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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/18/2016

Guests: Penny Lee, Paul Singer, Molly Ball, Jay Newton-Small, Jamal Simmons, Tammy Baldwin, Nayyera Haq, Marc Ginsberg

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 18, 2016 Guest: Penny Lee, Paul Singer, Molly Ball, Jay Newton-Small, Jamal Simmons, Tammy Baldwin, Nayyera Haq, Marc Ginsberg

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Two weeks out, we`re in the red zone.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

With just two weeks to go to Iowa, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have gone to total war. Today, Cruz is calling Trump "rattled (ph)." He already called him "unstable." Trump accuses Cruz of being illegal as a presidential candidate, a fraud for mocking New York while grabbing a huge loan from Goldman Sachs. He also says he`s got a nasty personality who can`t get deals made in Washington.

Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a big lawsuit over your head while you`re running. And if you become the nominee, who the hell knows if you can even serve in office?

To the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba. OK? Just remember that.

Oh, he`s a total hypocrite. How about his fund-raising and how about when he does his financial disclosure form, and he doesn`t put on that he`s borrowing money from Goldman Sachs.

Look, the truth is, he`s a nasty guy. He was so nice to me. I mean, I knew it. I was watching. I kept saying, Come on, Ted. Let`s go kid. But he`s a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him. He`s a very -- he`s got an edge that is not good.

You have somebody that can`t get along with anybody in Washington, you`re not going to get deals done. I mean, you have to get deals done. We can`t always keep invoking executive orders like Obama does because he can`t get deals.


MATTHEWS: I think he was over the head of "Fox and Friends" there.

Anyway, Cruz says Trump has values as a closet liberal and doesn`t have, as I said, the stability needed for being commander-in-chief.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values.

I would note that Donald`s record does not match what he says as a candidate. And given the fact that for much of his life, Donald was financially supporting those politicians, writing checks to Hillary Clinton, writing checks to Andrew Cuomo, it`s a fair inference that he supports their policies.

I think, in terms of a commander-in-chief, we ought to have someone who isn`t springing out of bed to tweet in a frantic response to the latest polls. I think the American people are looking for a commander-in-chief who is stable and steady and a calm hand.


MATTHEWS: Katy Tur`s in Richmond, Virginia, Hallie Jackson`s in Concord, New Hampshire. Also joining me right now here "The Washington Post`s" Robert Costa and "The Atlantic`s" Molly ball.

Did you watch "SNL" Saturday night, Katy?

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No, unfortunately, I did not.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s unfortunate for you, or maybe it was fortunate for you. They said that when the guy you`re covering, Ted Cruz, smiles, it looks like he`s taking a pee. I mean, that is probably the weirdest description. But everybody I`ve tried it on says, You know what? There`s something weird about the guy`s face.

Anyway, there`s something strange about Cruz. Has Trump got to him with this nasty comment that now Rush Limbaugh is now defending him? Imagine having Rush Limbaugh saying, Oh, no, he`s not nasty. This is Rush Limbaugh, as your character witness.

TUR: Well, I think it`s Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin are defending Ted Cruz. I think...

MATTHEWS: Oh, my God!

TUR: Initially...

MATTHEWS: Mark Levin is one of the most distasteful human beings out there! Go ahead. Mark Levin?

TUR: This is the -- this is the conservative right. This is the base. This what people -- who people listen to in the conservative base.

MATTHEWS: "Base" is a good word for it. Good word for it.

TUR: And there`s a lot of -- there`s a lot of influence that they have over voters, are the ones that people are listening to on the radio and they`re driving to work, when they`re driving their kids to school, various other times. Anyway...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but Rush Limbaugh is brilliantly not on during drive time, Katy. Let me tell you how his brilliance works. He`s on at noon to 3:00 Eastern time, when guys at car washes and places -- and diners are -- I don`t knock people who have to work for a living. It`s tough jobs they have. But Trump...

TUR: Trump...


MATTHEWS: Limbaugh knows what he`s doing. He`s working the traveling salesman...

TUR: I think...

MATTHEWS: ... who hates their job. Let`s go here. Here he is. Here`s Rush Limbaugh defending Cruz.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think Trump going after Cruz is quite normal. It`s understandable. But I think he`s making a tactical error the way he`s doing it. Whatever you want to say, Cruz is not a nasty guy. When you get into criticism, it better be believable. I think Trump is free to criticize Cruz all he wants, as far as I`m concerned, but going after him as a nasty guy on this birther business, he`s got to worry that it`s going to create more negatives within his own support base, rather than turn people off to Cruz.


MATTHEWS: Hallie Jackson, let me ask you about the guy you cover. And that`s, of course, Donald Trump. I do hear, as everyone does who works in Washington, nobody likes Ted Cruz. The word "nasty" is not apparently misapplied here. I mean, Rush Limbaugh doesn`t know anything about Washington. He knows the airwaves. He knows the right very well. But I don`t think he knows the people that know Cruz, who don`t like him.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It`s an open secret in Washington, though, Chris, that Ted Cruz is not beloved by members of his own party, by the leadership of his own party. And Cruz has, you know, thrown bombs in the Senate before. That`s kind of his reputation in Washington.

And that`s actually part of the reputation that`s helping him in places here like New Hampshire and Iowa, when you talk to folks who support him. One gentleman at a diner an hour-and-a-half late (ph) said to me this morning that he liked the fact that Ted Cruz is not liked by the leaders in Washington because he`s looking for somebody who will go and shake things up.

MATTHEWS: Shake things up- well, let`s go right now -- I think that`s an interesting thing, Robert Costa, Molly Ball here with me. I think a candidate who shakes things up is what we all want, everybody wants. But crashes and burns, brings the place down is just more and more the right- wing rant -- I wonder whether people think of Ted Cruz as anybody`s solution, Molly Ball.

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, the problem is...

MATTHEWS: Do they?

BALL: ... that Donald Trump is so far out there, you want to talk about crashing and burning and taking the place down, Donald Trump makes Ted Cruz look sane and reasonable and like someone who`s polite. I talked to voters in South Carolina last week who said, Well, you know, Trump, he`s irresponsible. He`s a narcissist. He`s a grandstander, but Ted Cruz is someone who can work with people.

And so this is -- you know, Mitch McConnell hears that and he spits out his bourbon! But this is the great irony...

MATTHEWS: I must be tone deaf. I don`t see the appeal of Ted Cruz. I see the appeal of almost all these guys, from Bernie Sanders to Trump to all -- to some extent, I see the appeal of Marco Rubio to some, especially the hard right, the hawkish right.

What does Cruz offer in terms of American happiness? A year after he`s in, how are people going to be happier or better off in their lives? What`s going to improve?


MATTHEWS: What`s going to improve in their lives?

COSTA: If you want an ideological candidate in the Republican primary, you`re likely with Cruz. If you`re someone who doesn`t care so much about conservatism...

MATTHEWS: Somebody who`s going to will torch the place...

COSTA: ... someone who`s truly defined as a conservative, who acts like they`re one with this movement.

MATTHEWS: Yes. OK, I`m open to other opinions, even if I don`t get them.

Anyway, appearing at Liberty University today, Donald Trump made a plea -- a play, you might say, or a prayer for the evangelical vote. He was introduced by Jerry Falwell, Jr., who praised Trump as the only candidate, quote, "who can`t be bought."

Then Trump seemed to play to his audience quite well. Well, you watch.


TRUMP: We`re going to protect Christianity. And I can say that. I don`t have to be politically correct or...


TRUMP: We`re going to protect it.

You go into a department store now, right? When was the last time you saw a merry Christmas? You don`t see it anymore. They want to be politically correct.

If I`m president, you`re going to see merry Christmas in department stores, believe me.


TRUMP: "The Art of the Deal" -- everybody read the -- who has read "The Art of the Deal" in this room? Everybody. I always say -- I always say a deep, deep second to the Bible! The Bible is the best! The Bible! The Bible blows it away! There`s nothing like the...



MATTHEWS: Katy, I -- I -- I tell you, I kind of laugh because he`s out there with a very religious group of people who are totally fervent in their religion, and he`s turning it into kind of a vaudeville act, and they seemed to be accepting the performance.

TUR: The students out there told me that they were very entertained by Donald Trump. They were especially entertained a couple times, one when he said "2 Corinthians," and they started laughing because they say no Christian says "2 Corinthians." They say "Second Corinthians."

Also, when Donald Trump said China, there was a massive laugh in that room because China is now a drinking game among college students, whenever Donald Trump says "China." And also, there was a viral video out there where he says "China" about 120 times throughout the course of, like, a four-month span.

Other than that, though, the students were telling me that they were interested in what he was saying. They thought that he was an interesting guy. They thought that his ideas were interesting. They didn`t necessarily believe that he was a Christian or he was somebody of devout faith, but they didn`t necessarily think that that was a big deal, either.

And what I`m hearing when I`m talking to evangelical leaders and people who are trying to figure out why he`s appealing so much to evangelical voters, people are saying that he`s appealing more to their fear than the voters` faith. They want somebody who`s going to go out there and say, I am going to fix things, more than they want somebody who`s going to go out and uphold...


TUR: ... the values of only getting married once, per se, or not swearing or not working in the gambling business. So Donald Trump`s personality, his, I`ll say what I think and mean it, his frank attitude, his politically incorrect words appeal more to these evangelical voters...


TUR: ... than their faith does at the moment.

MATTHEWS: Hold on...


MATTHEWS: ... that thought.

TUR: ... cutting across all lines...


TUR: ... that -- the lines that other candidates have been hemmed in -- hemmed in by in the past. Donald Trump is able to just wipe through that and be a candidate for all types of voters out there.

MATTHEWS: He does an interesting kind of pander. But your thought just for a second. We`ll be back to you, Katy.

COSTA: A little reporting to share. I`ve trying to get beyond the vaudeville act, and what Trump`s really doing with the evangelicals. He`s been reaching out to Jerry Falwell, Jr., for a year, building that relationship. He`s close with Franklin Graham. He`s been trying to...

MATTHEWS: Franklin Graham`s on the far right.

COSTA: And he`s kept in touch with Billy Graham, Franklin Graham`s father.

MATTHEWS: I think Billy Graham is great. Anyway, let me ask you think, Katy. Were you there when he went to the Jewish group down in Florida?

TUR: I was.



TUR: ... this was in D.C.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s- he mixed it up with them, even made jokes -- you can tell (INAUDIBLE) typical, but he said, You guys are good at business, you like to make deals, blah, blah. That would have offended some people. But he, like, mixing it up in a sense of almost intimate terms, like you guys (INAUDIBLE) We can laugh about these things inside here.

So his pander is very nuanced. Sometimes he panders directly, like, The Bible is even a better book than mine, which is almost like a cartoon statement of a pander.

Explain to me how he does it. Give me the decryption of Donald Trump`s pandering because it seems to be very nuanced, and almost weird.

TUR: I often say this...


JACKSON: Don`t forget that he brings his Bible...

TUR: ... how to read a room in a way that -- that not many others can. He knows how to charm a group of people. He knows how to charm the person he`s speaking with. And when he`s in those rooms, they can feel, certainly, very intimate. They can feel like...


TUR: ... he`s speaking directly to you. And he`s using the audience as a foil. When I was at that meeting with the Jewish group in D.C., they were laughing along with him.


TUR: Even though they were tried (ph) stereotypes...

MATTHEWS: I get it.

TUR: ... and they didn`t necessarily play in print...


TUR: ... the people in that room were enjoying the show.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I -- he listens with his tongue. He -- Hallie, your thoughts here, Hallie, listens with his tongue, how he knows, he tests, he probes, and he finds a way to connect with people that the average pol out there doesn`t have a clue -- Hallie.

JACKSON: And that`s what people love about him, Chris. That`s (INAUDIBLE) go to these rallies like the one here in Concord, New Hampshire, tonight. That`s what people are connecting to. You talk about the issue of faith, Donald Trump will bring his Bible, he will hold it up in the air and he will wave it around. There`s no other candidate on the trail who`s done something quite that -- quite that obvious, if you will, when you talk about Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: I know. It`s almost cartoony.

JACKSON: For him, it`s working.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thanks so much. Molly Ball, more with you next time. You got shorted this time.


MATTHEWS: Are you feeling like Martin O`Malley here, right? Anyway, I`m sorry about that. We got to go to this segment. Thank you, Hallie Jackson --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty more seconds for Molly.

MATTHEWS: ... Katy Tur, Robert -- oh, we have time for you? What do you make of this? Who`s winning this fight?

BALL: Well, look, I would just like to inject a little bit of a reality check into this conversation about Trump and the faith community. There are a lot of evangelical leaders who were deeply disturbed by his tone today and deeply disturbed by Jerry Falwell, you know, slobbering all over him and really feel like, you know, this is not a Christian testimony. He does not represent something that evangelicals should follow.

There`s a real split here in the movement between the leaders who would liked to see a Christianity that`s about compassion and tolerance and being receptive to, you know, immigrants and refugees, and that sort of thing.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you.

Coming up -- the gloves are off and the race tightening in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are toughening their axe on each other -- their attacks, I should say. It was on full display last night during the debate -- guns health care, Wall Street. It was a fight on every issue, and boy, Bernie got tough.

Plus, home at last, five Americans now freed from Iran. We`ll get details on their release -- how`d they get out? -- as well as what this development means for the U.S./Iranian relationship, such as it is.

And across the pond, British Parliament today debated whether to ban Donald Trump from the United Kingdom. Is it "Cheerio, old chap," or are our greatest allies coming around to the possibility, which they might have to accept, of a President Trump.

Finally, "Let me finish" tonight with the explosive state of our presidential politics on both sides.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, Nate Silver of has released early forecasts for the Iowa caucus. According to Silver`s analysis that takes state and national polls into account, as well as endorsements, Ted Cruz has a 51 percent chance of winning the Iowa caucuses. Trump comes in at 28 percent chance.

On the Democratic side, Silver puts Hillary Clinton at an 81 percent chance of winning the caucuses, with Sanders coming in at 19. Take it for what it`s worth.

We`ll be right back.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think Secretary Clinton knows that what she says is very disingenuous. I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA. What I said is, I would re-look at it. We are going to re-look at it, and I will support stronger (INAUDIBLE)

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have made it clear, based on Senator Sanders`s own record, that he has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby, numerous times. He voted against the Brady bill five times. He voted for what we call the Charleston loophole. He voted for immunity from gun makers and sellers. He voted to let guns go onto Amtrak, guns go into national parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives.


MATTHEWS: That was a pretty good line by her. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton facing off over the gun issue - - last night`s debate hosted by NBC. It was the last time the Democratic candidates will meet before the voting starts in Iowa just two weeks from today.

Anyway, we`re in the red zone, as I said, the last two weeks. The former secretary of state repeatedly defended the record of her one-time rival, President Obama, and portrayed herself as the best successor to continue the progress he`s made on issues like health care and financial regulations.

Things even more heated -- got more heated between Sanders and Clinton during an exchange over the economy and Wall Street. No surprise there. Let`s watch.


SANDERS: I don`t take money from big banks. I don`t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs.

CLINTON: The comments that Senator Sanders has made that -- don`t just affect me. I can take that. But he`s criticized President Obama for taking donations from Wall Street, and President Obama has led our country out of the Great Recession. Senator Sanders called him weak, disappointing. He even in 2011 publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama.

SANDERS: But I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street.

CLINTON: Your profusion of comments about your feelings toward President Obama are a little strange, given what you said about him in 2011.

SANDERS: You`ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year!


MATTHEWS: I think the operative phase here, as Woody Allen would say in one of his movies, is $600,000 from Goldman Sachs.

Jay Newton-Small is a correspondent for "Time," and Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist.

Jay and Jamal, I want to ask you this. Let`s talk about the -- clearly, he wanted to bury in people`s heads the idea that Hillary was on the take from Goldman Sachs. OK, got that point across. She never responded to that particular point.

But the themes last night were so clear. Hillary Clinton is working African-Americans, because they`re the ones she uses -- is going to use as her firewall after these early campaigns are over. Part of that firewall is her support for President Obama. Clearly, every attack on her, she will say, you can attack me, but don`t say a word against President Obama. It`s like Bill used to say about her.

On his side, clearly going after the hard left, clearly going to students, young students, clearly going to dreamers. I don`t mean in Latin America - - Latin America -- in the Hispanic sense of dreamers under the law, but people that want real idealistic change, who like the word revolution.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Yes, absolutely, his was pie -- not pie in the sky, but it was almost pie in the sky.

It was essentially like let`s talk about revolution and let`s talk about really big ideas, let`s talk about change. And it`s all of that sort of pent-up frustration for young people who thought this change was going to come with Barack Obama.


MATTHEWS: Who don`t have jobs in many cases, with failure to launch, and they are out there with no real income, no real assets, no house, maybe no marriage, and they`re waiting for a life to begin. And here comes the guy who says it`s not your fault.

NEWTON-SMALL: And he said, I`m going to promise you -- and he`s promising the moon, the moon. He`s saying, I`m going to you a political revolution.

MATTHEWS: No tuition, but at public universities. Most people go to public universities too.


NEWTON-SMALL: And that is why her attack was so interesting, because her attack was not just to embrace Barack Obama, but it was to say we live in a reality. We have a Republican Congress. We have to work with them. I would work across the aisle, but I want to know the details of your plans. How are you going to pay for this education plan? How are you going to pay for this health care plan?

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what you do. You say to somebody who is not making much money as a young person right out of school -- they may be making a little bit of income to survive on, but they may be living at home.

You say to them, you don`t need your parents` health insurance. I`m going to give you free health insurance, Medicare for life. I`m going to make sure if you go to a public university, like a great university like Wisconsin or Michigan or New Hampshire, free tuition. We`re going to give you that.

This is a hell of a deal and I`m going to pay for it by going after those people you don`t know. You see them on TV, maybe. Billionaires, they`re going to pay for all of this. It`s an attractive offer. It won`t happen, though.



What he is doing is, he`s going after all sorts of atypical Democratic voters, right? So if you`re somebody who is an elected official or you`re a party leader some place, yes, you will sign up with Hillary Clinton because it seems great.

What she has not done, for a lot of us who have been outside the campaign have been arguing, is really give us a message. I`m not sure what it is she is running for president to do. I`m know she wants to fight for us, but what does she want to do?


J. SIMMONS: You know what Bernie wants to do.

MATTHEWS: He is grabbing issues, she is handling them. Right?

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, she is producing policy papers, the way she always does. She`s running the policy paper campaign, like her husband ran, like others have run. And she has got all these white papers and all these sort of really detailed things, and she is saying here is what I would do.

But, at the same time, it`s totally un-inspirational. Right?


MATTHEWS: Male, female, it is a big split. Maybe it`s white guys. I don`t know. But men are going to Bernie.

J. SIMMONS: I don`t know.


MATTHEWS: Oh, huge numbers, and why? Because, well, the women, I think there is still some gender loyalty. Right?

NEWTON-SMALL: But that`s -- studies have always shown that men respond to data, and women respond to narrative. And in this case, it`s really interesting, because Bernie has got the narrative and Hillary has got the data.


MATTHEWS: But aren`t women historically in the Democratic Party, if you generalize anything, more to the left, because they need -- as I say this 100 times -- they need good public education, they need child care, they need health care for their parents. They need Social Security and Medicare for their parents.

The woman in the house generally focuses on those basic human needs and the guy is floating around thinking about something else.

NEWTON-SMALL: They do. Absolutely, women do tend to be more Democratic. But it is also an age thing. We`re looking at age, generation. So, younger women tend to be much more Democratic, older women, not so much.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at this. By the way, I just read the prompter.

Instead of taking a look at it, I`m saying goodbye. Anyway, thank you, guys.


MATTHEWS: It`s always great.

We have to have you on to talk about your book.


MATTHEWS: Good. We will talk about it. We want to sell books. We believe in getting you up there on Amazon, because it`s a very important book about gender politics. It`s called "Broad Influence."

The use of the word broad is interesting, too. She will explain. It`s not the Frank Sinatra meaning, I don`t think.

Thank you. Not that meaning.

Thank you so much, Jay Newton-Small of "TIME" and Jamal Simmons.

Joining me right now is Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, a supporter of Hillary.

Thank you so much, Senator, for joining us.


MATTHEWS: I don`t know if you look at the polls. I am sure you have used polls in your own campaigns. Everybody does. But there is this weird shift going on in Iowa toward Bernie Sanders among men. And I don`t quite get it, because women, I have always thought, do believe in government. They do believe the role of public welfare programs, not only for poor people, but for people who have to raise a middle-class family.

BALDWIN: Well, I have to say I don`t focus a lot on the polls.

But I do know that the race in Iowa is tightening. Hillary Clinton always knew that it would be a tight race. But I was in Iowa on Friday and Saturday this weekend with a few of my colleagues. And we had rooms that were filled with people of all ages, and certainly both men and women, really, really excited about her.

And they do think she has a very clear message, just like she said in her opening statement yesterday at the debate this weekend. She said she is about jobs and equal pay and all the renewable energy jobs that we have the potential to create. She is about health care and she`s about healing some of the deep divides we have in our nation.

And she has expressed that in her opening statement. And in her closing statement -- well, it was not really a closing statement, but the last question -- that is what really grabbed me the most in this debate, when she talked about what happened in Flint, Michigan. She talked about the fact that poor children in a predominantly poor and African-American city are literally being poisoned with lead in their water.

And the governor of Michigan would not let this happen in any other affluent community in Michigan.


BALDWIN: And she went on your channel and called for the governor to declare a state of the emergency.

What I felt in that answer was both powerful narrative, but also she knew what she wanted to get done and she knew how to do it. Within hours, the governor of Michigan started taking more action.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think you`re right. And I think it is not partisan to say that Hillary Clinton, she has some bases missing, but the thing that she really, I think, has been focused on in her whole career, child development, the concerns of regular families, women, but not just in an ideological sense, but she seems to be a good liberal that way, a real one, you know? I think you`re right.

BALDWIN: And what I say about that, I think about what she did before there was ever a spotlight on her, when she just got her law degree and she went out and worked for the Children`s Defense Fund.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

BALDWIN: She went door-to-door, organizing to give equal educational opportunities to children with disabilities. That is what she was doing.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you on that.

BALDWIN: And it is that experience.

MATTHEWS: Senator, you`re a great guest and a great advocate. I wish that she found a way to find your voice. Your voice is very good.

Up next -- you`re very good.

By the way, some day, explain to me that wacky state you`re from with Reince Priebus in it. Anyway, what a weird state.

Anyway, thank you for coming to us tonight.


BALDWIN: Any time you want, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, off the record.

Up next, we get a live report from Germany on the Americans freed from Iran. We`re going to talk to them, maybe.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today`s progress, Americans coming home, and an Iran that has rolled back its nuclear program and accepting unprecedented monitoring of that program, these things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom, with courage and resolve and patience.

And, perhaps most important of all, we achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, President Obama hailing two major diplomatic victories both over the weekend. His remarks concluded a dizzying 48 hours of diplomacy on the world stage, unleashing a torrent, of course, criticism from his Republican rivals on the campaign trail.

We begin with the big news, however. Four Americans -- five Americans have been freed from Iran, four of them as part of a historic prisoner agreement with the United States. They include American Jason Rezaian, Christian preacher Saeed Abedini, and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati. They were all released after spending years of imprisonment in Iran on false charges, according to U.S. officials.

In addition, the U.S., the U.N. and European Union have unfrozen roughly $100 billion in Iranian assets after watchdogs confirmed, have confirmed that Iran has complied in scaling back its nuclear program as required by the deal.

We have also got troubling news this weekend, as the U.S. imposed, however, new sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities for their role in testing medium-range ballistic missiles, which the U.S. officials called a significant threat to global security.

I`m joined right now by NBC`s Keir Simmons from Germany.

Keir, give us an update on how this all happened.

KEIR SIMMONS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Chris, inside this U.S. base behind me in Germany, I guess what we`re seeing in these individual stories is the two sides of what happened this weekend playing out.

You have got the families of Amir Hekmati and of Jason Rezaian reuniting tonight, uplifting, really just fantastic scenes. The one congressman who was with Amir and his family said he had not seen that family smile like that in the entire time he had known them. And yet, at the same time as Jason Rezaian, for example, talks about what really happened, he is saying that he was in a room 15-by-20-foot and at one point held in solitary confinement for 49 days.

So what you`re getting at the same time is a picture of how ruthless the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that was holding him was. And even through the weekend now, we`re learning that as Jason was preparing to leave, the Iranians, or at least some of the Iranians were saying that they did not want to let him go with his wife and his mother.

They were put in a separate room and they were not allowed to have their cell phones with them. Last-minute diplomacy and talks were needed, with the U.S. insisting that the entire family would have to leave together. And finally the Iranians relented. And as we know, we saw those scenes through the weekend, as they landed in Switzerland, like something out of the Cold War, this kind of hostage exchange, while at the same time Iranians were released over in Texas, seven Iranians altogether let go, if you like, by the United States in this deal.

MATTHEWS: Well, Keir, do you think -- is it hard, is it possible as a journalist to tell whether the Iranian Revolutionary Guard actually believe that these are bad guys or do they simply see them as Westerners and therefore the bad guys?

K. SIMMONS: You know what? It`s a good question, because it goes to the heart of one of the criticisms of all this.

What people are saying is, hold up, what we`re basically telling the world is that if they take prisoner Americans, then they will be able to make demands and Americans will bend as a result. It`s difficult, you know -- it`s really difficult to know what is going on in the minds of the Iranian regime, particularly when you understand that there is not one Iranian regime, that there are multiple factions there, just as there are in any country, in Washington, for example.

Did they intend by arresting these men to use them in a deal? We can`t know that. But what we do know, quite clearly, is that the U.S. is saying none of them were guilty of anything, and so, therefore, tonight, the fact that five of them are freed, three of them inside this U.S. base tonight undergoing medical and psychological evaluation before finally they can go home, that fact is nothing short of a great, great thing.

MATTHEWS: Great reporting by you, NBC`s Keir Simmons in Germany.

We`re watching a coordinated assault on the president`s latest round of diplomacy with Iran from the Republican presidential field. Let`s listen to it.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This administration doesn`t seem to recognize that dealing with a country like Iran, you have to deal from strength rather than weakness. And these concessions only create a whole new set of concessions. He considers Iran an emerging trend.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been hitting him hard. And I think I might have had something to do with it, you want to know the truth.

We give them essentially 22 people, 21, 22 people, but these are people that really did have problems and we`re getting back four people that didn`t do anything wrong. That is the way we negotiate. That is the way we negotiate. It`s so sad. It`s so sad.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it proves once again that now nations and enemies of America around the world know that there`s a price for Americans. If you take an American hostage, Barack Obama will cut a deal for -- with you.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president lives in his own world. He lives in a fantasy land, if he believes that is the product of strong American diplomacy, that he pays ransom again to terrorists. They pick this president`s pocket day after day after day and they make a fool of him and a fool of our country.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While we celebrate their return, this deal serves as a piece of propaganda for both Iran and the Obama administration.


MATTHEWS: I have a saying about the face of Ted Cruz when he says he is happy.

Anyway, let`s bring in former Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg, my friend, and Nayyera Haq, former State Department spokesperson.

I thought I had the name figured out. Thank you. I`m sorry for that.


MATTHEWS: Nayyera, let me ask you about this. Well, how do you read this? It seems to me that it`s not the worst-case scenario to get our guys back and to get a deal that is actually working. Is that the worst-case scenario? The way the Republicans sell it, it is.

HAQ: Well, I would actually like to hear any of these candidates actually say, we don`t want these five people back, and that this was a bad move to make to actually get some of our folks back.

At the end of the day, this deal was designed to end Iran`s nuclear program. And we have that guarantee. It is not a deal that covers all aspects of our relationship with Iran. And so there are still things that we`re going to be doing to curb the terrorist threat from Iran.

But we have successfully ended their nuclear program without launching a single bomb. I mean, this is what diplomacy is meant to be doing.

MATTHEWS: I like that word.

What is our strength vis-a-vis Iran? All the guys on the right -- I understand politics. They say just full fury and force of America, go to war over the 10 sailors. You don`t go to war over that stuff anymore. We didn`t do it with the Soviet Union for 50 years.

But what is our -- we obviously have some leverage, because we got them to give up their nuclear program for 10 years.

MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: The most important is economic, Chris. The fact of the matter is in a few weeks there`s going to be parliamentary elections, where President Rouhani, the so-called moderate of Iran`s major party, is going to be vying for a reelection. OK?

They need this money. It`s one of the major commitments that the Rouhani regime...

MATTHEWS: So they get a hundred billion in cash today.

GINSBERG: Well, more or less. And Secretary Kerry would say much less than that. They will get about $54 billion right now.

MATTHEWS: In cash.

GINSBERG: In cash.

MATTHEWS: That`s unfrozen money.


MATTHEWS: Then they get a huge amount more in trade opportunity.

GINSBERG: Absolutely.

The Europeans are already booking their tickets to Tehran.

MATTHEWS: Yes. So, we have to ability to give them stuff. What do we have the ability now, going forward, to discipline them?

GINSBERG: The only issue here is this vaunted so-called snapback election regime.


GINSBERG: Secretary Kerry and President Obama have consistently argued before the American people that they can reimpose sanctions on Iran if indeed they violate the terms of this agreement.

But, remember, Chris, the issue here has got to be multidimensional, the way the Iranians are playing this in the Middle East. It`s not just the Iran agreements at stake. It`s also what their conventional efforts are going to be.

MATTHEWS: Sure. I agree with you. Where are they going to spend the hundred billion? That`s a big worry. Are they going to buy more terrorists, support Hezbollah, Hamas?

HAQ: And they have...


HAQ: They already are sharing money with terrorists in Hezbollah, Yemen.

Part of this is the ability to -- sanctions, should they violate any other agreements. So the ballistic arms agreement, we imposed sanctions today, the Treasury Department.

MATTHEWS: And we`re going to have to back up Israel. I`m not knocking it, because we`re going to have to do it, to balance it out.

HAQ: And that`s -- so these are parts of pieces of a puzzle. The nuclear deal is one piece. Roll back their nuclear program. Now we`re looking at the terrorist threat, financing. They`re still on the terrorist nation list. We sanctioned 11 people today.

MATTHEWS: Is there any chance that they will moderate in the next 10 years? Any chance?

GINSBERG: Look, the answer is as long as the Revolutionary Guards and the ayatollah regime essentially control everything, no.


MATTHEWS: But they have to be elected, too.

HAQ: But there is hope.

GINSBERG: The Revolutionary Guards and the ayatollah...

MATTHEWS: No, the ayatollah, working your way up.


GINSBERG: Well, in the end, the fact of the matter is, is that we`re hoping that this opening is going to -- look, we`re rolling the dice. It`s a gamble.


MATTHEWS: If they want to join the world, the door is open, if they want to join the world.

HAQ: And there is a serious demand for American consumer products, American businesses and American culture there that hopefully this younger, newer generation will be the ones.

MATTHEWS: You know, I like the Iranians here.


MATTHEWS: I wish they were there and they could run the place.

GINSBERG: They`re great people.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and Nayyera Haq for joining us.

Up next: British Parliament debates whether to dump Trump. You have got to hear these British accents talking about Trump. This is a riot. They`re just -- they`re ever so, well, un-British. Wait until you hear it. The roundtable is coming here next to weigh in.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



MATTHEWS: We are back.

In London today, the British parliament debated whether to ban, I should say probably ban Donald Trump from entering the United Kingdom, a petition to bar him started in December of last year and now has more than half a million signatures. After Trump made this announcement following the attacks on Paris, and in San Bernardino, California.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country`s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.


We have no choice. We have no choice.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Brits did not keep a stiff upper lip during the parliament debate, they unloaded on Trump. Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Britain is pretty good at roasting beef. Do you not think it`s better that we just roast Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is free to be a fool but he`s not free to be a dangerous fool in Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His policies to close borders if he is elected president is bonkers, and if he met one or two of my constituents in one of the many excellent pubs in my consistency, then they may tell him that he is a wackert.


MATTHEWS: Wow, I don`t know what those words.

Joining me right now is the HARDBALL roundtable that`s going to translate, Howard Fineman is global editor appropriately of "Huffington Post", Penny Lee is A Democratic strategist, an old pal, Paul Singer is Washington correspondent for "USA Today".

So, who`s more global, "USA Today", I go to Howard.


MATTHEWS: Howard, it is almost buffoonery on their part to have this damn debate, he is not heading over there. This isn`t an urgent need for debate.

FINEMAN: Well, all I can say is that Donald Trump, Broadway show --

MATTHEWS: Has gone international.

FINEMAN: Has gone international. Or to use another analogy, he is a tsunami that has now gone all the way across the Atlantic and lap up on the shores of --

MATTHEWS: But if I know his voters, Paul, they`re going to like him more.


MATTHEWS: The Brits don`t like him. That`s the reason to like him more.

SINGER: The Brits are trying to pick a bar fight with him. I mean, it`s a perfect scene for Donald Trump. He doesn`t want to be loved abroad. He wants to be loved here. That`s perfect for him. They call him an idiot.

MATTHEWS: Is this good for Cruz, Penny?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, any time you have someone kind of going after Donald Trump, especially trying to say that he is not of the world state, absolutely helps Ted Cruz, because he can actually look like the sensible more moderate.


MATTHEWS: Is that something that is getting around -- that Cruz is sort of coming in under Trump?

FINEMAN: I think we have been saying that on this show.

MATTHEWS: That Cruz is the more reasonable.

FINEMAN: What`s happening is to use yet another analogy, it`s like stock car racing where Cruz is drafting in the vacuum behind Trump.

Sure, and the more outrageous and sweeping Trump`s declarations, the more people react especially to see a statement about Muslims which is what have the people in Britain truly upset. The more Ted Cruz can come along and seem more like the reasonable guy, even though he is the one with the track record of tearing things down here.

MATTHEWS: In today`s debate in Britain, many members of parliament say they would like to see Donald Trump come back to Britain just to give him a tongue-lashing. But some opposed to barring Trump, argue it`s not up to Britain`s parliament to meddle in American politics.

Well said, sir. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re talking about a candidate for the presidency, it`s up to the American people, not you guys.

TOM TUGENDHAT, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT: While I think this guy is crazy, while I think this man has no valid points to make, I will not be the one to silence his voice.


MATTHEWS: Well said. Paul?

SINGER: Stunning to me how much the world has focused on this presidential election campaign so far --

MATTHEWS: I was just in Israel two weeks ago -- my wife and I, I got to tell you, it`s everywhere.

SINGER: It`s because of Trump. It`s because of Trump that they`re having this conversation about American politics.

FINEMAN: Yes, and can I tell you, we have 15 editions of "The Huffington Post" around the world, the editors of every one of those editions can`t get enough news about Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: How about languages?

FINEMAN: Eleven languages.

MATTHEWS: Let`s hear them.

FINEMAN: Arabic, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, and I`m leaving out Australia.

MATTHEWS: Do you get all the credit for all that you write in all of those languages?

FINEMAN: Totally.


Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

And up next, this three on a big Martin Luther King Monday will tell me something I don`t know.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: OK. Barroom argument. Who do you see as a stronger potent for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Well, according to a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, Clinton would beat Trump in a hypothetical match-up by ten points, 51-41. That`s Clinton over Trump by ten.

Bernie sanders, however, would beat Trump by 15. He would win that race 54-39, according to the polls.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re back with the roundtable. Howard, tell me something -- we`ve been together so many years. You don`t know anything I don`t know. But go ahead.

FINEMAN: I think I do know something you don`t know, which is that Rand Paul is going to dedicate the rest of his campaign, however long his presidential campaign lasts, to trying to take down Ted Cruz. He`s already out with an ad.

MATTHEWS: What`s the personal here?

FINEMAN: It`s personal. It`s the Senate. It`s -- he doesn`t like the guy. He doesn`t like the guy. And he thinks the guy`s dangerous.

MATTHEWS: Does he think he`s nasty?

FINEMAN: I thinks he thinks he`s nasty.


LEE: We saw Hillary Clinton last night fully embrace Barack Obama. Some say the embrace was so hard he got -- his ribs were cracked.


LEE: This is not something that was new. This is a long-time internal discussion about when they were going to do it and it was less about Hillary showing support for Obama and more about isolating Bernie against his coalition.

MATTHEWS: Yes, isolate -- they tied the knot, especially for African- Americans.


SINGER: What you don`t know is tomorrow, our new GOP power rankings will come out. We ask a bunch of experts who`s the strongest in the field and there`s a glimmer of hope for John Kasich. We`re seeing some traffic that makes it suggest he could do well in New Hampshire --

MATTHEWS: Endorsement this weekend in New Hampshire. Everybody knows him likes him.

Back to the round table and thanks to the round table, Howard Fineman, Penny Lee, and Paul Singer. I love these predictions.

When we come back, let me finish with the explosive state of our presidential politics. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the explosive state of our presidential politics.

On the right, we`re looking at the plausible nomination now of Donald Trump, a political tumbler like we`ve never known, a devilishly entertaining troubadour who combines Don Rickles and Larry David in a mixture of insult and political incorrectness that only a mad alchemist could concoct. I admit to watching him with the same delight I did when a wild kid in school dared to take on the teacher. It`s the fun -- it`s fun for the precise reason it`s not supposed to be.

On the Democratic left, and that`s not a bad place to be these days, we`re looking at all the excitement coming from a self-proclaimed socialist promoting what he calls Medicare for all and free public college tuition, and paying for it all with higher taxes on the better off.

So, what`s it going to be? A battle royal this summer between a bouncing billionaire and a socialist who gets up bellowing at billionaires for breakfast, millionaires and billionaires? Is this real, do you think, real? Do you think we`re going to go into the voting booth this November and see those two names, Trump and Sanders staring at us with nothing in between? Is this what free will is going to come down to?

Let me say this. I don`t think so.

I think the Republican Party just might be ready to take a flyer on Trump. He is, after all, a rich businessman, not exactly an odd demographic for the Grand Old Party. But I doubt that the Democratic Party is going after a few tumbles to dump Hillary Clinton -- the first woman with a real chance to sit in Lincoln`s chair, in favor of a guy who promises a revolution. And that`s what Bernie Sanders promised last night, a revolution.

Mostly, we go to the polls with humbler ambitions, to move the country a few steps forward to the kind of place we want to live in.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.