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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 03/18/15

Guests: Michael Shear, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Beto O`Rourke, Zerlina Maxwell, MikePaul

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: The White House rebukes Bibi. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews. "Let Me Start" tonight with Bibi Netanyahu`s big win and signs of new trouble ahead for his relationship with the White House. The Israeli leader swung far to the right in the final days of the campaign. He backtracked on earlier promises by vowing to never support a Palestinian state, came to Congress and brazenly called out the U.S. president for negotiating what he called a "bad deal" with Iran, and he boasted to the Israeli press about being able to stand up to the U.S., complained about an international conspiracy of leftists supposedly throwing money into Israel to oust him from office. Yesterday, Netanyahu warned his supporters that, quote, "Arab voters are going to the polls in droves." That was while the election was taking place yesterday that he said that. Those comments got a rebuke from White House spokesman Josh Earnest today. He told reporters the administration, quote, "is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens. It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy, an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together." Others close to the White House also weighed in, last night President Obama`s former senior adviser, David Axelrod, tweeting, quote, "Bibi`s shameful 11th-hour demagoguery may have swayed enough votes to save him, but at what cost," and the president`s former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, warning there will be further bumps in the road. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   ROBERT GIBBS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think this is a relationship between the president and the prime minister that you could actually see getting worse in the next few weeks, if an Iran deal comes through, before it ever has a chance to get better. I think it will be very challenging, despite the fact that there are a lot of things that are mutually important to both countries as it relates to foreign policy. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell joins me now from Jerusalem. Andrea, thanks for taking a few minutes. So that question, then, of whether there is going to be a price to be paid by Netanyahu -- he`s been reelected, but he did it by making those comments about Arab voters. He did it by renouncing the two-state solution. Is there going to be a cost for him going forward for the way he won this election? ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it`s a cost of his relationship with this administration. I think the bet is that he`s going to be around a lot longer than Barack Obama, at least a couple of years, if not a full four-year term. So he has been reelected with a strong mandate for these hard-line policies. There`s another price, of course, which is the domestic price. A lot of Israelis are very concerned about the lack of peace talks with the Palestinians, about the fact that if they believe that going forward, they`re going to be a democracy, they either have to give the Palestinians -- and Arab Israelis already have the vote, but they have to include more and more people because of the demographics in their country. And if there isn`t a two-state solution, what are they going to do? Are they going to absorb the west bank? Are they going to absorb the rest of the Palestinian territories? This is a huge problem for them. Either they will become not a Jewish state, which is not an alternative for Netanyahu, for anyone here in Israel, or they`re going to have to deal with some sort of homeland for the Palestinians. Tonight, the administration is saying it`s reevaluating its entire policy. It`s entirely conceivable that they will revisit the whole question of whether they support Israel at the United Nations against recognition for the Palestinians. KORNACKI: Wow. And you say, though, in terms of this result, obviously, it is a mandate, at least in the short term, for Netanyahu. And he did it... MITCHELL: Absolutely.   KORNACKI: He did it after coming to the United States, taking a lot of heat for making that speech in front of Congress, saying in front of Congress, basically, This is a bad deal your president is negotiating right now. So now in the wake of these results, if those negotiations the administration is in right now do produce a deal with Iran, what is this emboldened Netanyahu with his new mandate going to do? MITCHELL: Well, first of all, he believes that his trump card is the Republican-led Congress. They invited him, and he showed up despite the disapproval of the White House. The president will have a correct -- publicly correct relationship with the leader of Israel. He has to. It`s a key ally. But the bottom line is they`re counting on members of Congress to move ahead with some sort of unilateral sanctions. There`s Democratic support, Tim Kaine and other Democrats, for unilateral sanctions against Iran, or the threat of sanctions against Iran, which could blow up a potential nuclear deal. So that is the next big bump in the road. And it`s more than a little bump. KORNACKI: All right, Andrea Mitchell from NBC News in Jerusalem, thanks for the time tonight. Appreciate it. MITCHELL: You bet. KORNACKI: All right, and as I mentioned, Prime Minister Netanyahu`s last-minute appeal to his supporters yesterday, warning that, quote, "Arab voters are going to the polls in droves," was strongly rebuked by the White House today about those comments, "The Atlantic`s" Jeffrey Goldberg writing, quote, "Netanyahu, of course, wasn`t dog-whistling here. He didn`t refer, say, to people in Israel`s north who don`t have Jewish interests at heart, or some other such variation. Instead, he screamed, The Arabs are coming." I`m joined now by "New York Times" White House correspondent Michael Shear and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the group J Street, which describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace. Well, Michael, let me -- let me start with you. In terms of the implications for the way Netanyahu won this for domestic politics in the United States when it comes to Israel because when it comes to Israel, there`s been sort of a bipartisan consensus for a long time, Democrats and Republicans, whether it`s a Democratic White House, Republican White House, they protect Israel at the United Nations, Andrea Mitchell in that report right there raising the possibility that this administration now with this reelected Netanyahu may not protect Israel the same way at the United Nations. Is this becoming a partisan political issue here? MICHAEL SHEAR, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think the partisanship was obviously when the prime minister came to the Congress and spoke at the invitation of the Republicans and to the great consternation of the White House and many Democrats in Congress. I mean, so that has already been there, and I think this probably only intensifies it. I think the interesting thing that you saw today was the sort of dual messages that the administration was sending just literally hours after this election result, on the one hand, having Secretary Kerry, you know, reach out and congratulate the prime minister, but reserving the president`s phone call -- that hasn`t happened -- and at the same time, the president`s spokesman really delivering a pretty blunt message of disapproval about the way in which he won this election, which I think was intended to put some distance, some further distance between the president and the prime minister, which already, of course, is a pretty poisonous relationship.   And so I think, as Andrea said, the relationship will be polite, but it will never be close. KORNACKI: Yes, and Jeremy, we talked, too, about, you know, the closeness between Netanyahu and the Republicans in Congress over here, the Republicans in Congress who invited him over to speak. So now Netanyahu has gone and renounced the two-state solution, the Palestinian state living side by side with the Jewish state, Israel. Netanyahu has renounced that. That is something in this country, Republicans and Democrats have both been in favor of, at least in recent times, the two-state solution, President George W. Bush a strong advocate of the two-state solution. With Netanyahu making this turn, do Republicans in this country now make that same turn, do you think? JEREMY BEN-AMI, J STREET PRESIDENT: Well, I think there`s already been a move within the Republican Party in that direction. There`s been a few congressional letters and resolutions to that effect. There`s been debate over party platforms in a couple of states. I think that there`s a real possibility that you see the Republicans break in a way that aligns them very clearly with Israel`s right wing. And I think that makes a lot of sense, that the policies that Netanyahu is advocating are very close in world view to the policies that the Republicans here advocate, and they have a lot in common. And similarly, I think that the Democrats and Barack Obama and the folks in Israel at the center-left there who favor a diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- two states for two people -- I mean, they have a lot in common, as well. So I think the break makes a little bit of sense, but it`s a real shame for the U.S.-Israel relationship. KORNACKI: Yes, well, Michael, I mean, are we entering into uncharted territory now in terms of the United States relationship with Israel? I`m trying to think of a precedent for the kind of rancor that exists -- not just rancor, but serious, you know, disagreement over basic, fundamental policy here that exists between this administration and the administration in Israel now. SHEAR: Well, and I think, you know, Andrea put her finger on it, like, if you want to measure how bad this relationship has gotten, let`s watch what happens at the United Nations, right? The United States has always been -- always had Israel`s back, always been the one to put the kibosh on any sort of resolution that comes out of the U.N. that Israel doesn`t like. You know, could we see a resolution that endorses a two-state solution with the 1967 borders, something that would be anathema to Prime minister Netanyahu -- is that something that the United States could let actually happen and not veto on behalf of its ally? That`s -- you know, those are the kinds of questions we should be watching as we assess just how bad the relationship can get. KORNACKI: Yes, and Jeremy, just quickly, when you look at public opinion in Israel, do you think as the -- as Netanyahu grows further and further apart, perhaps, from President Obama, can you see a scenario where that public opinion begins to change in Israel, where they say, Maybe we don`t want to be having this distance between an American administration and us?   BEN-AMI: Well, you know, there`s a real split in Israel. There`s a solid third of the country that supported Bibi Netanyahu and the hard-right parties, and they responded well to the conflict with the United States and the conflict with Barack Obama, to the racism that you heard about and to some of the other outlandish statements that were made. And then there`s another whole segment of Israeli society that`s adamantly opposed. You know, 72 percent of the country thinks it`s going in the wrong direction in Israel. Bibi Netanyahu`s favorability is under water. So he`s already got a very strong opposition. The results last night reflect the divide in Israel that exists. KORNACKI: All right, thank you to Michael Shear, Jeremy Ben-Ami. Appreciate the time. BEN-AMI: Sure. SHEAR: Thank you. KORNACKI: Coming up, terror in Tunisia, 19 people are dead after terrorists opened fire at a museum. It is the latest in a string of brutal attacks on four continents. And in the political debate here at home, those attacks are sharply driving up support for war against ISIS. Plus, authorities in Japan are investigating a threat against U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. We will have the latest on that. And 2016 politics -- Hillary Clinton showing real strength against the Republican field, Barbara Bush changing her tune on her son, Jeb, and Donald Trump may -- may -- be running. Yes, right. The roundtable`s got all that covered tonight. And then finally, what`s Dick Cheney talking about when he tells "Playboy" that he thinks President Obama has been playing "the race card"? This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Despite the controversy over her e-mails, Hillary Clinton is trouncing the Republican field. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."   According to a new poll from CNN and Opinion Research, Clinton leads Rand Paul by 11 points in a national general election match-up, and that is as close as any Republican matched against her gets. Marco Rubio does next best, still trails Clinton by 12 points, 55 to 42. Clinton would also beat Mike Huckabee by 14 points nationally, 55-41 Clinton in that one. And Jeb Bush trails Hillary Clinton by 15 points, Clinton 55, Bush 40. Scott Walker, who is surging among Republicans these days, is also down 15 against the former secretary of state, again 55 to 40 there. And with Chris Christie as the Republican nominee, the score is also 55-40 for Hillary. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. At least 21 are dead in a traumatic incident near the Tunisian parliament. An American-born Air Force mechanic has been arraigned in court on charges that he tried to join up with ISIS. And the new defense secretary is on the hotseat up on Capitol Hill. It was a wild, and as we`ll also see, a horrific day, which has refocused all of our attention and all of our fears on violent extremism. Start with the horrific events today in Tunisia, where gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire in the country`s capital city at a museum near parliament, killing at least 19 people, most of them foreign tourists. Two of the gunmen were killed in a police raid. Their accomplices may still be at large. The attack comes after ISIS fighters from Tunisia circulated a video on line that warned the country that they would not be safe under their current government. I`m joined now by MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann and Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard and author of the new book "ISIS, the State of Terror." So Evan, let me start with you -- still trying to piece together exactly what happened in Tunisia, no official notification of who`s responsible for this. Does this feel like ISIS to you? EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, look, I mean, a lot of people when they think about ISIS, they think about foreign fighters from places like Iraq or Saudi Arabia. What a lot of people don`t understand is, is that one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters, maybe the second or third largest contingent of foreign fighters under ISIS in Syria and Iraq are Tunisians. They are among the most populous nationality. They are being killed in suicide bombings and other attacks inside of these areas. And where are they coming from? They coming from Tunisia. There`s a rat line of folks that are going back and forward, not to mention the fact that inside of Tunisia, you have a group called Ansar al Sharia, the same group, a branch of the same group that was allegedly behind the Benghazi consulate attack. So look, it`s a surprising thing. It`s a small country in North Africa. It`s not a country that a lot of us associate with extremism or violence, but there`s a very active pro-ISIS movement there. These folks are well armed and they`re killing people. This is not the first act of violence that`s occurred.   KORNACKI: Yes, how equipped is Tunisia to deal with this? Because we say there was -- there was sort of a general warning from ISIS saying, Hey, if you keep this same government, you`re in trouble, and now this happens. How prepared is this country to deal with it? KOHLMANN: Well, look, it goes both ways. The Tunisians have quite -- quite effective and efficient security services. They have received a tremendous amount of support from European nations and European partners. On the other hand, Tunisia has been racked by instability over the last few years. There is tremendous problems there right now in terms of people sorting out the aftermath of the Arab spring. A lot of people in Tunisia are looking for democracy. There is a very vocal small minority of people that are looking to use the Arab spring as an opportunity to bring violent and radical Islam into control in Tunisia. And as you can see today, the targets of that violence -- you know, they`re disturbing, I mean, tourists at a museum. This is even upping the scale from al Qaeda, which previously attacked a synagogue in Tunisia. Now they`re going after a museum, ISIS. So again, it`s disturbing to see, but it`s not that altogether that surprising. KORNACKI: All right, well, we have seen a flood of extremist acts targeting the West recently, Evan`s talking about there. In October, an Islamic convert killed a Canadian soldier and opened fire inside parliament there. Two months later, a self-radicalized Muslim cleric took 17 people hostage in a Sydney cafe. Three of them died. In January, Paris was rocked by three days of terror because of al Qaeda-linked terrorists. More than a dozen died there. And last month, a gunman who swore allegiance to ISIS went on a rampage in Denmark and two died. At the same time all of this is happening, we are seeing a growing appetite to commit U.S. ground troops to the Mideast. A mid-February poll conducted by CNN had 47 percent of Americans supporting U.S. ground troops in the Mideast. A CBS News poll released around the same time had the number at 57 percent. Our own NBC poll last month saw it jump to 66 percent, two out of every three. Also, a Quinnipiac poll this month putting it at 62 percent. So Jessica, let me ask you about this. Just -- you understand and you`ve written so extensively about sort of the mindset of ISIS. And I keep hearing -- when we see polls like that, I always hear voices that say, Well, that is exactly what ISIS wants. They want to whip the United States, they want to whip the West into a frenzy, get the U.S. to commit troops. That will ultimately help them with their recruitment. That will ultimately sort of enhance their profile. So how does the United States -- how should the United States be reacting to this? Are we just playing into their hand if we do what these polls are saying people want us to do? JESSICA STERN, AUTHOR, "ISIS, The STATE OF TERROR": I think so. I think that King Abdullah of Jordan is absolutely right that the presence of Western troops, ground forces, will help them mobilize. I think that the best people to respond on the ground are actually Sunni Muslims because it`s part of their strategy to have a -- to goad the West into -- to appearing there to fight it out for the end times battle that they`re anticipating. And also, of course, the -- if we see too many Shia troops, that is also part of their strategy. They`d like to see a sectarian battle, as well. KORNACKI: Do you think, though, when you -- we have seen examples of this last summer in Iraq. Do you think the strength that ISIS has shown lately, without a presence from the United States, without a -- sort of a significant presence from the United States, are the forces that you`re talking about capable of defeating something as powerful as ISIS?   STERN: Well, I think they clearly need support from us and from others. It needs to be an international response. And we need -- part of it needs to be diplomatic. Part of it needs to be political. Part of it does need to be military. But the ground forces, in my view, at least for now, it`s much better if they are Sunni Arab. KORNACKI: Well, Evan, you look at these polls, and you can see -- the cause and effect is obvious here. We look at beheadings, we look at Paris, we look at all of those things and the natural reaction in this country is to be horrified and to say, we want to do something about this. We don`t just want to sit back and let this happen. When you look at your understanding of ISIS, when you look at that and you look at the appetite in this country of that, what is the smartest thing the United States can be doing in response to this? KOHLMANN: Well, look, in an ideal world, we would be doing exactly what Jessica is talking about. We would be having Sunni Iraqi and Syrian fighters liberating their country, FSA fighters, other fighters who are legitimately Sunnis, right? Unfortunately, we don`t live in a perfect world and the world we live in right now, it really appears like we have two options. Either we get involved or we let Iran take care of business. Now, neither of those options is a good option. Both of them are bad. The question is, what other options do we have right now? The Iraqis are not capable of liberating their country on their own. Not the Shiites, not the Sunnis, not the nonaffiliated. And anyone who has any doubt about that, look what is going on in Tikrit right now. For the last month, Iraqi officials have been saying every single day, we`re one day away from taking Tikrit. We`re not one day away from taking Tikrit. KORNACKI: Are you seeing a role for U.S. ground forces? KOHLMANN: My -- this is my problem. If we don`t commit U.S. ground forces, what is the alternative? If someone can come up with an alternative to that that works and that makes sense and that -- again, I`m all for that. I think the problem is, is we seem to be going through every option and exhausting all of the options, and they don`t seem to be working. Diplomatic pressure didn`t work. Getting our allies involved didn`t work. It`s great having the Jordanians and the UAE contributing one bombing out of every 50 in Syria, but that`s, A, not going to make any difference and, B, they are not committing ground troops. In the absence of any Sunnis committing ground troops, save, again, Sunni areas, the question is, is, like who can we actually count on to do this?   And unfortunately it keeps coming back that we don`t seem to be able to count on anyone except ourselves. KORNACKI: All right, thank you to Evan Kohlmann and Jessica Stern. The new secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, addressed the threat of ISIS while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee today. He said the group is metastasizing beyond Syria and Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We not only need to defeat ISIL. We need to defeat them in a lasting manner. And that`s always the difficult part. We can defeat ISIL, but defeating them in a lasting manner means having somebody on the ground who keeps them defeated after we assist them in the defeat. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Congressman Beto O`Rourke is a Democrat from Texas, a member of the Armed Services Committee. He joins us now from the Capitol. Congressman, thanks for taking a few minutes. You heard, I think, a little bit of that discussion before you came on here. I`m just curious to get your take on that, the idea, as Evan Kohlmann, our terrorism analyst, was just saying here, his assessment of this is, look, it would be great if somebody else could lead this fight on the ground against ISIS. But he`s not seeing any indication yet that anyone else is capable or willing to do it. What do you think of that take on this? REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Well, I feel like we have tried that before.   Of course, we invaded Iraq in 2003. We spent tens of billions of dollars training, equipping and advising their army, only to see them melt in the face of an inferior enemy, ISIS, on the field of battle. Our country strategy is to train, equip and advise that army again. And what I think that is going to produce is additional failure. And ultimately it`s going to be demand and beg the question, if we really want to achieve the president`s goals of defeating and destroying ISIS, won`t we have to commit our own ground forces? And with -- if we do that, what`s going to change in the future? How are we going to ensure that Iraq does not devolve again into sectarian violence? I think what we`re missing right now is an overall political strategy that asks some very basic questions, like, does the state of Iraq really make sense? Does Syria really make sense? Is ISIS a symptom of the need to reorganize these places, to admit that perhaps there should be some kind of Sunni homeland, some kind of Shia homeland, some kind of Kurdish homeland? The current political boundaries don`t make sense. And I don`t think that the U.S. military alone can resolve this. This is an issue of statesmanship and statecraft and political solutions. We need some of that, frankly, from this administration. And when it comes to ground forces, I don`t think they should be the young men and women at Fort Bliss deploying over into Iraq and to Syria. I think it should be the Jordanians. I think it should be the Saudis. I think it should be the Turks. I think it should be the Qataris. It should be those who have the most to gain or to lose in the outcome. KORNACKI: Should be is one thing, but as Evan Kohlmann was saying, he was saying, should be is one thing, but what is actually going to get the job done may be something else. Are you open in any scenario to using U.S. ground forces against ISIS? O`ROURKE: I am, as soon as we have a strategy. I think the men and women who serve this country so ably overseas, who constitute the greatest fighting force this world has ever known, they certainly want our support. And they have that. But I think what they want even more is a strategy and a plan. I`m 42 years old now. I was a senior in high school when this country first announced military actions in Iraq. That`s that country. You look at Afghanistan, we`re 14 years in there. You look at our military operations in Yemen, you look at our military operations in Libya, you look at our military operations in Pakistan, none of those countries and our position in those countries are the better for current military-only policies. We need a strategy. We don`t have that today. And I`m not willing to devote to commit U.S. forces and U.S. lives if we don`t have a plan. That`s what we need from this president, this administration and, frankly, from the actors in the region who have the most to gain or lose.   KORNACKI: Well, while all this is happening, there`s an authorization for military force that is collecting dust in Washington. Republican hawks think it does too little. Liberal doves think it does to much. The White House says they have the authority they need to combat ISIS anyway. This was John Kerry testifying before Congress last week. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president already has statutory authority to act against ISIL. But a clear and formal expression of this Congress` backing at this moment in time would dispel doubt that might exist anywhere that Americans are united in this effort. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And in the president`s letter to Congress requesting a vote on that authorization, he wrote that -- quote -- "Existing statutes provide me with the authority I need." Congressman, what do you think of that? If you guys in Congress cannot come together and agree on some kind of new authorization for the use of American military force, the administration says, that`s OK, we already have the authorization we need. What do you think of that? O`ROURKE: It`s a bit of a ridiculous situation. The president has been at war in Iraq and Syria for six months now. He would now like Congress` approval of that war, while failing to ask to repeal the underlying statute that he`s relying on to prosecute that war, so basically saying, it would be nice to have your approval and your stamp, but if I can`t get that, I`m going to go ahead and prosecute this war nonetheless. Again, the defense secretary said today that approval from Congress would send a message to our troops that we support them.   Those troops will have our support regardless. What those troops need is a strategy and a plan. You look at everywhere that we have intervened militarily over the last 20 years, and I see failure. I do not see success. I do not see our interests being met. In fact, I see us creating more problems, ISIS being one of them, than the problems that we`re solving. So I think on -- especially on behalf of the soldiers whom we ask to fight this nation`s wars, we need a plan and a strategy, and to date, we have not had one. KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Beto O`Rourke, thank you for your time. Appreciate it. O`ROURKE: Thank you. KORNACKI: All right. Up next, the latest on that threat against Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Authorities in Japan have launched an investigation into a series of death threats made against U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. She`s the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy. According to reports, the threats were made by a man who was speaking in English in several telephone calls to the U.S. Embassy in Japan last month.   NBC News senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing joins us now. Chris, what do we know about this? CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s a series of calls. The man spoke English. But we don`t know that it was unaccented English, which is important. Look, this stuff does happen frequently, not just there, but to embassies around the world. But they also take it very seriously. It also comes at a time where a number of things are coming together. First of all, the first lady just landed in Japan. There -- she`s there on an education initiative. Former President Bill Clinton is there. In fact, he had dinner with Caroline Kennedy last night because there`s a big symposium on her late dad, JFK. So he was very popular there. And in addition to that, there`s been a lot of concern about diplomatic security in Asia because of what happened to Ambassador Mark Lippert in South Korea. As you will remember, he got knifed in the face and the neck, and had to go to the hospital for several days and had 80 stitches. So, State Department officials tell us that while there is no increased security at the embassy in Japan, they won`t comment on her personal security. And a White House official told me the president has been briefed on these threats against Ambassador Kennedy -- Steve. KORNACKI: All right, NBC`s Chris Jansing at the White House, thanks for that. JANSING: Sure. KORNACKI: All right. Up next: Former first lady Barbara Bush changes her mind on her son Jeb running for president. She used to be against it. Now she says she`s for it. Trouble is, Jeb is not getting the same love from the rest of his party. The roundtable is next with that and all the news from the 2016 race. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening. A suspect is under arrest following a string of shootings in Mesa, Arizona. Six people were shot, one fatally, in a rampage that began shortly after 8:30 a.m. this morning. A Navy SEAL died earlier today during a training exercise when his parachute malfunctioned. And the Federal Reserve is not in any rush to hike interest rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen says, "Just because we removed the word `patient` from the statement doesn`t mean we`re going to be impatient`" -- now back to HARDBALL. KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The 2016 presidential cycle is in full swing today with lots of developing news in the race for the White House. Bush backlash is intensifying, with new poll numbers out that do not bode well for the Florida governor. One supporter Jeb is counting on has fully evolved on his candidacy. That is from his mom. Also, Rand Paul plots his announcement and sets a withdrawal date. Trump says he is exploring yet again. And early primary and caucus state Democrats are ready for Hillary now, not later. Joining the roundtable to unpack the 2016 news is Zerlina Maxwell, a contributor to "Essence" magazine. Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC political analyst. And Mike Paul is a former aide to Senator Al D`Amato. But let`s start with this new CNN poll that shows Jeb Bush with the highest unfavorable ratings among all of the 2016 Republican contenders; 47 percent of all Americans say they have an unfavorable view of the former Florida governor. That`s three points higher than Hillary Clinton, whose favorable score is also a whopping 22 percent higher than Jeb, 53 percent viewing Hillary favorable, only 31 percent the same for Jeb Bush. As we showed you earlier, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio both do marginally better than Jeb when matched in a head-to-head contest against Hillary Clinton.   So let`s talk about this for a second because I find this fascinating. I think we`re used to, for understandable reasons, thinking of the Bushes as sort of the face of the Republican Party. So, a Bush wants to run for president, so of course the Republicans are for him, of course he`s the most electable one. A 31-47 favorable/unfavorable -- I went back and I looked. George W. Bush, this same point in the 2000 cycle, you ready to this, 60-8, 60 favorable, eight unfavorable, his brother, all these years later, 31-47. That says to me there`s something about the Bush name that is not sitting well with a lot of people. ZERLINA MAXWELL, "ESSENCE": Right. I mean, I think that it`s a combination of two things. One, I think he`s getting a little bit of the negatives that his brother earned in his eight-year tenure as president of the United States. And so that`s fair or unfair, you know, depending upon where you start out in terms of your analysis. But I also think it`s because we know a little bit about what he would do if he were to win the presidency. We know that his foreign policy, for example, would be led by the neocons. And is that something that American people are ready for? (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: Well, that`s coming back into favor, though, it sounds like. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: And that`s the other thing we`re talking about, that the appetite for intervention is ramping up. But what do Republicans think when they see, like, a poll like that? Because part of the pitch for Bush here is, this -- get on board because he can win. You want to win finally. He can do it. You look at a poll like this, if you`re a Republican, it`s got to give you a little pause.   MIKE PAUL, FORMER AIDE TO SENATOR ALFONSE D`AMATO: Yes, but one of the things we also know is that they really don`t know this governor from Florida. You know, we`re not in Florida. The rest of the country doesn`t know him. And he has not just one brother, but a father that is branded with the Bush name. So, he`s taking on that legacy. It`s almost like being in a car and you`ve got two cars behind you and all of the bugs are it hitting your windshield. Some of the others are kind of getting the backdrop of your lead, but you better take on the legacy of two other people before people know who you are. KORNACKI: Well, the new poll suggests that people have had enough of the Bushes, as we`re talking about. It wasn`t long ago that Jeb`s own mother agreed with that sentiment. Here`s Barbara Bush in 2013, just two years ago, with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATT LAUER, TODAY: Would you like to see Jeb run? BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: He`s by far the most qualified man but, no, I really don`t. I think it`s a great country. There are a lot of great families. We`ve had enough Bushes. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: A few weeks ago, Barbara Bush weighed in via Skype at one of Jeb`s public events on literacy and former first lady said she had, quote, "changed her mind". (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARBARA BUSH: Jeb --   JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Yes. BARBARA BUSH: It`s mom. JEB BUSH: Hey, mom. How are you doing? BARBARA BUSH: Just great. Just listening in. Anyway, what do you mean "too many Bushes"? Are you talking about literacy? That`s not what I`m talking about, but I`ve changed my mind. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Now, Barbara Bush is doubling down, even dialing for dollars to help fund raise for Jeb`s likely presidential campaign. Mrs. Bush sent out a fundraising letter announcing she was setting out the Run Jeb Run Fund. She writes, "When the idea of Jeb running for president first came up, I was hesitant. You may have heard about that. When you see the pounding candidates, their spouses and even their children take, what mother wouldn`t be? Jeb is our best chance of taking back the White House in 2016 and I hope that you`ll join me in pushing him to run." Yes, obviously, he`s going to need his mother to push him into this race, clearly decided to run, I love this legal pretense you have to have. But, Jonathan, there`s one of these -- I think this is one of the great ironies of modern political history that in the Bush family, it was always supposed to be years ago, Jeb was the one who`s supposed to run. He was the son who was supposed to run. He loses that `94 Florida governor`s race. George W. Bush wins in Texas. The roles are reversed, and now, Jeb has to finally run in 2016 with all of this baggage. JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, the bottom line is, we`re not a banana republic. You know, this idea that we have these dynasties, it`s trouble on the Democratic side, too, with the Clintons. But with the Bushes, we`re not talking about sort of history-making with the first women president, potentially. We`re talking about three people from a same family who are not -- no offense to all of them -- but they are not enormously gifted Americans. They are decent public servants. You might disagree with them, but they are serving the broad middle range of American political families.   So, the idea that -- as Barbara Bush said herself, that out of more than 300 million Americans, we have to go again to the same family. It doesn`t sit well with a lot of people. KORNACKI: She was tapping into something there. ALTER: And so -- but the point is, these polls right now are irrelevant because nobody knows anything about the other candidates. So, they don`t have anything negative on them yet. The only polls that matter, in terms of the match-ups with Hillary Clinton, are the ones a year from now. KORNACKI: Here`s where I disagree with that. I think when they don`t know with Scott Walker, there`s not much we can read into it. They know the name Bush. When you`re testing the name bush right now and it`s coming back 47 percent negative, I think that`s telling you something. ALTER: It is telling you something but, remember, Scott Walker and Rand Paul and these others, they are in their honeymoon period with the American people because they are unknown. KORNACKI: Right. No, no -- ALTER: So, all these Republicans can project all of their desires onto -- KORNACKI: That`s true. That $100 million that Jeb will race -- (CROSSTALK) ALTER: And not just the negative on them, we`ll see that they have their own serious flaws. So, what happens is that at this point all of us obsess over these polls. Do you know that Michele Bachmann was running the Iowa straw poll, you know, four years ago.   KORNACKI: Right. ALTER: These are -- KORNACKI: The thing that should alarm the bush people, though, is the polls at this point when they show walker doing that well, it shows the appetite is there. And I think what thing that it shows the appetite for somebody else is there. One thing it says to me as well is that you look at Bachmann, she had a lot of flaws that were pretty obvious and exposed. When you look at Walker, there`s a potential there, I think -- this scares the Bush people a little bit, to put it together, in a way that Newt Gingrich couldn`t against Mitt Romney, in a way that Bachmann couldn`t, in the way that Herman Cain couldn`t. This is a guy who survived elections in a very tough swing state. There`s a potential that didn`t exist with somebody like -- the self-destructive potential with Gingrich was always obvious. ALTER: He`s just going to have to fight for this nomination. He`s going to have to earn this nomination. But at the end of the day, this is true, always in politics, the best politician wins and we don`t know yet whether Jeb Bush is rusty or whether he can bring it -- KORNACKI: Right. ALTER: -- a year from now. But to try to project how they`re going to -- PAUL: The same with Hillary, to be fair. ALTER: Well, Hillary doesn`t have any competition in the general election. KORNACKI: In the general. ZERLINA MAXWELL, ESSENCE MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: We`re forgetting, as secretary of state, she had to do that shake and grim and sort of door-to- door politics with the world leaders. I think the criticism that she gets that she`s not a people person, I think that`s a moot point at this stage.   PAUL: Yes, but that`s not the same. Talking with another world leader is not talking to Sandy with an ice cream in her hand or kissing a baby. MAXWELL: Right, but I think her authenticity has improved over the past eight years when she was secretary of state. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: Look, we said Jeb Bush, he lost that race in Florida, Hillary lost in `08, so they both have high-profile losses, interesting if they`re matched up (ph). The roundtable is staying with us. Up next, Dick Cheney says President Obama and Eric Holder have been playing the race card. We`ll tackle that one next. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Well, here`s one Republican making a big push for President Obama`s choice to be attorney general, Rudy Giuliani. In a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, the former New York mayor praises Loretta Lynch, says President Obama deserves to have his choice of nominees even if he disagrees with some of her views. Giuliani urged Graham to share the letter with fellow Republican senators, many who have come out against the Lynch`s nomination. Giuliani`s support for Lynch could give some of those wavering Republicans the political cover they need to vote to confirm her. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)   KORNACKI: We are back. It`s well-known that former Vice President Dick Cheney will take any opportunity he can to slam to slam the Obama administration. But his latest political reflections appear this week in a very unlikely outlet, "Playboy" magazine. Former veep spoke with James Rosen of FOX News in a wide-ranging nine-page interview in this month`s issue. Perhaps the most controversial part of the issue is when Cheney accused President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder of playing the race card. Here`s what Cheney said about how he thinks the president and Holder, who both the first African-Americans to hold their officer, handle criticism. Quote, "I think they`re playing the race card, in my view. To say that we criticize, or that I criticize Barack Obama or Eric Holder because of race, I just think it`s obviously not true. My view of the criticism is merited because of performance, or lack of performance because of incompetence. It hasn`t got anything to do with race." We`re back with the roundtable with Zerlina, Jonathan and Mike. I think what he was responding to there, what he was trying to say, is the president, Eric Holder, I believe Holder made comments that some of the criticism that the administration received, some of the criticism he receives, Obama receives, has to do with race. Cheney then took that and said they are implicating me, they are implicating everybody who criticizes them, not seeing that distinction there. PAUL: The classic Cheney-like style. I think it was inappropriate. I think when we get into these discussions with a race perspective, it shows the bad side of who we are in our country. Not locally as we look at it locally ourselves, but as others look at us from around the world. And I just think it was a cheap shot. When we get into those kind of things, and we did that together here on this program a couple of weeks ago when one of my former bosses, Rudy Giuliani, was going after our sitting president, not respecting him -- you know, one of the things that I really don`t like is when the Republican Party says that we have to honor the office of the presidency, and we talk about ethics from that perspective. And then we turn around and slap somebody else who`s in office. It shows how unethical and immoral those kind of decisions are. ALTER: It doesn`t have any class. You know, George W. Bush, whatever you think of him, is handling this with some distinction, in his relationship with the Obama administration. And I think that Dick Cheney, who obviously reads "Playboy" for the articles, you know, is reflective of the values of a political hack. And this is a real transformation, because if you go back to the First Gulf War, whatever, even if you didn`t favor that war, he was a distinguished secretary of defense. He served his country over many years, in some roles as White House chief of staff, in Congress, very credibly. And in a way, that really impressed a lot of people on both sides of the aisle.   And now, he just -- every month, it seems like he does something that takes it lower and lower and lower in history`s -- KORNACKI: Yes -- ALTER: It`s really kind of sad, and in some ways kind of inexplicable. Almost like some of his friends think he`s a different person. If you ask somebody like Brent Scowcroft who served with him, you know, during in the Gulf War, he told me one time, I don`t know what happened to Dick Cheney. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: Strictly in terms of his views on policy, this is the guy who as secretary of defense made the case for why we shouldn`t have gone into Baghdad in `91, and then he becomes one of the architects of going in 12 years later. What changed? Racial politics also in the spotlight today on the Senate floor. Take a look at what Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said about the holdup in the confirmation vote for attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Durbin compared Lynch who is black to Rosa Parks. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Loretta Lynch, the first African- American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar. That is unfair. It`s unjust. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Well, I`ve got to ask this, Zerlina. Is that playing the race card? MAXWELL: I don`t necessarily like the comparison to Rosa Parks, but he is correct that not only is Eric Holder received unprecedented attacks, but Loretta Lynch has also been held up for longer than any other person. Why is that? That`s the question.   KORNACKI: But, yes. And is he saying it`s because she`s black, or is he caught up in this, another one of these ridiculous, sort of, tug-of-wars between Congress and the president? MAXWELL: He may not be saying that explicitly. I will say it explicitly. She`s being held up because she`s black. Eric Holder was unfairly attacked all along because he`s black. It is attacking President Obama by proxy. I don`t think that we can continue to say that race is a card. Race is an identity. It`s a lived experience. And so, one of the things that is true in terms of electoral politics, there`s a reason why three-quarters of South Asians, three quarters of Asians, three quarters of Hispanics, and 90-plus percent of black people voted for President Obama two times. And that is because these dog whistles can be heard by people -- (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: I want to be clear. So, are you saying that the Republicans do not want her to have that job because she`s black? MAXWELL: Well, I think they have a strong dislike for the president of the United States because he`s black. That`s one of the reasons. And it`s an attack on him via proxy. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: What do you make of that? PAUL: I agree with her 110 percent. And it`s the exact same reason that I went up to my old boss on this program and said the same thing about Rudy Giuliani. You know, going back to what John said a little while ago about the relationship between the sitting president, and the previous president, and his father, and Clinton before him, those examples should not be taken lightly. It was a son who looked at his father and said, you know what, our parties disagree. I like the relationship I see as a former president. He talked to his son about it, and he said this is the right way to handle it. You`re going to be polled ironically by people like Cheney and others in the Republican Party who are going to want you to attack and want you do other things -- be presidential. Understand the difference between staff and being a president. And do the right thing. And I honor them, both sides.   KORNACKI: We`ve got to cut it there. Sorry. We`re right up against the break. ALTER: Playing the race card, definitely, but not just because she`s black, in the case with Loretta Lynch. They do this to all of Obama`s nominees, white and black. KORNACKI: That`s what I`m asking about. I could see in this situation if there was a white nominee for attorney general, the Republicans continue to make this --- (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: They`re holding up a -- MAXWELL: They do it when the person is black. They question the race`s intelligence. They don`t that with every single white nominee. PAUL: Very convenient when they are -- KORNACKI: Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Alter, Mike Paul, appreciate the time. We`ll be back right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks fore 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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