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updated 2/25/2014 11:32:15 AM ET 2014-02-25T16:32:15

HARDBALL
February 24, 2014

Guest: Michael Tomasky, Sherrod Brown, Ryan Grim, Michael Crowley, Simon
Marks

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Attack on Hillary.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. We`ll get to the bad politics in Ukraine
much later in the show. But let me start with the bad politics here in
this country.

Did you notice -- and this is certainly a nasty fact -- that the same hawks
who want a street fight, some exchange of trash talk with Russian president
Putin, who aren`t afraid at all to get the old cold war raging again, also
can`t quit that nasty little side war they`re fighting with Hillary
Clinton?

There they go again, blasting Secretary Clinton over Benghazi again this
weekend. Benghazi. It`s how they say "Remember the Alamo." It`s their
way of yelling, "Tora, tora, tora" or "Geronimo." What are they getting
at, that Hillary Clinton and everyone else on the Democratic side is a
traitor who runs and hides in the face of the enemy, who lets Americans
die, then lies about it?

I watched Susan Rice when she appeared on "MEET THE PRESS" in September of
2012. I watched her yesterday when she did it again. And unlike the hawks
pushing for trouble abroad and division at home, I also read the bipartisan
report of the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that what Rice said in
2012 about Benghazi carried the hard, difficult core of truth, that the
raid which killed our ambassador resulted from the attack that day in
Cairo, which resulted from that crazy anti-Islamic video produced by some
crazed right-winger out in California.

So why do John McCain and Darrell Issa and the rest keep yelling Benghazi?
Why do they like to how much they respect Hillary Clinton, especially her
work as secretary of state, and then continue to accuse her of cover-up,
going AWOL in the face of the enemy and God knows what else? Does Issa
truly believe that Hillary Clinton ordered American troops who could have
tried saving Ambassador Chris Stevens over in Libya to stand down? Why
would she do that to a friend? Stevens was her friend. Why would she
deliberately let him die?

What are you saying, Mr. Issa? What are you getting at, Senator McCain?
Do you or do you not accept it was the intelligence community that called
the attack on Benghazi the work of extremists, that it was the CIA itself,
let by Petraeus, that struck the word "al Qaeda" from its description of
the attack?

Which brings me to the partisan question. Is this all the Republicans
have? Is this their silver bullet to keep Hillary Clinton from the White
House? Is it this dishonest, over-the-top festering over Benghazi?

Alex Wagner is the host of "NOW" weekdays at 4:00 Eastern on MSNBC, and
she`s joining us right now. And David Corn is Washington bureau chief for
"Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst .

David, it is relentless. It`s continuing through this hour. We`re getting
it all day because of what happened yesterday on "MEET THE PRESS." I
looked at Susan Rice. I don`t know why she apologized at all. She said
she was right -- but in some ways, she wasn`t completely right -- on all
the essential points, why there was a Benghazi attack, copycat from Cairo,
why probably was there an attack on Cairo? Because of this crazy anti-
Islamic video that went viral.

Why don`t just they say, Damn it, we were right the first time, and keep
moving on?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think for the
Republicans and for John McCain, this has become almost a theological
issue.

MATTHEWS: It`s religion?

CORN: It doesn`t make sense if you sit down and go over the facts, as you
just did, and we can do over and over again. They will not change their
position. They came out and they really crucified Susan Rice for no good
reason. You know, she was talking about intelligence talking points that
had been put together by the CIA --

MATTHEWS: And she isn`t running for anything by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- going after her. Go ahead.

CORN: But when she was up for secretary of state, you know, McCain and
Lindsey Graham came out. They called her not qualified, not competent.
She was disconnected from reality. It was an ad hominem attack on a woman
who`s spent years doing public service, the type of public service that
John McCain says he`s proud of. You know, his campaign slogan, what was
it? "Country first." No, it`s not country first. It`s politics first.
Maybe it`s even, Get Hillary first over everything else.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, National Security Adviser Susan Rice was back on
"MEET THE PRESS" this weekend, and she told David Gregory she has no
regrets about what she said nearly 18 months ago in the aftermath of that
Benghazi attack. Let`s watch her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What I said to you that morning and
what I did in every day since was to share the best information that we had
at the time. The information I provided -- which I explained to you was
what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was
based on what we knew on that morning -- was provided to me and my
colleagues, and indeed to Congress, by the intelligence community. And
that`s been well validated in many different ways since.

And that information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent
correct. But the notion that somehow, I or anybody else in the
administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think
that that`s been amply demonstrated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What she meant by not 100 percent correct was that when she
first testified, you`ll hear, she said there was a demonstration that
turned into an attack. But all of it was a result, by all the best
estimates by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, of going back to
a copycat behavior by the crowds and the bad people, of course, who did
this horrible thing of killing our ambassador and his colleagues -- but all
that resulted from this crazy fervor of watching television and seeing what
happened in Cairo that same day, the same kind of assault, and that itself
was caused by this going viral of this crazy anti-Islamic tape.

Anyway, here`s what Susan Rice said five days after the Benghazi attack
when she was on "MEET THE PRESS" in September of 16 -- September 16th,
2012. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: Putting together the best information that we have available to us
today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in
fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours
before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our
facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we
think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements
came to the consulate as this was unfolding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, those comments sparked right wing charges of a cover-up.
The only problem is that we now know the substance of what Susan Rice said
right there was largely accurate. It was a copycat based originally on the
movie.

Anyway, start with her central assertion that the attack is believed to
have been a reaction to unfolding events initially set off by the anti-
Islamic video produced out in California, which was pretty much confirmed
last week by a bipartisan Senate report, as I said.

That committee, the bipartisan committee, found, quote, "Intelligence
suggested the attack was not a highly coordinated plot but was
opportunistic. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put
together in short order following that day`s violent protests in Cairo
against an inflammatory video."

So she`s right on her mark there in her early testimony in 2012. An
exhaustive "New York Times" report from back in December of 2013 also found
that, quote, "Contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled
in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam."

Well, the right wing also attacked Susan Rice for using the word
"extremists" instead of "terrorists." But that word choice came directly
from the intelligence community`s talking points. We know that now.

And they also attacked the administration for removing the words "al Qaeda"
from the talking point. Well, that was removed by the CIA headed by David
Petraeus. He`s the one that said, don`t say al Qaeda. According to that
Senate committee report, the reference to al Qaeda was removed to protect
intelligence sources and methods.

Alex, this seems to be not just a tempest in a teapot, but an attempt to
destroy the reputations of Susan Rice and to get at the person she was
speaking for that day, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who people
like John McCain always like to say how chummy they are with her. But here
they are accusing her of a cover-up. And worse than that, you know what
they`re implying, that somehow, she let (ph) -- to a stand-down in the
military, let her friend get killed. Your thoughts.

ALEX WAGNER, HOST, MSNBC "NOW": Yes, I agree with you, Chris. I think
that this has hurt Susan Rice insofar as it cost her the secretary of state
position. One could argue she still has a highly influential position in
the White House, but she paid a price for this. But that, apparently, is
not enough pain to extract from this administration if you are a
Republican.

I find the most disconcerting part of this -- you just laid out all the
actual facts behind this attack in Benghazi. You talked about a very
comprehensive reported piece by David Kirkpatrick in "The New York Times,"
which should settle any lingering doubts, a Senate committee finding.

What we now are dealing with is a group of conservatives in a Republican
Party for whom facts are fungible. And they will take any bit of data and
spin it any way they want, whether that`s data, economic data from the
Congressional Budget Office, whether that is a bipartisan Senate committee
finding, whether that is actual declassified intelligence from the
intelligence agencies themselves.

There is no agreed upon axis anymore, and that makes everything --

MATTHEWS: OK --

WAGNER: -- from deciding on economic policies to climate change to
national security incredibly difficult.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the hard part for me. I always have a mixed view
of John McCain for what he`s done for our country. His service to the
country is unassailable. But here he is -- not surprisingly, John McCain
has jumped in. He is not surprised with what Rice said yesterday on "MEET
THE PRESS." Let`s watch and -- look at the passion behind this guy. Here
he is, going after them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I`m almost speechless because it`s patently
obvious, first of all, that Susan Rice had no reason to be on the program.
She had no involvement on it. Second of all, she read talking points that
we are now beginning to believe came from the White House, which were
absolutely false. For Susan Rice to say such a thing, I think -- it`s a
little embarrassing, to tell you the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I think it`s embarrassing for Senator McCain not to do his
homework. He should know the facts are in and that Rice was right and
everybody was right here on the main points.

Anyway, meanwhile, this morning Republican strategist -- the guy who called
Ohio the wrong way -- Karl Rove, also took issue with Ambassador Rice. No
surprise. He gets paid to do it. Here he is. Let`s watch Rove in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH SR. ADVISER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: There are two things
wrong with this. One is the arrogance of the moment -- I have no regrets
about lying to the American people. And second of all, the continuing
stubbornness of this cover-up.

The attack happens on a Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, the Libyan
president is telling America this is a terrorist incident. By Sunday
morning, Susan Rice is picked out -- I feel sorry for her in a way. She
was a patsy! The American people deserve to have an answer. Who concocted
the scheme? Who briefed Susan Rice?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we know all the answers. The answer was the CIA told her
what to say. General David Petraeus, who`s beloved on the right -- and
maybe he should be -- but he`s beloved on the right -- David Petraeus wrote
these talking points, said, Don`t say al Qaeda, don`t say terrorist, say
extremists.

And by the way, this is what happened. It started in California. It
worked its way through Cairo and ended up in Benghazi, all the facts on the
table, asserted to by bipartisan sources, not just "The New York Times," as
you mentioned, Alex, but the Senate bipartisan committee. It`s all in.
And they keep acting like they do on evolution, like they do on climate
change. They play these games of, Well, we don`t know, or --

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: -- facts. There are still questions. There are still questions.
Listen, the guy who served President WMD should have no cause to question
anyone --

MATTHEWS: The "architect."

CORN: -- about -- you know, about the accuracy of the information
presented because when it comes to what Susan Rice said, it was far closer
to the mark than anything they said about Iraq before the war.

And Senator McCain -- he really needs to sit down and read the e-mails that
came out last spring that you and I pored over, that everyone else has
pored over, before he starts saying that the White House is behind these
talking points.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to the religious part of this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to get to the religion. Alex, do some anthropology for
me here. Why is it so vital to the people -- not just hard right, but
McCain and to the right. So it`s center right, far right. Why is it such
a partisan -- and Darrell Issa is a complete opportunist. Why is this so
vital to them? Is this all they`ve got on Hillary down the road is to say
Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi? Is it all they got that they can claim that
these people didn`t just make a mistake, they`re traitors, they`re evil,
they screw their friends, they kill their friends! It`s like the ultimate
evil they`ve got.

Anyway, your thoughts. Why are they hanging on this thing?

WAGNER: I think Rove`s motivation is different than McCain`s. I think
McCain is intent on launching (ph) a broader invective against this
administration on foreign policy. He sees them as inept, and he sees
himself as kind of the last lion in the Senate that can speak
intelligently, in his mind, towards war, foreign policy, international
engagement. And I think he`s incredibly frustrated by the fact that he is
not pulling the levers on foreign policy and national security --

MATTHEWS: Do you think he thinks he should be president --

(CROSSTALK)

WAGNER: Absolutely. I think this is absolutely sort of residual sort of
the ghost of McCain`s future. And then on Rove`s -- on Rove`s count, if
you notice the vocabulary he`s using -- he talks about arrogance and
stubbornness of this administration. That is part of a broader concerted
Republican effort to say that this president is overreaching, to say that
he doesn`t listen to anybody.

I mean, this is very much a campaign that has been waged during the second
part of the Obama administration, and even parts of the first, and will
last, by the way, I think, for years to come because as you point out,
Chris, this is the only thing -- this and "Obama care" is basically all
they have for 2016.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much. Thanks for coming on. Alex Wagner`s on every
day at 4:00, and David Corn, who`s often on here, to our advantage.

Coming up: Make room in the far right clown car. The latest candidate,
Milton Wolf, the Tea Party physician who`s running for the U.S. Senate in
Kansas. He`s posted gruesome pictures of gunshot fatalities and tacked on
a few jokes for kicks. The Senate Conservatives Fund, by the way, is
sticking with him. Why not? He`s one of them.

Also, what`s the one issue that could really work for Democrats in this
tough midterm year? The minimum wage. Even most Republicans support
increasing it, just not the elected ones in Congress. Senator Sherrod
Brown joins us.

And speaking of politics making strange bedfellows, what got New York`s new
mayor together with Al Roker this morning? Here`s a hint. It has to do
with something that has buried a lot of U.S. mayors.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with chicken Kiev, the right wing`s
tendency to always push for U.S. intervention.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: When you look at who`s MIA at the Republican Governors
Association today, why, it`s the head of the organization, Governor Chris
Christie. The chairman of the RGA wasn`t with his fellow Republican
governors for a big show-and-tell today in Washington. There you see
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, along with South Carolina`s Nikki Haley,
Texas governor Rick Perry, and Bill Haslam of Tennessee. But Chairman
Christie, still plagued with his scandal at home, was stuck in Trenton.

By the way, a new Monmouth University poll shows Christie`s approval rating
among New Jersey voters is slipping. It`s down to 50 percent. His
approval is down 9 points from last month, 15 points from December.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We come now to the latest Tea Party
Republican to hijack the far right`s clown car, and this one is a bit
disturbing. The latest clown car passenger`s a Dr. Milton Wolf, the
Kansas-bred Tea Party character who`s challenging Republican senator Pat
Robertson in a primary.

"The Topeka Capital-Journal" newspaper broke a story this weekend that Wolf
had used social media, Facebook, to post and comment on some gruesome
images of gunshot victims, of all things. This wasn`t ancient history,
either. This happened in 2010.

The reporter who broke the story said that Wolf, quote, "relentlessly poked
fun at the dead or wounded." Here`s more from the report. "Wolf wrote
that an X-ray of a man decapitated by gunfire resembled a wounded alien in
a `Terminator` film. The gunshot victim, Wolf joked on line, wasn`t going
to complain about the awkward positioning of his head for an X-ray. `What
kind of gun blows somebody`s head completely off? I`ve got to get one of
those,` he said. `I got to get one of those guns.`"

Wolf was defiant when he was confronted with those comments by "The Topeka
Capital-Journal" statehouse reporter, Tim Carpenter, who recorded their
exchange. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM CARPENTER, "TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL": It seems like it`s for humorous
purposes. Do you think that`s professional?

DR. MILTON WOLFE (R-KS), SENATE CANDIDATE: To educate people about what
happens -- you know, is that not educational?

CARPENTER: "Wow (ph). One of my all-time favorites from my residency
days, pretty active knife and gun club at Truman (ph) Med (ph). What kind
of gun blows off someone`s head of completely? I got to get one of those."

What professional medical education piece is that (INAUDIBLE)

WOLF: So you know what? I`ll tell you something. I`ll tell you the
burden that you carry when you`re a doctor. It`s an honor in a whole host
of ways, and it`s a burden in a whole host of ways. But this is not --
this is not about trying to violate anybody`s rights or privacy.

CARPENTER: The posts are intended -- it`s a joke. When you read the
posts, including your own, this is a joke.

WOLF: No, it isn`t. You know what? It is no joke about taking care of
patients. And you may -- you may not --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Sir, please, address why you posted the image of a guy`s head
blown apart. I`m asking you professionally, is this material professional?

WOLF: This is the kind of material you see in medical education textbooks
all the time.

CARPENTER: This is Facebook.

WOLF: These are real consequences.

CARPENTER: Are you still posting images like this on the Internet?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

WOLF: I`m not going to play these kind of gotcha games with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow!

Jonathan Capehart is the opinion writer for "The Washington Post," of
course, and an MSNBC contributor. And Michael Tomasky is a special
correspondent with The Daily Beast.

Gentlemen, you were chuckling when that thing was running because it`s so
god-awful. This guy is a medical doctor, a radiologist. And his idea of
sport is to pass out pictures of people with their heads blown off and talk
about how he would like to get a gun like that, and talking like that
regularly. This was a lot of -- and, by the way, that reporter, who was
sharp as tack said, are you going to keep -- are you still doing this? An
answer to which he didn`t respond.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right. He didn`t respond.

He is posting these photos because he wants to educate people, the burden
that you carry as a doctor, never talking about the fact that he posted
these pictures on Facebook. It`s not like someone hacked into his computer
or broke into his office and took the files out of a file cabinet. He
willingly put them out there.

MATTHEWS: So he is Weiner using other people`s bodies.

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST: If you -- if you want to put it that
way.

MATTHEWS: What else do you do with this character?

CAPEHART: But then he joked around about the victims that he -- whose X-
rays he posted.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of the guy? He must have wanted --

CAPEHART: He has no judgment.

MATTHEWS: Michael, you have to assume the guy -- or anybody who wants to
be a doctor wants to do it for some good reason. They have basic empathy?

TOMASKY: I guess so. But, you know, he made his decision to become a
doctor a long time ago. So he is on to other pastures now.

And it`s a very weird thing that we see a lot in these Tea Party
candidates. These things come up from their past, these statements, these
things they did, these things they were associated with, because they don`t
have any vetting. They didn`t go through any party process.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what I`m asking about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have gone through -- let me go through some memory -- memory
lane here. Sharron Angle, who basically said something about Hispanics,
pretty rough stuff, as I -- and Second Amendment rights.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If you don`t like your politician, get your gun.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s what she was saying.

Then you had poor Christine O`Donnell. I do feel for her. She was really
out of her league. She was, I`m not a witch.

TOMASKY: I`m not a witch. I`m you.

MATTHEWS: And then you had Akin, the guy -- these are the two rape
buddies. I don`t know which one is the rape guy or the not rape guy, but
there is Akin and Mourdock.

I mean, even if you`re a right-wing, awful, crazy person, you still want to
win once in a while. Where do you get these guys? This new guy we got,
Milton Wolf, is going to be a problem for the Republicans. I noticed that
the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, which has to back whoever wins
the primary, is trashing this guy already.

CAPEHART: But notice all those people you mentioned, they got the -- they
got the nomination. They --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Except for Christine O`Donnell.

CAPEHART: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh, she did.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: She got the nomination. She just didn`t win. She lost because,
you know, the establishment of the Republican Party knew if she got the
nomination, we were -- we`re screwed. But they appealed to --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Worse yet, she could have gotten the Senate.

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: But she -- but these people appeal to a base -- the base of the
Republican Party that hates the president, that wants someone to go to
Washington who has never been here, doesn`t know anything about governing,
because they`re viewed as pure.


TOMASKY: Right.

CAPEHART: Horribly pure in this case.

MATTHEWS: But even in high school, when somebody ran for office, somebody
-- or college -- somebody would always -- student council -- somebody would
always say a bunch of guys got together and said I should have ran --
should run. They pretended there were people around.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This guy doesn`t even pretend there is anybody.

Anyway, why is the right wing backing Mr. -- or I`m sorry -- Dr. Wolf? I
wouldn`t go to him. Anyway, at first glance, it might be hard to tell.
Wolf is a licensed radiologist. He has never held public office before.
He is a distant cousin of President Obama. They have the same great-great-
grandfather, but Wolf is a firebrand when it comes to the right wing`s
obsession with Obama hatred.

He has compared President Obama to Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin in a
strange way. Here is the quote from Wolf`s Twitter account that "Mother
Jones" recently dug up -- quote -- "Scapegoats of history, Hitler, Jews and
gypsies. Mussolini, Jews and Bolsheviks. Obama, successful Americans."

That`s so lame and boring.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I waited for the punchline.

TOMASKY: Look, the point is that the only qualifications that these people
need to have to pass Tea Party muster and to get the support of Tea Party
and right-wing groups is, they hate Obama, they hate government, and I
guess they love freedom in the way that they define freedom. That`s all.

It doesn`t matter what their experience is. It doesn`t matter what their
past affiliations are, and so on and so forth. The only qualification is
ideology. And as long as they --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So this guy get elected. Imagine he gets elected, because
that`s what elections are about.

TOMASKY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He goes to Washington. He meets the place. He looks around.
He hasn`t been there before, and that`s fine. That`s perfectly -- that`s
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" -- with a perfect intention of not knowing
anybody, meeting anybody, negotiating with anybody, compromising, writing
any real legislation that is going anywhere, and collecting $170,000 a year
and spending a lot of staff money on people who write your right-wing
speeches for you.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s it.

CAPEHART: And having great health care. But the other thing, though, is
he comes to Washington --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I forgot the free plane ride every weekend to go back to where
you supposedly represent.

CAPEHART: Right.

TOMASKY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

CAPEHART: Right.

But he comes to Washington to do absolutely nothing, on purpose. The folks
who would elect him are people who want someone to come to Washington to
blow the place up, to stop it from doing anything that it`s obligated to
do.

MATTHEWS: Well, this story we`re talking about is quickly -- of Milton
Wolf -- watch this guy -- don`t vote for --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- necessarily into a war between the far right and the
mainstream right.

When the news broke, the more mainstream -- that`s the NRSC, the National
Republican Senatorial Committee -- attacked Wolf, saying -- quote -- "Once
again, it is clear that there are a few select groups and organizations
like the Senate Conservatives Fund that fail to properly research
candidates or do the necessary work prior to endorsing them, which
maximizes risk and hurts the conservative cause."

Well, that Senate Conservatives Fund, which has backed Wolf and other Tea
Party Republicans, fired back -- quote -- "The NRSC can`t compete on the
issues, so they have to attack the character of conservatives."

Mike.

TOMASKY: Yes, and that`s -- that`s the defense.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s not a bad target, though, in this case.

TOMASKY: No, it`s not.

MATTHEWS: The character.

TOMASKY: But the defense is going to be the usual defense. The more our
guy is attacked by the mainstream conservatives --

MATTHEWS: Like us.

TOMASKY: -- and the more he`s attacked by us and MSNBC, to be frank, the
better he is, the more we`re for him.

Now, I look for polls today. I haven`t seen a poll there -- he announced
in October. That`s the only poll I saw. So I haven`t seen any. He may be
40 points behind. But he`s got until August, and he`s gotten this rage
grievance politics to work. We will see.

MATTHEWS: Well, I have a reaction to him.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyone who goes to this guy professionally or politically is out
to lunch.

Anyway, Jonathan Capehart -- and that was soft -- Michael Tomasky, thank
you, guys.

Up next: Al Roker and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio make up after a very
public Twitter feud over snow and a New York City school, serious business.
There they are together. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": But it is -- it is still a
very volatile situation there in Ukraine.

President Obama hasn`t really decided exactly what we`re going to do, but
FOX News has already decided that whatever it, it`s wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: Sean Hannity said today it`s either gutless and will show the world
that we`re weak, or it`s reckless and will get us all killed. I will get
back to you on Monday.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He is great.

Time for the "Sideshow."

That was of course HBO`s Bill Maher this Friday on the turmoil in Ukraine.
Well, today, the now vacant home of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych has
become a must-see attraction for anti-government protesters who have been
touring the property since it was open to the public over the weekend.

Next up, Dennis Rodman`s trip to North Korea last month may have drawn
widespread condemnation, but the ill-fated basketball diplomacy tour also
seems to have inspired some producers out in Hollywood. According to "The
Hollywood Reporter," believe this or not, 20th Century FOX is currently
developing a feature film, that`s at the movie theater, based on Rodman`s
relationship with dictator Kim Jong-un.

And surprise, surprise, it`s going to be a comedy. Of course, Rodman`s
real-life drama is no laughing matter these days. He did a stint in rehab
following his return from Pyongyang and is currently under investigation
for the gifts he brought for Kim Jong-un`s birthday, which may have
violated sanctions and possibly U.S. law. Give me a break.

Anyway, speaking of diplomacy, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made up with
Al Roker today on "The Today Show," burying the hatch after a very public
Twitter feud earlier this month, Roker, who was critical of the mayor for
keeping city schools open during a snowstorm. Al`s kids go to school, to
public school. He was quick to smooth things over in person and de Blasio
came apparently hat in hand, literally hat in hand. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL ROKER, NBC METEOROLOGIST: We will get this out of the way. We had a
little -- little chat about school closings and snow. And we both want the
best for the schoolkids.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: That`s right. That`s right.

ROKER: And our city.

DE BLASIO: I want you to know we have a little snow coming up the next few
days.

ROKER: Oh, you have been peeking.

DE BLASIO: Yes. So I would like you actually to join us. This is the
Sanitation Department official hat. And if you would like to come out and
join us for snow clearance, this could be a new part of your career.

ROKER: I would love to do it. My dad was a bus driver. And he used to
drive a snow clearing bus. So, I would love to do that. New York`s
strongest.

DE BLASIO: New York`s strongest, you know it.

ROKER: That`s right. Well, come on.

DE BLASIO: And they have done a great job. They have done -- they have
had everything to deal with this winter, but they have done an amazing job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Next up: Democrats are hoping to raise the minimum wage and
make it a big issue that carries them to victory this coming November.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, the guy I think should be Hillary`s running
mate if she runs, is coming right here to join us on HARDBALL.

And you`re watching it, HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
what`s happening.

Another day of violence in Ukraine left 70 people dead and hundreds
injured. The White House expressed outrage that the country`s security
forces were firing on their own people.

Oregon says it won`t defend the state`s same-sex marriage ban because it
would not withstand a federal constitutional challenge.

And two apparent tornadoes were spotted earlier in Illinois. A tornado
watch is in effect for a central portion of the state as the storm system
moves through -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

2014 is likely to be a very tough year for Democrats, but one arrow they
have in their quiver is the minimum wage. Democrats want to raise it.
Conservatives don`t. And the country is with the Democrats on this big
one.

President Obama has taken the lead in the push to raise the minimum wage,
of course, nationally to $10.10 an hour, with his executive action making
that the mandatory minimum pay for government contractors, the new
contracts. And he is pressuring Congress to follow his lead. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, there is a bill
before Congress that would boost America`s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
It`s easy to remember, $10.10. That bill would lift wages for more than 16
million Americans without requiring a single dollar in new taxes or
spending.

But even though a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans
across the country support raising the minimum wage, Republicans in
Congress don`t want to give it a vote. Hardworking Americans deserve
better than no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Democrats hope that this populist and very popular proposal for
a higher minimum wage will win over enough working-class white voters to
give them a fighting chance in some very tough Senate and House races this
November.

Sherrod Brown is the Democratic senator from Ohio. Ryan Grim is the
Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post."

Senator, I do want you to run on the ticket with Hillary Clinton. I think
she could use your grit, despite your Yalie background. I think you`re a
working kind of guy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Now I`m going to be tough with you.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I`m really happy where I am, but thank you,
Chris.

MATTHEWS: I know. I love to shine you up and then ask the tough
questions.

Are you guys working to get a bill passed and signed by the president? Or
do you just want an issue to go into November with? Do you want it to pass
before November or to have it be talking about out there in November?
Which way?

BROWN: Well, I don`t think it`s an and/or. I think if it`s a question of
one or the other, the more public sentiment builds on this, the more likely
we are to pass it.

Today, Republicans are dug. They -- I think in the end it really is, whose
side are you on? And when you start saying some of these members of
Congress are willing to vote for pay increases for themselves, but not vote
for a minimum wage, where buying power and the minimum wage today is one-
third less than it was 45 years ago, I think that carries the day in terms
of pushing them to do the right thing.

And it`s good politically. So it really is both, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. You have 55. Speaking of numbers, you have got 55
Democrats out of 100 in the Senate. That`s a majority. All you need is
five to break a filibuster.

Do you think a Republican would filibuster a minimum wage issue, which is
so popular? In other words, why don`t you get this thing on the floor?
Your leader can put it on the floor. Harry Reid can put it on the floor.
Why don`t you vote on it?

BROWN: Oh, I think we will.

MATTHEWS: When?

BROWN: I think we will pretty soon.

Well, I think in the next month. We want to try unemployment insurance
again, because that`s our first duty, I think, to help those workers that
have -- that lost their insurance, lost their -- their unemployment
insurance back in January, lost their benefits, help them, try that again.

We were one vote away the last time, then move to minimum wage. And,
again, the voters are going to see who is on their side. And that`s -- you
know, Chris. Nobody knows politics better than you do in the last couple
of decades. It`s, whose side are you on?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BROWN: And Democrats are clearly on the public`s side on these issues.

MATTHEWS: Well, here is the question. You look good in the Senate. I
think you can do it there. And the question is in the House where you need
218. You got 200 Democrats. Even if you get 90 percent of them you need
28 more votes on the Republican side.

And the happy hunting ground, to use a Native American term, is go after
the guys and the women who voted for the clean debt ceiling. In other
words, they`re vulnerable Republicans who don`t want to be right wingers.
There are enough Republicans potentially that you can get to 218. How do
you see it?

BROWN: I think that`s right. I like the discharge petition. I think
fundamentally, John Boehner from my state gets up every morning. He`s got
to decide, is he speaker of the Tea Party or speaker of the United States
House of Representatives?

When he chooses the latter, he tends to do he right thing and things pass,
because you`ll get almost every single Democrat on the minimum wage. I
know if you put it on the floor, you`re going to get a significant number
of Republicans to get well in excess of 218. You`ve got to have the
pressure on his caucus. And that`s what a Senate vote would do in what
public -- what shows like this do, frankly, to put pressure on Republicans
to do the right thing here.

MATTHEWS: I mean, last question. Can you win the moderate Republican
there are still left, the Peter Kings, the Pat Meehans, the Michael
Fitzpatricks, can you get them to vote for this if you walk in the door
with that petition?

I know you`re a senator, but when some Democrat walks in the door, Steny
Hoyer, somebody, Mrs. Pelosi, walks in that door, puts that thing on his
desk. If you don`t sign this discharge petition, you`re an enemy of labor,
and that hurts you. It hurts you at home.

Will that work?

BROWN: Well, it certainly would vote for it if it were on the floor. I
don`t know about those individuals. But most of them would. They go
against their -- a lot of the party leadership there puts a lot of pressure
on these guys not to sign those, but I think you continue to push. And
eventually they go to Boehner and say, hey, John, I`m getting killed at
home on this. You got to give me a pass. We got to put this on the floor
and get to it the president.

MATTHEWS: Why they against like card check?

This is like card check, Senator. Card check. Just go around, Republican
by Republican --

BROWN: That`s fine with me. You bet.

MATTHEWS: Get them at home. Get them in their office. Ask them when
their wives are there.

BROWN: The problem is they have to walk down on the floor to sign it, I
believe. And all these other Republicans are watching. But more power to
us in doing that to what you`re doing, to what we`re all trying to do with
this.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Vice president, it`s an honor to have you on the show.
And I hope you and Secretary Clinton win that election.

Anyway, thank you. I`m just kidding, but I`m not. I really think you`re
the perfect running mate. Thank you so much --

BROWN: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: -- Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, which is always a key state to
watch.

Let me go to Ryan Grim now. We talk politics -- obviously, they`re very
happy fighting for this. This is an issue Democrats are not embarrassed
by. It`s not like chained CPI or something, weird thing like that. They
want to run on this. Can they get the votes?

Let`s start in the Senate. My question, they`ve got 55 Democratic
senators. Why not pass it?

RYAN GRIM, HUFFINGTON POST: I think they`re going to pass it.

MATTHEWS: You think they`ll pass.

GRIM: I think you`ll see it on the floor in late March or early April, and
I think they`ll get enough Republicans that will push it over 60. They`ll
have $10.10 an hour, plus they`ll throw some small business tax cut to
sweeten the pot.

And I think it will pass. But the problem is in the House. The problem --

MATTHEWS: What about the pressure once the public sees that it`s passed
the Senate and the people`s house is holding it up?

GRIM: Well, we`ll see about that. But the fact as you said that they`re
going forward with this discharge petition kind of indicates that they`re
treating it more like an issue than a bill. I think it will be more an
issue.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but that was my idea. So I can`t knock it. I`m not sure I
caused them to do it.

But I did think discharge -- the beauty of discharge is you circulate a
petition and try to get a majority which is 218 members of the House. But
you walk it right up to the Republican moderate and say are you going to
hold this thing up?

GRIM: But there`s -- you know, Republicans are strong enough on this issue
that they can hold together if it`s painted in a partisan kind of way. And
that`s what they`re doing. They`re making this a partisan issue, an
election issue.

If they wanted to get this done this year, they would probably do some
compromise like $9 an hour and a bunch of business tax goodies and maybe
you get it done.

MATTHEWS: This is a way if you`re a Democrat to get working people who are
unions and people who have family members in unions and people who like
unions and care about working people to vote Democrat rather than to vote
on the social issues that they tenth tend do to go over or national policy
get a little tougher, they get a little more Republican, Reagan Democrat.
This is way to bring the Reagan Democrats home.

GRIM: And that`s what they`re thinking. They realize they need to control
the House. So, this is something they won`t really find.

MATTHEWS: If I were Pelosi -- if I were Congresswoman Pelosi, I`d be all
over this issue from now until November.

Thank you.

GRIM: And they will be.

MATTHEWS: I know Steny is already there.

Thank you, Ryan Grim. Thank you -- from "The Washington Post."

Up next, chaos in Ukraine. The country`s ousted president is on the round.
Big question for us and that is important: how does America avoid getting
dragged into another Cold War situation with the Russians? I don`t want to
get into a fight over something we can`t help.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I was up in New York this weekend and saw all the way the great
new play about Lyndon Johnson. There he is there. It`s the story of how
Johnson took over after John F. Kennedy was killed and fought the great
right for Civil Rights in 1964.

I think it`s a stunning look at a vital year in American history, and a
great performance. Look there, Brian Crane. I grew up with LBJ. And this
guy LBJ, right down to her to those ears. He`s got Johnson`s ears on
there.

If you get a chance, get up there and see the best play about politics I`ve
seen since Gore Vidal`s "The Best Man." And this one actually happened.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The battle over the future of Ukraine is underscored the growing friction
between the United States and Russia. Of course, the events of recent
weeks, including the fleeing of Ukraine`s president has raised the specter
of something few want to see, I don`t want to see, a revival of Cold War-
like tensions.

Well, today, the Russian foreign ministry accused the United States, that
would be us, or the West, of a power grab. According to "The Washington
Post," the ministry charged, quote, "A course has been set to use
dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods to suppress the centers in
various regions.:" It accused unspecified Western partners are being
driven not by the concern for the fate of Ukraine, but by a unilateral
geopolitical calculations. That`s what I`m worried about that.

Those in the hawkish right were out in force, of course, yesterday, urging
President Obama to get tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Let`s
watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What does Putin do here? I think the
message has to be sent to him to let the Ukrainian people determine their
own future and a partition of Ukraine is totally unacceptable.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I believe the president needs to up
his game and send a clear unequivocal public message to Putin not to
interfere in what is happening in Ukraine, to let the Ukrainian people
determine their future, to ensure that there is in interference in their
sovereignty, and I think this is an important time for him do that.

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I do think Putin thinks he`s playing
chess. He thinks he`s playing even a rougher game than chess and we have
to be able to match it.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: Right, the usual talk. It`s easy to talk tough, the neocon
talk.

But Russia has deep political and economic ties to Ukraine and some
diplomatic finesse will be required by both sides to avoid an escalating
conflict here. Both sides.

Michael Crowley is deputy Washington bureau chief for "Time", and, of
course, Simon Marks is chief correspondent with Feature Story News.

Simon, I want you to talk about this a little bit. To me the smart
American leadership here is to speak for our values, democracy,
constitutional law, sovereignty -- all the good things. But don`t get
involved in some zero-sum game with the head of the Russian president, the
Russian President Putin over what gets to own Ukraine.

Do we get it in the west or do they get it? I think a fight like that is a
fight and it`s a dangerous one. Your thoughts?

SIMON MARKS, FEATURE STORY NEWS: It`s definitely a dangerous fight, Chris,
and may be an unavoidable fight not just because of the situation that the
Obama administration or Putin administration take, but because of the
position in which the Ukrainian people find themselves.

You know, if you travel to a city like Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, it`s in
the coal mining region. You`re almost transported back in time. It`s like
going to part of the old Soviet era in Russia. If you travel to Western
Ukraine to a city like Leviv, you could be walking down the Champs Elysee
in Paris.

This is a country that is split down the middle between people who want a
hue toward the West and embrace the Western-style values, and those who hue
to the East and it`s tough not to get caught in the middle of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s interesting because, you know, Czechoslovakia is
split in half since the Cold War. Is that what we`re looking at here,
Michael? And I don`t know is it in our interest one way or another if they
split in half?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME MAGAZINE: It`s probably not in our interest. I
mean, we generally want stability. I think something people underestimate
is it`s not in Putin`s interest. He does not support separatist movements.
There are lots of people who would like to split away from other parts of
Russia. Think about what`s been happening in Chechnya. That was
essentially a separatist movement.

So, there`s been some talk that, you know, maybe he would encourage the
eastern half of Ukraine to split off. I don`t think that`s the case. But
there`s definitely a big division in this country. Important thing to
remember, though, this country needs other people because it`s a financial
basket case and they need money.

So, the question is, who`s going to have a more appealing deal for them?

MATTHEWS: Who can unite the country right now, Simon, could it be
Klitschko, the head of the parliament who`s now taking over as interim
president? Who can do it?

MARKS: Look, it`s very difficult to see that any of the players can do it
unless there`s a real sea change in the situation on the ground in Kiev.

What you don`t want to see is the new guys coming in putting the old guys
in jail. That has been a cyclical situation that`s been going on in
Ukraine for years now. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was just
released from jail after spending years there.

MATTHEWS: It`s so third world.

MARKS: She said she doesn`t want to be prime minister.

MATTHEWS: It`s the craft that goes on in Pakistan and other countries,
where the minute you get in, you arrest guy who just lost the election.
That`s one way not to have election -- or they dump them and then put them
in prison. You`re right, Tymoshenko, she gets out, they put Yanukovych in
and they just keep the resolving door prison and presidency here.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I read some good reporting today about how
protest leaders were heckling people going to the parliament today pulling
up in their BMWs and their luxury cars. These people who have been feeding
at the trough essentially stealing part of the corruption in this country
that`s been in --

MATTHEWS: Tymoshenko is loaded and the dentist son of Yanukovych is
loaded. They`re all billionaires over there.

CROWLEY: He was on the Forbes list. This country has been plundered since
it became independent.

MATTHEWS: It takes so long to create a working democracy, Democratic
culture in a country. I feel for them.

But Ukraine, it`s never had anything with the communists, and the czars,
all that hell, and then they get the oligarchs now. They don`t have
nothing good in their past to look to, do they?

MARKS: And also remember in their past, they do have the Crimean War which
Russia lost definitively. That, of course, was the war that sucked
Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire into a military standpoint with Russia
over that strategic territory. It gave us the Charge of the Light Brigade
and Florence Nightingale. Whether that was a price worth paying, that`s a
big debate.

MATTHEWS: I think Aaron Fleming won that one.

Anyway, thank you, Simon Marks. Thank you, Michael Crowley.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

Chicken Kiev. Every time something happens bad in the world, some armchair
general starts blaring America doesn`t have the guts to get in there and
make things go our way. It`s always about manliness or the lack of it.
How we shouldn`t be ashamed to use our strength or the need for a muscular
foreign policy.

All this macho talk, by the way, is the predictable neocon attempt to
intimidate us into doing what the hawks want us to do which always leads to
being stuck in yet another geopolitical trap. How many times do you hear,
we have to keep all the options on the table?

Translation, we need to be in a war footing all the time, whatever the
issue, whatever the country. You hear it when China, when a plane gets
shot down over there. On Iraq, on Libya, on Syria, on Iran and now, in
some vague way on Ukraine.

What we actually need to do is speak out for our values, free elections,
rule of law, respect for national sovereignty and self-determination.
These are our values. We have other values, too, like the need for peoples
to find ways to get along with each other, especially those countries on
our border.

Russia, Ukraine, need to accommodate each other, at least not provoke each
other. Why? Because killing people shouldn`t be the optional way to
settle political disputes and this is very much a political dispute. This
question of what kind of trade deal Ukraine strikes with either the
European Union or Russian-backed Eurasian market? And it sure as hell
should involve the United States.

We should speak to the values involved here, not the regional politics.
That`s for the two countries to resolve. Don`t you think?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END

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