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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/19/2016

Guests: Rep. James Clyburn, Jeff Weaver, Sue Lowden, Robert Lang

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 19, 2016 Guest: Rep. James Clyburn, Jeff Weaver, Sue Lowden, Robert Lang

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: South Carolina goes bonkers.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in New York, New York, the hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I`ve said for weeks the Republican race in South Carolina was going to get dirty, outrageous, both (ph). Well, today it did. In endorsing Ted Cruz today, Congressman Mark Sanford accused Donald Trump of being a 9/11 truther, of saying former president George W. Bush had a hand himself in blowing up the World Trade Center.

In a statement, Sanford said that he liked what Trump is getting at. Quote, "I have just come to the belief -- to believe passionately that the way he is doing so is both dangerous and destructive. To suggest that former President Bush was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks is to flame (sic) all the conspiracy theories that undermine the very trust essential to representative government."

Well, Donald Trump, just to clarify the record, never said President Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks in any way.

Well, this comes as Donald Trump`s claim of early opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, is being challenged. Buzzfeed has unearthed at 2002 interview in which Trump told shock jock Howard Stern that he was for the war.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HOWARD STERN: Are you for invading Iraq?

DONALD TRUMP: Yes, I guess so. You know, I wish it was -- I wish the first time, it was done correctly.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has repeatedly said he was against the war in Iraq before the fact. Under fire for the apparent contradiction, Trump today doubled down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I said, Don`t go to Iraq and I said it strongly and I said it loud, by the way. You know, they like to say now, Oh, well, maybe he didn`t say -- I was with Howard Stern, who happens to be a good guy, by the way -- I was with Howard Stern before the war, before, like many months before. And the first guy ever asked me about Iraq was Howard Stern. I said, No, I don`t -- yes, I guess so." Then I started looking at it. Before the war started, I was against that war. I was against that war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, today we unearthed an interview I conducted with Trump back in 2003, eight months after the invasion of Iraq had taken place. While Trump didn`t say he opposed the invasion outright, he did appear to be evolving to the position he took with Howard Stern, in this case suggesting that Iraq had become a liability for President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think his bigger problem`s going to be what`s happening in Iraq. I believe the economy is going well. I think it could get better. But lots of surprises out on the horizon, and what`s going to happen with Iraq, what`s going to happen with the world situation -- that could be the bigger problem that President Bush has.

MATTHEWS: This was an elective war. The president thought we had to do it. He made a judgment call. He took us into Iraq. Do you think he will reconsider that judgment as the costs rise?

TRUMP: I don`t think he`s going to. He`s a very committed guy. He`s committed to that whole situation, and I don`t think he will really reconsider. I don`t think he probably can at this point.

Other people will, and you`re going to find out at the polls whether or not those other people are right. I mean, you see more and more doves, and you call them doves. The question is whether or not we should have been in Iraq in the first place. I don`t think that this president can do anything about that. He`s really -- he`s on a course that has to stay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by NBC`s Hallie Jackson, NBC`s Katy Tur, as well as MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa.

I guess I have to talk to, let`s see, Hallie Jackson right now. What is the Cruz team thinking when they put out the word, the statement by Sanford that Trump is a truther, that he somehow has been charging that Bush was involved in 9/11? Bush (sic) was never a truther. What is this statement all about?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: That`s coming from Mark Sanford here. And while he is endorsing Ted Cruz, I`m not sure that that is something that you`re seeing out from the Cruz campaign. It`s not a line of attack that Ted Cruz has pursued in South Carolina. He`s pursued a lot of them, Chris. This hasn`t been one in particular.

That said, Sanford talks about not just his concerns with a potential Trump candidacy, but also why he`s for Ted Cruz and why he`s backing him up...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This was -- Hallie, this looks look a dirty trick in politics. Nobody -- Trump, whatever you say about his position on the Iraq war -- we`ll talk about that in a second or two -- why -- why would anybody construe the fact that what Trump has said in any way makes him a truther, one of those nuts out there that believes that somehow, George W. Bush blew up the World Trade Center? He has never -- he`s never accused him of being part of that. And there is that statement today saying that he did.

JACKSON: It seems to speak to how much there are some in the Republican Party who do not want to see Trump succeed and Trump move on out of a state like South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I guess to them, the ends justifies the means, even though it`s totally dishonest.

Let me go to Katy Tur on this. Have you ever heard Trump -- you cover him every minute. You`re the best reporter covering him. Have you ever heard him say that George W. Bush had a hand in 9/11, that he was part of that conspiracy theory called the truthers?

KATY TUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No, we`ve never heard him say anything even remotely close to that. The closest we`ve heard is that he said that George W. Bush may have lied about WMDs to go into Iraq and that he potentially should be (INAUDIBLE) debate on Saturday. He`s backed away from that quite a bit on the campaign trail for the last few days. I`m told by those within the campaign -- go ahead, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I can`t hear you. We have a sound problem here, Katy. Katy, all I`m hearing is the hall. All I`m hearing is the hall. What are we going to do here?

TUR: (INAUDIBLE) Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

MATTHEWS: We`re going to have to...

TUR: Chris, Chris -- we`ve never...

(CROSSTALK)

TUR: We`ve never heard (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Talk close to...

TUR: We`ve never heard Donald Trump -- we`ve never heard Donald Trump even come remotely close to claiming that George W. Bush had any involvement with the attacks on the World Trade Center. The closest that we`ve heard him say is George Bush may have lied about WMDs to go into Iraq, to invade Iraq, and that he might by -- might have -- should have been impeached last Saturday (INAUDIBLE) at the debate. But we haven`t heard him say anything that close to say that he`s somehow involved in the towers coming down.

He`s backed away a lot from those George W. Bush attacks in this past week. He hasn`t gone after him so hard. I`m told by those within the campaign that he was told to back off since George W. Bush is so popular here in South Carolina. I`m also told that the (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: OK (INAUDIBLE) It`s a hard place to get all through that. That`s not a directed mike. Katy, it`s not your fault, obviously. It`s just not sounding here. We can`t hear it.

Here`s what Donald Trump said about 9/11 in his exchange with Jeb Bush himself during the last debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R-FL), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And he`s had the gall to after my brother...

TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down...

BUSH: He`s had the gall to go after...

TRUMP: ... when your brother...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it. Hallie, let me ask you about this whole question -- it`s what is -- what is the Cruz campaign up to here, to -- and they are moving close. This is getting very close. He may overtake him down there. What`s their latest gambit going to be between now and next week?

Hallie Jackson? Can you hear me?

JACKSON: Hey, Chris. You`re talking about the Cruz -- yes, absolutely. Their strategy between now and next week, I think you`re asking about, and how they plan to try to take down Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Right.

JACKSON: I think that here in South Carolina, they are looking to tighten up that margin, like what we saw in that NBC News Marist poll that came out, Trump not leading by as much as he was several weeks ago.

The Cruz campaign, though, does have pressure on them to perform here, given that they`ve been talking about South Carolina for a while and they`ve been talking about the South in general as they look ahead to the SEC primary states.

I want to fill you in on an e-mail that we just got at NBC News from Sanford`s team, which indicates that he is referring to those comments that Donald Trump made on the debate on Saturday in Greenville. So that`s a little bit of clarification, I guess, from Mark Sanford.

MATTHEWS: Well, wait. What does that...

JACKSON: We`ll following up on that, Chris. We`re going to run...

MATTHEWS: No, wait a minute. Wait a minute. That doesn`t answer the question. What -- are they accusing...

JACKSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... Trump of saying?

JACKSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Are they saying Trump ever said that George W. Bush was involved in blowing up the World Trade Center? That is the truther theory. Did they ever say that?

JACKSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Did Trump ever say that? Well, did he?

JACKSON: Look at -- go back and look at the tape...

MATTHEWS: Are they saying he did say that?

JACKSON: ... from Saturday night. I don`t believe so. All they`re saying is that Sanford`s comments refer to the debate Saturday in Greenville. So we`re going to...

MATTHEWS: Well, we just watched it.

JACKSON: ... try to clarify some of this information. But that just is coming in to us.

MATTHEWS: We just -- I -- I don`t think...

JACKSON: Right. No, I know.

MATTHEWS: Look, they`re not on sound ground. They`re not on sound ground here. This is not fair politics.

Anyway, the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, as you mentioned, the Marist poll, shows the Republican race tightening in South Carolina right now. Trump leads Cruz by just 5 points, 28 to 23, which isn`t much right now with a week to go. Marco Rubio is still in the game at 15.

A look inside those numbers show that Cruz now has a substantial 20-point lead in the state among those who describe themselves as very conservative.

Could it be, Hallie, that we`re watching this whole fight, with Sanford playing a role in this because he`s just endorsed him and it was his accusation that Trump somehow called President George W. Bush involved with 9/11 somehow, which is ludicrous -- is this all to get to the really red- hots, the total hawks, that people who totally believed in the Bush argument during 9/11 and totally bought into the Iraq war?

JACKSON: So you`re asking if it`s sort of red meat at this point. You know, I think that when you look at this...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JACKSON: Remember that South Carolina, number one, a big military state, big national security state, number two, Bush country, frankly. So it`s a little bit of a risky strategy to come out, as Trump has done, as others have done, and attack George W. Bush here when you`re seeing sort of the Bush family, the whole patriarchy, coming out and supporting Jeb Bush here in South Carolina, hoping to turn the tide for him, Chris, because in that same poll, you`re seeing Bush up a little bit from where he was just a few weeks ago.

MATTHEWS: Well, it sounds right. Everything you just said, Hallie, fits with -- that reporting fits completely with why he would put out the charge that Trump is crazy, that Trump is making ludicrous charges, well to the left of Michael Moore, well to the left, and saying that -- George Bush, the president of the United States, had something to do with blowing up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which is the most outrageous accusation about anybody I`ve heard, even in this campaign.

Anyway, thank you, Hallie Jackson. Thank you, Katy Turd and Robert Costa.

Coming up -- it`s big casino here in Las Vegas. The Democratic race is closer than anyone expected, with the Bernie people looking very strong. Bernie wins out here, of course, he`ll ride hot hand right into South Carolina. If Hillary Clinton wins, she may be able to start pulling away where she thought she would be pulling away, here. But tonight, new questions about an issue that has dogged her campaign, her trustworthiness.

And this is HARDBALL, live from the Vegas Strip, as you can see, now here the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got new poll numbers in the Republican race in Michigan. That`s a big state which votes on March 8th. Donald Trump is on top with 25 percent, and then there`s a pack of Republicans behind, Ted Cruz back at 15, that`s 10 back, Marco Rubio back 13 at 12, John Kasich at 11, Ben Carson at 9, Jeb Bush comes in last at 5.

By the way, Kasich has to win in Michigan to get the presidency. By the way, 21 percent ares still undecided in that big state.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: A few people speculated that my head was with one candidate and my heart with the other. That was not the case at all. My heart has always been with Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s getting big-time now. That`s South Carolina congressman Jim, or James Clyburn, a hero actually to the Civil Rights movement, been through all the big fights in South Carolina over Civil Rights. He endorsed Hillary Clinton today, just a week out from his state`s primary, of course.

I think he did it, and he said he did it -- I don`t have to think so -- he did it today because the Clinton people pushed him to try to have an impact down here in Nevada for tomorrow in the caucuses here because they`d like to win here.

Anyway, last night at NBC`s town hall, Hillary Clinton slammed Bernie Sanders, her opponent, and his comments that were met -- actually, her comments were met with boos. There`s a certain thing in politics. They don`t take direct shots at your opponent in these debates because people don`t like it. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders wasn`t really a Democratic until he decided to run for president.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: He doesn`t even know what the, you know, last two Democratic presidents did.

(BOOS)

CLINTON: And I -- you know, I -- well, it`s true! It`s true! You know it`s true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the claps were up front, but the boos were in the back.

Anyway, Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was critical of her husband`s record as president. That would be Hillary`s husband.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to think Bill Clinton did a pretty good job as president, but let`s be clear. I happen to think that our trade agreements from NAFTA through TPP have been a disaster. NAFTA was pushed through by President Clinton. I fought very hard against the deregulation of Wall Street. Wall Street put billions of dollars in order to get deregulated so that large insurance companies and investor banks and commercial banks could be merged together. I thought that was a bad idea. That was part of what the Clinton administration was pushing. In terms of so-called welfare reform, that legislation ended up increasing extreme poverty in America for the poorest children in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Bill Clinton punched back while campaigning in Reno, Nevada, today. Let`s hear him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE) a lot of passion in his primary, and it`s fine with me. Hillary`s opponent jumped all over me last night, talked about how bad I`ve been for African- Americans and poor people.

(BOO)

B. CLINTON: Well, let me just say this. That campaign has been remarkably fact-free. And a lot of the numbers don`t add up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Congressman Clyburn from Columbia, South Carolina. Here in Las Vegas, by the way, is Bernie Sanders`s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, in New York, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson, all three gentlemen with us right now, together from three different parts of the world.

I`ve got to go to Congressman Clyburn. You said today -- I heard you somewhere saying that one of the reasons you endorsed today and didn`t wait until after the primary in South Carolina even next week is that you want to help Hillary Clinton out here tomorrow in Nevada.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, first of all, thanks for having me, Chris. Yes, on yesterday, I talked with several friends out in Las Vegas to ask how things were going, and they said to me at the time -- they wanted to know what I was going to do. And I said that I am planning on endorsing Hillary Clinton the first of next week. A few of them thought that I should do it sooner.

As you know, many people in Las Vegas and other places are people that I`ve campaigned with and among for a long, long time. And so I thought that I would go ahead and step it up and announce today, if they thought it might be helpful.

MATTHEWS: What do you think is the difference to who becomes president of the United States, if it`s a Democrat in 2017 -- we`re talking about the future here, the next four years. What is the central difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to you, and why you picked Hillary Clinton?

CLYBURN: I think it`s experience and knowhow. Let`s be sure of one thing. I know both of these candidates. I`ve been in Congress now -- this is my 24th year. I`ve worked with both of them. I don`t have a problem with Bernie Sanders at all.

I just believe when you look at the two of them, compare their resumes, their experiences, their preparation for the future of this country, I just think that there is -- it`s not even close between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. She is by far on paper the best by experience, the better, and I just believe that she would be exactly what our country needs going forward.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go (INAUDIBLE) let me go -- I`ve got to go to Jeff. You`ve been great to come on the show a number of times.

JEFF WEAVER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Glad to be here, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Tell me how you react -- tell me about this experience thing. Is experience just a rap sheet today? I mean having -- Hillary`s been first lady of Arkansas for all those many, many -- six terms I think...

WEAVER: Right, right, right.

MATTHEWS: ... all those years as first lady of the United States...

WEAVER: Right, right.

MATTHEWS: ... elected to the United States from New York state, and then, of course, secretary of state, an amazing position of experience. Nobody can match that kind of experience. What`s Bernie got over that, your candidate, Senator Sanders?

WEAVER: Look -- look, this is what Bernie Sanders has. He has consistency and reliability. He has been on the front lines of the fight for justice, for economic justice, for racial justice all throughout his political career.

And what he does not do -- what he does not do is throw people under the bus when it`s politically expedient, whether it was in 1994, when Secretary -- then First Lady Clinton called young African-American youth "super- predators" to push a -- a -- a terrible crime bill, or whether it was using coded language in 1996 to pass Welfare reform, or whether it was throwing gay people under the bus with DOMA.

That`s not what Bernie Sanders does. He stands tall with people, even when the fight is not popular.

MATTHEWS: You`re -- in political terms, you have said that President Clinton and his wife trimmed, that they were trimmers, they were not really helping black people, but pretending to.

WEAVER: No. Look...

MATTHEWS: That`s a pretty strong charge against the guy.

WEAVER: No, look, what I`m saying to you, Chris, is the truth, which is, when the going gets tough, when there was triangulation that was necessary, they triangulated.

MATTHEWS: And where was Bernie Sanders? Nobody was thinking about him.

WEAVER: He was not triangulating.

MATTHEWS: But he wasn`t on the front lines. What do you mean the front lines? Bernie Sanders is probably a very good guy with strong beliefs and consistent beliefs.

WEAVER: Probably? Probably?

MATTHEWS: I don`t know him.

WEAVER: Oh.

MATTHEWS: Consistent beliefs, consistent beliefs. But he wasn`t on the front lines. Look him up in the -- how many times had people even thought about him until a year ago?

WEAVER: Look, I worked with him for over 30 years in the House.

(CROSSTALK)

WEAVER: I know what he was like in the House.

MATTHEWS: OK, he was on the front lines.

Let me go back to Gene -- Gene.

I want to go. Mr. Clyburn, respond to that.

CLYBURN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Was Bernie Sanders on the front lines? Was he on the front lines of issues involving race in this country?

CLYBURN: Well, I don`t know when that could have been.

I understand his activity in Chicago back during those housing strikes. I remembered all of that. But let me say this. When Hillary Clinton came out of law school, she came straight here to South Carolina as a young lawyer, helping young African-Americans who were being put in jail with adult prisoners.

She fought that issue. She left here, went to Alabama, and worked against segregated issues in Alabama. She ran a legal aid program back in Arkansas. This wasn`t in preparation to run for president. This was in a fulfillment of who and what she is.

And so I think that when you look at the resume, all the way from that time all the way to being first lady of Arkansas to working for the Children Defense Fund, she was the first one to go out on the point for universal access to health care.

And when she failed, she fell back and she got SCHIP, the State Children`s Health Insurance Plan. These are the kinds of things in her resume that I think bodes well for the future of this country and for the future of the Democratic Party.

So I`m not disparaging Mr. Sanders at all. I just believe that the resume of Mrs. Clinton is far superior to his.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jeff and then I want to go to Gene.

Hillary Clinton had a little problem today in an interview. Let`s go over this with Scott Pelley. Let`s take an interview which I think is not going to help Secretary Clinton in this discussion about trustworthiness, Which was going to be the topic of this debate. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: You talk about leveling with the American people. Have you always told the truth?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have always tried to. Always. Always.

PELLEY: Some people are going to call that wiggle room that you just gave yourself.

CLINTON: Well, no.

PELLEY: Always, always tried to. I mean, Jimmy Carter said, I will never lie to you.

CLINTON: You`re asking me to say have I ever -- I don`t believe I ever have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Gene Robinson, let me go to you.

Let me go to Jeff, first of all. What do you make of that? You`re laughing?

WEAVER: She has never lied? Have you ever lied, Chris?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, I may have a vanity about that. I think I tell the truth. But I would say it, yes.

But, yes, I do tell the truth. But about Hillary Clinton is more important in this discussion. Tell me, what do you think of that answer? Would Bernie Sanders say that, I always tell the truth?

WEAVER: Yes, he does tell the truth. Of course he does. That`s what people love about him.

MATTHEWS: OK. Great.

Let me get -- Gene, what did you make of that question for Hillary Clinton. Is that going to bug her in this campaign, that answer to Pelley?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It could certainly in a Republican attack ad, perhaps.

I mean, you know, it is a tough question, it`s a tricky question. Have you ever lied? The correct answer might be something like, I will never lie to the American people, something short, something definitive, and something that doesn`t translate into an attack sound bite.

But, you know, just to back up one second. You just heard Jim Clyburn give a very compelling civil rights case for Hillary Clinton, arguably better than she does, and I would -- and also arguably better than Bill Clinton does.

I actually think her margin in South Carolina could be better maybe if Bill Clinton stayed out in Nevada or someplace, and Jim Clyburn gave the spiel that he just gave to you. It was very impressive.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.

I have never heard you put it -- anybody put it so hard. I realize like everybody who follows American politics that Bill Clinton was a Southern Democratic who ran in a very conservative state and found ways to use issues that kept him from looking too liberal.

And when we covered him in the 1992 campaign, I kept noting -- we kept going to police academies and places like that and local prisons, where it looked like the message was, OK, I am a Southern white guy. But on the issues of affirmative action, he stuck with his position. Remember affirmative action? He came up and said -- and you make him sound like a bad guy on civil rights. Do you mean to say that?

WEAVER: No, what I am meaning to say is that there have been occasions, including with the crime bill and the welfare reform bill and DOMA and other times -- and other times when people who were not as popular as they might have been, he, you know, used an opportunity to triangulate.

(CROSSTALK)

WEAVER: They advertised on DOMA on Christian radio.

MATTHEWS: I think he -- I`m with you. I agree. I think he signed the welfare bill in 1996 so that he could get reelected.

WEAVER: Yes, of course, of course.

MATTHEWS: I know. But you make him sound like some vagabond who some...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

WEAVER: You made him sound worse than I do.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Anyway, anyway, Gene knows all this stuff. And Jim Clyburn knows everything we`re talking about here.

Gentlemen, thank you. Please come back.

Gene, you grew up in South Carolina. You know all this stuff.

Congressman Clyburn, it`s an honor to have you on the show any time we can have you on.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS: And this guy is not as nasty as he`s coming across.

WEAVER: Oh.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next, Justice Antonin Scalia returns to the Supreme Court for one final time, as his fellow justices, the president -- well, I don`t know if the president -- the president and the public pay their respects. There`s a question about the president being at the funeral.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It was a somber ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court today, as Americans paid respect for, actually, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died this weekend.

Justice Scalia`s sixth child, former -- actually Father Paul Scalia, he`s a Roman Catholic priest, offered a prayer over his father`s flag-draped casket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. PAUL SCALIA, SON OF ANTONIN SCALIA: May the peace of God which is beyond all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of love of God and of his son, Jesus Christ. May almighty God bless you, the father and the son, and the Holy Spirit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama came to the Great Hall of the Supreme Court and paid their respects as well. Actually, he is not coming to the funeral tomorrow. That`s the issue that has been around town here.

Joining me right now is NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams.

Pete, let`s clear that up about the president not coming. Is this -- what would you call that? I don`t know if snub is right or what. I mean, I don`t know. It`s a big deal to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and the president of the United States is sort of -- who is not just head of government, but he`s head of state. And he has that ceremonial role.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, the vice president will be there tomorrow.

We have been looking back at the records, Chris. It`s sort of a mix. Some presidents have gone to the funerals of justices. Some have not. There is no clear pattern here.

But let me tell you who is coming to this building today, more than 4,000 people since the Supreme Court opened its doors today to the public at 10:00. People have been lined up and I`m just talking to the folks who are right near the camera now. They have been in line two-and-a-half-hours.

And the line -- the Supreme Court building is directly across from the U.S. Capitol and the street here is First Street. The line goes three more blocks down to Fourth Street. And then it as gets up here, it wraps around the other side of the building exactly opposite from me.

The building was going to stay open tonight until 8:00. Now the Supreme Court has said it will stay open for the public until 9:00. And I suppose there is a possibility they are going to have to figure out what to do for the folks who are still in the line as they get toward 9:00.

But this has been a huge outpouring.

Now, you`re looking today at members of the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals that`s just down at the foot of Capitol Hill here, and they`re in the center of the picture with the purse is Patricia Millett. Right behind her is Sri Srinivasan, two members of the D.C. Court of Appeals, on which Justice Scalia served before he came here, and also two people who have been mentioned as potential nominees.

They didn`t just come up here on their own, though. I want to be clear. They came up with other members of the D.C. federal Court of Appeals.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact the president was seen tonight walking around somewhere, I guess, near the White House with a binder? He`s apparently doing his homework already on selection.

WILLIAMS: Was seen doing that is a euphemism. I think the White House arranged that.

They want people to see that he is very serious about this, that he`s doing his homework, that he`s doing what presidents always do, is look at the potential nominees, to keep the message out there that he does fully intend to nominate somebody up here, although, as you know, Harry Reid said yesterday, I guess in an interview with you, wasn`t it, that it could be up to three weeks?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Aren`t you glad I`m telling you what he told you last night?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I -- you`re coming back to me with the news, anyway, with my news. Anyway, yes, he said two to three weeks. It sounded like three weeks.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Pete, what was your -- just 30 seconds or a minute, what was your feeling meeting with him, Justice Scalia? Whatever -- we have different -- we all have our different views on the Constitution. What was it like? What was he like?

WILLIAMS: He was a funny guy. He was gregarious. He had a great sense of humor.

One of his sons, Christopher, one of his other sons, has a really touching piece in "The Washington Post" online today, saying what it was like to grow up with Justice Scalia. The dinner table conversations were -- started out serious, but their dad always used to crack them up.

And he talks at one point about wanting to get out of mowing the lawn because he had a track meet. So, his dad said, OK, I will mow the lawn, but I do think a Supreme Court justice has something better to do.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe not sometimes. Anyway, I like guys who mow their own lawns. Anyway, thank you, NBC`s Pete Williams.

WILLIAMS: OK.

MATTHEWS: I think the country likes those guys.

We`re going to live coverage of Justice Scalia`s funeral, actually, tomorrow here beginning at 10:00 a.m. in the morning Eastern time. I`m sure there will be some amazing eulogies.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.

The U.S. conducted a series of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Libya. They killed more than 30 fighters.

And federal prosecutors have asked a judge to force Apple to comply with a court order demanding it unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook. Apple`s CEO says the government wants a master key that is capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL live from Las Vegas.

We`re right here on the Strip, of course, on the verge, by the way, of a big weekend coming up in politics. The Republican primary in South Carolina could be a defining moment for the party`s nomination contest. In other words, there will be big winners and big losers.

Here in Nevada, anything could happen with the Democratic caucuses. The polls show it`s a tight race, with Bernie Sanders gaining and Hillary Clinton trying to hang on here, of course, with big Jim Clyburn coming in today to help her.

A big question here, can Bernie Sanders close the gap among minority voters out here? Yesterday, he told BET News that Hillary Clinton is embracing President Obama in order to win black votes. Is that an attack? Is that`s what we do in politics?

Here it is. Go ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton now is trying to embrace the president as closely as she possibly can. Everything the president does is wonderful, she loves the president, he loves her and all that stuff.

And we know what that`s about. That`s trying to win support from the African-American support, where the president is enormously popular. Well, you know what? I have enormous respect for the president. He is a friend. We have worked together. I think he has done a great job in many respects.

But you know what? Like any other human being, he is wrong on certain issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Charlie Cook is editor of "The Cook Report." He`s a brilliant guy and an MSNBC political analyst. Sue Lowden is a former chair of the Republican Party out here in Nevada. And Robert Lang is executive director of the Brookings Mountain West.

What is Brookings Mountain West?

ROBERT LANG, BROOKINGS MOUNTAIN WEST: It`s a branch of the Brookings Institution in the Mountain West.

MATTHEWS: Pretty heady for out here, isn`t it?

LANG: Well, we love it out here.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, it will get worst here.

OK, use your longheadedness and tell me who is going to win here on Saturday?

LANG: Who knows. Is that what you had me on for?

MATTHEWS: No, I -- better than that. I wanted more than that.

What do you see in the trend line? The trend lines show Bernie passing Hillary at some point, the trajectory.

LANG: Yes. At this point, he has just closed. I`m not sure he has passed. That`s the sort of vibe on the street.

MATTHEWS: But usually you go in politics -- I have always tried to pick winners. Charlie knows I try to pick them. You look at Thursday, you look at the numbers, you look at the trends, and you go with them.

Charlie?

CHARLIE COOK, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Well, first of all, I think polling...

MATTHEWS: It`s Friday.

COOK: Polling a caucus is absurd, particularly one with a really low turnout. This isn`t like Iowa, where it`s small. This is like really, really, really small. So, polls mean nothing.

My assumption is, number one...

MATTHEWS: Why do we have caucuses?

COOK: You got me.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

COOK: I mean, it`s a process designed to keep turnout low.

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

COOK: And just club members can --

MATTHEWS: Speak with how the Republicans for cutting down on the number of voting days for all these requirements for photo IDs. I think, I got a way to slow people down, you`ve got to go to a darn meeting. People don`t like meetings. They would rather watch television.

COOK: Yes, and get rid of secret ballot, too.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. And you have to vote while your wife watches your vote. Your kids watch your vote. Your neighbors watch your vote.

COOK: At least on the Democratic side.

MATTHEWS: That`s not way we vote in America.

SUE LOWDEN, FORMER NEVADA GOP CHAIR: The Republican caucus is Tuesday, and it is a secret ballot, and you do have to show ID.

MATTHEWS: How do they make it secret?

LOWDEN: Well, you fill out your ballot, put it in the box and you can leave. You don`t have to caucus. We`ve changed the rules a little bit. You don`t have to sit down and talk to your neighbors.

ROBERT LANG, BROOKINGS MOUNTAIN WEST: But you have to register 10 days in advance, right?

LOWDEN: You do. You have to be a registered Republican.

MATTHEWS : Tell me about Nevada, I know we`re in Clark county, Vegas, where most people come to visit, Reno, drive through, that`s what they see, is this state, is this representative of the state, we`re at, the Strip, in Vegas.

LANG: Well, yes, the Strip --

MATTHEWS: Much more religious, much more traditional state.

LANG: It`s like -- imagine Phoenix, half of Phoenix without the casinos, and that`s what it`s like. It`s got about the same demographic mix. So, it`s a much more diverse than people realize. It`s much more representative of the rest of America. It`s the first big urban state that votes and the biggest city, the biggest metro, we`re 30th ranked, biggest city other than us, Greenville, South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: Really?

LANG: So, this is the first big top 50 U.S. metro in the mix.

MATTHEWS: And there`s the biggest little city in the world, Reno.

LANG: Which is 116th. Don`t tell them that.

MATTHEWS: Charlie, you`re the expert, what kind of reflection for what we`re looking at the next several months?

COOK: Well, my assumption is this. Caucuses benefit ideologues, people with passion. Bernie Sanders ought to at least break even or win just about all the 15 caucus states. I mean, that`s where he will do well.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that what Obama did, pretty much?

COOK: Yes. And then Bernie will do well in New England, which is the most liberal region in the country. But the thing is, caucus states, typically smaller states, the largest are Minnesota, Washington state, Colorado, Iowa, and New England are small states, other than Massachusetts.

So, there aren`t -- you know, the question is -- can Bernie Sanders win non-new England primaries, where half the vote is minority. And until, I mean, I -- I can`t see him doing that that well.

MATTHEWS: OK, Hillary Clinton last time I remember, won all the big states except Illinois. She wept the country, in New York. She got New Jersey, Pennsylvania. She got Indiana.

COOK: But she got minority votes.

MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s it? So that`s minority votes and the big states?

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So what do you tell? You`re the Republican out here. You`re a reasonable conservative Republican I would say, knowing all these years.

(LAUGHTER)

LOWDEN: For you to say that.

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t want to kill you out here.

LOWDEN: I know.

MATTHEWS: But this state, do they feel the Bern out here? I keep walking out around here on the Strip. And, by the way, people are very talkative, they`re tourists.

LOWDEN: They all have their buttons on.

MATTHEWS: They come up to you and they say, I`m for Bernie, or the husband says, I`m not, my wife is. It`s very open here.

LOWDEN: I`m feeling it with younger people, with college people.

MATTHEWS: Couldn`t it be the smartest pol in the world. What do young people have to worry about, their first experience with capitalism is big student debt, they`re a debtor. Big experience.

Socialism doesn`t sound so bad. I grew up after all that Cold War stuff. (INAUDIBLE)

But what I do have a huge damn debt. And Bernie Sanders comes --

LOWDEN: And he`s going to take it.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to get rid of it, low interest, you`re not going to have, like a good school like Berkeley or Michigan. That`s a hell of an offer.

LANG: My students are in debt. I teach at UNLV. So, they`re all feeling the Bern, trust me.

MATTHEWS: They are?

LANG: They`re doing their hair up like him. That`s how much they love him.

MATTHEWS: Is it cross ethnic? Is it every group?

LANG: Yes, and that`s what is interesting about it, because it may be --

MATTHEWS: What does cross ethnic mean? I`m just kidding.

LANG: Cross ethnic means, I`m in the second most diverse national university in America Rutgers Newark. So, my student body is majority minority. And out of that population, most of it is Bernie, even the minority.

MATTHEWS: Are they Nevada residents voters?

LANG: Yes. But where they do come from? A lot of them came foreign-born. You know, remember, this is the state that has the most voters who are voter eligible, born in another state. There are more California-born Nevadans going to vote than Nevada born Nevadans.

MATTHEWS: What does that tell you about Nevada?

LANG: It means it`s kind of an extension of the West Coast. It`s really more kind of mixed, hard to predict, because it`s transient in a way. You know, we`re in New York, New York, easterners than Nevada as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, the round -- you know, people are pretty happy out here, by the way, when you walk around.

It`s a happy place.

LOWDEN: It`s a nice place to leave.

MATTHEWS: The weather is about --

(CROSSTALK)

COOK: Unless their house is under water, but yes.

MATTHEWS: You mean financially.

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The weather is just like, in Israel, the perfect high 60s all the time.

Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

And up next, on the other side of the country, the race is just as hot for a win in South Carolina. I don`t know about the politics back there. It was going to get dirty and outrageous and it`s both right now.

Can Donald Trump fend off the challenge from Ted Cruz and his weird charges that he`s not -- he`s been a birther, we know that. But now they accuse him of being a truther, when he thinks that George W. blew up the World Trade Center. A little weird back in the Palmetto State.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, tune in tomorrow for complete coverage, of course. We`ve got everything tomorrow. I`ll be anchoring from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern here in Las Vegas, as Democratic caucuses held and they choose their winner here in Nevada. So, a lot going on Saturday afternoon.

Then at 6:00 p.m., I`ll join Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow, of course, as we learn results in the all-important Republican primary down in South Carolina.

It`s a doubleheader tomorrow politically. It all starts at 2:00 p.m. here, 2:00 p.m. Eastern again on MSNBC. We`ll be up early here in the morning to catch that.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have losers like this Karl Rove guy. This guy is a loser. What a loser. He spends all this money on races, he loses all of them. We have such losers in this Republican Party. We`ve got to go to a different system you`re never going to have a president, I`m telling you that right now. You`re never going to have a president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s Donald Trump. That is Donald Trump today, talking on Karl Rove and other losers in the Republican camp. He`s made certain words infamous like loser and huge.

Anyway, we`re back in Las Vegas with a HARDBALL round table. We`ve got a good roundtable. Charlie, Sue and Robert.

Let`s talk about a place from here, South Carolina. We just had Gene Robinson and Jim Clyburn on. It`s nasty down there.

Charlie, you`re a southern boy. Why do they think it`s OK to be nasty? I`m talking about voters. They don`t seem to mind it. You just lie. You lie.

COOK: It`s a direct place. It`s not subtle.

MATTHEWS: OK, John McCain had a legitimate daughter with an African- American daughter. It wasn`t his adopted daughter from South Asia, that his wife is a druggie. I mean, this stuff is just dirty.

COOK: Well, the world isn`t Iowa and New Hampshire. I mean, that`s the bottom line, and that`s your first --

MATTHEWS: You`re from Louisiana. They put up with a lot of stuff and thought it was funny. When they do realize it`s not an entertainment. That politics matter?

COOK: Well --

MATTHEWS: I`m being mean here.

COOK: I know you are. And some of the crooks were better governors and some of the oddest ones we`ve had of late. But that`s a whole another --

MATTHEWS: Is John Edwards still among us?

COOK: He is actually. I saw him about a year ago. I`ll tell you what, looks great. Looks great. Mind`s sharp as a whip.

MATTHEWS: Good for him. He got through it all. I`m not sure your state is better for it.

Let me ask you about this. Do you watch this fight? Look at what happened at John McCain. He was a pretty good candidate. He appealed to the middle, really well. W`s people went in there, Karl Rove, the aforementioned, trashed him. Just destroyed the guy.

LOWDEN: No.

MATTHEWS: Terrible, personal things.

LOWDEN: That`s what`s going on in our primary. That`s for sure. You know, how do you recover from that if you become the nominee?

MATTHEWS: I think this guy, Cruz is a tough player. He does things like this little push polls and spreading rumors that Carson`s out of race and spreading rumors that Trey Gowdy will endorse him. Finally, somebody finds out it was a lie.

LANG: It`s tough but you can`t curse. Remember that.

Now, here`s the good news for Donald Trump -- when you get to Nevada, you can curse.

LOWDEN: Oh, he`s cursed everywhere.

LANG: I know. But I mean, he`s tried to restrain. It is a tough culture.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at this new poll. We all love polls here. Brand new NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll out today shows a tightening race in South Carolina. Trump leads still. But this is tight, 28 percent. He`s down eight points from last month. That`s a bad -- Cruz is five behind Trump. They`re followed by Rubio at five and Bush at 13.

Robert, a week to go with five points between them. Not a lot.

LANG: Well, that`s one poll. The other polls show --

MATTHEWS: It`s our poll.

LANG: I know it`s your poll. I`m sorry.

COOK: It`s a very good poll.

(CROSSTALK)

LANG: No, seriously, I don`t think it`s as close as that. I would guess it`s somewhere --

MATTHEWS: What about the pope fight. Anybody Catholic here? I guess just you and me. I thought it was going to go completely against the pope, for the pope. I don`t know, people are so skeptical, you know, stay in your lane is the new phrase now. Stay in your lane.

LOWDEN: That`s true. I think people like the pope. I like the pope. But he shouldn`t be talking about politics.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that interesting, Charlie? They all agreed on that. Isn`t that interesting? They all agreed. All the candidates.

COOK: A lot of cafeteria Catholics out there. And they pick and choose what they --

MATTHEWS: Immigration not one of the issues they go with them on?

COOK: Well, you render unto Caesar what is Caesar, and unto God what is God.

MATTHEWS: You`re so right.

LOWDEN: How about the picture of the Vatican wall, that`s all I`m seeing now.

MATTHEWS: What are the Swiss guards for? To watch the wall.

LOWDEN: Exactly.

COOK: I would say, though, that the private polls that we`re hearing about are pretty close to the Marist poll. I think that Trump is below 30 in most of the private polling we`re seeing. This is going to be more tightly bunched up.

MATTHEWS: It`s Cruz country, isn`t it?

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Very conservative, very hawkish.

COOK: Cruz has won the conservative bracket. Huckabee`s gone. Santorum is gone.

MATTHEWS: What`s he nuzzling up to Carson for right now? Is there a little deal going on there?

COOK: No, I don`t -- when Dr. Carson wakes up he`ll be gone too.

MATTHEWS: Is he going to throw his bouquet?

COOK: I don`t think that matters because -- I mean, it`s not like when you buy a house and refrigerator (INAUDIBLE). When these people endorse each other, I don`t think it makes any difference.

LOWDEN: I think it makes a little difference, a little bit.

LANG: For Donald Trump is that that was the best state to do it. It was the lower share of Catholics.

MATTHEWS: You know, we look pretty good out here. We`re all sitting on a street corner here in Vegas.

LOWDEN: I know.

LANG: We`re in the middle of --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I don`t think people should be sitting on chairs out here.

Anyway, thank you, my roundtable tonight. What a supreme group. Charlie Cook, I`ve known him forever. He`s always been brilliant. Sue Lowden, they should have elected her. Robert Lang, thank you.

When we return, let me finish with a book and an author and a movie that spoke to so many of us.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish with a book and an author a movie that spoke to so many of us. I`m talking about "To Kill a Mockingbird" and, of course, Harper Lee.

You know, like all of us, I take a novel or a really good movie into myself. It gets there, mixes with what I`ve been through, and out comes for all the years that follow, that fond marriage of story and life experience, sort of join together there in your heart. Well, for me, the movie was "To Kill a Mockingbird" and through all the times I`ve seen it. Loving young scout who tells us this story, respectful of Atticus Finch, carrying for the defendant played by Brock Peters, intrigued and taken with Boo Radley, the hero at the end of the story.

Boo Radley, now, how`s that for a southern name? A nickname for the ages.

My own life experience was going to Chapel Hill in the `60s and getting to know southern liberals. I like them. They were liberals in the most basic American sense. They were opposed to racial prejudice, opposed to the old ways of segregation, which at that time were less than handle of years in the past.

Atticus Finch was like that. He was no revolutionary, just a decent gentleman of the old school, firm of manner, understanding of what he called the code, the demarcation of life between white and black society in the days of legal segregation.

I don`t think I`ll ever forget the scene in that movie when the people watching the trial from up the balcony where the blacks had to sit, they stood up when Atticus Finch walked by, just to show their respect, their admiration for the one white man in town with the courage and the inner character to stand up for justice, which in this case meant standing up for them.

It happened in a movie, and before that in a book, and before that in a mind and heart of a southern lady who died this morning in Monroeville, Alabama.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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