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updated 4/21/2014 12:00:37 PM ET 2014-04-21T16:00:37

HARDBALL
April 18, 2014

Guest: Chip Saltsman, Michelle Bernard, Clarence Page , Brian Levin,
Michael McFaul

JOY REID, GUEST HOST: "Obama care" -- who`s got the winning hand now?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Joy Reid, in for Chris Matthews.

And leading off tonight: As Mark Twain once said, never let the truth
stand in the way of a good story. For Republicans, the story has always
been a simple one, the Affordable Care Act isn`t working, it`s a disaster,
it`s the worst legislation in the history of America. It`s even been
compared to slavery. It`s a narrative that`s whipped the base into a
foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy.

The only problem, the truth. Despite a disastrous launch last fall,
the president announced yesterday they`d shattered their original
enrollment goals. Eight million people have now signed up. Gallup says
the number might be closer to 10 million. The mix of young and old is just
about right. The law is costing less than even the Congressional Budget
Office thought it would, and the rise in health care costs all over the
country is slowing. It`s pretty clear that the law is working and doing
what it was designed to do, which is help people.

As the president told Republicans yesterday, it is now time to move
on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They still can`t bring
themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working. They said
nobody would sign up. They were wrong about that. They said it would be
unaffordable for the country. They were wrong about that. They were wrong
to keep trying to repeal a law that is working. I know every American
isn`t going to agree with this law, but I think we can agree that it`s well
past time to move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: The Republican Party`s response -- yes, whatever, man. "The
Wall Street Journal" has a remarkable story. They report that Republican
leaders are telling the party`s House members that persistent criticism of
the federal health care law is the best path to victory this fall,
regardless of how the law`s implementation evolves ahead of the November
election. "The Washington Post" puts it a bit more bluntly, reporting that
after intense polling and focus groups, they`ve decided that the ideal
rallying cry is "Obama care, grrr," which is pretty much what we saw after
the president`s press conference yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: This system is riddled with errors and
destined for failure, ultimately.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It`s hurting the doctors.
It`s hurting the hospital. It`s hurting the patient. It`s hurting the
economy. It`s going to cost a fortune.

DANA PERINO, FMR. BUSH PRESS SECRETARY, FOX NEWS CO-HOST: I just
don`t understand why he can`t help himself to just lead and say, I have
some good news to share with you, America, I would like to take your
questions, and leave it at that, and then people wouldn`t say, Why is he
such a jerk all the time?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Republicans have their story, and they`re sticking to it, no
matter what truth might stand in their way.

David Corn is the Washington bureau chief with "Mother Jones" and an
MSNBC political analyst and Chip Saltsman is a Republican strategist.

And Chip, I`m going to go right to you. What is with this sort argle-
bargle refusenikism on the part of your party? Why not just admit it, the
law is working?

CHIP SALTSMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I would disagree with you. I
know that`s going to shock you and David both that I would disagree with
you. But so OK, he`s got -- let`s say he`s got 8 million sign-ups. We
know that there`s going to be probably -- as you look at what the
consulting groups and all the health care experts say, 20 to 25 percent of
those people probably won`t pay their premiums. So that`s going to take us
-- let`s be optimistic, 20 percent. That takes us down to 1.6 million, 6.3
million now enrollees.

And even though you said in your lead-in that the mix is about right,
the mix isn`t right. They`re underperforming on the most important
demographic, which is the 18 to 34, and those are the ones that are most
likely not to pay their premiums. And you need that group if you`re going
to sustain this long term.

And I think the biggest problem is the proof`s in the pudding. We
still don`t know what`s in those numbers. We don`t know exactly what the
mixes are. They`re just saying they`ve got 8 million enrollees, and I
think it`s going to be interesting, especially over the next couple of
months to see exactly what comes out in those numbers because that`s going
to talk about the long-term sustainability of the program.

REID: But Chip, is that working at town hall? Is basically your
answer to people saying, Hey, you know, I finally got health care for the
first time in, you know, 10, 15 years (INAUDIBLE) Is your answer, yes, but
-- you know, I mean, I know you think it`s nice to have is health care, but
it`s really bad. You just don`t know how bad it is. Is that your bumper
sticker, Chip?

SALTSMAN: Joy, that`s not the bumper sticker because we still don`t
know how many uninsured actually signed up. A lot of these numbers -- I
heard it`s going to be as low as 15 percent. And a lot of these numbers
are people that lost their health insurance coverage because of "Obama
care"...

REID: Oh, here we go.

SALTSMAN: ... and then they signed up and they -- but it`s true, Joy!
I mean, you talk about the truth, it is the truth.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, wait...

(CROSSTALK)

REID: David Corn, your witness.

SALTSMAN: ... because of "Obama care."

REID: David Corn, your witness.

CORN: Chip, I know you`ll be surprised that I do disagree with you.
But listen, here, you know, one reason, you know, that there may be that
you don`t have the sign-ups that you want is that your side has been
declaring that "Obama care" is the apocalypse and has been encouraging
people under the age of 35 to sign up. (sic) Listen, the bottom line is,
there are more sign-ups than expected, than even projected. So Obama`s
outperforming on that regard.

And it`s true, it really is true, we won`t know the full ramifications
of "Obama care" if not for a year, maybe not for two years or three years
or four years, but the signs at the moment are far more positive than they
were six months ago. And yet, still, you know -- not you yourself, but
others out there on your team are saying this is the worst thing that`s
ever happened in America. This is going to destroy the economy. And
they`re citing all these apocalyptic consequences which have not happened!

REID: And you know...

CORN: They haven`t happened. And one more point, Joy. Other than
the 8 million people who`ve signed up, you have tens of millions of people
who are getting benefits because now they`re covered now when they weren`t
before because of pre-existing conditions. You have 3 million young adults
on their parents` plan, 3 million people on Medicaid. You know, so really,
you have, altogether, if you put in those 8 million, several tens of
millions of Americans who are benefiting from this.

SALTSMAN: Well...

REID: And Chip, I mean, the problem...

SALTSMAN: ... and David...

REID: Chip, let me just ask you this question because...

SALTSMAN: Sure.

REID: ... what David just cited were tangible facts. You have
actual, real, living, breathing human beings who have health care, people
who getting on Medicaid who exist. What you have are theoretical horrible
things that could happen in the future.

What would you need to hear, what would it take for you to say, You
know what? I admit it, this law`s a success. What exactly would you need
to hear?

SALTSMAN: I think it`s pretty simple, from what David was saying, a
huge expansion of government health care is what just happened.

REID: But people have health care. Why are you -- why is that a bad
thing?

SALTSMAN: Government-run health care doesn`t run as effective as
private insurance...

REID: If you didn`t have health care -- hold on a second...

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN: When we`re running $17 trillion in debt, the biggest part
of that is entitlement programs, how do we long-term deal with that? I was
involved in Tenncare, which is a small piece of the pie that was a state-
run health care system that "Obama care" -- the Massachusetts health care
plan and then "Obama care" was. And they preloaded it. They had lots of
savings. Everybody got health care. And then you know what happened five
or six years later? It was eating up every new state dollar in the state
of Tennessee. And there was only one solution. The Democrat governor of
the state at that time had to turn away really hundreds of thousands of
people, health care, to make the budget balance.

And I think if you look at this long term, adding everybody in the
country to a government-run health care program...

REID: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

REID: Hold on, David. David, I`m going to let you back in. I`m
going to let you back in.

CORN: OK.

REID: But Chip, I actually want to go back and I want to play you an
example of sort of what`s going on in your party right now because
essentially, what you`ve just said is there`s a government-run horrible
health care plan. But if somebody stands up at a town hall and tells you,
I am now on that government plan, I`m on Medicaid, your message of "I
promise to take that away from you" doesn`t sound like smart politics.

But here is a congressman actually attempting to discuss what the
Republicans would offer that person instead. This is Dennis Ross. He is a
Florida congressman, and he`s admitting to his constituents this week that
there actually is no way that Republicans can come up with an alternative.
Take a listen."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS ROSS (R), FLORIDA: You know what`s unfortunate is for the
next six months, we`re going to go into an election knowing that we`re not
going to do anything to address health care because (INAUDIBLE) gone so far
(INAUDIBLE) few years, No, but we don`t have an alternative to say yes to.
And I think that -- that the American public, when they go to vote, are
going to look (INAUDIBLE) before they look at substance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Chip, since when in politics can you replace something with
nothing and succeed as a political message?

SALTSMAN: And I think as a political party in the health care side of
things, nothing much is going to move over the next six months. The law is
the law of the land. The Republicans need to have a message of what they
would do if they want to replace it, if they want to add to it, if they
want to block grant it to the states, which is what I`m in favor of.

But you`re asking about those town hall questions. The town hall
questions that I`ve been to, and I`ve been through with a couple of members
of Congress, It`s a lot of small business people -- How do I deal with this
health care plan? How do I deal with losing employees? I have to make the
decision, do I add employees or lose employees, but the extra cost from
"Obama care" is not making me able to hire one or two more.

These are small business people, that 50-person range group, that`s
been spending literally thousands of dollars on accountants and CPAs and
lawyers to tell them what the law means. And I think the big winner in
"Obama care" has been CPAs and lawyers because most of the small business
people are still trying to plow through, saying, What does the health care
law mean to me, my small business and my employees?

REID: Well, you know, David, it sounds like then what all those small
business (INAUDIBLE) would be a pamphlet to explain how to do the law, not
saying, We`re going to take it away from your employees.

David, I want to go to you on this because the other issue that
Republicans are facing is that people actually don`t want this message of
repeal. If you look at the polls -- and Kaiser has done the best polling
on this. They`ve done a poll in which they have discovered that only 11
percent of people want to actually replace with -- replace the Affordable
Care Act with some nebulous Republican alternative.

So can Republicans keep up the passion to repeal when there actually
is only about 1 in 10 people polled say they even want repeal at all?

CORN: Well, they can keep up the passion because I think for a lot of
Republicans, conservatives and for a good part of the voting bloc, the base
of the Republican Party, this is not a question of rational politics. This
is theology.

"Obama care" is now the surrogate, the stand-in for everything they
hate about Obama. It doesn`t matter what the facts are. It stands in --
he`s for socialism, he`s against freedom, he wants to destroy the country,
all things that we`ve heard conservatives say for the last five, six years,
and they`re not going to give it up because "Obama care," the early signs
are positive.

And this is about -- you know, we`ve talked about this, about being a
base election, getting the base riled up. And Republicans, the party has
moved so far to the right that they really can`t come up with any plan
because all health care policy involves tradeoffs and difficulties and
paying things. So they can`t come up with a consensus plan they can agree
with.

All they can do is just continue to claim that Obama a -- "Obama care"
is apocalyptic. And you know, there may have been problems in Tennessee,
Chip, it`s -- you know, the "Obama care," otherwise known as "Romney care"
in Massachusetts is working. And if you do see those problems, it would
really be great if Republicans in Washington would come together and work
with Democrats to figure out how to make this work in the long run if you
have fears for what might happen five, ten years from now.

REID: I mean, and Chip, isn`t it -- at the end of the day, the idea
is that your party is simply -- it doesn`t matter about the truth and the
facts about the law, whether it`s working. It`s just about stoking the
base by repeating over and over, "Obama care" bad, argle-bargle.

SALTSMAN: No, Joy, the truth does matter. And my party and the
Republican Party and conservative want to get to the truth. And the bottom
line is, this is a big government health care program. We know that. And
at the end of the day, conservatives don`t think a big, centralized federal
government can do this better than the states or the local government or
the private insurance companies.

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN: You`re sending millions of people new to the government
rolls that they can`t pay for long-term.

REID: OK, last word...

CORN: Chip, where was that...

REID: ... please, David.

CORN: I would just say where was the Republican Party, you know,
since 2010 in the House when it`s a majority or any time in the last 20
years in terms of putting together something if it doesn`t like this sort
of program? It hasn`t cared about health care access.

CORN: We`ve had many leaders over the years -- Bill Frist, Bobby
Jindhal, Mike Huckabee -- those are Republican leaders that talked about
health care in their states and the country that can work long-term.

REID: Well, Chip, I hate to tell you, but a block grant to the states
is still the exact same federal money. It`s the exact same spending. It
doesn`t reduce spending at all. And...

SALTSMAN: But it`s limited and there`s -- you put a limit on it.

REID: Something beats nothing. It`s going to be hard telling people
you`re talking health care away. But we appreciate you being here. David
Corn, Chip Saltsman, thank you.

SALTSMAN: Thank you, Joy.

CORN: Thank you, Joy.

REID: All right, coming up -- thanks -- coming up: baby steps.
Conservatives are clinging to the possibility that Hillary Clinton won`t
run for president now that she`s going to be a grandmother. But have you
heard anyone suggest that Jeb Bush won`t run now that he`s a grandpa?

Also, we`ve had some fun at the expense of that welfare cowboy in
Nevada. But he did get the feds to back off. Tonight, what that tells us
about the power of these so-called patriot groups.

Plus, those leaflets in Ukraine telling Jews to register with the new
government or else. It`s generated concerns about anti-Semitism, but also
a lot of skepticism. Who was really behind it?

And "Let me finish" tonight with someone who has the make the biggest
decision of her life all alone with the whole world watching.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: As President Obama pushes Democrats to run on "Obama care," the
Democrat perhaps most closely associated with health care reform isn`t
running for elected office. Outgoing Health and Human Services secretary
Kathleen Sebelius is not considering running for the Senate in her home
state of Kansas. She was said to be considering running against incumbent
Republican senator Pat Roberts.

Sebelius served two terms as governor of Kansas before joining
President Obama`s cabinet. Kansas, by the way, hasn`t elected a Democrat
to the United States Senate since 1938.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I would like
to have a happy wife, and she won`t be unless she`s a grandmother.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL CLINTON: Something she wants more than she wanted to be
president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the Democratic front-runner,
everything Hillary Clinton does or says is analyzed through a "Will she or
won`t she" prism. So it was no surprise that yesterday`s announcement by
Chelsea Clinton that Hillary is now a grandmother-in-waiting started a
flurry of speculation about what Chelsea`s maternity could mean for 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF BILL AND HILLARY CLINTON: Marc and I are
very excited that we have our first child arriving later this year, and...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Secretary Clinton later tweeted, "My most exciting title yet,
grandmother-to-be." But could a baby in the Clinton family take Hillary
out of politics? There was some wishful thinking among Republicans and
hand-wringing among Democrats that a new grandchild might cause Hillary to
rethink what everyone assumes is her plan to run.

Michelle Bernard is president of the Bernard Center for Women,
Politics and Public Policy. Clarence Page is a columnist for "The Chicago
Tribune."

And I suppose we have to do it, guys, so I will actually go ahead and
go around the table. And Clarence, I`ll ask you first. Do you believe
that Hillary`s grandmother-to-be status makes her more or less -- or makes
her less likely to run?

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it doesn`t hurt, that`s for
sure. I mean, you know, it softens here image. It certainly helps
everybody who`s been a parent to identify with her. But I think it`s
really marginal, but it`s fun to speculate about.

REID: Well, I mean, Michelle, same question to you. And I guess, as
a woman, when you hear that, Well, it softens her image, I wonder how that
strikes you because that has been said a lot, that she needs softening
somehow, and this does the trick.

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER PRES.: Well, she does -- she needs
softening with some people, but I think, you know, before we even get to
that question, one of the things we should talk about is whether or not
anyone would ever ask if Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney being a grandfather would
somehow impact their decision to run for president of the United States.

It`s really to me very bizarre that people, and quite seriously, are
asking this question. You know, pregnancy, motherhood and grandmotherhood,
for that matter, are not disabilities, and I don`t think it will have any
impact on whether or not Hillary Clinton runs for president.

That being said, for the people, for example, who follow Rush Limbaugh
and who believe that Hillary Clinton is a, quote, unquote, "feminazi," as
they said, I think this is an important step because it will show those
people that Hillary Clinton is no different than them. It will soften her
image.

And to some people, to some voters, her imaged needs to be softened.
You know, in 2008, after that New Hampshire primary, when we saw her get a
little teary and talking about how hard it was, it was the first time that
people saw her not as a, quote, unquote, "feminazi" but as a woman.

And the other thing I think we should -- we should remark on, Joy, is
that this could do so much fro women in the sense that it will show that
she is -- sort of embodies the fruition of sort of second wave feminism.
She will show you can have it all. She has had an incredible political
career, and you can be a mother and you can be a grandmother and you can
run for the highest office of the land and maybe even win.

REID: And, Clarence Page, I wonder if it strikes you that sort of in
a way that`s the duality of the idea of a woman president. Right?

At the same time, the thing that makes her most appealing, especially
to a lot of younger women, a lot of Democratic women is this notion that
she could break this highest glass -- political glass cell ceiling. But at
the same time, the fact that all of the rest of that is loaded into it,
this need to soften her image, showing that she`s a mom, the fact that her
image is considered hardened because it lacks that sort of maternal
softness, you know, that is the duality of running as a woman president.

Is it just inevitable? Or is it something particular to Hillary
Clinton?

PAGE: It`s inevitable, and it`s not just sexism.

Let`s remember back in `88 when everybody who was skeptical or even
hostile to Jesse Jackson softened up when they saw Jesse Jackson`s family
up there on the stage at the Democratic National Convention and talked
about, well, what wonderful parents they have been.

That`s kind of thing that helps every politician. It`s affected Jeb
Bush a few years ago, when there was some domestic turmoil, mainly a drug
addiction problem with one of their children. The public was wondering,
would that be too big a distraction for her if he were to run for
president?

This kind of speculation happens to everybody. Hillary Clinton, let`s
face it, her image is not as warm as her husband`s image. Bill Clinton is
the master of projecting warmth and charisma and a sense of, boy, he came
here just for me.

Hillary Clinton has always had to work a little harder at that, as do
most politicians. So, I still say, you know, she`s the front-runner on the
Democratic side by a long shot, and she`s still got a lot of great goodwill
out there from people who wanted to vote for her back in `08 and didn`t get
the chance.

(CROSSTALK)

REID: Go ahead, Michelle.

BERNARD: I would just add one thing, though.

I`m going to push back a little bit. It humanizes men and women to be
family members, but -- to have family, but I think it`s different for
women. I mean, I`m no fan of Sarah Palin. That`s not somebody I would
have voted for, but in 2008, remember, all of the headlines were, how is
this woman going to be on the vice presidential ticket when she has so many
children?

When Joe Biden`s first wife passed away, I have not been able to find
any headlines that said, can Joe Biden actually be a senator when he has
lost his wife? Who`s going to raise his children?

There is a double standard. It is getting better. We`re not seeing
the type of headlines today that we saw in 2008 about Hillary Clinton and
other women who are in national politics. But it`s still a question that
is more difficult when it comes to a woman in national politics.

REID: Michelle, let`s just stay with you for a moment, because I do
think that I agree. And there`s something particular to the Clintons,
obviously.

Just the announcement that new documents from the Clinton Library came
out got the conspiracy theorizing going on that maybe this was all a plan
to detract from something nefarious that`s in that document dump. You have
got the truthers saying that the announcement was timed for the
machinations of Clinton.

So, there is -- some of it is particular to the way people react to
the Clintons.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

REID: But, Michelle, I wonder if conservative women, Republican women
also have this feeling about Hillary Clinton that she is sort of the one
potential standard bearer, the one woman with the gravitas to actually
become president, and whether that might be -- make it tempting for even
Republican conservative women to vote for her.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

We have this whole group of women that we call red state feminists who
are conservative women, who stayed at home, have raised children, maybe are
even involved with homeschooling, and sort of felt like the feminist
movement turned their noses on them and forgot about them.

And for those people, I think seeing Hillary Clinton in this role
gives them hope that people will understand that they are no less feminists
-- quote, unquote -- "feminists" because of the decisions that they have
made in terms of how they`re going to rear their families, and Hillary
Clinton can be the standard bearer for those women who have made a
different decision about how they`re going to live their lives inside and
outside of the home.

REID: All right.

Well, I don`t think that we have dialed down the pressure on Hillary
Clinton to run for president. But I do appreciate both of your thoughts,
Michelle Bernard and Clarence Page. Thank you.

BERNARD: Thank you.

PAGE: Thank you.

REID: All right, up next, you probably could have predicted this
reaction from the far right to Chelsea Clinton`s announcement, the rise of
the Hillary birthers.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO, CANADA: But by reelecting me on October
27, the people of Toronto, you folks, you folks will continue to have the
most open, honest mayor, hardworking mayor that this city has ever seen.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: And hard-partying.

Time for the "Sideshow."

Well, Rob Ford has been a familiar face in the "Sideshow" since his
antics made him infamous in this country last year. And now that he`s
officially declared his candidacy for reelection as Toronto`s mayor, we`re
likely to see more of him to come.

Next, Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis hit on Republican
opponent Greg Abbott yesterday for his ties to a short-lived political
action committee with a rather unsavory name: Boats N Hoes PAC. Seriously.
Created by Abbott`s consultants just 17 days ago, days ago, the PAC
borrowed its name from the Will Ferrell comedy "Step Brothers."

But it drew more criticism than laughs, most notably from the Texas
Democratic Party, who issued this scathing statement regarding its ill-
advised name -- quote -- "Texas Republicans say they want to reach out to
women to be more inclusive, but actions like this reinforce a pattern of
disrespect. There`s no defending the use of a derogatory and offensive
terms like hoes. How can women possibly take the GOP rebranding effort
seriously?"

Under fire for his association with the PAC, Abbott publicly denounced
it for its bad taste. The PAC was officially shut down yesterday. Abbott
is leading in the polls, but this certainly won`t help him with women.

Finally, we saw the Hillary shoe truthers emerge earlier this week,
the folks like Rush Limbaugh who claimed that Hillary had staged the now
infamous altercation in Las Vegas last week, when a disturbed woman hurled
a shoe at her on stage.

But now a new conspiracy theory is emerging from the right-wing
woodwork, Hillary birtherism. As unbelievable as it may seem, the idea is
that Chelsea Clinton`s pregnancy is politically motivated to help Hillary
Clinton in 2016.

Here`s Newsmax`s Steve Malzberg explanation that genius theory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don`t mean that they`re
making up she`s pregnant, OK?

But what -- what great timing, I mean, purely accidental, purely an
act of nature, purely just left up to God. And God answered Hillary
Clinton`s prayers, and she`s going to have the prop of a -- of being a new
grandma while she runs for president. It just -- it warms the heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: I have no words.

Up next: That anti-government rancher in Nevada managed to get the
feds to back down. So what does that tell us about the power of these
right-wing patriot groups?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The captain and two crew members of the ferry that capsized in South
Korea have been arrested. The captain faces five charges, including
criminal negligence; 28 people are dead; 274 are missing.

Authorities in Kansas City have charged Mohammed Whitaker with up to
18 felony counts in connection with nine highway shootings that left three
people wounded.

And Pope Francis led the traditional Way of the Cross procession at
the Coliseum in Rome to mark Good Friday -- back to HARDBALL.

REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Armed militia groups are again gathering at Cliven Bundy`s Nevada
ranch. They`re holding what they`re calling a patriot party designed --
designed to thank those who turned out to support the rancher`s high-
profile stand against federal authorities.

But the tense standoff that unfolded last week has raised new
questions about how to enforce the law in the face of defiant and in this
case heavily armed opposition.

It may sound like a scene from the frontier days of the Wild West, but
Bundy and his supporters have been emboldened to the point of delusion,
enabled of course by loud voices on the hard right.

They call themselves patriots, but, yesterday, Nevada Senator Harry
Reid characterized them differently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: There were hundreds,
hundreds of people from around the country that came there. They had
sniper rifles on the freeway. They had assault weapons. They had
automatic weapons.

These people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They`re
nothing more than domestic terrorists. And I think we are a country that
people should follow the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: In response, Bundy took to FOX News last night.

Now listen carefully, though, because he`s not exactly quick to reject
Reid`s label.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: When you hear Senator Harry Reid call you a
domestic terrorist, what do you have to say to the senator?

(LAUGHTER)

CLIVEN BUNDY, RANCHER: Well, I guess he`s right. I don`t know what
else we would be. We`re definitely citizens riled up. I don`t know
whether you would could call us terrorists. They`re the most loving people
here I ever met in my life.

I guess I can`t see how he gets that type of description out of these
people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Terrorist or not, Jonathan Allen of Reuters reports that we may
see more armed confrontations like this to come. Quote: "Energized by
their success, Bundy supporters are already talking about where else they
can exercise armed defiance. In the days since the showdown, right-wing
Web sites have begun searching for other Bundys."

With us now is Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study
of Hate and Extremism at Cal State at San Bernardino, and Dana Milbank of
"The Washington Post."

And, Brian, I want to start with you.

Loving, loving people, is that the way that you would describe these
patriot groups?

BRIAN LEVIN, THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: They`re
loving people who hate the federal government, I will tell you that.

But the bottom line here -- and I want to be careful. These are not
people who are about participating in a representative democracy, where we
settle our disputes through elections and the courts. Mr. Bundy lost every
court fight he had. This has been going on for 20 years, and he owes $1
million to the government.

These are people who are declaring war on the government. And this
kind of armed confrontation that we have seen here is unprecedented --
unprecedented. And I think it`s sending a dangerous message across the
country.

REID: Yes. I mean, in fact, to your point of it being unprecedented,
David, part of that Reuters article stated that militia experts actually
interviewed by Reuters said that they could not actually think of another
example in recent decades where different militia groups banded together to
offer this kind of armed resistance to thwart law enforcement.

How unprecedented in fact is this, Brian?

LEVIN: It is unprecedented.

Look, in the `80s and `90s, we certainly saw folks, when there was the
banking and farm crisis during the `80s, show up and protest. We also saw
similar things during the militia movements of the 1990s, but not to the
extent where we had this kind of armed militia presence showing up and
actually soliciting for new catalytic events, if you will, that they can
show up and band together with.

Indeed, Mr. Bundy called it the battle of Bunkerville. This is an
extremely dangerous situation , and I`m glad that you all are covering it,
because this is sending a really nefarious message to would-be aiders and
abetters, to lawbreakers nationwide.

REID: And, Dana, given that, the unprecedented nature of it, the fact
that guns are involved, that people are fanning out in militia style and
banding together, is Harry Reid right to use the term domestic terrorists?
Is it too inflammatory? Or what`s your view on Reid`s statement?

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, we can`t -- nobody
can really control what comes out of Harry Reid`s mouth.

He has a tendency to pop off like that. I think the BLM, the federal
government had the right idea to de-escalate here, because there`s nothing
these militia groups want so much as a martyr. You don`t get the Oklahoma
City bombing unless you had the conflagration in Waco.

They`re not going to go out and solicit other would-be martyrs out
there if this thing hasn`t had some sort of a celebrated explosion as well.
So, it is very smart to de-escalate this. The federal government can
easily outwait this guy, outwait this moment -- outwait this moment. And
this is not a rebirth of the militia movement.

REID: But, Brian, you know, while the federal government, the Bureau
of Land Management is de-escalating, you have conspiracy theorists and
conservative radio hosts like Alex Jones that are -- that are promoting
Bundy and actually stoking this kind of activity.

Here`s how he portrayed Bundy`s anti-government fight to Reuters. He
said this -- quote -- "Americans showed up with guns and said, `No, you`re
not," before confronting the armed BLM agents. And they said, `Shoot us.`
And they did not. That`s epic. And it`s going to happen more."

When you have people like Alex Jones stoking this kind of behavior,
should we be worried that this eventually escalates into violence?

LEVIN: Yes.

And I diverge just a little bit from Dana. We do not want a
catalytic, violent event like we had with Waco or Ruby Ridge. And I think,
tactically, as a former law enforcement officer and someone who trains
state and federal agents, they did exactly the right thing. They de-
escalated. We have an isolated and contained situation.

But what I think we have here today, unlike in the past, where we had
fax networks and shortwave radio, we now have the Internet, and we now have
an echo chamber consisting of mainstream politicians, as well as quasi-
journalists really fuelling the fire here. So, even though this has been
deescalated for now, we now have a moment that`s much more sophisticated
with their information and technology exchange.

And I`m worried that even though we don`t have a violent catalytic
event, we do have a very active militia movement in the United States with
over 1,000, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, active patriot groups
who, by the way, many are legal, and many are exercising their political
right, as well as about 240 militias. And many of them are relatively
harmless.

But the fact is in a representative democracy like we have, the
presence of private armies who challenge law enforcement to armed
confrontations is a dangerous thing and is not something that we should
underestimate.

REID: Dana, that is the key as well. They can communicate over the
Internet, but also are being reinforced by all of these media entities
including what is pretty mainstream conservative TV. I mean, that`s the
new element, right? And isn`t that what makes it more dangerous?

MILBANK: I think that`s a crucial piece of this, the FOX News, Rush
Limbaugh, Glenn Beck access there.

But the other piece that was just mentioned is extremely is important
is, you`ve got Dean Heller, the United States senator from Nevada, calling
these guys patriots. You`ve got Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of
Nevada declining to criticize Bundy and his people as much as he`s
interested in criticizing the federal government`s response to this.
You`ve got the Rand Paul wing saying the federal government is misbehaving.

So I think that`s a new and very ominous thing. And it fits a lot
with the sovereign state, the states rights movements and, you know,
aimless talks of secession you`re hearing every from Texas to Wisconsin.
That, I think, is important because you`re hearing that from officials not
just some guy in a T-shirt with an automatic weapon.

LEVIN: That`s an excellent point.

REID: Indeed.

Brian Levin and Dana Milbank, thanks to both of you.

MILBANK: Thanks, Joy.

LEVIN: Thank you.

REID: Coming up, who`s really behind those leaflets telling Ukrainian
Jews to register with the new government there? We`ll try to get some
answers, next.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: We want to remind you about our partnership with the group Born
Free, which is according on the ambitious goal of completely eliminating
the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from mothers to their
children by the end of next year. No children born with HIV, and believe
it or not, scientists say it can be done.

And if you want to help this very important mission, you can find out
more information on our Web site, MSNBC.com/Hardball, or go to Born Free`s
Web site at BornFreeAfrica.org.

We`ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: And we`re back.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine seemed to be pouring some
cold water on a deal reached yesterday between the foreign ministers of
Ukraine and Russia, as well as the E.U.`s foreign policy chief and U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry. Many saw the deal as the best hope for
cooling tensions, but the groups say they won`t be bound by it.

Here was Secretary Kerry yesterday describing what was in the deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We agreed today that all illegal
armed groups must be disarmed, that all illegally seized buildings must be
returned to their legitimate owners, and all illegally occupied streets,
squares, and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be
vacated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: According to "Reuters", armed pro-Russian militants control
government buildings in about 10 towns in eastern Ukraine. And so far,
they show no signs of backing down. They say they will only disarm if the
new western backed government in Kiev steps down.

Meanwhile, NBC News reports that there`s been no change in the status
of the approximately 40,000 Russian troops massed along the border with
Ukraine. And that means fears of a larger scale crisis haven`t gone away.

Michael McFaul recently stepped down as the U.S. ambassador to Russia,
and he`s now an MSNBC contributor.

So, Michael, I want to start off with that deal. Tell us what you
think of it and whether or not you think it is weakened by the fact that
these pro-Russian groups are saying they`re simply not bound by it.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it wasn`t a great deal, but
a whole lot better than all the other alternatives, which is to say what
they signed up to was basically these Russian forces supported by Russia, a
little bit ambiguous exactly who they are. They occupied a bunch of
buildings and then in return for going out of them, they got to change the
Ukrainian constitution.

That`s not a very good precedent. But compared to all the
alternative, which I think would have been, and we saw bits after pieces of
what might have been just a couple of days ago, a real civil war, it`s the
best we have to work with.

And, of course, not surprisingly to me, having worked with Russia for
the last several years, the day after, there`s ambiguity about how the
Russians interpret it and how the forces on the ground interpret it. It
won`t happen quickly if it happens at all. The test now is really Vladimir
Putin is sincere about making this agreement work. He has the power to get
those people to leave those buildings if he wants to do so. Now, we have
to wait and see if he really wants to do so.

REID: Indeed.

So, yesterday, President Obama actually sounded a cautious if not
skeptical note about the agreement with Russia. I want to have you take a
listen in response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope is that we
actually do see follow through over the next several days. But I don`t
think given past performance that we can count on that and we have to be
prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of
interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: So this idea of preparing to respond. What more could the
United States potentially do if Russia does not back down, and does not
abide by the deal?

MCFAUL: Well, I thought the president said it exactly right, which is
we hope for a better outcome, and we prepare for a different outcome. And
what he means in terms of preparing for a different outcome, if we have to,
we, the United States, and the rest of Europe, would be to increase
economic sanctions, not just against individuals, as was done before, but
against whole sectors of the economy against major economic institutions
inside Russia.

He`s threatened that before. The president has. And I fully expect
that if there is increased violence in eastern Ukraine, that will be the
Western response.

REID: So, Michael, there`s a really disturbing story this week out of
the city in eastern Ukraine and it`s under the control of pro-Russian
forces.

On Wednesday, Jewish worshippers leaving a synagogue were confronted
by three masked men on the sidewalk handing out leaflets demanding that
Jews register with local authorities and pay a fine. Other flyers were
reportedly left on parked cars in the area and supposedly signed by a
leader of a pro-Russian group. Now, that man and his group denied having
anything to do with it.

But, nevertheless, Secretary Kerry quickly condemned whoever is behind
it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Just in the last couple of days notices were sent to Jews in
one city indicating that they have to identify themselves as Jews. In the
year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of
history, this is not just intolerable, it`s grotesque. It`s beyond
unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: So, President Obama`s national security adviser Susan Rice also
spoke about it today at the White House briefing. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: President expressed his
disgust quite bluntly, I think we all found word of those pamphlets to be
utterly sickening, and they have no place in the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Many have pointed out that the origin is still unknown so
caution is necessary. But Abraham Foxman, the national director of the
Anti-Defamation League, said this in a statement. He said, quote, "We`re
skeptical about the flyers` authenticity, but the instructions clearly
recall the Nazi era and have the effect of intimidating the local Jewish
community."

Michael McFaul, what do you make of this development in this already
disturbing story?

MCFAUL: Well, of course, it`s horrific, especially if you know the
history of those very towns and cities that this is being circulated in.

And I don`t claim to know who actually put out that pamphlet, but what
I am sure about is that the nationalistic fervor that President Putin has
stirred up creates these kinds of unintended consequences. I don`t believe
that President Putin would in any way endorse this. But he is fomenting a
kind of ethnic nationalism.

It used to be more of a nationalistic kind of patriotism. Now, if you
watch television, and they`re all watching television in that part of
eastern Ukraine coming from Russia, it is this new nationalistic sentiment
and this is what happens. And that`s why it`s extremely dangerous and can
spin out of control from leaders, even Vladimir Putin`s control.

REID: Yes, indeed.

Thanks so much, Ambassador Michael McFaul.

MCFAUL: Thank you.

REID: And we`ll be back in just a moment. But before we go, here`s a
picture of Chris and his wife Kathleen on their travels in Beijing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Let me finish tonight with Hillary Clinton and the momentous
decision she will make and that only she can make, whether or not to run
for president.

Now, normally, it`s a decision that a candidate makes with the counsel
of their family and their trusted advisers and in their own spirit and
conscience. But for Hillary, the terrible truth is that her agency, her
ability to make this most grave decision, is being handed around to all of
those whose hopes are pinned firmly to her, and her alone. That especially
includes women, particularly Democratic women who watched the presidency
slip from their collective hands in 2008 as Barack Obama outsprinted
Hillary toward breaking that other glass ceiling to give America its first
black president.

A recent Gallup poll finds that 18 percent of Americans said Hillary
being the first woman president would be the best thing about her gaining
the office. Twice the number who said her experience. And that number was
22 percent for women, 27 percent for 18 to 29-year-olds, and 30 percent for
Democrats.

And last month when Hillary gave a speech at the close of the Clinton
Global Initiative conference at Arizona state a young woman student took to
the microphone and pointedly asked Hillary, "Mrs. Clinton, if you don`t
represent women in politics in America as future president, who will?"

And that`s the problem. Democrats don`t have a plan B for "who will".
As much as we all love Joe Biden, the red lights flashing in front of him
by the halls of Washington couldn`t be brighter. And with even the
possibility of Hillary on the table, no other Democrat is out there
auditioning for the job. There`s no Democratic equivalent to Rand Paul or
Chris Christie or Jeb Bush or even American/Canadian Ted Cruz. And there`s
no Barack Obama riding a singular moment like his 2004 convention speech
into even the possibility of a run.

So, for better or for worse, it`s all on Hillary, all of it -- the
dreams of women, the plans of Democrats, and that doesn`t leave much room
for her to make this crucial decision all by and for herself. Would she be
willing to walk away and take the silent blame if Democrats somehow fail to
keep the White House in 2016? Could she walk away and keep her legacy
intact?

We shouldn`t have to ask. She should be able to just be grandma, if
that`s what she wants. But then, she wouldn`t be Hillary Clinton.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

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