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updated 5/2/2014 10:51:37 AM ET 2014-05-02T14:51:37

HARDBALL
May 1, 2014

Guests: Ryan Grimm, Anna Palmer, Clarence Page, Kathleen Parker, Diann
Rust-Tierney, Robert Blecker

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: We`re back to Benghazi.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Philadelphia.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. A newly disclosed e-mail from White
House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes has reignited the
Benghazi firestorm on the hard right. Senator Lindsey Graham has coined
the White House "scumbags." Congressman Darrell Issa is comparing
President Obama to President Nixon. There`s only one problem. The
Republican Party`s freakout today once again doesn`t square with reality.

Here`s what got things going. In that e-mail, Rhodes refers to a prep call
with Susan Rice ahead of her appearances on those five Sunday talk shows
the weekend after the tragedy. Rhodes calls one of the goals for those
interviews should be, quote, "to underscore that these protests are rooted
in an Internet video and not a broader failure of policy."

Well, how is that different from what we now know actually happened?
According to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report from
earlier this year, in fact, in January, quote, "Some intelligence suggests
the attacks were likely put together in short order following that day`s
violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video."

What`s more, the first draft of the CIA`s talking points for Susan Rice
paints an even clearer picture. It says, quote, "We believe, based on
clearly available information, that the attacks in Benghazi were
spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo."

Michael Steele was chairman of the Republican National Committee and David
Corn is the Washington bureau chief with "Mother Jones." Both are MSNBC
political analysts.

Michael, I`m curious to hear what you think here because it seems to me --
I`ve been watching this thing and trying to keep the file cabinet in my
head, which is filled with facts coming out of that Senate bipartisan
Intelligence Committee report, which said, yes, this was a copycat
operation against the facility in Benghazi, spurred or triggered by what
was going on around the Middle East but especially in Cairo. And the issue
-- and the situation in Cairo was triggered, they believe, by this
inflammatory video coming out of California making fun of Islam.

That seems to be what this memo points to by Ben Rhodes -- Say that. Say,
in other words, what we now believe to have been the case. What`s the
problem? What`s the smoking gun.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because, I
think, Chris, there`s still a lot that needs to be answered here with
Benghazi. And you know I`ve not been one of these, you know, red flag-
raising guys on Benghazi. I think that the initial handling of this by the
party, over-politicizing it, in fact, diminishes any really real
investigatory effort to find out exactly what the facts on the ground are.

To listen to Carney stand in the -- in the White House and talk about, Oh,
you know, we still want to bring whoever did this to justice, is almost
ludicrous at this point. So when you have something like this e-mail come
and be revealed through FOIA, and it just, again, contextualizes the
initial concerns that a lot of people, not just Republicans, had about the
handling of Benghazi and what led up to some of the decision making on the
ground. And I think it`s a legitimate tool and point of interest to
discuss.

MATTHEWS: David Corn, I guess the question comes down to, when are we
going to get a complete picture. But so far, it seems to me that what this
new memo shows coming out from Ben Rhodes that the Republicans are calling
a smoking gun and it`s caused people like Lindsey Graham, who`s normally
sane, to be calling people scumbags -- is it any different really in
substance from what we got from this bipartisan report of the Senate
Intelligence Committee way back in January?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Short answer, no.
Here are all the documents, all the new documents that just came out. You
know, and I would encourage Michael, our good friend, to read, you know,
the "smoking gun" memo, as FOX News and others like...

STEELE: Oh, I`ve read it.

CORN: ... to call it...

STEELE: I`ve read it.

CORN: ... because there`s nothing in that memo that changes anything that
we know. And it is quite clear that the one line they pull out of it, the
protests being inspired by the video, that Ben Rhodes is clearly referring
to all the protests that went on that week, in Tunisia, in Sudan, in Cairo
and Egypt and Yemen. And so that`s what he`s talking about, the big
picture. And so there`s nothing to this memo.

Now, I do think there are still questions unanswered about Benghazi, about
the CIA annex there and about, you know, what our capabilities were
beforehand, and the State Department review board looked into this and said
that there are reasons why more should have been done before the fact, and
you know, all the great things that should be looked at so that we never
lose another public servant like Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the
three other Americans who perished with him.

But for the Republicans again and again today to get out there and to make
this stuff up is really sacrilegious to the memory of Christopher Stevens!

STEELE: Well, David, with all due respect, I mean, that`s just a load of
crap. I mean, at the end of the day...

CORN: What, making...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Yes, it is. And we`re not making anything up. We`re going...

CORN: Yes, you are!

STEELE: ... on what this was -- no, we`re not. We`re looking at the same
stuff you`re looking at. OK, yes, it may be a matter of interpretation or
opinion, but the White House in handling this thing from the very beginning
has botched it.

And this memo, this particular paragraph that Chris started this segment
off with, you can interpret one of two ways. It could be, you know, Hey,
we`ve got to get out there and put this story about this is just about the
video, and Susan, just make sure you tell everybody that we`re not failing
on our policy, that we`re doing this the right way, or it could be as --
you know, as nice and easily packaged as David just put it. But we don`t
know.

MATTHEWS: I want to go back to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Look, there`s no doubt, gentlemen, that you`re right, Michael,
the White House has bollixed this up. Why didn`t they put out this memo...

STEELE: Thank you!

MATTHEWS: ... with all the earlier stuff they put out? Why did they let
rolling disclosure occur? Which is what I`ve said for years in politics in
looking at it. The one way to lose your credibility is to have information
leak out point by point by point at your convenience. Well, this certainly
wasn`t their convenience, it was a FOIA thing, a Freedom of Information
thing. But it makes the White House once again play defense.

But I want to go back to you, Michael, on this question. If you listen to
the language of the Senate bipartisan committee report that came out last
January, this past January, "Some intelligence suggests the attacks were
put together in short order" -- another thing (ph) -- relatively
spontaneous, following that day`s violent protests in Cairo against an
inflammatory video.

This is just what Susan Rice said on "MEET THE PRESS" with David Gregory,
copycatting...

STEELE: But -- but Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... Cairo, in that case, probably caused by the anger over the
video.

STEELE: But Chris, to...

MATTHEWS: How`s that a dishonest statement, presentation by Susan Rice...

STEELE: Well, I`m not saying it is...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: I`m not saying it is a dishonest statement by the White House.
The White House is putting out...

CORN: Every Republican is, though.

STEELE: Well, let me just finish the point. But to the point you just
made, Chris, you know, we don`t know what we don`t know yet about Benghazi.
Yes, OK, in the light of -- in the light that`s been shown -- I mean, you
just admitted that this rolling effect...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But Michael, that`d be great, but your side already is calling the
White House scumbags, saying they`ve lied...

STEELE: Now, look...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Let me finish my point, David. Don`t give me the -- look, I`m not
into the name calling crazy.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: We don`t need to name call here. But the bottom line is...

CORN: They`re the ones name-calling!

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: ... saying it`s a cover-up. YOU want to take this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch what the Republicans are saying, not what Michael`s
saying. Michael, here`s what some of your confreres are saying. The
Rhodes e-mail has set up an absolute GOP freakout, we would argue. As I
mentioned, Senator Lindsey Graham`s coined the White House a name you don`t
generally hear from a grown-up senator. Here`s Graham.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Some guy said this about me
yesterday, on the left, that the only reason I cared about this was because
I`ve got six Tea Party opponents. Well, if that`s true, I`m the biggest
scumbag in America. The scumbags are the people in the White House who
lied about this.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And Republican Congressman Darrell Issa held another round of
oversight hearings today on this matter, where he compared President Obama
to Richard Nixon. Here`s Congressman Issa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: It comes in a week in which the
American people have learned that you cannot believe what the White House
says. You cannot believe what the spokespeople say and you cannot believe
what the president says. And the facts are coming out that, in fact, this
administration has knowingly withheld documents pursuant to congressional
subpoenas in violation of any reasonable transparency or historic precedent
at least since Richard Milhous Nixon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, David Corn, it does seem to me you`re right, the language
coming out of these people couldn`t be more horrendous, given the fact
there`s hardly even a nuance of difference between what we`re learning now
and what we learned a long time ago...

CORN: Listen...

MATTHEWS: ... about the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi. By the way,
would we please all remember that Ambassador Chris Stevens was a grown-up,
a serious professional, of sound mind. He decided to go out there to that
risky facility that night. He made that decision, which ambassadors have
to make. It turned out to be a horrific situation he walked into. But the
idea that somebody else should have been covering for him, that someone
else should have had the army -- the army there waiting to defend him I
think has gotten a little ridiculous. Your thoughts, David.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: ... ridiculous. I think it`s the responsibility of the president
of the United States and this administration to protect those ambassadors
who do go into harm`s way willingly...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: ... so I`m not going to let the administration off the hook on
that.

MATTHEWS: How would he know that Chris Stevens was going out to a facility
alongside a CIA facility in the middle of the night some weekend? How
would he know that?

STEELE: How would he know what?

MATTHEWS: Michael?

STEELE: I didn`t hear your question. What`s that?

MATTHEWS: How would the president even know he was going on that trip out
there to Benghazi?

STEELE: I mean, how would the president know that specific event? We do
have -- we do have e-mails and correspondence between the ambassador and
the State Department. If the president doesn`t know, at least his
secretary of state and her department should know what...

CORN: Yes, and there was...

STEELE: ... his needs are on the ground and what is required, OK...

CORN: And there have been...

STEELE: ... what is required to protect...

CORN: ... investigations!

STEELE: ... a United States ambassador in a place like Benghazi. Come on,
guys! This isn`t rocket science, and you know daggone well...

CORN: Michael! Michael!

STEELE: ... if the shoe were on the other foot...

CORN: Hey, Michael!

STEELE: ... you would be screaming holy hell...

CORN: No, you`re acting...

STEELE: ... about how a Bush administration failed to protect one of its
ambassadors! Come on!

CORN: You`re acting as if there have been no investigations. There`ve
been several, including some led by Republicans in the House other than
Darrell Issa. And so a lot of this stuff has been looked at.

STEELE: Hey, David, did we just not get an e-mail released in the last 24
hours or week that wasn`t a part of the initial discussion...

CORN: This e-mail...

STEELE: ... that we`re all now talking about?

CORN: No, this...

STEELE: How do we know what`s going to be released tomorrow or next week?

CORN: Listen -- listen, you can keep saying...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CORN: You can keep saying...

MATTHEWS: All right, we now...

CORN: ... we don`t know what`s really out there...

MATTHEWS: I guess I`m trying to be -- Michael, I guess I`m trying to look
at this reasonably. I understand the politics of this completely on both
sides. But this argument, it seems to me, trying to apply this to what
happens in any war zone, which is -- this was a war zone. This country was
not being governed at the time.

You go into Afghanistan, you go into Syria today, you go into Iraq -- there
are places in the world where it`s dangerous to go to, where people get
killed all the time in surprise ambushes. It happens all the time,
roadside bombings, improvised explosive devices. We live in a world of
unpredictability and horror.

And the idea that one of these incidents would be blown up as the most
important issue of the upcoming presidential elections for kingdom come to
me is out of proportion.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele.

STEELE: All right, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And I wish I got to meet, David, Chris Stevens because everybody
thought he was a great guy. David Corn, of course, thank you for joining
us.

Coming up, Bill Clinton was doing more yesterday than just burnishing his
own image with his speech about income inequality. He was also guarding
Hillary`s left from attacks from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party.

Plus, the big muddle that has become the Republican race for the White
House. Three guys, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee are all bunched
together, with each representing a different faction of the party. This is
going to be fun.

And that botched execution down in Oklahoma has renewed debate over the
death penalty. It`s about sympathizing with convicted murders. I think
it`s more about the rare cases of where a truly innocent person is on death
row. And how do you justify that?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with this bracing new struggle between the
Clintons and the Democratic left over the 2016 primary fight.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Florida, Florida, Florida. We`ve got new polling on the 2016
presidential race from what has been the biggest battleground state in
presidential politics. But if Hillary Clinton runs, it`s not even close.
Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton leads the top
Republican in the state, former governor Jeb Bush, by 8 points. It`s
Clinton 49, Bush 41. And that`s as close as the Republicans come.

Against Florida senator Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton leads by 12, 52 to 40.
She leads Chris Christie by 18. It`s Clinton 52, Christie down at 34.
Hillary leads former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee by that same 18-point
margin, 53 to 35. And it`s 18 points against Kentucky senator Rand Paul.
Clinton there 55, Paul down at 37. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan trails
Hillary by a big 20, 56 to 36. Ted Cruz does the worst against Clinton in
the poll. He`s running 26 points behind the former secretary of state.
Look at these numbers, 57 to 31 for Cruz.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The fight for the 2016 Democratic
presidential nomination is already under way. Again, it will be a battle
between the center-left, this time championed by Hillary Clinton, and the
left, inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Yesterday, Bill Clinton came out of his corner to start round one. He made
it clear that no one is going to knock what he did in the 1990s. He served
notice that he is prepared to not just defend but celebrate his own
economic record.

At Georgetown yesterday, he argued that he brought eight million people out
of poverty and into the American middle class. He also has been making a
pitch for pre-school education, a page right from the book of New York`s
populist new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Could the Clintons be making it clear that they learned the lesson of 2008,
Do not get cut off from the Democratic Party base, not let Elizabeth
Warren, who`s said she`s not running, or someone else running with her
message, to tie them to Wall Street, the way Barack Obama tied Hillary
Clinton to the Iraq war, that they`re going to fight for the populist
banner and fight for it early.

For the Clintons, there`s a problem. At some point, they`ll have to
choose. Do they join with the hard left and blast away at people with
wealth, especially those in big finance? Do they, even though they have
many friends and supporters in those ranks? At what point will they face
the need to pull a Sister Souljah, if you will, and say the populists have
gone too far?

Ryan Grimm is Washington bureau chief for the HuffingtonPost and Anna
Palmer is senior Washington correspondent for Politico.

Ryan, let`s get to the picture here. Bill Clinton coming out of Georgetown
with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, his wife and former first
lady, of course, sitting in the first row. This seems a brazen statement
of a preventive war, that he`s ready to go to war with anybody that says he
wasn`t, if you will, populist enough as president.

RYAN GRIMM, HUFFINGTONPOST: Right. And I think that speech actually had
more to do with Bill Clinton than it did with Hillary Clinton. I think he
seized this -- this moment. And "Bitter" isn`t necessarily the right word,
but he feels like he`s not getting enough credit for what he did on
inequality in the 1990s. You know, his attitude is, the idea that nobody
was talking about this in the early to late `90s is crazy. I was -- I ran
on a populist theme. You know, I was a populist president, you know, and I
did X, Y and Z in order to reduce income inequality. And he wants -- and
he wants that credit.

And I think that has a lot more to do with why he gave the speech than
actually anything related to 2016.

MATTHEWS: But isn`t this really about tenor and attitude, that Elizabeth
Warren is seen as kind of a trust-buster, an old progressive who`s willing
-- in the old progressive sense -- willing to go in and make enemies and
really be known as somebody that Wall Street doesn`t like, who`s willing to
say, I`m your nemesis, your worst nightmare, where Bill Clinton`s never
been wanting to do that because all his friends -- I mean, all the people I
know in Wall Street are friends of the Clintons. They`re social friends.
They`re financial friends. They help them in their campaigns.

Isn`t there a wall they will not cross or jump over? They`re not willing
to say, I`m standing outside of Wall Street, calling for its downfall?

GRIMM: Right. They`re not going to go as far as -- you know, as Elizabeth
Warren does, but there`s always been, you know, some of that kind of
Southern populism in Clinton. And I think it might even be a little bit of
selective memory, but he -- you know, he wants to remember that -- that
part of his campaign I think more than the one that you`re talking about,
which is very real and which is the one that people are -- people are
remembering, especially as they`re saying, you know, Hillary Clinton could
be, you know, Wall Street`s second or third favorite candidate if they
can`t a -- you know, a Republican like Jeb Bush into this race.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Anna, I can just see this flipping in the next two weeks
and then back again.

The Clintons also seem to be -- I should say, Secretary Clinton, former
Senator Clinton, who`s running probably, she wants to be seen as someone
who can get alone with business and inspiring them to start spending that
$2 trillion they`re sitting on and not be seen as the enemy.

How are going to do both, be populist and also be seen as helpful partners
of big business and big money?

ANNA PALMER, POLITICO: Well, I think that they understand or they want
Wall Street to be in on the joke, right?

The Clintons are saying, listen, we have a history. We can be populist.
When I was -- you know, when Bill Clinton was in office, he did things for
the left, but at the same time, I think when you look at all of their
friends on Wall Street, they understand exactly who the Clintons are,
exactly how they would be business-friendly to them and the fact that, you
know, just as Ryan said, that if there is not a Jeb Bush in there,
certainly Wall Street is very comfortable with Hillary Clinton on the
ticket and in the White House.

MATTHEWS: So if they`re throwing spears or arrows or whatever at Wall
Street, you say the people in Wall Street, who are their friends, will
discount it and say, well, we know this is part of the political business?

PALMER: Absolutely.

I think they see her nowhere near as bad for them as President Obama has
been. They also aren`t going on the attack really in terms of any kind of
aggressive nature. They`re really only trying to say, listen, we do have
this left message that we can do and we can communicate with them, but at
the same time, Wall Street is known that they`re friends and they know that
they`re going to be friends with them throughout the campaign. .

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess one way to watch them is see how close they get to
de Blasio in New York, who obviously is not making any friends on Wall
Street.

Let`s take a look at yesterday`s speech. President Clinton went back to
his alma mater. By the way, his slogan back in `92 was putting people
first. He went back to Georgetown University yesterday, where he went to
college, and defended his economic policies in his White House years, in
fact, some people believe, as you said, Ryan, to bolster his own legacy,
but also to neutralize criticism from the hard left ahead of Hillary`s
expected presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You`re free to decide
that you think I made a mistake, but all the people that say, you know,
what was Bill Clinton doing getting in bed with Wall Street and lowering
the capital gains tax, he was getting six million poor children health
insurance coverage.

You can say, oh, Clinton was lucky. He caught the tech boom. Clinton was
lucky, he came out of the recession. In all of the so-called prosperity in
the 1980s, only 77,000 of our fellow Americans moved from poverty into the
middle class. In the `90s, 100 times as many, 7.7 million people, did.
That was policy.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was a lot of number there, and there`s a big one, the
fact that almost eight million people did move in to the middle class from
poverty.

Clinton is pushing back against complaints from progressives like Elizabeth
Warren that the Democratic establishment -- and I guess that means them,
the Clintons -- is too close to business. Well, "The New York Times"
writes -- quote -- "His language as president was more focused on lifting
the middle class than castigating the wealthy. That should not be confused
with a lack of concern for the poor, Mr. Clinton says now."

Let me go back to Anna on this.

It seems to me that this is the fight. I don`t know what other argument
you make against Hillary Clinton, except that she`s been there before, that
she is the Democratic establishment, in the same way that John Kerry was
and Al Gore was and Mike Dukakis was. They are the standard bearers of the
party`s center. Make that into a negative.

I guess that`s what anybody on the left will have to. Being a centrist
Democrat is somehow bad.

PALMER: Well, I think what you have really seen since Bill Clinton was in
the White House is that both of the parties, Republican and Democrat, have
moved to their wing. So, while Bill Clinton might have been a populist in
`992, what those policies are for now for a lot of the far left, the
MoveOn.orgs of the world, aren`t far enough left.

So, they`re going to try to push the Clintons as far left as they can
because that`s what -- those are the policies that they`re going to be to
be enacted. And, of course, I think you have see centrist Democrats...

MATTHEWS: You think the party has moved to the left, the whole party, the
people that vote Democrat in this country, or the netroots?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Because I saw a poll we just had a couple weeks go, it wasn`t
more than three weeks ago, that said the number one concern of the
Democratic voters, voters, not activists, was that you have candidates who
will compromise with the other side of the aisle.

In other words, they want to see people heading towards the center, at
least in terms of bottom line, maybe not in attitude, but getting things
done. They don`t want a bunch of people shooting arrows at Wall Street, at
least according to our poll.

Your thoughts.

PALMER: No, I think maybe when you`re looking at the general, but in terms
of looking at the base, the people who are going to come out in primaries
and are going to vote, you`re going to be really talking a lot of the
people that do want to move the party to the left and have had that kind of
Obama, kind of populist, kind of movement-moving, Elizabeth Warren kind of
messages. That`s what they`re going to want to hear.

MATTHEWS: Ryan, here`s a question. Can you make the same kind of fight
against the Clintons that Obama effectively made on the issue of the war in
Iraq, where Hillary Clinton voted for the resolution to authorize the war?
She didn`t vote for the war, but she voted to authorize it. And that of
course was the issue that they beat her on, I believe.

Can they find the same sharp division on issues involving economics that
you could find in a war?

GRIM: No, and actually people in Clinton`s circle bring that particular
moment up.

They don`t think that there is a parallel. There is no stink bomb like the
Iraq vote when it comes to economic policy. There`s certainly a sense that
the Clintons are closer to Wall Street certainly than somebody like
Elizabeth Warren and closer than I think a lot of the Democratic base would
like people to be, especially after the 2008 financial crisis.

I think, before the crisis, Wall Street was looked at as kind of an
enlightened element of capitalism and if we can merge kind of progressive
values with the free market, then that`s a great way to build a majority,
but after the crisis, I think that changed. But there is no -- you`re
exactly right. There is no single war vote.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Ryan Grim and Anna Palmer.

Up next, our own Chuck Todd goes Hollywood.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

Last night on "The Late Show," David Letterman was talking about a
fascinating scientific discovery. He said you can actually turn the human
brain on and off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": In fact, they
said along with this most recent issue of "Scientific Monthly" -- they sent
along some video...

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: ... of an early test of the brain`s on/off switch.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I also wanted
to tell a story.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: And here`s the story.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: My dad, like many of your -- folks who have got relatives here, many
of you whose relatives who did the same thing who are -- you`re here --
their relatives probably aren`t.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Next, Joel McHale of the E! Network`s "The Soup" is headlining
the White House Correspondents Dinner this Saturday.

He`s already in Washington digging up polling information from top White
House correspondents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Let`s check the latest polling;
96 percent of Americans own a television. Of that number, only 51 percent
have cable. Of those that have cable, only 28 percent receive the E!
Network. Of that 28 percent, only 14 percent are aware that E! is a
network. And only 8 percent of those who have heard of E! actually watch
E!

And of those that actually watch E!, only 0.2 percent tune into "The Soup."

So, 0.2 percent of 8 percent of 14 percent of 28 percent of 51 percent of
96 percent of Americans means what? I`m talking one person right now.

Buddy, how you doing? "The Soup" is in D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And that was of course MSNBC`s "DAILY RUNDOWN" host, my
colleague Chuck Todd.

Finally, anybody with small kids at home has probably been -- actually seen
the Academy Award-winning film "Frozen." Well, these U.S. Marines are no
exception. Take a look at this video hosted by a Marine in Bryan, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, these guys obviously know the words. But watch what
happens when the song reaches a climax and the young queen lets down her
hair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We will be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

President Obama welcomed teacher of the year finalists to the White House
earlier. He also recognized an educator from Baltimore as national teacher
of the year.

A report on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been
released. It shows 17 minutes passed before air traffic controllers in
Malaysia and Vietnam realized that plane was missing.

In Southern California, 60-mile-per hour winds are grounding helicopters
and airplanes used to fight a massive wildfire. It has burned more than
1,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained.

And new dramatic video of Wednesday`s street collapse in Baltimore shows
cars slowly lurching to the side before that ground gave way -- back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the Republican Party`s identity crisis is clearly exposed in a new
"Washington Post" poll just out. The leaders bunched at the top to be
their party`s nominee come from three distinct factions of the party and
show why Republicans can expect a battle, a real battle for the party`s
identity itself in 2016.

Among Republicans, Jeb Bush, representing the establishment faction, and
Rand Paul, representing the libertarians, are tied at the lead at just 14 a
piece. That`s just 14 a piece, not much there. And just a hair behind
them at 13 percent is Mike Huckabee, of course representing the religious
and evangelical part of the party. Bunched in the middle of the pole are
two establishment candidates, Paul Ryan at 11 percent, Chris Christie still
hanging up there at 10, with a lot of prosecution looming out there
possibly.

And filling out the bottom of the bracket, Marco Rubio down at 7, Ted Cruz
and Rick Perry -- imagine Cruz down at Perry -- he must be humiliated -- 6
percent -- Scott Walker, who could be a sleeper at 5.

With the Republican field split like this, the 2016 primary and the
jockeying for alliances will make this a dramatic election cycle, I think,
for the party.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist, in fact, a very successful one,
and MSNBC political analyst as well. And Clarence Page is a columnist for
the big-time "Chicago Tribune."

Kathleen, let me ask you a question. You have been doing some reporting
out here, which is always a good thing to do right before coming on the
program.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Is Jeb Bush running?

KATHLEEN PARKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

I think -- I have been told definitively that he is running. I haven`t
been told that by him. So he may call me right after the show and say, who
do you think you are? But I got this from very reliable people. And it`s
just -- he is definitely running.

And so that changes a lot of the plans for a lot of people. Once he does
declare and that becomes a certainty, then Marco Rubio probably will not
run. People in the know say that he definitely will not run, and that may
as well effect other people`s decision-making. What happens with those
coalitions that you talk about and how they kind of cross-pollinate changes
the dynamics a little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, I just think that`s a great way of putting it. Cross-
pollinate is not what I would have used, but it sounds pretty good.

The busy bee question, Clarence. You have got the three factions of the
Republican Party. And we all know what they are. You got the secular
libertarians are with Ayn Rand. I don`t know where they are on God, but
they don`t talk about it much. You got the establishment types who are
sort of -- you know, they`re establishment types. They don`t talk about
religion at all.

And then you have got these Huckabee people out there waiting. Who`s --
what`s the most natural alliance? Is it the establishment types going in
bed with the religious types and saying we`re both hawks? Because you
can`t really have Rand Paul as a hawk. What`s the natural alliance that
ends up being the winning ticket down in South Carolina?

I will get back to Kathleen, because she knows that pretty well, too.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What goes into South Carolina and beats the other faction out 2-
1?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, I think what we
have seen in the past is that the Tea Party libertarians and the
evangelical Republicans tend to be closely aligned in most ways, with the
exception perhaps of the separation of church-state issues.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: However, they have all got to work together, ultimately.

And Republicans tend to have -- have remarkable talents for healing and
forming their coalitions after they get their initial fighting done. So I
think those -- those are your most natural alliances.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about that in South Carolina, which you know,
Kathleen. This whole question, in the end, you know, the party has to
speak for the whole party. So, what happens?

It seems to me on the hawkish front, the Christian conservatives are very
pro-Israel and very tough on foreign policy, the fights head to be in the
Middle East. They`ll just join up with whoever is the most gun-toting
hawkish person from the establishment.

Can you see Jeb Bush joining up with the religious right?

PARKER: Well, you know, Jeb is actually far more conservative than George
W. Bush was. He is pro-life and he is, you know, he`s the one who talks
with compassion about immigration, for example. That doesn`t really help
him much in South Carolina and some of the other Southern states, but he,
you know, he has an ability to, I think reach people in ways that some of
these others may not.

He may surprise you. You know, even though, he`s probably -- he may not be
quite as well known as some of the other candidates -- likely candidates in
certain ways, but he has the ability to speak fluently, without props,
without notes in a way that people can understand. He`s very conversation.
If you`ve heard him speak, you know this.

And I think he can appeal to a broad cross section of people, even in South
Carolina. I don`t think you have to necessarily tote a gun, but you do
have to be respectful of people and recognize that it`s not -- you know,
that the Southerners and Christians are not people to be sidelines.

I would add to that, of course they`re going to prefer someone like Mike
Huckabee, but Mike Huckabee is not running for president -- another news-
breaking moment from Kathleen Parker.

MATTHEWS: Then, we get back Kathleen, you can start, then, Clarence,
because it`s my favorite question -- how badly do they want to beat Hillary
Clinton? How much do they are they appealed at the idea of eight years of
Barack Obama, followed by eight years of Hillary Clinton, 16 years of what
they despise? Are they willing to run someone they don`t really like, like
Jeb Bush if he looks like the best bet to beat Hillary?

PAGE: That`s the big question. That`s the big question and I remember
back in `08, I hearing a number of Republicans say it takes at least two
election cycles for the more factional folks to fall in line. And that`s
true of Democrats, too, actually.

Right now, the Republicans are looking at the possibility of getting the
Tea Party folks, evangelicals together. Will they settle for Jeb Bush?
They didn`t settle for John McCain. They didn`t settle for Mitt Romney.
But now, they may be, shall we say, desperate enough whatever, or angry
enough to pull together. If they can`t, then Hillary Clinton is going to
have a much easier path, I think.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Kathleen Parker and Clarence Page.

This is the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got new poll numbers in that big governors race down in
Florida. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, it`s Charlie Crist, the former
Republican governor now running as a Democrat -- look at this, a 10-point
lead over Rick Scott. It`s Crist, 48, Scott 38.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Oklahoma`s botched execution this Tuesday night has reopened the debate
over the death penalty. In this case, Clayton Lockett was convicted of
1999 murder of a 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman, who he abducted, sexually
assaulted and shot after a home invasion. And then, Lockett and his
accomplices buried her alive.

Most would expect a perpetrator of a crime so heinous to receive the death
penalty and he did. But during his execution this Tuesday night, Lockett
remained alive for 43 minutes after being given a supposedly lethal
injection.

Here`s what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday about
Lockett`s execution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a fundamental standard in
this country that even when the death penalty is justified it must be
carried out humanely. And I think would recognize that this case fell
short of that have standard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: But Carney also reiterated Obama`s support for the death
penalty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARNEY: What I can tell you is that he`s long said while the evidence
suggests that the death penalty does little to deter crime, he believes
there are some crimes that are so heinous that the death penalty is
merited. In this case, or these cases, the crimes are indisputably
horrific and heinous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Every president in recent memory has supported the death penalty
while in office. And a majority of Americans also favor capital
punishment, although that majority has declined over the last 18 years.

According to a Pew Research study, support for the death penalty reached an
all-time high back in `96 at 78 percent. By last year, when the Pew last
polled the issue, support had dropped by 23 points down to 55 percent, but
still obviously a majority.

Opponents of the death penalty often cite incidents of wrongful conviction
to make their case. The nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center has
complied what it calls an innocent list showing that 144 individuals who
were sentenced to death have been legally exonerated since 1973.

Well, with us now is Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. And New York law professor Robert
Blecker, a death penalty advocate and author of the book "The Death of
Punishment."

Let me start with Robert Blecker, why do we need capital punishment? Why
is it appropriately morally and civilly to have that option in the courts?

ROBERT BLECKER, DEATH PENALTY ADVOCATE: Because some people deserve to die
and thus we have an obligation to execute them. I`m in full accord with
President Obama`s position here. Although it slightly overstates it to say
the evidence doesn`t show the death penalty deters. Of course, that`s not
the question. The question is, does it deter more effectively than its
alternative, life without parole? They both deter.

But the issue to answer your question again directly is, that there are
some people who commit such heinous crimes with such -- with such cruelty
and callousness that they simply deserve to die, that if we are committed
to letting the punishment fit the crime that is the only punishment that we
have that does fit some of those crimes.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let me go to Diann on that. Your reaction to that?

DIANN RUST-TIERNEY, NATIONAL COALITION TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY: Well,
Professor Blecker has sort of stated the classic sort of academic answer.
Yes, we should have a death penalty.

But the question that really is raised today particularly after the
execution in Oklahoma is, can we or should we have this death penalty?
What happened in Oklahoma was a graphic example of why we should not have
the death penalty. We can`t get it right.

You know, we can`t find a way to kill people in a way that doesn`t cause
horrific kinds of consequences that we saw, as you pointed out, we can`t
find a way of making sure we`re getting the right people. And we simply
can`t find a way of having a death penalty that works, that is consistent
with the other values of fairness and equality under the law.

So, it`s one thing to support the death penalty in the abstract and say
there might be some people for whom it would be appropriate. But the
problem we`re addressing right now here today is that this penalty right
now that we have doesn`t work and it`s not sustainable and can`t continue.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this. If it were such a thing, if you had
the guillotine, for example, which is I would say about 100 percent
effective by definition, would you be for that?

RUST-TIERNEY: No. And there`s a reason why we don`t have the guillotine.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

RUST-TIERNEY: Because the issue --

MATTHEWS: Why not?

RUST-TIERNEY: -- is whether a country --

MATTHEWS: No, I`m just asking you a question. If you just said
effectiveness and humaneness, why not for something that`s instant and it`s
over with?

RUST-TIERNEY: Well, first of all, we`re not just focusing on what happens
at the end, whether you can kill somebody efficiently. It`s the entire
process from beginning to end. And as you pointed out at the beginning,
we`re not even sure that we`re getting the right people. There are 144
people --

MATTHEWS: OK, you changed the subject. I thought you had a particular
point you were making.

You said it was about humanity in the way we execute people.

RUST-TIERNEY: No, no --

MATTHEWS: And I`m just asking you if we found a way to do it, and I think
throughout history there have been ways, not that I necessarily support
them. But if the issue is efficiency and effectiveness of the punishment,
well, then we`ll find a way. Most of the time these things do work. Isn`t
that the case?

RUST-TIERNEY: Well, no, because we --

MATTHEWS: Lethal injection generally works.

RUST-TIERNEY: Chris, Chris, we wouldn`t be in this constant search for new
methods. At one point, the electric chair was supposed to be the new and
improved way of executing people, and then lethal injection. What we`re
seeing over and over again is there`s no good way to do it. And again,
that`s only looking at the end, you know?

BLECKER: That`s not what we`re saying.

(CROSSTALK)

RUST-TIERNEY: The very beginning of the process --

MATTHEWS: You raised a number of questions. I think the other point you
made, Diann, which you alluded to, is the long appellate process.

What about, Robert Blecker, about the fact it takes so long to get all at
peals, the habeas corpus and all the other appeals you`re allowed under our
court system, that you`re really going after a person, executing them in
this case 15 years after the crime.

BLECKER: It`s all part of the deeper irony that the very people who are
decrying it are the people who are causing it. I mean, for Diann to
dismiss my position as academic, of course, is absurd. I`ve spent
thousands of hours on death rows and inside maximum security prisons
interviewing these convicted killers and the people who guard them. It`s
not at all academic.

And the problem with the method, as you point out, is not that it doesn`t
work. In my view, the problem with the method is not that it possibly
causes pain, but that it certainly causes confusion because what it does is
obscure what we`re doing. We are punishing. And yet what we`ve done is
we`ve medicalized it.

I witnessed an execution. He was wheeled as he standardly would be, in a
gurney wrapped in white sheets with an I.V. coming out of his arm, and it
was bizarrely similar to a hospice, where my father-in-law was dying from
an incurable cancer.

How we punish those whom we detest should in no way resemble how we sadly
sometimes have to kill those whom we love. We should acknowledge what
we`re doing, which is we are punishing.

You point out the guillotine. That`s a possibility. The firing squad is
another. It`s not that it`s unworkable. It`s that it`s conflating. It`s
that it`s bureaucratized what we`re doing, we`re punishing. We should face
what we`re doing --

(CROSSTALK)

RUST-TIERNEY: If I could speak to --

MATTHEWS: I guess, Diann, to go back to your point I want to hear you out
here. Cruel and unusual, hanging wasn`t considered cruel and unusual at
the time of our Constitution. Certainly firing squads have been part of
our military history forever, ever since we`ve had rifles.

RUST-TIERNEY: We`ve abandoned those methods.

MATTHEWS: What is the definition, and why does it keep changing?

RUST-TIERNEY: We`ve abandoned those methods for good reason. The public
cannot support --

MATTHEWS: Why?

RUST-TIERNEY: The public doesn`t want to see people hanged and
guillotined. Let`s be real. If those things were --

BLECKER: That`s not true.

RUST-TIERNEY: If those things were working, we`d still be doing them. But
let`s speak to the courts for just a minute.

BLECKER: What do you mean by working? What do you mean by working?
That`s the key question here. What do you mean by working? You say it
doesn`t work.

RUST-TIERNEY: That we get the right people. We`ve got 144 people who were
exonerated. We`re not even getting the right people.

BLECKER: That doesn`t mean they`re innocent, as you well know. And that
count is controversial --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s end this conversation.

RUST-TIERNEY: OK, let me finish my point about the courts, though --

MATTHEWS: This is very interesting. It`s an American debate and it`s
ongoing.

Thank you, Diann Rust-Tierney.

RUST-TIERNEY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Robert Blecker.

I heard both sides.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this fascinating battle for 2016.
I`m talking about the Democratic battle. While the Republican battle
appears to be a three-ring circus, suggesting something from Barnum &
Bailey with secular establishment types battling secular libertarians, both
trying to ignore that other faction in the tent, conservative religious
people.

Compared to this, the Democratic fight between the forces of Hillary
Clinton, the chief of which is being her husband right now at this point,
against the allure of an all-out populist war against Wall Street
personified by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts whose book title "A
Fighting Chance", is nothing less than intoxicating, at least to those
sympathetic to the economic little guy.

No, I didn`t think the Koch brothers cared about the little guy or woman
having a fighting chance. Their concern is centered on ensuring that big
wealth continues to grow without obstruction by government regulators
without what they see as an untoward shift in the tax burden to the upper
or in this case the uber brackets.

So, the fight is on. If it only serves to sharpen Hillary Clinton for
battle, it will be a good thing for the country. What we need is a tough,
sound, up-to-date case for the Democratic Party`s center-left, the smart
and selling sequel to eight years with President Obama.

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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