Show: HARDBALL Date: January 12, 2016 Guest: Cory Booker, Richard Dorment, Cornell Belcher, Kellyanne Conway, Rand Paul, Chuck Schumer, Amy Klobuchar
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: It`s State of the Union night, and this is HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.
President Obama is getting ready to deliver his final State of the Union address. And the breaking news late today is that 10 United States sailors are being held by the government of Iran. American officials are optimistic, however, that Iran will release the servicepeople soon.
For an update, let`s go to NBC`s Ali Arouzi in Tehran. Ali, do we have real optimism we`ll get our people back?
ALI AROUZI, NBC TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Chris, it`s a very good question. I mean, this has happened before, in 2007. The Revolutionary Guard had arrested some British sailors, but they had been held here for two weeks.
Now, we`re getting snippets of information here from the semi-officials Fars (ph) News Agency confirming that they have arrested 10 U.S. sailors, nine men and one woman. The Revolutionary Guard says that they intentionally strayed into Iranian waters. It said that the ship had a .50-caliber gun on it, they had GPS systems, and they were snooping around, and they knew what they were doing.
But as you mentioned, this comes as a very sensitive time, as Iran wants to implement the nuclear deal, and I`m sure President Rouhani wants to sort this out as soon as possible.
But let`s not forget he`s not the commander-in-chief. The Revolutionary Guard take their orders from the supreme leader. So I`m sure Rouhani is making a huge diplomatic effort to get them free, but the ball isn`t in his court. You know, the supreme leader will make that decision.
Having said that, before the nuclear deal, Chris, there was no contact between the U.S. and Iran. Now we hear that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif are talking, so that might speed up the process -- Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, this would be quite an example, if there`s a good one coming, that we`re going to have better relations on these kinds of tricky situations.
Thank you so much, NBC`s Ali Arouzi in Tehran.
Now to the big story in Washington tonight, the president`s State of the Union. There`s no way to undersell it or oversell it. The conflict we`re going to see is about the one we`re going to witness, quite clearly. It`s the stark conflict between a president defending the way things have been headed the last seven years, and are still headed, and the critics out there, Republican candidates for president, conservative and right-wing media voices, who say everything, to put it bluntly, sucks.
Have I put that too strongly? I don`t think so. "Make America great again" is the sharpest possible statement that we`re not great, not by a long shot. And tonight, one man has to get up there before the United States Congress and say it ain`t so, that what Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the rest of the wannabes are saying in rough but relentless course (ph) does not define America as we enter the year 2016.
NBC`s Kristen Welker is in Des Moines, Iowa, tonight. Howard Fineman is global editorial director for the HuffingtonPost and an MSNBC political analyst.
The other big news tonight, by the way, is the battle heating up on the Democratic side. Polls show Senator Bernie Sanders surging in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And last night, Vice President Joe Biden seemed to enter the fray. He was asked why Secretary Clinton is struggling. Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real, and he has credibility on it, and that is the absolute enormous concentration of wealth in a small group of people with the middle class now being able to be shown being left out or (INAUDIBLE)
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But Hillary`s talking about that, as well.
BIDEN: Well, but it`s relatively new for Hillary to talk about that. Hillary`s focus has been on other things up to now, and that`s been Bernie`s -- no one questions Bernie`s authenticity on those issues. So...
BORGER: And they question hers, do you think?
BIDEN: Well, I think they question everybody`s who hasn`t been talking about it all along. But I think she`s come forward with some really, really thoughtful approaches to deal with the issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, this morning, the vice president, Joe Biden, backtracked a bit from that criticism of Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: For the last five years, she`s been engaged in foreign policy -- for four year here. This has been Bernie`s mantra from the time he`s gotten involved. Even when income inequality wasn`t as serious as it was today, it was his -- it was his drumbeat. And so that`s what I meant. And she`s coming up with some very good ideas, but Bernie is pushing the envelope on this and for everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So Kristen Welker, is the vice president fishing in troubled waters here?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the Clinton campaign, of course, when you ask them about this, they say, Well, he cleaned it up today on the "TODAY" show.
There`s no doubt, though, he is touching a nerve with the Clinton campaign, Secretary Clinton today on the campaign trail very defensive on this issue of Wall Street and the fact that -- she was making the case she`s been tough on Wall Street, as well. No coincidence there, Chris.
I think what`s so fascinating, though, is that Joe Biden, when he announced that he wasn`t going to run for president, said but he`s still going to be part of the conversation. And I think that that is what we saw play out today. He still wants to be a part of this debate. And clearly -- you heard him say it -- he thinks that Bernie Sanders is the one who`s pushing the envelope on this really important issue to Democrats.
MATTHEWS: Howard, if I were Hillary Clinton, I`d be quite angry with the vice president of the United States. Is it her fault for not being nice enough to him, offering him something in a new term that he might -- like, secretary of state, something to get him on board? Because he`s not on board. That`s clear today.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIR., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Not only is he not on board, Chris, at the moment, when polls are showing Hillary teetering on the edge of a cliff in both Iowa and New Hampshire, he practically shoved her right over into the chasm.
FINEMAN: So yes, a lot of diplomatic work should have been done, clearly should have been done. And I think he signaled quite a while ago that he wanted it to happen. Remember when he got out, and even before he got out, he was meeting with Bernie Sanders, he was talking about Bernie Sanders. That was an open invitation, I think, to Hillary and Bill to make nice.
The fact is that Joe Biden has no love lost in him for the Clintons. But the Clintons, who are usually good at approaching people who don`t like them and winning them over...
FINEMAN: ... haven`t done that -- haven`t done that with Joe Biden, and I think that was a big mistake, as you point out.
MATTHEWS: Well, what is it, that he`s not Ivy League enough for them? I mean, why are they -- why don`t they offer him some -- let me go back to Kristen on this. Why don`t they offer him State or something for a couple years? Normally in politics, when two people want the same job, one moves the other one out by giving them a piece of the action.
WELKER: Well, I think, Chris, remember, when you go back, there was this big question mark about whether Vice President Joe Biden was going to be one of her biggest competitors, and she spent a lot of time trying to box him out. And she did that by being aggressive, not by bringing him into the fold.
I think the interesting thing will be in the coming weeks and months, do we start to see that happen? It`s possible that we do because of these comments that the vice president made today, which, as Howard points out, could potentially be damaging, particularly in a state like Iowa, where just today, Chris, a poll came out that showed Bernie Sanders in the lead.
MATTHEWS: Look at these numbers. You`re right there, Kristen. Hillary Clinton continues to lead in national polls by a wide margin, but new polls in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire show her campaign has seriously slipped.
According to the latest Quinnipiac poll just out today, Hillary Clinton now trails Bernie Sanders by 5 points among likely Democratic caucus goers in Iowa. That`s a 4-point decline there. Sanders is up 9 points since December. Hillary Clinton has dropped by overall 7 points.
However, the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Sanders by 3 points in Iowa. So a difference of polls. In New Hampshire, a new Monmouth poll shows Sanders beating Clinton by 14 points. He`s gained 8 points since November, while Clinton has lost 9 up there.
The most recent NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows it to be a much tighter race.
Howard, these numbers are going in one direction, towards Sanders. It`s pretty clear he`s got the momentum. Has she made the mistake of going into cruise control, by assuming she had knocked him out of the race a couple months ago in that first debate, and she could go back to just sort of moving along without a lot of edge to her message?
FINEMAN: Well, she, of all people, should know that a week is a month and a month is a lifetime in politics. So yes, that`s the first thing.
The second thing, Chris, as you and I were discussing last week, the mood of the American public is so anti-institution, so anti-elite, so anti- establishment, so anti-familiar political figures, and the Clintons are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They`re swimming upstream against this tide of resentment against establishments.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you.
FINEMAN: And what was happening on the Republican side is now also happening big-time on the Democratic side. In the piece I wrote for HuffingtonPost around the world, I said that this was the thing to watch. And I think it`s what`s happening.
The other thing you have to realize is no candidate in modern times has lost contested races in both Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to win the nomination. Bill Clinton did it in 1992. He lost Iowa and New Hampshire. But Iowa wasn`t really a contest because Tom Harkin...
FINEMAN: You lose both Iowa and New Hampshire in a real contest, that`s uncharted territory, and that`s what Hillary`s facing right now.
MATTHEWS: And for her to say, "It`s time to get real" has a lot of irony to it because...
MATTHEWS: ... you could argue that she doesn`t see the situation as it`s developing and leaning left.
FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Kristen Welker out there in the cold, and thank you, Howard Fineman.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: The Democratic battle takes place against the backdrop of tonight`s presidential final State of the Union address.
I`m joined right now by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. Senator Booker, thank you for joining us. It`s rare to get you on, so I want to get you on the big story tonight, which is 10 U.S. sailors have been taken prisoner. I don`t know if that`s the right word, but they`re certainly being held in -- they`re being held by the Iranian government. What should we be doing?
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, right now, we should be making sure that their release is certain. This is a very frustrating few weeks with Iran, whether it`s the testing of ballistic missiles, whether it`s been their engagement in some of the other destabilizing activities in the region with Syria and Yemen, and now we see this, what I think is an affront.
But the Obama administration, I think, is handling this well right now. The focus is not on the politics, not on the noise. It`s making sure that our sailors are safe and secure, and obviously, returned. But it`s something we`re going to continue to watch.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the president`s goal tonight. I mean, every president, after serving two terms, wants to have his party hold the White House. That`s the way you say you`ve won. It`s how Reagan got George Bush, Sr., elected, and it made a point that he was still a popular fellow coming out of office.
How does President Obama seal the deal or try to seal the deal for a Democrat next November -- this November?
BOOKER: Well, I think he`s got to be and he will be very presidential tonight. I think he`s going to remind folks of how far we`ve come. Remember, this is a guy who took over a presidency when not only the nation`s economy but the global economy was in financial freefall from financial markets to unemployment to the housing market. And here we now have been seeing steady economic gain.
And we do have a lot of insecurity, whether it`s the insecurity that`s coming from stagnating wages or the insecurity that`s was coming just from a lot of the things going on around the globe.
But I think he`s going to really speak to those issues that resonate with Americans, bring us together and say, Hey, we`ve come a mighty long way, we`re not there yet, but here`s my vision for where we need to go in the next year and the years beyond that.
And I think giving that kind of momentum of vision for the next year plus five, I think is going to really help to hand the baton to whoever is the eventual candidate for the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, sir, thank you for coming on tonight, on State of the Union night.
Coming up -- two competing visions for America. And later this hour, Donald Trump offering his plan to make America great again. That`s his phrase.
And our top story tonight, of course, President Obama set to make his final State of the Union less than two hours from now. We`ve got top pollsters from both sides of the aisle here to weigh in on what`s actually the state of the union, according to the American people.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "TODAY": So when you stand and deliver that State of the Union address, in no part of your mind or brain can you imagine Donald Trump standing up one day and delivering a State of the Union address?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I can imagine it in a "Saturday Night" skit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Talk about a putdown.
Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Obama joking, if you will, about whether he could ever see Republican front-runner Donald Trump actually delivering a State of the Union.
Well, with his own big speech less than two hours away, the president`s challenge tonight is to provide a credible and optimistic counterweight, both credible and optimistic to the sort of funeral dirge out there we`re hearing from the Republicans like Donald Trump.
In doing so, he`ll have to communicate why the state of the union is better than people think it is, or might be. Here`s how the president outlined that objective himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Politics in Washington are so much more divided than the American people are. And part of what I want to do in this last address is to remind people, You know what? We`ve got a lot of good things going for us. And if we can get our politics right, it turns out that we`re not as divided on the ideological spectrum as people make us out to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, a recent poll by NBC News and "Esquire" magazine shows why that might be a tough sell. 68 percent of respondents say they get angry about something they`ve read in the news at least once a day. 54 percent say their financial situation now is worse now than they thought it would be. 55 percent say the United States is no longer the most powerful country in the world. And when asked whether the American dream is still alive, well -- and well, 52 percent say "Not Anymore." Those are the words.
In contrast with President Obama, Trump on Sunday, this Sunday, said the State of the Union is a mess. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now, the state of our union is a mess. We can`t beat ISIS. Our military is falling back. It`s not being properly taken care of. Our vets aren`t being properly taken care of. "Obama care," as you know, is going to fail very soon, and probably in `17, our health care. We don`t have borders. We don`t have anything. I think if I`m there in two years and I`m making a speech, I say, We`re getting better fast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump has made no secret of the fact he`s running against everything that President Obama stands for. As we speak tonight, by the way, Trump`s holding a rally in Iowa, essentially giving his own pro pre- buttal to the president`s address.
I`m joined right now by NBC`s Katy Tur from Trump`s event in Iowa, as well Richard Dorment of "Esquire" magazine, Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. They`re all here.
What you make of -- what did -- I want to go to Katy Tur. Katy Tur, are you there?
KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I`m here. Can you hear me?
MATTHEWS: Katy, I don`t see you. Oh, there you are. What do you -- what do you make of the fact that the South Carolina governor came out and took a shot -- Nikki Haley took a shot, basically, at Trump and his immigration attitudes? Here it is. Let me give it to you right now.
MATTHEWS: She`s giving the Republican response tonight. And here`s some quote from her.
Move the prompter up and we`ll get to it. Here it is. Keep going, keep going. Here`s an excerpt.
"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."
Now, she`s the daughter of Indian immigrants, people from India, and she doesn`t like -- well, she`s saying so -- the Trump attitude about immigrants. And I thought she was on the list for VP. Go ahead.
TUR: Well, what I want to say is the GOP was -- Nikki Haley (INAUDIBLE) the GOP was hoping to get for this election -- youth, diversity, inclusion. Instead, they have a front-runner (INAUDIBLE) white man who`s calling for a ban on Muslims coming into America. It`s everything that they didn`t want for this election because of what happened last cycle, Romney not winning the Latino vote. They wanted to be more inclusive this time around. Obviously, that`s not happening. They underestimated just how frustrated and angry their base of support was.
But Donald Trump saw that. He saw an opening, and he`s been able to speak (INAUDIBLE) people who feel like this economy has passed them by, who don`t feel like President Obama represents them. They don`t feel like President Obama is fighting for them. And that`s why you`re seeing these massive crowds (INAUDIBLE) wherever we go (INAUDIBLE) in places like Iowa, where we are right now, in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona, Illinois. All across the country, you`re seeing this, whether or not that is the majority of the country. President Obama certainly doesn`t think so. He thinks that the country is not quite as -- as divided as it`s made out to be.
And, Chris, what I will tell you, if you supporters at these rallies, they are pretty divided. We asked (INAUDIBLE) if there`s anything that President Obama has done over the last seven years that they say is good or great, that they agree with. And nobody said yes. Every one of them said the only thing that he could do that would be right tonight would be to resign.
Thank you, Katy Tur, for that resounding rejection of the president.
Let`s go over to Cornell Belcher, Kellyanne Conway, and Richard Dorment.
Richard Dorment, you`re the most objective person here. So, let me start with you, because you have a study to put out.
MATTHEWS: This anger, what impressed me in your report that came out recently, was that it`s not just white men. And I hate talking tribalistically, but it`s the way we do it these days.
White women, why are white women angry?
RICHARD DORMENT, "ESQUIRE": Because they`re not just disappointed in the American dream and the loss of American status across the world, at least as they see it, but they also look across the headlines in their news feeds and they see police violence against blacks and discrimination against immigrants.
So, they have this anger of empathy that`s really fueling their anger and making them perhaps the angriest people in America.
MATTHEWS: What can the president say tonight to convince people they`re wrong in their anger?
DORMENT: He can continue to try to highlight the positive, but as we have seen with Donald Trump, that`s just not going to sell.
I think what makes "Make America great again" such an effective slogan is that it really resonates with people...
That we`re not great.
DORMENT: That we`re not great and that he can lead us back to greatness.
MATTHEWS: Cornell, I want go to you and then I will work my way in to Kellyanne, who is always the hot ticket here.
Let me go to Cornell.
I have noticed in the polling today, which staggered me, that men, and they`re Democratic men voting in the primaries and voting in the caucuses in Iowa, are turning to Bernie dramatically, dramatically, and turning away from a very known product, Hillary Clinton. What`s that about?
CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: Well, I think...
BELCHER: It`s a tough time to be part of the establishment on either side of the aisle.
I think you see an enormous sort of push for change that`s not only coming from Republicans, but also from Democrats. And I think any establishment candidate -- I mean, look at the mayoral races that happened this past year, where you had incumbents, arguably with fairly good records, who struggle to win reelection in a lot of cities.
There is a there`s an anxiousness that`s sweeping across America, and it`s not just on the right, although I will say it is uniquely different on the right. And there is an anger...
MATTHEWS: Why are you hiding from my question?
BELCHER: Well, I don`t -- I answered your question.
MATTHEWS: Why are men, Democratic registered voters, moving away from Hillary Clinton dramatically now toward Bernie Sanders? Why is there a gender split here?
BELCHER: Well, Chris, there`s usually a gender split...
MATTHEWS: Dramatic within the Democratic Party?
BELCHER: ... in our politics.
I mean, I would have to see how that holds up over time. Right now, certainly, Senator Sanders is getting a bump in polls and certainly he`s doing well, and he`s doing well in Iowa, and he`s doing well in New Hampshire.
I think that`s more about sort of an anti-establishment sort of thing going on than I think it`s gender-specific.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is gender. These numbers are very gender-specific.
Let me go -- Kellyanne, you`re a person of the right or center-right lately. I can`t ever tell, somewhere in there. But why are Democratic men who are registered to vote in the caucuses in the -- why are they swinging all the way to a man who calls himself a Democratic socialist? That`s not a new -- that`s an old phrase. We have always known what it meant. It meant more government, you know, more government, probably more taxes, more stuff from Washington.
And yet Democratic men are saying, that`s what I want.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE POLLING COMPANY: Well, there are several reasons.
MATTHEWS: Or are they turning against Hillary?
CONWAY: Some of them are very -- it`s both. Some of them are truly economically vulnerable. And whether it`s Richard`s survey that was on NBC or other surveys, you see that these men are economically vulnerable.
Now, who are we talking about? The guys who are blue-collar workers, non- college-educated households, for whom these jobs in construction, manufacturing are not coming back.
CONWAY: They can`t all go learn how to hydraulic frack in North Dakota. They feel economically vulnerable.
But the other thing is, Hillary Clinton had a hard time with men in the 2008 elections. If you go back and look at who voted for her, the idea was that she was going to run the tables among women, and women comprise about 55 to 56 percent of Democratic primary voters.
In my Republican Party, it`s the opposite. Women are about 45, 46 percent. So, if she can run the tables among women, she can make up the deficits among men. She didn`t run the tables among women and she`s never been very attractive to men.
The other thing is, Cornell is absolutely right. In an anti-Washington, anti-establishment quest for fresh blood and new ideas environment, Hillary Clinton just -- she reeks of Washington and the establishment.
CONWAY: And I think she doesn`t benefit from what most female candidates benefit from. Most female candidates are seen as warm, accessible, good negotiators, fresh and new. MATTHEWS: Well, this is all new to me, because I have always thought women tended to be more pro-Democrat, more pro-government, because the challenges to a woman, a wife with kids, is health care, education, needing a good public school, needing child care, needing all those things.
It`s very hard for that to add up to the regular family, and they do need help. And men say, oh, well, I will just keep red China out of the U.N. or something, and they won`t even be focused on this issue.
CONWAY: Well, a lot of men have not done well under the Obama years. You remember, it was called the she-recovery and the man-cession.
MATTHEWS: Oh, something is going on. You know so much. Thank you so much.
Richard, we`re still living off your great new polling. It`s fascinating.
Cornell, thank you, sir. I want you to come back with that gender difference, because I`m stunned that the men are going left and the women are going -- staying center. Why are the men going away from Hillary and off to the left? It`s a great question for me.
Up next, he says he will boycott the Republican undercard debate Thursday night. That`s two nights from now. Senator Rand Paul is coming here to talk to us about why he`s not going to the little kids table. And that`s what it`s called these days, that little kid table you go to when you don`t make the big one.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In two days, the Republican presidential field will take the stage for their first debate of 2016. And this time, the stage will feature fewer candidates. FOX Business is hosting Thursday night`s debate in North Charleston, South Carolina.
And the network determined the lineup by selecting the top six candidates in national polls, along with anyone placing in the top five in Iowa or New Hampshire. And among the candidates who made the cut for the prime-time debate, Donald Trump will take center stage, flanked by Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.
But these new criteria sent Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina down to the undercard debate, along with Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Senator Paul called the decision an insult and has vowed to sit out the undercard debate.
And he joins me right here tonight in New York.
Senator Paul, you`re a major figure. You represent libertarianism and, I would argue, against the regime change mentality of the previous Republican president. How will the absence of those thoughts and thinking affect the debate Thursday night?
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we had a great debate last time when they chose to have me in the debate.
We had a good debate over whether regime change is a good idea. It may be the most important question we have in the Middle East right now. Should we topple Assad? Will it make the situation better, more chaotic? Will it make us safer or more at risk for terrorism?
And without me -- I`m the loudest voice in the Republican Party saying we shouldn`t topple Assad. I`m the loudest voice, frankly, saying the government shouldn`t collect all your phone records.
So, without me, I think they lose a lot of the libertarian supporters you would think they would want in the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about Iran today, a tricky situation, dicey, you could say. We had 10 sailors out there, including a woman. We know -- the official word is that their boat had mechanical problems, one of the boats, and the two boats pulled alongside a -- we don`t know.
Somehow they found their way into Iranian waters, and, of course, the Iranian government jumped on them and they are holding them.
PAUL: Yes, but I think the good news is, is, they`re talking about getting it resolved within 24 hours or so. And if they do and they`re starting to act like a civilized nation -- I`m not saying they have in the past or that they always do -- but if they do act in a civilized manner, I think maybe it`s an indication maybe that things are going to change.
MATTHEWS: You know, you talk like somebody who doesn`t want war.
And some people in your party -- and you know them well, the hawks, the John McCains, the Lindsey Grahams, the neocons, they`re called -- they seem to want to get into a fighting mode, like they`re schoolyard kids. Yes, let`s fight. You want to fight? I`m ready to fight.
Where you sound like you`re hopeful we can avoid fights over like the War of Jenkins` Ear and stupid wars in the past, where people have got into big power fights over stupid incidents like this.
PAUL: Well, I think that`s the voice that will be missing on the stage with them excluding me is that, what does Chris Christie want to do? He`s eager to show you that he`s ready to shoot down Russian airplanes.
PAUL: But most people beyond third grade would think, that`s a really naive approach and that might start a war with Russia.
MATTHEWS: Don`t you think it would be great if we had him during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Wouldn`t that be great? We would have blown up the whole world.
PAUL: Republican or Democrat or independent, most people should be alarmed at people like Chris Christie that would eagerly want to engage with Russia.
But also, look, Donald Trump has no idea what the nuclear triad is. And what does he say when he finds out what it is? He says, our biggest problem in the past is that we have not been willing enough to use it. That was from his spokesman. He has yet to deny it. And it`s like, really? We`re going to nominate somebody...
MATTHEWS: He didn`t know it was submarine-launched missiles and land- launched missiles and airplanes, bombers.
PAUL: It`s not that complicated.
PAUL: But now that he does know what it is, his main regret is that we haven`t used it enough.
MATTHEWS: Oh, my God.
PAUL: And so that should alarm most people.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to something that a lot of our viewers care about, not just minorities, but progressives and you. Our jails are filled. Our prisons are filled, people with lives being -- they`re probably learning how to be bad guys in prison, a lot of them, right?
PAUL: Well, you know, I was always opposed...
MATTHEWS: You want to fix that?
PAUL: I was always opposed to the war on drugs, for many different reasons.
But I read Michelle Alexander`s book a couple years ago about the mass incarceration and the new Jim Crow and I became very aware of the racial disparity in the war on drugs. I have always thought the war on drugs was bad, but now I have figured out and learned from the statistics that three out of four people in jail are black or brown. They`re almost all poor.
MATTHEWS: Why do minorities get picked up for drugs? Because they don`t - - white people use their drugs in their homes, where they`re safe from police observing?
MATTHEWS: How is it different?
PAUL: There probably is still some leftover racism and discrimination.
However, a lot of it is, the police -- many of the police now are African- American, and the police chiefs are, the mayors are. But there is more crime in the city and there`s more crime where there`s poverty. And there`s a higher percentage of African-Americans in the city.
So, some of it`s inadvertent, but it`s still a problem. And it`s -- if you look at marijuana use, white kids are using marijuana about the same rate as black kids are, but, in some cities, it`s 15-1 arrests of black kids vs. white kids.
MATTHEWS: They must not be walking around and carrying it, or there is racial discrimination. It`s one of the two.
PAUL: It`s a little bit of both.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Senator Rand Paul.
We will miss you Thursday night.
PAUL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Maybe you should come on here.
PAUL: We are going to be loud and proud somewhere.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. You have a voice.
Still ahead, it could be a subway series in the general election. What do you think, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? We have got New York Senator Chuck Schumer coming here to talk about the prospects of two home buddies.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You heard what happened. Iran took over two of our boats. They said they`re going to release them. Oh, isn`t that nice? They`re going to release them.
This isn`t the same country. When I heard -- that just happened, just happened. It literally just happened. And I think it`s not so good. It`s just -- it`s just an indication of where the hell we`re going. I mean, hopefully, they get released and fast. But it seems to be an indication of where we`re going. That Iran deal is the dumbest deal I think I have ever seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, earlier today, Iranian military forces did seize a pair of U.S. Navy military vessels in the Persian Gulf. And senior U.S. officials tell NBC that Iran is detaining the American sailors, 10 of them, including one woman, on Iran`s Farsi Island. And there it is pictured there in the Persian Gulf.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told MSNBC that U.S. authorities have been assured the Americans are safe. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken by phone with his counterpart, Iran`s foreign minister, to try to resolve the incident.
Well, this latest development came as President Obama was putting the final touches on his State of the Union.
And joining me right now is "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson.
Gene, here we go with a little bit of a party favor or a door prize for Donald Trump tonight.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. I mean, this just plays into Trump`s wheelhouse.
He`s been inveighing against the Iran deal in every speech for months now. And, once again, another provocative act by the Iranians...
MATTHEWS: Serves his...
ROBINSON: ... certainly serves him.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the polling you came in here with tonight, the CBS poll.
MATTHEWS: The fact that this national number between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is tight.
ROBINSON: It has tightened dramatically. A new "New York Times"/CBS poll just came out, Hillary Clinton 48 percent, Bernie Sanders 41 percent.
MATTHEWS: Striking distance.
ROBINSON: Right, the last -- in their last poll, there was a 20-point gap. That`s down to, you know, a seven-point gap.
MATTHEWS: Well, we`re two guys, and maybe that`s unfair to have two guys to have a conversation about anything in politics anymore.
MATTHEWS: We will have to broaden that conversation very quickly.
MATTHEWS: But the fact is that she`s holding her numbers among women, and men are going to Bernie.
Traditionally, women have been more liberal, more progressive than men, because of the needs of home care, health care, education, public education, all those needs which are chronic with women.
ROBINSON: I think -- yes.
MATTHEWS: And the men that can say, well, I don`t need that, but the mothers and the wives do.
ROBINSON: I think the technical term for it is a very strange year, Chris.
ROBINSON: Strange things are happening on both sides, in both parties among a number of groups.
MATTHEWS: It is anti-Hillary or pro-Bernie?
ROBINSON: Well, we don`t know yet. I mean, that`s going to take some reporting to figure out. There`s -- look, there`s a lot of pro-Bernie out there. And I`ve been hearing from a lot of young people, including some young people in my family --
MATTHEWS: Me too.
ROBINSON: -- you know, you`re not enough paying enough attention to Bernie. Watch Bernie. Bernie is happening. And it seems like Bernie`s timing has been pretty good, because he seems to be rising at a good time, at a time when insurgent candidates rise and they can steal Iowa, they can steal New Hampshire, and then you`ve got a whole new race.
MATTHEWS: Well, the interesting thing is, he`s not exactly today in television. He`s not cool. He`s very hot. You know, he`s got that Larry David aspect to him.
But I notice when Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, seemed to knock him off in that first debate. She just put him away, when he said, OK, no more about Benghazi, blah, blah, blah -- the e-mail, rather.
And then he came back. He has come back since. There`s not an even art to this. He went down and now he`s coming back. The question is, is it because Bill Clinton`s become more evident in the news? Is it because there`s too much talk in the magazines about Hillary land and women around her, not enough talk about men as well? I don`t know.
ROBINSON: Well, I think the debate is a good format for her, just in general, because of her vast experience, because she`s quick on her feet, because she`s got facts and figures that she just kind of, you know, just like a ticker tape, that, you know, she`s got it all.
MATTHEWS: Has done her homework.
ROBINSON: So, she always shows well in the debates.
In between the debates, I think it`s Bernie and his people out there working. And, look, it is a good year to not be a traditional politician. She cannot claim to be anything but an establishment politician. Now, she has the distinction of being potentially the first woman president, but, she certainly a part of -- a traditional politician.
Bernie Sanders is not. This is a very good year to be untraditional.
MATTHEWS: I loved your column today. Let me ask you about Joe Biden now. That`s the new -- Joe Biden is out there playing with this. He must know the numbers. He sees them. He sees them tightening up. And he`s playing this thing. What`s he up to? Why`s he taken the side of Bernie, it seems?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, number one, I think he was kind of doing what I do. He was being an analyst, right. And he was asking questions --
MATTHEWS: Is that how Hillary looks at it?
ROBINSON: And he gave an honest answer, right?
MATTHEWS: Is that how Hillary looks at it?
ROBINSON: Well, I don`t think so. I don`t think so. I mean, I think it`s clear, it would be evident to her -- he`s keeping himself available.
MATTHEWS: Did he get not treated well by her when he decided to pull out? Did she say, well, I`ll find a use for you in the next term? Or, usually you do that in big city politics, you say, OK, you`re not going to run against me, I`ll have something for you.
ROBINSON: I don`t think he was ill treated.
ROBINSON: No, I think -- look, look. If Bernie Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, and it looks as if the Democratic Party is in for a, you know, a huge Donnie Brooke, if potentially, the party is going to nominate a Democratic socialist from Vermont, against who? Donald trump?
I mean, you know, Joe Biden`s got to be sitting there and thinking, hold on for a minute, you know? I could get in --
MATTHEWS: Let me go to a pro. Chuck Schumer, Senator Charles Schumer is the senior senator from New York. He joins us right now.
Senator Schumer, we`re talking about the strangest situation that Bernie Sanders, the Democratic socialist and independent in the United States Senate is within striking distance of Hillary Clinton. What do you make of it?
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well, you can`t make much of it. Numbers have gone up and down for each candidate. I think Hillary`s going to be the nominee. I have very little doubt about that. She`s running a good, strong, long-distance race. She`s putting all the fundamentals in place that will help her win not only the primary, but the general election.
So, those of us who are Hillary supporters have confidence in her and are not at all rattled by any of these polls.
MATTHEWS: What`s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?
SCHUMER: Oh, it depends how you define each one, doesn`t it?
MATTHEWS: Well, you do it.
SCHUMER: Well, I`m not going to get into it. But --
MATTHEWS: Why not? Nobody will -- Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic Party won`t answer my question.
SCHUMER: The Democrats --
MATTHEWS: You guys are well schooled in political polemics and language and nomenclature. You`re quite capable of defining the difference between a socialist, self-described and a Democrat self-described. What is it?
SCHUMER: I have nothing bad to say about Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie is the real deal.
SCHUMER: He`s been talking this way since the day he`s got to the Senate. This is not a contrivance, he believes in what he does. He`s a constructive person.
But I think Hillary is going to beat him in the primaries, and she`ll be the nominee, and my guess is Bernie will be supporting her in the general election.
MATTHEWS: Would it be helpful to change the name of the Democratic Party to the "Social Democratic Party"? Would that help improve the definitions for everybody?
SCHUMER: I think we`re happy with our present name.
MATTHEWS: You`ve told me so much, whenever I hear not speak, it teaches me a great deal.
Senator Charles Schumer, senior senator from New York.
Up next, Senator Amy Klobuchar is coming here for a look at the president`s legacy.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
Well, tonight`s a ritual unlike any other in American politics. In one hour, the president will deliver his final State of the Union Address. And for President Obama, the legacy he leaves, his successes, failures, and challenges are etched alongside these historic nights.
Well, as we await the president tonight, let`s take a look back at the road he`s traveled these past seven years.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will rebuild. We will recover. And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.
I have never been more hopeful about America`s future than I am tonight.
Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.
Governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all.
For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.
Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis. We can say with renewed confidence that the State of Our Union is stronger.
America does not stand still and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I ask take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that`s what I`m going to do.
The shadow of crisis has passed and the State of the Union is strong.
We have a laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write. Let`s begin this new chapter together and let`s start to work right now.
Thank you. God bless you. Good bless this country we love. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.
Senator Klobuchar, it`s great to have you on tonight. A big night.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thanks, Chris. It is a big night.
MATTHEWS: Put it together, you can imagine being in this situation, I think, having to sort of win back the credibility and the optimism, put them together, actually -- credibility and optimism of the American presidency.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think in this case, you have seen the president just watching those speech, you are reminded of how he started. I remember him saying this is not the portfolio he wished for. First month he was in office, the country shed more jobs than there were people in the state of Vermont. Now, we had 70 months of straight job growth.
He`s cut the employment rate in half. Our workers, our companies have done all the front line work they needed to do. But the president has worked very hard on policies that work for America. I also think we`ll hear about that tonight. But we`ll also hear about the challenges ahead.
And I think it`s very important that he does both things, that he takes us on that journey from where he started, but that he also looks to the future. He will be handing this off to the next president. But I think it`s important he layout those challenges for the next year as well as the years to come. Because there is a lot of American people that are still hurting and a lot of people that need help.
MATTHEWS: Why do you think 70 percent of people tell "The Wall Street Journal" and NBC News, our pollsters, that the country is in the wrong direction, headed in the wrong direction, right now? Seventy percent?
KLOBUCHAR: It`s clear to me, I`m bringing an unemployed steel worker today as my guest to the State of the Union because of what we have seen with illegal dumping of steel from China. We have a plot lot of people that are hurting, even though you don`t have a job, despite the improvements in the unemployment rate, or they just have to work one or two or three jobs just to send their kids to college. So that income inequality issue, the fact that people feel that these institutions are further away from them.
I think that`s what I meant when I said there are challenges ahead, and he`s going to have to not only strike that balance of saying, look, naysayers, we made a lot of progress. Our country is strong and stable. But also look to the future and how we can take on these challenges.
MATTHEWS: Well, neither party establishments looking very good right now. Hillary Clinton is doing, of course, much better than Jeb Bush by a long shot. But now, we`re seeing Bernie Sanders, your colleague from, your independent colleague from Vermont, closing in on her, getting up to 41 to 48. It`s within striking distance.
What`s changing in that? What`s the contour of that race right now that he seems to be competitive?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think what you have seen -- I think Secretary Clinton, who I am supporting, she has always made clear this is not some kind of a coronation, that this is going to be a serious race. She`s taken him seriously. They`ve had major debates.
And Senator Sanders is making a case that I believe is very similar to the case that Hillary Clinton is making, that it is a stark difference between the policies of our Democratic candidates who have, I think, have had very strong policy debates.
And what are you seeing on the other side, where they`re basically blaming everyone they can besides suggest solutions.
MATTHEWS: Senator, we`re on the clock. The clock has run out tonight. Thank you so much.
KLOBUCHAR: I guess you don`t want to miss the president there.
MATTHEWS: No, we got to get ready for our 8:00. So --
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you so much, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Senator Klobuchar, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota.
When we return, let me finish with a moment, this moment of national transition. It`s a big one tonight.
You are watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this moment of national transition. One president is headed towards the exit. Another is in the process of being selected.
Well, the president who was leaving office, Barack Obama, speaks tonight on the State of the Union. He will, no doubt, try to arrest the terrorist towards pessimism that`s been exploited and doubled down on people hoping to succeed him.
You don`t win the presidency by saying how great things are. You win by convincing people that there is a big need out there and you are just the person to fill it. Well, you can tell a lot about the public`s judgment by paying attention to those it is responding to with the most excitement.
Right now, the second week of the year, there are two, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are the political newbies who are making all the noise out there.
Who isn`t? Well, let`s start with the Bush heir. Jeb is doing nothing. He is the dog food the dog doesn`t like. That`s after a heap of advertising.
Other nonperformers include most of the other office holders who put their name in the fight. Rick Perry of Texas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Gone.
Who`s doing well? Three Republican newcomers, Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, not one of them has completed a single term in national office. And that`s what the public seems to like about them, their innocent of responsibility.
They remind me of the best line Ronald Reagan ever came up with, "I`ll admit I`m irresponsible", he said, "when they admit they`re responsible."
So, tonight, the president we have is stuck two a difficult field position. He must defend the way things are by a country serenaded by those who know the keys of the kingdom go to those who convince the public by next November that there is something deeply wrong with it.
The president`s big implicit goal tonight is to give him enough of a positive sale to make it possible for a Democrat, most likely, Hillary Clinton to succeed him. Otherwise, the noes will have it.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
Stay tuned to MSNBC`s live coverage of President Obama`s final State of the Union Address.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END