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updated 12/19/2012 10:57:17 AM ET 2012-12-19T15:57:17

HARDBALL
December 18, 2012

Guests: Richard Durbin, Dana Milbank, Chris Kofinis, Michael Nutter, Mark Glaze, Glenn Thrush, Jonathan Martin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Ensure the domestic tranquility.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in New York.

"Let Me Start" tonight by talking about America. The preamble to our
Constitution addresses two areas of security. One is to provide for the
common defense against foreign enemies. The second is to ensure domestic
tranquility against violence from within.

It is impossible to imagine the Congress of the United States ignoring the
first of these imperatives, an act of omission that would leave us
deliberately open to foreign attack, even invasion.

Tragically, we can`t say the same about attacks on the country`s domestic
tranquility. What has the Congress done to protect this country from last
week`s all-out attack on an American school? Nothing.

And here`s the question. When will we refuse, as citizens, to settle for,
accept, live with a Congress that fails to act in the face of such a
demonstrated vulnerability? If not now, after this, when? Next week?
Next month? Next year? Next what? And if not us, who in this world is
going to demand action to protect Americans?

Joining me now is U.S. senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. I want to read
something from you, which is very impressive, and it`s in the op-ed pages
of "The Chicago Tribune." Quote, "What holds us back are political
organizations that are well-funded, well-organized and determined to resist
even reasonable limitations. There`s a close political parallel between
the gridlock in Washington on dealing with our economy and national debt
and the eerie silence in Congress as the list of horrific gun crimes grows
by the day."

Senator Durbin, thank you. I know you`ve got a good heart on this, as well
as a good head about fiscal matters. What`s wrong with the Congress when
it comes to protecting, ensuring the domestic tranquility?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, there`s a legitimate concern
about our 2nd Amendment, Chris. You understand that part.

But there`s also a very strong political force that is trying to push
forward, primarily for the dealers and manufacturers, an agenda that`ll
sell more firearms and more sophisticated firearms, more expensive
firearms, and that has really dominated the scene.

If you asked who is the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division
of the Department of Justice, you`d have to learn, unfortunately, that for
literally years, there`s not been a head. The NRA and gun lobbyists
successfully even stopped the basic organization in charge of enforcement
of our gun laws in America.

MATTHEWS: You know, when the late Charlton Heston would run that ad for
the NRA, he`d wave some old musket near and say "from my cold dead hands,"
which I thought was pretty, well, awful to begin with, the "cold dead
hands," the absolute nature of that demand that they hold onto the gun.

But he never waved an AK-47 or an AK-15 in the air. He never showed a 30-
round clip in the air with a big banana on it. He never did that because
people don`t think of that as really American revolution era. They think
about that as state-of-the-art mass killing.

DURBIN: Of course it is. And those are military weapons, military assault
weapons. And you know, thank goodness, law enforcement turned up in
Newtown when it did or the list of children who had been killed...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DURBIN: ... and teachers would have been much, much longer. Think about
what happened out in Aurora, Colorado. That man stood in front of a
crowded theater, spraying that audience with one of these assault weapons,
and the only thing that stopped him emptying the 100 cartridges that he had
to shoot was it jammed. If it hadn`t jammed, the death toll would have
been even higher.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, it`s not hopeless, though. You talked about the
2nd Amendment. But look, back in 1934, when we had "Machine Gun" Kelly and
all the guys out in Chicago, we had the whole Prohibition era encouraging a
certain kind of crime, rum running, et cetera -- here`s the question. Back
then, the Congress had the guts to outlaw automatic weapons, machine guns.
Basically, they did. They were heavily regulated, heavily regulated,
almost to the point of you don`t find them around.

Here`s the question. Why can`t Congress do the same thing with
semiautomatics? I know we`ve got millions of them, whatever -- can`t we
start to regulate? We don`t have to regulate a shotgun or a regular pistol
with a revolver or anything, but if you go into the semiautomatic level,
why don`t we say that`s like the automatic level? Just go with that?

DURBIN: I can tell you this, Chris...

MATTHEWS: The courts would have to approve it because they approved the
earlier one, didn`t they? Isn`t there a precedent?

DURBIN: They did. They did. And even after the Heller decision, the
Supreme Court told us there were reasonable limits that Congress could
impose when it came to firearms.

There are two groups that I think are essential to the success of this
effort.

MATTHEWS: OK.

DURBIN: First, sportsmen and hunters. And let me tell you, Chris, I know
plenty of them in my family and all around downstate Illinois. They`re
good people. They`re good citizens. They hate what happened in Newtown,
Connecticut, as much as we do. We need them as part of this conversation.

And the second group that has to step up is law enforcement.

MATTHEWS: Right.

DURBIN: There was a time when they spoke out against these terrible
weapons of death. We need them again to be part of this conversation.

MATTHEWS: Well, I would ask why would anybody out there want the criminal
to be heavier armed than the policeman. He`s got a little 9-millimeter job
or a .38 police special, and somebody comes in with this assault rifle.

But let`s go back to the earlier (ph), the sportsmen. Do you think the
sportsmen you know and are organized in Illinois, for example -- do you
think they would support a limit on the size of -- the number of rounds in
a clip?

DURBIN: I think they would. And you look at the polls of sportsmen and
hunters, people who own guns for those purposes and self-defense,
overwhelmingly, they`re for reasonable limitations. You ask them point-
blank, Should we have a background check to make sure that unstable
individuals don`t get their hands on a firearm? And they say, Of course.
Why would we want that to happen?

There is a common ground here. But we need to hear their voices. Many are
speaking for them in Washington who really don`t understand their values.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the comparison you drew because we`re -- I
hope we`re in the 11th hour of the fiscal crisis, fiscal cliff debates and
negotiations. Tell me about that parallel between the unwillingness to
deal with -- you very courageously supported Simpson-Bowles, and it seems
like people on the left and right have a hard time making those kind of
compromises.

How is that similar to what we`re dealing with in the gun issue?

DURBIN: Come on, Chris. You worked around here. You know how this works.
People go back to their home districts, and people in the gun lobbies will
say, Listen, we`ve got a scorecard here and we`re going to watch every
single vote, and you better be right, buddy. You better score an A, or
we`re going to come and defeat you in the next election.

Well, it`s the same mentality that drove the Grover Norquist pledge. You
pledge, I`ll be there with an A, no matter what. I can`t tell you how many
times I`ve looked at my colleagues in the eye after they`ve cast one of
these crazy votes on guns, and they just, you know, shrug their shoulders
and say, You know, I live in a pretty conservative area.

The honest answer is, even in conservative areas, people are sensible and
rational. And if we come up with something that`s reasonable, that doesn`t
inhibit basic sportsmen and hunters and self-defense, we`re going to have
strong support across party lines.

MATTHEWS: Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois once said it`s the duty of
leaders to lead. Thank you very much, Dick Durbin. You`re a leader.
Thanks for joining us, and merry Christmas to you.

DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: With me now is "Washington Post" columnist Dana Milbank. Dana,
thank you. You`re a sarcastic fellow and I enjoy that in you, but let`s
get to the heart of this thing. What`s wrong with the Congress? Why can`t
it do anything?

I want to read from your column today. "If you believe the current
national mood will be the same in the coming weeks, you got another think
coming. Are we in a mood of change, of demand that at least around the
edges of gun control, action can be taken? Numbers of bullets, of rounds
in a clip. Do we really want to have a kid, a crazy person wandering
around with a clip with 30 bullets in it, especially bullets that have been
worked on to make sure they explode as widely as possible inside the human
body?"

DANA MILBANK, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, Chris, I mean, this is one of those
issues that defies any sarcasm or irony, and it does sort of just bring out
anger. And I was writing today about, you know, the president saying "in
the coming weeks." Now, that`s perfectly sensible, on the one hand, to say
that he`s going to take action in the coming weeks and to ask his cabinet
to come up with proposals. We`ve got Christmas coming. We`ve got the
fiscal cliff debate.

But we`ve seen this movie before. And what happens is, the NRA and its
allies are back on their heels. Some action could be taken. Then they
regain their balance, and by the time people get around to doing something
like reinstating the assault weapons ban, the support is gone for it.

And you see it happening again. The NRA is now saying they`re going to
have their roll-out of whatever their announcement is going to be on
Friday. You can be sure they`re not going to say, Let`s reduce the
magazine capacity and have an assault weapons ban.

MATTHEWS: Well, no. They`re going to do something on mental illness
funding.

MILBANK: Of course. Of course.

MATTHEWS: They`re going to hide from this gun issue so far, you won`t
believe it.

MILBANK: Of course. And the Republicans who have not -- who have been
kind of quiet are going to rally around that point of view. Some of the
pro-gun Democrats -- we`ve had about a half dozen in the Senate -- have
come out and said, Well, maybe we`ll be open to something. They`re going
to be reined back in, too.

So if you don`t seize the initiative, if you don`t take advantage of when
the NRA is back on its heels...

MATTHEWS: OK...

MILBANK: ... this isn`t going to happen and we`re going to be...

MATTHEWS: OK...

MILBANK: ... dealing with the same thing in a few months.

MATTHEWS: Here`s a smart senator talking now. Senator Mark Warner of
Virginia, a moderate Democrat most people would count him as, joined the
chorus of pro-gun Democrats -- he`s one -- who are willing to look at
changes in gun safety.

Let`s listen to the senator from Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I believe every American has 2nd Amendment
rights and that the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I had an NRA
rating of an A, but you know, enough is enough. I`ve got -- I`m father of
three daughters, and this weekend, they all said, Dad, you know, how can
this go on?

And I, like I think most of us, realize that there are ways to get to
rational gun control. There are ways to grapple with the obvious
challenges of mental illness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Those wonderful words in the Bible about, You must become like a
child. The interesting -- to approach the Lord. And I was thinking that
in so many cases in recent history, you`ve seen the young in this country,
the people under 30, for example, who have led the way on issues like same-
sex marriage, on issues like even Obama`s election to the presidency, in so
many cases.

Do you think this is an area where young kids are going to say to their
parents, Get over this NRA fixation, be loyal to us kids, not to them?

MILBANK: I think that`s exactly what we`re hearing now, and that`s why you
heard Joe Manchin from West Virginia saying the same thing. You had Harry
Reid, who`s quite pro-gun, out there making some favorable noise...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: ... a lot of these incoming Democratic senators. The question is
how long can you sustain that action? We`ve seen in...

MATTHEWS: I`m with you on that, brother. I know the problem of passion.
The people on the far right, on the NRA front, never lose their passion.

MILBANK: Right.

MATTHEWS: They think about it every day of their lives. They go to bed at
night, they put their heads on the pillow afraid somebody`s going to take
that gun away from them. And normal people have other interests, like
their spouses, like their lives, their children, and even their generalized
politics isn`t all driven by one issue.

MILBANK: Right. What we`ve seen is this Congress operates under crisis.
It requires a crisis, a fiscal crisis, an international crisis to create
any sort of an action that`s going on.

The only way you beat back a special interest group -- you know, it`s no
coincidence that Grover Norquist of the tax pledge is also on the board of
the NRA.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

MILBANK: The only way you beat back this is with focusing public attention
like a laser. And I just have a feeling if we wait for Dianne Feinstein to
introduce her assault weapons ban in January, we`re all going to be talking
about something else.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re smart. Thank you, Dana Milbank.

MILBANK: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Speed could be important here.

Coming up: President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner meet again at the
White House, and the two sides are inching closer to a deal on the cliff.
The hard part of both men will be selling the deal to their own people.

Plus, the National Rifle Association, the aforementioned organization, has
gone largely silent since the Newtown massacre. Are they laying low,
hoping the country`s outrage subsides? That`s what they`re up to. They`re
hibernating. They`re in the bunker now. We`ll see what they`re up to when
they come back later in the show.

And new details from the 2012 election. We now know how the Obama campaign
responded behind the scenes after the president bombed in that first
debate. We`ve got the authors of Politico`s new ebook on the campaign`s
final days.

And "Let Me Finish" with why no one on the right ever blames President
Obama or any president for these shooting sprees because they don`t want
them to do anything about them.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re thrilled to report right now some very good news from the
Middle East. Our NBC colleague, the great chief foreign correspondent
Richard Engel, and his crew are free after being held captive in Syria for
five days.

Engel and his crew were abducted by a group of gunmen as they drove through
what they thought was rebel-controlled territory. They escaped during a
firefight between their captors and the rebels, and they safely reached
Turkey today.

This morning on the "TODAY" show, Engel described the kinds of things he
and his crew were subjected to by their kidnappers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: They kept us blindfolded, bound. We
weren`t physically beaten or tortured. There was a lot of psychological
torture, threats of being killed. They made us choose which one of us
would be shot first, and when we refused, there were mock shootings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Mock shootings. Richard Engel is back with us. He`s one of the
most absolute best reporters around the world, regularly risking his life
to report from war zones across the Middle East. We`re very happy he`s
safe and sound tonight.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. By most accounts, the two sides in
the fiscal cliff talks are moving closer and closer to striking a deal.
Well, can they do it on time?

Look -- see where the sides stand right now. On the one hand, you have
President Obama proposing new revenues of $1.2 trillion -- that`s 1.2 --
and spending cuts of the same, $1.2 trillion.

The offer from Speaker Boehner is not far off. He`s proposing a revenue
increase of just a trillion and a trillion in spending cuts. So he`s a
smaller package than the president.

In terms of what -- who would pay their tax rates, see them go up to the
Clinton-level rates again, President Obama`s latest offer talks about
people making over $400,000. He`s moved up from $250,000 to $400,000 as
the cutoff, which he`s been pushing. Meanwhile, Speaker Boehner wants
those tax hikes to affect only people making over a million. Are their
differences bridgeable?

Kelly O`Donnell is the Capitol Hill correspondent for NBC News. Kelly,
it`s great to have you, and it`s a great question. Is this arithmetic
ahead of us, or does one side have to do better than the other in terms of
closing in on the middle -- middle ground here?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, all the dance we`re seeing,
Chris, does give us some signs of optimism. Both sides seem to be making
some concessions. The loudest voices of complaint tend to be coming from
people not directly in the room. So we`re hearing good things from the
White House and the speaker`s office about the potential for a deal.

But still, it`s tense. What you`ve got with Republicans is a change sort
of in tone, when they are now framing this issue as tax increases will
happen January 1st as being baked in, in the words of the speaker. So the
strategy for Republicans is to try to save as many Americans from a tax
increase as possible. That`s where you get the $1 million threshold.

The White House came back, of course, at $400,000, and perhaps you can see
they aren`t in numbers that far off. The details, of course, are
difficult. We expect that there will be a House vote on the ideas put
forward by the speaker, the so-called Plan B on Thursday. That`s a way to
sort of put a marker in the sand of what can be passed through the House.
That is both a message idea, as well as a tactical move to try to send a
signal to the White House of what might be achievable in dealing with the
House of Representatives.

MATTHEWS: But won`t the Republicans just all vote for the million-dollar
cutoff and then say, That`s the best deal we can get? I mean, I hate to be
cynical, but they`ll obviously choose the softer way out, only affecting a
few people. There`s only, what, 400,000 people in the country that make a
million a year. So that`s a nicer crowd to go after than to go after the
far larger crowd.

So won`t they just try to signal the easy way out and then say, That`s the
only way out?

O`DONNELL: Well, by taking the vote in two steps, one on the threshold of
$250,000, where the president originally set it, and the vote on the $1
million level, they`ll try to make the argument that the $250,000 cannot
pass. And by doing that, they hope to move a little bit further.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

O`DONNELL: It`s part of the strategy. We expect that it`ll be busy the
next few days, but there are still signs of optimism. Some Democrats have
said this Plan B idea is really Boehner backing away from the talks. They
are sort of saying that it is likely he will step away, as he did during
the debt ceiling.

Republicans are saying, no, they`re still working at it. But this is, I
think, the time where they`re just trying to make the moves...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

O`DONNELL: ... to see who`s dancing around the ring and can land a better
punch.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Merry Christmas, Kelly. I think we`re going to get there.

MATTHEWS: Merry Christmas, and happy birthday, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Oh, thanks, dear. I hope -- I think we`re going to make it,
actually. I`ve been saying this for a while now. I think the grown-ups
will be grown-ups.

Anyway, for more, we`ve got former chair -- the former chair of the
Republican National Committee and MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele.
We also have Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

Gentlemen, thank you. Michael, you first. Do you think that the two
parties will agree to release people and their parties, the moderates and
the center-right and center-left, to cut a deal and not require everybody
to vote in lockstep in the two parties?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I do, Chris, and
I think that`s part of the strategy that Boehner and the president, quite
frankly, have been putting in place.

From what I understand, that the White House and -- and Boehner through the
speaker`s office have already begun to lay down that patchwork for Nancy
Pelosi to bring some people to the center and for Boehner to do the same.

Part of that, as Kelly just mentioned, was the plan B. We set the
outliers, $1 million. The president raised his number from $250,000 to
$400,000. So, they`re feeling out where in their caucus they can begin to
pull those votes to get this deal done. So, you know, it`s really
interesting, but it`s an opportunistic moment for both of these gentlemen
and I think they`re playing their cards pretty well so far.

MATTHEWS: What`s the deal breaker on the liberal side, Chris? What is it
that you would find that if it breaks, the deal doesn`t hold over the
weekend or through the weekend, what on the liberal side? Is it the
pressing around with the CPI for the -- for Social Security, carving that
down a bit, the payments you get when they adjust it for inflation?

Is that the hardest thing to sell if you`re the president to the left?

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, if the art of compromise
is about sharing pain, it all depends on how much pain you`re willing to
accept. I think for those on the left, you know, CPI is going to be a very
difficult pill to swallow.

If nothing else, I mean, I know from my time on the Hill, you know, the
AARP responded pretty strongly when that came up in any kind of
discussions. And so you`re going to have I think people mobilize. I think
it depends on how the numbers are structured and where, you know -- where
is this revenue coming from and how the CPI itself is structured. And so
it all depends. The devil is in the details here in terms of what kind of
opposition you`re going to see.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: AARP is going to oppose anything that cuts anything at any time.
That`s what they get paid for. Right? That`s their whole thing? Let`s be
honest, Chris. They`re not really there for fairness. They`re there to --
as lobbyists for an interview group of over 65ers -- I mean -- over 50
people, 50 years of age, they say.

KOFINIS: There`s no question about that.

I think the problem is they also have, as we know, enormous political sway
and so I think the question is for those members of Congress who are going
to vote on this, they have got to decide how they`re going to balance it,
especially on the left, because at the end of the day, I don`t think
anybody wants us to go over the cliff, but they also want a deal that is
fair and reasonable.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know people on the left that would like to dance on that
cliff for years. They just love that cliff.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Mike.

Because some people just like trouble.

Let me go then right to -- let me go to this, Michael. You`re laughing.
What is the hardest thing for your side, the center-right and right, to
buy? Is it to cut that threshold down to say $450,000 or $500,000 --
$450,000 or somewhere around in there where the president can say, OK, it
doesn`t raise as much revenue, but it`s more fair than what we got?

STEELE: I think that`s part of it, Chris, and I really think, and you and
I have talked about this before, that for a lot of my conservative friends,
and myself included is, you know, what does the other side give?

What are the spending cuts, real spending cuts, substantive spending cuts
that are going to make a difference?

MATTHEWS: OK.

STEELE: And you can`t lose sight of this as part of this deal. It goes to
what you were just talking about with CPI and other aspects of the deal
that are pieces that can be put in play like a puzzle to create the kind of
deal that they need.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know, you`re opening the door to a little game on their
side. If they yell, oh, you`re killing me, Mr. Bill, you`re killing me,
you`re killing me, and if it really seems to hurt, then you will say that`s
what we wanted. We want Nancy Pelosi writhing on the House floor and then
we feel that we have got somewhere.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I get your point.

STEELE: That`s an image.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. I think the Democrats, not speaking for you
completely, Chris, but my theory is they want to see teeth marks in the
necks of the -- what`s his name -- Grover Norquist crowd. They want him to
hurt this week.

Thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Chris Kofinis.

Up next: return of the birthers. What is in the water out there in Arizona
that would once again cause the state`s officials to question President
Obama`s being born in the United States? They`re at it again.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Once a birther, always a birther? It was supposed to be a formality
yesterday when Arizona`s members of the Electoral College cast their votes
for the 2012 election for Mitt Romney. While they were voting, three of
the Romney electors, however, began questioning about whether the
president`s birth certificate is legitimate or not.

State GOP GM Tom Morrissey said -- quote -- "I`m not satisfied with what I
have seen. I think for somebody in the president`s position to not have
produced a document that looks more legitimate, well, I have a problem with
that."

According to a local news report, college member Don Ascoli said he didn`t
think Obama was properly vetted as a legitimate candidate for president.
Well, Arizona Jan Brewer refused to challenge those Romney electors,
saying: "The bottom line is, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I
happen to disagree."

Next, South Carolina State Representative Bill Chumley filed a bill last
week that called for the arrest of any public official, get this, found
enforcing Obamacare. According to the proposal, any state official caught
enforcing Obamacare -- quote -- "must be fined not more than $1,000 or
imprisoned not more than two years or both. Federal officials caught in
the act of enforcing the health care law would receive still stiffer
punishments."

State Representative Chumley doesn`t think this will be a hard sell -- his
words.

Finally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton`s recovering this week after a
bit of a health scare. She suffered, as we all know, a concussion while
fainting due to dehydration. Clinton had been scheduled to testify about
Benghazi this week, but deputies will testify in her place.

Enter John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador under George W. Bush. He`s not
convinced of Clinton`s illness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: You
know, every foreign service officer in every foreign ministry in the world
knows the phrase I`m about to use. When you don`t want to go to a meeting
or a conference or an event, you have a diplomatic illness. And this is a
diplomatic illness to beat the band.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for Secretary Clinton, responded,
saying Bolton doesn`t know what he`s talking about.

In Bolton`s case, that`s always a reasonable, safe assumption.

Up next, does the horror in Newtown mark the beginning of the end of the
NRA`s dominance over the issue of gun ownership in this country?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stock averages hit two-month highs rising for a second straight day amid
optimism over fiscal cliff talks. The Dow Jones industrials gaining 115
points, the S&P 500 up 16, the Nasdaq up 44 points.

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital says it will sell its stake in Freedom
Group International, the maker of an assault rifle believed to be used in
the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

And a national home builders report says the market conditions are the best
in more than five years.

That`s it from CNBC -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Has the political power of the NRA, the National Rifle Association, peaked
in the wake of the Newtown shootings or are they just laying low, waiting
for the storm to pass? Well, since Friday, they have been absent from the
debate over guns in society, but today they released a statement saying
they have been quiet -- quote -- "as a matter of common decency."

But are they planning -- in fact, they have got a press conference already
set up for Friday. Well, according to "The New York Times," the group has
an established precedent for responding to shootings, tragedies -- quote --
"Over the years, the NRA has perfected its strategy for responding to mass
shootings. Lie low at first, then slow-roll any legislative rush, push for
a response."

Has something fundamental shifted in the guns debate, however, since Friday
or will it be business as usual with the NRA calling the shots?

In a moment, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia will be with us. He`s
the head of the United States Conference of Mayors right now. And Mark
Glaze is executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, of which
Michael Nutter is part.

Now, you work very strongly with the effort to try to reduce the number of
guns. Let me just talk to you about the NRA, the nemesis out there.

MARK GLAZE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: Right.

MATTHEWS: They have been playing possum now ever since last Friday. Now,
they very nicely put out a press release saying they`re very concerned and
they have been trying to be sensitive. But they`re up to something. I
have a sense they`re not going to do nothing about gun control. They will
probably talk about mental illness, anything to get away, a legitimate
concern, by the way, but nothing to do with guns.

GLAZE: You`re absolutely right. This is the way they always do it.

What are they going to say, we have systematically whittled away even
reasonable gun restrictions that NRA members want, to the point where there
are more guns on the street than people? It`s not a nice thing to say
after a tragedy.

But the other thing to be aware of is that it`s not just the NRA that is
out there saying -- will be out there saying I think we have to make this
about better mental health care. As you say, that`s absolutely true, but
when you hear Democrats on the Hill immediately turning to, we have to care
for the sick, they`re right, but they`re also avoiding the topic.

The topic is, Congress has been absent from duty, and the commander in
chief...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let me shake you with this. Here is a guy we had on last
night, Larry Pratt, because I read his op-ed in the "USA Today" yesterday.

GLAZE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He`s the executive director of a group called the Gun Owners of
America, which sounds like just gun owners, but listen to his explanation
of why he supports gun rights. It`s rooted in his belief that it`s a way
to fight the government. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Would this be a less free country if you couldn`t have an
assault rifle?

LARRY PRATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: Yes, because we
have guns fundamentally, protected by the Second Amendment.

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute.

(CROSSTALK)

PRATT: In order to control the government.

MATTHEWS: Why would anyone...

PRATT: We have guns in order to control the government.

MATTHEWS: And where -- it`s not just the right to use guns to protect your
home. It`s the right to use guns to take on your government.

PRATT: The government has been overboard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: These are people who think of themselves in the lager (ph), as
the whites used to say in South Africa.

Some day, the government is coming, a popular government. They don`t --
they`re not worrying about a coup d`etat.

GLAZE: Right.

MATTHEWS: A popular government is coming. And they`re going to come down
on me like a Branch Davidian or Ruby Ridge and therefore I must be heavily
armed.

GLAZE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And I got to be ready to fight the government with semiautomatic
weapons, which maybe I can convert to automatic when I have to.

GLAZE: Right.

MATTHEWS: This -- this isn`t about hunting. This isn`t about personal
protection. This is not having a shotgun in a house in case somebody tries
to break in, in the middle of the night. This is about making war against
you. Why isn`t this called sedition? How is that for a word?

GLAZE: The NRA -- this isn`t new stuff. The NRA -- Tanya Mataksa (ph),
who used to be a high-ranking official, said as much as 1990, that this is
not about defense and -- or this is not about hunting. No, this is not
just about defense of the home and we should be honest about that. This is
about protecting ourselves from the government if we ever need to.

MATTHEWS: You know, Mayor Nutter, thank you. Michael Nutter, I`m very,
very proud to have him on, Mayor Nutter.

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: The idea of the Constitution, which we can read, it`s right in
there, is you have a right to a musket because you have to be a part of a
militia.

NUTTER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Militias are the people that are supposed to be carrying out the
public order, protecting the domestic tranquility. They`re not the people
domestic tranquility or creating trouble.

They`re supposed to be helping to protect against. These guys, these nuts
come on and say I need my gun to fight my government.

NUTTER: Yes.

No, that`s the police department, your state police, the National Guard,
and under -- I can`t even imagine the circumstance. That`s why we have the
Army. This is -- it`s an absurdity, quite frankly. And, look, the
wonderful thing about America is people can believe whatever they want to
believe, and I do respect that.

What we`re talking about is human life. What we`re talking about is
protecting children and adults. And whether it`s on the streets of
Philadelphia or New York or Chicago or Atlanta or in a classroom in
Newtown, Connecticut, people want to be safe.

You know, it`s interesting, Chris, that in the aftermath of 9/11, Americans
were willing to take on any number of what some might consider
inconveniences or even, you know, some restriction on our freedoms because,
if you want to fly on an airplane, you have to take off almost all of your
clothes, including your shoes.

A guy had a bomb in his shoe and now we`re all taking our shoes off. So
people want to be safe. This is not -- as you said earlier, this is not
about grandpop`s shotgun. This is not about the tradition.

And you`re from Philly, and we know that the traditions there are in
Pennsylvania, that fathers and mothers take sons and daughters and shooting
a deer or bear or birds or something like that. These are people who kill
people. It`s the only purpose of these high-capacity weapons...

MATTHEWS: Well, Mayor...

(CROSSTALK)

NUTTER: ... weapons of mass destruction that are shooting down innocent
children and other adults in cities all across the United States of
America.

And some reasonable regulations and some reasonable gun safety training and
trigger locks and lockers and providing programs for those who may have
some mental health challenges. But there is no reason for a civilian to
have an automatic weapon.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Well, here is another point of view. You talked about people having a
right to their own opinions. Take a look at what U.S. Congressman Louie
Gohmert said Sunday about what would have been -- what would have prevented
those deaths in Newtown, Connecticut, which you mentioned.

Let`s watch Louie Gohmert in action here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her
office locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn`t
have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out,
takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Mark, and then Mayor, Mayor Nutter, the argument from the
NRA side, not yet official, but from that point of view on the gun owners`
side is, if we only had more people with guns, including teachers and
school officials packing heat, if you will, during school hours, that we
wouldn`t have people coming in with impunity and kill them.

GLAZE: You know what? We work with survivors all the time, including
people who are in the theater in Aurora. And they will tell you exactly
what police will tell you, which is that putting more guns in a dark
theater, a street corner, most often in hands that have not been trained
like police officers have, are not going to make a situation more safe.
Most of the public doesn`t believe that.

MATTHEWS: Mayor, do you think it`s right for teachers in Philly or
anywhere else to have guns?

NUTTER: No one is suggesting that the anywhere and it`s unfortunate that
the gentleman thinks that. That comes from watching too much television.
He probably also thinks that many people can shoot the gun out of someone`s
hand or, you know, shoot it across the floor and all this other kind of
stuff like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" or something.

That would have only led to more death and destruction, more bullets flying
around, and whether it`s in the classroom, whether it was in a theater, in
Tucson, out in a parking lot.

Can you imagine if everybody literally as we call it at least here -- if
everybody is strapped and everybody is pulling out, you know, their weapon
of choice? You`re just going to have more bullets flying all around. It`s
about safety. No one has yet to be able to explain why someone needs the
kind of high powered weapons that that individual in Connecticut had.

Now, we`re seeing more and more people with body armor. So he was prepared
not only to do what he did apparently, which was to kill his own mother and
then shoot down 20 kids and six adults. But then possibly take on the
police, law enforcement who showed up with body armor before he killed
himself.

MATTHEWS: Let`s listen --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have to hear from the other side.

NUTTER: I mean, we need to have a rational discussion about this.

MATTHEWS: And you are the rational side of this discussion, by the way.

Let`s hear the irrational side. Here is NRA`s president, Wayne LaPierre, I
used to think was OK. Here is what he says about the president`s
conspiracy, as he calls it, to take away our guns. Here he was, this is
Wayne LaPierre talking at the CPAC event, the Conservative Political Action
Committee convention last year. I think it was last year.

Let`s listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The president will offer the
Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he`s
actually been good for the Second Amendment. But it`s a big, fat, stinking
lie, just like all the other lies that have come out of this corrupt
administration.

(APPLAUSE)

It`s all part -- it`s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive
voters and hide his true intentions, to destroy the Second Amendment in our
country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Mark, he hadn`t done a thing at this point. The terrible
language -- he`s gotten worse over the years. This is the kind of language
we were getting from Newt Gingrich and Sununu, this personal attack on
Obama for things he didn`t even do.

GLAZE: I have three thoughts about that. The first is that any Democrat
in Congress or around this country that accepts money from the NRA ought to
be ashamed of themselves after they say things like that about a Democratic
president.

The second thing is that, you know, they said all of that after Barack
Obama did nothing during his administration other than expand the gun
rights.

MATTHEWS: Yes, yes, being Barack Obama was enough for them.

GLAZE: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, that`s enough. We`ve got to go. This isn`t even a
debate anymore.

You`ve got guys LaPierre -- Mr. Mayor --

NUTTER: Chris, the one thing --

MATTHEWS: Quickly.

NUTTER: The one thing I would say quickly about him -- is I would dare him
to say that to the parents of those children in Connecticut or any other
mother or father that`s lost someone because of these weapons on the
street. He should be ashamed of himself.

MATTHEWS: Well-said.

Thank you, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, the head of the U.S.
Conference of Mayors. Up next -- and Mark Glaze, thank you.

Up next, we all remember how President Obama bombed in that first debate
with Mitt Romney. Now we know just what the Obama campaign did to try to
control the damage after the first one. That`s one of the new details out
of the campaign in the new "Politico" e-book, "The End of the Line". Its
authors join us next.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The Justice Department will not charge Paula Broadwell with
cyber stalking. Justice officials formally notified her attorneys today.
Broadwell is the woman at the center of the scandal that forced General
David Petraeus out at the CIA. She wrote a biography on Petraeus. But
last month, he stepped down after revealing he had an extramarital affair
with her.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The first presidential debate will go down in history books for President
Obama`s disastrous performance. This week, new details are emerging about
the strategy and the decision-making that led up to it and followed it, his
poor performance in Denver. That and other behind the scenes details are
revealed in "Politico`s" new e-book called "The End of the Line."

Its co-authors Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin are here with the inside
scoop on the final weeks of the 2012 campaign.

Welcome, gentlemen, Glenn and J. Martin.

First of all, all I care about learning tonight and I`m fascinated with it,
is how could the president be so darn good in the second and third debates
and even Biden was very good, very good, and the president was so terrible
-- that he even accused me of having a stroke I was so excited about how
bad it was. As ax said he didn`t have to watch television to hear what I
was saying that night on MS.

But let`s start with you, Glenn, I understand from an inside source was
what happened was they prepared him to go in tough, he had the attack lines
and zingers ready and a small circle got around him and said, cool it. By
the way, that was like Henry Cabot Lodge getting to Nixon at the end and
ruining his strategy at the last minute.

So your thoughts or knowledge in reporting this -- was there a strong
aggressive strategy in place that the president was then told not to use?

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: It was actually Henry Cabot Lodge again who did
this one, too. No --

MATTHEWS: He`s back.

THRUSH: What happened is they went into this in August. You know, they
had sort of the bible of the debates are these memos that they build, and
then they alter. And in August, they came up with a memo that was all
about holding Romney accountable for trying to move to the center. Axelrod
says, we`re not going to let him do this centrist rift. Then the 47
percent happened.

And that small group around Obama, Axelrod particularly, Anita Dunn also,
David Plouffe less so a little bit, Ron Klain a little less so, said, hold
it. We`ve got to make this guy look presidential. Romney`s killing
himself. We don`t need to be -- the word they kept using was caustic.
They don`t want the president to be caustic.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

THRUSH: So they gave him a lot of contradictory advice. He himself was
conflicted. And at one point, my sources say, right before he left for
that disastrous debate prep in Nevada, he said, look, guys, I don`t know
what I`m doing here. You`re giving me a lot of contradictory advice.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go back, J. Martin, Jonathan, here`s a tough question.
Maybe you don`t know the answer to this. Tell me.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: No.

MATTHEWS: John Kerry was the head of the debate team. He was the guy
playing him. Was he part of the team that said get tough and other guys
overruled him later? What happened? What was his role in this?

MARTIN: Well, I will defer to Glenn on that. But I can say generally that
John Kerry was not blamed by either the president or the president`s high
command for his poor Denver debate performance. They said Kerry did his
job effectively. And the proof of that, Chris, is the fact that John Kerry
is about to become Secretary Kerry --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MARTIN: -- instead of Senator John Kerry. But Glenn can speak more of the
key role.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me, when they had the early practices, were they
tough? Were they encouraging the president to go at the other guy in the
way he should have from day one? Or were they softening up?

Was Kerry a guy who says go after them, or what? How would you describe
this preparation?

THRUSH: Kerry was really a fairly passive participant. He was more of an
actor than a screenwriter in this.

MATTHEWS: I see.

THRUSH: And the thing that they were really worried about, this is why it
feels fascinating. They thought Kerry was going to play paddy cake with
Obama in order to curry favor to become secretary of state.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

THRUSH: And in the first couple of preparations at the DNC in Washington,
he was really soft on Obama. But it turned out, Obama is just not the kind
of guy you can walk up to and call a failure to his face. I think that
holds true with every president in these practice sessions, Obama
particularly.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but guess who did? Guess who did? Romney did.

THRUSH: Romney did.

MATTHEWS: So, I have -- check me on this. I have a sense he had never
been talked to with such lack of deference for four years. And all of a
sudden, Romney, with all this cordiality and phony civility, talked to him
like a lesser being and that drove the president crazy. Your thoughts,
Glenn, then, John, on that -- the whole question of the way he disdained
him in that debate.

THRUSH: Well, Klain and Axelrod and Plouffe came up to Kerry during some
of these sessions and said, look, man, you got to start hitting this guy.
And that`s exactly what happened.

And in Nevada, when they got to that disastrous debate prep in Nevada, you
know, we report that this one 30-minute session was just a shellacking in
which Kerry got right into Obama`s face and called him a failure
repeatedly. They had expected it to rouse Obama, wake him up, but it
didn`t.

MATTHEWS: I mean, I`m forever trying to figure why was looking down at his
table, taking notes, for what, future debates? Let me go to Jon on this
one.

THRUSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I`m being sarcastic because it drove me crazy, because he`s so
smart.

MARTIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the question. Let`s talk about why would a Romney people
had all these incredibly high paid staffers, the highest paid staffers in
the history of national campaigning, they`re all big business pros.
Fehrnstrom always seemed start, seemed smart. Neil Newhouse, these pros.
And they got the whole thing wrong. They tell this guy he was going to
win.

What happened at the end? You first, Jon.

MARTIN: Well, they emphatically thought they were going to win. In fact,
one of Romney`s closest advisers said, if anybody tells you we didn`t think
we were going to win, they`re lying to you. The candidate thought he was
going to win. Mrs. Romney thought they were going to win. And the top
staffers did as well.

They were convinced that the polling they had internally was correct and
that the public polling was overstating the nature of the Democratic
turnout. And they were wedded to that until the very end.

And Romney thought on Election Day that he was going to win. He traveled
to Ohio and Pennsylvania and you saw this huge crowd waiting for him at
final stops in those two states. And the sources I talked to said that he
was definitely convinced that victory was at hand.

Let me say real fast, Chris, on the debate stuff. From my sources on the
Romney side, I can answer the question to you about the preparation that
Romney had. One source said to me that Rob Portman, who was the prep guy
for Romney, was throwing fastballs high and tight at Romney. So, you talk
about somebody who was acting in a certain fashion to get the candidate
prepared for the debate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MARTIN: I`m told that Portman was really, really tough on Romney and
offered no quarter at all.

MATTHEWS: And actually that wasn`t a very good prep because the president
wasn`t that tough.

MARTIN: Not that first debate. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Let me get your thoughts. What was the biggest gem you found in
here, Glenn, first? The biggest Glenn -- the biggest gem.

THRUSH: The biggest Glenn?

No. I thought -- well, I was fascinated by the debate stuff. But one
thing John and I did in this piece was to sort of do this minute by minute
ticktack of the election night because it was just weird the way that went
down, with the long delay.

MARTIN: Yes.

THRUSH: And one of the things that I found out was the Obama team,
probably with the exception of Obama himself, were really ticked off at
team Romney for taking 70, 80 minutes to wait. Valerie Jarrett was angry.
Axelrod was angry. And Jim Messina actually had to call Matt Rhoades,
Romney`s campaign manager, left a message and had to send him a text before
Romney called.

MATTHEWS: That`s not fair. I think he conceded in fine time. He did it
while we were all there awake.

Jon, quickly.

MARTIN: Two fast things. That is on election night, the Romney campaign
drafted remarks and considered having Paul Ryan go on to the podium to send
everybody home until the next morning. That was a possibility considered
until it became obvious that Romney was going to lose.

The second thing, in `08 there was a Mormon documentarian who followed
Romney around the `08 campaign.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MARTIN: He caught a documentary that was made in 2010. The Romney
advisers spiked it. It`s never seen the light of day because the Romney
high command thought it showed Romney talking about his faith in a way that
could damage them.

MATTHEWS: He made a big mistake.

The e-book is called "The End of the Line". It`s written by two great
reporters, Jonathan Martin and Glen Thrush.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight where I started. The Constitution of the
United States commits this country to ensuring the domestic tranquility.
That`s an urgent need right now. We`ve had a quartet of shooting sprees in
this presidency.

No one in the right, by the way, has attacked the president for any of them
or all of them. Why? The reason I gravely suspect is to attack President
Obama for the killing sprees would argue that a president has a right to
stop them from happening. And that is a fact that the right is not willing
to concede.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
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