March 3, 2014
Guest: William Taylor, Cynthia Tucker, Frank Houston
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The hawks are flying.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.
"Let Me Start" tonight with. This. Can you hear the bugles blowing? Can
you hear the loud bursts of trumpery (ph) out there, the threatening blasts
at the president if he dare not rattle the saber at Moscow? They are --
and this is predictable -- the same buglers who sent our troops dashing off
to disaster in Iraq, who wanted us in Libya, bombing Syria, who yearn for
action against Iran. They`re always for war, or threat of it, or the
threat to our president for not threatening it.
Well, this time, these same voices of the crochety groan (ph) of the cold
war, randy to talk the old tough talk again. Wouldn`t bit far better if we
first got straight what the United States, this country, wants to happen?
What we clearly don`t want -- dare I speak for most Americans -- is a
louder, bigger fight between Kiev and Moscow. We want a much smaller one.
And could it be that the best way for that to happen is for the bugle boys,
always ready to blow charge, to cool it and see if we have any influence in
the situation there, and then carefully and deliberately assert it?
My biggest worry is that we will do no good when our primary goal,
especially at this moment, should be finding a way to do no harm.
William Taylor`s the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Howard Fineman
is the editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, also an MSNBC
Anyway, the State Department today said it`s preparing sanctions against
Russia if it continues its actions in Ukraine. And President Obama warned
that Russia was on the wrong side of history. Let`s listen to the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My interest is seeing the
Ukrainian people be able to determine their own destiny. Russia has strong
historic ties to the Ukraine. There are a lot of Russian nationals inside
of Ukraine, as well as native Russians. All of those interests I think can
be recognized. But what cannot be done is for Russia with impunity to put
its soldiers on the ground and to violate basic principles that are
recognized around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ambassador Taylor, when you look at this situation, do you sense
that the new government in Kiev, the new Ukrainian government which took
over just recently -- do they understand the world they live in? Are they
smart about their politics and the way they`ve been behaving with regard to
WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Actually, Chris, I
think they are smart. President Turchinev is a very cool character. He
has been around for some time. He was there -- he was doing work in this
business when I was there. He is -- he was the head of the intelligence
services when I was there, just before. So he understands the Russians
The prime minister, Yatsenyuk, is another person who was there when I was
there. He is very smart. He`s played a lot of different roles in the
Ukrainian government. And he understands the Russians very well. He comes
from Crimea. He spent some time in Crimea, as well.
Now, what they do is important, and they do need to reach out to the
Russians in the eastern part of Ukraine.
MATTHEWS: Why did they go about banning Russian as a second official
language? I know it was vetoed later. But for several days there, the
word went out to the Russian people and the Russian-speaking people in
Ukraine, especially down in the southeastern part, that they weren`t really
welcome as part of the governing community, if they will. Why tell some
people their language isn`t to be respected? Why would they do that?
TAYLOR: It was a mistake, and I think they recognized the mistake.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean a mistake? Was it the wrong thing to do
politically, or -- they didn`t do it by accident. Why did they do it?
TAYLOR: It was the wrong thing --
MATTHEWS: To stick it to the Russians?
TAYLOR: It was the wrong to do politically, absolutely. The reason they
did it, in answer to your question, is that the passions ran high on the
Maidan, on Independence Square. And people on Independence Square had lost
88 of their fathers and brothers and sons. And they were really, really
angry at President Yanukovych. And one of the things that Yanukovych was
to run through a bill earlier on that made Russian, A, one of the official
languages, and the passions on the Maidan glommed on to that as the first
thing to do and they did it. Now, was a mistake, and they recognized the
mistake and they vetoed the bill.
MATTHEWS: Yes, so many parts (ph) (INAUDIBLE) language can be a fighting
word. Anyway, not surprisingly, the latest news out of Ukraine led the
hawks ramping up the -- ramping up their "get tough on Russia" rhetoric
this weekend, and they all seemed to agree on at least one thing, president
Obama is to blame for what`s going on over there.
Here was the editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today. Quote, "In the
brutal world of global power politics, Ukraine is particularly a casualty
of Mr. Obama`s failure to enforce his red line on Syria. When the leader
of the world`s only superpower" -- that`s us -- "issues a military
ultimatum and then blinks, others notice. Well (ph), the world is full of
revisionist powers and bad actors looking to exploit the opening created by
Mr. Obama`s retreat from global leadership. And Mr. Putin is the leading
edge of what could quickly become a new world disorder."
Anyway, meanwhile, here were some of the more usual suspects at home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think Putin is
playing, chess and I think we`re playing marbles. And I don`t think it`s
even close. So if you look at the nuclear negotiations, we got our fannies
handed to us.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is a blatant act on the part of
Vladimir Putin and one that must be unacceptable to the world community.
Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign
policy where nobody believes in America`s strength anymore!
MCCAIN: The president of the United States believes that the cold war is
over. That`s fine. It is over. But Putin doesn`t believe it`s over!
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, number one, stop going on
television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your
strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and
threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody`s eyes roll, including
mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Putin decides what he wants
to do, and he does it in half a day. He makes a decision and he executes
it quickly. Then everybody reacts. That`s what you call a leader.
President Obama, you got to think about it. He`s to go over it again.
He`s got to talk to more people about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Boy, that`s a strange comment by Rudy there. Anyway, your
thoughts, Howard -- shoot first, ask questions later, from Rudy Giuliani.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, that`s not what you call a leader. That`s what you call a dictator.
And that`s what Vladimir Putin is. Barack Obama is president of the United
States. It`s a slightly different matter, number one.
Number two, in the case of John McCain, he has the Winston Churchill maxim
totally backwards. Winston Churchill always said jaw-jaw is better than
war-war. And John McCain seems to have -- like it the other way around. I
don`t know how much credibility he has on this kind of thing.
As for the president and his advisers, I talked to a number of them this
afternoon. They said that John Kerry, the secretary of state, and the
president himself are making it clear that our interests in the region are
for the freedom of the Ukrainian people, their right to self-determination,
for the rights of Russians, by the way, and Russian speakers in the region
dealt with peacefully, and for respect for international law. Those are
things that they plan to pursue.
I also think that they know that the right thing to do here is probably not
get into a swearing match or a proto-military confrontation with Vladimir
Putin. You don`t corner the animal. And that`s sort of the situation
we`re in here right now. And they`re trying to be cool and to ratchet down
the rhetoric because they think that Putin has overplayed his hand, and
that they think they`ve got a way to get back -- get back at him.
The problem that the president has is that the Europeans don`t do what the
United States wants anymore, and Putin supplies most of the gas to western
Europe. And that`s a problem.
MATTHEWS: Well, Senators McCain, Graham and Rubio have said sanctions
against Russia wouldn`t be enough. While no one has backed any kind of
military action there, these senators say the U.S. needs to take extra
punitive measures, including reintroducing plans to build missile nuclear
defense sites in Poland and admitting Georgia to the NATO alliance. Here`s
how Senator Graham explained the goal. I think this is wacky. Let`s watch
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: -- he very much cares about democracy on his borders. I would
like to create a democratic noose around Putin`s Russia. Poland and the
Czech Republic -- we abandoned our missile defense agreements with them to
protect Europe from a rogue missile attack coming out of the Mideast.
Russia backed Obama down. If I were President Obama, I would reengage
Poland and the Czech Republic regarding missile defense. I would admit
Georgia to NATO. I would have a larger military presence in the Balkans to
NATO members who are threatened by Russia. I would fly the NATO flag as
strongly as I could around Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, normally, that would be harmless, Mr. Ambassador. That`s
just Lindsey Graham channeling Seeb Cooley from "Advise and Consent," the
old Southern rascal anti-communist. But the dangerous thing here, I think,
is -- it seems to me what we should be trying to do is get the genie back
in the bottle over there. Get Russia to limit its intervention, its
invasion to Crimea, slowly withdraw it over time.
The fact that they`ve shown a little bit of hedge there by not putting
uniformed people in there tells me something. Don`t include or go for a
larger grasp on Ukraine, and for Ukraine to recognize, yes, they can join
the West, but they can`t abandon their geography. They have to some kind
of economic role with Russia, with the Eurasian community, whatever you
call it, the Russians want them to be in. And they`re not mutually
My question to you -- can Ukraine find the finesse to join the West
positively without sticking a thumb in the eye of Putin? Is it doable?
TAYLOR: It is doable. It is doable. But the Ukrainians, of course, have
to make the decision to do that. And they`ve -- they`re making the
decision that they want to go into the European Union. They want to sign
this association agreement. They want a deep and comprehensive free trade
agreement with the Europeans because they can see that financially and
economically, that`s the future.
TAYLOR: It is not the future to go with the Belarusians --
MATTHEWS: No, but it`s not exclusive.
TAYLOR: -- and the Kazakhs.
MATTHEWS: Is that an exclusive opportunity? Do they have to go all the
way with -- I mean, this idea of bringing NATO as a noose around the neck
of Putin looks to me rather provocative.
TAYLOR: Yes. They don`t have to be provocative. Indeed, as you say,
they`re neighbors. It`s a big country. Ukraine is a big country. Russia
is a bigger country. They need to get along, and they can get along.
There`s probably a way in free trade to be able to have it both ways, have
trade to the Russians and trade to the Europeans. That`s not mutually
exclusive. It may be, however, mutually exclusive to be in this Eurasian
union that Putin wants and at the same time be in the European Union.
TAYLOR: There may be different standards and different requirements.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s tough. Let me go back to Howard on this question
of -- you know, watching it from a distance, it`s amazing. You see a
couple things. I noticed -- I said this on "MEET THE PRESS" a week ago,
eight days ago. I noticed that a lot of people in the new government in
Kiev were walking around the palace and the presidency over there in Kiev
wearing ski masks. They weren`t confident at all they weren`t being
provocative to Moscow.
And secondly, I`ve noticed that the Russians didn`t wear uniforms when they
came in. Both sides seem to be aware that this is going to go on for a
while, and they`re hedging their bets a bit. It`s fascinating. The
insiders seem to know this thing`s not going to be over for a while.
FINEMAN: That`s right. And that`s why the impression I got from talking
to people inside the administration is that they want to be quite careful
in both their public and private utterances to see what they can do to walk
it back. They don`t think there`s any benefit in doing their own saber-
rattling at this point. And also, to follow the dictum that you don`t want
to threaten when you can`t follow through.
FINEMAN: -- which is one of the criticisms of Obama. Is Lindsey Graham
really serious about having NATO -- Georgia in Nato? Maybe U.S. Georgia,
but not that Georgia, OK, because all Lindsey Graham needs to do is look at
a map. How would we ever enforce a mutual defense pact with Georgia? Is
I mean, that`s the kind of empty threat that is the real kind that makes
Putin not take us seriously, not what the president has said.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it sounds more like Charles Laughton playing the character,
the old Southern senator during the cold war. You know, You got to get
tough with these people.
Anyway, thank you, Ambassador William Taylor.
FINEMAN: Let`s keep it (ph) to this Georgia, yes.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Ambassador William Taylor. It`s great to have your
expertise. And thanks for your service to the country. And Howard, thank
you. Your wisdom was great.
Anyway coming up: Conservatives, of course, aren`t limiting their criticism
of President Obama to the Ukraine. Oh, no. Paul Ryan has decided that
what`s wrong with America is not income inequality, as the president says,
it`s the poor. They`re the problem. So he`s, in effect, declaring war on
the poor when talking about reforming food stamps, welfare, Head Start,
Medicaid. He`s going where the money is, he thinks.
Anyway, plus, the more Democrats win over women and minorities, the more
they lose white men. Now some Democrats are talking about climbing the
steepest political mountain of them all, winning back those white guys, if
you will, who deserted the party, especially down South but not just down
Also, the political scandal that rocked the early 1980s -- actually, it
started in the late `70s -- was the basis for the great movie "American
Hustle," which begins with the note that some of this actually happened.
Well, it really did, and we`re going inside on the terrible corruption in
Philly and south Jersey, which was exposed in ABSCAM.
Finally, let me finish with the deep concern have I about this possibility
of trouble for us in Ukraine. I say do no harm, especially to us.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Of all the states President Obama won in 2012 and 2008, the most
surprising may well be Virginia. The state hadn`t voted for Democrat for
president since LBJ back in `64. But new polling shows it may stay blue
for a while. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."
According to polling from Christopher Newport University, Hillary Clinton
would beat Chris Christie in Virginia by 2 points, 43 to 41. A close race
there, but no other Republican does nearly as well.
Against Rand Paul, Clinton would win by 7, 47 to 40. Marco Rubio trails
Clinton by 8, 48 to 40. Ted Cruz trails her by, well, 10, 47 to 37.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker down by 11, 46 to 35. Against Jeb Bush --
Hillary would lead him by 13 -- so much for Jeb getting in -- 51 to 38.
Paul Ryan trails Clinton by 15, 52 to 37, and it`s the same score for
former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In just the last year, we`ve seen
just how far the right wing will go to wage war on the poor, whether it`s
cutting food stamps, rejecting free Medicaid money, slashing unemployment
insurance benefits or simply stonewalling a minimum wage hike.
And for some of the right, attacking the poor has become a reflex. So it`s
hardly a surprise that when the party unveils its budget later this month,
it will likely touch all the far right`s erogenous zones when it comes to
Today, the House Budget Committee, chaired by Paul Ryan, unveiled a
preamble to the party`s budget, a 200-page report blasting federal programs
that aim to help the poor. Part of their conclusion, according to the
report, is that the federal government effectively discourages them --
that`s the poor people of this country -- from making more money.
And then they throw this into the mix, saying quote, "Perhaps the single
most important determinant of poverty is family structure." Well, social
conservatives out there should have loved that baby. But in an interview
with "The Washington Post," Congressman Ryan says that he and the
Republican Party are actually the true champions of the poor, not the
president and not the Democrats.
Here`s his logic. Quote, "There are nearly 100 programs at the federal
level that are meant to help, but they`ve actually created a poverty trap.
There is no coordination with these programs, and new ones are frequently
being added without much consideration to how they affect other programs.
We`ve got to fix the situation, and this report is a first step towards
We`ve got an expert here. Cynthia Tucker`s a great person to have on.
She`s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and visiting professor of journalism
at the University of Georgia. And David Corn`s an MSNBC political analyst
and the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."
I want to hear from both of you and your thinking on this. I`m going the
leave it wide open. What do you make of the fact that Paul Ryan, a budget
hawk, is now interested in the poor? Want what does he have -- what`s of
interest to him in these programs, do you think, Cynthia?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: What is interest -- of interest to
him is cutting programs for the poor, Chris. You and I both know what this
Paul Ryan has some new lines, some updated rhetoric. But it`s the same
idea from Ronald Reagan 40 years ago. The poor -- if people are poor, it`s
their own fault. And any federal government effort to help them only makes
I want to see Paul Ryan`s interest in corporate welfare. Why doesn`t that
make corporations worse off?
TUCKER: I want to see his interests in farm subsidies. Why don`t those
create a poverty trap for farmers? He doesn`t criticize those at all. But
poor people, he goes right after them.
MATTHEWS: Well, if conservatives want to help the poor, why not raise the
minimum wage? In a report, their report, Republicans say they`re -- quote
-- "focused on upward mobility, speaking directly to people who have fallen
through the cracks."
Well, according to the White House`s breakdown of a recent CBO report,
raising the minimum wage up to $10.10 an hour would mean 6 -- 16.5 million
workers would get a raise, which would lift 900,000 people out of poverty.
David, I want to get to you.
And I -- and I think what they`re getting at is a sense that there are some
people who abuse welfare. Certainly, there are some. And there is a
problem people have. A young woman, for example, gets pregnant, she gets
into the cycle. We have seen these cases. But they don`t seem to get into
clinical detail about how to prevent those cases from occurring, the
cyclical dependence on government checks.
But they just seem to say, we`re going to attack the family. These guys
aren`t Bill Cosby. These guys have no street cred when it comes to the
black American situation. What -- does anybody believe they`re serious
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Not yet.
I think what Paul Ryan is trying to do is to find some cover. You remember
back a couple of decades ago, there were these Jack Kemp Republicans, or
mainly just one Jack Kemp Republican. That was Jack Kemp, who tried to
say, hey, there are conservative policies out there in housing and welfare
that can really help the poor more than what we have here.
And I think actually he had -- his heart was in the right place.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
CORN: When I look at Paul Ryan, look at the speech he gave at the
Republican Convention, it was libertarian ideology or theology straight
down the line.
Getting out there, as he says today, that the war on poverty has failed,
well, that`s just disingenuous. A great study came out of Columbia
University about a month or two back that said, if you use the most
sophisticated analysis when it comes to poverty rates, poverty rates went
down from 26 percent to 16 percent because of all these anti-poverty
programs of the federal government.
And if you look at what has happened since the recession of 2008,
certainly, unemployment benefits, extending them, the greater reliance on
food stamps has kept millions of Americans from falling into a real poverty
So, if Paul Ryan sees redundancies and has ideas for making these systems
work better, more effectively, he can put those forward. But,
interestingly enough, in this 200-page report, not one alternative policy
about how to do things better and make things work better for recipients of
MATTHEWS: I want to jump to that back to you. I didn`t give you a chance,
Cynthia. And that`s my question to you. Is there a good way for
progressives to make welfare better, more dynamic?
TUCKER: Of course there is.
MATTHEWS: What are they?
TUCKER: Of course there is. There are programs that don`t work nearly as
well as they should.
You know, Paul Ryan talks about Head Start.
Head Start isn`t effective. He talks about -- he cites several studies
that show that Head Start hasn`t worked nearly as well as we had hoped. He
goes on to quote the studies that show that well-funded early education
programs do work.
TUCKER: The House Budget Committee report says that well-funded early
childhood education works.
Well, hasn`t the president proposed well-funded early childhood education?
Absolutely. How have Republicans responded? No. They want nothing to do
with that. So are there ways to reform these programs? Absolutely. Early
-- well-funded early childhood education is a place to start. Raising the
minimum wage is another place to start.
But, you know, Paul Ryan also wants to come back to this argument that if
poor people would just get married, they wouldn`t be poor. If you take a
poor guy who is making minimum wage and a poor woman who is making minimum
wage and they get married and have children, they`re still poor.
We need to help them get better jobs. And Republicans don`t have any ideas
MATTHEWS: Well, the Budget Committee`s report also reaches out to
minorities and women.
It notes the breakdown of the family as a key of poverty within the black
community. It also says that single women lead less than 20 percent of all
households, but they head 34 percent of all poor households. But if
conservatives really wanted to help African-Americans and single women, why
have they so far tried to kill the Affordable Care Act`s expansion of
Medicaid in exactly the places where these two groups need it the most?
According to a recent "New York Times" analysis, in October, the 26 states
that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half the
country`s population, but about 68 percent of poor uninsured blacks and
I go back to you, David. The best thing in the world for people is health
care, especially when it`s provided by the government. And here in the
cases, people just above the poverty line, the working poor who may get a
paycheck, but it`s not enough to live on --
MATTHEWS: -- they`re the ones that ought to be encouraged.
My question. A British guy asked me this question. How come our country`s
way or any conservative`s way of helping rich people work harder is to give
more money, tax breaks?
MATTHEWS: But the way to help poor people work harder is to kick them in
the butt and cut their programs? Why do you -- why do you reward the
wealthy to make more wealth and -- and encourage -- supposedly -- encourage
poor people to make more money by cutting them from money? Explain the
CORN: Well, don`t ask me to do that, because I cannot explain that logic
because it`s illogical.
CORN: But there is a whole way of building up an infrastructure around
people who are in poverty to make it easier for them to get work and to
make them to stay in jobs.
And that`s providing health care, providing day care, early child
education, nutritional programs for kids, and for their parents if they
need it, family medical leave, you know, days off, paid vacation, and all
these sort of things that the poor don`t have, transportation vouchers,
because a lot of the working poor can`t even get to the jobs.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities put out a report saying that
even if you filled every job that was open today, you still have two-thirds
of the unemployed without work.
CORN: So, creating jobs is a whole `nother thing, but they don`t want to
do that either, unless it means giving a tax cut to something -- someone
wealthy. Infrastructure initiatives and things like that, they`re just not
It really is about finding a way to say this program doesn`t work. And so,
if it doesn`t work, well, we shouldn`t fund it.
MATTHEWS: Well, we all remember, guys, that Paul Ryan ran as the running
mate to Mitch -- rather to Mitt Romney. And this may well be the Paul Ryan
plan for the 47 percent.
Thank you, Cynthia Tucker and David Corn. This is the illumination of the
Up next: When Jimmy Fallon asked Rahm Emanuel to come on "The Tonight
Show," Rahm told him to jump in a lake, a very cold one. That`s exactly
what he did.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow."
Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Jimmy Fallon that he would only
come on The Tonight Show if Fallon took the Polar Plunge with him into the
icy waters of Lake Michigan. Talking about playing hardball.
Of course, Fallon accepted the challenge, joining the mayor and thousands
of other daring participants just yesterday morning in 10-degree weather.
And Fallon is known for keeping a straight face. But even he couldn`t hide
his shock after fully submerging himself in a full suit and tie.
It wasn`t just fun and games, however. The Polar Plunge does raise money
for the Special Olympics. By the way, this is the 14th year they have done
But if Rahm Emanuel is a difficult guest to book, then perhaps Toronto
Mayor Tom Ford is a little too eager. Take a look at what happened last
night on "Jimmy Kimmel."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Our guest tomorrow night will be
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
KIMMEL: That is right.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KIMMEL: The honorable mayor of Toronto. Oh, wait a minute.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KIMMEL: I think -- you`re on the show tomorrow night.
ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO, CANADA: Oh, sorry, Jimmy.
KIMMEL: It`s OK. It`s cool. But I will see you tomorrow, right?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Next up: "American Hustle" may have just missed the Oscars last
night, but the movie has made its way into a political ad in South Dakota.
Former Republican Senator Larry Pressler is making an independent bid to
get his old Senate seat back. And "The National Journal" notes that his
latest TV ad references the movie and its real-life inspiration, Abscam.
Pressler was one of many politicians targeted in an FBI-led sting operation
that led to the conviction of six congressmen and one U.S. senator.
But when Pressler was offered bribes by the undercover agents, he turned
down money. Here is the ad he ran during last night`s Academy Awards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PRESSLER CAMPAIGN AD)
LARRY PRESSLER, SOUTH DAKOTA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: "American Hustle" shows
the FBI making real-life bribes to Washington politicians. I know because,
as your U.S. senator, I turned them down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty thousand is no -- is no problem.
PRESSLER: In any event, it wouldn`t be proper for me to promise to do
anything in return for campaign contributions.
This is the type of honest leadership I will bring to Washington, D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
While many say Pressler is unlikely to win, it`s certainly a smart way to
capitalize on the Oscar buzz.
And we will have a deeper look at the real-life inspiration behind
"American Hustle" later in the show tonight.
But up next: Every since the days of Reagan, white Democratic men have
deserted the party and voted Republican. Now Democrats are trying to
reverse that trend and win back the white male vote.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
A senior administration official tells NBC News that President Obama met
with members of the National Security Council a short while ago. The
meeting focused on Russia`s intervention in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
met earlier at the White House. They spoke about a range of issues,
including Mideast peace and Iran`s nuclear program.
And another winter storm made travel difficult along parts of the East
Coast. More than 2,700 flights have been canceled -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
At a time when Democrats are receiving growing support among minorities,
among gay people, among female voters, Democrats are debating just how hard
the party should work to court white working-class men, a group whose
loyalty has been eroding, as we know, for generations.
Well, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told The New York Times -- quote --
"Winning votes from working-class white men has been a very tough political
challenge for the Democrats."
Well, the challenge is clear, of course. President Obama received 35
percent of the white male vote in 2012, compared to Mitt Romney`s 62
percent. In fact, the last Democratic president to win a majority of the
white male vote was Lyndon Johnson back in the easy win of 1964.
Well, Democrats will need to decide how much time and money they would
dedicate or should dedicate to white men in an off-year election, when the
more reliable Democratic voting groups tend to stay home.
Jonathan Capehart is an MSNBC contributor and opinion writer for "The
Washington Post." And Frank Houston is Oakland County Democratic chair out
Frank, you`re a pro. And I want to talk to you. I keep thinking about
that`s the eight-mile line there. And I think about Macomb County and all
that. It`s classic in terms of white-black relations on the border line
and segregated housing and the whole thing. What can the Democrats do to
reach a white male working guy?
FRANK HOUSTON, OAKLAND COUNTY, MICHIGAN, DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: Well, I
think, Chris -- and, first of all, thanks for having me.
I think it`s important that white guys like us want the same things that
any person of color or a woman want too. We want to know that when a
politician makes a promise, a promise made is a promise kept. We want to
make sure that -- for instance, I`m a father, and that my children have the
opportunity not just to survive, but to thrive in today`s world.
And we want to make sure that also I think that when Democrats are talking
to white men, that we really are creating a culture in this country where
hard work is deserved -- rewarded with fair pay.
And I think, as long as Democrats remember those core issues, and Democrats
like Gary Peters here is in Michigan who are running for the U.S. Senate I
think understand that. But as long as we`re focused on those core issues
and those things that transcend race and transcend gender, we will be just
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, you`re going to have a tough race in Michigan this
year. It`s going to be really tight.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jonathan here.
Jonathan, it seems to me that this has been going on a long time. The last
guy I can think of in politics besides Obama in his first run, President
Obama, was Bobby Kennedy. He was able to unite the two. I know people
argue about this. But I saw it in his funeral train, all those white faces
and black faces saluting him as he drove by, the funeral train went by in
And people talk about the last iconic moment, when you could be a working-
class guy making a modest income and a black fellow making the same money
and see yourselves in the same condition, no more fighting. At least, it
seemed that way. He was one guy who could do that.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
Well, look, what is -- what is happening here is you have the president,
who has been saying time and time again, not making a racial argument in
terms of, you know, his view of where the country should be and
economically, but where all Americans should be, that if you work hard and
play by the rules, then you should be able to have access to opportunity,
not guaranteed outcomes, but guaranteed access to opportunity.
And as long -- and I have to agree with Frank. As long as the Democrats
maintain their message being one of economics, I think the more that it
will -- that it will break through.
Look, we`ve just gone through -- we`re now going through President Obama`s
second term dealing with an intractable Republican opposition that says no
to everything, but has an alternative to nothing.
And so, as long as the Democrats can push forward, say the American Jobs
Act, or pushing things that try to get the economy moving forward, getting
people trained for jobs for the 21st century rather than the 20th century,
as long as they keep pushing those plans and ideas and the Republicans have
nothing to offer in the alternative, the better the Democrats look.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Frank. You`ve got a challenge on your hands.
It seems to me that a lot of this has to do with segregated housing,
growing up in a big city where race becomes a big issue over turf and
neighborhood changes. You know, that makes people angry.
You know how it works. It isn`t complicated. This sort of fight over your
gain is my loss. A sense of zero sum game, that if there is black
opportunity, there is a white loss, a loss of face or whatever.
This is a big challenge. And I look at -- if these numbers are true, 35
percent of the white male voter voted for Obama, imagine what it`s like
outside the liberal enclaves. You take Cambridge or New York or Philly
suburbs or nice moderate thinking people. You go into the rural areas, it
must be about four to one the white males voting against Obama.
Your thoughts about that, Frank.
FRANK HOUSTON, OAKLAND CO., MI, DEM CHAIRMAN: You know, Chris, actually in
Michigan that`s not always necessarily the case. I think President Obama
has been another one of those candidates that has been able to transcend
race and gender a little bit.
MATTHEWS: He certainly tries.
HOUSTON: But here in Michigan -- tried -- but here in Michigan, I think
the experience has been that a generation ago, we saw the Republican Party
I think very effectively try to drive the politics, the division and create
wedges between people based on race and class and gender.
But today`s Democrats I think are having an advantage now where white men,
I think we`ve evolved -- at least in Michigan we have -- where now it is
more about economics. It is more about opportunity. It is more about the
education that ourselves and our children will get.
So I think now is a time where it`s less about pitting one group against
each other like Republicans always try to do, and it`s more about
candidates, you know, being able to offer shared vision for how to move our
economy and our state forward here at least in Michigan.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, I`ve gotten to know you pretty well. So I`m asking
you a straight question. Why did 62 percent of white men in America vote
for Romney, who is not exactly charismatic? OK, not exactly sure of his
own ideological footing, to put it lightly. Said things he probably didn`t
And yet white men voted for this guy, who is not exactly a regular guy that
you want to have a beer with. They always say I want to vote for a guy I
want to have a beer with. This guy, I don`t think so.
CAPEHART: Well, there are a couple of things going on here. One is just
the tradition of Democrats losing the white male vote. I think you said it
at the top of the segment, that no Democrat running for president and
winning the White House has actually won the white vote. You to go all the
way back to President Johnson in 1964.
The other thing that I think is at play here might have to do with race.
In 2012, the president was running for reelection and coming off of two
years of intense nastiness from the far right of the political spectrum.
You had the Tea Party. You had the fringe elements glomming on to the Tea
Party, radical conservatives unfurling Confederate flags in front of the
White House, Tea Party rallies depicting the president in all sorts of sort
of racially tinged manner.
And so, you know, you had perhaps a lot of people out there voting against
the president because they didn`t like his policies, but also because they
didn`t like him viscerally.
MATTHEWS: I have to agree with you on that. By the way, not to take a
thought away from your emotions and truth to everything you just said, I
think if the Democrats could find another John F. Kennedy or Robert F.
Kennedy, that might solve this problem. But that`s not going to happen for
Thank you, Jonathan.
Hey, Frank, thank you so much. Good luck on your campaigns throughout.
It`s great to have you on. Please keep us up to date about Michigan,
because you`re going to have one tight Senate race out there.
Up next, the political scandal at the heart of the great movie, "American
Hustle," the real scandal behind it, Abscam. What a sleazy operation that
was. In a minute, we`re going to show you the people behind it who took
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: For Darrell Issa, reality doesn`t seem to matter.
Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight made some news
yesterday on FOX television when he said this is about Lois Lerner, the IRS
administrator in Cincinnati who led the unit that reviewed requests for tax
exemptions. Remember all that? Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Her attorney indicates now that she
will testify. We`ve been in back and forth negotiation. But quite
frankly, we believe that the evidence we`ve gathered causes her and her
best interests to be someone who should testify.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The problem is that`s not true. Lerner`s attorney says she is
not testifying and would continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights. He
also said he had no idea why Issa said what he said, which is a reasonable
a comment on anything he ever says.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is running this? I thought you were running this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am running this. But you got to listen. He is the
guy with the vision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got the vision? You know what vision I have? I just
have the vision of you kissing my girl outside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought you guys broke up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
That was a scene from the great movie "American Hustle," which was passed
over at last night`s Academy Awards for its 10 nominations. However, 10
nominations is pretty darn good.
Anyway, it`s a great movie and one that`s more true to life than you can
believe. If you`ve seen it, you might have noticed a curious disclaimer at
the start of the film. It says, "Some of this actually happened." That`s
because it did. It was called Abscam, and it played out on national
television in the early `80s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: There is a new word in the American political
vocabulary this morning. The word is Abscam. It`s an FBI code name for
Arab scam, a cover for the biggest political scandal to hit Washington
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And it was.
"American Hustle" is a somewhat fictionalized story behind that real-life
FBI sting operation, Abscam, which eventually led to the conviction of six
U.S. congressmen, a U.S. senator, the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, and, of
course, three members of the Philadelphia City Council.
The lead character played by nearly unrecognizable Christian Bale is based
on conman-turned-FBI informant Melvin Weinberg who designed the whole
elaborate scheme to lure politicians into accepting 50,000 bucks from an
undercover FBI agent posing as a Middle Eastern sheikh. Spoiler alert,
many of them took the bait.
And as you see in the movie, the transactions were all caught on hidden
cameras. That`s the real footage that you see there. NBC`s Chuck Todd got
up with Melvin Weinberg who`s 89 years old to discuss the facts behind the
fiction of "American Hustle."
And Chuck joins us now.
Chuck, you`re laughing because this is so rich.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: It is so rich.
MATTHEWS: You have the money out like you do for a mousetrap. They put
the cheese out and the mouse goes for it. You want 50,000 bucks, which is
almost their salary, their annual salary, they said yes.
TODD: Right. Well, and we need to go back into time. What motivated --
and this is still -- the most controversial part of Abscam is it was --
there was no hint of criminal activity by some of these members of
Now, the mayor of Camden, they clearly wanted to get him on something. The
feds believed that Errichetti, the mayor at the time, was up to no good, so
setting a trap for him made sense. But then they just kept it going. And
this is where it got controversial.
Now, you think back to `78, four years after Watergate, distrust of
politicians and institutions, basically as I then as it is today, right?
That same feeling that you see going on there. Well, it was pretty
palpable then so certainly nobody was taking the sides of members of
Congress. But you go back and you look at this, Chris, and you sit there
and say it was entrapment.
There is nothing -- not one of these members of Congress was actively
thinking that they were going to put together this scheme and try to make
money out of it. This was something that was created out of whole cloth by
Mel Weinberg and the FBI to entrap politicians at the time.
MATTHEWS: Chuck, Chuck, this is one time in our long history together, I`m
180 from you -- I don`t want a politician representing me in Congress who`s
a mouse that goes for the cheese. I don`t care under any circumstances --
TODD: Look, I`m saying they made idiots of themselves.
MATTHEWS: No, not idiots, they took the money. I don`t want anybody out
there with their handout. These guys, you tell me --
TODD: But they were entrapped. Let`s remember, they were entrapped.
MATTHEWS: So is the guy on the street corner selling drugs when the cop
comes by. So, is the guy who thinks it`s a hooker and it`s not a hooker,
you catch people.
You tell me that these guys normally wouldn`t take the money, is that what
TODD: Well, obviously, that`s not the case because as -- you know, there`s
Larry Pressler, for instance, is out today. He was one of the few guys who
famously turned down the money on tape and he`s seen as doing that. He put
up an ad, but it`s funny in talking to the players at the time, they do
mention that while some never took the money, no member of Congress truly
went to the FBI and blew the whistle on this.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you how it worked. They asked people -- let me go.
Let`s show your interview with Weinberg, the genius behind this whole thing
that took place five years after Nixon resigned. It seems like the lessons
of Watergate fell on deaf ears.
Here they go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEL WEINBERG: Every one of them knew it was illegal. If they are meeting
with anyone offering them a bribe, they should go right to the FBI and say
these men offered me a bribe.
TODD: Not a single one, nobody --
WEINBERG: Not one went to the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, in Philly where I was watching this all happen in real time,
Chuck, I benefit from the fact that I know these personalities, most of
them. And here`s what they did. They said, should we go to Billy Green.
Billy Green was clean. So, they said don`t mess with him, he`s a boy
Well, they didn`t see that about the other guys. They said go see this
guy, Ray Lederer, go see Ozzie Meyers, go see the mayor, go George X.
Schwartz and city council. They knew who to pass the money around to.
TODD: And they did - look, they seemed to be careful at who they picked.
They picked members who they thought would be susceptible --
TODD: -- to this for some reason or the other.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s not entrapment if you think the guy does this for a
TODD: Well, maybe but if you didn`t have evidence -- I can tell you this,
I spoke to the U.S. attorney at the time who felt concerned on a couple of
things. Number one, he felt that Weinberg was coaching the members of
Congress. This was a hoot.
He said Weinberg and he said they caught him on tape doing this, would tell
the members as he was bringing in the members of Congress, he would be
coaching them on how to -- what was going to happen in there. Hey, this
Arab, you know, he`s looking for some help. I just want you to be prepared
-- and he`s going to go into places that you may not -- almost trying to
coach the congressmen to say something incriminating on the videotape.
The U.S. attorney was so concerned about this coaching issue that he
actually complained to the Justice Department and then the Justice
Department decided to try to intervene with the FBI and got a young Eric
Holder, by the way at the time, who was in the Office of Public Integrity,
he was there to be the Weinberg minder try to get him to back off of this.
But, look, there is -- you cannot look at this and say that the FBI and the
Justice Department acted totally clean here. Obviously, the members of
Congress were dirty because they were willing to accept it.
MATTHEWS: I just know every time you get on the phone there`s a recording
that says this conversation is being monitored for quality control. I want
our Congress monitored for quality control. Thank you, Chuck Todd.
TODD: That`s what we learned.
MATTHEWS: My favorite expert.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.
I want to issue a deep concern I have about this situation in Ukraine.
Somewhere along the line, we`ve gotten the idea it`s a big American
question, a big American issue, a big place for us to not just get
involved, not just cheer for one side but to lead the way.
Well, the American people are not involved. The United States is not
involved, certainly not as a key player. The two countries involved here
are Russia and Ukraine. Both sides need to solve this problem, not the
The hawks in this country see every situation in the world as a test of our
toughness. How about seeing every situation as a test of our good sense?
Sorry, I`ve seen too many times when the first impulse is the bad one.
If the Republicans care so much about democracy, how about ending their
crusade, one of theirs, of voter suppression of minorities in this country?
How about bringing to the minorities in this country the same concern they
have for Democratic government in Iraq or Libya or Syria or Ukraine?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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