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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 04/17/15

Guests: Robert Costa, Nancy Palmer, Sabrina Siddiqui, Jeremy Peters

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Chicken hawks. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco. Tonight, we live in the land of the chicken hawk, always with a love of war but not an actual appetite. He speaks and writes a tough game, but flies away at the prospect of actual combat. For example, you can hear the cries of the chicken hawk growing loud for a quick air strike on Iran but not a peep for the grim struggle on the ground in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Forty-seven Republican senators wrote a letter to the ayatollah trying to derail the negotiations over nuclear weapons in Iran, but you can`t find one Republican senator ready to pass a war resolution against ISIS. What gives here? Does the right like to blow the bugle, only to scramble when they have to send in troops? David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and Flashpoint Global Partners Evan Kohlmann is an NBC News terrorism analyst. Let`s start -- first of all, Republican leaders and their right-wing allies love blowing the bugle for war. They love the notion of war. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ISIS says they want to go back and reject modernity? Well, I think we should help them. We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age!   (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They`re barbarians, and we`re over there kind of poking them in the nose. We`re not really there to defeat and destroy. DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I would hit them so hard and so fast that they wouldn`t know what happened. REP. LOUIS GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I think it`s time to bomb Iran. Anything that resembles a nuclear facility with centrifuges, it`s time to bomb. SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Israel struck Iraq`s nuclear program in 1981, and they didn`t reconstitute it. Israel struck Syria`s nuclear reactor in 2007, they haven`t yet reconstituted it. Rogue regimes have a way of getting the picture when there`s a credible threat of military force on the table. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, enough of Bates Motel. Let`s go to John McCain, who is normally at least cerebral at times -- at times. Here he is telling what he thinks is a joke about bombing Iran. Let`s catch this act. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many times do we have to prove that these people are blowing up people now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon. When do we send them an air mail message to Tehran? (APPLAUSE) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I mean, that old -- that old Beach Boy song, Bomb Iran? (SINGING) Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway...   (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Oh! David Corn, that captures, I think, the level of thought here. It`s easy to talk about bombing Iran because it involves a bombing raid by a couple of courageous American pilots, and it`s a quickie, it`s over with, they think, another cakewalk. Of course, it never ends up being a cakewalk -- whereas an actual war with ISIS is actually happening now. We`ve got allies in the field, the Iraqi government, the Iranian forces, the Shia militia, but we can`t get the Congress, the Republicans -- Republican senators, Corker, the Foreign Relations Committee -- nobody actually wants to get involved in saying, This is what we should be doing over there in terms of a war resolution. Explain. DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: This is an amazing and stark juxtaposition. When it comes to diplomacy, when Barack Obama is out there trying to negotiate a very difficult deal to, you know, try to prevent war with Iran, what happens? The Republicans want to intervene when they don`t necessarily have a strong constitutional role in this and they`re hot to trot. When it comes to Iraq, when the issue is what to do in a hot war and military action, Republicans are basically like Monty Python`s knights. They`re screaming, "Run away, run away." They don`t want to have debates, they don`t want to have hearings about what to do about this war resolution, where they arguably have much more of a constitutional role in the matter. And that`s why when it comes to Iran, they want to obstruct Obama. When it comes to Iraq, they want to be in a position to blame Obama. They don`t want to come up there and be on the hook and even get any buy-in on what is a very difficult proposition, and it`s a project that the American public is really not that keen on in terms of military involvement, further military involvement in Iraq. MATTHEWS: Evan, I have a sense that there are politicians, just a guess, people like Bob Corker and the rest of them... (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: They`re all politicians, let`s face it, but the Republicans who love to talk like hawks, they love to be warriors and John Wayne and Ronald Reagan and all this -- We`re going to go bomb them back to the Stone Age -- you heard the talk there, even from somewhat less serious people like Donald Trump, although he doesn`t know he`s less serious, he just is. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: I don`t think anybody told him yet, but he is less serious. And yet when it comes down to the actual grim fight of sending people over on new tours, where you have to do another year or so away from your family, maybe getting killed or dismembered and those people going over there -- and Republicans don`t want to push that button.   Explain how people say they want to fight, they say they want to meet the security concerns of the United States, but then all of a sudden -- you know, I love this idea of a quickie pilot, go over there and knock them over, and then we come home, and somehow, there`s a cakewalk and we don`t get hurt. It`s a bite-sized war. EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: I think that`s the first thing we need to disabuse these folks of, the idea that we can simply bomb Iran surgically with no repercussions for us, easily, simply cleanly. That is a pipe dream of the utmost significance, or the utmost level. There`s no way that would happen. Iran controls the terrorist group Hezbollah. Hezbollah for the last few years has not been directly attacking U.S. interests. I guarantee you, if we bomb any location inside of Iranian territory, Hezbollah will start targeting us actively, and they will target us in ways that we are not able to stop. So that idea, that this is cleanness (ph) or bloodless or there`s some kind of silver bullet solution to bomb Iran into submission -- that does not exist. In the meantime, you`re right. In Iraq, there`s a shooting war that we don`t have much choice right now to get involved in, and nobody seems to want to commit the assets to actually solve the problem. Look what`s going on in Ramadi right now. This is shameful. American soldiers lost their lives in 2004 and 2005 and 2006 to try to control this city, to get it back and stable, and secure hands, and we`re letting fall to ISIS right now. And we`re talking about Iran, a country that we don`t even have to fight. That is a very sad state on the political scene right now and the impact it`s having on U.S. foreign policy. CORN: And you know, Chris, you know, the issue that Evan brings us is incredibly difficult, how to respond to ISIS in Iraq using the Iraq military, the Shia militias that are allied, many with Iran, and dealing with the Kurds. It`s a very complex issue to which nobody seems to have the best and right answer. You know, anybody responsible in Congress, even someone like, you know, Senator Corker, who I think is trying on Iran not to go with the yahoos on the right -- they have an obligation to try to work with the president and come up with a best possible options, but they`re completely ignoring that while they`re playing these games to try to obstruct negotiations that aren`t even over yet and that -- and that don`t -- that are not a pressing crisis, no matter what Benjamin Netanyahu says. So they`re really giving up a tremendous responsibility that they do have to pursue this political vendetta against Obama because he`s trying to solve the Iranian issue without military action. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a political question. It`s a little tricky, but we`ve got to get to it. You know, Netanyahu, you must mentioned him -- and I always think of that, too, David, how Netanyahu came over and sort of defined, as he it, American foreign policy and security interests. He said Iran is a much more serious threat, that ISIS really isn`t anywhere in that same ballpark. Is Israel -- he represents Israel, of course. Is Israel not afraid of ISIS? Because you don`t hear him talking about ISIS at all, really, not like he talks about Iran. CORN: Well, that`s a really good question. I mean, he is more worried about Iran, and if he was to talk about ISIS, it may take, you know, our eyes off the ball...   MATTHEWS: I see. CORN: ... that he cares most about. MATTHEWS: Evan, you answer that question because let`s just -- in geopolitical terms, why isn`t Israel as concerned about ISIS, which is a hot war situation, where the bad guys, people we think are the bad guys, and I`m sure Israel thinks are the bad guys, are winning? KOHLMANN: Well, I mean, I think the answer is this. I think the Israelis see the Iranians as the greater strategic threat. ISIS... (CROSSTALK) KOHLMANN: ... getting their hands on atomic weapons any time soon, but the Iranians might. And then I think more of the point, right now, Iran is backing Bashar al Assad, the regime that`s in Damascus. I don`t think the Israelis fully appreciate that ISIS might be worse for them than Bashar al Assad. They hate Bashar al Assad so much, they loathe him so much, they`ve gone through so much with him that I`m not sure they`re convinced that anything could be worse than him. And I think they`re making a mistake because ISIS is a much more difficult threat to contain than what they think. It`s not just a matter of shooting across a border and keeping people in place. It`s not going to work like that. So I think the Israelis -- to be fair, they have a reason to respect Iran and to think Iran is a threat, but they might be underselling the kind of damage that ISIS could cause them if they`re right up against the Golan Heights, which is exactly the direction that they are pushing towards. MATTHEWS: Well, the situation in Iraq remains a mess as of today. A car bomb killed at least two people outside the United States consulate over there in Irbil. The Kurdish medical office -- medical -- or official tells NBC News that one American`s among eight that were injured today, wounded. Here`s the State Department informing reporters about that incident today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was detonated directly outside an entry point on the perimeter of the U.S. consulate in Irbil today. There are no reports of injuries to chief of mission personnel or to the local guards. We do not have any details on who`s responsible at this time. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Evan, they`re coming at us over there. Who do you think did this? KOHLMANN: Well, look, we don`t know for sure, but it certainly looks like either ISIS or a group that may be affiliated or sympathetic to ISIS. And I think that`s part of the problem, is, is that even in Kurdistan, which is a region that technically is full of American friends, there are still people there that don`t like us. There`s Ansar al Islam, which is a predominantly Kurdish group. It`s a terrorist group. It doesn`t like ISIS, but it likes al Qaeda, and it doesn`t like the United States. And they could just as well have been responsible for this as ISIS. Our interests are going to be targeted. I mean, let`s face it. We`re there. We`re a target. ISIS wants to try to scare us out of that region. They`re going to do everything they can. This is just the beginning. They`re going to go after our interests. They`re going to go after our personnel as long as they`re able to. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: The great irony, gentlemen -- I`ve got to leave it at this, but and I`ll get back to it at the end of the program -- is that the Republican Party has been scoring lots of political points as the hawkish party of late, without ever committing itself to the real hot war going on against ISIS. It`s a great, terrible irony. Politicians ought to be accountable for their rhetoric and be accountable to actions which support improving our security, not just talking and blowing that bugle. Anyway, David Corn, as always, you know what you`re talking about. Evan Kohlmann, thank you so much for your expertise. KOHLMANN: Sure thing, Chris. MATTHEWS: Coming up -- here comes Huckabee. The guy who talked about "uncle sugar" and "Kenyan Mao-Maos" wants to make his mark on this Republican race. He won Iowa back in 2008. Will he now be the spoiler? I think he`s going to be the spoiler, by the way, keeping the religious right vote away from Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Walker, Scott Walker.   Plus, there`s nothing fun about being poor, but now a strict new law in Kansas is making it illegal for people on welfare to go to the movies or to a local swimming hole on taxpayers` money. Critics say the law is cruel, but the state`s Republican governor says it`s about helping people become more self-sufficient. And this week, the 2016 race did get under way for real, so who`s got the inside rail coming out of the gate? And where`s this thing headed between now and the first debate, believe it or not, coming up this summer. It`s happening. And we`ll keep you going, and we`re going to ask our roundtable who`s winning this thing. Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this whole idea of voting for the person, not the party, and how dangerous that is. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: President Obama is demanding that Congress hold a vote on his nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Here`s the president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the top law enforcement job in the country! What are we doing here? And -- and I have to say that there are times where the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far. This is an example of it. It`s gone too far. Enough! Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job. This is embarrassing, a process like this. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, the president nominated Lynch back in November. She`s been waiting longer for a confirmation vote than any other attorney general nominee in 30 years, and yesterday, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he`d try to force a vote on Lynch. He`d need Republican help to do that, but his plan was foiled today when two Republican senators who support Lynch told NBC News they wouldn`t allow the vote -- wouldn`t allow the vote. We`ll be right back after this.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR. GOV., PRES. CANDIDATE: You know, I wasn`t sure that I would ever be able to love a state as much as I love my home state of Arkansas. But tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot! (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee winning the Iowa caucuses back in 2008. Huckabee lost the GOP nomination that year to John McCain, but now it looks like he wants another crack at it. Late today, Huckabee told reporters he`s formed a presidential exploratory committee. And just moments ago, he said this about his 2016 campaign plans. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUCKABEE: May 5th is the day I`ll make an announcement, and I hope people will come to Hope, Arkansas, and not just to tour the Bill Clinton birthplace. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Huckabee has a history of colorful talk. Here he is on gays, women, and his favorite punching bag, President Obama. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe you`re born gay or you choose to be gay? HUCKABEE: I don`t know whether people are born that way. People who are gay say that they`re born that way. But one thing I know, that the behavior one practices is a choice. Here in Iowa, you would not have people who would just throw the F- bomb and use gratuitous profanity in a professional setting. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. HUCKABEE: In New York, not only do the men do it, but the women do it. And you know, you just are looking around and saying, My gosh, this is worse than locker room talk. This would be considered totally inappropriate to say these things in front of a woman. And for a woman to say them in a professional setting -- we would only assume that this is a very -- as we would say in the South, that`s just trashy. So I`m beginning to think that there`s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States. I`ve said many times publicly that I do think he has a different world view, and I think it`s in part molded out of a very different experience. Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings, and you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas. Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he`s against the Jews in Israel. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Robert Costa is a political reporter with "The Washington Post." He joins us now from Nashua, New Hampshire, where the Republican field is gathering up there this weekend. And Ron Reagan is an MSNBC contributor. Ron, I was just wondering where these madrassas are in Honolulu.   (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: I guess there were some in Indonesia, but this shot at this guy is right up there with the Mao-Mao charge. It`s -- he`s some third worlder. He`s not one of us. It`s again and again, even after all these years! RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but Huckabee`s constituents, or who he thinks his constituency, is. They believe this kind of stuff. They nod their heads when they says this kind of stuff. They tune into his TV show when he says this kind of stuff. This is, you know -- this is, you know, his stock and trade. MATTHEWS: Well, Robert, it seems to me he`s narrowing his constituency when he takes shots at the big cities. You know, OK, the language may be a little racier in big cities, I can live with that, but what`s the point of saying it unless you`re cultivating the anti-big city vote that doesn`t like the sophisticates or even the trashy-talking people? I mean, what`s the point? Does he intend to rule this country without ever coming into contact with New Yorkers -- New Yorkers? ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, you know where the anti-big city vote does pay attention is in Iowa. And if you`re an evangelical conservative, if you`re Ted Cruz, if you`re Rick Santorum, if you`re Ben Carson, Huckabee`s a political threat. He`s someone who could storm into Iowa, create chaos on the right, and be helpful to someone like Jeb Bush, who ignores Iowa perhaps and goes straight to New Hampshire. MATTHEWS: So that`s -- I don`t like the term, but it is sort of an appeal for a yahoo anti-big city, right, country mouse vs. city mouse. And that is to me a very short-term strategy. I have a feeling -- I`m going to try this out with both of you guys. I think what Huckabee threatens to do here is own the religious right vote, the people that are very much against same-sex and will be infuriated by a court decision, a 6- 3 decision this summer, this June that basically recognizes that right to same-sex marriage, infuriated, the way they were infuriated by the no prayer in public school decision in the `60s. And they are going to get infuriated. They are all going to vote for this guy Huckabee and that means Ted Cruz won`t get their votes. It means that Scott Walker won`t get them and even Rand Paul won`t get them so he will freeze them out of this because he will be so fiery. Is this possible what he could do, just be the dog in the manger, grab the religious vote and keep it away from them so none of the other three candidates can build up the support they need to really take on the more establishment candidates? Your thought, Robert?   (CROSSTALK) REAGAN: And then become something of a kingmaker as well. If he owns the evangelical right on the Republican Party, then let`s say a Jeb Bush looks like he`s going to get the nomination, he needs to go courting Huckabee to get that vote from Huckabee. But he`s not just an evangelical. He`s doing some smarter things, too. He`s actually carved out a little exceptional niche for himself with Social Security. Most Republican candidates are talking about raising the eligibility age. Not Huckabee. Huckabee is saying, no, we leave the program alone. It`s a pact with the American people that we have made. He knows that his, you know, his constituency is an older constituency, too, and he`s playing to that. MATTHEWS: Yes, so he`s a politician. REAGAN: Yes. COSTA: Chris, a few hours ago just behind me here in this ballroom in Nashua, Governor Jeb Bush was asked by one of these activists about a coronation happening in the Republican Party. What Huckabee is doing is playing on that impulse in the base. He knows there`s a lot of skepticism about Bush. They think this is an aristocratic movement from the GOP establishment. He`s going right at that feeling and saying I can be your candidate and I`m against the cities. I followed Huckabee on his book tour. It`s uber-populism. It`s God, guns, grits, and gravy. That`s his pitch. MATTHEWS: But here`s the problem. Somebody just complained the other play. I forget who in the paper today was complaining that Democrats are simply exploiting the fact that all they have to do is ask Republicans about same-sex, would they go to a same-sex marriage, for example, in order to kill their chances. They call it a wedge issue. But it`s not a wedge issue. If Huckabee says this is what the Republican Party is all about, opposition to same-sex marriage, opposition to abortion rights, if that`s what the party is all about at its moral kernel, then how can Democrats -- how can the Republicans always say, oh, you Democrats are just picking up on little things here and use them against us?   Ron, you know what I mean? REAGAN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Either it`s central to the party or it`s not. And if it is central to the party`s doctrine, its platform, why shouldn`t the Democrats go after it? REAGAN: Well, exactly. It`s entirely fair for the Democrats to point that out and this is the problem for the Republican Party. Are they going to be the Republican Party of let`s say Jeb Bush, who is -- you know, he`s going to cater to the evangelical right, you know, to the extent that he has to, but he`s not really of them, or is it going to be somebody like Huckabee or, you know, potentially a Ted Cruz, somebody like that, who really is tight with the evangelicals, and, you know, at least pretends not to believe in science and things like that? MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s right. REAGAN: These are two radically different visions of the Republican Party. MATTHEWS: Let me go back to you, Robert. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Robert, you have got to play this straight, Robert, but here`s the straight question. Those debates are going to be coming up this summer, and as much as the Republican organization is going to try to control them and keep away moderates and liberals and establishment journalists, somewhere along the line, these candidates are going to be asked fundamental questions about their world view, about science, about evolution, about abortion rights, about sexuality and identities, sexual identity. Are they going to try to avoid all those issues? Is that the Republican game plan? Is this Reince Priebus` plan, protect them from being studied by people so we can`t look at them anthropologically, you know, keep them away from us?   COSTA: I have checked in with all these Republican presidential campaigns today here in New Hampshire, and they look at horizon, and they are worried, Chris, because they see the Supreme Court about to decide this summer on same-sex marriage. And so as much as the Republican Party may want to avoid an internal battle on the social issues, it`s coming, and you know who recognizes that? Huckabee. He sees the party is going to be battling this in the summer. He wants to be there in the center of it and perhaps ride that momentum into the nomination. MATTHEWS: Well, it happened before back in the `60s when the Supreme Court outlawed public schools having prayer in school, and all of a something called the moral majority was created because of that, Robert. So there`s -- I got to -- Ron, there`s a precedent on this. REAGAN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Once the Supreme Court acts, whether it`s Roe v. Wade or it`s Brown, Brown case or anything else, it does ignite the right. REAGAN: Yes, there`s a backlash, exactly. I think we have to say one more thing about Mr. Huckabee as well. I`m not entirely sure that he`s running for the presidency. I don`t know that he really thinks he can be elected president. I may be wrong about this, but he -- you know, let`s -- he spent the last some years as a television host. He may be running, as some people do, just to kind of help his career along for after the election. So we should keep that in mind, too. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Is he going to be the next reverse mortgage guy; is that what you`re saying?   (LAUGHTER) REAGAN: Possibly. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Robert. (CROSSTALK) COSTA: It`s a crowded field. It`s a crowded field for Huckabee. MATTHEWS: Is he for real? COSTA: I think -- I have been following him on campaign trail and I know what it`s been. It`s been a book tour. And Huckabee knows it`s a tough time for him. Cruz was at Liberty University. Evangelicals are looking at a lot of different contenders. I think Ron is right. Huckabee may explore for a while and may end up not running. MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Robert Costa. You`re becoming my favorite straight reporter out there, very much so. Thank you. And, Ron Reagan, thank you for coming on, my friend. Still ahead, the roundtable and where this presidential race is headed it is a comes out of the chute this week. What a first week and they are all joining in this race.   Up next, some of the biggest news stories of our time through the eyes of a reporter who covered them, John Palmer. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN PALMER, NBC NEWS: About a minute after the launch of the space shuttle Challenger from Cape Canaveral this afternoon, there was a huge bright ball of fire, an explosion in the air about 28 miles west of the Cape Canaveral launch site. It was just after the NASA controllers told the crew aboard the Challenger to go to full throttle that the explosion occurred. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. That was certainly a horrible day, the death of the people on the Challenger. NBC`s John Palmer there was breaking the news of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy back in `86. In his 50-year career, 50-year career in broadcast news, John Palmer distinguished himself as an outstanding correspondent, anchor, and reporter from his beginnings in local news to landing a spot on "The Today Show." Palmer was an eyewitness to history as it unfolded. But it was in 1980 that Palmer got the scoop of a lifetime during the Iranian hostage crisis. In April that have year, he was the first to break the news that the Carter administration rescue attempt had failed in the Iranian desert. It`s called Desert One. Here`s how he described it at the time.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) J. PALMER: Last night, just after 11:00, NBC News learned that there was unusual activity here at the White House. When I arrived to see what was happening, the street adjoining the White House was crowded with official cars. The lights were on in the Executive Mansion, and the press room was deserted, but the presence of many Secret Service agents indicated the president was in the Oval Office. The rescue mission had been aborted, and eight Americans had died. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Before his death in 2013, Palmer was able to finish a memoir about his life in journalism. "Newscatcher," he called it, which was published soon thereafter. I`m joined right now by his John Palmer`s wife, Nancy Palmer. Nancy, thank you for joining us. How did John get that scoop? Because I do know one thing about journalism. When there`s a lot of fuss going on, it`s a big sign that something is going on, so just look for a fuss, people in there around work at the wrong hours. And I love the fact that there was nobody in the press room, except John Palmer. Your thoughts, your memories? NANCY PALMER, WIFE OF JOHN PALMER: He told me about it. I was working with him at the time. He saw a lot of food left that the staff had been eating, and the answer he kept getting is I have nothing for you from the one press aide on duty, which doesn`t mean there`s no story. He just won`t going to tell him. And John just toughed it out, got in there, finally did get to Jody Powell and say, I know something is going on. And at that point, he had his cameraman put the lights on, on the lawn on the White House, and he said, I`m going out there and say something`s going on. And I need more, but I have got enough.   And Jody wasn`t happy about it, but Jody did arrange to finally tell him the details, and John had to bargain to get it on before Johnny Carson ended "The Tonight Show," so he would get the national audience, which did not make Jody happy. But I think it made the viewers happy to know what was going on, so he did get the story. He got the Merriman Smith Award for breaking it. MATTHEWS: Everybody thinks that the White House is a great beat, but the problem with it is, it`s almost like feeding time at SeaWorld, because you`re in that press room and, you know, you only get told what they want to tell you, so have you to develop these back-channel sources. You have to have people basically willing to rat out the White House in the White House. I worked at the White House, and I know that the guys like John Palmer and Lesley Stahl were always working people around the edges of power to say, oh, come on, tell me what`s going on. Don`t be so squeamish. Don`t be so loyal. Isn`t that what the job is, getting behind the scenes to the people that aren`t supposed to talk? N. PALMER: Absolutely. And you left out Sam Donaldson and Bill Plante. They called themselves Larry, Moe, and Curly sometimes. But they are out there are to -- you have to do it that way, and John had this Southern charm and this ease about him, but he was also very competitive and made sure he had his own sources and got the stories, and he did. MATTHEWS: So you had your first date during -- when I was working in the Carter White House as a speechwriter. That`s when you two got together, you and John. N. PALMER: John invited me to the White House, and I didn`t know if he was just being nice because I worked in the office and didn`t get out much in the newsroom, or if he was interested. And we didn`t find out because we didn`t know when you`re a guest of the White House you don`t sit with the person you come with. So I sat at one end of the East Room and he was at another. So I didn`t get to know him that well that night, but we had a more proper date a week later. MATTHEWS: And at one point, you were kept from your wedding by Ronald Reagan. Explain that quickly.   N. PALMER: Yes. MATTHEWS: Why did Ronald Reagan screw up your wedding day? N. PALMER: Ronald Reagan called John to say congratulations and launched into a long story about how he married his Nancy 30 some years earlier, and kept talking and talking. And John wasn`t going to hang up on the president of the United States. So, he was late to the church. That`s usually the bride`s job, but he was. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Well, Reagan was being nice. Anyway, thank you so much. The name of your book is "Newscatcher." It`s about the real talent and profession of getting the story first. Thank you very much, Nancy Palmer. N. PALMER: Thank you very much. MATTHEWS: Up next: the strict law that makes it illegal for welfare recipients to go swimming, even at the local swimming hole or to the local Bijou, to the movies, on the government`s dime, the taxpayers` dime. They are getting tough in Kansas. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s happening. A SpaceX capsule carrying 4,000 pounds of supplies docked at the International Space Station earlier. And it will return to Earth in May carrying experiments and discarded equipment. Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is recovering from heart surgery at an L.A. hospital. He underwent a quadruple bypass on Thursday. And stocks ended sharply lower today on concerns about trading regulations in China. The Dow slid 279 points after falling more than 350 points at the worst levels of that session -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us say to all those who are able-bodied will be given an opportunity to work for their welfare grants. We will not make them lifetime recipients of a dole as clients of an ever-growing welfare bureaucracy. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, Ronald Reagan on the woes of welfare back in 1975. This week, another Republican governor has his own lament. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a new law blocking his state`s welfare recipients from using their government-provided debit cards to purchase alcohol, tobacco, pro or college sports tickets or paying for services at nail salons, even local swimming pools and movie theaters.   And while many states restrict what welfare recipients can spend their money on, the new Kansas law is thought to be the most restrictive in the country. The conservative Republican governor there says the new law motivates Kansans to get off welfare and work. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: There`s a human toll of misguided compassion, and what we are attempting to do here is put work programs and work requirements to help people. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, critics call the law punitive and judgmental. It also limits ATM withdrawals to $25 a day. I have no idea how to do that. Advocacy groups say that limit makes it tough for someone without a checking account to pay doctor bills or transportation expenses. And joining me right now the roundtable is the "Washington Post" opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, "The Guardian" Sabrina Siddiqui, and "The New York Times" political reporter Jeremy Peters. Jeremy, tell me the thinking about it. I`ve grown up with this way back since before Reagan, talked about welfare abuse. People signature around and watching television all day, generation after generation, living off the dole. Nobody likes that picture. I don`t think people on that picture like being in it. It`s not a happy scene. It`s a loser scene in many ways, generation after generation. First of all, is that an accurate portrait of the person receiving public assistance? And, secondly, is the amount of money you get so low, I calculate it to be about $5 per person per day, that you won`t be going off on cruise ship trips like this thing prohibits, it`s an absurdity that you can even stack that kind of money together. Anyway, your thoughts about the whole debate and whole incident here? JEREMY PETER, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: I think you`re right. I think, largely, this is based on a caricature. It`s a very popular caricature among a lot of conservatives.   But -- I mean, I would also look at it from this point of view. It`s not particularly innovative policy. I mean, this is one of the oldest tricks from the conservative policy book. Now -- but you contrast that with what`s going on among some other big thinkers in the Republican Party, Marco Rubio and his poverty plan to create a federal program to give states more authority to do what they would with their anti-poverty programs. You have what, for example, Rand Paul, Rob Portman and Mike Lee are doing on criminal justice reform. It`s just so much -- there`s so much more innovative thinking on what to do going on. MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, you know, let me tell you. Jonathan, I understand this whole thing emotionally, like when you have a hard day at work you come home and kick the dog. I mean, if you`re middle class and you`re not feeling that happy about life, stick it to the poor people. JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST OPINIO WRITER: Right. MATTHEWS: We know the politics. Everybody watching knows what this is about. Everybody knows what this is about. MATTHEWS: Everybody does, and -- and it`s so -- it`s wrong on so many levels. Look, no one begrudges the government placing limits on what people can and can`t do with the money that`s given to them when they are at the most vulnerable moments in their lives, but it`s really humiliating to constantly remind those people in public what they can and cannot do with that money, and so, for someone like senator -- Governor Brownback, we`re not really surprised that he would go down this route, especially since a lot of the restrictions he`s placed into law were already part of state policy, but it`s really for him to thrust himself this way into the national debate when as Jeremy said, a lot of people within his own party are moving beyond the tried and true and trite welfare argument. MATTHEWS: Let me go to Sabrina, because one of the laughable parts of this, it`s an emotional issue, the laughable part, you make 100 bucks a week, if you have two kids at home, three people splitting 100 bucks a way, which is 33 some bucks a week, about $5 a day. The idea that you`re going to take that money and scrounge it together and end up on a cruise ship liner somewhere is such a laugh. Why do they put cruise ships on this trip -- on this deal? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: It`s laughable because it`s creating in misconception that this is what families, low-income families are spending their welfare subsidies on -- the same thing applies for food stamps and the effort to drastically cut food stamps and make food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. It`s to try to perpetuate this image that food stamp recipients are spending that money on drugs when in fact, if you have $29 a week which comes out to roughly $1 a day, there`s simply no way that you`re spending it on the most essential needs for your household. I also just want to make the quick point, you know, we disproportionately target the poor when it comes to government assistance, but the majority of Americans on some sort of government subsidy. Why aren`t we making sure that people receiving student loans are putting that money towards a degree that would potentially lead to a viable career? Why are we not looking at how people spend their mortgage tax breaks because we have sort of perception that`s been created that the poor are not adequately using this money and they are not actually work when in fact that`s not the case?   MATTHEWS: Well, Peter -- Jeremy, what would work because I do know, we all know about food deserts, Jonathan, we all know about that. You live in an urban area, and where I grow up the neighborhood has changed, basically KFC on the corner and Chinese restaurant. Some people aren`t eating the right food. They don`t have a grocery store. They probably go shopping at the last minute and once you get low nutrition, you got low energy, it`s a vicious cycle. You don`t get off your butt. I know all that. But is there any way that the government can improve it besides this draconian stuff, any way to get people to live their lives more rationally when they are at the bottom, is there a way, or are we just messing with people? PETERS: I think you just touched on it, right. Enhancing nutrition would be one way to do it, but look what happened when Michelle Obama tried to do that. She was pilloried by conservatives CAPEHART: You know, Chris, to add to Jeremy`s point, how do you get people, you know, off their butts, as you said. I mean, conservatives like to talk a lot about the dignity of work, how the poor need to have the dignity of work. Well, you know what the poor also need, they need to have the government treat them with dignity and give them a leg up or a step up or some sort of assistance so that they can actually fulfill their hopes and dreams, fulfill their version of the American dream. MATTHEWS: Yes. CAPEHART: That`s the kind of dignity that people who are on welfare would like to see from their government. MATTHEWS: Yes, and I wish the Democrats all these years had been just warehoused these people, and I don`t think -- I don`t think either party has been very good, five hours a week where you go and have to meet with people and dress up for the occasion, you have to get up for it. A little sense -- a little dignity that comes from just a good meeting somewhere rather than just being hounded and made fun of. Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us. And up next, this is the week that kicked off, believe it or not, the 2016 presidential race which is not going to race into this summer. We`re going to be having debates this summer, we`re going to have votes actually out there in Iowa, and then we`re going to have Iowa caucuses coming up in nine months. It`s on its gestation period right now, it has begun, however. This campaign has reached its moment of conception, if you will. I want to know what we`ve learned and where this is heading, and is there anybody out there winning besides Hillary? And she is winning.   This is HARDBALL, a place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: After Iowa and New Hampshire, primary fight for president goes to South Carolina, of course. We`ve got an early look at where the race stands, according to a new Winthrop poll, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leads the pack. He`s at 14 percent, just ahead of Jeb Bush comes in at 13. Everyone else is in single digits. Ted Cruz is at 8 percent, as is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul is next with 6 percent and Chris Christie, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee down at 5 percent. By the way, it looks like Scott Walker`s winning in Iowa, New Hampshire and now South Carolina. He`s got something going. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable, Jonathan, Sabrina and Jeremy. This is the week, the 2016 presidential race truly got under way. Hillary Clinton got into the race. And while there are a handful of official candidates on the Republican side, up to a dozen more are likely to join soon. The first debates are scheduled for August, just four months from now, and the first voting in Iowa and New Hampshire is just nine months away from now. So, who is leading out of the gate and who have the edge moving forward? Jeremy, let`s talk about Hillary Clinton. She has all the credentials, all the resume ready. I think she`s had a pretty good week, she didn`t get hurt and I think the people out there who are not political junkies are quite happy with the fact she`s out there hanging out with people. Your thoughts?   PETERS: I think that`s exactly what I would have said. I think this week was all about not making a mistake. And by all accounts she didn`t make a mistake. I mean, the political media could obsess about these little things, she said her grandparents were immigrants and it turned out that they weren`t. Who cares? I think ultimately the vast, vast majority of Americans either didn`t pay attention to this or thought that, you know, she did just fine. There were no unforced errors. MATTHEWS: I think she`s getting her sea legs, Sabrina. Bill Clinton didn`t need to get -- he doesn`t need spring training, Bill Clinton. I mean, he`s always in training, that guy. But she does and she`s doing it. That`s what it looks like she`s doing, spring training, you know, getting ready. SIDDIQUI: I think her campaign has taken the right approach because there`s just so much scrutiny around every move that she makes, as Jeremy says. So, it`s good for her to do these low-key meetings with vote that`s face to face interaction because the reality is that she does have to contend with her familiarity. And Republicans in particular are trying to cast her as this elitist out of touch creature of Washington. So, the best way for her at least in the early phases because at the end of the day there`s a long road ahead for her to really introduce herself to the public, reintroduce herself at a national level and that seems to be exactly what she`s doing. CAPEHART: And you know what, Chris? I would add that watching this week, I`ve had a sense of deja vu. Sabrina and I were talking about this earlier where I was there in New York covering her 2000 Senate campaign from the lofty purchase of the daily news editorial board but still following her and watching her campaign and her listening to it and remembering how the New York press killed her for these listening tours. They derided the listening tour. They thought it was just theater and show and nothing. And when she was done listening and started speaking and talking about how she would represent the people of New York, she floored everyone with her knowledge of the state, her deep knowledge of very picayune things, she will leave the country in detail, that she will weave into those remarks from people she`s heard from people in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. MATTHEWS: You know, that copybook of her, that she`s been carrying around this week, I think it`s going to be in the Smithsonian Institution someday. Have you watched the copy book where she writes down everything people are saying to her? I want to read it. What does it say at the top, "Jesus, Mary, Joseph" with a cross on it? Sometimes I think she did with like Patrick Skuya (ph) always wrote something at the top. You know, I do why, I do think it`s fascinating. I want to read it myself. Hillary, can I see your copybook? I want to know what you`re learning. Anyway, thank you, people. It`s been a good week. We all agree a good week for Hillary Clinton and the rest of the country politically way up in the air. We don`t know where it`s going. I don`t think so.   Anyway, Jonathan Capehart, thank you. Have a nice weekend. Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you, and Jeremy Peters from "The Times". When we return, let me finish with this whole idea of voting for the person, not the party and how dangerous that idea seems in reality compared to how nice it looks when -- well, when you`re thinking about it. You vote for the party when you like your president. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this whole idea of voting for the person, not the party. Well, the problem is you don`t just get the person, you do get the party. If you voted for George W. back in 2000, you got Dick Cheney and the whole gang of neocons in his office and in the Defense Department. You got a war in Iraq for your vote. Expect the same problem the next time around. You vote for what seems to be a reasonable Republican candidate and you get the party apparatus with him, you get a hawkish foreign policy and a whole bunch of neocons jumping into administration jobs, the NSC, Defense, State, anywhere you`ll look, you`ll find hawks edging toward their favorite war, their most desirable regime change. Believe me, we`ve been there. I`ve been there. Why? Because even now they sit antsy and festering over there at the American Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, or all those front group sounding places like the Committee for the Present Danger or emergency committee on whatever, all packed with senior fellows who busy themselves writing op-ed columns pushing for the next regime change. But when it comes to putting their personal or political boots on the ground, watch them scatter. Try to find a Republican out there right now pushing for a war resolution against ISIS. Just try and find one. Lots of bugles on Iran and how the United States should shut the bargaining and just bomb the place. Why? Because that`s the stuff the armchair generals love, the notion of a bite-size military operation, a single bombing raid, you know, a cake walk, like the one they promised in Iraq. This is how they get us in every time, it`s the only way to go, then promise it will be quick and easy them. Call any one who opposes them an appeaser. How`s all that working for you?   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. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>