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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 02/17/15

Guests: Robert Grenier, John Brabender, Seth Shostak, Jackie Kucinich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The terror rages. This is HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews, up in New York. ISIS has just burned alive 45 Iraqis. They took them captive in Anbar province, where ISIS is fighting for more territory, put them in a truck, poured gasoline all over them and set them afire. That`s according to a member of the Iraqi parliament from that area. And those that ISIS burned alive include Iraqi government and local forces trying to defend their area from the advancing Islamic State. This horrific new form of terror that kills people in the most agonizing way is an ISIS tactic to kill with impunity and to let its enemy know that that`s what it does to people who dare stand in its way. To ISIS, prisoners of war are torture and death exhibits for those who dare to face them in battle. Ayman Mohyeldin is an NBC News foreign correspondent and Robert Grenier is former director of the CIA`s counterterrorism center. He`s the author of "88 Days to Kandahar." Ayman, talk about this incident, as much as you understand about it. This seems to be escalating the horror, the pictures they`re presenting of willing to burn people alive just for opposing them or being from another religion or whatever. AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, I mean, we`re still getting the details of that incident, but it is not a shock to see how ISIS is behaving with these people. Now, keep in mind that the Anbar province is predominantly Sunni Arab. That is something that in the past, ISIS has relied on for some kind of sympathy or support, that these people that had grievances with the central government.   But it seems now that even in places where there are Sunni Arabs that oppose the rule of ISIS, ISIS absolutely shows no mercy, shows any kind of compassion in allowing these people who oppose them to coexist. What they have done, as you mentioned -- gather about 45 people or so from two various tribes, tribes that have deep roots in that part of the country, tribes that are well respected and have thousands of followers and members, and burned these individuals alive, including some members of the security forces. It just goes you -- it shows you the strength and it shows you the willingness of ISIS to go to any length to continue to control that part of the country, no matter what, at any cost, Chris. MATTHEWS: Robert, besides sadism and just the usual reason why people for centuries have done this to each other when they have the upper hand, what`s the strategy here on the part of this -- to do this so horribly to people, not just take them prisoners, shoot them in a firing squad, no, burn them alive. ROBERT GRENIER, AUTHOR, "88 DAYS TO KANDAHAR": Well, I would go even further than Ayman. I would say not just even in the case of Sunni Muslims who oppose ISIS, but I would say especially in the case of Sunni Muslims who oppose ISIS will they use these unbelievably brutal tactics. What they`re saying, in effect, is, Look, if you`re an unbeliever, OK, that`s fine. We will mete out the punishments that are prescribed in the Sunna (ph) Hadiths and the Quran and sharia. But if you are a Muslim and you depart from the correct path, essentially, you`re an apostate. You`re committing apostasy, and we will treat you accordingly. But I want to go on from that and say that even in that context, I have never seen anything as brutal as this. I spent much of my adult life in the Middle East. I have followed these extremist groups for many, many years. This is going completely beyond the pale, and they seriously risk alienating not just the moderates in the region who you would expect not to be terribly sympathetic to them in the first place, but I think they risk alienating fundamentalists, as well. They`re clearly overplaying their hand. MATTHEWS: Well, this is a great question. I mean, I hate to even talk about people that have been killed so ruthlessly and so brutally. But let me start with Ayman, and then back to you, Robert. Is this a recruiting tool, to be this horrific to people, the people -- to burn people alive, the beheading people, Coptic Christians? Does this turn on, to be blunt about it, young people in the slums around Paris or the slums here in the United States or wherever? Does this make people excited to join them? MOHYELDIN: Well, it`s very hard for me to answer that question. I think what they are using those tactics locally for is to instill an absolute sense of fear in everybody that may be anywhere around ISIS. The message to the remaining tribesmen and to the remaining Sunnis, for example, in Iraq, where these 45 people were killed, is that if you dare to raise your voice, if you dare to ally yourself with anybody other than ISIS, this is the fate that you will share. And the message, as well, to the Christian world from ISIS is similar, is that for those who ally themselves against ISIS, you will be beheaded wherever we can get to you. That`s the message they`re doing, and not because I think they want to recruit people in the West and in Europe. That`s certainly an objective of theirs. We`ve heard that very explicitly when their leaders have called on people in the West to carry out attacks. But with these specific types of brutal murders, gruesome, grotesque, the message is different. The message is, If anyone dares to challenge us, this is the fate that you will have. Do not cross ISIS. So I think they`re using fear as an attempt to keep people away from confronting ISIS in both the Sunni-dominant areas, or whether it be those that are allying themselves with the West--   (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Robert, you first here. Tie this into the romance of going to paradise. I mean, somebody was quoted the other day, I was listening to it on the radio. They were going around in Tunisia, talking to people, and some said, We hate the United States, and this is going to take us to paradise. If this is going to take you to paradise in your religious beliefs, to nirvana, how does that fit with killing people in the most horrific way on the way to nirvana? How does it work? Is it both a chance to be sadistic, and also to get the pleasure of going to heaven? What is the drive here, and how does it connect? GRENIER: Well, actually, we`re talking about two different things here. Yes, absolutely, the appeal of going to heaven is a very, very strong one, but that involves your death. If you become a martyr in defense of Islam, then you will receive, you know, great rewards. What we`re talking about here in killing other people, that`s really quite different. That`s not necessarily the road to nirvana. But that is participating in the struggle. And while I think that Ayman is exactly right, that using these particularly brutal tactics, the immolation of captives -- that is a local terror tactic, as he has just described. That`s telling them, Look, you oppose us at your peril. Don`t do it. But a little bit more broadly than that, in their willingness to use violence in order to expand the caliphate, that`s going back to the very earliest days of Islam. And this is not an ant-Islamic statement at all. I have the greatest personal respect for Islam. But during the rise of Islam, it was a very violent rise. I mean, Islam was spread through warfare earlier, and conquered people were given a choice. You will either accept Islam or you will be killed. And there was a slightly better deal that was offered to people of the book, to the Christians and the Jews. But the initial expansion of Islam was a violent expansion. Religions mature. Religions evolve. Religions moderate. And Islam is certainly the same. These people are going back to that very violent earliest tradition. And yes, to some, to some fundamentalists, this is a very attractive thing. They`re returning to the roots of Islam. They are regaining the glory of Islam that we had in the very earliest years. MATTHEWS: Well, speaking to a White House-organized summit on countering extremism, Vice President Joe Biden said the key was offering people an alternative to the lure of groups like ISIS. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re here today because we all understand that in dealing with violent extremism, that we need answers that go beyond a military answer. We need answers that go beyond force. Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities, a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging, and to -- that discredits the terrorist appeal. It`s not enough to take on these networks of extremists who wish to do us harm. We also have to take on the ideology that attracts foreign fighters from all around the world.   (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: You know, Ayman, what the vice president`s there I don`t think is going to be the solution because if the problem is poverty or the problem is a lack of alternatives in life, you`re going to have to go to not just 95 percent of all the people who are alienated by the West and who are Muslim in this case and are turning to terrorism, you`re going to have to go to 100 percent because all it takes is a few percent, is what we`re talking bout, in every community in France or in Denmark or the United States, or anywhere in the world. You can`t turn everybody to the right side. Some people are going to go to the other side because they`re losers or they`re zealots or something in their brain soup makes them do it. This idea we`re going to recover all these communities I think is just hopeless and long term to the point it`s not going to deal with people in our lifetime, our grandkids` lifetime. Why are we talking like this? You know, it sounds like we`re going to get kids off drugs by giving them better education. Well, maybe, in most cases, but there`s always -- in this case, we`re talking about worldwide terrorism. It seem like -- that doesn`t seem strong enough a response. MOHYELDIN: Well-- MATTHEWS: Is it? MOHYELDIN: Well, I would have to say that there are two different approaches here. One is what you`re talking about in the Arab world, where a lot of this is taking place right now, this type of extremism, and then what is happening in the West, in countries like France or here even in the United States. I think the vice president is talking to two different sets of problems here. MATTHEWS: Yes. MOHYELDIN: The first problem in the Middle East is, yes, you have to create more political plurality. You have to improve the economic situation. You`ve got to allow for a freedom of ideas, a freedom of the interpretation of the religion to counter that extreme ideological narrative that has now been hijacked by these individuals. That`s separate from what he`s talking about back here in the U.S. and in France, where we`ve got to have immigrant communities feel like they belong. The U.S. experience with immigration -- very different. We`re not looking at big slums on the outskirts of New York and Chicago and LA like we see in Paris and other cities, where there are just thousands of young people ripe for exploitation, disenfranchised, not feeling like they belong.   Immigrants come to this country because they feel like they belong. And I think that`s what the vice president is trying to say. MATTHEWS: Yes. MOHYELDIN: We`ve got to make the immigrants who feel isolated in parts of Europe feel they belong in Europe, feel they have a seat at the table and part of the process so that they`re not lured and drawn to that ideology, and in addition to the other problems that you`ve got to do that are forward-operating problems-- MATTHEWS: Yes. MOHYELDIN: -- things in the Middle East that you actually have to address on the ground. MATTHEWS: You know, Robert, everything that Ayman just said there, I think you can argue for as American. In principle, we want democratization. We want freedom. We want free expression. We want all those opportunities. But you know, that was the neocon argument that got us into Iraq, it got us all through the Middle East mess we`re in right now -- tear down these dictatorships and out of them will bloom freedom. A "freedom agenda" it was called. And yet all it did is create hell on earth. GRENIER: Well-- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: We tore down these governments, and we`re left with what? We`re left with ISIS and al Qaeda and all this -- in the ruins. The ruins have been great for these bad guys. GRENIER: Well, look, I-- MATTHEWS: They`ve loved us bringing down these governments. I`d like to see Gadhafi back and Saddam back and the whole rest of these bums because it least they were the Three Stooges over there! They weren`t threatening Israel`s real existence. They certainly weren`t threatening ours. They were a bunch of bums, but you know what? All they cared about was survival and their Uday and Qusay kids to take care of them and give them sweet opportunities later on.   GRENIER: Well, look-- MATTHEWS: They weren`t a threat really like ISIS is. It seems to me, I think we`ve gotten worse. We`ve gone from the frying pan into the fire-- GRENIER: Well-- MATTHEWS: -- because of the neocons, that kind of thinking. GRENIER: That kind of -- well, look at the end of the day, let`s not overestimate what the United States is actually able to do. The United States didn`t create the Arab spring. It wasn`t because of actions of the United States that Egypt fell and that we have a civil war in Syria right now, that Gadhafi fell. At the end of the day, it`s the people in those countries that will determine the path of their countries. And I think that Ayman is exactly right over the long term. I think over the long term, yes, you have to give people an alternative or they have to find an alternative to extremism in order to meet their legitimate aspirations. In the short term, though, when we`re -- going back to the -- the-- MATTHEWS: Wait a minute! I want to interrupt this. GRENIER: -- issue of what the vice president is saying-- MATTHEWS: I want to interrupt there. We did create the situation in Iraq today because all those generals and former members of the Saddam regime, all those people in uniform were thrown out because of de-Ba`athification, a U.S. policy, thrown into the -- nowhere. They found a place at (ph) home. They call it ISIS. GRENIER: Yes. MATTHEWS: And by the way, we were warned, when Syria went down, it was going to be replaced by something worse. Everybody knew that. It was going to be worse.   GRENIER: When-- MATTHEWS: Than Assad. GRENIER: That-- MATTHEWS: So I mean, there wasn`t, like, a shock-- (CROSSTALK) GRENIER: No, that -- well, that wasn`t necessarily the case. In the case of Iraq, well, actually, I go at great length in my book, as a matter of fact, talking about all of the very serious mistakes that we made in Iraq. There was an opportunity to achieve some very good things there, and unfortunately, we squandered it. But again, at the end of the day, when we`re trying to trying to counter radicalism, radicalization in the Middle East, we are on the periphery of that discussion. It`s not about us. MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good argument, but unfortunately, they`re bringing it to us on national and international television every night, and we are watching the burnings alive and we`re watching the beheadings-- GRENIER: Oh, it doesn`t-- (CROSSTALK) GRENIER: It doesn`t mean that -- look, we have a very important stake in the outcome of these struggles. And it`s very important for us to be engaged. It`s very important for us to try to reinforce the forces of relative good, if you will, in those countries.   But at the end of the day, we have to very careful against overplaying our hand. For instance, we`re constantly talking about a U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. That may resonate well in domestic political context here in this country, it does not resonate well in the region. Nobody wants to defend the interests of the United States. The United States has to be in a position where it is supporting the interests of those in the region who want to counter a radical organization like ISIS. MATTHEWS: Boy, I`d love you to figure out how to do that because we haven`t figured that one out yet. Yes, I`d love to lead from behind. That`s what you`re saying, lead from behind, right? GRENIER: That`s exactly what I`m saying. MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll try. Anyway, thank you, Ayman Mohyeldin and Robert Grenier. Coming up -- a group of anonymous Clinton allies used the newspaper "The Hill" to launch a war against David Axelrod. My question -- if they`re proud of what they`re doing, why are they keeping themselves anonymous? These are all anonymous people yelling. Plus, mystery in space. Scientists are puzzled by these images on Mars that show a vast plume of haze in the planet`s hemisphere. What exactly is it? I know this is something different for us tonight, but I found it fascinating. What`s going on on Mars? And a district judge in Texas dealt a blow to the president`s immigration policy, temporarily at least, blocking the government from giving some undocumented immigrants relief from deportation. Can this immigration plan of the president`s survive the court challenge? And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the growing horror of ISIS and the American response. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: A new poll shows that most Americans disagree with how President Obama`s handling the threat of ISIS. A CNN/ORC poll finds that 57 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the president`s approach to the threat posed by ISIS militants. But the poll also found that 78 percent -- 4 out of 5 Americans -- believe Congress should give the president authority to fight ISIS.   We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Well, the lead story on line for much of the day in "The Hill" newspaper, which covers Capitol Hill, was this piece by reporter Amie Parnes, who`s also the co-author of the book "HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton." In the story, three anonymous Clinton allies apparently are quoted as being outraged by comments made here by David Axelrod about Hillary`s emerging campaign. Axelrod was, of course, the senior adviser to President Obama and is also an analyst at this network. He`s currently doing media for his new book. Well, here`s the backlash against Axelrod. Quote, "`It`s not helpful, and it`s definitely not appreciated,` said one Clinton ally. Another supporter added `I don`t think a lot of us are scratching our head -- I think a lot of us are scratching our heads, why is any of this necessary? A third added, `She`s been a great team player. She`s been very supportive of the president and she hasn`t gotten in front of him on a lot issues. So what`s he trying to do?`" Well, according to the story, Clinton`s allies are outraged in part by what Axelrod told our show about the challenges facing John Podesta, who`s a likely choice to be Hillary Clinton`s campaign chairman. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: People are going to make mistakes. I mean, the question is, do the mistakes reveal something that voters take away from it, or are they glitches? John Podesta has to get control of the Clinton operation. And I think that`s part of his job-- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s pretty good at that. (END VIDEO CLIP)   MATTHEWS: Well, are Axelrod`s comments really worth all these attacks in the paper today? Who let the dogs out? Are these sources, by the way, actually speaking with Hillary`s authority, or is this some kind of blood sport we`re into here? And why do these people refuse to identify themselves if they`re proud of what they`re saying? Robert Gibbs is an MSNBC political analyst and was President Obama`s press secretary. John Brabender is a Republican strategist. Robert, I`m going to ask an infantile question. But only you can get to this primitive thought. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: If people are proud of what they`re saying, if they want the world to know they`re for Hillary, which a lot of people in this city of Washington are, why do they go on background? Why are they trashing Axelrod for I would think a relatively constructive idea? Get your act together. You`re starting a campaign in a few months? Why are they all on background, so neatly anonymous? I don`t get that part. I would be proud. If you`re for Hillary, get out there and say so. ROBERT GIBBS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my guess is, much like I remember dealing with in the White House, my guess is they`re not that senior a person or a group of people. They`re not that influential in the campaign, but they have convinced somebody to cite them as an anonymous Clinton official. I`m sure there are several thousand of those, while there are only probably 10 real decision-makers. MATTHEWS: Sure. GIBBS: I thought the comments themselves were, quite frankly, Chris, laughable.   She`s bringing on John Podesta to fix what was a huge impediment and one of the reasons she`s not president now, because the functioning operation of her campaign was more interested in fighting inside the building than they were effective at fighting outside the building. And that`s all that David said. And quite frankly, if this has got them rankled or whatever, I would only say this to the Clinton campaign. Buckle up. It`s going to get a lot worse. It`s going to get worse from your friends, and your donors, and it`s going to certainly get a lot worse from Republicans. This is not an easy gauntlet to get to the White House, which she knows. MATTHEWS: Are these heavyweights within the -- people? Are these people like -- we have watched people like Lanny Davis speak for the Clintons. I always wondered if he ever met them. It goes on and on. They`re people on the outside, David Brock, for example, or Sid Blumenthal, or Lynn Rothschild, or whatever. They`re all over the place, but are they in fact speaking for her campaign? But the way the press runs it now, any time a person takes a shot now, they`re being portrayed as Clinton people. GIBBS: Right. MATTHEWS: Well, yes, but there`s millions of people that voted for Clinton. Are they actually part of the hierarchy, yes or no? You don`t know? GIBBS: Well, my guess is they`re not part of the senior hierarchy. They may be people that are tangentially involved. MATTHEWS: Yes. GIBBS: But all this story did today was kick up the fact that Hillary Clinton had all these problems when she ran eight years ago. I mean, what on earth would Clinton officials that were smart and savvy and at the senior of the campaign`s ultimate leadership, why would they start this fight today? It`s great for David. He`s going to sell some more books because of it. MATTHEWS: Yes, I hope so.   GIBBS: It doesn`t help Hillary Clinton at all. MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a great book. I hope so. It`s called "Believer." Let me go over to John on this question. You`re watching this from the other side of the aisle. And I`m wondering, is this the new rules of engagement, that if you say anything even constructive about the Clinton campaign-to-be, which I assume it will be a campaign, that somebody somewhere will take shots at you personally, and go after you and question your motives and question your character? Is that the new rule? And it doesn`t even have to be the campaign. It can just be these sparkies out there, these characters that don`t even have names. JOHN BRABENDER, FORMER SENIOR SANTORUM CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes. Well, let me first say to the opposite side of the aisle, thank you, keep it up. (LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK) BRABENDER: The ultimate irony is, they`re proving Axelrod right. He said, look, someone has to get control of this, and so they send three people out there to basically shut it down. The fact that we`re talking about it, ironically, shows that it had an opposite effect and it also shows that no one is calling the shots and there are these like loose cannons over there. I do think it also makes people start to wonder if this is what Clintonville is. You go out and you say something that really wasn`t even all that critical and all of a sudden everybody is jumping on you. I went back and looked at all the comments. I think they were probably right on and I didn`t find them overly critical.   MATTHEWS: I didn`t think so either. Anyway, on your side of the aisle -- I will get to you in a moment, but be ready for this. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is playing the terrain as he travels to it. He`s playing it where he`s at. he`s being -- in Rome, he`s being a Roman. Anyway, after playing Mr. Nice Guy last week in Iowa, Governor Christie assured crowds in New Hampshire this week that he was anything but Iowa nice. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I had one of your leaders say to me today, we don`t want some kinder, gentler Chris Christie. We want the real Chris Christie. Well, there`s only one Chris Christie, everybody. This is it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, he also played up his aggressive fighting style, which has seen its share of YouTube viral videos. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTIE: There will be times I will say some things that will make you shake your head. There will be some times that I will say things in a way that you will make you think he maybe could have said that a little bit better. But what you will never say is that I don`t know who he is, and I don`t know what he believes, and I don`t know what he`s willing to fight for and who he`s willing to fight to get there. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, Christie finds himself trailing the pack in all of the primary states right now. And I know it`s early. In Iowa, for example, he`s got 9 percent and trails Huckabee, Bush, and Walker. He`s running fourth in New Hampshire, behind Bush, Walker, and Paul, Rand Paul   In South Carolina, he doesn`t even make the top five. Rob, this thing about being two-faced or -- Huey Long did it in the old days. He talked about his Protestant grandmother, Baptist grandmother in one part of Louisiana. Then he talked about his Catholic one when he`s down in New Orleans. I mean, you can get away with that before there was like radio, but now it seems to me people know what people are saying in other places. GIBBS: Yes. MATTHEWS: Can Christie be the tough live free or die character, gritty as hell up in New Hampshire or the more, the word elegiac, easier-going fellow out in Iowa, which hates loud noises? GIBBS: Well, I do think it`s very hard, as you mentioned, Chris, to do that in anything that approximates modern politics. What you say one place trails you everywhere else. MATTHEWS: Yes. GIBBS: A good example, the whole vaccine outbreak, no pun intended, on the -- on measles and vaccines happened when Chris Christie was in London. And that was a big story in the United States. So, you really can`t do the two audiences, you know, different things to the two audiences. I will say obviously Iowa and New Hampshire are very different states. They are very different voters and very different people on how they receive messages. And I think quite frankly that most of the people running and deciding the Republican primaries are going to want to see the Chris Christie they are used to seeing. And I think the worst thing any political consultant or adviser can do is try to make somebody something that they are simply not. MATTHEWS: Yes.   GIBBS: And I think Christie is what he is, and that`s what makes him potentially electable. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: John, almost out of time, but what`s your view about the two faces of Christie, one for New Hampshire, one for Iowa? BRABENDER: Well, and knowing the Chris Christie people, who are smart people, that`s not what it`s going to be. He`s very authentic. They will keep that. It is going to be the Chris Christie everybody has ever seen, and he`s better off when he acts himself, and not tries to become something that he is not. MATTHEWS: So Jersey is going to sell in Iowa? BRABENDER: I think Chris Christie comes across as an American original, which I do think sells in Iowa, as well as a lot of the other candidates will sell in Iowa. MATTHEWS: Well, it will be good for us all covering this campaign to have a good show when Jersey -- when the Jersey boy hits Iowa. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: That is going to be great. Anyway, thank you, Robert Gibbs. Thank you, John Brabender.   GIBBS: Thank you. MATTHEWS: Up next, something completely different. As I said, these images of Mars showing a cloud-like are puzzling scientists, top page, front page of "USA Today." We have got an expert coming up to explain what`s going on, on Mars. We don`t usually do this, but we`re doing it tonight. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A mysterious cloud-like plume, as I said, appeared briefly in the upper atmosphere over Mars, and the phenomena is baffling scientists right now. Spanning roughly 300 to 600 miles, the plume were about the size of a tropical storm. They were first spotted and observed by amateur astronomers for 11 days back in the spring of 2012. Now a team of researchers has published a report detailing the phenomena, yet the scientists analyzing the images have been unable to come up with any explanation. Of course, this story comes as an ongoing Obama counselor, John Podesta, tweeted this about the possible existence of UFOs -- quote -- "Finally, my biggest failure of 2014, once again not securing the disclosure of the UFO files. The truth is still out there." Of course, he was kidding. But I`m joined right now by Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer -- astronomer and director of the SETI Institute, which searches for extraterrestrial real life. Doctor, thank you for joining us.   Your expertise is in listening on the radio or whatever technology we have, sonar, to listen and see if there`s any reaction to signals we send out. I want to ask you about that world. Have you ever heard anything come back, any evidence of life out there responding to us? SETH SHOSTAK, SETI INSTITUTE: Well, Chris -- yes, well, Chris, if we had heard something, believe me, you would know about it. (LAUGHTER) SHOSTAK: That would be an enormous story. No, not yet, but I remain optimistic. MATTHEWS: OK. Now let`s get to these plumes. I guess we are always looking for hope that there`s life or potential life on other planets, that there might be H20, some water, or livable habitat for us in case we get too crowded here. How does this fit into that, these plumes, or does it or does it not? SHOSTAK: To be honest, Chris, yes, there`s clearly something in the air on the Red Planet, but it`s probably either dust that has been kicked up. I mean, Mars has dust storms. It even has dust devils. You can go online and find all these nifty videos of dust devils down near the surface of Mars. But this thing is pretty high up. It`s like about 150 miles up. It`s about the size of, well, the state of Nevada or a tropical storm. So, what is it? Well, it could be dust. It could be little particles of ice, water ice, dry ice, carbon dioxide ice. It could even be aurorae. It could be, you know, like the Northern Lights. It could be any of these things. We still don`t know what it is.   But I don`t think it tells you terribly much about whether there`s life on Mars, because that`s a slightly different story. MATTHEWS: Well, these chemicals you mentioned, like these compounds, CO2, does that tell you that there`s H2O? What does it -- what do we know about the plumes and life? That`s what I want to get to, life. SHOSTAK: Yes. Well, life is something else. Look, Mars is everybody`s favorite inhabited planet. I mean, there are Martians everywhere, right, books, movies, radio plays. The one place we haven`t found life on Mars is on Mars. OK? But that isn`t to say it isn`t there. If you look at the surface of Mars, it is a terrible place. If you look at the photos, it kind of looks like some remote part of Nevada or Arizona or something like that, without the cacti, right? MATTHEWS: Yes. SHOSTAK: There`s no obvious life there. Daytime temperatures, minus-50 degrees. No water, right? Terrible, terrible place. But if you were to go to Mars tomorrow or the weekend and dig a hole maybe 100, 200, 300-feet deep, you might find life down there, not little gray guys, but some sort of microbes. That`s not ruled out. MATTHEWS: What bounds this story to the top of the fold to today`s "USA Today," which really goes for the popular quiz? It goes for a real general audience. It`s not a business newspaper or anything else. It goes for the big interests people have. What do you think put it up here? I`m holding it up right now. The top of the fold of the front page, mystery plumes. What is that about? SHOSTAK: Well, I`m not really sure.   I think that your theory here that it has something to do with Podesta`s comments about UFOs, which has gotten enormous play -- I have gotten I don`t know how many phone calls this morning from people saying, see? The government is covering up. This is the same government that runs the Postal Service, and yet they`re able to cover up the evidence for visitors for 60 years or so. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: So you don`t believe there`s any secret stash of hard evidence that we have been visited from other -- by other beings from other planets? You don`t believe that? SHOSTAK: No, Chris, I -- no, Chris, I don`t. Look, to begin with, I`m not sure that the federal government would be capable of keeping that secret, but even if you think they-- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I`m just asking, because I know some people care. SHOSTAK: Yes. Oh-- MATTHEWS: People watching this show people are -- people are fascinated with the possibility of UFOs. Everybody has seen something that they can`t quite figure that moment as what it is. And it`s something about our human nature. You`re part of it. You`re doing it for a career. People do want to find something out there.   SHOSTAK: Yes. Well, that`s absolutely the case. I mean, one-third of Americans -- polls have showed this for, I don`t know, three decades. One-third of Americans think that the aliens are here, buzzing the countryside, hauling people out of their bedrooms for unauthorized experiments, one-third, OK? So they`re very interested in that. And they think the federal government is keeping it quiet. (LAUGHTER) SHOSTAK: But, on the other hand, if you think that`s true, then you have also got to figure that the Bolivians and the Botswanans and the Belgians and the -- all those -- all those guys are keeping it secret, too, or maybe the aliens only like to visit the U.S., which seems improbable. MATTHEWS: That`s why I don`t believe in time travel, because I always ask the question, where are they? Where are the people from the future? Anyway, thank you, Seth Shostak, Dr. Shostak. Thanks so much for your expertise. Up next: the district court decision that could be a major blow to the president`s immigration policy. What will it mean for the nearly five million illegal immigrants who could see some relief from deportation, which is what the president is trying to give them? You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s happening.   A senior defense officials tells NBC News the U.S. will provide moderate Syrian rebels with light pickup trucks, mortars and small arms to help them protect their villages from ISIS and government forces. Ashton Carter was officially sworn in earlier as defense secretary during a ceremony at the White House. And parts of the South that were hit with a rare winter storm yesterday, well, they`re in for more misery, as a deep freeze moves in, sending temperatures below zero in some areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL. MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, last night, a federal judge down in Texas temporarily blocked part of President Obama`s executive actions on immigration. Then, today, the administration announced it will delay carrying out the executive orders. Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary, said, quote, "The department of justice will appeal that temporary injunction. In the meantime, we recognize we must comply with it." Mr. Johnson said. Anyway, late today, President Obama spoke about the judge`s action. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I disagree with the Texas judge`s ruling and the Justice Department will appeal. This is not the first time where a lower court judge has blocked something or attempted to block something that ultimately was shown to be lawful. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, this leaves up to 5 million undocumented immigrants temporarily in limbo. And where does it leave the president?   Joining me right now is NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams. Great question -- what does this do to his whole push since last November, to help these people get relief from deportation? PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it puts it on ice for now. We`ll have to see how fast the administration can get to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Undoubtedly, the states that challenge this law will respond, and then we`ll see how fast the Fifth Circuit responds. If the government doesn`t get satisfaction from them, Chris, it can still ask the Supreme Court. But remember this is just round one in this court. The judge hasn`t yet to rule on the guts of the lawsuit, which is a straight up challenge to it as either illegal or constitutional. All he has done so far is said, Texas is likely to prevail. It`s better to put a stay on it now and let this play out than he says not to put a stay on, have all these people come forward out of the shadows, in the phrase he used today in his ruling. And then, if it`s later found unconstitutional or illegal, immigration people would have all their names and they could risks deportation. Now, you could claim that, you could argue that the judge is being a little overdramatic there, but that is something that`s been raised as a concern. MATTHEWS: Constitutional question, I know it`s a hard question. Did the president legislate by these actions or did he just simply show prosecutorial discretion? WILLIAMS: Well, the judge would say that he went too far. You`re right, the administration has said this is prosecutorial discretion, this is the fact that the government can`t possibly handle all the people that here illegally, so it`s going to concentrate on the ones with the most serious threats, criminals, potentially terrorists, people who commit crimes. And, therefore, it`s going to give a pass to the others. But the judge says this is not just the government turning their back on the others. This is the government reaching out to them and giving them Social Security numbers, work permits, and other benefits. That he says is going beyond what the law allows. MATTHEWS: Well-said. Now, I understand it. Thanks so much, Pete Williams. I`m joined right now by the roundtable, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, of course, Jonathan Capehart of "The Washington Post", and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast." I want to start with Maria.   I know your advocacy role here and I`m trying to figure out what does this concern you? Do you -- are you just the fact of this thing today, a judge putting the stay and stopping the locomotive from going where it was going, thanks to the president, towards relief for millions of people? MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think we have to look at exactly what the judge said. It wasn`t the policy he was going after. He actually said that it was the manner in which the policy was carried out. So, the stay, when you look at the rest of the executive order, the rest of the executive order, that part that actually focuses on enforcement, enforcing the border, enforcing recent arrive, enforcing the individuals that are the most criminal, those are -- that still continues. What the judge had a problem with, Chris, was the idea, that the part of extending DACA and DAPA, executive action for the undocumented to receive temporary relief. He said that didn`t have enough comment. Now, I spoke with some folks indeed administration, and they feel it will be a temporary roadblock, but in the long term, that 11 million people are going to eventually be able to come forward. But I think the real issue is Congress needs to fix the problem. And while this is a temporary order, this is up to Congress to say, we have a broken system, let`s figure it out -- MATTHEWS: They don`t want to do it. KUMAR: They don`t want to do it. They don`t want to do the hard work. MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Jonathan on this, because as a general political analysis, the kind you do all the time, and we try to do, which is, is it possible that the president`s biggest enemy right now is the courts, both in this regard and the subsidies for Obamacare? The Congress, as Maria just touched on, has been basically comatose in terms of getting anything done. JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right. MATTHEWS: They don`t get anything done. They`re still arguing among themselves. And yet the court can be pretty cold and tough by saying, look, you`ve gone too far, Mr. President, here, you`ve encouraged them to come in from the cold, you`re giving them Social Security, you`re being proactive here, you`re not just being not discriminating in terms of not going after people that are a problem. You`re encouraging them to come out online with these programs. CAPEHART: Well, in many ways, because Congress is so inactive and doesn`t get anything done, and where bills go to die, a lot of people have turned to the courts for relief, turning the courts into not only the judicial branch, but in some cases the legislative branch. MATTHEWS: Yes.   CAPEHART: And Maria Teresa is absolutely right. We wouldn`t be in this position if Congress had moved on that comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June 2013 with an amazing 68 votes. That`s a bipartisan bill that went to the House, and Speaker Boehner let it sit there and let it die. They could have resurrected it during the lame-duck session and passed it then and actually trumped the president and taken some credit for fixing a broken system. Instead they punted. And now, we have a brand-new Congress, where they`re going to have to start all over again. And rather than use the comprehensive bill as a template to get something done, they`re depending on the courts to do the work for them. MATTHEWS: You know, let me ask you, though, Jackie, do you do you think the president can act because the Congress screws up? I mean, they can`t replace the Congress. You know, you fight the -- somebody said you fight the battle with the army you have. All he`s got is this Congress, so he says if they can`t do the job, I`ll do it, but that`s not so easy under our Constitution. You know, you can only -- you can do certain things along the margins, but can you create immigration law? Which is in effect what he`ll be doing if Congress doesn`t act? JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, that`s the debate. What the White House set they`re very much in the parameters, and right now, congressional Republicans say he`s not and these 26 governors, that is the question and that`s what we`re going to see play out. But I`ll tell you this -- the president does want to see DHS passed and what the Congress is doing there is probably a mistake for Republicans. MATTHEWS: I agree, I agree, they screwed things up, but he can`t get away with what he wants to do, which is to set policy without the Congress participating. It`s a system of three branches of government and it`s very tricky. KUMAR: But it`s temporary. MATTHEWS: I think the problem this year this summer is going to be the courts. I looked at the subsidies with regard to exchanges. I worry about that because I think the court -- I think Roberts could go the other way this time. Anyway, thank you. The roundtable is staying with us, all of them. Up next, back to the future. The Democrats` plan for retaking the Senate in 2016, guess what, includes running people who lost the last time in 2010 and 2014. Can they win with guys who have already lost? This seems to be their strategy. I don`t think it`s going to work.   And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`ve got some new polling on the 2016 presidential race from the key swing state of New Hampshire. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboards, some surprises here. According to the new poll from St. Anselm College and Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton would beat Rand Paul by seven points, 48-41. But catch the rest of this. Against Scott Walker, Clinton`s lead grows to 13. Clinton 50, Walker 37. But look at this baby, against Jeb Bush, the Republican with arguably the highest name ID, Clinton`s got him by 14 right now. Clinton 50, which is winning, Bush 36. And we`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back. Actually, Democrats think they can win back the U.S. Senate in 2016. And to do that, they`re trying to lure back names back into the political arena for comeback bids. The thinking is that strong Democratic candidates who lost in the GOP wave elections of 2010 and 2014, when turnout was exceedingly low and bad for Democrats, they have a chance at winning in a presidential year when voter turnout is usually high. Former Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina lost a close one. Mark Begich of Alaska lost in 2014 as well, has yet to rule out a comeback campaign in 2016. Former Senator Russ Feingold, a popular fellow in Wisconsin, former U.S. Congressmen Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania who hasn`t stopped running since last time, and former Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, all lost to Republicans in 2010 and are all considering rematches in 2016. Former Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio who lost a reelection in 2010 is also weighing a Senate bid now.   Back now with our roundtable, Maria Teresa, and, of course, Jonathan and Jackie. I want to start with Jonathan this time. Do you think it is smart to go with the retreads? CAPEHART: Well, yes, it depends on how the retreads lost. All the people you`re talking about, these are people who didn`t lose because they`re constituents hated them, didn`t lose because they were terrible at their jobs. They lost because the Democratic coalition didn`t come out to vote, which, you know, by tradition, the Democratic coalition doesn`t come out to vote in off year elections. You talk about the Republican wave that came through during the midterm election. So, if Begich and Hagan and others you talked about are on the ballot during a presidential election year when there`s going to be a lot of excitement -- MATTHEWS: Yes. CAPEHART: -- especially on the Democratic side for a potential, perhaps, a nominee for Hillary Clinton, that they could get back into office. MATTHEWS: But isn`t this, Maria Teresa, isn`t this recycling? You put them in, and they face a six year situation six years from now when they`re back again with the wrong kind of electorate and they get blown away again. And the other guy goes in. This is a revolving door. These guys don`t have the strength that went to a wrong kind of election. So, it`s like baseball players. Left handers and right handers, you`ve got to be able to take any kind of pitching. I`m sorry, that`s the part -- KUMAR: I think -- Chris, I think that could be true, but I think that what the Democrats are calculating are two things. One, these are folks that are tried and tested. They don`t want to repeat that I am the witch that the Republicans said when they ran unknown candidates. And, two, they`re in swing states presidential. So, Hillary is going to definitely be stumping there. And, finally, and most importantly, these are folks that have their own personal fundraising network. MATTHEWS: I see.   KUMAR: I think running a new candidate is going to be very difficult if the Democratic machine is going to be supporting Hillary. MATTHEWS: OK. KUMAR: These are folks that actually have fundraising capabilities. MATTHEWS: Yes, the difference is, let me just try this, Jackie. You know, one thing I`ll give to the right wing, they come up with new people, they pop up all over the place. We had not heard of Rubio until recently. We`ve never heard of Cruz. I wish we had never heard of him lately. They`re sprouting candidate out of the woods. But they come up with new ones. I think the Democrats are going back to where they were instead of reaching out to new kinds of people, different ethnic candidates, Hispanics, different kinds of people, where the Republicans are doing that a little better, your thoughts? Sure, there`s someone who are dangerous (ph). KUCINICH: I think it defends on the state. Look at Scott Brown. That didn`t work too well for them. But you`re right, somewhere like Ohio, the Democratic bench is not deep, so they`re going for someone like Ted Strickland who has won statewide. So, I think it really depends on -- MATTHEWS: He`s lost statewide, too. KUCINICH: Yes, he has lost statewide. But I think it depends on the election. It depends on the electorate. A lot has changed since the last time Ted Strickland and some of these other candidates, maybe not Hagan, maybe not Begich, but some of the others have run. MATTHEWS: Yes? KUMAR: But I think, Chris, what you`re saying to is what the Republicans have done so well is they`re building a candidate bench that starts in the state legislature and it preps them. The Democrats do not have that. As an example, in California, you had roughly three or four Republican Latinas for the first time run in their local elections and actually made it to the state legislature and now, they`re going to be groomed for Congress. The Democrats definitely don`t have that type of operation.   MATTHEWS: Yes, who are the Mia Loves on the Democratic side? Anyway, thank you so much, Maria Teresa Kumar, Jonathan Capehart, and Jackie Kucinich. And I`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish with this new report of horrors we face. These tortures and killers of ISIS burned 45 people alive today. They took them prisoner in embattled Anbar province, loaded them on to a truck, throw gasoline over them and lit a match. They burned them alive. For the same reason that people have done horrors like this over the centuries, to punish those who opposed them and to terrify others into bowing before them. But ISIS has changed the roles of warfare. They have eliminated the option of capture, facing these sadists, you have two choices: run or fight to the death and hope it is to the death. Capture becomes too horrendous to consider, nobody opts for being burned alive. I`ve said this before and I have to say it again. We Americans cannot stand and watch this hell on earth without being effected by it. If we don`t act, really act to fight, it`s going to weaken us morally. How can it not? ISIS knows it`s got the hot hand and it`s playing it to the death. 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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