
able to dig in his heels and say, look, you guys, look social
conservatives, I hired him and I don`t care that he`s gay. He wants to
have it both ways.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Governor Romney could still be hero this weekend and say,
you know what I thought about it, that guy is being run off my campaign,
he`s staying because I say he`s a good guy. I don`t care what his
orientation is.

Thank you, Joan. Thank you. Have a nice weekend, both of you.

What beautiful weather we have back here. I don`t know what it`s
like on the coast, it is gorgeous here. Larry King says we`re having Rosh
Hashanah weather in the wrong time of the year.

Anyway, up next, one month before the big recall election in
Wisconsin, a videotape has emerged, as they often do in campaigns, in which
Governor Scott Walker tells a rich supporter how he plans to, quote,
"divide and conquer" the union movement. We`re going to talk to Walker`s
opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Breaking news out of Chicago. A jury has convicted a man
in the murder of three of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson`s family members.
William Balfour was the estranged husband of Hudson`s sister. He was found
guilty of murdering Hudson`s mother, brother, and 7-year-old nephew on what
prosecutors said was a jealous rage. Balfour faces a mandatory sentence of
life in prison.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker faces one of the most high stakes
recall elections ever next month, primarily because he weakened public
sector unions with his budget bill. Walker, the governor, now says he
wasn`t out to hurt unions, just fix the budget.

But a new video of Walker talking to a wealthy donor makes you doubt
his goodwill here toward unions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any chance we`ll ever get to be a completely
red state and work on these unions --

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: Oh, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and become a right to work? What can we do
to help you?

WALKER: We`re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget
adjustment bill. The first step is we`re going to deal with collective
bargaining for all Republican employees, use divide and conquer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Divide and conquer.

He`s going to divide and conquer, and break the unions by separating
the public sector employee unions from private sector unions.

Harold Schaitberger, what do we got here? We`ve got hard evidence,
I`d say, a bad will.

HAROLD SCHAITBERGER, PRES., INTL. ASSN. OF FIRE FIGHTERS: From the
very beginning this was never about budgets, this was never about deficit,
this was never about good management. This was an effort to simply break
the unions in Wisconsin, which is also coordinated with the same kind of
effort in some 20 states that occurred in 2011. I find it interesting that
this may be the only time that we`ve actually captured Scott Walker
telling the truth.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think it`s one of the most amazing -- this is like
Watergate here.

Let me go the mayor of Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett, who was the guy
running against Governor Walker on June 5th.

You must be thanking Santa Clause now, because you have got this guy
caught red handed. All along, I don`t even know -- I don`t know the guy, I
thought he was an honest budget cutter. Now, it turns out his number one
goal in cutting the budget was to screw the unions, especially the public
sector. He wants to divide and conquer.

He is caught red handed, Mr. Mayor. You got him.

MAYOR TOM BARRETT (D), WISCONSIN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I was
flabbergasted when I saw it. I`ve been saying for weeks that his
philosophy was divide and conquer. And this is the only thing we`ve agreed
on so far now, because I`ve been saying he`s in favor of dividing and
conquering. Now, he`s saying he`s in favor of dividing and conquering.

And it shows exactly what you said. This has never been about the
budget. It`s never been about the budget. It`s how do you take away
workers` rights.

And he said in that video, you start with the public employees and
then you go divide and conquer. So, it doesn`t stop with the private
unions. It doesn`t even stop with the worker`s rights. It`s how can he go
after working people in the state. And the woman he made that statement
to, two weeks later, she gave him $10,000. Three weeks later, $25,000.

MATTHEWS: Who was this woman he was making the commitment to bust
the unions to, Mayor? Who was this woman?

BARRETT: She`s a billionaire businesswoman in the state. And
earlier this year, she believe what we believe is the largest contribution
ever in the state of Wisconsin to a gubernatorial campaign, she gave him a
cool half a million dollars.

MATTHEWS: Why does she hate unions? Why does she hate public
opinion unions? Why do they --

(CROSSTALK)

BARRETT: I have no idea, I have never met the woman. I don`t know
what it is. I honestly don`t know what it is.

But I can tell you this -- it goes to his truthfulness.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRETT: Yes, she`s clearly right to work -- but this goes directly
to his truthfulness.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

BARRETT: Because he`s been saying, oh, no, I`m not going to go after
them, I`m not going to go after them. But it`s right out of Mitch Daniel`s
playbook in Indiana, because he said the same thing for years, I`m not
going after the private unions. And the Thursday before the Super Bowl
game, he signed the bill in Indiana.

That`s what I believe is going to happen here, because Scott Walker
has never said -- and we pushed him for weeks, he has never said he would
veto a bill to make Wisconsin a right to work state. And he won`t say
that, because then he can no longer be a rock star of the far right. And
that`s what he is, he`s the rock star.

MATTHEWS: I love this stuff. You what it reminds me off? It
reminds me back in the Reagan era when David Stockman, the budget director,
admitted that the whole purpose of changing the tax laws was to get the top
rate down for the rich, remember that?

SCHAITBERGER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: When he came out and said this whole thing was a Trojan
horse. Same deal here. Your thoughts about this -- why do people hate
public employees and why do they want to break them? Why would somebody
who doesn`t even deal with public employees?

SCHAITBERGER: First of all, people do not hate public employees.
The people --

MATTHEWS: This rich person --

SCHAITBERGER: -- actually depend on their firefighters, their cops
and their teachers.

MATTHEWS: I know.

SCHAITBERGER: But those at the very top -- this all goes back to
ALEC, Chris. This goes back to a well-financed, disciplined, orchestrated
-- 300 corporations providing the funding that developed the proposals that
translated into Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida. This has been an absolute
fraud.

And it`s so cynical that what he really intended to do was to set
private sector unions against the public sector. Let`s carve the cops and
the firefighters down and maybe we can --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I got to say something to my friend, Mr. Schaitberger.
You know what, after 9/11, you know what people said was the highest
prestigious job in the country? Firefighter.

SCHAITBERGER: That`s right.]

MATTHEWS: It`s so interesting.

Let me -- I`ve got to say something in tribute to my colleague here,
Mr. Mayor, I know you`re in the actual race. But I have a colleague here
who is probably levitating tonight, Ed Schultz. He must have been several
feet off the ground now to have caught Scott Walker because this is what
he`s been saying on this network for months now. This guy is a union
buster. That`s what he`s out to do. It`s got nothing to do with saving
the taxpayer money.

Anyway, thank you as always, Harold Schaitberger.

BARRETT: Thank you very much. We got more on our Web site, too.

MATTHEWS: And, Mayor Barrett, good luck in your race, I guess I can
say good luck. I can`t endorse, but I can say good luck.

BARRETT: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: When return, "Let Me Finish" with what Mitt Romney may
need to prove about himself and gay people. How does he relate to gay
people now and when he`s in high school? Has it changed?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with high school. Remember it?
Remember how you were treated by your classmates, that is. Were you cool?
Did you know the latest dances? Were you popular, part of the in crowd?

Or did you feel awkward a lot of the time, never really part of the
scene, the social scene. Finally, do you remember the people you had lunch
with most days, the table you knew you were welcome at? The once you know
you weren`t?

Do you remember the bullies? The kids who might have been good at
sports or hang around them, and were cold, sometimes even nasty to the kids
who weren`t.

Well, look, this guy Romney, he says he can`t remember if he let a
pack of classmates and went and search for another classmate, a kid with
longish hair, a kid they figured was gay, and got on top of him, got him on
the ground.

And while he was screaming and crying out, Mitt Romney did the
honors, cut his hair.

Well, Mitt, this guy, Mitt Romney, he says he can`t remember doing
that, says he can`t remember leading a bunch of followers out in search of
the class weakling, the kid who didn`t want to be like them, to conform, to
teach him lesson. And better yet, make him submit to the way they wanted
things to be.

Well, if Mitt Romney never did this, he should say so and proudly.
Why would you want people to think you did it? If Mitt Romney did do this,
it would be helpful to know how he looks back on this, with a giggle, with
embarrassment, or -- let`s go for the moral jackpot -- did he feel honestly
bad about how he treated another kid his age. A kid scared to death,
worried about who he is, worried and sick about what his classmates decided
to do to him without a tad of sympathy. In fact, at a sheer animal
delight.

So, probably, he`ll stick to "I don`t remember." But it might be
good for the voter to remember. I`m sure Richard Grinnell is thinking
about this story of Mitt Romney student days, thinking hard about the fact
that the man who was once this kid was the man who this past week let him
get chased away from his campaign and didn`t lift a finger or his voice to
say, Richard, you`re my guy and I want you to stay in my campaign. I`m
standing up to the predators with you.

Well, Mitt can still do that, it could be his way of saying, ladies
and gentlemen, my name is Mitt Romney, the same guy that did this bad thing
in high school. I ask you to vote for me because I have changed.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. And don`t forget
this Sunday is Mother`s Day.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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