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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/15/2016

Guests: Dana Milbank, Abby Phillip, Paul Singer, Hillary Clinton, Richard Blumenthal, Laurence Tribe

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 15, 2016 Guest: Dana Milbank, Abby Phillip, Paul Singer, Hillary Clinton, Richard Blumenthal, Laurence Tribe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hillary attacks Republican obstructionists.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Didn`t take long for the political battle to begin over filling Justice Scalia`s seat. Almost immediately, a Republican Senate staffer tweeted, "What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court justice to replace Scalia." That was in, like, minutes of the chief justice -- or the justice`s death.

Anyway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a statement within hours saying, in part, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Judiciary Committee himself, said, "Given the huge divide in the country and the fact that this president, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people, who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court justice."

And Senator Ted Cruz told Chuck Todd on "MEET THE PRESS" he would stop any nominee at all from even being considered.


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Doesn`t the United States Senate have an obligation to at least go through the process and have an up or down vote?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not remotely, particularly when the court is 5-4, is balanced, an Obama liberal nominee would dramatically shift...

TODD: OK, I understand that. But why not go through the process? Shouldn`t the United States Senate do its duty and go through the process? Reject it, Senator, but go through the process.

CRUZ: By the way -- by the way, the Senate`s duty is to advise and consent. You know what? The Senate is advising right now. We`re advising that a lame duck president in an election year is not going to be able to tip the balance of the Supreme Court.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined on the phone now by Secretary Hillary Clinton. Madam Secretary, thanks for joining us. The Republican approach to this open court seat now seems to be no confirmation, no vote, no even hearing -- not even any hearings. Nada. They don`t even want to talk about filling the seat of Justice Scalia.

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): Well, Chris, I find that`s the height of irony. You know, Justice Scalia was known for his strict interpretation of the Constitution. So I find it hard to understand the Republicans wanting to blatantly ignore the Constitution in replacing him. Article 2, section 2 of the Constitution clearly says it`s the president`s job to nominate justices to the Supreme Court with the advise and consent of the Senate. The Constitution doesn`t say wait a year and hope for a president of a different party. And trying to flout the Constitution is a really funny way for the Republicans to be honoring Justice Scalia`s memory and legacy. And there are huge issues at stake.

You know, the Supreme Court`s in the middle of considering the president`s executive order to let Dreamers say in the country. That`s essential to over a million young people. They`re considering the very burdensome restrictions Texas placed on women`s reproductive decisions. That could affect millions of women. They`re going to have a big impact deciding the fate of President Obama`s plan to cut greenhouse gas pollution and address climate change.

So I think the Supreme Court deserves nine justices, and I think we should demand that the Senate do its duty and receive and act on whoever the president nominates.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your position about appointing Supreme Court justices, should you be elected president. Your rival, Senator Sanders, says he would put a litmus test. They must be someone who wants to get rid of Citizens United. Where are you on that?

CLINTON: Well, I would hope that anybody I appoint would understand the grave damage that Citizens United is doing to our democracy. I think we need to appoint Supreme Court justices who are living in the -- you know, the real give-and-take of the world and can see with their own eyes how some of the decisions, whether it`s voting rights or Citizens United, made by this court are having very pernicious effect. So I would be looking for people who understood that.

MATTHEWS: Would you set that as a -- what we call a litmus test? In other words, you`d talk to the possible nominee and say, I want to know where you stand on getting rid of Citizens United, as a prerequisite to naming them? Would it be a litmus test?

CLINTON: Well, I will be -- yes, look, I will be talking in detail with anybody that I appoint. It`s not just that decision, I have a whole range of decisions that I think are really important. So yes, it would factor very much into, you know, who I nominated.

MATTHEWS: Are you satisfied with -- I know no Supreme Court decision is perfect, but are you satisfied with Roe v. Wade the way it is? If you had to live with that all through your presidency, would you say, That`s where I`m at?

CLINTON: Yes, absolutely, Chris. I mean, there is no doubt that that decision recognized, you know, the rights of women to make these really difficult choices. And it is as close as I think we could ever get to, you know, making it clear that there can be restrictions after a certain point, so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into effect. And I think it has been a decision that, you know, has been important to the constitutional rights of women.

But I also think that because it was premised on, you know, women making their own choices, there`s plenty of room for women to make whichever choice they so choose to make. And that`s how it should be in our country.

MATTHEWS: The reason I raise that -- I know your position is pro-choice all these years, and I just was amazed at Senator Rubio saying in one of the debates the other night that you supported abortion right up until the date of birth. I don`t know what he meant by that exactly. That wouldn`t be your position -- that`s not Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade has restrictions on the final period, the final trimester.

CLINTON: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this other...

CLINTON: I mean, I don`t know what he was talking about. I`m not sure he knew what he was talking about.

MATTHEWS: Well, it gets worse.

CLINTON: He is moving as far to the right as he possibly can get. But you know, Roe is very -- you know, very clear that if you take into account the life and the health of the mother, there can be exceptions to -- restrictions that are imposed that are lawful, constitutional.

MATTHEWS: One last question. Let me ask you about this other Rubio charge. He said that President Clinton, Bill Clinton, was responsible for 9/11. Did you know his logic...


MATTHEWS: He has a logic. He said because the president had the chance to kill bin Laden.

CLINTON: Yes. Bin Laden, yes.

MATTHEWS: And -- and he didn`t do it.

CLINTON: Well, and as you remember, you know, yes, there was an effort to kill him based on the intelligence that was available. Missiles struck what was thought to be a training camp. It wasn`t like there wasn`t an effort.

The original group that was set up to, you know, monitor and go after al Qaeda and bin Laden dates to those years. So again, I -- I see, you know, somebody like Senator Rubio just twisting himself into pretzels trying to appeal to the -- you know, the base of his party, to try to say things that have no -- you know, no common sense or merit to them. You know, he has to run his campaign, but you know, it`s kind of a sad commentary.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton, for coming on tonight on HARDBALL.

CLINTON: Thank you. Good to talk to you. Bye-bye.

MATTHEWS: We`ve got a request out to Senator Sanders, of course, to bring his views to HARDBALL. I hope he can join us soon and often.

Now more on the political battle ahead. Eugene Robinson`s a columnist with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. I guess it`s no surprise they all agree on the usual litmus test.


MATTHEWS: ... agreed to up ahead.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there`s no surprise. I mean, we know what Supreme Court nominations are all about. And they`re basically about protecting our turf.


ROBINSON: And it`s true for both parties.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have George Will, who writes in your paper, who is obsessed with the idea that speech -- that money is speech.

ROBINSON: Money is speech, right.

MATTHEWS: So every day, he writes a column -- he must have a tickler file. He writes another column saying, if you`ve got $1 billion, that`s your vote.

ROBINSON: Yes. Right. And you know, I personally would disagree with that. I think it`s...


MATTHEWS: ... one man, one vote.

ROBINSON: ... one vote. But yes, there`s that point of view. It certainly Justice Scalia`s point of view that you couldn`t distinguish the money from the speech. I don`t see why not. You know...

MATTHEWS: We did for a long time.

ROBINSON: You could argue whether corporations are people. But dollars certainly are not people.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, over the weekend, Senator Cruz argued that President Obama should allow the next president to fill the vacancy -- the next president -- after all, saying elections have consequences, apparently, but not the election we had in 2012.

Let`s watch this. It`s ridiculous.


CRUZ: This is a 5-4 court. This next election needs to be a referendum on the court. The people need to decide. And I`m very glad that the Senate is agreeing with what I called for, that we should not allow lame duck president to essentially capture the Supreme Court in the waning months of his presidency.

If the Democrats want to replace this nominee, they need to win the election. And I`ll tell you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the people elected President Obama, didn`t they?

CRUZ: They did, but -- but -- but that -- that was three years ago. And elections have consequences. The people also gave us a Republican Senate this last election because they were fed up with Barack Obama`s lawlessness.


MATTHEWS: Huh. Well, I don`t want to make -- but the word lame duck seems to kick in, what, the day after you`re inaugurated the second time?

ROBINSON: Yes. I thought lame duck was after the new guy or...

MATTHEWS: The next election.

ROBINSON: ... gal was elected.


ROBINSON: You know, elections do have consequences, and there was an election in 2012 and President Obama was reelected and he was chosen as the guy to name the Supreme Court justices for the next four years. It wasn`t for the next three years.

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s why you had -- why do you think, just think into the heads of all of -- the staff member, within minutes of hearing this, Justice Scalia had passed away, he`s dead, cold, before he was even cold, before the last rites, apparently, they`re out there saying...

ROBINSON: Before the last rites.

MATTHEWS: ... It ain`t going to happen. Why don`t they want to go through a process? Why don`t they let the president pick (ph) up (ph) this fellow, this -- (INAUDIBLE) of the other woman, or any of them, and then let them go through the process. It`ll be around, you know, June. And they`ll have a vote. And they won`t get 60.


ROBINSON: And then we move on. I don`t understand that, unless it`s just sort of the knee-jerk reaction. You know, the Republican playbook has been to stake out the maximalist position.


ROBINSON: Right? And so immediately, Mitch McConnell...

MATTHEWS: Are they afraid...

ROBINSON: ... stakes out the maximalist...

MATTHEWS: ... the country might...

ROBINSON: ... position, Don`t even nominate.


MATTHEWS: This is conspiratorial. Suppose somebody comes out there and this -- these people, one of them very impressive (INAUDIBLE) an Asian background, Indian background, and this fellow -- he comes out and he really impresses everybody. He`s -- he`s Stanford grad and everything. He zooms through the hearing. He has a great sherpa. Everything works. And the public says, We really like this guy. We don`t have a problem with him.

Is that what they`re afraid of?

ROBINSON: Well, I guess they`re afraid of something like that happening or maybe it would just look embarrassing because in the end, they`re determined not to approve somebody, right?


MATTHEWS: ... Chris Coons from Delaware, someone like that.

ROBINSON: Well, exactly. That puts them in a difficult position. Now...

MATTHEWS: Or Amy Klobuchar.

ROBINSON: ... this stance -- this stance, potentially, puts Republican senators in blue states...


ROBINSON: ... who are up in a very difficult position...


ROBINSON: ... because, after all, do your job. Do your job! Just...



MATTHEWS: I`m only learning them now because it`s (INAUDIBLE) We`re going to learn the names of all these great people that could be a member of the Supreme Court, associate justices...

ROBINSON: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: -and we`re going to wonder why not one of them gets a chance to even be heard. And I think they`re going to get hurt on this, the Republicans because this is obstructionism pure and simple. And it`s about as bad as it`s gotten. You don`t even have a debate, no hearings, nothing...

ROBINSON: Well, the president`s going to nominate somebody. So they`re going to -- the ball will be in their court.

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe they`ll have to put him on "MEET THE PRESS" because that`s how we`ll (INAUDIBLE)


MATTHEWS: Anyway, they`re welcome here. Thank you, Gene Robinson.

Coming up -- much more on the epic battle to replace Justice Scalia. The stakes are high, obviously, on both sides, left and right. But for Senate Republicans, the plan to actually obstruct President Obama`s pick could backfire big-time. They`re not following the Constitution. As Hillary Clinton said tonight, it says in article 2 of the Constitution, it`s a job of the president to appoint the guy or woman.

Plus, Donald Trump bruising and cruising. He said Ted Cruz is a liar and is threatening a lawsuit against Cruz over his Canadian birth. Wonder how that works with the originalists. Anyway, as former president George W. Bush campaigns alongside his brother, Jeb, as Trump says, the former president actually didn`t keep us safe on 9/11. How`s that fact going to play down in South Carolina?

Anyway, Trump`s holding a party in Greenville tonight. We`ll be watching that.

And our top foreign correspondent, Richard Engel -- what a heroic guy he is -- has witnessed personally the rise of ISIS very close up. Now in his new book, "And Then All Hell Broke Out" -- "All Hell Broke Loose, he writes about what it`s going to take to beat ISIS. He`s with us tonight.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a short list of powerful reasons to pick a winner in this year`s presidential election, has to do with the court.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Republican front-runner Donald Trump spoke the most in Saturday`s GOP debate on CBS. He clocked in at more than 15 minutes -- actually, 15-and-a-half minutes -- of talk time, followed by Ted Cruz, then Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, finally Ben Carson who was the quietest.

But according to Republican and independent voters polled by CBS after the debate, it was Marco Rubio who won the night, winning nearly a third of the vote. Donald Trump came in second at 23, Jeb Bush dead last with just 5 percent. Wow.

We`ll be right back.



SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Far too many Republicans don`t care about the court, don`t invest political capital in it, and it`s why so many Republican nominees have turned out to be disasters. To the veterans in South Carolina, your 2nd Amendment rights are hanging in the balance. Justice Scalia`s -- one of his biggest opinion (sic) was the Heller decision, it was 5-4, upholding the right to keep and bear arms. If an additional liberal justice goes to the court, we`re one justice away from the 2nd Amendment being written out.


MATTHEWS: Welcome. Well, welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Texas senator Ted Cruz using the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia to rally conservatives to his side just days ahead of the crucial South Carolina primary that`s down there on Saturday. Filling the seat on the Supreme Court will become a high stakes game for both Democrats and Republicans and for their allies and the big interest groups on both sides.

Joining me right now is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee that holds hearings for Supreme Court nominations, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He actually also served on the Supreme Court as a clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun and also argued before the Supreme Court.

You`re a triple threat here, Senator. Thank you for coming. What kind of member of the minority -- and you`re a Democrat -- you`re a minority on the Judiciary Committee now -- how can you -- how can you -- the president`s going to name somebody to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy of Justice Scalia.

What can you members of the committee, or Democrats, do to push it to at least hearings? Can you?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I think that you really identified the key factor here, Chris, earlier in your exchange with Gene Robinson. There will shortly be a nominee. There`ll be a voice and a face, presumably a good, decent person with clear intellect and integrity.

And the very strong burden will shift to the majority leader and to my Republican colleagues. Why not give him a hearing, or her? Why not a vote?

And remember that there are some pretty critical issues before this court that matter to people`s lives, like voting rights, like labor rights, women`s health care rights, affirmative action and immigration issues. And those are extremely consequential in people`s lives. And for some of my colleagues to simply say, no, and abdicate and abrogate their constitutional duty is...



BLUMENTHAL: ... very difficult.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the immediate cases. I mean, we know about the number of abortion facilities down in Texas has been greatly restricted by the need to have admission -- admission rights at hospitals and all that. That`s one -- that`ll be pushed aside, right? And the other one of all these executive orders on immigration, helping the Dreamer kids and all those coming into the country and making them safe here -- all that`s up in the air, right, if we don`t have a full court?

BLUMENTHAL: All of it`s up in the air -- all of it is up in the air, Chris, and a 4-4 decision will not be a decision. In fact, it sends the case back without a decision, and leaves standing cases wrongly decided, in my view, that will really hurt people.

And so there`s a duty to fill that vacancy, to make the system work. Our constitutional system depends on nine members serving on the Supreme Court, which is why there`s never been a vacancy in the last, I think, 30 years, lasting longer than 237 days. The president has 339 left. And there has never been a vacancy lasting two terms.

Every appointee has received a hearing and a vote within 100 days. And the reason is, quite simply, there`s a constitutional system and a duty in place.

MATTHEWS: Just last point, purely a partisan observation. If they get -- if the Republicans get this thing stalled all through this year, and there`s a vacancy running through the next inauguration of our next president, they get four years then to screw around and finally get someone they want, right?

They will end up with a majority in the court of conservatives?

BLUMENTHAL: Elections have consequences, as you observed earlier, but so does obstructionism.

And I think it will strike a very powerful chord among the American people, not just Democrats, but the independents, and unaffiliated voters, who already are saying, why can`t Washington work, why can`t you get things done, and why do we have this gridlock and partisan paralysis in Washington?

If it affects the court, a vital nonpolitical institution of our government, and drags that court into the morass of presidential politics, I think it`s regrettable for the credibility and respect for the court. And I think that the American people will make sure it has consequences.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a member of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate.

Joining me right now is Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.

Professor Tribe, thank you for joining us.


MATTHEWS: Wide-open question. What do you make of the Republican position, which began before the -- I think before the chief justice had his last rites? I have never seen anything like that.

A staffer had the chutzpah to just say there will be no confirmation. I don`t know where they get -- I guess because they know the DNA of their bosses, which is no.

TRIBE: They have pretended -- I think Ted Cruz has said this is historic precedent. In the last 80 years, he claimed, this is the rule, that when a president in the last year of his term is asked to fill a vacancy, the Senate says, we won`t consider anyone.

That`s just not true. In the last 104 years -- I haven`t gone back before 1912 -- but in the last 104 years, six times, this has occurred, where there was a vacancy created by a resignation or a death in the last year of the president`s term, and all six times, the president nominated someone, and that person was confirmed either in 10 days or less, or in one case, because of anti-Semitism, it took months to get Brandeis confirmed.

Ronald Reagan was the most recent instance, and he got Kennedy confirmed in something like three months. So the Republicans are just making up history, and ignoring -- as Secretary Clinton and Senator Blumenthal pointed out, ignoring a constitutional obligation. I think it will backfire on them.


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about how stalling works. We all know how the legislative processes play with the clock. People wait until the last minute to jam in their stuff or to get what they want. They play basically kidnapping of legislation.

But here we have the kidnapping of a presidential appointee, because if the next president comes in and it`s Cruz, or somebody -- you can predict Cruz`s appointments. Rubio would be hard to -- harder to predict. Certainly, Trump would be hard to predict. But they would basically get to predict -- to appoint a pro-life U.S. associate justice, and you would have decisions like the ones impacting undue burden down in Texas now.

And those are judgment calls, it seems to me.

TRIBE: They are.

You can say you believe in originalism and textualism, but in all of these cases, there are different ways of reading the original meaning of the Constitution, and there are deep judgment calls. That`s why elections have consequences.

And the astonishing thing is for the Republicans to say the people should choose, as though they are entitled to say that Barack Obama never was a legitimate president. And I have heard that from a lot of them. They just can`t accept the idea of, frankly, this African-American president being legitimate.

And I think that, in the end, whether they are to the left or to the right, people are going to rebel against that, the way they rebelled really against FDR`s idea of packing the court. This is a kind of court unpacking. And it`s not just, you know, holding the president and his nominees hostage. It`s holding the country and its highest court hostage. It`s shameful. And it disrespects the memory of Scalia.


MATTHEWS: You know, a lot of these people, not all of them conservatives professor, a certain subset of them, Justice -- I mean, professor -- a certain subset of people on the hard right cannot stand the idea that their kids and grandkids are going to pick up a picture book of presidents and see Barack Obama in the list. They don`t want him there.

TRIBE: I`m afraid -- I`m afraid that`s true.

MATTHEWS: And so they want to be able to put an asterisk next to him, and say -- well, asterisk -- so he wasn`t really president because he was a birther or something like this. He really wasn`t here illegally or something they can`t stand.

TRIBE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, it`s in the polling, if you don`t believe me. Look up the polls.


MATTHEWS: Professor Laurence Tribe, thank you, sir, for joining us tonight on this very critical political night, as well as judicial night.

TRIBE: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: George W. Bush hits the trail for his brother Jeb. But as the Bushes try to rally down in South Carolina, Donald Trump has unleashed an attack on both Bushes and the guy who could be the biggest rival for the nomination, Ted Cruz.

That fight between him and Cruz is one of the real corkers of this campaign.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What does that mean he kept the country safe after 9/11?

In other words, we had this major catastrophe and after that -- what does that mean? I don`t know. See, I have heard that for years. You know what? I have heard that for years, Jeremy. I have heard for years he kept the country safe after 9/11.

What does that mean after? What about during 9/11? I was there. I lost a lot of friends that were killed in that building, the worst attack ever in this country.

It was during his presidency.


MATTHEWS: Good point.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Donald Trump at a press conference today, doubling down on his attack on former President George W. Bush, who campaigned tonight in South Carolina alongside his brother Jeb.

Anyway, the Bush/Trump feud got heated at Saturday night`s debate, of course, where Trump hammered W. for taking the country to war in Iraq.


TRUMP: Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. All right? Now, you can take it any way you want, and it took -- it took Jeb Bush, if you remember at the beginning of his announcement, when he announced for president, it took him five days.

He went back, it was a mistake, it wasn`t a mistake.

George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.

I want to tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.


MATTHEWS: Well, Jeb fought back, but Trump kept the hits coming, questioning whether Bush 43 really did keep the country safe, given that September 11 did actually come on W.`s watch.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m sick and tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he has had.


BUSH: And, frankly, I could care less about the insults that Donald Trump gives to me. It`s blood sport for him. He enjoys it. And I`m glad he`s happy about it. But I am sick and tired...

TRUMP: He spent $22 million in...


BUSH: I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive in my mind.


BUSH: And while Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe. And I`m proud of what he did.


BUSH: And he has had the gall to go after my brother.

TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during your brother`s reign, remember that.


BUSH: He has had the gall to go after my mother.

TRUMP: That`s not keeping us safe.


MATTHEWS: They can`t handle the truth.

Anyway, few of us forget Condoleezza Rice`s testimony, of course, before the 9/11 Commission, when she acknowledged warnings of a possible terrorist attack inside the U.S. This is what the Republicans often don`t want to look at. Here it is.


RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION: Isn`t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."


MATTHEWS: Well, I would call that a warning.

Anyway, joining the HARDBALL roundtable tonight, Dana Milbank -- this stuff is written for you, by the way, this story -- opinion writer with "The Washington Post." Abby Phillip is a reporter with "The Washington Post." And Paul Singer is with the -- he is -- she is -- he is Washington correspondent for "USA Today."

This is amazing stuff. And the one -- I think it`s just too hard. I think Trump may have overstepped what he can get away with to those p. Republicans in South Carolina are unlikely to accept the fact that George W. Bush, W., as we fondly call him, or unfondly, really was president when we got hit on 9/11, that it wasn`t just president -- he wasn`t just president the Friday after when he put his arm around the guy and said we are going to get the guy that knocked down these walls, which was very good, but he was also president the day before and the months before.

And yet, if a Democrat had been president, I contend, had a Democrat had been president, there would have been treason trials in this country, because they would never forgive a Democrat for letting what happened in New York. That`s why I don`t mind Trump going after W. with this thing.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, this is sort of the monster that they created.

You know, it is a little bit zany.

MATTHEWS: By the way, Cheney was vice president, too, when we got hit, not just after we were hit.

MILBANK: But he`s going further than just blaming Bush. He`s saying Bush knew specifically about this attack. Bush knew there were no weapons in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: He said Bush knew about the attack? Well, we just know what Condi Rice knew. That is what we knew. There was a warning.

MILBANK: Well, essentially, but he`s saying they knew about this. They didn`t -- I mean, in fairness...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s trutherism.

MILBANK: ... I have been a critic -- right, he`s going -- we have a birther, so it`s -- not surprised that he`s a truther.

This isn`t about left/right, liberal/conservative. The guy has run amok. Now, I have predicted before he`s gone too far, and at every point, he`s not gone too far. But it would seem that when you are basically...

MATTHEWS: Is this Waterloo?

MILBANK: You`re basically siding with a very far-left conspiracy theory, in the very conservative state of South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: Have you anybody come up to you and say Building 7?


MATTHEWS: Have you had Building 7?


MATTHEWS: Oh, walk around. Be on television a little, you will get the Building 7.


MILBANK: But it is remarkable that you have got a Republican candidate at a Republican debate essentially quoting the "Bush Lied/People Died" bumper sticker from the left. But...

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s get a little tamer here.

I think -- I have had an assumption -- check me on this, Abby -- that three -- big three of the Trump appeal are -- they`re really for working-class people, mainly, mostly whites, but working-class people. Number one, the good jobs are going to China. And you`re losing them. The good factory jobs used to pay 20 bucks an hour or whatever.

The bad jobs are going to illegal immigrants. And our kids are going and fighting stupid wars that have nothing to do with our national interests, time and time again being redeployed, re-sent back into action, and that we`re the ones paying the price.

When Trump attacks 9/11 -- when Trump attacks Iraq, he wins with that crowd. They like that position.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think that`s right. I think that the folks that we`re talking about here are not necessarily the people who are eager to stick up for George W. Bush as much, as they might actually like him.

They still feel like the last 10 years or so have been kind of a waste for them personally, their financial security and the country`s security at large in the world.

MATTHEWS: But he left us in the dumpster.

PHILLIP: I think that they...

MATTHEWS: Didn`t he leave us in a dumpster?

PHILLIP: They hear Trump saying, this guy didn`t put us on the right path, and they feel that viscerally in their own lives.

And as popular as Bush is in South Carolina, more than 80 percent approval down there, I think there are plenty of people who...

MATTHEWS: You mean W. is 80 percent?

PHILLIP: W., yes, yes. George W. Bush is extremely popular, heavily military state. But these people are sending their kids to war.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s former President George W. Bush -- you mentioned him -- making a case, a rare campaign appearance with his brother Jeb within the last hour in North Charleston, South Carolina.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Strength is not empty rhetoric. It is not bluster. It is not theatrics.

Real strength, strength of purpose, comes from integrity and character. And, in my experience, the strongest person usually isn`t the loudest one in the room.



MATTHEWS: Talk about it.

That`s coming from a guy who swaggers when he`s sitting down. Sorry, but, look, the whole way he walked in today was swaggering. And he`s talking about Trump having an ego?

PETER SINGER, "USA TODAY": He never used Trump`s name.

What he said is that we don`t need someone who reflects and mirrors the anger and inflames the anger of our people. That was the Trump line.

MILBANK: I thought it was a terrific speech, and when he`s saying labels are for soup cans, as his father said.

MATTHEWS: You like W. now?

MILBANK: I think W. was terrific. The problem is...

MATTHEWS: You fickle being.

MILBANK: No, no, no, no, no.


PHILLIP: The problem is, then Jeb takes the stage and you say, oh, I kind of like W., but this guy`s no good.


MATTHEWS: Isn`t that funny? Isn`t that funny?

Wasn`t that "Saturday Night Live" a week or two ago, Will Ferrell came on and said, you thought I -- he was the smart one, right?


MATTHEWS: Anyway, here at press conference today, Trump unloaded on Ted Cruz, calling him a liar -- I don`t like this word liar -- liar and unstable.


TRUMP: I think Ted`s a very unstable guy. We put out a little release. I think you probably get it. Did you get the release, John?

I think he`s a very unstable guy. I haven`t been doing this long. I have been in it since June 16. But I will tell you I have never, ever met a person that lies more than Ted Cruz. And he goes around saying he`s a Christian? I don`t know. You are going to have to really study that.

We will bring a lawsuit if he doesn`t straighten his act out. He is a lying guy, a really lying guy.


MATTHEWS: The lawsuit, I don`t know, is it about libel or is it about his Canadian birth?


PHILLIP: It`s a birther thing.

First, we have 9/11 truther stuff, now the birther stuff. He`s not backing down.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, here`s Cruz`s reaction. Let`s keep the full game here. A short time later, here`s Cruz again.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, Donald Trump held a press conference where he apparently lost it.

I mean, he was just going on and on about how I`m the most horrible person in the world, because I keep repeating the things he said.


CRUZ: And, you know, it`s an amazing thing. Have you noticed how rattled Donald gets when his numbers start going down?

The only explanation one can have is that his poll numbers in South Carolina must be plummeting following that debate.



MATTHEWS: Well, the roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. This is the best part of the show. It`s stuff I don`t know, brand new, and it`s almost always great, so keep the standard up.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Paul, tell me something I don`t know.

PAUL SINGER, USA TODAY: Does your employer have an obligation to help you vote? Marriott, Starbucks and some others are going to launch an initiative tomorrow to get their employees out to vote and volunteer at polling places.

MATTHEWS: During the day? They don`t have to wait until 6:00?

SINGER: Well -- and they see if they can work with their schedules. To try to help them --

MATTHEWS: What do you call it, making the president? He said the country turns Democrat after 6:00 at night when the working people get home.

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, we`re talking about Nevada, Colorado, we`re talking about caucus states for Hillary Clinton and Bernie sanders. I`m hearing from people on the ground, that her people are very worried about what`s going on there.

MATTHEWS: Caucus states?

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, they`ve been worried about the caucus states from the beginning. But Nevada is looking really, really close. She`s sending some reinforcements --

MATTHEWS: Saturday?

PHILLIP: -- to some rural parts of the state that she worked many, many months ago hoping to lock them up. That`s a sign that they are not all there for her.

MATTHEWS: I think there`s going to be a move to get rid of caucuses pretty soon.


MATTHEWS: They`re not exactly democratic, what they are. They tend to be activists.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: So there`s often the question of why the Democrats don`t like Bernie Sanders. Here`s a clue: Hillary Clinton has raised so far $32 million for the DNC, and state Democratic parties. Bernie Sanders has raised $1,000 for them.


MATTHEWS: I love the way you get to the heart of things.

Thank you so much. Thanks to our roundtable, Dana Milbank, who enjoys this more than you can imagine, and Abby Phillip and Paul Singer.

MATTHEWS: Up next, my college -- my colleague, Richard Engel, is here with a revealing look at the past 20 years he`s been covering chaos in the Middle East, up close. This is scary work.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, the writers at "Saturday Night Live" had some fun at Hillary Clinton`s expense this weekend, highlighting young voters who were drawn to the appeal of Bernie Sanders. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary is the most qualified candidate in history. But at the same time, eh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, Hillary has every single thing I want in a president, but -- she`s no Bernie!


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Turn down the lights, turn down these voices inside my head --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, I like Hillary`s foreign policy experience. But I love Bernie`s whole vibe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m obsessed with his vibe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Because I can`t make you love me if you don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did anybody else just get so cold for a minute?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt cold, but safe.


MATTHEWS: But safe.

We`ll be right back.



RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: He just handed me his gun. I didn`t realize until he put it in my hands, it`s actually just made of plastic. It`s a toy.

This one looks like it`s about to get very ugly.

We came under attack as incoming fire right now. We`re using this Humvee for cover.

Then we were attacked with small arms fire. U.S. troops have spread out through the area and are trying to catch the insurgents.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Ain`t that -- Richard Engel, we`re back, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent.

Richard Engel has reported from nearly every major hot zone in the past 20 years. He was the only television correspondent in Baghdad, as American bombs dropped at the start of the war. He covered the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006. And most recently, the uprising in Egypt, as well as the civil wars in Libya and Syria. From his vantage point, he`s watched the rise of ISIS close-up and has reported on the -- well, the hell that terror group has unleashed on the region. Hell is my word.

He`s out with a new book about his reporting from the region. It`s called "And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East."

Richard Engel, it`s an honor to have you on.

Many times, my colleagues and I worry about you, because you`re out there and we`re in the safe room in the United States. And you`re out there ducking bullets.

ENGEL: Well, I`ve seen this city. You can get hurt in this city as well.

MATTHEWS: What impressed me about your career is you didn`t get promoted to a job, you weren`t put there. You earned it. You went out there and lived in a Cairo suburb, learned Arabic by yourself, became a stringer, eventually a top correspondent, and then the top correspondent for our network.

It`s exactly an organic way to build a career.

ENGEL: Well, thank you. It`s 20 years. It`s been 20 years.

MATTHEWS: It is so great. Well, you`ve done it.

Let me ask you about the thing, the only thing that interest Americans is what affects our country. That means ISIS.


MATTHEWS: So, how did we get from a bunch of sort of weak Baathist countries like Libya and Syria and even Egypt in the old days and then it became more pro-Western and Saudi Arabia. It was all sitting there. Israel could beat it every time it had to fight them. It was a safe world.

ENGEL: So, how did we get here?


MATTHEWS: Complete chaos and horror of ISIS.

ENGEL: This book is -- there`s a lot of personal experiences. It`s told through my eyes. But there`s a basic thesis.

And the basic thesis is, there was a status quo. And if you -- I like to picture the old Middle East like a row of old houses, row houses, one next to another. And they looked very impressive from the outside but really if you wanted, you could put your finger through the wall and the through the door. And these were the old regimes, the Baathist regimes, the dictatorships that had been there for decades.

The Bush administration slammed America`s shoulder into that row and started to unleash all of the rot that was inside, because these houses, like old rotten houses, they contain all the rot, but by being closed up, they make the situation even worse. They exacerbate all of the fanaticism, and anger and religious fundamentalism that the they were both containing and exacerbating.

The Bush administration didn`t just push a hole, slammed the shoulder, America`s shoulder into it for eight years of direct military action and then the last seven years of inconsistent action, supporting the revolution in Egypt, not supporting it in Bahrain, supporting the revolution military in Libyan not supporting military in Syria.

MATTHEWS: This is Obama?

ENGEL: So, you had eight years of direct military action and then soon to be eight years of inconsistent action under this administration. All of that that had been contained has been unleashed. And that rot that has been unleashed is ISIS.

So, how did we get here? People say, oh, is it Obama`s fault? Is it Bush`s fault? It`s a continuum.


ENGEL: Bush unleashed the genie out of the battle --

MATTHEWS: That`s how we came down into the valley of hell right now from the mountains of sort of status quo stuff, which we could live with. We had Mubarak, we had Saddam, we had Gadhafi, we had Assad.

ENGEL: The Assad family.

MATTHEWS: And that was all sitting there.

OK. How do we get back to something we can live with and not have our guys getting beheaded?

ENGEL: Well, I think what`s coming. So, if this thesis is we have this row of houses and the rot has been unleashed to continue and this just guess work, I can tell you what happened in the past or what I`ve seen but I can only guess what the future might be. The guess is that we`re going to see a new series of strong men. I think that is --

MATTHEWS: Will they come out of army?

ENGEL: They`ll come out of army.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I think.

ENGEL: Egypt, al-Sisi will be the first one.

MATTHEWS: When Anwar Sadat was killed and Mubarak came to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and I was there. I was the speaker`s AA. And I met that guy, I said to the speaker, that`s a strong guy. I like the look of the guy. He wasn`t a democrat. But he kept Egypt together all those years.

Why didn`t we stick with that guy?

ENGEL: Well --

MATTHEWS: Why did we dump him?

ENGEL: Why did we dump Mubarak?

MATTHEWS: Yes. Why did we bring him and give him a break, get him out of there?

ENGEL: You know what, I think you hear in this city have a better read on that than I would. I saw what was going on in the region --

MATTHEWS: Didn`t we feel loyalty to the guy? He`d been on our side for all these years.

ENGEL: You have a picture behind you of the White House. That was a decision made in that building.


ENGEL: You have better visibility of what was going on in that region.

MATTHEWS: One thing I respect Putin for, only because -- not because he`s with the right people, but because he`s loyal to the people he`s loyal to. He`s with Assad. That family, even the guy is an SOB and a bad guy, there is a sense of loyalty at least. We don`t have that.

ENGEL: He`s trading on that, Putin is right now, a lot. But here`s the catch 22 --


ENGEL: People in the region and people around the world and the administrations, they want a resumption of some stability.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so.

ENGEL: But, does it have to be Saddam Hussein or ISIS? Isn`t there another middle ground? Do you have to have ISIS? Or do you have to have Saddam Hussein? Can there be something better?


MATTHEWS: We don`t get to pick -- we`re having a hard time picking a president here?

ENGEL: Yes, I`ve noticed. I`ve been back a few days --

MATTHEWS: "And Then All Hell Broke Loose", this is really easy reading. Great reading.

I`m telling you, you want to pick up and book and understand all this stuff in a way that`s fun to read, because actually --

ENGEL: First hand. I tell what I saw.

MATTHEWS: The storytelling which is always the best. Be right back. It`s called "And Then All Hell Broke Loose".

I`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a short list of reasons to pick a winner in this year`s presidential election and also a reason to help elect a Senate you agree with. 1954, Brown versus Board of Education led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in public schools. It did so because the court again led by Warren decided that putting African-American students into separate schools was inherently unequal.

1962, the prayer in public school decision. The court ruled that having children recite state written prayers violate the First Amendment`s establishment clause that defining a prayer for children in school was unconstitutional.

1973, Roe versus Wade, abortion rights.

2000, Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court takes a presidential election out of hands of the state.

2008, the Heller case, the court backs gun rights to the hilt.

2010, Citizens United. Unrestricted spending on political campaigns declared a constitutional right.

2015, same sex marriage.

Seven decisions made by nine justices, sometimes by 5-4 decisions, all carrying powerful and invasive influence into the life of our country. Who picks these judges? The president. Who picks him or her? You do.

Mark your ballot with care this spring so you`ll have power after this fall.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.