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updated 2/21/2014 11:27:32 AM ET 2014-02-21T16:27:32

HARDBALL
February 19, 2014

Guests: Melissa Hayes, Mark Magyar, Kathleen Parker, Craig Melvin, Blanche
Lincoln, Andrew DeMillo

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Policing the bridge.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Did you wonder -- I certainly did -- why
those police up on George Washington Bridge were so helpful in sticking it
to the mayor of Fort Lee, so nice to tell the angry as hell drivers that
they had a name for their pain. Well, it`s a mighty question, don`t you
think?

How did uniformed police get involved in carrying out a political
operation, one that has the looks of being a vendetta, a hardball
punishment campaign against a holdout mayor, someone who refused to play
ball with the governor`s office?

Well, got a better one for you. Why would the head of the police union in
this case be out there backing the alibi for the entire mess on the George
Washington Bridge, not only backing alibi -- call it a coverup if you want
-- but saying the alibi -- this whole traffic study BS -- was his personal
idea?

Well, tonight, we`ve got the reasons why police officers and their union
boss would be playing footsie with the governor`s office, why they`d be not
only carrying out the mayhem on the bridge themselves but coming up with a
big, fat excuse for it.

It has to do with the reach of the New Jersey governor and his willingness
to play especially nice with the police attending the George Washington
Bridge, how he promised to give them a huge new piece of pie, jurisdiction
over the rebuild (ph) New York World Trade Center over in Manhattan.

Well, tonight, why the far better paid Port Authority police got to big-
foot the New York metropolitan police, New York`s finest.

We`re joined by two reporters from New Jersey, Melissa Hayes, who`s with
the Bergen "Record," and Mark Magyar, who`s with NJSpotlight.com.

Mark, thank you. Melissa, you first. Tell me about this whole story about
Nunziato, the head of the union. He`s out there from the beginning not
only defending this so-called traffic study, but then he`s calling it
garbage when Patrick Foye was the whistleblower here on -- the director of
the bridge commission, who come out and said, Wait a minute, there was no
traffic study, he says, Oh, that`s all garbage.

Why do we have the police union so intricately involved in covering for the
governor, Chris Christie?

MELISSA HAYES, BERGEN "RECORD": It`s a huge question we`re trying to get
an answer to. I mean, there`s been a lot said about this police union
having been the group that endorsed Christie very early on. They were
actually the second union to endorse him, and they cited his support of
their union, as you just mentioned, keeping them in control of patrolling
the World Trade Center.

Nunziato at that endorsement event also cited not letting the police
officers, the boots on the ground, so to speak, be replaced with
technology. So there`s definitely some sort of relationship there.

We don`t know why specifically Nunziato was out there saying that this was
actually a traffic study and that he called for it. He hasn`t taken our
calls, at least, on this question.

MATTHEWS: Well, the fact is, he not only called it a traffic study, which
doesn`t look to be the case at all, but he also said it was garbage, a load
of garbage, when Foye, the whistleblower here, said it was all nonsense,
there was no -- why would he go so far as to trash the people who
whistleblew?

HAYES: You know, I don`t know if it`s just part of him sticking by the
story, or if this is just another attack on Foye. I mean, we know that the
New Jersey appointees were upset that Foye`s letter saying that there was
no traffic study -- or at least he didn`t know about a traffic study at the
time that that what was being told to the media -- that they were upset
that that letter got out.

So we really don`t know if Nunziato is part of this effort to say that
there really was a traffic study or if there`s more to it. We really have
to hear from him, I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, it turns out that the head of the Port Authority police
union, Mr. Nunziato -- Paul Nunziato, as I mentioned, has a political dog
in this fight. That`s Bill Baroni. Back in November, when Baroni tried to
convince New Jersey lawmakers that the whole bridge saga was the result of
an innocent traffic study, as I said, an important part of his alibi was
Nunziato at the Port Authority police union, saying that it was his idea to
look at those Fort Lee traffic lanes. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BARONI, FMR. DEPUTY EXEC. PORT AUTHORITY: At some point in late July,
members of the Port Authority police spoke to David Wildstein. So it was
triggered by a conversation in late July.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: Who were these police
officers that raised the issue that we ought to look at this?

BARONI: The leadership of the Port Authority police.

WISNIEWSKI: Names?

BARONI: Paul Nunziato, the president of the Port Authority PBA, Mike
DeFillipis, the delegate who worked on the George Washington Bridge.

WISNIEWSKI: So the head of the Port Authority PBA raised this as an issue?

BARONI: That`s correct. That`s correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I love the reporter laughing at that account. Anyway, when
reporters asked Nunziato about Baroni`s comments in December, he backed
Baroni up saying, quote, "Yes, I suggested studying traffic patterns." We
should note that you`ve yet to see any documented evidence of that fact,
despite a subpoena, and despite the fact that it`s now been three months
since Baroni`s discredited testimony.

So here`s the question. Nunziato says, It was all my idea. It was garbage
to say otherwise. There really was a traffic study. I`m protecting the
governor here. But don`t ask me for any papers because I`ve been
subpoenaed twice and I`m not participating here.

Anyway, the conversation with reporters there, Nunziato didn`t just try to
back up Baroni`s alibi, he also took aim at the Port Authority appointee,
Patrick Foye, the whistleblower here, the executive director who first
sniffed out the bogus lane closures and ordered them lifted and sent a
scathing e-mail to Baroni and Wildstein, which raised numerous concerns
about the unauthorized, quote, "study," close quote.

Nunziato characterized those concerns as a, quote, "load of garbage"
despite the fact that at the time, lawmakers were aggressively
investigating the matter. And days after Nunziato`s comments, Wildstein
resigned, followed by Baroni who resigned.

So there was serious trouble here, Mark, serious problems, two top guys all
resign, the- all of them Governor Christie`s guys. And in the midst of all
this, the police union guy sticks by the governor. And I`m trying to
figure out what I couldn`t figure out on Monday, when police officers up on
the bridge, who are supposed to protect people, are going car to car
telling people, Blame this on the mayor of Fort Lee, Sokolich. Don`t blame
it on us, blame it on the mayor.

This seems so political for police ask, and now to find that -- see in
retrospect how the police union boss was also working for the interests of
the governor here. So all of a sudden, a very politicized behavior by not
just the rank and file police up on the bridge, but by the union boss, all
working in the interests, at least, of the governor.

How do you explain it, except there must be another end (ph) to this?
Could it be that the fact the guys in the union have been extended (ph) in
terms of -- the governor apparently is increasing the number of cops from
1,500 to 2,000. They`re the highest paid police force around. They make
much more than the New York police. And now they`re being guaranteed the
right to police the new World Trade Center building. So they`re getting a
lot more jurisdiction, a lot more -- well, a hell of a lot more union dues
and a lot more membership. Your thoughts. All because of Governor
Christie, apparently. Your thoughts.

MARK MAGYAR, NJSPOTLIGHT.COM: Right. Right, if -- right, if you look at
it, back in -- back January of 2013, when this union endorsed Governor
Christie, they said that it was because Christie was protecting their jobs
at the World Trade Center and protecting their jobs patrolling (INAUDIBLE)
airport perimeters.

By the time that -- of the Port Authority lane -- lane closures of the
George Washington Bridge occurred, there were already 200 additional Port
Authority police officers in police training, with 300 more on the way to
start in January. So clearly, the Port Authority police union owed
Governor Christie in a major way for their jobs.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think -- I think if you increase the number of people by
500, as you mentioned, and you increase all those union dues, the union
boss loves this, of course -- what union boss -- by the way, they`re doing
better than most unions in this country right now. They`re getting this
increased jurisdiction. They`re getting well paid. Apparently, they make
over 100,000 bucks per -- per officer, which is fine.

MAGYAR: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: But it`s a lot more than New York City cops make, and Philly
cops and other cops. And in addition to that, they got the governor on
their side.

Now, here`s the question. Let me go back to Melissa on this. Why would
the governor, a Republican, get the endorsement of a union? Most unions, I
guess with the exception of firefighters, tend to be Democratic-leaning, at
least in history. They had backed McGreevey, the former governor. You
know, they had backed Corzine, the most recent governor. And all of a
sudden, they leap over and they back Christie.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? How did Christie get to be the
most popular governor --

(CROSSTALK)

MAGYAR: Governor Christie worked very, very hard to attract union
endorsements. The Port Authority police union was, like, actually, the
second union to endorse Christie. The Laborers were first. The Laborers
endorsed Christie because he supported (INAUDIBLE) jobs through the
Transportation Trust Fund.

The Port Authority police union was important because Christie was not
going to get the backing of police and firefighter unions in New Jersey
because of the pension bill that he passed with Senate President Sweeney.
So his only opportunity, really, to get a major endorsement from a police
union was to get the Port Authority --

MATTHEWS: I got you.

MAGYAR: -- police officers.

(CROSSTALK)

MAGYAR: But bear in mind that Wildstein and Nunziato, according to
Nunziato, met almost on a daily basis. Wildstein is a guy who, when he was
at Politicker -- PolitickerNJ.com said, Don`t give me any policy stories,
just write about politics. I`m sure they spent a lot of time talking about
politics.

And what Christie was attempting to do was to demonstrate to Republicans on
a national basis going into 2016 hat he can attract other constituency --
other constituencies, African-Americans, Hispanics and unions.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to a big conflict here. I want to go back to
Melissa. Here`s a huge conflict. If the police on the bridge are blaming
all this mess that we`ve been talking about for these weeks -- all this
mess on the mayor of Fort Lee, which was apparently the political vendetta
at work here, get it all blamed on him because he`s a holdout, or whatever
they`re after him for -- maybe he didn`t back the guy for reelection, or
whatever, but they`re after him.

And yet you have the head of the police union, who these guys all report
to, who`s also sweet with Wildstein, saying, Oh, no. Oh, no, it`s not
about getting the mayor of Fort Lee. This is about a traffic study.

So which is it? Are we to believe, if anybody watching this show can
believe it, that the head of the union believed one thing, this was all a
legitimate traffic study, it was totally clean, when meanwhile, his rank
and file are all to the last man and woman out on the bridge these four
days or five days -- it came up to five days -- all saying, Oh, blame the
mayor of Fort Lee?

So which is it, a vendetta or a clean effort to find out traffic
information? And if there`s a difference, then Nunziato has gotten -- is
completely out to lunch because he thought it was a traffic study, and his
cops said, This is a way to screw the mayor of Fort Lee. Who`s lying here?

HAYES: Well --

MATTHEWS: I believe the cops doing what they were told to do. Whatever
Nunziato`s saying here better square with the cops, and it doesn`t, and
that`s his problem right now.

HAYES: Well, I think that that`s why you have the legislative panel
looking into this and you now have Pat Foye, the executive director of the
Port Authority, asking their inspector general to look into the police
involvement in this, because we really don`t know who`s telling the truth
and what was going on.

We`ve heard a lot of people say that they don`t think that the police
officers would have just done this on their own, that they were probably
ordered to do this by somebody higher up the food chain, maybe even
somebody political --

MATTHEWS: Of course.

HAYES: -- like Wildstein --

MATTHEWS: I`ll make the judgment, Melissa. I`ll make the judgment. A
regular traffic cop who gets up in the morning, works his or her eight-hour
shift, isn`t thinking about how to screw different mayors. They`re
thinking about getting through the day without an accident and keeping
people safely moving quickly across the bridge.

That`s what they`re thinking about, unless some higher-up says, Get in
those car windows, lean your head in and say, Blame the mayor. Are you
frustrated? First of all, I love that part. Are you frustrated? Well,
then blame the mayor of Fort Lee.

That`s the political message, and the fact that that can be relayed down to
the rank and file police officer in those four days and not go through the
head of the union, who`s had all these relationships with Wildstein,
apparently, a thousand phone calls a week or whatever they had together, is
impossible to believe.

Anyway, thank you, Melissa Hayes. Thank you, Mark Magyar, for coming on.

Coming up: Republicans like Rand Paul hope that by going back to the `90s
and whacking Bill Clinton again, they can help take down Hillary Clinton in
the process. They better not count on that one.

Also, the Republican Party`s Ted Nugent problem. Why would the leading GOP
candidate for governor of Texas embrace the race-bating hate speech of a
veteran rock singer? And it`s not just Greg Abbott when it comes to this
birther business. Republicans can`t seem to say no to it.

Plus, it`s one thing for Republicans to oppose the health care law, but
down in Arkansas, Republicans are now going out of their way to sabotage
it, to take benefits away from people who just got them.

And which prominent senator is being challenged not because he`s too
liberal or conservative but because his opponent says he looks too much
like a turtle?

Well, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: One of the biggest Tea Party targets of 2014 is Senator Thad
Cochran of Mississippi, and the six-term Republican isn`t helping himself
with the right-wing base. Here`s what he told TV reporters earlier this
week about the Tea Party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: Tea Party, you know, is something I
don`t really know a lot about. And it`s a free country. We have open
opportunities for people to participate in the election process --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Cochran is facing a well-financed Tea Party
primary challenger, who jumped all over Cochran`s comments there as
evidence the senator has lost touch with conservatives.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. And welcome back to the 1990s. At
least, that`s what it seems like. The latest Republican attack on the
Clintons is a very old one, a rehashing of Monica Lewinsky and all the
impeachment drama or melodrama.

Rand Paul kicked it off with his talk of Bill Clinton as "the predator."
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: He took advantage of a girl that was 20
years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that. And
that is predatory behavior.

-- predator, a sexual predator, basically, repetitive. You know, there`s
dozens, or at least a half a dozen public women have come forward. Some of
them did sue (INAUDIBLE)

I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or
have a fund-raiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they
should give the money back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, conservatives jumped aboard quickly. Republican National
Committee chair Reince Priebus has been tweeting about the `90s a lot
lately. Last week, he wrote, quote, "Remember all the Clinton scandals?
That`s what America needs again?" That`s not what we need again, of
course. And, quote, "Scandal and controversy are the Clintons` only
consistent policy. Sign up and help keep them out of the White House."
Well, the tweet links to an online petition.

Meanwhile, the conservative "National Review" wrote in an editorial, quote,
"The Clintons are our national grotesques."

And last night, FOX News contributed to the feeling of deja vu,
interviewing Kathleen Willey, the woman who said the president fondled her
in his office back in `98. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN WILLEY, SAYS BILL CLINTON GROPED HER: Hillary Clinton is the war
on women! And I think that she needs to be exposed for all of the terror
campaigns that she has waged against women who were in the wrong place at
the wrong time with her husband.


(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was actually 1998 she made the claim.

Anyway, the hope on the right seems to be to dirty Bill Clinton a little
bit and muddy up Hillary in the process.

Howard Fineman`s editorial director for the HuffingtonPost, and of course,
David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." Both are MSNBC
political analysts.

Gentlemen, I -- I want to talk about this sheerly (ph) -- not right or
wrong, is this smart? And the question is, is it smart to muss up Bill
Clinton as he goes out campaigning? I assume he`s going to go to places
like New Hampshire, where he`s very popular, Arkansas, obviously, the South
generally, but where it takes away some of his ability to give character
witness -- it seems to me that`s their goal -- for local candidates, say,
This guy`s really smart. This guy`s great. Believe me, he`s great.

Can he still do that as effectively with Rand Paul out there calling him a
predator?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, they -- Bill Clinton`s had one of the more successful post-
presidencies in modern times. He`s got the Clinton Foundation --

MATTHEWS: His numbers are great.

FINEMAN: His numbers are great. He`s very popular --

MATTHEWS: He`s up there with Kennedy and Reagan.

FINEMAN: Yes. He has built himself a tremendous reputation, much better,
actually, than when he left office. And what the Republicans are doing is
trying to chip away at that. They`re trying to cut his numbers so he has
less effectiveness in the places that you mentioned, including Kentucky,
where he`s going to campaign next week for the Democratic candidate in the
Senate race that he basically chose.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: I mean, that`s his candidate.

And so for the Republicans, for 2014, they want to make him less effective
in the Senate races and the gubernatorial races.

MATTHEWS: Will it work?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, OK. You`re a local reporter -- you`re a national
reporter.

FINEMAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: But suppose the local reporter from a local network affiliate
walks up to him. You know what they will do. We were talking about, the
producers, all -- you can`t resist it. Some local guy or woman will go up
and say, what about that charge from Senator Rand Paul you`re a sexual
predator?

FINEMAN: Well, of course.

MATTHEWS: That immediately makes the local news that night.

FINEMAN: Well, that`s exactly -- that`s one reason why Rand Paul is doing
what he is doing in advance of Bill Clinton going back down to Kentucky.

MATTHEWS: It certainly works in Kentucky.

FINEMAN: And it probably will work in some other places in the short-term.
Long term, it is not going to work. The 90s are history.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Interesting point in these pollings I -- polls I talk about. I
do believe in polls. They`re not always right, but they damn well give the
impression.

When you ask people who -- whether they approve or disapprove of someone`s
presidency, not whether you like them today or yesterday, did you like his
presidency, Bill Clinton is so far up on that list, right behind Kennedy,
the martyred president, and Reagan, who everybody on the right says is
their president, right, so he gets most of that vote, right up there
because they are not asking, do you think anything about him?

Did you think he did a good job? And he was really popular on that front
back then, with all the Monica mess.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the `90s pre-bubble
was considered a time of economic growth. And people remember that that,
particularly before the Bush presidency and the mess in Iraq and so on.

So I think Bill Clinton`s presidency, as well as Bill Clinton himself have
very positive impressions, and that the whole business with Monica
Lewinsky, as sordid as it was, has been processed. It is nothing new and
that there are people out there, the Clinton bashers of the `90 and the
Clinton bashers of 2014, who are going to raise that. They`re going to
raise Whitewater.

Kathleen Willey not only said that Clinton groped her. But she suggested
that the Clintons had something to do with the death of her husband and
even the death of her cats. So, they`re really starting to dredge up all
the old muck again. And as they did in the `90s when the anti-Clintonites
-- Clintonites overplayed their hands with impeachment, they are on the
verge again of doing the same thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but let`s talk about the way you do things in politics,
though.

Democrats from 1932 through probably 1960-something ran against Herbert
Hoover.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They didn`t stop.

FINEMAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I will probably not forget W.`s taking against into war with
Iraq for many decades. I don`t think I will ever outlive that one.

And after the Civil War, the Republicans ran for 30 or 40 years on the
bloody shirt. The damned Democrats fought for the Confederacy, right?

CORN: Right.

MATTHEWS: When does it run out of steam politically that Bill Clinton got
impeached, got impeached?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it has long since run out of steam. And their
attempt to revive it is probably going to fail, except within their own
self-reinforcing world.

MATTHEWS: He is also not running again.

FINEMAN: He is not running again.

As David said, the memories of the `90s in terms of the economy, which is
after all what matters most, are glowing. And his post-presidency has been
good. They are also going after him because he is the most important guy
in the Democratic Party right now operationally. Barack Obama to some
extent is on the sidelines.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Bill Clinton is out there organizing at the grassroots level,
raising money, finding candidates. He is the titular head of the
Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re -- there is an old phrase.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Adlai Stevenson -- I love that. What is the relevance of all
this now? Well, if Hillary Clinton runs for president, here was Reince
Priebus -- I just love this guy`s name -- with Andrea Mitchell last week.
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Is that a
legitimate issue, rehashing the `90s, if Hillary Clinton becomes a
candidate for president?

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think everything
is on the table. I don`t see how someone just gets a pass on anything, I
mean, especially in today`s politics. So I think we`re going to have a
truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton. And -- and -- and
some things may be old and some things might be new.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. We got a truckload.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- of opposition research.

If that is what they got sitting in their wagon or their truck back at
Reince Priebus`s house, why did they go after Bill Clinton? I doubt they
have anything on Hillary Clinton, but the fact that -- why would he say
something so ridiculous?

CORN: Well, I think the goal here is to make Hillary Clinton about the
past.

It`s a cliche in politics that voters care more about the future than the
past. If you make a candidate, tie them to the past, rightfully or
wrongfully, it sort of puts a drag on them. So their idea is to say, oh,
Clinton old news, old scandals, old takes, old allegations. It doesn`t
matter if the allegations had nothing to them at the time.

Back in the `90s, Jerry Falwell, the leader of the moral majority, and
others were pitching documentaries, videos that literally accused the
Clintons of having --

MATTHEWS: The Clinton chronicles.

CORN: Of killing dozens of people to cover up their corruptions.

And so it doesn`t matter that stuff was all patently false, even though it
was supported by Republicans. They`re going to keep throwing that stuff
out, I think not just to slow down Bill Clinton, but to sort of make
Hillary Clinton seem like a candidate of the past, of a tainted, tawdry,
soap opera-like past that nobody wants to --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If you are so smart, OK, you`re Bill Clinton, the best
politician of our lifetime, all right, big times, little times, face-to-
face, and big crowds on television, everything he is good at.

Some local reporter, a wise guy -- not a wise guy, doing their job, let`s
do it to you, Kentucky, Louisville, he`s there in a week. Mr. President, I
hate to ask the question, but what do you think about the charge of our
senator here that you are a sexual predator?

What does he say?

FINEMAN: He says, let`s talk about the future and let`s not go over the
`90s.

And I agree this --

MATTHEWS: He can say that?

CORN: Yes, sure.

FINEMAN: Yes. Yes.

And this presents an opening to the Clintons, if Reince Priebus and Rand
Paul want to talk about the 1990s. We, the Clintons, want to talk about
the 21st century. We have lived a long life. We have great experience.
We want to use all of that to the greater good of the 21st century.

MATTHEWS: You know what I think good old Clinton will say? I did
something very wrong. I`m apologizing. I will continue to apologize for
it for the rest of my life. It was wrong. Let`s talk about the future.

FINEMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: He will, first of all, take the thing on his shoulders. He
won`t -- he won`t doff it.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman and David Corn.

Up next: the most bizarre reason yet to oppose Mitch McConnell.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Actor Kevin Spacey continued his publicity tour for "House of Cards" with
an appearance on "The Daily Show" last night. And despite playing a
politician on the show, it turns out Spacey doesn`t think very highly of
them, politicians, in real life.

Here is what he had to say to Jon Stewart about the lawmakers who actually
serve in Congress these days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: I don`t believe them. I don`t believe what they say.
I don`t believe they are being absolutely sincere. I think it is
performance art. And most of them are bad actors.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": They are bad actors.
That`s what is so weird.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: Did you ever see -- would they ever drop the facade? Was there
ever a moment -- do you think it was a performance for your benefit or are
they lying to themselves and each other?

SPACEY: Mmm. Mmm.

(LAUGHTER)

SPACEY: I think, often, the delusion is very deep. It runs very deep.

STEWART: They believe in their hearts what they are saying.

SPACEY: Except for the ones that they are full of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that is a hell of generalization about 435 people.

Anyway, next up: It has become silly season in the Texas Republican
primary race for Senate. As we have seen, Steve Stockman`s campaign has
had its fair share of embarrassing moments, but now there is another --
another lesser known challenger to incumbent John Cornyn who is getting
reptilic.

His name is Dwayne Stovall. And he has released a campaign ad that attacks
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell because he says McConnell looks like a
turtle. No kidding. Have a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWAYNE STOVALL (R), REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: As a U.S. senator
from Texas, you vote for Texas. You don`t stab her in the back by voting
for cloture on Obamacare. You don`t enslave its children with
unconstitutional laws and overwhelming debt.

And you certainly don`t do all to please some guy that looks and fights
like a turtle.

I`m a Texan. We Texans don`t need a Beltway turtle telling us how to
fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like turtle soup.

STOVALL: Really?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s pretty embarrassing for all involved.

Finally, it`s not every day that you get a personal apology from a
president. But that is exactly what happened to an art history professor
who took issue with a casual joke President Obama made at a jobs event last
month.

Here was the comment in question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I promise you, folks can
make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than
they might with an art history degree.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree. I love art history.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So, I don`t want to get a bunch of e-mails from everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, you asked for it. As President Obama predicted, his
remark triggered some backlash and it prompted University of Texas art
history professor Ann Johns to write the White House.

To her amazement, however, she got a handwritten reply from the president,
who had this to say -- quote -- "Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff
remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art
history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in
high school and has helped me take on a great deal of joy -- take in a
great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed."

We will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Craig Melvin. Here`s what is
happening right now.

Ukraine`s president and leaders of the country`s opposition movement have
agreed on a truce, hoping to end violence that has left 26 dead so far.
However, tonight, protests in Kiev`s Independence Square continue.

Back here, federal authorities are urging airlines to be on alert for
explosives hidden in shoes. The threat is related to overseas flights
headed to the U.S.

And Facebook is making its biggest acquisition yet. It`s buying mobile
messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock -- back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been said more than once that you are known by the company you keep.
And for some Republicans, the company they keep is becoming a problem, like
the company of Ted Nugent. In January, that`s this January, the aging
rocker and gun advocate had this to say about the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN: I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if
not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago,
communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured, subhuman mongrel
like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel
his way into the top office of authority of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And where was Mr. Nugent yesterday? Well, he was campaigning
for Republican front-runner for Texas. That`s Greg Abbott, who is running
for governor down there.

Nugent made two stops with Abbott yesterday and gave him this rousing
introduction down in Denton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUGENT: We don`t have to question Greg Abbott`s courage, because he
invited me here today.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NUGENT: I am so proud to be here today in Denton, Texas, to introduce the
next governor that will make sure America knows what freedom looks like.
And it looks like Greg Abbott, my friend Greg Abbott.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Abbott and Costello maybe politically.

Anyway, what sort of Republican coalition is Greg Abbott trying to forge
here?

To answer that question is Kathleen Parker, syndicated writer for many
newspapers, Eugene Robinson, "The Washington Post" columnist. Both are
MSNBC political analysts.

And I read both of them, by the way, in "The Washington Post."

Gene, it wasn`t until the word ACORN was used that I was absolutely
convinced. I thought it was a general racial diatribe against all people
you don`t like. And then I thought ACORN suggested a particular African-
American connection here.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I knew where he was -- where he
was headed all along.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Ted Nugent.

ROBINSON: I mean, offensive doesn`t cut it.

MATTHEWS: Why is there -- let`s talk politics, not the fact that there are
some people in this country that don`t like different kinds of people.

But why would a guy running for governor who is apparently the front-runner
in a state that probably is going to elect a Republican -- they tend to do
it, although Wendy Davis is going to him a fight -- hang out with this guy,
show up with him a couple of times yesterday after he just said that last
month?

ROBINSON: Well, I would argue that it is not a good idea, to tell you --
even in Texas. There are some, fortunately, fringe voters who really get
excited by that sort of thing.

But Texas is a big, complicated --

MATTHEWS: But you`re making their case. If you are a Republican on the --
and you are appealing to the far right, you want to get everybody over
there, don`t you?

ROBINSON: Well, but -- you want to get everybody over there, but you --
but Texas is a big, complicated, cosmopolitan state.

It generally goes Republican, but it is becoming, if not purple -- it is
getting a bit of that taint to it. And I would think, if I were running as
Republican in Texas, I would be careful not to accelerate that process.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know. What do you think?

KATHLEEN PARKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think --

MATTHEWS: I mean, I don`t think this guy is -- Abbott must be smart.
People say -- you think he`s smart, I think, because he knows what he is
doing.

PARKER: I think Eugene is being way too nice here. And I am sure that Mr.
Abbott deeply regrets bringing Ted Nugent on.

I do take him at his word that he may not have known some of these previous
comments that Nugent has made. They`re horrible. They`re misogynistic.

MATTHEWS: When did he begin to be --

ROBINSON: How would you not know, though?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: When did he begin to be -- you say he regrets. He did it
yesterday. Did he begin to regret it at 11:00 last night, at 2:00 in the
morning? When did the regret set in?

(CROSSTALK)

PARKER: As soon as somebody said -- well, I --

MATTHEWS: Oh, then somebody else noticed it.

PARKER: I don`t know this man, by the way, but I have heard from people
who do that he is a thoroughly decent guy. He had somebody on his staff
said, look, everybody loves Ted Nugent in this part of the world, don`t
mess with Texas world, and so they brought him on.

MATTHEWS: OK. What did he mean? What did he mean when he said, this guy
has got courage because he brought me in here? He was chuckling about the
fact he was making offensive statements recently, and the guy still brought
him in. It was part of the scene.

PARKER: I think it was a terrible mistake. Someone will be fired.

MATTHEWS: You say it is a mistake.

PARKER: But -- yes, but let me also say --

MATTHEWS: I agree. No.

(CROSSTALK)

PARKER: I think Republicans have a problem in associating themselves with
people like Nugent. I mean, he is one of a kind surely. But nonetheless,
there are people who do certain things, say certain things and represent
certain things, that they still invite to the table and they need to
separate themselves.

MATTHEWS: Before we separate, you have to figure out where to draw the
line, Gene. Texas is packed with these people, Louie Gohmert, Stockman,
Farenthold, I have this guy, Farenthold, elected congressman, they will not
say the president was legitimately elected right here on the show. They
play this birther card.

Look, Rafael Cruz, the father who campaigns for the son. Anyway, Texas
Republicans have made a mission of delegitimizing the president. And the
president`s first term, more than half of the cosponsors of the so-called
birther bill. There they are, where from Texas, including Louie Gohmert,
and Randy Neugebauer.

Just last week on HARDBALL, we pointed out the incendiary language of Texas
Senator Ted Cruz`s father who campaigns for his son. Rafael Cruz is part
of his son`s political team, his number one surrogate.

Here`s Rafael. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAFAEL CRUZ, SEN. CRUZ`S FATHER: We have our work cut out for us. We need
to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. I`d like to send him back to Kenya,
back to Indonesia.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: When they begin to prune the unwanted friendships, to people
they don`t like, Kathleen, back you -- where do they start? Louie Gohmert,
with Stockman, with Farenthold? There`s a lot of guys close to the Ted
Nugent that you may not like.

PARKER: Did I not say that? No, I think they have to start cleaning up
their house.

MATTHEWS: They elected these characters.

PARKER: Yes, well --

MATTHEWS: Ha!

PARKER: Ted Cruz, by the way, used to work for Abbott. So, just throw
that in.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

PARKER: It is just an interesting tidbit.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You and I both are from South
Carolina. I would put our right wing crazies up against any state`s right
wing crazies, per capita, pound for pound.

PARKER: My friends at home have friends at other Southern states. They
have a contest. OK, we beat you this time.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You have a great sense of humor, Gene. You grew up in the worst
part of this Jim Crow stuff. I just think that it`s politically smarter
than we like to admit.

I think what they are saying is, there is a great advantage in the
Republican Party today no matter what your own heart says, to grab that
hard right rail. You don`t want anybody to the right of you because
they`ll be saying you`re part of the establishment.

So, one way to do it is associate with these wackos because they are making
a statement. Nobody gets to the right of me.

ROBINSON: Yes. Well, look, I laugh because this is -- this is not new.
This has been going on with President Obama since before he was elected,
right? The whole birther thing, the whole Kenyan, anti-colonialism.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Dinesh D`Souza.

ROBINSON: I mean, the effort to make him the other, the dark other, whom
we are afraid of. And that has been, you know, a central sort of appeal to
oppose Obama that Republican Party, I think, mistakenly has --

MATTHEWS: Gene, I`m (INAUDIBLE) like you. I`m a white guy but I am
optimistic about this country. And you are, too. I know, Kathleen, you`re
friend of mine.

This country voted for Barack Obama knowing exactly who he is.

ROBINSON: Twice.

MATTHEWS: In fact, North Carolina voted for him. Virginia voted for him.
A lot of people in the South voted for him, even not the majority, but a
hell of a lot of people voted for him, saying he is the best guy to be
president. That`s what they thought. They are still making those
judgments.

But there`s this back wash. Anyway, here`s somebody else trying to fight
this story. Here is Wendy Davis, who is fighting heroically for governor
of Texas, on the Democratic side. She condemned Greg Abbott`s campaign
with Ted Nugent. Maybe she can make an issue of this.

Quote, "Greg Abbott`s embrace of Ted Nugent is an insult to every Texan,
every man, woman, husband and father. If this is Greg Abbott`s idea of
values, it`s repulsive."

Abbott addressed criticism of his joint appearance with Nugent by saying,
"It`s better than being associated with President Obama. He told "The
Dallas Morning News", quote, "She represents," that`s Davis, "the
liberalism of Barack Obama that is so bad for Texas. This effect by
relationship they want to trump up that is a game that will be a detriment
to the Davis campaign because of their ties to Barack Obama."

PARKER: Well, I think we are about to see a nasty fight it looks like.
But, you know, the thing is, I bet I`m just -- Nugent makes sense in Texas
if you don`t know all of those other awful things that he has said, the
comments that you have already played because he -- I think to most people
he is just that crazy, wild and crazy rock and roll guy who loves the
Second Amendment and he loves to hunt and blah, blah, blah. And that`s --
they are trying to appeal to that part of the population.

Now, I think Abbott is going to have to really distance himself. I think
it is a big mistake on his part to have responded as he did without the
knowledge that he is about to learn.

MATTHEWS: Gene?

ROBINSON: No, I mean, you know, if that`s the kind of contest Abbott wants
to set up, it`s fine. But I think it`s a mistake. Look at the
demographics of Texas, maybe not this election. But in two or three
elections, Texas is going to be a blue state.


MATTHEWS: Gene, I love your optimism. I`m waiting for the first birther
to lose. They don`t lose.

Anyway, thank you, Kathleen Parker. And thank you, Eugene Robinson.

PARKER: They don`t?

MATTHEWS: Donald Trump stopped saying, credit to Donald if he stops saying
it. But he was saying it for a while and people loved it on his crowd.

Up next, Republicans are not just trying to stop the president`s health
care law. In some cases, they are trying to take away benefits from people
who just got them.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Sabotage in Arkansas. How Republicans are trying to take health
care away from people who just got it.

HARDBALL, back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

How desperate are some Republicans to make sure that as few people as
possible benefit from the health care law? Well, down in Arkansas, they
are actually moving to take new health care benefits away from nearly
100,000 low income people who just got them. And here`s what`s happening -
- Republicans in the state legislature are moving to eliminate health
coverage for 96,000 working people and what the "National Journal" referred
to as a Ted Cruz-style government shutdown.

The Arkansas state house has blocked funding for the program all together.

Just watch State Representative Bruce Westerman yesterday on the House
floor down there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE REP. BRUCE WESTERMAN (R), ARKANSAS: There are people in this
building who have said Obamacare is not our fight, that we here in the
small state legislature do not have the power to fight this tougher battle.
I challenge that notion. Is Arkansas going to be an enabler for Obamacare
and the Washington, D.C. interest who see to impose the rule upon us? Or
are we going to hold the line on behalf of the people of Arkansas in
opposition to this dreadful law?

There`s no doubt in my mind that the White House and the entire Obama
administration is marching today`s vote in hope that we will be enablers so
that they can continue to foist Obamacare`s many flaws on the people of
Arkansas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: In other words, these Republicans only go as to hijack and kill
the president`s law at any opportunity they get, even if it hurts the
people they supposed to represent.

Blanche Lincoln is, of course, the former United States senator from
Arkansas, and Andrew DeMillo, is, of course, the Little Rock capitol
correspondent for "The Associated Press." Not of course, but he is.

Let me go to Senator Lincoln. It seems to me that there`s kind of a
Manichaean (ph), meaning a black and white struggle going on down in
Arkansas and other parts of the country. It`s like it`s abortion or
something. It`s something that they see purely as evil, these people on
the right. And therefore, anything they do to stop it, if they can kill
Obamacare, deny it for people who already got it, anything goes.

BLANCHE LINCOLN (D-AR), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It`s sad because what we
really need people to do is look at what needs to happen. We need the
expansion of coverage that Affordable Care Act provides us to get healthier
populations so that we can bring down the cost of health care in this
country, as a percentage of our GDP. And that`s what we`ve done here.
When we were working on the Affordable Care Act, it was far from perfect.
There`s no doubt.

But the fact is, when people said they didn`t want an expansion of
Medicaid. And I said, well, you know what you can do, you can put it into
the exchange and you can --

MATTHEWS: Well, they did that. Now, they`re trying to kill.

LINCOLN: And I know, and you can --

MATTHEWS: They don`t want anything.

LINCOLN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Andrew.

Andrew, it seems like, I know you`re a straight reporter. Help me with the
facts here.

It seems to me, if you listen to that Phil Westerfield, or whatever his
name is, Westerman, the state legislature, he`s basically saying, Obamacare
is evil. I`m going to take any step I have to kill it. I can do it right
here in Arkansas.

ANDREW DEMILLO, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. And, Chris, this is an issue
that`s really actually divided Republicans here. Here, you know, some of
the biggest champions and advocates for this compromise Medicaid expansion
which is known as the private option are Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Right.

DEMILLO: The Republican House speaker, Republican Senate president, and
the architects of this were actually Republican legislators, and it`s
sharply divided them, especially if they`re heading into primary season
where Republicans in Arkansas made gains primarily by running against the
health care law. You know, it`s an issue that --

MATTHEWS: It`s an issue. Let`s talk right now, Andrew, what`s going on
right now, you have to help me with the reporting, they`re trying to take
away from 96,000 people. These are people made just above the poverty
line, people benefiting from this new approach down there to help people
above the poverty line, the working poor. That seems to me a pretty
dramatic step to take it away from somebody that just got it.

DEMILLO: Yes, and that`s something that supporters of the private option
have pointed out. You`ve got tens of thousands of people who are receiving
coverage. Some of whom for the first time ever, and if this is not
reauthorized, July 1st, that funding is cutoff, that coverage is cut off.

MATTHEWS: How are they going to vote?

DEMILLO: Today, the House, they failed to reauthorize. The House speaker
says they`ll vote every day until they pass it. The House is going to vote
on it again tomorrow, and also the state Senate is planning on voting on an
identical version of the bill.

The supporters are still confident that they`ll eventually get there. You
know, the difficulty they have is that it takes a higher vote margin
because this is the budget bill, even though you`ve already got a majority
of legislators on both sides of the capitol who already support this.

MATTHEWS: It seems to me, Senator, you can`t lose down there if you`re on
the hard right if you vote against Obama in any regard. Nobody reads the
fine print. As long as you hate Obama and hate everything he`s ever done,
you win.

LINCOLN: Well, it`s just so sad that we`ve gotten away from what public
service is about and that is to actually do things that are going to create
a greater quality of life for the people that you served.

And it`s not just those 100,000 that now have health insurance that didn`t
before, but look at that 50 percent -- almost 50 percent of those 100,000
are under 40 or under, which is the hardest group for us to get ensured.

So, not only are we getting the younger insured, but they are helping the
risk pool so that we do exactly what we want to do, and that is get more
people insured.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Is your state further right than it was with Bill Clinton
when he was governor? Elected five or six times down there. Has it moved
to the right?

LINCOLN: I think it has. And it`s unfortunate, but I think a lot of that
has to do with the fact that there`s -- you know, less retail politics and
more wholesale politics. So, they`re getting a lot more information and
input and all kinds of stuff from outside of the state as opposed to the
kind of retail politics that we`ve all logged and used to do.

MATTHEWS: Andrew, how do you see this coming out? Can you make a
prediction which way? Are they going to save those people, the working
poor, who have health care for the first time or not?

DEMILLO: The -- it`s hard to tell right now, the supporters seem a lot
more confident that they`re going to get there. I think the expectation is
that if it gets out of the Senate tomorrow, that may help with some
leverage in the House, which has been the sticking point over the past few
days.

MATTHEWS: Andrew DeMillo of "The Associated Press," thanks for joining us
from Little Rock.

And, Blanche Lincoln, a great friend to have on the show. Thank you.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

The haters are out there tonight down in Texas. This fellow calls the
president of the United States, elected twice by majorities, a Chicago
communist raised, communist educated, communist nurtured, subhuman mongrel,
an ACORN community organizer, gangster.

Well, it`s the same insolence you heard when that other guy yelled at "You
lie!" when the president was addressing a joint session of Congress. The
same you get from all those birthers like Louie Gohmert of Texas, those
still out there denying the president`s legitimacy, like Rafael Cruz, who
says we must send the president, quote, "back to Kenya", like the Texas
congressman I had on who just couldn`t bring himself to say Barack Obama
was legitimately elected president of the United States.

Like weeds, they come back every year. These politicians who think the
easy way to grab the hard right voter is to feed them a notion that the
president of the United States is a secret communist infiltrator from East
Africa.

Well, with spring coming, it might be a good idea for the voters of Texas
and elsewhere to begin doing what do with weeds -- pull them and throw them
where they belong, in the compost pile.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END

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