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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 02/10/15

Guests: Charles Sennott, Sen. Bill Nelson, Mo Brooks, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Kayla is gone. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. And "Let Me Start" tonight with confirmation that the American hostage Kayla Mueller is dead. Mueller was taken by ISIS in August of 2013 while working for an aid organization in Syria. She was there trying to help the suffering people of that country. And today, her family said they`ve received evidence that she is dead. According to NBC, the evidence was a photograph of Kayla`s body which had been e-mailed -- the photograph -- to her family over the weekend. While we now know she is dead, we do not know how she was killed or when. ISIS said it was a Jordanian air strike that killed her, but there`s strong reason for skepticism, as White House press secretary, Josh Earnest showed today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The information that we have is that there is no evidence of civilians in the target area prior to the coalition strike taking place. And that certainly would call into question the claims that are made by ISIL. What is not possible to call into question is that ISIL, regardless of her cause of death, is responsible for it. This, after all, was the organization that was holding her against her will. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Agreed. Anyway, why would we believe the ISIS version of events in any case? After all, this was a group that was negotiating over the fate of a Jordanian pilot several weeks after the pilot was gruesomely executed.   We begin tonight with the two key questions -- when and how did Kayla Mueller died? I`m joined by NBC`s Keir Simmons, who`s in Amman, Jordan. Keir, thank you for joining us tonight. What do we really know, except we now believe, because the parents have gotten some evidence of a picture of her, that she is deceased? What do we know besides that? KEIR SIMMONS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, we don`t know very much at all, to be honest. U.S. officials say that she appears -- and we`re talking about them trying to study just a picture, just a photograph. But they say that she appears to have suffered trauma wounds that would not be inconsistent with her being in the vicinity of a bomb. But of course, we`re talking about Syria, and Syria is a place where bombs are dropped by numbers of different parties, including by the Syrian government itself. And we`re talking about ISIS -- ISIL, as the White House calls them -- where they are constantly making bombs, building bombs. So she would have been around the kinds of munitions that could have caused these injuries, not falling from the sky. And that`s really where it is, Chris, to be honest. I mean, ISIS made these claims. The Jordanians are repeating those same points being made by the White House, that you can`t believe a single thing that ISIS says. It is very, very difficult to be certain when she died or how she died. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Jordan. You`re in that country right now. It`s a valued ally of our country`s. They`re massing troops, ground troops, on the border with Syria. To what purpose? Can we tell? Are they ready for an invasion? Or is this a show of strength, or simply border protection, which would make sense? SIMMONS: We think it`s border protection, but the talk about a possible offensive against ISIS has been building ever since the air campaign has been building in recent days. Chris, some things that might have been missed, though. The Iraqi deputy prime minister has said in the last 24 hours he doesn`t believe that their forces are ready for a ground offensive against ISIS, even with the kind of air power that they would have in support. And Chris, you`ll know that the idea, for example, of Jordanian troops heading across the border into Iraq to fight ISIS would be pretty extraordinary because you`re talking about a country that is primary led by -- OK, it`s a coalition government, but it`s a Shia government, many people think. And then when you talk about Syria, as I mentioned earlier, that is a country run by President Assad. So again, a difficult arena to intervene in by the Jordanians or any other Gulf states. So you probably are relying on the kinds of forces, like Iraqi troops, like Kurdish troops, and you really want to be certain that they are ready. And the Kurds, by the way, have been complaining that they don`t have what they need in order to really fight ISIS. That will be a bloody battle, Chris, when and if that happens, I guess, and those -- all of those supporting the idea and pushing ISIS back are going to want to be confident that they can be successful.   MATTHEWS: Right. Thank you so much, Keir Simmons, once again from Jordan. Anyway, the president said today -- our president -- that Kayla Mueller represented what is best about America. Quote, "On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I convey our deepest condolences to Kayla`s family and all those who loved Kayla dearly. As this time of unimaginable suffering, the country shares in their grief. Kayla`s compassion and dedication to assisting those in need shows us that even amongst unconscionable evil, the essential decency of humanity can live on." And one of Kayla`s senators in Arizona, one of those representing her, John McCain, had this to say. Let`s watch John McCain. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This wonderful young woman represented the best of us. She had a remarkable impact on the lives of so many people who never had the honor of meeting her, and her story will forever be an inspiration to us. On behalf of the people of Arizona and the United States Congress, I want to express the deepest condolences to Kayla`s parents, Marsha and Carl Mueller, her loving family and many friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Kayla devoted her young life to helping people in need around the world, to healing the sick and bringing light to some of the darkest and most desperate places on earth. She will never be forgotten. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: The good John McCain. Anyway, this afternoon, Kayla`s aunts also paid tribute to her. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LORI LYON, MUELLER`S AUNT: Kayla`s calling was to help those who are suffering, whether in her hometown of Prescott or on the other side of the world. She has done more in her incredible 26 years than many people could ever imagine doing in their lifetime!   Kayla has touched the heart of the world. The world grieves with us. The world mourns with us. The world wants to be more like Kayla, and if that is her legacy and the footprint that she leaves on the world, then that is a wonderful thing. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by MSNBC terrorist analyst Michael Sheehan. He`s a former assistant secretary of defense, also Charlie Sennott. He`s the co-founder of GlobalPost and executive director of the Ground Truth Project. Gentleman, thank you both for joining us. So this is sort of a wide-open question, like every American watching who cares about this country, and I think good people around the world, including that incredibly heroic pilot who was killed in the most horrific fashion, burned alive, knowing it was coming, watching it happen in front of people like that -- I don`t even want to look at that picture -- and this perfect young human American, who spent her life doing only good, and killing people just for the hell of it. I don`t have any idea how she died, but what do we make of this? And what`s it going to do to us? I keep thinking, Michael, if we get somebody -- now, this sounds pretty tough, but when are we going to stop this? I mean, we get a person over there, we all know who they are, what happens then? Do we change the rules? Do we go into it with a Rambo-style attack and do what we can to get them out? We did it with her. We tried. Do we have any capability to stop this hell, ISIS, unless we defeat the whole operation? MICHAEL SHEEHAN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: It`s very difficult when there`s a hostage taken, Chris. They`re very good at hiding, and they know the capability we have. They movie them from place to place. They try to keep a low signature. I was involved in trying to find Bergdahl and other hostages when I was in the Pentagon, and we found one and rescued one in Somalia. But it is extremely difficult, and especially with these people that have some experience in hiding these folks. MATTHEWS: Charlie, do we have any satellite photo capability to isolate? You see these things on television. You wonder. We look so darn good, but is it still a needle in a haystack, finding an incident, for example, of a hostage, where we can actually see them planning or about to carry out an execution? Can we see it? CHARLES SENNOTT, GLOBALPOST (on-camera): You know, finding a hostage is so hard in these situations, but they did have pretty good aerial surveillance of Raqqa, and there was information early on in the summer last year that really did indicate that this is where these hostages were being held. I think there`s so many things we don`t know right now. There`s so many facts we don`t have, more questions than answers. But there`s one thing. Just to stop for one minute and say I can`t understand this at all. I don`t think any of us can.   But there is something here that I do have a bit of knowledge of and that I`ve seen into, and that is how this family felt all that time, how they hung onto hope. And we know that through getting to know the Foley family. Jim Foley was a correspondent who we worked with. He was a friend. He was a colleague, great journalist, also, you know, so much like Kayla, driven to service, driven to bearing witness to what was going on there, and just as President Obama put it, you know, the best among us. And I think there`s something here to recognize in the family, what they`ve been through, and their dignity in dealing with this. I saw the Foleys do the same thing, and I`m just really in awe of this family, the way they expressed their pride in their daughter, in the work she did for others and the service that she had. And they talk about how proud they are of her as a person. I think that`s amazing, an amazing testament to young people who are out there in places like the Middle East trying to make a difference. It`s really extraordinary. MATTHEWS: I`m just wonder how long we`re going to put up with this, Michael. And I understand everything you guys are telling me about the difficulty of it. If we hadn`t been through these wars of Afghanistan and the two Iraq wars, this would have been like something like the war of Jenkins (ph) ear or something. We would just, All right, we`re going to war, you know? All right, you`re doing this to our people -- like, even Jimmy Carter, who could be pretty pacifist -- and I worked for him -- if they had started executing our diplomats back in the `70s, I think we would have gone to war. And I think -- when do we say enough? SHEEHAN: Well... MATTHEWS: And just start bombing the hell out of them? SHEEHAN: Well, we are... MATTHEWS: Are we bombing the hell out of them? SHEEHAN: We are... MATTHEWS: Are we really prosecuting a real war there? SHEEHAN: We are bombing the hell out of them, and I think we might be able to expand that bombing more into Syria, as well.   But Chris, this has a dual-edged sword. They did this for a purpose. First of all, they`re just barbaric and it`s just in their blood to kill people and Westerners that they hate. But also, there`s a purpose. No president of the United States wants to wake up in the morning and see a young special forces captain held in a cage being ready to be burned. They`re doing this to try to intimidate us so that we go home. And it`s important that the president of the United States articulate why we`re there, to prepare the country just in case this happens again. MATTHEWS: What happens if we start putting people on the ground as forward air controllers and people who have to spot positions and targets, and they grab one of those guys? SHEEHAN: It could happen. We have people on the ground right now in Iraq, the special forces advisers. And I can tell you, Chris, we are more effective the more close we are with the combat forces that we`re advising. MATTHEWS: And we`re more exposed, too. SHEEHAN: That`s right. And if we stay behind and cower in hotels, we`ve allowed that terrorist act of killing one person to affect our entire policy. SENNOTT: I agree... MATTHEWS: It`s a brutal story. Last word -- last word, Charlie. What`s your sense of what we should be doing? I mean, I don`t know if it`s your field to say what the grand strategy would be. What do you think? SENNOTT: Well, I think one thing is ground forces. You`re not going to be able to accomplish this without them. But the other thing in the bigger picture -- it`s a little bit philosophical. How do we win this? We win it with ideas. We`re a country that`s about freedom. We`re a country that`s about freedom of expression. And you know, these terrorists at the Islamic State are a kind of death cult. Why on God`s earth would anyone want to ascribe to that or belong to that? And I think the Middle East is waking up to that when they watched burning alive a pilot who had been downed. MATTHEWS: A Muslim.   SENNOTT: The Middle East is having its own reaction. We win this on ideas and by staying true to who we are and not letting them divide us. MATTHEWS: Yes, well, there`s some evil pretty manifest here. Anyway, thank you, Michael Sheehan. Thank you, Charlie Sennott. Thank you -- we used to have you on a lot. Thanks for coming back, Charlie. SENNOTT: Thank you. MATTHEWS: Coming up -- President Obama is ready to ask Congress for a war resolution against ISIS, but what would that war look like that he wants to wage, and how much power will Congress give the president? Unfortunately, politics is going to play a role. And will American troops actually face the enemy in the field the way that Michael just suggested? Big questions tonight coming up here. Plus, Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee is accusing Hillary Clinton of hiding because she`s not acting like a candidate yet. Perhaps Reince wants her in the race so that the Republican candidates will stop attacking each other. I`m just guessing. And David Axelrod now says in his book that President Obama was BS`ing -- to use his term -- when he said he didn`t support same-sex marriage. Axelrod says there was no evolution. The president was always for it. We`ll see what the president says about that. Finally, last October, basketball superstar Michael Jordan mocked the president`s golfing ability. Now we find out the president rejected a gift from Jordan because -- catch this -- Jordan misspelled the president`s first name. Well, this is really trash talk, isn`t it. Anyway, that`s all where it belongs, in the "Sideshow. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Today, Kayla Mueller`s family released an unpublished letter that Kayla wrote last spring while being held by ISIS. Here`s part of what Kayla wrote. "I`ve come to a place and experience where in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator because, literally, there was no one else. None of could have known it would be this long. But know I am fighting from my side in the ways I am able, and I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I`m not breaking down, and I will not give in, no matter how long it takes."   We`ll be right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: There`s already the drumbeat, there`s already those in both parties who insist that we must have American GIs on the ground. I`m not sending any American soldiers! I`m not sending your son, your daughter or mine over to the middle of that chaos. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky last year warning against more American military engagement in the Middle East. The White House is expected to release a proposal giving President Obama the congressional authorization to wage war against the Islamic State as early as this week. The White House is negotiating with the Congress over the language of what`s called an authorization for use of military force. Well, earlier today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is working hard to secure backing from both Democrats and Republicans. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the intervening period, since the president first discussed this back in November, and even before the president made this announcement back in November, administration officials had been engaged in conversations with Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate to try to arrive at language that could be supported by Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate. In recent days, we`ve stepped up our engagement to -- with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill to try to finalize language that could be submitted by the administration to Congress, and we`re hopeful that we can provide that information relatively soon, that language relatively soon. And hopefully, there will not be a significant delay in Congress acting on that legislative language.   (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, the last time the Congress granted an authorization of that kind was in 2002, when President Bush asked for the authority to invade Iraq. Thirteen years later, President Obama is asking a different Congress for authority to act in the war against ISIS. The big question remains, should American soldiers do the actual fighting? Joining me right now are two members of the Congress who will have to take that vote soon. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, is from Florida. Senator Nelson, should we have American soldiers doing the fighting against ISIS? SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: The short answer is yes, and we already are. We`re hitting them from the air, and in some cases, we`ve already had boots on the ground as we have tried some rescue missions. MATTHEWS: What about having soldiers, our soldiers, join the other forces, like the Iraqi forces, as they go to war with ISIS? Is that something you would support, being in their ranks out front doing the fighting? NELSON: Large standing armies, no, but forward air observers or special operations forces doing a particular mission, yes. MATTHEWS: What happens if they continue executing our people and grabbing them and then killing them publicly? Does that increase the urgency of our involvement? Does it enlarge the nature of our involvement as you see it? NELSON: That`s why we have to win. And that`s why we have a renewed vigor. And just -- look, as you well pointed out, this inhumane burning of the Jordanian pilot, that`s not only united the Jordanians. We met with the king last week. But it has united the entire Arab world from Indonesia in the east all the way to Morocco in the west. And they are -- they are united to join us to go after and to stop ISIS. MATTHEWS: What happens if what you describe as our appropriate policy of using troops for forward to ground control and helping the planes know where to strike, picking the targets, what happens if that`s not enough to beat ISIS?   NELSON: Well, or what happens in ISIS goes to another country? I think we`re going to have to give the president some flexibility. He used the words enduring forces. It`s equivalent of like a large standing army on the ground. That`s not going to be allowed in this authorization. MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. Thank you, sir, for taking the time. NELSON: Thanks, Chris. MATTHEWS: U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks is a Republican from Alabama. Congressman, did you hear Senator Nelson? He offered up the idea of the limited commitment of troops, to basically help with the spotting of targets by our air attack, and basically not -- I wouldn`t say not infantry moving into combat against the enemy. Where do you stand in terms of restricting the president? REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: Well, I`m a little bit perplexed by his comments. Personally, I think this needs to be the standard. America should not go to war unless we`re committed to do the things that are necessary to win, which means that we should not restrain our commander in chief if in fact that is what America wants to do. In that regard, the president of the United States has to show that he has a strategy that can result in the extermination of the Islamic State. Second, the president has to show a willingness to be committed to the cause. There will be casualties, American casualties, and as was seen from the Islamic State, we might as Americans be confronted with some very horrific events that are on the Internet or on TV. And we have to be prepared for that if we`re going to embark in this endeavor. And I want to know that our president is committed to the task, and has a strategy that can win. And if he`s not committed or does not have a strategy, then we should not engage. Rather, it should be a much greater multination effort, perhaps a United Nations-led effort.   MATTHEWS: That has a good sound to it. I think it sounds like Doug MacArthur. There is no substitute for victory. And I`m just wondering, in that case, when we`re fighting an enemy like that, we would occupy and then liberate the people later and move and we would come home. What do you if you go in and fight ISIS and you liberate areas of Iraq and areas of Syria? Who gets that territory behind your front? Who do you give it to? That`s always been my question. BROOKS: Well, I would hope what would follow a defeat of the Islamic State is, with respect to Iraq, you would have an Iraqi government that would be able to reassert control over its territory, and similarly a government in Syria, which brings up another question. Is the president going to use this as a subterfuge for toppling the Syrian regime? As you know, within the past couple years, this White House and its secretary of state then, Hillary Clinton, called for a toppling of the Syrian regime. So this is a very delicate situation with the Islamic State, with the Syrian regime, with al Qaeda on the perimeter, with Iran not that far away. And I think the president needs to express in a way that gives the American people confidence that we have a winning strategy and the commitment to win. It does us no good to get embroiled in war if we`re not going to end up with a victory. MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks so much. That was a very clear statement by Mo Brooks, congressman from Alabama. Joining me right now is David Corn, Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones" and MSNBC political analyst. David, what do you think? DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first, my condolences to the Mueller family. I can`t imagine what they`re going through today. It`s horrific, which is why we`re talking about the bigger picture. The idea that the congressman just stated of the extermination of the Islamic State at the hands of the U.S. military I think is not realistic and far-fetched. The way you would get rid of...   MATTHEWS: Why? Explain that. CORN: Because I don`t think we enough bodies, whether we have the will or not, to go in there and actually secure that whole portion of the Middle East. Even if you go in... MATTHEWS: There`s 30,000 of them. That`s it. CORN: They control large swathes of land. And when we went in with Iraq, we saw that there`s not a political solution. If you don`t have a Sunni awakening, which is more political than military, you can`t do it on your own. Right now, even the bombing raids that we have targeting ISIS, every time they hit a civilian target, it radicalizes the Sunnis and helps ISIS as well. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I agree with that, because I think the government of Iraq is a Shia government. And we just heard earlier that there`s a problem -- from the experts - - that the reason Jordan won`t go on the ground against ISIS, they don`t want to be on the same battle, on the same side as the Shia governments of Assad and of course in Baghdad. CORN: This is not a polar dispute. If you go into Syria, and you topple the Assad government, the ISIS-affiliated forces are right now stronger on the ground. And they could take over Syria. MATTHEWS: OK. Let me throw this at you. Are we going to let this continue? This is my conundrum here. I agree with you all this stuff. You know your stuff. CORN: Yes.   MATTHEWS: Are we going to let them keep executing people, pouring gasoline? Wait until they get somebody over there, a nun over there, and start pouring gasoline on her. At what point are we going to say we`re going to blow that place up with anything we got, even if we don`t win? When do you just explode as a country and say we`re not going to take that anymore? When is that going to happen? CORN: Yes. Well, that`s a good question, but acting out of anger and revenge, while it would feel good, would probably not get us the policy ends want. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Do you think we`re going to sit? Suppose they grab somebody we know over there, maybe a journalist we know, maybe a celebrity. Who knows how they grab. And it`s going to be a person we know. It certainly was for these families, as you point out. CORN: Of course. MATTHEWS: Thanks for your condolence, of course, because they`re appropriate, because we don`t know these people. You can have tremendous empathy for somebody like the young woman Kayla, because we have sort of gotten to know her. But what happens when it`s somebody over there -- I just don`t know how long we can take this as human beings. I just think it`s a real problem. And I`m thinking of Rambo kind of stuff, because at some point you have got to go in there with what you got and do the best you can, or you`re not going to be very proud of yourself. CORN: Well, listen, we try to use indiscriminate bombing. MATTHEWS: No, I don`t mean indiscriminate bombing. I`m talking a heroic kind of an extraction campaign.   CORN: Well, to the degree you can do special force operations -- and we have tried that with hostages. Sometimes, it`s worked. Sometimes, it hasn`t worked. MATTHEWS: Yes. CORN: And I believe that President Obama is fully committed to doing that when it`s possible. But as Michael Sheehan said earlier in the show, it`s really hard sometimes to locate these people and figure out what to do. Now, whether we`re going to sort of go in, you know, with ground troops and take on the military responsibility ourselves, that`s exactly what ISIS would want. I don`t think we can conquer ISIS if the regional powers and forces don`t figure out on their own that it`s most in their interest to do this with our help. MATTHEWS: I agree. They may want it, but Baghdadi doesn`t want his head blown off either. Anything is possible. Thank you, David. CORN: Sure thing. MATTHEWS: This is a very conflicting situation. Up next: President Obama rejected an autographed poster from Michael Jordan, the basketball ball, because Jordan misspelled his first name. This is a little bit of a tiff here, and that`s where it belongs, that story, in the "Sideshow," and nowhere else tonight. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)   MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And time for the "Sideshow." While the debate over childhood vaccinations has proved to be divisive, especially among the Republican contenders for 2016, Conan O`Brien came up with an absurd solution last night, one that allows parents greater choice, like Chris Christie says he wants, while at the same time maintaining public health standards. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN") CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": There`s a new day care center that`s figured out a way for vaccinated and unvaccinated kids to still attend school together. NARRATOR: For children who haven`t been vaccinated, there is a real danger, a danger of being ostracized, of being made to feel unwanted. But here at Kind Hearts Day Care, we have created a safe environment for all children, vaccinated and unvaccinated. (LAUGHTER) NARRATOR: We provide a safe, nonjudgmental environment, where all children can enjoy a carefree existence. (LAUGHTER) NARRATOR: And in the event of danger, Kind Hearts has procedures in place to keep your beautiful children safe with minimal disruption. (LAUGHTER) (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)   NARRATOR: Kind Hearts Day Care. (END VIDEO CLIP) (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: How do they do that? Anyway, next up, a profile of former campaign strategist David Axelrod in "New York" magazine reveals another chapter in the weird history between President Obama and basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Just before Obama`s 50th birthday three years ago, Axelrod sent Jordan a poster to autograph as a gift for the president. But when it came back, the inscription from Jordan read, "To Barrack, you still owe me dinner. Wishing you well, Michael Jordan." The problem was, of course, is the basketball legend misspelled the president`s first name, with two R`s. Barack has only R and Jordan used two. When Axelrod gave the signed poster to the president, the president refused the gift, saying he couldn`t put it up because Jordan misspelled his name. So Axelrod kept it, eventually hanging it at Chicago University`s Institute of Politics, where it remains today. But this sort of towel-snapping between Jordan and the president may simply be the way they carry on. Remember, rest last October, when Jordan took a shot at the president`s golf game. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL JORDAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I never played with Obama, but I would. But, no, that`s OK. I would take him out. He`s a hack. Man, it would be all day playing with him.   UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really want to say that to the president of the United States? JORDAN: Don`t worry about it. I never said he wasn`t a great politician. I`m just saying he`s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golfer. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he`s not a bad golfer. JORDAN: OK. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, and the trash talk continued when the president fired back in an interview on Wisconsin radio. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. OBAMA: Of course, if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case. And, you know, he might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats, or maybe the Hornets, but that`s a whole `nother issue.   (LAUGHTER) (END AUDIO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Of course, Jordan is the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats franchise, now known as the Charlotte Hornets. I guess they`re not doing too well. Up next: Why is Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee going after Hillary Clinton for not getting in the presidential race? Perhaps he wants Republicans to stop attacking each other. That`s next with the roundtable. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening. Just moments ago, Jon Stewart has announced that he`s leaving "The Daily Show." Comedy Central`s president has released a statement saying Stewart will leave later this year, and credits Stewart for turning "The Daily Show" into a cultural touchstone for millions of fans. No word on why Stewart is stepping down from the show he has hosted since 1999. Stewart will make an announcement in tonight`s show. And in other news, NBC News has learned that the U.S. will temporarily close the American Embassy in Yemen because of the government`s takeover by rebels linked to Iran. Most of the nonessential staffers have already been evacuated -- now back to HARDBALL. MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, must have noticed the Republican 2016 contenders spent last week jabbing at each other over the vaccine issue, of all things. So, today, in order to get the focus back on the opposition, he launched a new campaign called "Hillary`s Hiding."   On its Web page, the RNC outlines plans to keep a running count of the days since Hillary has done an interview or visited early primary or caucus states, and it plans to put up "Hillary`s Hiding" billboards in those early states as well. Well, this comes on top of the Republican opposition research group America Rising and their Facebook page with a similar theme, "Hiding Hillary." Anyway, there`s a saying in politics. Only talk when it improves the silence. And right now, Hillary Clinton is following it. Will Reince Priebus`s new campaign work to flush her out? I`m joined right now in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight "USA Today"`s Susan Page, former RNC Chair Michael Steele, and "The Washington Post" Jonathan Capehart. This is going to be fun. Why are they trying to sort of get her out there? SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Because isn`t she in a perfect position? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: She`s winning. PAGE: She`s not out there. She doesn`t have to answer questions. There`s not a chance she`s going to say something that will be embarrassing. It`s perfect. And she can do this for a long time, because there`s no credible challenger to Hillary Clinton.   MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And from the GOP`s side, it`s perfect, because they can create all this noise and buzz around her, raise money off it, and just stoke the flames. MATTHEWS: Wait. Wait a minute. You can do that by attacking her policy and her -- her positions. STEELE: No. MATTHEWS: And you can attack her record. But attacking the fact that she`s not talking? How do you do that? STEELE: It works, it works. MATTHEWS: So, you think Reince is a brilliant guy, huh? You figured out. STEELE: Well, not necessarily the question of brilliance. It`s just -- tactically, it`s just smart to engage an opponent who`s not on the field yet and try to draw them out and get their base all fired up, recognizing that there`s still this issue about whether or not she doesn`t have an opponent. So I mean, this playing -- MATTHEWS: How many votes will Hillary Clinton lose next November, about 18, 19 months right now, because Reince Priebus has decided to try to scare her out there, get her out there. JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, right, try to scare her out there, try to goad her out there, maybe even annoy her. But the other thing is, maybe try to stir a little panic within the Democratic Party, which is Democratic Party is very expert at scaring themselves into action. But this sort of thing only works if the focus of the attention, Hillary Clinton, even cares, that have hiding Hillary. She couldn`t care less, and so they can do everything they want. She`s going to go on her own timetable, not care what they do, and that`s the right thing to do.   MATTHEWS: Isn`t the primary concern of most of the people around Hillary? And this is not a knock, and certainly not my usual knock, what job they`re going to get in the campaign? That`s what they`re really focusing right now is -- SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: That`s the number one -- MATTHEWS: -- am I going to be deputy communications director? PAGE: What`s the size of my contract? That`s absolutely right. Now, the time will come when Hillary Clinton, even if she doesn`t have a real opponent in the Democratic Party, is going to have to come out and answer questions, and do press conferences, and do interviews. But that time isn`t yet. STEELE: Yes, she doesn`t need to do it now. I would say one of the mistakes they made is we`re going to announce sometime in June or whatever. You don`t need to tell anybody anything about your timetable or your schedule. When you`re ready, you announce. So, I think that they are kind of backing off this sort of proactive getting out in public phase and just letting things ride to the spring. CAPEHART: Well, you remember, though, after the midterm, people started asking, when are you getting in? When are you getting in? When are you getting in? MATTHEWS: I think that it stopped. CAPEHART: Yes. MATTHEWS: The media, we`re not pushing her to get in. Most people know it`s a smart move.   (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You want something to write about. Here problem is she gets in, she`s going to take a strong position on ISIS, how many boots on the ground, forward watchers, actual GIs confronting the enemy. People in the ranks, these are tough questions, or just let these guys keep executing Americans in the most horrific night after night. Who wants to answer that question every day? PAGE: She probably has to answer some questions anyway even if she`s not running. Things like, what about this authorization for military use of force? I think she probably has to -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: She voted for one. STEELE: Can I say one thing, though? Can we just relax a bit? Because none of these people have declared for the presidency of the United States? MATTHEWS: OK, Papa Bear, what is this? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Who are you? Let me tell you what we do here. This is the place for politics. If you want to play hoops or something, whatever you want to do, this is where we play politics. STEELE: There`s no expectation --   (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: It`s already begun, Michael. This campaign has begun. STEELE: But from the candidates` perspective, they don`t have to answer your questions. MATTHEWS: They are -- we are watching polls in states like New Hampshire already and Iowa. And what I`m watching is something very scary about your party, if I were in your party, which is it doesn`t seem to have a natural leader, that is very flat, everybody is in the teens, the big Bush name that everybody thought was great, is about three points ahead of Scott Walker. So, if I were you, I would be worried about the fact, I want this campaign to move a little faster, but it is moving now. STEELE: It is moving, and I agree with you -- (CROSSTALK) STEELE: I think largely it`s because there is -- there is this stage now where people are getting out and they`re touching the grassroots on the base to organize and develop that momentum. You still have two or three governors who are going to enter the field. You still have the whole -- MATTHEWS: Who is coming in? STEELE: Oh, I think you`re going to see Mike Pence possibly, certainly Bobby Jindal is there, John Kasich. I mean, there is some good people -- MATTHEWS: That`s one of three.   STEELE: Some good names, two or three. MATTHEWS: One of three might be interesting. STEELE: But they`re all going to be interesting players once they get on the field. MATTHEWS: Do you really think Mike Pence could be your nominee for president? STEELE: Sure, he could. Yes, I think he could. MATTHEWS: Oh, my God. STEELE: He`s got good grassroots. He`s got good connections with the base. And, you know, he`s a guy who translates well with -- MATTHEWS: Who`s the last guy from Indiana you guys were pushing? Mitch Daniels? STEELE: Mitch Daniels. MATTHEWS: What is it about you guys? Boring Indiana. Boring Indiana Republicans. STEELE: Indiana is not boring.   PAGE: That`s a very East Coast attitude. As someone from Kansas, I would say that you people always think the people -- STEELE: Thank you. PAGE: -- from the middle of the country are boring, and it`s not true. STEELE: It`s not true. They win. PAGE: Eisenhower, a Kansan. CAPEHART: A Kansan, but not Indiana. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Trivialism (ph) here, it`s unbefitting. Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us. And up next, David Axelrod reveals that President Obama was for marriage equality all along and wouldn`t say so. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Well, Scott Walker of Wisconsin is latest Republican presidential candidate to brush up on his foreign policy credentials. The Wisconsin governor met today with British Prime Minister David Cameron over in London. Walker is in the U.K. for a four-day trip aimed at increasing trade investments in his state, and he is no doubt determined not to repeat the mistakes that Chris Christie made last week when he was in London. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back. In his new book, David Axelrod reveals that in the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama didn`t believe what he was saying about same-sex marriage. Here`s Axelrod. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISOR: There`s no doubt that his sympathies were very much on the side of allowing gay couples to marry. He also recognized that the country wasn`t there yet, and that we needed to bring the country along. He was sensitive to -- there was a lot of resistance in the black community to it. He took a strong position in favor of civil unions, but it was always, I think -- you know, when I think about the things we had to deal with over the course of my association, this was always the most vexing issue, because there was some part of him that so wanted to say you know what? I just don`t believe it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, in his new book that just came out, "Believer" it`s called, Axelrod recalls that after Obama stumbled on the gay marriage and the debate, he told Axelrod, "I`m just not very good at BS-ing." Well, that`s the way I say it.   Anyway, David Axelrod will be here on HARDBALL tomorrow. We`re back with our roundtable Susan, Michael, and Jonathan. You know, this is an interesting knock that David who seems like such a nice guy, in many ways, seems like a great guy, he is taking a shot at the president, you know, Michael, on something that didn`t seem -- why is it so vastly important that he didn`t come out and say I`m for marriage equality, in 2008, which would have been difficult. I think even as late as 2008, it was still a tricky position to take. STEELE: It`s a trick issue, but I don`t see David taking a knock over time, given what the president has said as a senator in his home state of Illinois, as a state senator. MATTHEWS: He had been out for it? STEELE: He was not out, you know waving a flak for this issue. And so, it was clearly a political calculation the president made. I think David put it in the right context, you know? The president could not find himself BS-ing on this issue as well as others could. But having said all of that, the president did change the conversation ultimately. MATTHEWS: Joe Biden changed the conversation. STEELE: Give credit where credit is due. MATTHEWS: What do you think of this? Do you think this is like a mortar or venial sin politically that he didn`t come out early? (CROSSTALK) CAPEHART: No, no, I`m shocked that a presidential candidate played politic on a vexing social issue like marriage equality. A lot of people knew that then-candidate Obama was in favor of it. In fact, there had been some reports about a fundraiser in New York City, in 2008, maybe 2007, my ex was there, I just found out a couple months ago where the candidates said -- listen, I`m there with you. I`m not going to be able to --   MATTHEWS: It was a gay group. CAPEHART: Yes, it was gay group. It was a fundraiser. I`m not going to be able to do anything right away, but just know this. But you know what? Look, this conversation would be completely different if DOMA had not been overturned, if the president hadn`t stopped defending DOMA in, up against court challenge, if he hadn`t done "don`t ask, don`t tell". The problem that I had with the president after Joe Biden put the president -- Vice President Biden put the president in the box was that you had the president`s actions, which were highly pro-gay rights, pro-marriage equality not matching his rhetoric. So, when he finally did that interview with Robin Roberts, where he finally said, I personally believe that same sex couples should marry, finally the rhetoric and the actions that he had been taking for the last five -- for the four years in office -- MATTHEWS: So, he was ahead of his words. CAPEHART: Action-wise, yes. MATTHEWS: That`s rare in politics. PAGE: You kind of wish that public officials would always say exactly what they think, right? We would -- we would honor that, that is not always realistic. On the other hand, you can look at the political landscape, and the other things he was dealing -- MATTHEWS: We`re all used to a terrible term for politicians which is rolling disclosure. They tell you the truth when they feel like that. STEELE: They tell you the truth when it`s politically convenient, or easy, or safe to also share that with you. And I think this is an example of that. I think, yes, Joe Biden, to a certain extent forced the president`s hand on this issue, but at the end of the day, Axelrod I think pegs the way a lot of us saw it, and understood it, that this president was saying one thing to one group and saying something else to the country. MATTHEWS: On bigger issues, remember FDR, who most people look up to dramatically, was telling people your sons will not fight in the foreign war, through the 1940 election, knowing all the time he was hoping to get us involved in Europe. I mean, he wanted to fight the Nazis. Everybody knew he wanted to fight them.   CAPEHART: You know, Chris, again, on this issue, what we saw with the president on marriage equality, we saw him bringing the country along, he did the same thing on "don`t ask, don`t tell." Remember, President Clinton made a promise to the gay community, I`m going to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. He gets into office and he tries to fulfill his campaign promise. He tries to do it. And what ends up happening, we got "don`t ask, don`t tell", which ended up being worse than the policy he tried to erase. Now, President Obama comes into office, the gay community goes bananas not even 100 days into his tenure because -- MATTHEWS: OK. You got a hot hand. I`m going to ask you the hottest question of your life? Ready? CAPEHART: Uh-oh, here we go. MATTHEWS: Is the president secretly for single payer and he just put this Obamacare thing to fail so he`s going to end up with single-payer, because that`s where he wants to go? CAPEHART: Oh, that`s very good question. PAGE: No. MATTHEWS: I want the answer. (LAUGHTER) STEELE: I know the answer to that one. I think yes, single payer is the ultimate game.   PAGE: He does not want it to fail. MATTHEWS: But if he gets single payer out of it, he`s won. (CROSSTALK) STEELE: He won`t. MATTHEWS: Opinion writer? CAPEHART: I`m an opinion writer, I have not had enough time to study the issue to give an informed -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: That doesn`t stop most people. Thank you very much, Jonathan Capehart, who`s thinking, Susan Page, and Michael Steele. When we return, let me finish with how we`re going to deal with this ISIS horror story, and it is real. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight on this: I don`t hear a plan on how to deal with ISIS, the people who are lopping off heads, burning young men alive, and doing who-knows-what to a young American woman. I don`t hear a plan out there to stop them from doing these things. I hear what the Jordanian air force is doing, what the Kurds are doing up north, what the Iraqi Army may do, but I don`t hear a plan to stop ISIS from doing what it`s doing. So, how are we going to live with this? Are we going to close our eyes with each atrocity? Are we going to act towards the horrors of ISIS the way we act toward the growing federal debt, or are we going to say how bad it is and how we all had to do something about it, knowing that it`s going to sit there? Are we going to let the ISIS horror show continue week after week after week without end? Look, I believe the reason this is happening personally is that the Bush administration and the neo-cons went forward with their debaathification project back during the occupation, throwing all of the generals in Saddam`s army out the door. Was I (ph) the only who know these generals would reemerge as leaders in the ISIS fight against the government we set up in Iraq? I suppose people on the hawky side will say that ISIS was created because President Obama pulled our troops out of Iraq. But here we are with the horror neither side wish to create, which neither side fully imagine it coming to be in the area of Iraq and Syria that`s being governed by the terrorists and executioners now. We began tonight looking at how to deliver ourselves from this horror we will continue looking unfortunately. 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 Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. 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