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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/18/2016

Guests: Jeff Merkley, Patrick Healy, Yvette Clarke, Jay Newton-Small, Dan Donovan, Mazie Hirono

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 18, 2016 Guest: Jeff Merkley, Patrick Healy, Yvette Clarke, Jay Newton-Small, Dan Donovan, Mazie Hirono


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Can Bernie do it, do it again? Can he win the Big Apple? A new poll by NBC News and "Wall Street Journal" shows Sanders has narrowed Clinton, Hillary Clinton`s, national lead to just 2 points -- look at that! -- 50- 48, and he`s closing on her, perhaps passing her. Sanders has gained 4 points since last month while Clinton dropped 3. So you know the math.

Meanwhile, in New York state, the site of tomorrow`s big primary, the Democratic polls are also tightening. Sanders is predicting an upset matching his surprise victory in Michigan last month. Here`s what he said this morning on the "TODAY" show.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bottom line is, let`s look at the real poll tomorrow. Generally speaking, polling has underestimated how we do in elections. We were 25 points down in Michigan. We ended up winning Michigan.


MATTHEWS: Well, the fight for New York state has proven already to be the most contentious, of course, of the Democratic race to date. Sanders has attacked Clinton over here -- over and over on what he calls her judgment - - that`s a nice word -- citing repeatedly the more than $600,000 she took from Goldman Sachs for speeches.

Here`s the ad that Senator Sanders released on that topic.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wall Street banks shower Washington politicians with campaign contributions and speaking fees. And what do they get for it? A rigged economy, tax breaks and bail-outs all held in place by a corrupt campaign finance system. And while Washington politicians are paid over $200,000 an hour for speeches, they oppose raising the living wage to $15 an hour.


MATTHEWS: Well, as Patrick Healy of "The New York Times" wrote of the race in New York, "The result is a far harsher tone in the democratic campaign and a transformed Senator Sanders, who is now making the kinds of sharper- edged attacks that some of his advisers regretted he did not deploy sooner."

I`m joined right now by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the only sitting U.S. senator to endorse Senator Sanders.

One problem I raised yesterday on "Meet the Press" about Senator Sanders is he talks about Washington politicians taking speaking fees. They`re not allowed to! He knows it because he can`t take them. You know it.

Why would he put out something that` not true like that?


MATTHEWS: You can`t take a speaking fee.

MERKLEY: You bet. You bet.

MATTHEWS: Well, why does he say that when nobody in Washington is allowed to do that?

MERKLEY: Yes, so it`s a reference to campaign contributions when...

MATTHEWS: No, he said speaking fees.

MERKLEY: ... you`re in office and speaking fees...

MATTHEWS: No, he said speaking fees.

MERKLEY: ... when you`re out of office. He didn`t -- he didn`t...

MATTHEWS: He said Washington politicians...

MERKLEY: All the details...

MATTHEWS: ... can take speaking fees, and they`re not allowed to. So why did he say it?

MERKLEY: You`re absolutely right. When they`re in office, they cannot...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what the ad says! It says Washington politicians.

MERKLEY: Well, and certainly there are Washington politicians who leave office and take speaking fees, but...

MATTHEWS: Why are you quibbling?

MERKLEY: Well...

MATTHEWS: Why are you quibbling?

MERKLEY: Well, exactly. And so the...

MATTHEWS: You`re quibbling. This is what people don`t like about politicians. You`re not -- senators -- are you allowed to...

MERKLEY: The heart of this issue...

MATTHEWS: ... give a speech for money?

MERKLEY: ... is whether...

MATTHEWS: Can you give a speech for money?

MERKLEY: I cannot while I`m in office.

MATTHEWS: Can a congressperson?

MERKLEY: Cannot while they`re in office.

MATTHEWS: Does Bernie -- does Bernie Sanders know this to be a fact, that he can`t give a speech for money, nor can a member of Congress? Does he know this?

MERKLEY: A former member can, and...

MATTHEWS: We`re not talking about a former member.

MERKLEY: Well, you know, you`re quibbling over one word...

MATTHEWS: No, I`m not quibbling.

MERKLEY: ... in the ad.

MATTHEWS: The ad -- I can play it 1,000 times, and everybody watching will get the message. Washington politicians take speaking money from corporations. It`s not allowed.

MERKLEY: The underlying issue...

MATTHEWS: OK, I`m going to stop making my point. I made it.

MERKLEY: (INAUDIBLE) very large speaking fees, making speeches to Wall Street...

MATTHEWS: Who are they?

MERKLEY: What are -- they`re speeches. Should they release those speeches?

MATTHEWS: Who are you talking about doing this?

MERKLEY: Well, they`re -- we have two candidates in this race, and we`re blessed, by the way, with two very capable candidates, either of whom would be far better than any of the...

MATTHEWS: Well, Bernie Sanders doesn`t give speeches for money because he`s not allowed to. Hillary Clinton is allowed to because she`s not in office right now, and he`s hit her for it.

MERKLEY: Yes, he has.

MATTHEWS: Fair enough. I think it`s a good tag. It`s just the ad sucks.

MERKLEY: The ad is not complete. You bet.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. Anyway, today, Senator Sanders`s campaign is alleging serious apparent violations of campaign finance laws, saying that Senator Clinton -- Secretary Clinton paid her campaign staff with outside money. In response, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook issued a statement accusing Sanders of resorting to baseless accusations of illegal actions.

Can you explain this charge from Sanders about Secretary Clinton...

MERKLEY: Well, I can`t explain the details, but it has to do with when you set up a joint account that the money is supposed to be distributed in a variety of places, but then expenses are paid out of that account. Did those expenses go in the appropriate fashion? That`s the heart of this.

But really, the reason he`s raising this issue is that you have a massive amount of money in the campaign system. That`s really...

MATTHEWS: That`s true.

MERKLEY: ... the issue here. And this fund-raiser that was just held -- $350,000 to sponsor the fund-raiser. Ordinary Americans cannot connect to that. They`ve lucky if they can give $350 on line or $35 in the course of a year. $350,000 does say there`s something extraordinary about our campaign finance system. This flow of cash is corrupting our system. That`s the fundamental point.

MATTHEWS: What is the law, though, that he`s getting all the press on and the Clinton people are responding to? The law -- it seems to be what he`s saying is Hillary Clinton is paying -- having her staff paid by this sort of joint thing she has with the DNC, when, in fact, she should be paying the staff salaries directly. Is that what it is?

MERKLEY: Well, they`re going to get into the nitty-gritty, but it`s a distraction from the core issue because, certainly, they`ll wrestle with -- with did the staff get double compensated or not or...


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about yourself.

MERKLEY: ... but that`s not the issue.

MATTHEWS: Look, I`ve I had candidates who I`ve respected, you have, that don`t have a big following within their peer group. There`s nothing wrong with that. Gary Hart was a fascinating candidate, didn`t have a lot of peer group`s backing.

Explain why you`re the only person in the United States Senate of a body with 45 Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with you -- why only you?

MERKLEY: Well, most of my colleagues made their endorsement early on, when Bernie Sanders was expected to never get above 5 percent. It was never considered to be a strong contested situation. And so they -- you know, they weighed in with the person they anticipated would be the winner.

I decided I was going to make my endorsement close to when the ballots come out in Oregon, so it`s relevant to the state of Oregon. Those ballots go out 10 days from now.

And on the big issues facing America, on the issue of pivoting from fossil fuels to renewable energies to take on global warming, on campaign cash in our -- in our system -- those are issues -- and certainly on foreign trade, trade where we`re computing directly with people earning less than a dollar an hour -- Bernie Sanders has been a very, very powerful voice saying we need to change the existing paradigm, and that is resonating...

MATTHEWS: Do you think you might be able to get him to join the party? I`m serious.

MERKLEY: Well, he certainly...

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he join the Democratic Party?

MERKLEY: Well, in terms of campaign (INAUDIBLE) state, he can`t be on the ballot unless he`s running as a Democrat. So I guess he`s essentially informally joined. In some states...


MATTHEWS: You know, he keeps being asked the question, Are you a Democrat, and he says, I`m running as a Democrat. Why doesn`t he just join the party?

MERKLEY: Well, in his state, you can`t actually register as a Democrat, but maybe he would if that was the case.


MERKLEY: In fact, he would have had to.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting. Trump running on the Republican side -- he`s not actually, you know, a regular party member, either. It`s strange, isn`t it?

MERKLEY: Well, it`s very strange and (ph) get into the superdelegates. Here we have a situation where the Democrats wish they didn`t have them and the Republicans wish they did. So it just shows the irony of...

MATTHEWS: I just like democracy. I`d like to see direct voting primaries in every state, no conventions, no caucuses, primaries in every state. Everybody gets to vote, and we add it up at the end.

MERKLEY: Well, do you remember that proposal for a rotating regional primary? That was an excellent idea.

MATTHEWS: I`d like to move it around, too. Anyway -- I`m sorry, New Hampshire. Anyway, thank you, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. How do you pronounce it again?

MERKLEY: Merkley. Yes.

MATTHEWS: No. Merkley`s easy.

MERKLEY: Oregon.


MATTHEWS: I know, it`s a toughie. It`s like people keep saying Nevah-da around here. I said, Don`t say that if you`re going out there!


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Patrick Healy, political correspondent with "The New York Times." Patrick, thank you for joining us.


MATTHEWS: You are a theater maven, as well as a political maven. And because you`re a recovered theater -- I want to ask you about the theater of New York. Bernie the other night, Thursday night -- that was rock `em, sock `em, and these were -- they were actually arms were flying in the air, both of them. They were over -- well, I`m not going to knock somebody for interrupting...


MATTHEWS: But what did you make of that.

HEALY: No, where did that guy come from? You know, this is what some of his advisers were hoping that he was going to start doing back in October with the speaking fees, you know, tagging her with taking these big fees and just sort of punching it over and over and over again, you know, but now -- now he`s, you know, doing it so hard, koren (ph) with that ad that you showed, you know, all but saying her name and then sort of insinuating, you know, that she`s got these...

MATTHEWS: She`s bought.

HEALY: ... you know, this sort of dubious influence.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, also, Jeff Weaver out there, her (sic) campaign manager -- he doesn`t pull any punches. He said she`s sold her soul to the devil. I mean, he keeps saying it over again. It`s this Faustian deal. I said, How do you say after the campaign`s over, I know we said she sold her soul to the devil, but that`s all behind us now?

Let me ask you about the speaking fee thing. It does remind me, theatrically, like a Rocky movie, where you have the eye closing and the other guy, Apollo Creed, keeps punching the eye.


HEALY: You`re laughing!

MATTHEWS: You know, the eye being that $600,000 in speaking fees, pounding it. And when he`s not pounding that eye, he`s pounding the Iraq war. He just -- what made him start now?

HEALY: Yes, I mean...

MATTHEWS: Does anybody know why?

HEALY: Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, said that if he`d started doing that back in the fall, it just would have been devastating against Hillary Clinton.

You know, he -- basically, he -- it took him a long time to come around to the fact that he was going to have to go really, really tough on her. He felt like he needed to spend a lot of time introducing himself, being positive.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but it`s over almost. Is this a good time to close with the fist? I mean, the numbers don`t look good for Bernie. She`s probably -- I mean, anything can happen. I mean this honestly, anything can happen. There could be something with the e-mails, but also, he could overtake her in all these states. He could win -- I think he`s got a shot tomorrow, by the way, in New York state. I really do. I`m watching these numbers close.

HEALY: It`s going to be tough. It`s going to be tough in New York state...

MATTHEWS: But if that doesn`t happen, he`s going to have to deal with her as the nominee, and he`s going to have to hold her hand in the air and tell all the young people, Hey, she`s not bad.

HEALY: Yes. That`s going to be tough.

MATTHEWS: She`s Likable enough, or something like that.

HEALY: That`s the thing. How is this guy going to leave the stage -- you know, ultimately, if she gets ahead, but she`s not able to win it with pledged delegates, you know, his people are going to feel like this is being taken from them in some, you know, big way. So he`s going to have to reckon with that.

But no, you`re right. I mean, the whole question is why now? And is it too late? The strange thing is, is that Bernie Sanders has this long pattern of going to sort of insinuation and sarcasm against opponents. He presents himself as this very positive, issues-oriented candidate who will never -- never has done a negative attack ad in his life.


HEALY: But you saw the ad that he just -- you know, you showed it, that he just did, which is basically sort of -- all but saying that, you know, Secretary Clinton gets all this money from Wall Street, that she`s this typical Washington politician...


HEALY: ... you know, and yet, you know, isn`t going to stand up for the minimum wage and the banks.

He hasn`t threaded (ph) that, but he keeps sort of -- you know, sort of suggesting it. And it`s not that unusual for politicians...

MATTHEWS: I know, but...


HEALY: ... but the thing is, Bernie offers himself as not a politician.

MATTHEWS: You`re right. He has said, I don`t attack, and he`s doing a deadly attack right now, as you know. And that`s one reason why I think he`s still in the game. I don`t think it`s good for the Democrats. I don`t buy this, This debate`s good for everybody. That was true a month ago. It`s not true anymore.

Patrick Healy, it`s good to see you back in the game.

HEALY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You can do anything, can`t you.

Anyway, I`m joined right now -- by the way, is Bob Kerrey on your call list?

Anyway, I`m joined right now by Democratic congressman -- congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York itself, who supports Hillary Clinton.

So Congresswoman, thanks for coming on the show. You`re from Brooklyn, where everything seems to be happening these days.


MATTHEWS: My question to you -- what do you make of the fighting? It`s about Senator Sanders attacking Hillary for these somewhat murky campaign transactions, which I don`t understand exactly, going after her for speaking fees. It`s getting to be very much one of those sort of, I`m the clean guy and she`s not.

CLARKE: Well...

MATTHEWS: It`s pretty personal.

CLARKE: I think it`s desperation, quite frankly. You know, we`re down to the brass tacks here. New York state is a very important state, and I think he`s really trying to do everything he can to win the race.

And at the end of the day, you know, the hypocrisy reigns supreme. He said he wouldn`t go negative, but here we are in the midst of a negative campaign.

MATTHEWS: Well, Republican front-runner Donald Trump unveiled a new attack line on Hillary Clinton this weekend, so we have a cross-attack from the other party, calling the former secretary of state crooked. Here he is.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She`s been crooked from the beginning! And to think that she has a shot at being our president, crooked Hillary Clinton? We can`t let it happen!


MATTHEWS: That`s like "lyin` Ted." Anyway, on "TODAY" -- "TODAY" show this morning, Senator Sanders was pressed to explain why his own attacks on Secretary Clinton are different than Trump`s. Let`s watch the senator.


SANDERS: Donald Trump is very brilliant by coming up with statements that you guys respond to. It`s an ugly statement. What I have said is that -- regarding Secretary Clinton -- what I have said is we have a corrupt campaign finance system and we`re...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you`ve gone further. You have said -- you have said that she accepts this money from Wall Street...

SANDERS: Yes. Of course.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... (INAUDIBLE) big banks and fossil fuels, and that that affects her judgment.

SANDERS: Yes. Well, of course it does! Why do you think...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, wouldn`t that be crooked?

SANDERS: Why do you think -- no, it...


SANDERS: In that case, the entire United States government is crooked!


MATTHEWS: I don`t know how he broad-brushes that because nobody else in the government gets $600,000 for three speeches, and one of them being 20 minutes long. He`s going after Hillary Clinton. He calls it judgment. I think he`s going after character. What do you think, Congresswoman?

CLARKE: I think, you know, clearly, he`s going after her character, and his hope is to show that he`s the pristine candidate here, when all we know that that`s not the case.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

CLARKE: Well, first of all, there are many issues that we have caught him in hypocrisy with, as well, whether it`s gun violence and his kowtowing to the NRA or it`s being in a city like New York, a city of immigrants, and voting against immigration reform. I mean, they all have to carry their own issues and their own luggage, and the voters will ultimately determine, you know, whose integrity is intact at the end.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s in the take with the NRA?

CLARKE: I haven`t had a chance to look at his filings. I wouldn`t go as far as to say that, but clearly, you know, he was concerned about their interests in the ways that he`s voted with respect to gun violence prevention.

MATTHEWS: Well, if all these candidates could have your eloquence, Madam, it would be better. But it`s not -- they`re not even pretending to your eloquence.

Thank you of this. You`ve been very delicate. It`s great to meet you, by the way. Please come back on the show a lot, all right? Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York.

CLARKE: Thank you so much, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, Donald Trump`s hostile takeover of the Republican Party seems to be taking effect. Nearly two thirds of Republicans now agree if Trump has the most delegates, pure and simple, even if he doesn`t have the majority. he should be the nominee. Did you hear that? Two-to- one, Republican voters say Trump should be the winner if he has the most votes. No rule playing at the convention in Cleveland, in other words.

Anyway, Trump`s at war with the party bosses -- he`s calling them bosses right now, a great New York line -- the ones looking to shut him down and shut him out at the convention this summer.

Plus, high stakes for President Obama as the Supreme Court takes up a challenge to that red hot issue of immigration and what to do with the parents of kids who are here who are now citizens, who were born here. How do you spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported? That`s what the president wants to do. Let`s see what the court wants to do.

And why are the least popular candidates the one (ph) leading the presidential race is (ph) Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have the highest unfavorable numbers in the parties, and Trump is the least popular major presidential candidate ever? You know why? He has the most publicity. It works both ways.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a problem with mixed bags, how you like some things about one candidate, Bernie, other things about the other, Hillary.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, we`ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow. And tomorrow, for those of you in New York, come out and watch the show. I`ll be live at 7:00 PM Eastern tomorrow from Brooklyn Bridge Park -- you know that Woody Allen spot in "Moonstruck" right below the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side -- with a special primary day edition of HARDBALL.

Check out HARDBALL live in person if you`re in the area. Come on over. It`d be nice.

And then at 8:00 PM, I`ll join Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow for complete election coverage. I`ll probably have a midnight show after that. Come out and join us in Brooklyn. You won`t want to miss it, a pretty late night show tomorrow night and what`s going to be, I think, a close Democratic race.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, you can call it Trump`s trump card, if you will. While Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus -- that really is his name -- and Trump`s opponents argue that the rules are the rules, Donald Trump says he`s fighting for democracy. That`s a great word, by the way, and we all believe in it.

He argues that party elites are trying to steal the nomination from him through a delegate selection process he calls corrupt and rigged. He`s won more votes than anyone in the race, Trump argues, and therefore should get the nomination over anyone else.

Over the weekend, he turned up the heat on Priebus and his opponents.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So we have a system that`s rigged! We have system that`s crooked! We have a system that`s got a lot of problems. And we have a system that doesn`t allow the people to vote in many case. In our system, they`re not even voting! The bosses are picking the delegates!

It`s a corrupt system. You`re basically buying these people.

They go out and they`re whining and they`re dining. You have no idea what`s going on with those delegates. It`s a crooked process, folks.

The system is a bad, bad system, and they got to do something about it. The Republican National Committee, they better get going, because I will tell you what. You could have a rough July at that convention.


MATTHEWS: Well, the polls show that Republican voters agree with Donald Trump. According to a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll -- look at these numbers -- 62 percent say the people with the most votes, simple democracy, like a basketball game, football game, any game, that the side with the most numbers wins. The candidates with the most votes here should get the nomination.

The voters in the Republican Party -- these are registered Republicans -- believe that.

I`m joined right now by Congressman Dan Donovan, a Republican who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. I believe Bay Ridge is part of that. And "The Washington Post" reporter, political reporter Robert Costa, thank you.

Congressman, thank you for joining us today.

What is it about Trump that people like?

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: I think he`s struck a nerve with the voters, Chris.

I think the people of America are frustrated. They`re angry. They feel that our friends don`t respect us any longer, that our enemies don`t fear us, that America used to be the leading nation in the world, and now we lead from behind. And I think Mr. Trump has hit that nerve, and he`s telling people some of the things that they have wanted to hear for a very, very long time.

MATTHEWS: Well, here is somebody different from Trump in every personality, way and position. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to take a veiled swipe at Trump in an interview with a local news network, saying he was optimistic there will be a second ballot in Cleveland. Let`s watch Mitch.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It is important for everybody to understand that the convention rules will require you to get 1,237 delegate votes. And until one gets to 1,237, they will not be the nominee.

So there are some candidates suggesting it`s somehow tricky to simply follow the rules of the convention. We are going to follow the rules of the convention. About 60 percent of the delegates who are bound on the first ballot will be free to do whatever they want to on the second ballot, and I`m increasingly optimistic that there actually may be a second ballot.


MATTHEWS: You know, Congressman, these guys like Mitch McConnell behave like they`re members of a guild, like the masters of the cloth hall, the Dutch Master cigar box with them sitting, deciding who is a Republican, who should be in, who should be out, what the rules are.

How does that square with democracy with the people that the voters seem to like, Trump?

DONOVAN: Yes, I think the rules are the rules, and we should abide by them.

I think there is some talk about that the rules committee at the convention can change the rules at the convention. And I think that`s the thing that`s angering Mr. Trump. I think that`s angering his supporters. I think should anger every voter.

You are disenfranchising voters who have voted for their particular candidate of choice and tell them, even though you voted for your person of choice, the candidates that you want to represent the Republican Party in November, we can change the rules at the convention and your vote might not count.

So, I`m not sure it`s so much about what Senator McConnell is talking about, what the party rules are as they stand, but I think a lot of people are hearing rumors that those rules may change at the convention, and that`s what is angering a lot of voters.

MATTHEWS: Robert, what happens if Trump announces going into Cleveland that there will be a meeting across the street from the convention hall, he hires a hall, and invites all his delegates to go over there, and says, we`re all walking together if they cheat me?

What happens in the Republican Party if he just says that`s the deal here...


MATTHEWS: ... will walk?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know as well as I do what that would mean. The party would be divided.

But McConnell`s comments are so intriguing, Chris, because it comes as Paul Manafort, Trump`s new delegate strategist, is trying to reach out to these unbound delegates and arguing to them, if Trump is close, help him get over the line.

And so the party establishment, the leadership, they don`t want those unbound delegates, if Trump is at let`s say 1,200 or 1,150 to start moving towards Trump to avoid the scenario you`re outlining. They are trying to have a second ballot. They want to keep that 1,237 threshold.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Donald Trump tweeted today -- quote -- "Lyin` Ted Cruz even voted against Superstorm Sandy, aid to that, and September 11 help. So many New Yorkers Devastated. Cruz hates New York."

Congressman, it`s unbelievable, the amount of traps that Cruz has set for himself in New York, voting against Hurricane Sandy, voting against 9/11 money. I mean, it`s like -- and the New York values line. They are haunting him now tomorrow.

DONOVAN: No, you`re absolutely right, Chris.

And I think what happens is votes that people take at some point in their careers, when you don`t think it is going to affect them later on, Senator Trump is -- Senator Cruz is now realizing the effects of that.

You know, I find a lot of people down here in Washington think that New York is very rich and should be paying for its own care, its own health care workers, the health care of the rescue workers from 9/11, should be paying for the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, when actually that is the federal government`s duty to help people at their time of need.

So, I think Senator Cruz is now realizing some of those votes are coming back to haunt him. And I have seen some polls that are suggest that maybe Governor Kasich might even come in second in New York tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I was slow to learn the true nature of that horror. I had only known about parts of it in Jersey, but I later got to know with great difficulty the horror that people are facing on those peripheral areas along the water in Staten Island, of course.

Plenty of people like Teddy Atlas are doing great work up there, and, of course, at Breezy Point in places like that, it`s horrendous, what has happened to people`s whole homes, all their electrical systems, everything destroyed. It`s colossal.

And the irony, Congressman, is, there you are in the media capital oft world, and very few people got to know the true nature of how bad it really is even today. But thank you for bringing it up again.

Thank you so much, Congressman Dan Donovan, representing one of the really interesting parts of the United States, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the great places in the world, and, of course, Staten Island.

Robert Costa, thank you for this.

Up next: A key Obama administration policy is on the line as the Supreme Court weighs the president`s immigration policy. An eight-person Supreme Court is going to try to deal with this matter. And you don`t know what Roberts is going to do. There are all kinds of rumors.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


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

Two people are dead as a result of historic flooding in Houston after a season`s worth of rain fell in a matter of hours. Tens of thousands are without power.

At least one American citizen is among the 413 people confirmed dead in the massive earthquake in Ecuador. Another 2,000 people are injured.

And an explosion on a bus in Jerusalem left 21 wounded. Israeli authorities say the blast was caused by a bomb -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Supreme Court would torpedo President Obama`s plan to shield over four million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the U.S. Lower courts have blocked the implementation of the president`s executive order after 26 states led by Texas challenged the action and accused President Obama of abusing his power and ignoring the congressional authority over the issue of immigration.

Well, today, the Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides, and a decision on the fate of the president`s immigration executive order is expected in June.

Anyway, NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams was inside the court for today`s argument.

So, which way is the wind blowing? Do we know at all right now? Which way is it going to go, up or down, for the president?


It did seem for -- at the end of the oral argument like there is a 4-4 tie, four votes to say that the states have standing to bring this, four that they don`t, four votes to say the president has the power to do this, four to say he doesn`t.

Now, obviously, it takes five votes. And I don`t know where the fifth vote was on either one of those two questions. It did seem at the end of the day that the court is tied. However, the court is obviously going out of its way to try to avoid 4-4 ties. I should say if it does end in a tie here, that would be a defeat for administration, because it would leave the lower court ruling in place that has blocked the enforcement of this program ever since the president announced it in November of 2014.

So that would be a bad thing for administration, a victory for the states. They would continue to duke it out of the lower courts, and that wouldn`t be resolved until long after President Obama is gone. But the court could try to find some way out of this, to try to find a fifth vote for something, either to narrow the injunction, to let some of this go into effect now, possibly reword the memorandum so that it doesn`t have the effect of allowing some of the benefits that it does now.

Those are some of the possible outcomes. Remember, we saw this just a couple of weeks ago, when the court put out that unusual order after the argument in the Obamacare case, where religiously affiliated organizations object to the contraception requirement. The court was trying to find a middle ground. Maybe we will see that again, but it didn`t seem like there was an obvious winner after today`s argument.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to have 4-4 for a long time, it looks like, since we have eight.

Thank you, Pete Williams. Great reporting.

WILLIAMS: You bet. OK.

MATTHEWS: Coming now, joining me right now is U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, who is the Democrat from Hawaii.


MATTHEWS: Senator, thanks for joining us. This thing...

HIRONO: It`s good to be here, Chris.

MATTHEWS: No, it looks to me like a lot of people are affected by it.

If the court goes back and gets a 4-4 tie, that means it goes back to the appellate level. That means the president is stopped in his tracks. But it also means five million people are worried about being deported, at least potentially deported, even if it`s not likely to happen.

HIRONO: Exactly. Exactly.

And so a tie, 4-4, decision would really indicate that this is not the way things should happen and that the Republicans in the Senate should do their jobs and have hearings on the president`s nominee, and we should get on with the advice and consent, because we can`t have this court vacancy going on for a year, which is where we`re heading right now.

But this -- this particular decision is going to be so important, as you said, to the five million undocumented people in the DAPA and DACA families underpinning the president`s executive orders, which, by the way, is nothing new. They -- Republican and Democratic presidents have issued executive orders and taken administrative actions relating to immigration.

And so this is -- as far as I`m concerned, the president was well within his authority to issue these executive actions. But it impacts five million people, DACA and DAPA families, who live in daily fear of being deported, not to mention the 11 million undocumented people in our country.

And as an immigrant myself, when I was out there on the steps of the Supreme Court today, I could really relate to so many of the advocates who were there just hoping that the president -- that the court would make the right decision and support the president.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You came from Japan, right?

HIRONO: That`s right.

In fact, my mother brought me to this country, like so many people coming to this country...


HIRONO: ... in the hopes of a better life because she escaped an abusive marriage to my father in Japan.

We started with nothing. And that`s the dream that so many people have in our country, and why the president has said, in addition to the executive orders, which I totally support, we need to do comprehensive immigration reform in this country.

MATTHEWS: What a sterling example you are a better America.

Thank you much, Senator Mazie Hirono, for coming here.

HIRONO: Thank you so much. Aloha.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Aloha.

Anyway, up next: an unusual phenomenon in the 2016 election campaign. The least popular candidates are the two front-runners. You know why? Because we know a lot more about them. That`s why. And the ones we don`t know much about, we think, well, maybe they`re OK.

How is it Americans are, however, voting for the people with such negative reactions? That`s the interesting one.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

William Penn once, avoid popularity. It has many snares and no real benefit. And it seems both front-runners now in the presidential race have taken that advice to heart. According to the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are seen in the least favorable light compared to their 2016 contenders, least favorable, the front-runners least favorable.

Hillary Clinton`s negative outweighs her positives by 24 points, while Bernie Sanders gets a net positive rating of nine. And negative 41 percent -- at negative 41 percent, Donald Trump gets the worst popularity rating of any candidate ever. Ted Cruz at negative 23 percent and Ohio Governor John Kasich is the only Republican seen positively at plus 12.

But popularity aside, both Clinton and Trump continue to lead in the all- important delegate count by large margins.

Joining me now is the HARDBALL roundtable tonight, and what a roundtable it is. The Huffington Post`s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst. Jay Newton-Small of "TIME" magazine, and NBC News senior political reporter Perry Bacon.

So, live up to your title analyst, Howard.


MATTHEWS: Analyze -- and I think you might have this one. This is a great teaching moment. Why do our least popular candidates get the most delegates so far?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because it fits the mood of the country right now about politics.

People are not necessarily upset about their own personal lives. A lot of institutions, they respect. Politics and politicians, they loathe. And the attitude and the spirit out there in the country, as somebody who has covered a lot of campaigns, I can tell you, is more corrosive now than ever.

And all the candidates are running against things, for the most part, not for things, for the most part, Donald Trump running against the Mexicans and the Muslims...


FINEMAN: ... and -- et cetera, Ted Cruz running against New York values. On and on and on, it goes.

So, it`s both the atmosphere and the strategy of the candidates, which is all negative.

MATTHEWS: And Donald Trump finds somebody less popular than him to fight with.

FINEMAN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: And these guys come out, where do they come from? Reince Priebus, you know, I mean, Reince Priebus --

FINEMAN: He`s under central --

MATTHEWS: Mitch McConnells, these foils, these perfect targets. They`re Elmer Fudds, you`re rooting for Bugs Bunny all the time here.


MATTHEWS: Or the Road Runner.

NEWTON-SMALL: I mean, it really -- I mean, it`s is also to some degree is like Howard said about positivity versus negativity and you have Bernie Sanders and John Kasich trying to run a positive campaign but the only one --

MATTHEWS: Is he Miss Congeniality when this is over?

FINEMAN: By default.

MATTHEWS: Is there an award for the guy who gets the most popular votes?

PERRY BACON, JR., NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: His numbers are good because nobody is attacking him, because no one thinks he has a chance. That helps a lot.

We should add, President Obama`s numbers keep going up. So, that is an interesting thing. That`s going to help Hillary a lot.


MATTHEWS: Did you see the market today? Eighteen points. Let me ask you about one reason. Bernie Sanders, I`m going to say some nice things at the end of the show, but I want to say something about him.

I think he`s benefitting from I think the Republicans are playing a very smart game here. They don`t attack him. They want him. They are not going to get him probably but they want him.

FINEMAN: They do.

MATTHEWS: A socialist, can you imagine. They will be doing the quote things.

NEWTON-SMALL: There are plenty of cross-overs of like people who are Donald Trump supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters who go to their --

MATTHEWS: Why don`t the right wing people attack Bernie? They attack Hillary brutally?

NEWTON-SMALL: Because they want the revolution. They want the revolution. They want to feel the Bern.


FINEMAN: I agree with Jay. To a certain extend, they are cheering Bernie on because they like what Bernie is saying. It`s not all Machiavellian strategy. I agree with you.


BACON: There`s no chance of winning.

MATTHEWS: They didn`t wait to put their knife --

BACON: Yes, they would love to attack --

MATTHEWS: Mega star George Clooney put us all to shame today. He says he hates the role of big money as it pours into his door. Even as he and his wife Alma (ph) held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton over the weekend. But Clooney also says he`ll do whatever it takes to put a Democrat in the White House. Talk about ruthless, whoever it is.

Let`s listen.


GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I really like Bernie. I think his, what he`s saying in this election is important if you`re a Democrat. Again, to have these conversations I hope he stays in and if he were to win the nomination, I can do whatever I can including if asked a fundraiser like this again.


MATTHEWS: So, I was watching him here. He`s fantastic. Looks like a movie, he started the whole thing, he`s been creating movies like "The Descendants." He`s out there playing for the largest box office possible. He`s raising money for Hillary and praising Bernie. He wants --


BACON: He loves everybody.

If you`re Hillary, you don`t love an interview because George Clooney said Bernie run until June 7th -- that maybe forever -- and Hillary`s staff wants Bernie to get out of the race and move on and let Hillary win.

MATTHEWS: Hillary needs George all the more.

NEWTON-SMALL: But what George is also saying, look --

MATTHEWS: Do you know him personally, George?


FINEMAN: I wish.


FINEMAN: I`ve met him.


NEWTON-SMALL: But he was also saying, look, I did the same thing with Barack Obama when he was running for president in 2008.

MATTHEWS: Why do people pay $337,000 to go have dinner and sit next to George Clooney and his wife and Hillary Clinton?

FINEMAN: Well, that question --

MATTHEWS: Three hundred thousand dollars.

FINEMAN: That question answers itself if you live in Hollywood. OK. Because --

MATTHEWS: Just to be able to say that you`re friends?

FINEMAN: Well, first of all, most of the Hollywood power is Democratic, not all of it, OK, but most of it is Democratic.

MATTHEWS: Bruce Willis.

FINEMAN: And predominantly pro-Hillary at this point, not entirely. That`s how Hollywood was organized. Hollywood is medieval or structured, just the way Washington is.


FINEMAN: Right now, George Clooney is as close to Barack Obama as you`re going to get in Hollywood.

MATTHEWS: What was it like in 2008? Very split. 2008 was very split.

FINEMAN: Not this time.

MATTHEWS: A lot of tough guys in the business.

Anyway, new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, national poll reveals Americans have curved their enthusiasm for the 2016 field. Voters were asked who they could not see themselves supporting. Not see themselves.

On the top was Donald Trump, 68 percent say they won`t vote for him, say it. Cruz was next at 61, Clinton was at 58, Sanders at 48, John Kasich at 47, but Kasich also had the least amount of name recognition.

Never heard of him like --


MATTHEWS: But that is also attitude, which they are going to vote for one of those guys. You have to do.

FINEMAN: That, to me, that pulls the expression where I was talking about before, people`s basic idea about politics and politician this year is get them all away from me.

They don`t do anything. They accomplish nothing and the only reason that Kasich, that 48 percent say they won`t vote for Kasich, most don`t know enough about him --

MATTHEWS: But Bernie had 28,000 people in Prospect Park in Brooklyn the other day. How down get a crowd like that?

NEWTON-SMALL: It`s anti establishment. If I were the president to be worried about this poll, I would be a member of Congress worry about this poll because that`s anti establishment wave that basically decides whoever --

MATTHEWS: They could knockoff the incumbents this time for the first time ever?

BACON: I don`t think --

MATTHEWS: They never do.

BACON: Donald Trump is the most unpopular candidate in the history of the poll.

MATTHEWS: What does it say?

BACON: It says that Donald Trump is unpopular and may have a hard time with the president.

MATTHEWS: Who has the best chance --

BACON: Hillary Clinton`s numbers are much better than Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS: Who`s got the best chance of being the Republican nominee?

NEWTON-SMALL: Donald Trump.

BACON: Mitch McConnell keeps saying, I think Ted Cruz has a good chance. These McConnell interviews suggest.

MATTHEWS: You are dreamer.

BACON: I`m not a dreamer at all.

NEWTON-SMALL: No, that is like --

BACON: The establishment wants to take from Donald Trump, that`s true.

FINEMAN: But think of it.

MATTHEWS: You are right.

BACON: They really want to take it.

FINEMAN: I agree. They are left -- the establishment left with Ted Cruz as their savior, a guy with a 58 percent negative rating who is hated by everybody in Washington.

MATTHEWS: You made the point earlier, who`s got a worse rating, that 9 percent, the establishment Washington gets. When George Will gets together with Mitch McConnell and Reince Priebus and all the establish -- that is the masters of the cloakroom. It`s the Dutch masters cigar box, all they got the Dutchmen that decide who is in the guild and who`s not in the guild.

They are deciding but the public is out there saying, screw the guild. We pick the candidate.

NEWTON-SMALL: Yes, that`s why it`s going to be so intense when you go to the convention in Cleveland because if they do, you know, do as what Perry is saying and take it away from Donald Trump, they`re going to have a base that will be incredibly angry at them.


MATTHEWS: We were on with Hugh Hewitt. He`s a gentleman, but he was arguing with me, why are so many conservative or right wing radio talk show hosts who have three-hour shows every day, 15 hours a week, relentlessly trashing Trump, relentlessly, and yet Trump is doing well?

BACON: In their view, Trump is not a real conservative but I think we`re learning that FOX News and talk radio which we thought was overwhelmingly strong, not as strong as we thought they were.



FINEMAN: Can I make another point about that? The talk show, the radio talk show hosts are part of the establishment now.


FINEMAN: Not the old Washington establishment. It`s the -- it`s another kind of vetting establishment.

MATTHEWS: It`s red state.

FINEMAN: People are so upset with politics now, they don`t even want to listen to the people they use to regard as rebellious authority figure.



MATTHEWS: How about the guy with the white finger in the air, Rush?


NEWTON-SMALL: He`s very true.

MATTHEWS: He is so smart.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, just like George Clooney.

Anyway, thanks for staying with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something we don`t know. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, the United States will send 217 more troops to Iraq to help government forces fight ISIS. Those additional U.S. forces are expected to serve in advisory and training roles, but very near the front, by the way.

The announcement was made in Baghdad this morning by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter who then sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC`s Lester Holt. Secretary Carter admitted it`s never easy to put more American troops in harm`s way.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: As you add additional personnel, they are advising lower down the chain, does that put more Americans at higher risk? Are they closer --

ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Iraqis are still in the lead. That doesn`t change. And, Lester, Americans are at risk today every single day here. As secretary of defense, I take that more seriously than anything else.

I want our troops to be effective, but I want them also to be as safe as possible consistent with that. But it`s very important to do this, because we have to and we will defeat ISIL. But we need to get that done as soon as possible. And that means being more aggressive in the moves we make.


MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with HARDBALL roundtable.

Of course, Howard, tell me something I don`t know.

HOWARD: Chris, you know that Bernie Sanders is going to fight to the end. But you already know that, but here`s further proof --

MATTHEWS: George Clooney told him to.

FINEMAN: The evidence is out there. But he not only is going to keep one lawsuit going against the Democratic National Committee, I won`t bore you with the details, but it`s a bitter lawsuit, there`s going to be more. There`s going to be one more for sure on campaign spending laws and how the DNC has applied them and maybe a third --

MATTHEWS: Does he feel aggrieved, does he really think he has a case?

FINEMAN: He`s permanently and intuitively and professionally aggrieved, that`s Bernie Sanders.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re watching a debate. And every time he`s not actually talking --


FINEMAN: Here`s a thing about Bernie. You said, Chris, you said earlier in the show that one of your guests said Bernie started out really calm and nice and didn`t get nasty until the end. That`s because nobody in politics introduces themselves by accusation. They start nice and get there.

MATTHEWS: OK, quickly, you got 20 seconds.

NEWTON-SMALL: So, Hillary`s feeling the burn, I don`t know if you know that, that`s my surprising thing. No, she`s not feeling the Bernie burn. She said in a morning radio talk show this morning that she loves her hot sauce. And "Time" exclusively learn that the favorite hotdog now --

MATTHEWS: For the Latina vote?

NEWTON-SMALL: Her favorite right now is ninja squirrel.

MATTHEWS: There`s no political aspect for this?

NEWTON-SMALL: Ninjas, no.

BACON: Real talk --

MATTHEWS: I immediately thought it was for Mexican food.

BACON: Trump`s numbers are so bad, as we talk about earlier, there`s real talk now that the Democrats potentially, very small chance, potentially could win the house. Not only the Senate but the house as well.

MATTHEWS: Who are you hearing from?

BACON: From Larry Sabato --


MATTHEWS: Larry Sabato, OK. He`s got the numbers.

Anyway, Howard Fineman, sir, thank you.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Jay Newton-Small and Perry Bacon.

We meet every day.

BACON: We do.

MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish with mixed bags. You like something about one candidate, candidate A, like Clinton, you like something else about candidate B, and you can`t get everything from the same candidate, so you stress and then you vote.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a familiar problem we face when it comes time to take side. How often do we find we agree with candidate A on some issues, candidate B on others?

I like Bernie Sanders` foreign policy, I think he gets it. He`s learned from Vietnam. The quagmire we managed to get ourselves into, when Lyndon Johnson allowed the war to escalate. The more bombs we dropped, the more troops headed south from Hanoi, the more bombs we drop, the more -- well, you get it.

They, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were going to stay. They were going to be part of Vietnam`s future and we eventually, whatever time it was, were going to come home. And this we learned was the fundamental fact of our military interventions. No matter how many bombs we dropped, and lives we lost and lives we took, we would eventually come home and our adversary in that case, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, were going to stay.

Just as the Afghans of all stripes are going to be in Afghanistan. And the Iraqis of all stripes, Sunni, Shia, and Kurd, are going to stay, and we eventually are going to come home. On domestic policy, I leave to Hillary Clinton. I think she knows what can actually get done in a two-party system where the other side has huge advantages when it comes to stopping anything from happening.

I think she accepts the system that has worked for this country with modification from the beginning, mixed capitalism. That means government intervention on matters of utmost vitality, civil rights, Social Security, health care, public education, but in general alliance on the efficiency of free markets.

This isn`t the first time and certainly won`t be the last when I spot matters where several candidates offer strengths. I suppose the only way to get it right is to run yourself, perhaps that is when you think about it the best reason to run, the belief you`ve got it figured or at least better than the other people do.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.