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updated 2/13/2014 2:58:23 PM ET 2014-02-13T19:58:23

HARDBALL
February 12, 2014

Guests: Nicholas Confessore, Bob Herbert, Neera Tanden, Dana Milbank,
Michelle Goldberg

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The bonfire of John Boehner.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

I`m going to get to the latest Christie development, that huge rise in the
number of people nationally who simply don`t believe him, right after this
incredible development on the right.

For whatever reason, strange (ph) brain (ph) soup (ph), poor zoo-keeping,
if you will, whatever, the hard right in the U.S. Congress is in the early
stage right now of insurrection against House Speaker John Boehner. They
find what he did yesterday, avoiding a default on national debt, totally
and utterly unacceptable. It`s worse than that. Some are talking treason,
saying that Boehner is secretly in cahoots with the president, secretly
pushing what they call the liberal Obama agenda while no one`s been
looking.

Well, this mutiny may represent a cheap way to raise money on the fringe --
who knows -- or it may be the beginning wave of a real move to unseat the
relatively sane man in the speaker`s chair because he dared to put country
and sanity first, refusing to commit a second round of suicide by shutting
down the government again and taking a few more crazy laps in the clown
car. You tell me.

Howard Fineman is the editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group
and David Corn is the Washington bureau chief at "Mother Jones." Both are,
of course, prized MSNBC political analysts.

Gentlemen, Howard, I just -- I thought Boehner had basically, you know,
avoided a big problem yesterday for the whole country. We didn`t need
another debt default, you know "Perils of Pauline." We didn`t need another
government shutdown. What we needed is some kind of smooth sailing while
the economy, during this crazy time with the Down Jones, begins to pick up
again, like it`s been doing. We`ve saved half their loss (ph) on the Dow
Jones the last couple days. It`s starting to get better.

Why -- why does the right wing want to go crazy again?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, not only that, from John Boehner`s point of view, and Mitch
McConnell`s for that matter, Boehner was doing a favor for the Republican
Party by their strategic lights, not causing another shutdown, not bringing
blame on the Republican Party and getting out of the way so Republicans
could attack "Obama care," which is --

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s true.

FINEMAN: -- the main thing they want to do.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: But of course, in politics, no good deed goes unpunished. This
was a shrewd move, actually, by John Boehner. But the Tea Party hate him
for it. They absolutely hate him for it. I talked to a leading Tea Party
person just a couple hours ago. She said they`re going to do everything
they can to unseat him. They can`t get him out right now. They have only
minor candidates to run against him in Ohio.

But the irony is, his strategy may end up bringing more Republicans to the
House --

MATTHEWS: Yes!

FINEMAN: -- who will then turn around and vote him out of the
speakership.

MATTHEWS: So he -- in other words -- in other words, David, he could
actually win a couple -- 20 more seats this fall because he has brilliantly
and shrewdly focused on one issue laser-like, which is health care and the
way they don`t like it, rather than starting a fight about cultural issues,
about abortion or contraception or focusing on, Oh, let`s shut the
government down.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he gets a lot
of grief. What he`s done is prevent his Tea Party wing of the party from
pulling the rest of the party off the cliff. They had the government
shutdown a couple of months ago. They`re standing in the polls at, like,
at 7 percent. Maybe they can get to negative numbers if they had another
debt ceiling crisis that they provoked. And he`s stopped all of that.

But what we have here is an inevitable clash between two impulses, two
wings within the Republican Party. You have Tea Partiers who come to town,
they want to disrupt. They want to burn the village down, not to save it
because they don`t like the village. And then you have --

MATTHEWS: And they don`t want to govern.

CORN: They don`t want to govern. You have the other side. You have some
Republicans who want to govern, but more importantly, some Republicans who
think their brand is diminished or harmed by the other wing. So they don`t
want that, either.

MATTHEWS: Yesterday`s vote in the House to pass a clean debt limit
increase has whipped the grass roots into a frenzy. What we`re seeing
right now is a full-throated right-wing "Dump Boehner" movement, as I said.

Here are just a few examples. Matt Hoskins, the executive director of the
Senate Conservatives Fund, is accusing Boehner, the Republican speaker, of
being in the league with Democrats. Quote, "Conservatives helped
Republicans win a majority in the House of Representatives, which made it
possible for John Boehner to become speaker. Unfortunately, he has chosen
to ignore us and help President Obama enact his liberal agenda. Well,
there`s only one solution. John Boehner must be replaced as speaker of the
House." That`s their view.

The Tea Party Patriots are circulating a petition saying, "It is time for
him" -- that`s Boehner -- "to go. Fire the speaker." And Brent Bozell`s
ForAmerica group is asking people to, quote, "Join the movement to dump the
leadership." He`s also told reporters that the group is aiming to raise,
or actually spend, a million dollars on anti-leadership ads.

There you have it, Howard. This is -- I don`t know, is this the beginning
of a big insurrection? I thought Boehner was in the happy seat as of --
shows you what I know. I thought he`d figured out a way to avoid trouble
to get him through so they could win big this fall, pick up maybe 20 seats.

FINEMAN: Well, yes, Chris, you`re living in the rational world of
political strategy.

MATTHEWS: I want to stay there, too!

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: I that`s not where the Tea Party people are. I talked to one of
the main advisers to Tea Party Patriots, and they are serious about wanting
to get rid of John Boehner. But really --

MATTHEWS: Do they believe he`s a liberal?

FINEMAN: Yes! They believe -- they believe he`s a complete renegade and a
turncoat. They absolutely do.

CORN: They believe it?

FINEMAN: They absolutely do. And they know that they can`t -- there`s no
real mechanism for getting rid of him in the middle of --

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: They want to do it. They want to do it. And what they`re going
to do is hope that they elect more Tea Party people in the next midterm
elections --

MATTHEWS: OK.

FINEMAN: -- and then have the votes to oust him. Their big problem
right now is they don`t have a single consensus candidate.

CORN: But what they believe is -- I don`t think they think he`s a liberal.
I think they believe he`s a collaborationist and he`s making --

FINEMAN: Well, that`s the same thing as --

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: -- that he is part of the system, working on compromises, you
know, passing a farm bill, getting some Democratic votes.

MATTHEWS: OK --

CORN: This is a sin! This is --

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: -- one and the same thing, David. One and the same thing.

CORN: Well, I understand that. But at the same time, you know, to come
across to their base, this is all about being pure. It`s all about being
extreme. This is what`s going to flow into presidential primaries in 2016.
They`re all going to be trying to get to the right of each other, and it`s
--

MATTHEWS: OK, I remember a poll that was once taken among regular
Americans. This is how bad it still is in this country, about how people
don`t trust politicians. You say 7 percent approval rating.

CORN: Yes, of the Congress( ph).

MATTHEWS: They asked people, Do you believe that members of Congress,
every night when they come home from work -- they get in their cars off
Capitol Hill and head home -- they steal the equipment from the office,
they steal the word processor, they steal the phones, they steal anything
that`s not nailed down and take it home with them and basically fence it.
Do you believe they do that? And people say, yes, we believe they steal
the stuff that they work with.

Now, that crazy, loony thinking, I think -- I think there may have been a
congressman maybe once who did that. I don`t think so. But the idea of
that level of skepticism is rampant right now on the right. They think
Boehner is secretly having drinks with the president and Michelle upstairs
at the White House, right?

CORN: Well, you think --

MATTHEWS: They think something`s going on.

CORN: They think that the president is destroying this country
purposefully.

MATTHEWS: What`s his motive?

CORN: Because he hates America, because he`s from Kenya -- it doesn`t
matter. They think he has a plan to weaken America.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- Boehner?

CORN: But anybody who cooperates with him, who enables him --

MATTHEWS: OK --

CORN: -- is guilty, as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, Republicans in his own party certainly are attacking
Boehner with just as much gusto as the base. After he told members that he
was going to pass a clean debt limit hike, to basically save the party from
itself, he was skewered.

Paul Broun from Georgia reacted by blasting the legislation as "Speaker
Boehner`s bill, highly irresponsible." Tim Huelskamp of Kansas attacked
Boehner by saying that he gave the president exactly what he wanted. And
"The Washington Post" reports that Andy Harris from Maryland was so enraged
during closed-door caucus meetings about the debt limit with Boehner that
he, quote, "went so far as to knock him as a tool of the insurance
companies," wherever that came from.

Here`s more from that meeting per "The Washington Post." "Boehner just
stood there for a moment after he finished, eyed the room and walked toward
his seat. On his way there, Boehner shook his head, then turned to the
nearly mute crowd and wondered aloud why he wasn`t getting any applause."
Quote, "I`m getting this monkey off your back and you`re not going to even
clap."

MATTHEWS: Howard.

FINEMAN: Yes?

MATTHEWS: There`s a failure to communicate here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There is a failure to communicate between John Boehner and the
people that are going to have to reelect him or not.

FINEMAN: These are two different worlds. One is a world of practical
political strategy. The other, as David says, is a world of absolutes and
a world of rejection. Any move that you make, in their eyes, to make the
machinery of government actually work is a form of treason, in their eyes,
at this point. It`s that upside-down.

MATTHEWS: OK. Just going to take it back to an issue a lot of people care
about, especially progressives, and certainly not just Hispanic people,
immigration. A couple days ago, Boehner again confronted this wall of
difference between his world of reality, which is, you know, Politically,
we might like to get some people with Hispanic backgrounds to someday vote
Republican, or at least think about it, rather than just treat them as
outsiders forever, in fact, legal outsiders. He was wrong. They didn`t
want that.

FINEMAN: They didn`t want it and --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They don`t want to accept them as Americans or anything.

FINEMAN: The other thing you`ve got going on here is you`ve got two
different worlds in another way. You`ve got a sort of congressional world
of what`s left of the practical Republican thinkers, whether -- in many
cases, it`s like Mitch McConnell, who`s trying to steer that middle course
when he can get away with it, Boehner and so forth. Then you sort of have
the presidential wing of the Republican Party, which is now really out
there and which is dominated by people like Ted Cruz, whose strategy is
very much behind a lot of what`s going on here --

MATTHEWS: And he wants to bring down the government, too.

FINEMAN: He wants to bring down John Boehner.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: There`s an all-out war between Ted Cruz and John Boehner at this
point.

MATTHEWS: There`s still a chance of a debt problem, isn`t there, with
Boehner -- with this guy, Cruz. He`s still talking up he won`t give them
the 60 votes or whatever --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Don`t think he`ll do it?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: I think that`s a lot of talk, but you know --

MATTHEWS: Well, why is he doing it?

CORN: But again, we`re not going to be able to talk about any policy --
immigration reform is dead. There`s no budget talks. There`s nothing
that`s going to be going on this next, you know, 10 months into the
election because Boehner can`t get 18 people from his party to talk about
any serious --

MATTHEWS: Somebody told me that, by the way, Ted Cruz was looking at old
tapes, old movies, you know, newsreels of Joe McCarthy and imitated him. I
believe it. The guy is such a perfect example of what McCarthy looked like
and acted like.

Here`s -- there`s where things get a little bizarre here. Buzzfeed is
reporting that some rogue Boehner critic out there has covertly obtained
the private e-mail accounts of members of Congress.

Here`s why. Quote, "A group of House Republicans have received a
mysterious threat in recent weeks, an anonymous e-mail that promises
political retribution for those who vote yes to a debt limit increase, sent
to their closely guarded personal e-mail addresses. So who`s sending these
threats? `It`s got to be another member, probably one of the crazy ones,`
said a Republican who had seen the e-mail which was sent from an anonymous
e-mail address."

David, isn`t this weird inside stuff?

CORN: Yes, I think what`s going on inside the House --

MATTHEWS: Somebody`s sending these scary letters to people?

CORN: I mean, this is unprecedented. John Boehner is not a speaker
anymore. He is basically a baby-sitter. You know, he`s trying to keep
these people from hurting his own party (INAUDIBLE) with all these
shenanigans. We`ve seen in previous votes Republicans on the conservative
side of the House try to undermine him by working with the outside groups -
-

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- peanut gallery has turned on Buffalo Bob?

CORN: Oh, this is like --

FINEMAN: Buffalo Bob has left the room.

(LAUGHTER)

CORN: This is worse than mean girls in high school.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, David Corn. You guys
are having way too much fun.

Coming up: Here we go, Chris Christie governors conservatives a big hug and
wants one hug in return. His message -- If the media`s going to after me,
I must be a good conservative, right? Except wait until you see the
national numbers crash on this guy. People don`t believe him.

Plus, Democrats hope to use the bipartisan concern over income inequality
to power them to victories in November. And today, President Obama gave
them a boost.

Also: It worked against John Kerry, so why not try it against Hillary? The
right gears a Swift-Boating campaign against the former secretary of state
on, what else, Benghazi.

And those swift boaters have their work cut out for them. Wait until you
see the latest poll numbers on Hillary versus any possible Republican
opponent.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to have new poll numbers on Chris Christie coming up
in a minute, and they`re terrible. They`re not good at all. But first,
we`ve got some other hypothetical matchups for the 2016 presidential race,
so let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new McClatchy Marist poll, Paul Ryan fares best against
Hillary Clinton, but it`s still Clinton by 8, 52-44. Not bad, though, for
Paul Ryan there.

From there, it`s all downhill for the Republicans, however. Clinton would
beat Mike Huckabee by 14 points. It`s Clinton 55, Huckabee 41. Against
Ted Cruz, Clinton leads by 17, 56-39. She leads Rand Paul by 20, 58-38.
And she has the same 20-point lead on -- look at -- do you believe this? --
Jeb Bush same as Rand Paul. She beats him 58-38. So much for Bush coming
in from the bench. Anyway, Marco Rubio`s down 21. It`s Clinton 58, Rubio
37.

Stay tuned for those Christie numbers. We`ve got those in just a minute,
and they`re bad for the governor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Chris Christie`s hoping to put his
troubles back home on pause for a while, of course. Yesterday, it was a
trip to Chicago. But while he raised big money for the Republican
Governors Association, there were calls back in Jersey for him to give that
gig up and get back to actually being something of a governor.

Here was the editorial in "The Star Ledger" in Newark this morning. Quote,
"It is undeniable that the RGA job is a major distraction, especially when
heaped on top of the scandals. So give it up, Governor. Time to focus on
the job you were hired to do."

Well, Christie`s focus right now is on showing he`s still in the game
politically nationally, and he seems to be doing that by currying favor
with the right, the right wing of the Republican Party, which never liked
him. After days of playing the favorite conservative pastime of attacking
"The New York Times," Christie hit Democrats yesterday for their focus on
income inequality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I don`t think the American people
want income equality. What they want is income opportunity. And I think
that one of the big discussions in conversations over the course of the
next two years in national politics is going to be, Do you want mediocrity
or do you want greatness? You want income equality? That`s mediocrity.
Everybody can have an equal mediocre salary. That`s what we can afford.
Or do you want the opportunity for greatness?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s desperately high pander. No one`s talking about
income equality. They`re talking about the exponential, geometric
difference in incomes now that`s never been seen before in this country.
Let`s call it his attempt to show proof of life out there, by the way.

Ted Strickland`s the former Democratic governor of Ohio and Nicholas
Confessore`s a reporter for "The New York Times."

Governor, let me ask you about this -- you know, I love the fact when
people go out in politics and attack something that nobody ever said. I
never heard the Democratic Party say they want everybody to make $100,000
or $10,000 or $15,000 a year. I`ve never heard it prescribed it should be
a certain level.

But I have heard the pope, among other people, get very concerned about
societies that have begun to match the way Latin America was for all those
years, where you have a couple people making all the money, owning all the
land, and a few -- and millions of people at the bottom with nothing. And
that`s what I think the Democratic Party is worried about, as are most
people right now, not income equality, but the frightening difference in
what people have and those who have nothing. Your thoughts.

TED STRICKLAND (D), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: Well, I think Governor Christie
was being disingenuous and purposefully misleading when he said income
equality. What we`re concerned about, what the Democratic Party`s
concerned about, is income inequality, where people do not have an equal
opportunity to succeed in life. The cards are stacked against the working
middle class and the poor in this country.

And Chris Christie chose his words very, very carefully, but it was
disingenuous of him. I think he was not being really honest with his
audience.

MATTHEWS: Well, speaking of that, there`s some bad news for Christie in
the latest national polling right now, the McClatchy Marist numbers. Look
at them. They found that Christie trails Hillary Clinton now by 21 points
in a hypothetical matchup. No big surprise there. He`s had a terrible
month. But that`s a huge change from what it was just two months ago, when
Christie and Clinton were basically tied up there at 48-45.

Meanwhile -- this is the one I`m looking at -- the percent of people
nationally who say Christie is mostly not telling the truth about the
bridge scandal has shot up 15 points, about -- almost a 50 percent increase
now of people that don`t believe a word he`s saying.

Nicholas, thank you for coming on tonight.

And I think this, it points to the problem, that -- that the news
reporting, the facts coming out, which I believe is going to drive this
story six months from now, a year from now. We are going to be talking
about the testimony and the documentary evidence that comes in to not just
Trenton in terms of legislative investigation, but the courts and the U.S.
attorney`s efforts.

And I hope we are going to get the evidence that is going to decide this
matter. It looks like the governor thinks it is going to be decided by
P.R. and politics.

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, Chris, in the last two
weeks, there have not been new any facts on the matter.

So, the governor is doing what you would expect to do, which is he`s trying
to reset the debate. He`s trying to go back to talking about what he
thinks are going to be the big themes of 2016 and beyond. This whole
speech, it`s a chance to say we are now returning to our normal programming
for 2016 and beyond.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CONFESSORE: And it`s what you would do in the situation, because right now
we are in this period where everyone is sifting through documents and
issuing subpoenas. But there haven`t been any new facts really.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at what Sarah Palin, who manages to get
in the news almost all the time -- she`s certainly not of Christie`s
biggest defender.s Here is what the former Alaskan governor had to say
about the bridge scandal yesterday. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I just don`t know all the
information out there. But it is hard to be the CEO of an organization and
not know what the closest people to you are up to.

It`s tough not to know. I know when I was mayor and manager of this city
and then governor of the state, certainly, you know what your top aides are
up to. I just want to make sure that -- you know, that every politician,
everyone who is elected, who is given that -- that honor and that -- that
sacred honor of -- of -- of a vote, people`s trust, that we don`t blow it.

And you blow it if you ever try to hide anything. You know, whatever is
hidden, eventually, light shines upon it. So, man, I -- you know, I just
hope that truth is being told right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Governor, that was what we call in boxing a combination of
punches.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: The first punch was, can you really believe this guy didn`t know
what was going on, when everybody around him was involved in one effort to
punish a local pol and he had no idea, that`s what they do for a living,
and then said, oh, by the way, don`t cover up, buddy, because you are going
to get nailed on that one.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I thought that was a lot of information from somebody who really
didn`t have to talk. That was an interview, by the way. That wasn`t paid
for by FOX. That was an interview she was being involved in there. Your
thoughts.

STRICKLAND: Well, Chris, I am surprised that I totally agree with Sarah
Palin about this.

How could he have been the governor in that office interacting on a daily
basis with these -- his closest aides and not know what was going on? And
so I have reached the conclusion that either he knew and is not telling us
the truth about it, or he didn`t know, which would say that he is an inept
manager..

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

STRICKLAND: -- and has no way to judge character.

MATTHEWS: You know that`s not true. And you know that second one is not -
- but, Governor, let`s be honest. You know that second one is not true.
He is not incompetent.

Let me give you a middle case, as they said in "Man for All Seasons."

STRICKLAND: Well --

MATTHEWS: Here`s a middle case.

Suppose he recruited all those people that work for him. We know that`s a
fact. You know he taught them. He`s had the four years around him. He
told them what he wanted done. He made it very clear how he wanted the
government, the business of New Jersey and his politics handled. And so
they went about and carried out their duties.

And in this particular case, they may not have given a heads-up day to day
what they`re up to, but they were following out the method of operation he
had set up. Punish people that get in our way.

STRICKLAND: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Make sure things happen my way. That to me sounds like the
reality here.

And that`s -- if it isn`t the reality, the guy is in big trouble, bigger
than I thought.

Your thoughts, Nick. It seems to me the reporting on the story is going to
be in two directions. What did he know? When did he do it? Watergate.
But also what were his methods of operation in terms of training that staff
that he put in, the people like Wildstein and the people like Bridget
Kelly? What did he train them to do? What did he tell them he wanted
done?

CONFESSORE: Well, look, look, if evidence emerges that he knew or
instructed, it is fatal. If not, we are moving into this territory of,
again, what is the culture of his office and can voters be persuaded,
right, that he bred this culture and this kind of retribution in his
office?

He says he doesn`t. And it is the kind of thing you fight politically.
And until we have facts that really hook him in a more direct way or not,
it is going to be on that terrain that this whole debate over his future is
fought.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I find it very hard, having worked in politics and covered
it, that all those people around him were out robbing gas stations for
their own interests.

This is like Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby was working for Dick Cheney.
Whether he was right or wrong, broke the law or not, he was working in the
interests of the vice president. We all know that. In this case, I
believe all those people were working in the interest of the governor.
Whether he detailed those information, what they wanted is the question
we`re trying to get to.

Yesterday, Christie also spoke about his disappointment with these people
in his office who in his words made bad judgments, all of them together, by
the way. They are all in cahoots, but he is out of the loop. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Some people who worked for me made
some significant mistakes in judgment.

And when you are the leader of that organization and you`re confronted with
that, the first thing that happens to you -- it happened to me -- was
extraordinary disappointment, extraordinary disappointment that people that
I had trusted had made such bad judgments and had not told the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Governor, last time we heard from him, he called them
liars and stupid. He seems to be softening up. Now it is mistakes in
judgment. Maybe he is worried about what they are going to testify to.

He called them -- he called Bridget Kelly a liar on national television and
he called a bunch of them stupid. Well, now it is mistakes of judgment.

(CROSSTALK)

STRICKLAND: He picks his words very carefully. This was not a mistake or
a mistake in judgment, Chris.

This was a planful, purposeful decision to put the public at significant
risk by closing down the lanes on that bridge.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STRICKLAND: It was planful. A mistake is something that you might do
while having good intentions.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STRICKLAND: These people had bad intentions. And he should stop calling
it a mistake and start calling it what it is. It was a violation of the
public trust.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I guess a mistake in judgment would be having raisins with
your bran for breakfast, when you shouldn`t have the raisins.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That would be a mistake in judgment.

STRICKLAND: That`s right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: If you were trying to lose weight.

(LAUGHTER)

STRICKLAND: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ted Strickland. You obviously know how I
live.

STRICKLAND: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Nicholas Confessore of "The New York Times."

Up next: more on that mysterious e-mail campaign against Republicans on
Capitol Hill. This is really spooky. Who has got control of the private
e-mails of all of these congresspeople, if it isn`t another congressperson,
which everybody thinks it is right now? So, who is the insider.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

As we first mentioned at the top of the show, a series of anonymous e-mails
have House Republicans mystified on Capitol Hill. Last night, BuzzFeed`s
John Stanton reported that several Republican congressmen, including
Speaker John Boehner, have received threatening e-mails over the debt
ceiling hike since January.

What is especially puzzling is that the messages were sent to the internal
e-mails of individual House members. And since those personal addresses
are held close to the vest, many believe that the culprit may well be a
fellow congressman. How is that for spookiness?

Anyway, the mysterious antagonist uses the word -- or their address,
unrepresentative1@gmx.com, which was created on a free Web mail site. And
the messages themselves allude to political retribution for voting to raise
the debt ceiling. One e-mail sent to Oklahoma Representative James
Lankford included an attachment listing the congressmen targeted for
retribution and also a 147-page Excel spreadsheet of the congressmen`s
political donors.

Here is an excerpt from one of the e-mails sent to John Boehner. "John, I
have never voted against you, nor have I ever done whatever you asked of
me, nor am I one of the second-guessers who think you have an easy job.
But isn`t it time we stop lying to the American people in regard to the
debt limit?"

Well, BuzzFeed reports that their e-mails to unrepresentative1 have gone
unreturned.

Finally, Rush Limbaugh is complaining about the media`s coverage of Michael
Sam, the player who could be the NFL`s first openly gay player. Well,
Limbaugh seems to see this story as part of a larger gay agenda that he
says is threatening to the straight population. Listen to what he said to
say -- or he had to say on his program today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hetero -- you say heterosexuality may
be 95 percent, 98 percent of the population. They are under assault by the
2 percent to 5 percent that are homosexual.

So, why? I`m just asking. I`m just throwing it out there. Why is there a
political agenda attached to and driven by homosexuality, and there is no
corresponding heterosexual agenda?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Rush`s idea that straight people are under assault, all
90-some percent, is absurd, of course. But some have weighed in against
drafting Sam.

Here is what Steve Colbert had to say about why those teams may be
hesitant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Pro teams are just going to
have to think twice between drafting him.

HERM EDWARDS, FORMER NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE HEAD COACH: Can the players
handle the media attention that they are going to get when they get the
question asked, are you OK with a gay teammate?

COLBERT: Exactly. Just think of that question. Are you OK with a gay
teammate?

Who wants to put their players through the agony of saying yes?

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: I mean, I just --

(CROSSTALK)

COLBERT: I just can`t --

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I thought it was a trick question.

Anyway, up next: President Obama and the Democrats hope they have found a
winning issue, income inequality.

And that is ahead. And you are watching it, HARDBALL, the place for
politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s
happening.

A Florida jury is deliberating the case of Michael Dunn, the man accused of
shooting an unarmed teen over loud music blaring from his car. Dunn says
he acted in self-defense. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Parts of the Southeastern U.S. are being pummelled by a severe winter
storm. In Charlotte, the evening commute, well, it looked like a replay of
that gridlock that hit Atlanta two weeks ago. Three to six inches of snow
are expected in coastal areas, while higher totals expected inland and up
north -- and now we are going to take you back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Members of Congress have a
pretty clear choice to make right now, raise our workers` wages, grow our
economy, or let wages stagnate further, and give workers what amounts to
another pay cut this year, restore unemployment insurance for Americans
still looking for that job, or expose them further to hardship.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Members of Congress, you -- you can help people make progress in
their own lives, or you can hinder that progress.

And every American deserves to know where your elected representative
stands on this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back.

Well, today, President Obama, of course, signed an executive order raising
the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers starting in 2015.
In other words, any new federal contract, the people working for the
contractor gets $10.10 minimum. And he left no doubt that he wants a full-
court press on Congress to follow suit and make it a law for every worker
in the country to get paid at least $10.10 an hour minimum wage.

It`s not only the right thing to do, I think. It`s good politics for
everybody. Polls show Democrats are smart to push this issue. They sure
are. As you see here, the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows
increasingly the minimum wage has broad support, even Republican and Tea
Party supporters. That is actual Republican voters out there. Wait to see
how the members of Congress are voting.

But, anyway, win or lose, Democrats love this issue. Minimum wage and
economic fairness may be the booster rocket issues that propel Democrats to
2014 wins.

Anyway, Bob Herbert, great reporter, he`s senior fellow at the public
policy organization Demos. And Neera Tanden is president of the Center for
American Progress.

Let me go -- let me start with Neera and this question.

Do you think the Democrats want the minimum wage to go up this year, or do
they want the issue to take into November, that Republicans are standing in
the way?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Look, I think
everyone --

MATTHEWS: Which one? Which one?

TANDEN: They would like the bill to pass.

MATTHEWS: OK.

TANDEN: I think everyone would like to see -- and I think it would be good
for Democrats to show that you could actually make progress for people. It
would be a good accomplishment for the president.

I -- I don`t -- I`m not -- I`m not betting we are going to pass it
necessarily, but do I think it is important that we push it and push it
hard, because I do think it is one of those issues of economic fairness and
opportunity, which people really get. There is a moral component to this,
not just an economic component.

MATTHEWS: Did you -- let me go to Bob on this.

Did you see Christie today? He is out there desperately trying to make
some ink and some noise out there to show that he is alive.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But the fact of the matter is, he said something really
dishonest. He said the Democrats are pushing for a common income level,
that everybody -- well, here he is putting his spin on the issue. Let`s
talk for him -- let him talk for himself here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I don`t think the American people want income equality. What
they want is income opportunity. You want income equality? That is
mediocrity. Everybody can have an equal mediocre salary. That`s what we
can afford. Or you do you want the opportunity for greatness?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that is a great malarkey there for somebody to eat.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But I have no idea what it is about, because I have never
anybody -- the most wildest socialist in the world doesn`t say everybody
makes the same.

I remember the old Communist Party had differentials on what kind of house
you got.

BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: Right.

MATTHEWS: I think they lived a little differently.

But what is he doing out there and what -- and it seems the issue is
geometric difference. It is not that one guy makes $150,000 a year and the
other guy makes $50,000.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: -- in the world doesn`t say every makes the
same. I remember the old communist party had differentials and what kind
of house you`ve got. I think they live a little differently.

But what`s he doing out there. And it seems the issue is geometric
difference. It`s not that one guy makes $150,000 a year and the other guy
makes $50,000. A lot of billionaires right now.

BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But there`s really this exponential thing going and never was a
part of the American culture, economic culture until very recently.

HERBERT: Christie is being deliberately, intellectually dishonest there.
No one is calling for equality of income or equality of salaries, or
anything like that. What people are trying to address are the extremes
like we`ve had in New York up until recently where you had a mayor who was
worth $30-some-billion and a third of the children in New York were growing
up poor and you have 50,000 New Yorkers in homeless shelters at night.

So, it`s those kinds of extremes that you want to correct. It`s not that
you want everyone to have the same kind of income --

MATTHEWS: So, why is Christie out there, why is the troubadour out there
floating the story?

HERBERT: He`s doing it because he wants to glom on to anything that will
take the media`s attention off the scandals that he is trying to deal with.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about people agree. Tremendous agreement about
minimum wage.

My own reason I think there is because there`s a lot more employees out
there than employers.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes, yes.

MATTHEWS: Most people identify, and also, everybody in the union knows
this, even non-union people who benefit from unions, if the minimum wage
goes up, that means the people above them go up. It pushes it.

TANDEN: Yes. And also, we`ve actually had a real challenge in the
country. Wages have been stagnating. People have basically been working
harder and harder and making the same amount of money.

MATTHEWS: Why is that happening?

TANDEN: On median wages. There`s a whole range of issues -- technology,
trade, the structure of the market. But people --

MATTHEWS: But if productivity goes up and technology is good, you can make
light bulbs that last forever, things like -- why doesn`t that increase
your salary?

TANDEN: Well, that`s the big question. That has been a fundamental break
down. Usually, when we`ve had productivity increases, that means people
get wage increase. But since 2000, over the last 12 years, what`s happened
is wages have stuck while people are basically productivity is going up.

So, people I think get that. The American dream is really about doing and
working hard.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re a pol (ph) like I am. How do you get this done?
It seems you go to Republicans and you say to the moderates, take the 28
guys, Robert, Bob, 28 guy and women, I guess some women in there, who voted
the other day with the speaker, moderate Republicans, northeastern guys
like me and Dent, people like that, and Peter King, we know the names,
there`s not that many of them, to know -- go to them and say sign this
discharge petition.

The discharge petition is when you go to the members and say, I want -- are
you going to bring this to a vote on the floor or not? Stop hiding this
thing. We want a vote on it. They are then forced to sign it and say,
yes, there ought to be a vote or they vote -- they don`t sign and then you
nail them. Why don`t the Democrats do that?

TANDEN: Look, I think -- I think there`s going to be a vote in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: No, why don`t they do that? Why don`t they squeeze these
moderate Republicans?

TANDEN: I think we`ll see.

MATTHEWS: Would you recommend doing that?

TANDEN: I think the discharge petition is a great idea. I think it`s just
fantastic idea. They should definitely do it. Charlie Dent this said he
was open to a minimum wage.

MATTHEWS: Why don`t they get aggressive, the Democrats, and push discharge
petition and play hardball? I`ve been doing it.

HERBERT: Here`s the problem -- here is the problem the Democrats have when
they are talking about economic unfairness. The question is whether their
heart is really in the issue. Because if you are going to hit this issue
head on, then you have to hit the corporations and banks who, for years
have been giving American workers the short end of the stick.

It`s important to raise the minimum wage --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, you think Democrats are afraid to take on the money people?
You think that --

HERBERT: I don`t know if the Democrats really have the heart or the will
or even the desire to do that in an effective way.

MATTHEWS: We`ll see. That should be the problem.

TANDEN: I think we`re going to have a big campaign on minimum wage.

MATTHEWS: If they don`t raise the minimum wage, they are blowing it.

TANDEN: Yes, I agree.

MATTHEWS: You agree on that.

Thank you, Bob Herbert. Great to have you on.

HERBERT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And Neera Tanden.

Up next, swiftboating 2016-style. The right did it to John Kerry, and now,
they`re ready to try it against Hillary Clinton. Wait until you see how
they tried the same old way to distort the facts and an attack.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Take a look at this. That`s HARDBALL regular, Willie Brown. The
great former mayor of San Francisco and the former assembly speaker out
there in California. And now, the western span of the Bay Bridge between
San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island has officially been named the Willie
L. Brown Jr. Bridge. There it is, the bridge behind them.

The California chapter of the NAACP raised the money to pay for the signs
to honor the former mayor, something they wanted to do during Black History
Month and they have done it.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back to HARDBALL.

The swiftboaters are back again. This time, their target: Hillary Rodham
Clinton. Their issue: looks like Benghazi.

And here`s their claim: that as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton failed
to ask the Pentagon or the CIA to help U.S. personnel while they were under
attack, that she failed to discuss the attack with President Obama promptly
and she`s not being truthful overall.

Well, according to "Reuters", a right wing affiliated group of former
special forces and intelligence operatives called OPSEC has organized a
target the former secretary of state. Quote, "If Hillary Clinton wants to
run for president, she`s not going to be able to continue hiding from the
fact that she did nothing to help prevent the deaths of four Americans in
Benghazi", said Scott Tailor, president of OPSEC.

But the Clintons know how to punch back. And in 2007, Bill Clinton said
Hillary will never let a swift-style attack go unanswered. Well, Hillary
herself tried to reassure Democrats that that year, that she knows how to
respond to right wing attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you are attacked, you
have to deck your opponent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Deck, great word.

Dana Milbank is columnist for "The Washington Post", and Michelle Goldberg
is a senior contributing writer for "The Nation."

I want to start with Michelle on this.

Swiftboating is a term of art. It doesn`t mean attack your opponent, it
means take something about it, distort it and hit him with it. For
example, John Kerry -- he was opposed by a lot of people on the right,
including a lot of military people because he opposed the war so totally
when he came from Vietnam. They turned that into an attack on his service
record, not his opposition afterwards.

With Hillary Clinton, they`re going to take, we all know they`re going to
take the line, "what difference does it make", and say, she didn`t care
about her friend Chris Stevens getting killed over there. She didn`t care,
so she said, what difference does it make? You know what they`re up to.

How do you fight that distortion?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, THE NATION: Well, I think it`s not going to be as
effective with Hillary Clinton as it was with John Kerry, in part because
John Kerry made his service in Vietnam so central to his whole narrative.
And so, when that was attacked, you know, it was kind of he was hit where
it was -- this is a classic Karl Rove tactic of hit people where they think
they`re perceived strength is, Hillary Clinton`s record is much wider than
that, all of this stuff is already litigated, right? If Benghazi didn`t
work against Barack Obama in 2012, it`s hard to see how it`s going to work
against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

MATTHEWS: The trouble is, it`s like banging your way out of a paper bag,
Michelle. It`s like, yes, it`s been litigated. Every now and then in the
air, I say, the facts are, the Senate bipartisan intelligence committee
came out and said, (a), the attack on our facility there in Benghazi, which
probably -- they believe was triggered by a copycat of what was going on in
Cairo, which in turn was a response to that crazy movie made in Los
Angeles. Everything -- this is what I said on the air that day. And the
use of the word extremist rather than terrorist was language coming from
the CIA. Al Qaeda -- a decision made by Petraeus, head of the CIA.

Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice are clean as a whistle on how they
discovered it. What they`re going after now is some implication that
during the time of the fire, what she did was derelict somehow.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: That`s true. The problem here, is if
she`s playing defense, she`s losing. So, I think she should get up there
and say, look, the chairman of the joint chiefs appointed by George W. Bush
exonerated me.

But let`s look at something else here, the Senate Intelligence Committee
found out that since the Republicans who were so desperate to go after
Hillary Clinton exposed the existence of a secret CIA facility in Benghazi,
15 people there who have been cooperating and helping the United States
have been killed.

So, if they want to say that Hillary Clinton has blood on her hands, she
can say, how about these 15 people killed since you exposed the existence
of the secret CIA facility?

MATTHEWS: Michelle, how do you deal with the psychosis? Maybe that`s the
wrong -- psychological predisposition to believe that Hillary Clinton is
evil, evil, let me say it right (ph). That she`s out at dinner some night
and ignores the fact that her friend is getting -- has been killed or may
still be alive or whatever, and didn`t do it. That seems to be what
they`re after here, that she`s a bad person.

How do you fight that?

GOLDBERG: Well, I don`t know that you can fight, but I think you can kind
of let the Republicans devour themselves with their own paranoid fantasies.
I mean, this is all going to be very effective within the small world of
right wing echo chamber. But just as their efforts to bring up Monica
again, before long I think we`re all going to hear about Vince Foster.

Again, it`s very effective at kind of whipping up --

MATTHEWS: What happened to the Koch brothers, spend a zillion dollars
banging this into people`s heads so they start saying, what`s all this
about Benghazi? I don`t understand it. It seems like some bad happened
there. What is it?

And you just hear it so many times reverberating through your head. I saw
it happened to John Kerry who had a clean as hell record and won all these
medals. They turned them into some flawed candidate. We saw it works.

GOLDBERG: Right. Well, two things. I mean, first of all, I think you
know, obviously, Hillary Clinton is not John Kerry, they`re much more
aggressive, they`ve already created a team, or there`s already a team being
put in place devoted to jumping in and fighting back against all the smears
that are inevitably going to be lobbed at Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS: You mean David Brock`s operation.

GOLDBERG: Right, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think they`ll do a good job, but I don`t know. We`ll
see. Let me go back just -- I get your point, but let me go back to you,
it`s almost like a sick version of satire. It`s not reality.

MILBANK: No.

MATTHEWS: It`s just --

MILBANK: It doesn`t matter. And if it weren`t Benghazi, they would find
something else. That demonization is going to occur. You have to answer
it very forcefully and repeatedly.

But as I was just saying, you don`t just want to say, no, I`m innocent, I
didn`t do that. Turn it around and say what her accusers are actually
doing, because they`re doing something very damaging to the --

MATTHEWS: Look what -- the same group did, Michelle, to Obama saying, yes,
he killed bin Laden, but he took credit for it.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: But I guess the point is --

MATTHEWS: What do you got with that one?

GOLDBERG: But the point is -- this is the same group that tried to use
Barack Obama`s decision to assassinate bin Laden against him, and, you
know, while it`s maddening, I think we can look and see how well that
worked for them.

MATTHEWS: Well, it didn`t hurt him.

GOLDBERG: Right.

MATTHEWS: But I don`t know. I just -- I think we live in a world where
the Koch brothers are going to be a problem for a lot of Democrats, because
they`re just willing to -- well, oil and gas has a lot of money.

Anyway, thank you, Michelle Goldberg -- a lot of money behind those guys --
and Dana Milbank.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a real star of television. I`m
talking about the golden age of the 1950s, Sid Caesar.

If you`re my age or older, you don`t need to know more. This was the comic
who`s your show of shows. That`s really was the name of it, lived up to
its billing. With writers like Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and Neil Simon, it
was thunderously creative, making fun of movies, people who fought in movie
theaters, television itself.

It was TV`s answer to "Mad Magazine" before there was "Mad Magazine". It
satirized everything.

The star of the show was Sid Caesar who I loved when he did "Caesar`s
Hour", his second show. I watched it religiously every Monday night, right
up until the time I was old enough to join the Boy Scouts, which also met
that night.

I know this was a long time ago and how show business can be cruel to
people who made it once, but not lately. Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney,
people like that had their wild early youth. And it`s truly the stuff of
dreams, stuff that dreams are made of, only to see it all vanish as they
returned to earth and long lives of regular American existence, which it
isn`t that bad, that`s if you didn`t happen to have this incredible early
thing you could never quite get out of your head like an old girlfriend who
haunts you, even though she`s no longer around, especially because she`s no
longer around.

Well, Sid Caesar just died. He`ll make the front page tomorrow, and
"Nightly News" tonight. And the young will wonder why we`re feeling as we
are, but we know, don`t we how really great the man was. How he made us
laugh, made us happy, made us so incredibly loyal to him.

So, tonight for Sid, the man Sid, the comic Sid, the hero, one last time --
hail Caesar.


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

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