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updated 3/5/2014 9:51:02 AM ET 2014-03-05T14:51:02

HARDBALL
February 27, 2014

Guests: Glenn Thrush, Jonathan Capehart, Brian Murphy, Frances Rivera,
Michelle Bernard

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Battle at the top?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. For a while now here on HARDBALL,
I`ve spoken of Joe Biden actually challenging Hillary Clinton for president
next year, when they both have to decide. Well, today we learned in a big
front-cover article for politico magazine that Biden is now blowing his own
cover, showing his true 2016 ambitions. He makes unforgettably clear that
he wants to run, believes he`d be as good a president as the recent
secretary of state.

More important, he says he wants the presidency more than Secretary
Clinton does. That, Biden says, the vital difference between he and
Hillary Clinton. He loves politics, loves the presidency, and she doesn`t
love either anywhere as much as he does. Actually, does anybody?

Well, one thing he clearly loves is sitting down face to face, Biden
does, with world leaders, sitting there -- who wouldn`t -- on equal terms
with the big names, David Cameron of Britain, Angela Merkel of Germany and
all the other world leaders.

Why shouldn`t he be considered as Obama`s successor, he`s asking? Why
should Hillary Clinton get first dibs when he has the edge in years of
service, high-level meetings with world leaders, the works?

Well, tonight, we tout what could be the Democratic Super Bowl, Biden
versus Clinton in a regulation 15-rounder.

Glenn Thrush wrote the big story in Politico. He joins us. And
Howard Fineman`s editorial director of the HuffingtonPost and an MSNBC
political analyst.

Glenn, it`s fascinating to read it because what I was getting through
my nose and thinking about and listening to bits and pieces of, you sat
down with the guy. You`re on the famous Amtrak with him, which he`s always
most at home on. What did you get that you felt gave you a better sense of
where his head is headed, Joe Biden?

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: I just think that Biden loves what he`s
doing. I don`t think that Joe Biden can conceive of a world in which he is
not in the middle of things. You know, Bruce Reed (ph), his former chief
of staff, said to me -- and I think it`s a great way to put this -- this
isn`t much about politics -- it`s obviously about politics and it`s about
his aspirations politically -- but for him, this is a guy who doesn`t want
the ride to end. He thinks he`s got something to contribute, and he just
doesn`t want to it to stop.

And the problem with that is that Hillary Clinton is the person who is
standing in the way between the end of the ride and Joe Biden getting to
continue on.

MATTHEWS: Does he get it, why people don`t think of him as a natural
next president, why there is this failure of people to leap -- Oh, yes,
it`s your turn?

THRUSH: Absolutely. When you have a conversation with him -- and you
probably -- both of you have probably experienced this -- you know, Biden
goes on and on and on. He has a real consciousness of his own weaknesses.
He looks around at his aides sometimes when you`re talking to him and
almost sort of begs them to cut him off. This guys know -- this guy
knows...

MATTHEWS: He`s Hubert Humphrey!

THRUSH: I mean, it`s an endearing characteristic.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about this reality because I`m -- this is
HARDBALL here. Glenn, you quote someone in President Obama`s inner circle
saying -- I think this is a great quote -- this is about the polls that do
show Hillary Clinton way ahead of Vice President Biden right now. Here`s
the quote. "It`s so big, it`s almost literary. Never in his entire life
has this man been better positioned to get the thing he most wants, the
presidency. He`s climbed almost all the way to the top, and guess what?
Somebody moved the ladder."

How would you deal with that? You again on that, and I`ll get to
Howard. Somebody (INAUDIBLE) what a great metaphor that guy came up with -
- or woman came up with. You won`t tell us who it was. But all of a
sudden, he did everything right. He`s senator for 100 years. He`s got a -
- he was elected when he was 29.

THRUSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: He`s vice president of the United States. He`s been a good
guy as vice president. People sort of like him. And then something
happened.

THRUSH: Well, I mean, that`s why I did the story. I didn`t want to
write a political story about Joe Biden. A lot of those have been written.
I wanted to write a personal story about Joe Biden. You know, he has had
his nose pressed up against the glass for the longest time.

MATTHEWS: He ran the first time in what, `87...

(CROSSTALK)

THRUSH: First time, `87, `88, was completely humiliated. I mean,
this is a guy...

MATTHEWS: And then he ran again in 2008.

THRUSH: Right -- whose past is so fraught -- we`re talking about
before -- between the time he gets elected at 29 for the Senate and he gets
sworn in, his wife and his young daughter are killed. This is a guy who
has to -- who by necessity has to knock off the rear-view mirrors on any
car that he drives. He`s got to look forward. He`s got to keep being
impelled for washed, or he really, really kind of loses his momentum. And
that`s really, I think, the arc of this guy`s story.

MATTHEWS: What I find, Howard -- well, you and I have watched this
for so many years, but you know, he`s unusual. He`s this high. He`s not
like Dick Cheney, who had all the health problems and said he couldn`t run
for president, right? This guy isn`t term-limited politically.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
No, he`s not. And I, too, have spent a lot of time with him over the
years. I covered that `88 campaign. And what happened in Iowa was he
would go to a campaign event and he would never stop talking.

THRUSH: Right.

FINEMAN: And he had them for the first 15 minutes of the event. I
remember one down by the river in Davenport, Iowa -- beautiful night.
Everybody loved Joe. And he just went on too long...

MATTHEWS: I know.

FINEMAN: ... frankly. But on the other side of that, for the book
that I wrote, I interviewed him about foreign policy, and he was utterly
comprehensive in his knowledge, reduced it to street language in a very
wise way. And I ended up -- most of the chapter about foreign policy was
just quoting Joe Biden.

MATTHEWS: I think...

FINEMAN: She he`s right -- he`s right when he says he has the foreign
policy credentials, especially, and the domestic ones, as well. He has the
knowledge to be president, for sure.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I still think...

FINEMAN: And the experience.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at some of the -- what the vice
president has been up to these past several months. And it may strike you
as somebody who`s running for president, perhaps. Here he is. In
November, he shook up his staff, hired a new chief of staff, whom the White
House initially opposed because this new guy was seen as too much of a free
agent -- in other words, too frisky, as...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: They didn`t particularly want him to be -- they didn`t
think he was their guy, apparently. He was Biden`s guy, or could be. He`s
also pushing, Biden, the administration for a bigger role in his second
term for himself. This week, he made news at an African-American History
Month event when he attacked better than anybody those tough new voter ID
laws as the remnants of lingering hatred -- strong, but I believe true
there.

Meanwhile, he`s stepping up in a major way for the 2014 elections.
Today, he said he is scheduled to campaign in more than 120 races this year
-- 120! The vice president has also stepped up his media appearances in
just the past week. We`ve seen it. He`s appeared on the first episode of
Seth Meyers`s late show and he was on "The View" with Barbara Walters and
the other women the other day. And today, he rallied Democrats, telling
state party chairs their party had the winning message.

Let`s watch Joe in action today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can`t think of a
time, for real, since I was elected in `72 where the majority of the
American people agreed with us on every major issue we`re for.

So what are we worried about? Why are we -- what we`re worried about
is the Koch brothers and their friends bringing in millions and millions
and millions of dollars.

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: But guys, I`m still one of these guys that believes that money
can`t buy an election where you`re selling a bad set of goods.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I want to get back to you because, Glenn, you`re
reporting this story, and I like reporting more than talking about
reporting, but you still got reporting to do here. Tell me -- Biden wants
to run. He thinks he`s qualified to run. What stops him?

If you asked the great question, -- think Tim Russert used to ask
these questions. What is it that would stop you from running? I was
hoping I was on these shows that could get him (INAUDIBLE). What would
stop you from running? Because Hillary`s not going to stop you. So what
would stop you?

THRUSH: Well, I think what...

MATTHEWS: What would he say?

THRUSH: Well, there are a couple of things that would stop him. I
mean, first and foremost is a family health crisis. And Lord knows he`s
had enough of those, right? The other thing, I think, is jut the
realization that this is just going to cost him too much personally and
financially because, remember, this guy doesn`t have -- he is probably the
least affluent elected official.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s only got -- his net worth is not a ton of money
for most -- let me ask you, would he run into it like -- would he be like
the Polish cavalry going against the Soviet or the German tanks? Would he
go into it knowing that it`s all romance? He`s doing the right thing, but
he`ll get killed?

THRUSH: No. That is absolutely not what he thinks. I mean...

MATTHEWS: He won`t do that.

THRUSH: This guy -- he`s the perfect definition of, you know, that
fine line between delusion and common sense, right? He really believes
that he can do this. And he`s got a sense that...

MATTHEWS: OK, he`s looking at the poll in Iowa. Hillary Clinton`s
going to get 65 percent, he`s going to get 30.

THRUSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Will he still run?

THRUSH: I think so. I mean, I -- ultimately, I think the decision
that he`s going to make -- unless Ted Kaufmann (ph) and his sons and his
wife put a -- grab him in a room and...

MATTHEWS: He says his wife`s -- Jill`s supporting him. Howard, you.

FINEMAN: To me, the key question is what`s he going say? If he gets
in that race with Hillary Clinton -- here are two people who are both in
the Obama administration. One is vice president and one is secretary of
state. What are the issues that he`s going to raise, aside from
personality and experience? What type of candidate...

MATTHEWS: Well, you know what he`ll do. Secretary Clinton will
probably edge a little bit to the right on foreign policy from where Obama
is.

THRUSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: A little more Middle Eastern get involved kind of thing.
We know that. She voted for the Iraq war. She`ll move a little bit over.
He`ll then sneak in right behind her and say, I`m on the left. I`m on the
Howard Dean guy here, right? That`s one move he makes.

FINEMAN: Right. That`s true. And on foreign policy...

MATTHEWS: In health care, he backs the president a thousand percent.

FINEMAN: OK...

MATTHEWS: Hillary may not be a thousand...

FINEMAN: ... and the former defense...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) get to that in the show.

FINEMAN: The former defense secretary, Bob Gates, scorches Biden in
the book partly because Biden was not about to cede control of foreign
policy...

MATTHEWS: Yes, well...

FINEMAN: ... to Bob Gates.

MATTHEWS: Gates is a good guy, but he`s Republican.

FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

THRUSH: Listen, Biden`s policy has been validated this week. We`re
pulling out of Afghanistan because of this conflict with Karzai.

MATTHEWS: He had -- he said I want to go an anti-terrorist route, not
a counterinsurgency (INAUDIBLE) And the president went with
counterinsurgency. I know this is nuanced, but the president ended up
going with Biden.

THRUSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: You know what? Because you can`t trust Karzai.

FINEMAN: And I think on domestic policy, I think he can be a more
convincing populist than Hillary Clinton can, frankly.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: Partly because he isn`t a guy who`s made a lot of money at
it. He`s a life-long politician. He`s taken the train up and down to --
back and forth to Wilmington the whole time. He is in it for right reasons
and hasn`t gotten rich off of politics, as a matter of fact...

MATTHEWS: You know, I -- you know what I like...

FINEMAN: ... as the Clintons have -- as the Clintons have, let`s face
it.

MATTHEWS: You know what I like about the Democratic Party, besides a
lot of beliefs? I like the fact they like to have fights and fun. Fights
-- they don`t say, Whose turn is it? And then they get in line like
they`re queuing up.

FINEMAN: Well, look...

MATTHEWS: They have a little tussle!

FINEMAN: What really impressed me about -- among other things, about
Glenn`s terrific story is the fact that Joe Biden was furious that a key
money-raising and strategic guy, Jim Messina...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... seemed to commit to Hillary Clinton. What Joe Biden is
doing...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... is trying to freeze in place the rest...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... of his people.

MATTHEWS: The same instinct -- Don`t talk me out of this thing.

FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Watch what he does with the great Barbara Walters. Here he
was on "The View" earlier this week. Listen to what he said when asked
about his 2016 intentions by Barbara Walters, who very carefully -- and I
think brilliantly -- got him to commit here. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": You have said that if she runs for
president, you will not run.

BIDEN: No, I haven`t. No. No.

WALTERS: Oh. Then tell me what you`ve said.

BIDEN: Look, the only reason to run for president of the United
States, if you truly believe you`re in a better position to do what you
think is most needed in the country. I think my knowledge of foreign
policy, my engagement with world leaders, my experience is -- uniquely
positions me to be -- to follow through on the agenda Barack and I have of
bringing up world peace in a way that is real and substantive.

I also think the middle class is the single -- the single focus, what
we should be looking at, and how to grow it.

WALTERS: So -- so -- so...

BIDEN: And so whether she runs or not will not affect my decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So Barbara Walters is less than two feet from his face, and
she sticks him with, I understand you don`t want to run if Hillary runs.
That`s a good way to get him to say, Oh, no, that`s not true!

THRUSH: Well, listen, he has`s telling people privately that he
thinks Hillary`s too hawkish. He stakes out a position to the left of her.
You know, they had some significant foreign policy disputes. He did not,
for instance, back the Libya incursion as energetically as she did. And
he`s even been telling people that he`s significantly, in terms of the --
in terms of his populism, to the left of Obama. I think he is very
carefully and in a calibrated way trying to make a case that he`s to the
left of both of these...

MATTHEWS: And being a guy -- although he went to law school and
college and all that, he still comes off as a working street corner guy.

FINEMAN: Well, that`s why...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) point out.

FINEMAN: Yes, and that`s why that wonderful "Onion" humor newspaper
picture of him polishing his 1981 Trans Am...

THRUSH: Probably the best and the definitive piece written about Joe
Biden.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) Trans Am (INAUDIBLE)

FINEMAN: That`s a car. It has him in a sleeveless T-shirt,
fancifully, polishing his car in the driveway of the White House. It was
very funny, but also, oddly, weirdly, really Joe Biden.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a lot more people that do that than have
Rhodes scholarships.

FINEMAN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you that (INAUDIBLE) Thank you, Glenn Thrush.
Great reporting, as Howard said. We like it when you give us a story, and
you gave us one. Is he going to run?

THRUSH: Ultimately, I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Oh!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Stepped (ph) on your lead! Buy the cover (ph) piece (ph)!
Thank you, Howard Fineman.

Coming up: The latest "bridge-gate" document dump. That`s what it is.
We now know that Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein kidded about causing the
those traffic problems at the George Washington Bridge and also causing a
traffic jam in front of a rabbi`s house. They don`t like this guy, for
some reason. This is malicious stuff by a couple of these characters.
They all think it`s a big joke, when you read these transcripts we`re going
to show you tonight. But it does suggest an atmosphere of getting even, of
retribution, of nasty politics in Chris Christie`s crowd.

Also: Can you hear me now? He`s the nastiest voice on the right, but
Ted Cruz worries that Rand Paul is getting all the noise out there. So
Cruz is out there today celebrating the Tea Party and dumping on the health
care law. Original fellow, isn`t he?

Plus, look who`s defending "Obama care," Hillary Clinton. After all,
she`s the one that started this big push for health care in the country.

Finally, Ralph Nader is offering up the names of billionaires of who
he thinks would make great third party candidates in 2016. It seems to me
the last time Nader pulled a third party game, it didn`t quite work out so
well for Al Gore, did it.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, even with all of Chris Christie`s problems, he`s
still within striking distance in the presidential race in the key
battleground state of Pennsylvania. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

These are amazing numbers. According to a new Quinnipiac poll just
out, New Jersey`s governor trails Hillary Clinton in neighboring
Pennsylvania, but by just 5 points. Christie trailed by 1 in November.
But he does far better than any other Republican in Pennsylvania.

Against Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, it`s Clinton by 15, 53-38.
Against former senator and native son Rick Santorum, it`s Clinton 53,
Santorum 37. It`s worse for former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Clinton
beats Bush there by 17 points, 53 to 36. If I were Bush, I`d stay out of
this thing.

And once again, the Republican who fares worst against Hillary
Clinton, Ted Cruz. He`d lose Pennsylvania by 20, 54 to 34 if the election
were held today.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Malice in the Christie team.
We`re getting new details now in the political bombshell inside New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie`s office. Last month, David Wildstein handed over
hundreds of pages of documents to investigators, which blew this story open
in the first place. Some of those documents included conversations that
were heavily redacted. In other words, a lot of stuff blacked out.

But today, many of those redactions have been lifted. You can now
read the paper, giving us a much clearer picture of just how malicious some
of Christie`s top staffers really are and were. Some of the documents
reveal never before seen interactions.

We see Kelly -- that`s Bridget Kelly -- and David Wildstein joking
about how they could punish the Port Authority`s chaplain, a rabbi.
Wildstein says, "And he has actually blanked me off." Kelly says clearly,
"We can`t cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?" To which
Wildstein replies, "Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed." Well,
Bridget`s retort to that was, "Perfect."

In other -- this is where we knew something malicious was said, we now
know who said it. For instance, it was Christie`s campaign manager, Bill
Stepien, who unloaded on Patrick Foye. He`s the New York Port Authority
appointee who put a stop to their fun and games. Stepien wrote to
Wildstein, "Holy" -- we can fill that word in -- "Who does he think he is,
Captain America?" To which Wildstein replies, "Bad guy. Welcome to our
world."

And we now know it was Bridget Kelly who was enjoying the panic they`d
created by shutting down those lanes on the bridge. After learning that
the Fort Lee mayor had sent a panicked message to the Port Authority that
kids -- that kids couldn`t get their buses to school, she wrote, "Is it bad
that I`m smiling? I feel badly about the kids, I guess." To which
Wildstein replied, "They`re the children of Buono voters" -- in other
words, their parents voted for the Democratic candidate governor, not
Christie.

Well, this is a port (ph) to the world these people are living in,
where they`re the good guys, and the good guys -- the real good guys, like
Patrick Foye, who blew the whistle on this -- are the bad guys. I guess
the rabbi was a bad guy by their terms.

Anyway, what kind of people are we talking about? And who talks like
them? Brian Murphy was a reporter for Politicsnj.com. He`s now a brand-
new MSNBC contributor. Welcome, Brian.

BRIAN MURPHY, FMR. MANAGING EDITOR, POLITICSNJ.COM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:
Thanks.

MATTHEWS: And Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer with "The
Washington Post." He`s also an MSNBC contributor.

Brian, it`s great to pull the masks off these people, the ski masks,
if you will, because now we can see who they are. We can see Bridget Kelly
laughing, we can see Wildstein laughing about all the mayhem that they can
cause by shutting down traffic for four days.

But now we have also learned they were planning to do it for four
weeks, for a full month. But they got stopped by this guy Foye...

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... who works for Cuomo. And I am personally dying to know
when Cuomo is going to tell us all about the time that Christie called up
and said, call this guy Foye off. I want to keep this game going. So we
will see.

Your thoughts.

MURPHY: Yes.

Actually, Pat Foye came out this week. Christie gave a budget
address, and Pat Foye came out earlier this week and said that he didn`t
think David Samson had the moral authority to keep leading the Port
Authority. So we have started to see some cracks from Albany on this that
we hadn`t seen before.

But I think, getting back to your original point, it`s interesting to
see them joking about this. And for one reason is, usually, when people --
now, this is just from historic -- historical perspective -- when people
joke about an operation that they`re running or that has been run, usually,
they do it after the fact, after they have already gotten away with
something here.

But here they`re making this remark in the context of still being in
the planning stages for what they`re about to pull in Fort Lee a few weeks
later. This is -- this comment about causing the rabbi some problems,
that`s only six days after the initial order is given from Bridget Kelly,
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," right? That`s given on a
Tuesday, the day of Cory Booker`s Tuesday. This is being sent on the
following Monday.

So, they`re -- this gives us some insight into what they`re really
thinking about here. And it`s desperately causing traffic problems.

MATTHEWS: You know, Christie, like any good politician, is trying to
act aloof from all this. He is acting like, oh, all that scum behavior by
those awful people that I don`t even talk to. I only talk to a couple of
people. I don`t talk to -- I don`t talk to Bridget Kelly.

He is saying it again last night in this interview, all this to keep -
- but the stinkorama that is going on here, all these people, the way they
talk about how they`re going to skew rabbis, they`re going to dump on
people, make schoolkids be late for school, laughing about it -- by the
way, they`re all Democrats. Who cares if they`re four hours` late for
work?

This whole attitude is called abuse of power. And you would think
that the real right-wingers out there would hate it, that this is exactly
what they hate about big shots in government.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

You would think that. And the other thing about -- and to your point
about the governor trying to put some distance from this stinkorama, I
think, was the word you used.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I called it.

CAPEHART: Bridget Anne Kelly wasn`t someone who worked in an office
in another building or down the hall or...

MURPHY: That`s right.

CAPEHART: ... down another floor. She worked in the same complex,
office -- office suite that the governor did. There`s just a little
ceremonial hallway between their two offices.

The idea that Bridget Anne -- that Bridget Anne Kelly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s what I was saying today at the office meeting. And
I said, he is -- she is the kind of person you would yell to, how about
those Giants this weekend or something like that when you walk past her
desk.

CAPEHART: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And now he is acting like he never heard of her.

CAPEHART: Never heard of her, never talked to her before, that she is
not some rogue operator. She is not some rogue operator.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Christie went off on radio host Eric Scott last night with that radio
show he does when Scott pressed him for answers. Scott did a pretty good
job last night trying to get him to talk. He asked him about Bridget
Kelly. Here is Christie`s response. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC SCOTT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: You have said that you were angry
when you read about her e-mails to Wildstein. You said you personally
fired her.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: No, I did not say that.

SCOTT: You did -- that was not -- that was...

CHRISTIE: I ordered it.

SCOTT: You -- I`m sorry. So, you personally ordered her -- ordered
her fired.

CHRISTIE: Yes.

SCOTT: Did you have no face-to-face with her on that day?

CHRISTIE: No.

SCOTT: So there was no opportunity for you to pull her aside and say,
what was going on?

CHRISTIE: Eric, by that time, it was evident from the e-mails what
was going on. And it was not appropriate for me to have those
conversations.

SCOTT: Because?

CHRISTIE: Because there was obviously legal consequences going on...

SCOTT: OK.

CHRISTIE: ... potentially for her and for others.

So, you know, you -- you -- and, by the way, on December 12 and 13,
she was questioned extensively by her superiors and said she had no
involvement, no knowledge, no e-mails, nothing.

At the end of the day, Eric, if someone is not going to tell you the
truth, they don`t tell you the truth. What are you going to do, grab them
by the ankles and shake them upside down until -- until -- until e-mails
fall out of their pocket? I mean, come on. Let`s not be hysterical about
this, Eric.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was a strange image.

But, Brian, the whole idea there, there is legal consequences for them
and for others, meaning him, of course.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Christie there makes a deliberate point, which he does over
and over again, as if he were in court.

I only have two reports, McKenna, O`Dowd.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: She doesn`t work for me. I couldn`t fire her.

The reason he was particular there, I would argue, is a courtroom
issue. He doesn`t want to admit he could fire her, because he denies she`s
even a direct report to him.

MURPHY: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: He always has to cauterize himself, to isolate himself from
anybody who works there, except the two guys I think he is going to ask to
take the Fifth, and that`s going to be McKenna and O`Dowd.

He has completely cut himself off from the running of his entire
governorship, if you listen the way he talks. I only talk to two people.
I don`t talk to her. I can`t fire her.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: I won`t talk to her.

It`s interesting how he consistently sets up this firewall. Your
thoughts.

MURPHY: No, I -- and if you look at that -- it just contradicts.

I mean, thinking about this visually, when you see the picture of
Bridget Kelly with the governor at the boardwalk fire, she`s standing right
next to him. When you see the picture of the governor at the 9/11
Memorial, who is standing closest to him? It`s not Dave Samson. It`s not
Bill Baroni. It`s Wildstein.

Like, the idea that there is this great distance here, I have never
talked to these people, I have no interaction with these people, it`s just
hard to -- it`s hard to wash with what we know about how that office
operates. And it`s hard to wash with what we know we have seen.

And that -- and the statement there about the first contact being in
December just doesn`t -- doesn`t match up with what the governor has told
us about ordering an investigation as soon as he learned about this back in
October, asking Charlie McKenna and his chief of staff, Kevin O`Dowd, to
begin looking into this matter.

She should have been questioned back in October, not in December. So
the -- this statement that he gave to Eric Scott yesterday -- and I think
that question was pretty -- that`s a pretty obvious and softball question
to ask, not to demean Eric Scott`s interview.

But if you want to get to the real heart of it, ask about August,
right? Don`t ask what happened after the fact.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, we all wish we had a shot at the guy.

MURPHY: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, last night...

MURPHY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Brian, let`s listen to this.

MURPHY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s night, Christie, the governor, delivered a stern
warning to Jersey lawmakers that are investigating him. This is the first
time I have heard a guy -- be careful. Some might even call it a threat.

Let`s listen to him now putting the word -- the wood to these guys.
These are the Democrats trying to figure out what is going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: If the legislature wants to be partisan and political and
block the agenda that the voters voted for in November through their
governor, the only person all the voters voted for, then they`re going to
have to put up with the political consequences that come along with that.

I will be damned if I let any of this stuff get in the way of doing my
real job. And this is my real job. And I`m doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Forget about it. That`s basically what Christie was
saying. Forget about it. If it sounds familiar, it`s because you have
heard it all been.

Back in 1974, in January of `74, Nixon stood in front of Congress less
than seven months before he resigned. Here is what he said then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1974)

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the time has
come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this
matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So there was Christie saying, don`t do too many
investigations. You will get in the way of what I want to get done, and if
you push too hard, I will push back.

He is telling them when to end their investigations, just like Nixon.

CAPEHART: Yes. But the problem that -- but the problem that the
governor has is that the legislative investigation isn`t the only
investigation that is happening. There`s the federal...

MATTHEWS: And it hasn`t even begun yet.

CAPEHART: Right.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Right.

CAPEHART: There is the federal investigation that is happening.

And, look, what the governor did in that response is what I have been
saying all along, which is, he is trying to present that, yes, this is
happening, but I still have to be governor. I still have to run the state.
I still have an agenda that I`m trying to get through the legislature. And
if they want to play political games, well, then they will be accountable
to the voters.

That`s sort of the subtext of what he is saying. But I agree that the
overall message is, I`m standing there with a bat, and, you guys, if you
want -- if you`re going to insist on investigating me, well, I will make
sure I hit you with it.

MATTHEWS: Well, he also says to Eric there, Scott,his interviewer,
don`t get hysterical about this. Well, that`s a great way to talk to a
reporter.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Don`t get hysterical.

And the other thing is don`t -- the -- this guy is bullying right now.
We`re watching it.

By the way, hanging her -- holding her up by her ankles and shaking,
where do you get images like that? You have got a bully problem, don`t use
images like that, Governor.

Anyway, thank you, Brian Murphy.

And thank you, Jonathan Capehart.

Up next: A lot of progressives blame Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore
the 2000 election. Now Nader is stirring the pot again for 2016. I don`t
get why he is doing this, but he is doing it.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Some more
political news. Ralph Nader is now calling on super-rich people like Oprah
to run for president, yes, President Oprah.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: A lot of people say this is an interesting idea, while
Hillary calls it that dream where I wake up screaming. That`s not real,
right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Time now for the "Sideshow."

That was in fact Jimmy Fallon last night. And as implausible as Ralph
Nader`s proposals sounds, Fallon is not making it up. Nader did release a
list of 20 billionaires who he thinks should make a third party bid for the
White House in 2016. And, yes, Oprah Winfrey was on his list. But so were
some other notable figures, including Steve Case, the former chairman and
CEO of America Online, Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, and Ted Turner, the
founder of CNN, who at one time did consider a presidential run back in
`98.

Ralph Nader, of course, ran as a third-party candidate in the year
2000. Ask Al Gore how that turned out for him.

Next up: He may be five years out of office, but former Vice
President Dick Cheney hasn`t exactly held his tongue when it comes to the
foreign policy decisions of the Obama administration. But when the
outspoken former veep criticized Chuck Hagel`s proposed military spending
cuts earlier this week, it earned him a strong rebuke from retired major
General Paul Eaton, a 30-year veteran of the Army who served in Operation
Iraqi Freedom.

Here is what Eaton had to say about Cheney.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Vice President Cheney is one
of the architects of the worst foreign policy disaster of the 21st century.
We`re young, but the decision to attack Iraq and to do so in such an
incompetent manner does not give him a -- a platform to say anything about
the foreign policy under execution today.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: In other words, shut up, Dick. Strong words, and they`re
true.

Up next: Ted Cruz watched from the sidelines as Rand Paul took the
reins of the Republican Party lately. Well, apparently, Cruz has seen
enough of that. Now he is trying to grab back the spotlight. There he is,
the Joe McCarthy imitator. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRANCES RIVERA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Frances Rivera. Here`s
what`s happening.

Senate Republicans blocked a $21 billion veterans bill in part over
budget concerns. The bill would have expanded medical, education, and job
training benefits.

Mandatory evacuation is in effect for 1,000 homes in parts of Los
Angeles, this ahead of a powerful storm system headed for the region.

And the FDA is proposing new nutrition labels on food packages that
show calorie counts more prominently and serving sizes that reflect what
people typically eat -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, the ones mentioned
as 2016 contenders, have been fighting to own the spotlight. Kentucky
Senator Rand Paul has been dominating the headlines since he took aim at
Bill Clinton on "Meet the Press" last month, and he has been asked about it
everywhere since.

But Texas Senator Ted Cruz wants back in the mix. Earlier today --
today, Senator Cruz was the main event at a Politico breakfast, where
Politico`s Mike Allen played a political word association game with Cruz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: Hillary
Clinton.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Misguided.

ALLEN: Chris Christie.

CRUZ: Brash.

ALLEN: Rand Paul.

CRUZ: Liberty-loving.

ALLEN: Mitch McConnell.

CRUZ: Leader.

ALLEN: That`s a statement of fact.

(LAUGHTER)

CRUZ: That is what is stenciled on his door.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s what is stenciled on his door. There`s loyalty.

Anyway, late this afternoon, Cruz brought down the house at the Tea
Party Patriots` fifth anniversary event when he incorporated a Jay Leno
impersonation into a vow to repeal the president`s health care law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: Last fall, Jay Leno said, so, ah...

(LAUGHTER)

CRUZ: ... President Obama called me. He said, Jay, if you like your
job, you can keep it.

A few weeks later, Leno went back to the same theme. He said, so, ah,
the holidays are coming up, Thanksgiving. You know, the first
Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims said to the Indians, if you like your land, you
can keep it.

We are going to repeal every single word of Obamacare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is "TIME" magazine`s Mark Halperin and
"New York Magazine"`s John Heilemann. Both are MSNBC political analysts
and co-authors of the great book "Double Down."

So, gentlemen, starting with John Heilemann and then to Mark quickly
with the same question -- will Ted Cruz be a major player in your next
book? Will he figure prominently beyond the Rick Perry level of comedy in
the fight for the presidency in 2016? John?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Rick Perry had a
pretty big role in "Double Down", Chris, so I wouldn`t want to -- you set
that bar exactly that level. I think Ted Cruz decides to run for
president, he certainly looks like he is going to, he`ll be a part of our
book if we decide to write one in 2016 for sure.

MATTHEWS: God, that`s qualified.

Let me go to Mark on that. Ted Cruz, will he be bigger than Rick
Perry who couldn`t remember the government agencies he was going to get rid
of? Probably the most famous Bartlett`s quotation for him will be "oops".
Will he get beyond that bar?

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I`m a little
surprise you`d didn`t show Barbara Mikulski`s imitation of Seth Meyers
which also kills.

This thing, Chris, as you know, is so wide open. I think Ted Cruz is
an undervalued stock as a player in the Republican nomination fight because
he is much more skillful, much more thoughtful than he has displayed so far
on the national stage. I know I will set some MSNBC tweeters on fire with
that but he has the potential.

And I think you`re absolutely right, that he wants to be back in the
game now because he`s not performed as well or as visibly in the last few
weeks as he can.

MATTHEWS: Well, that disturbed me no less. You`ve got me completely
worried by that, Mark, because I think the guy is so far right and so angry
as a political figure that he will burn himself out like a roman candle,
where as I think Rand Paul, who`s gotten a finesse factor I`m impressed
with, knowing when to kick Bill Clinton below the belt, when to make noise,
and then at the same time sort of woo the Republican mainstream.

Can Ted Cruz win without any wooing, John, just go completely
firebrand, bring down Mitch McConnell, bring down Pat Roberts, bring down
Thad Cochran, let them all burn at the stake, I want to be a leader here?

HEILEMANN: Well, I think -- Chris, I think it would be very hard to
win the Republican nomination running that kind of campaign. There is no
doubt that Ted Cruz appeals to a part of the Republican base in a pretty
vivid way, which is why he could be of real force, especially given as Mark
suggested such an open field and such a fractured party. Yet, there is no
question that the Republican establishment still, still controls the
nominating process of the party, more than any other faction.

And that part of the party is not going to take well to that kind of a
campaign if Ted Cruz goes that way without wooing them whatsoever.

MATTHEWS: Is this sort of westerner or southern division of this
party going to be the winner? In other words, Mark, if it comes down to a
battle between Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, with Bobby Jindal floating around at
the bottom somewhere, is that going to decide who the nominee is? Or is
there a still somewhat centrist wing left to compete with these guys?

HALPERIN: Well, look, that`s the party has -- that`s the faction
that`s nominated the Republican nominee going back to Bush 41.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.

HALPERIN: So, look, if Christie, Jeb Bush who I know earlier in the
program you said wasn`t looking so strong, and Paul Ryan all stay out, then
the establishment is looking for a candidate. And I think those three guys
might stay out in that wide open, the Southern division, the Iowa division,
the evangelical division, the young candidate division, I think -- I think
Cruz can play in all those places, but he must up his game he was well-
received at the Tea Party event.

But he`s going to have to learn how to be well-reserved dare I say at
the Council on Foreign Relations, on "The Tonight Show," on this program.
He is going to have to learn to play in other venues. That`s the history
of what happens.

Again, I`ll say I knew him before he was a senator. He is
undervalued. He has underperformed. Maybe he`ll never raise his game
again. Maybe he`s found his niche and he is happy with that.

But if he raises his game, he moves out of his comfort zone, I think
he can be a player in a lot of the dimensions of the primary fight. Not
the establishment, though.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mark, and then John, the same question to both of
you. It seems to me his problem is he is all known by his tactics. He is
known as the guy that wants to shut the government down. He is known as
the guy who doesn`t worry about the debt ceiling, he`s known as the guy who
doesn`t like Mitch McConnell.

He is known as the guy that gives support to all the challengers of
his colleagues, being the most offensive guy at lunch. If he is only known
by his tactics, not his beliefs, where as Rand Paul is primarily known by
his deep libertarian beliefs, doesn`t Rand Paul carry the heart of the
Republican Party? You first, Mark.

HALPERIN: I think you`re absolutely right. And not just in terms of
being known by the tactics, but by those specific tactics. And he`s not
been very daft. Part of Rand Paul is getting so much attention is because
he is crafting a biological message and issues message that dovetails, in
which people can see having a broader appeal than just the libertarian wing
of the party.

Ted Cruz is not broadened at all, and he`s become caricatured in just
the way you`ve said. He`s led himself -- he`s led himself into that. I`m
not sure if he can fix it, but I know today clearly was an effort,
particularly sitting down with "Politico", to try to broaden out his
appeal.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HALPERIN: To try to show a different side of him than the caricature
which has dominated, because he`s let it.

MATTHEWS: Well, he is trying to do Jay Leno jokes. Your thoughts?

I don`t mind anybody doing imitations. I try them all the time even
when they don`t work.

But, John, my question to you is, can he win on vicious tactics, tough
guy tactics or does he have to go to the heart? Which he hasn`t done yet.

HEILEMANN: He`s got to go to the heart. And, you know, when he did
that interview with "Politico", when Mike Allen asked, played that word
association game with him, his biggest problem right now is that for too
many parts of the Republican Party, the one word associated with Ted Cruz
is, as Mark said, tactics, but also a jerk.

And those -- that combination, tactics, all tactics, no values, no
beliefs, no vision, and the fact that he has come across as personally
repugnant, not just to liberals or moderates, but conservatives, those --
that`s not a winning way to try to get the Republican nomination.

MATTHEWS: I think he is Joe McCarthy incarnate.

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin. Thank you, John Heilemann. The
pros. I hope you do write another book.

Up next, Hillary Clinton does something we haven`t heard enough
Democrats do. She is out there defending the health care law. And why
not? It`s working, and she is the one that pioneered this thing.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Democrats are bracing for another senate fight this
November. This time in Colorado, where Republican U.S. Congressman Cory
Gardner has agreed to challenge incumbent Democrat Senator Mark Udall.
Boy, Gardner is considered a rising star nationally in the Republican
Party, and his entry into the race gives Republicans another shot to net
the 60s they need to win control of the Senate.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with something interesting.

Hillary Clinton is out front these days, really out front, and putting
little distance between herself and President Obama.

Just last night, she spoke to students at the University of Miami
where she gave a strong defense of affordable health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There`s been so many
misconceptions about what`s in the Affordable Care Act. Many of you are
now covered because under it, up to the age of 26, your parents get to keep
you on their policies. That wasn`t the case a few years ago. We can still
disagree and we will, but the disagreements will be based on something
resembling evidence and we won`t be living in an evidence-free zone where
we just argue past each other all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, evidence-free zone. There`s a new phrase to think
about.

Clinton was beaten up badly, of course, back in the `90s when she
tried to push her own health care bill through, through the Congress. But
now, that seems she is likely to run for president again, she will inherit
President Obama`s signature achievement, like it or not will actually, with
health care, and it really doesn`t matter whatever came before. She is
running for president and that bill exists.

Joan Walsh is with "Salon", an MSNBC political analyst, and Michelle
Bernard is president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public
Policy.

Thank you, Joan. I want to start with Joan on this because -- you
know, it`s interesting -- 75 percent of liberals like Hillary Clinton, 75
percent of moderate Democrats like Hillary Clinton.

I would say that the numbers are all pretty good for health care, too.
I would say there may be a match-up here. I don`t see how you can be a
Democrat and not be for some kind of national health care system. It has
been a -- the heart of the party message since at least FDR, certainly
since Truman. And it seems to me you can refine it, play with it but in
the end it comes down to, are we going to help people get on health care or
not?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Right. And, you know, this is an issue that
she`s very passionate about personally. It`s an issue she tried and
failed. This president is the president who got it done. She has a lot of
respect for that. That`s genuine respect.

He took part of her proposal from 2008. He didn`t support the
individual mandate. She did.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALSH: So, there is a lot she can be genuinely proud of and I think
there`s also a really important political aspect to this, too. She cannot
in any way afford to distance herself from the ACA or from this president
for that matter.

If she wants to extend and consolidate the Obama coalition, she`s
really got to be very loyal to this president. She cannot take the
African-American vote for granted. I don`t think she does, but I think
there are a lot of reasons that this makes sense for her in terms of
policy, but also in terms politics -- politics. To be out there and be one
of the foremost defenders of this lawful, it`s crucial.

MATTHEWS: So interesting to hear it. What do you think?

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CTR. FOR WOMEN: I thought this was great.
I think it was -- do you remember Bill Clinton on affirmative action --
mend it, don`t end it. I think this was similar for Hillary Clinton last
night.

She is a supporter of the Affordable Care Act but she was also very
reasoned about it. She talked about, you know, taking a few years. Let it
roll out. Take a look at and it see how is it really impacting businesses,
small businesses of 50 people or larger. How is it impacting where your
employer wants to take from you fulltime status to part-time status simply
because they don`t want to contribute?

Let`s take a look at it. Let`s look at it on the basis of evidence
and the facts. She`s reasonable. I think it was great inoculation for
anything the Republicans are going to say about Hillary Clinton in 2016 --

MATTHEWS: So, no distance?

BERNARD: -- and Democrats in 2014.

There is some distance.

MATTHEWS: Where do you see distance?

BERNARD: There is a little bit of difference because she is saying,
let`s take a look at the evidence and see what the impact really is on
small businesses.

MATTHEWS: Is Obama, is the president ever said we won`t try to refine
this?

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: No, no, he has not said that he won`t do it but she has said
this in a different way. I think she sounds reasonable. She is not out
there rah rah rah, there are no problems with the Affordable Care Act.

MATTHEWS: Joan?

WALSH: I didn`t hear it that way.

You know, I think this president has said over and over that we can,
you know, mend it. That there are things we can change about it, Michelle,
but he doesn`t have partners in the Congress. You and I both know every
major rollout, program, whether it`s Medicare or Social Security, Congress
goes back and they fix it. There are things left out.

That is true of this act but he doesn`t have partners. All they want
to do is talk about repeal. So --

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: Look, I don`t disagree --

MATTHEWS: You think the Republicans are going to help Obama make
Obamacare better?

BERNARD: No, this -- the Republicans aren`t going to help him do
anything. But Hillary Clinton just helped every Democrat running in
November to put a little distance and say we`re going to be reasonable when
we deal with the Affordable Care Act. Don`t listen to everything the
Republican Party says. Mend it. Don`t end it.

MATTHEWS: Can I agree with Joan on this?

Joan, you`re right. Hillary Clinton should build on the coalition.

WALSH: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Don`t subtract from it. Build on it because she could
bring in a lot more people. But she`d better have what she`s got already.

WALSH: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Michelle Bernard. And thank you, Joan Walsh.

WALSH: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with my take on politics, right and
left. 2016 presidential politics as I see it now.

On the right, it`s clear that Rand Paul is the man to beat. He is
showing the two key faculties for presidential campaign success.

One, he is showing that he wants and it`s not about to slink back into
his Senate seat between now and 2016.

Two, he is showing that he knows what`s necessary to win the
Republican nomination and he is doing it. He is not just running to run.
He is running to win control of the Republican Party and turn to it his
direction, into victory.

The challenge that he`s got right now is Ted Cruz who would only be
nominated by a party that hates the government like he hates it, hates the
Democratic Party like he does, and sometimes hates the Republican Party as
much as he does. Since he needs the nomination of the Republican Party to
run in November, I don`t quite see how this works out for him.

Right now, it`s all Rand Paul.

On the Democratic side, I see only one reason for someone to take on
Hillary Clinton and that`s if the person is convinced that he or she has
the experienced, the stature, and the intellectual self-confidence that she
brings to the table. Whatever some, what many might think, this leaves
only one challenge to the vice president of the United States, Joseph
Robinette Biden. Chock it up to my willing to see some good fights but you
can see I`m already reporting them coming our way.

Right now, my call. February 27th, 2014, it`s Clinton versus Paul
with Clinton winning within five.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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