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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/23/2017

Guests: Ken Vogel, Jon Ralston, Laverne Cox, Travis Weber, Mark Penn, Michelle Bernard

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: February 23, 2017 Guest: Ken Vogel, Jon Ralston, Laverne Cox, Travis Weber, Mark Penn, Michelle Bernard

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In bed with Trump.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

When Conservative Political Action Conference -- when that conference kicked off last year, there was a debate about whether Donald Trump as an insurgent Republican candidate really represented the conservative movement. Well, now, with President Trump set to address the annual gathering tomorrow, it`s clear that his brand of conservatism has prevailed.

Today, White House strategist Steve Bannon told the audience at CPAC that the president will stop at nothing to deliver on his campaign agenda.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE STRATEGIST: Every day, it is going to be a fight, and that is what I`m proudest about Donald Trump, all the opportunities he had to waver off this, all the people have come to him and said, Oh, you got to moderate -- every day in the Oval Office, he tells Reince and I, I committed this to the American people. I promised this when I ran, and I`m going to deliver on this.


MATTHEWS: But after Milo Yiannopoulos was disinvited from CPAC for his offensive statements the other day, we saw again how fringe elements from the far right have come close to infiltrating the conservative movement in the wake of Trump`s victory.

Well, today, Richard Spencer, the head of a white nationalist group, was stripped of his credentials and escorted from CPAC after he held an impromptu media availability with reporters. And here`s how Spencer explained what happened to NBC`s Kasie Hunt.


KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: What happened here? Did they strip of you your credentials here at CPAC?

RICHARD SPENCER, NATIONAL POLICY INSTITUTE: Yes, they did. That`s their right to do that, I guess.

HUNT: But they issued them to you in the first place.

SPENCER: Yes, they issued them to me in the first place.

HUNT: So what was their rationale? Did they just discover who you were, or was it...

SPENCER: I guess they just discovered who I was. And the fact is, people want to talk to me. They don`t want to talk to these boring conservatives. I think everyone -- everyone recognizes that there has to be identity politics in the world, that we white people define the United States, but we`re now -- we`re now experiencing an increasing minority status.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`ll test your 1st Amendment beliefs. Anyway, a CPAC spokesman said Spencer was unwelcome at the forum.

Meanwhile, as conservatives herald their new agenda in Washington -- that`s here -- a very different scene is playing out at Republican town halls out there across the country. Progressive constituents in Republican districts continue to take their fight to lawmakers, in fact, yesterday angrily shouting down their elected representatives in order to voice their concerns.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you do to help bring that about in Congress, to show this man`s tax returns?



SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: The way we determine who our commander-in- chief in this country is is through elections. And we just had an election.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, the former president showed his birth certificate. My God!


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter has cancer! She`s 23 years old. She believes that no one cares, especially Senator Cassidy!

SEN. DEAN HELLER (R), NEVADA: Let me share with you what I`ve done for the last 10 years.


HELLER: I`ve done tele-town halls for the last 10 years.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m Mary Storey (ph) from Fayetteville, and I am not a paid protester.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before we get anything in this country, we need to make sure that our president is not a puppet of Vladimir Putin.



MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, it`s a vivid split screen right there, a picture of the deepening divide in Trump`s America.

Let`s now go to CPAC, where NBC`s Kasie Hunt is standing by. Kasie, thank you. That interview with Spencer was -- I don`t know if it`s revelatory or not, but it was kind of a creepy comment he gave you about white superiority and all that nonsense. He`s not hiding from it.

HUNT: He clearly is not hiding from his views, and it -- you know, it`s a little difficult to ask those kind of questions in this forum, to be completely honest with you, Chris. But it`s very clear that the organizers wanted him out. They wanted to make sure that the headlines about this were about him being thrown out and not about the fact that he -- you know, he showed up. He stood in the hallways. He held impromptu press conference after the flap with Milo Yiannopoulos that you mentioned and the comments he had made. He, of course, was an invited speaker until he made those comments about underage sex that, you know, prompted the organizers to say, You know what? This is absolutely untenable.

But you know, Richard Spencer creating a similar controversy today. And I think, really, it -- it -- it really underscores the divide that was going on here at this conferences between establishment conservatives and how uncomfortable they are with some of the elements that some of the people around Donald Trump -- critics would say they`re fomenting or encouraging them, but certainly, they are people who are praising Donald Trump and are -- you know, they held conferences. Richard Spencer held one, said, Hail Trump, in Washington after he was elected. He was, of course, famously punched in the face twice at the inauguration. A very difficult grappling (ph). And I think you saw it on stage, too, between Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.

MATTHEWS: Well, CPAC`s executive director, Dan Schneider, today said that people like Richard Spencer have hijacked the alt-right. Let`s listen to what he said.


DAN SCHNEIDER, CPAC EXEC. DIR.: Just a few years ago, this hate-filled left-wing fascist group hijacked the very term "alt-right."

We know who these people are. They met just a couple months ago in Washington, D.C., to spew their hatred and make their "Heil Hitler" salutes. They are anti-Semites. They are racists. They are sexists. They hate the Constitution. They hate free markets. They hate pluralism. They hate everything and they despise everything we believe in.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? I mean, I can`t tell if that`s conservative talk or not. What -- does that resonate in the room, what he was saying, pluralism?

HUNT: Look I think it -- I think it did resonate in the room that we were in, Chris. I mean, so if you think of this divide kind of more broadly, obviously, Richard Spencer on the -- I think many people here would say is on the fringe of what we`re talking about.

There`s been lot of criticism of Steve Bannon as someone who has encouraged the alt-right or whether his Web site Breitbart encouraged the alt-right. And he was sitting on stage next to Reince Priebus, who for the last however many years has been the chairman of the Republican Party, has been, if anything -- if anybody embodied the Republican establishment, right, it was Reince Priebus. And they`re sitting next to each other on the stage, and I watched them together and particularly watched the crowd when Bannon was speaking, and there were absolutely people who were very excited. He joked, Hey, like, thanks for inviting me this time around, guys. And there were a lot of people that were excited.

But I would say there were a good number who simply sat in their seats and listened. And they were not necessarily cheering. They were not necessarily on their feet. There is still an intense degree of discomfort in the different kind of -- I don`t even know that I want to call them wings. I would say there is conservative movement that doesn`t entirely know how to grapple with this piece of conservatism in America that has gotten something of a new voice over the course of the last election cycle- -


HUNT: --and since President Trump has been inaugurated. They just don`t know how to grapple with it. And you could see a version of it on stage. You could feel it in the crowd. You could feel as, you know, the people in the charge of CPAC were saying to me private, We`re doing everything we can to distract from what Richard Spencer is doing in our hallways right now.


HUNT: I think that helps explain what Dan Schneider said on the stage. I mean, there is an intense discomfort here. But the reality is, Bannon was also up there saying -- and you played it -- We`re going to fight every day. We`re going to do this kind of thing every day. He understands how to motivate people that respond to this kind of thing. And it -- from what he said today, it sounds like that`s going to be a focus here -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: I get it. I think -- I think Bannon looks like Bannon. He acts like Bannon, sounds like Bannon. And when you meet him and hear him, he sounds like what you thought you`d get. He looks like who he is.

Anyway, thank you, Kasie Hunt, for great reporting.

HUNT: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: The grass roots energy at town halls out there across the country has caused some Republicans to avoid even having a meeting. Today, Republican congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas invoked the name of Gabby Gifford -- Gabby Giffords to justify his decision not to schedule a town hall.

Catch this for low-brow behavior. He didn`t want to have a town meeting now, in February of 2016 -- 2027, actually, because of what happened a while back. And he says that`s the reason. Quote, "There are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety." This is the congressman talking. "The House sergeant-at-arms advised us after former congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed, just as happened there."

Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords herself then responded to what Gohmert said today with this statement. "To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this. Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls."

Florida senator Marco Rubio was also confronted today by a protester who asked him why he hasn`t held any town halls this week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) town hall? There`s a constituent town hall today. We need to hear from you, Senator.


MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Jon Ralston, editor of "The Nevada Independent."

First, I want to follow up on what Kasie Hunt just said. There is a real disconnect, it seems to me, historically between what Trump is selling and what`s been called conservatism by conservatives for years now. Conservative basically support free trade. They`ve been somewhat hawkish.

I mean, you go through all the issues it seems that Trump ran on, and they went in the other direction. And now they`re all sort of getting in line behind him, but I can understand what Kasie said, they don`t feel completely comfortable calling themselves Trump conservatives.

I want to get to this first before we get to the town halls -- Robert.

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Bannon has been a mysterious figure inside of the White House, Chris, and today he laid out his entire agenda and President Trump`s agenda in plain sight. He said he, quote, "wants the deconstruction of the administrative state." And I was leaving CPAC to come to HARDBALL tonight, I huddled with Nigel Farage, the Brexit leader, and he said Bannon`s vision is not just domestic here in the U.S., it`s global. He wants to up-end political order, and he articulated that aim today at CPAC.

MATTHEWS: To what effect? To go right or left? What`s his goal, Bannon`s?

COSTA: It`s actually about destroying, in his mind, the right-left norms of American politics, to make it establishment versus anti-establishment, nationalist versus globalist. Whether this project will succeed, we`ll have to see. But it`s a different kind of project for the conservative right, not a traditional Republican agenda in any way.

MATTHEWS: Jon Ralston, that raises the question, if you get power, you very quickly become the establishment. You know, we saw the congressman -- the senator from Arkansas talking about, Well, talk to my staff people later, or -- you know or, I`ll schedule you for a meeting. He begins to talk, you know, like a typical pol who`s been in office too many years. How quickly the renegade become establishment. And now they`re facing the people at these town halls as establishment figures.

JON RALSTON, "NEVADA INDEPENDENT": That`s exactly right, Chris. You`re talking about Tom Cotton, and I saw that, too. But I think that gets to a little bit what Robert was talking about, too, in this total deconstruction of political norms, where labels become meaningless.

Where I think a lot of us missed Trump`s appeal is it wasn`t about whether he was conservative or liberal. He was different. He spoke like a lot of normal people speak, not like media elites speak, the adjectives he used, the way that he seemed to be a real person, and that is what people were reacting to during the campaign.

But now the campaign`s over, as you point out, Chris. Now he`s the president of the United States. And when you look at what`s happening in these town halls, people want him to deliver, and people aren`t patient about campaign promises. There`s not -- they`re not willing to wait. They want their lives to be better. They want to make sure they don`t lose their health care. And that`s going to be the key to the whole thing, despite whatever Bannon`s world is and how much he can impose of that on the president.

MATTHEWS: One thing I`ve learned working on the Hill, and learned the difference between a Tip O`Neill and a Ronald Reagan is a Tip O`Neill spent 40 or 50 years dealing with constituent concerns. You realize very quickly in a job like Congress, right or left or Republican or Democrat, there are people out there who are sick, they`re old, they need help, they have kids with problems, they got educational challenges, special education challenges. These are realities of the world, and you come in contact once you take elective office if you meet the people.

What I`m seeing, Robert, at these town halls is what the -- the letters (INAUDIBLE) used to get the senators and Congresspeople I worked for. People have real -- it has nothing to do with ideology. They`re not fighting about the wall or the Muslim ban or any of that stuff, the poster issues with Trump. They`re bugging his people, How`s my -- I want my Social Security check. I`m 76 years old. Where`s my check? I`m worried about Medicare. Where`s my -- who`s going to pay my -- (INAUDIBLE) my big, you know, co-payment.

These are real concerns. I got "Obama care," and now they`re calling it, you know -- what do they call it, Affordable Care Act, ACA now. It`s not ideological. It`s real. They`re on it. People die when they don`t have health care. Robert...


MATTHEWS: ... being an incumbents, you have to be a grown-up. Incumbents have to be grown-ups.

COSTA: And they feel like grown-ups when I talk to their aides here at the Capitol. But the big question I have as a reporter is, What`s the threshold? What`s the threshold for all of these Republicans in the House and Senate for going along with President Trump and Steve Bannon on this nationalist, populist agenda because they`re getting confronted at these town halls, and they`re in a box because they see the Pew poll that Trump`s more popular than them. So they can`t really break with Trump politically at this point. They don`t seen an opening for that.

But they also realize that there are -- there are caveats to this Bannon agenda. Bannon says he wants to destroy the state, but you don`t hear him going after Social Security and Medicare. And so these -- the Republicans, they`re just wondering when are they actually going to have an opinion that can actually be popular for them, they don`t have to just go along with Trump.

MATTHEWS: And what happens when Steve Bannon goes back to la-la-land and those Congresspeople are still trying to maintain -- Jon Ralston, that`s a problem. Quickly, that`s a problem, isn`t it. If you have a political career in mind, you`re not some guy who`s -- you know, comes in like a political day trader like Bannon -- oh, this`ll work this time in this zeitgeist, but two weeks from now, somebody`s got a hospital bill to pay. You know?

RALSTON: Well, you`re right, Chris. And what you are saying is exactly right, is these are constituents and they`re constituents with real problems. And we -- we saw that when Dean Heller went to that -- what was supposed to be a business luncheon that suddenly turned into town hall.

They want these people to be accessible to them, to talk to them about their own problems. They don`t care about what`s going on -- with -- with the zeitgeist in Washington or what Bannon`s doing or who has control...


RALSTON: ... between Priebus and Bannon. They wanted Dean Heller to say, Come talk to us, and Dean Heller acted like a politician, saying, I have telephone town halls. We all know what that`s about. And unless they do this -- you know, it`s February 23rd, 2019, Chris. Let`s talk about what`s happening in six months in their lives, what Trump`s numbers look like. We don`t know yet. But it`s clear that if this becomes a contagion and this keeps going on, it`s going to be a really problem, no matter what`s going on in Washington.

MATTHEWS: One of my heroes, Gene McCarthy, when he quit the Senate after many years, he said, It`s a job and I don`t want it. It`s a real job. (INAUDIBLE) one thing to give speeches up in New Hampshire and have -- be a hero to the anti-war crowd, but he came home to Minnesota, he said, I don`t really like this job. And I think a lot of these politicians are realizing it`s not like being student council president. You got to do more than run mixers.

Anyway, thank you, Robert Costa, and thank you, John Ralston from Nevada.

Coming up -- the Trump administration reverses the federal protections on transgender restrooms in public school. Well, this is a huge defeat for the LGBT community -- short run. And when we come back, we`re going to get reaction to Trump`s move from the actress Laverne Cox. This is going to be something, this conversation, very close to reality here.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: This Tuesday night, coming up next Tuesday, MSNBC will have complete coverage of President Trump`s first address to a joint session of Congress that night. Starting at 8:00 Eastern, I`ll be joined by Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow for the president`s speech.

And then after the speech, join me for a special late night edition of HARDBALL at midnight. I`ll have an all-star lineup of big name guests, including Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Kathy Griffin and Rob Reiner and a lot more. You won`t believe the show at midnight on Tuesday night next week. I expect we`ll get some interesting reaction from those guests to the president`s address. And that`s HARDBALL, late night, midnight Eastern on Tuesday night coming up.

And we`ll be right back.



LORETTA LYNCH, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let us reflect on the obvious, but often neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good and never works in hindsight.

But no matter how isolated, no matter how afraid and no matter how alone you may feel today, know this, that the Department of Justice, and indeed the entire Obama administration, want you to know that we see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. And please know that history is on your side.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Attorney General Loretta Lynch just last spring speaking directly to the transgender community in this country and ensuring them that, under President Obama, they would be protected.

Well, yesterday, the Trump administration announced it was stripping federal guidelines issued by the Obama administration which protected transgender students. Those guidelines allowed those students to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identities, as opposed to the gender on their birth certificate.

The move was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was expected to begin rolling back civil rights protections expanded under Obama.

But "The New York Times" reports Sessions faced resistance from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, writing -- quote -- "Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, Republican said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition."

Well, tonight, a protest is under way at the iconic Stonewall Inn in New York, where demonstrators are rallying to keep protections for transgender students and people generally.

Well, tonight, Trump appeared to be sympathetic -- or he did to transgender issues during the 2016 campaign. Here is what he said on "The Today Show" just last April.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the best answers I heard was from a commentator yesterday saying leave it the way it is right now. There have been very few problems. Leave it the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble.


MATTHEWS: So, why the decision now just the other day to reignite this culture war?

Joining me right now is actress and advocate Laverne Cox. She`s best known for her role as a transgender inmate on "Orange Is the New Black" and currently starring in "Doubt" on CBS.

Laverne, thank you for joining us.

And give us a sense. You`re not here to argue. You`re here to explain the human reality of being transgender and what this reversal basically in the progress made under the Obama administration would mean to real people.

LAVERNE COX, ACTRESS: First of all, thank you so much for having me here today.

And when Loretta Lynch, the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, made that incredible statement last year, I was so moved and I felt for the first time our federal government was acknowledging the humanity and dignity of trans people and it felt like we were turning a corner.

And the current administration`s revoking of these guidelines yesterday feels like we are moving backwards. And I think it sends a message to transgender people all over this country that we are not safe in this country. And it shames us. It stigmatizes us. It forces us to sort of not be visible and not be who we are. And that`s really a horrible place to be in.


MATTHEWS: Why do you think Trump is doing this? He`s a big city guy. He`s grown up in an environment of all kinds of orientations. He doesn`t strike me as some yahoo who has decided, I don`t know anybody like that, the hell with them.

He knows a lot of people with different backgrounds and different orientations and identities. Why would he do something like this that is so much against what he said before he was in office?

COX: Well, I think we -- everyone in the LGBT community understood that the vice president, that the current attorney general are people who have been very anti-LGBT. And so this is not surprising, considering the administration, people he`s hired.

MATTHEWS: So, you think they are calling the shots?

COX: I would imagine that, yes.

But I think, at the end of the day, we have to highlight the humanity of trans people and lift up trans people`s stories. It`s been very frustrating for me to watch commentary about this without actual trans people being present. And that`s why I wanted to be here today to ad trans voices to this conversation.


Let`s talk about reality. And I hope I don`t embarrass anybody, because I`m not here to do that. I`m just trying to understand the public policy and the rights issue here.

You go -- I was just in La Guardia today coming back down here. You go to the men`s or the women`s room. and you make a decision. You make a decision.

What does this have to do with those kinds of decisions, this back forth we have had here from Obama to Trump in terms of which room you`re supposed to go into?

COX: Well, what my friend Chase Strangio, who works at the ACLU, says this so brilliantly, that these anti-trans bathroom bills are not really about bathrooms. They`re about whether or not we want and believe that trans people have a right to exist in public space.


COX: When trans people can`t access public bathrooms, we can`t go to schools effectively, go to work effectively, access health care facilities. It`s about us existing in public space.

And those who oppose trans people having access to the facilities that are consistent with how we identify know that all the things that they claim don`t actually happen. It`s really about us not existing, about erasing trans people.

If we look at states like California and Assembly Bill 1266, which was signed into law by Jerry Brown in 2013, and implemented three years ago, January 1 of 2014, it basically allowed trans students in the state of California to use the facilities that are consistent with how we identify.

And nothing horrible has happened. What has indeed happened is trans students feel supported by their schools and by their administrations and it gives them space to thrive. And that`s what we should want for all of our youth, spaces to thrive and not be stigmatized and singled out.

MATTHEWS: You are a great representative to have on the show. Thank you so much. I`m glad, Laverne, you came on the show to talk about this tonight, when this is so important to talk about.

We have to debate these issues. And they are sensitive issues, but they`re the ones we have to get to.

Thank you so much for coming and being a great American for coming on here and making your case so well.

COX: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

COX: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Mara Keisling is executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. And Travis Weber is the director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council.

Well, I don`t know how to deal with this, except common sense.

I want to with you, Travis. Excuse me. I want to start with Travis.

You just saw Laverne. What bathroom is she supposed to use at the airport? Just tell me. Give her advice. Pretend you are her best friend. What bathroom should she use?

TRAVIS WEBER, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Chris, we want to be sure to make sure that localities and school districts have the ability to decide this question for what is best for them.

We have got to be clear here about what is actually going on. President Trump...

MATTHEWS: What should she do?

WEBER: Do you want to hear my answer on this?

MATTHEWS: I want your answer to my question.

WEBER: Right. So, I`m going to try to answer your question here.

So, in reality, what have here is a question of the federal government taking power away from localities. President Trump is saying the federal government should not mandate that. Let localities decides.


MATTHEWS: Which restroom should she use?

WEBER: It depends....


MATTHEWS: You care about this issue. What restroom should she us?

WEBER: Yes. So, it depends where I`m at, right?

If I`m in a locality and a school district where there is no issue, well, my answer might be different.


MATTHEWS: It`s not -- you`re here. You volunteered to come in. I appreciate your guts in coming on.

Tell me what the right answer is.


WEBER: I mean, I want to have a conversation on this, but are you afraid to hear my explanation or answer?

MATTHEWS: Hardly. Hardly. Hardly afraid.

WEBER: You got to let me have my answer.

MATTHEWS: The way we do these program is, they`re called interview programs. And I interview people. And when you come on this show, you answer the question.

WEBER: Right.

So, it`s important to have an answer to the question if one is presented. Right?

So, in the case of Gloucester, they had an accommodation for that student in that case. Now, the accommodation was not satisfactory. Other school districts, they may have no issue. They may decide the question separately.

In Palatine, you had students who were afraid of their privacy. These students are the ones whose privacy is being...


MATTHEWS: All of a sudden, the president of the United States is getting involved in something like this. He didn`t have to do what he did the other day.

The president is now saying that he going to rescind the guidelines issued by the previous president, his predecessor. And his predecessor said basically you go to the bathroom where you`re most comfortable, not the one that matches your birth certificate.

What does this mean in real life? Most people are not transgender. They want to know the situation and what it`s like.


Well, these guidelines are not -- were are not about bathrooms. Bathrooms were included in them, but they were a small part. They were about allowing kids to go to school, allowing them to have dignity, allowing to fit in like all other kids.

But Travis is just wrong. The reason we have federal civil rights laws is because your rights as a minority person, whatever kind of minority it is, should not be based on what the individual state wants, what the individual zip code wants.

And Travis knows that. He is an attorney. The whole states -- one of the most scary things about this is, Jeff Sessions, after being attorney general for less than two weeks, is taking away people`s civil rights, saying he won`t enforce civil rights laws, and he`s claiming states` rights?


KEISLING: That`s pretty chilling.

MATTHEWS: What about Title IX, Travis, the fact that you`re protecting people regardless of whatever their sex is or identity? They can`t be prejudiced against.

WEBER: You`re absolutely correct.

So, Title IX has been on the books for a long time. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination. This is really what this question is about. Right? How is Title IX to be interpreted?

Now, President Obama reinterpreted that in the guidance last year. This merely takes that guidance away and puts us back to where we were for decades. We existed -- and under the current state of the status quo, with this guidance removed, schools can do whatever they want. A locality can do what it wants on this issue.

MATTHEWS: What should they do? What do you think they should do?

WEBER: They should sort these issues out.

MATTHEWS: But what should they do in terms of the policy?

WEBER: It depends what is going on in that locality.

MATTHEWS: What do you think they should do? What is your position?

WEBER: So, generally, students use the bathroom of their biological sex.

It`s important that whose rights are being overlooked -- whose rights are being overlooked.


MATTHEWS: Laverne, are you still here?


MATTHEWS: Laverne Cox is still with us.

Laverne, what do you think about that? He I talking in theoretical issues. And I understand he`s an attorney.

But Judge Scalia believed -- a hero of a lot of conservatives, that he believed, look at the left-wing that is written. It says sex. It says gender, Title IX. So, it should gives right to people who are transgender.

Go ahead. Laverne, you should have rights as transgender.

COX: Well, Gavin Grimm is the young man who is going to the Supreme Court and this Title IX question will be decided for the first time by the Supreme Court.

And a lower court actually just determined that Gavin was indeed covered under Title IX. And several courts all over this country have determined that Title IX covers transgender people.

Part what it says in Title IX is gender and also gender stereotypes. Right? So, if we look at the law, it really actually -- I believe it does protect trans people. And I hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of that.

And I think it`s important again to elevate the lived experiences of trans people, and not sort of talk to theory. The reality is that trans people have been using the bathroom for many years without incident.

All of the things, all the sort of privacy concerns, the bill that exists in Texas, SB-6, claiming to be a privacy bill, suggests that privacy of young girls is going to be sort of compromised by me and young trans girls being the bathroom with them, that`s actually not the case. It`s not the case.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question. Should Laverne use a men`s room?



MATTHEWS: So, again you have -- you`re tongue-tied about...


WEBER: Should Mara use a men`s room?

KEISLING: Travis knows that if Laverne and I came into the men`s room with him, he would be entirely freaked out.

Laverne and I cannot use the men`s room, should not use the men`s room. And, by the way, if we want to go back to how it`s been for decades, we will leave this stuff alone and allow people to just be adults about it.

Travis is wrong that the Obama administration reinterpreted this. Remember, the Gavin Grimm case that Laverne is talking, it about got to circuit court before this guidance. This guidance was done because the courts have said Title IX protects us. Title IX does not protect us because of this guidance.


MATTHEWS: Who has standing on this, by the way, besides transgender people?

Because I think your side of the argument is that there are people who are harmed by a transgender person going into bathroom they feel comfortable in. You say people are harmed by that.

Who are that people that are harmed?

WEBER: Students in high schools. So, remember, this guidance...

MATTHEWS: Who is harmed?

WEBER: Students in high schools.

MATTHEWS: Describe them. What`s the harm?

WEBER: Chris, I think we all understand what the harm is when you have a 14...

MATTHEWS: I don`t.

WEBER: OK. Well, let me explain it.

MATTHEWS: Lay it out.

WEBER: A 14-year-old girl in the locker room, someone comes in with male genitalia to their locker room, of course they`re going to be harmed.

Their rights are not being protected here. And all I`m asking for is a reasonable discussion considering their rights. Let these localities decide the issue. That`s what we can currently do right now.

Obama -- President Obama was the one who was going to mandate this on everyone. Now localities can decide the issue. And it`s not as clear-cut under Title IX. Title IX is about sex discrimination. There are issues being sorted out in the courts.


MATTHEWS: Mara, respond to his portrait of the situation.

KEISLING: He says that Title IX is sex discrimination and it doesn`t cover trans people. And then he is saying bathrooms should be based on biological sex.

He is talking about...

MATTHEWS: Well, now he talking about locker rooms. Let`s broaden it.

WEBER: There`s a lot of different issues here. And it`s important...


MATTHEWS: Well, what do you respond to his, the way he -- Laverne, if you want to respond. We don`t have much time here. But I do think we will air these out in real terms.

Go ahead.

COX: I think it`s important, when we have conversations with and about transgender people, that we do not reduce us to body parts.

We are more than the sum of our parts. And it`s so deeply objectifying and dehumanizing to talk about trans people and reduce us to body parts. That is really disturbing.

And we need to look at the evidence. We need to look at all the hundreds of localities all over the country that have public accommodations protections. And that`s really what we`re talking about for trans people. And everything that he`s claiming happens actually doesn`t happen.

Instead, trans people feel as if they have a right to exist in society. My transition was about me existing in public space and thriving in society. And because I was able to do that, I have been able to thrive. That`s all we want.

MATTHEWS: That`s the last word.

Thank you, Laverne Cox. Thank you so much, Mara Keisling and Travis Weber. Thank you all.

WEBER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, the HARDBALL Roundtable is coming here, as we want -- well, we`re going to wait for Vice President Mike Pence and his CPAC speech. That`s coming up in real time.

Pence has been part of the cleanup crew, you might say, telling allies that President Trump really doesn`t mean a lot of the things he says. Well, that`s -- I guess that`s consoling to certain people. We`re going to hear what he has to say on his own tonight speaking to the base.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re waiting to hear from Vice President Pence, who is at tonight`s -- he`s the marquee guest actually at CPAC. That`s here in Washington. We`re going to bring you his speech, the good parts of it, if we can find them. Tomorrow morning, by the way, President Trump will address CPAC. And since joining the ticket, Vice President Pence has actually batted cleanup for his boss time to time.

Yesterday, the vice president made an unannounced visit to the Saint Louis Jewish cemetery where hundreds of gravestones were knocked over. And last week, the vice president traveled to Europe to reassure our worried allies that, yes, we believe in NATO, we`re committed to Europe and to NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Anyway, according to "The Washington Post," some European leaders wondered if the vice president was the shadow president or a mere shadow of the president. Very clever for them.

We`re now joined by people equally clever, but Americans, Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter for Politico, Michelle Bernard, president of the Bernard Center for Women, and Mark Penn, founder of The Stagwell Group and former adviser to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

Mark, thank you for coming on.

You have got a new poll out today. I got this poll which shows that Mike Pence gets favorable at 47 percent. Trump gets favorable of 45 percent. So, does Trump now know that Pence is a better surrogate for him than he is himself?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, I think there`s no question.

I think we are starting a monthly poll, the Harvard-Harris poll. And in this poll, Trump is the most popular person from the administration. Actually, Bernie Sanders was the most popular in the country.

But what does Trump do when his vice president is more popular than him?

MATTHEWS: Pence is the most popular.

PENN: Pence is the most popular in the administration.

You look at Bannon, he is down at 20 percent. So, the people he sent out in the campaign and Kelly Conway is negative two or three to one.

So, those folks really have trouble going out and speaking for Trump now. Pence is the man. And by the time you get to Europe, there`s probably a 40-point gap between Trump and Pence.

MATTHEWS: Michelle, this is pretty true. I mean, you talk about bad publicity. Bannon gets it all the time. He is like Darth Vader.


MATTHEWS: But he is a good speaker. I saw him today. He knows how to talk.

But he`s a little strong, but that`s part of the deal he`s got. He is the -- he`s sort of the tough guy in the White House.


MATTHEWS: But yet Kellyanne has had her problems. Let`s be honest.

But Pence comes off as the guys who says, yes, I believe in NATO.


MATTHEWS: And Tillerson says we`re not going to fight wars with our GIs, men and women, to get killed and mutilated, sometimes more horribly, so that we get more gas.


MATTHEWS: They`re smart things to say. Why isn`t the president saying the smart stuff because his base doesn`t want to hear from him?

BERNARD: Because the base doesn`t want to hear from him. That`s not what he got elected for, you know? I think he made a very pointed decision when he brought on Mike Pence, He is calm, he is stable.

When everybody else in the administration is operating, you know, up here, just hearing his -- even his tone of voice can be very calming, which is so surprising because prior to the election, one would have thought, given Mike Pence`s ideas on so many social issues, people would not find calm in Mike Pence. But that`s what he has given them.

MATTHEWS: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.


MATTHEWS: I mean, this is really bizarre because he`s not I don`t think as manipulative as Dick Cheney was. I think Cheney was manipulative of a lesser mind called the president that time and he knew how to manipulate the guy.

BERNARD: Well, Pence comes off as sincere.

MATTHEWS: Well, Pence has a hard, traditional Christian -- I must say Christian conservative view of the world, which is pretty consistent and predictable. Trump is an amalgam of stuff that works with the polling.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Yes. I mean, he also has an understanding of the way politics works innately in the way that Trump doesn`t. So, he kind of translates Trump --

MATTHEWS: Who are you going to believe? But who are you going to believe?

VOGEL: Yes, I mean, in some place --

MATTHEWS: I`m asking you the question.

VOGEL: -- which are direct conflicts and in that case, obviously, you have to believe Trump.

MATTHEWS: NATO sucks, they don`t pay their bill, the guy says, no, we need NATO. That`s a difference.

VOGEL: And I think you see the sort of administration separate and apart from Trump if it`s possible to distinguish them. Trump says something that`s sort of a little bit off the reservation, you have folks in the administration who are sort of the serious policy types who are trying to figure out where to sort of steer, where to find the middle ground, and Pence is the voice of those people. So, he`s the voice of them --

BERNARD: You used the word "translate" --


BERNARD: And that`s what he does. Like Donald Trump sends out a lot of tweets, you know, about how he`s going to repeal and replace Obamacare, and Pence says, step one --


MATTHEWS: Mark and I have been around a while.

Mark, Don Regan, who`s an arrogant SOB, Don Regan would say, I`m clean up crew for the elephants. And Reagan heard that. He`s the elephant. That didn`t work with him. He was gone.

Now they can clean up with the elephant with immunity. They say he doesn`t got it right, I`m telling you the truth, and he`s the president of the United States, how can they keep doing this?

MARK PENN, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Well, look, it`s a little good cop/bad cop routine, only in reverse, right? Pence is good cop, Trump is a bad cop. The way he negotiates is to create complete uncertainty about what he really thinks.

So, that whoever is approaching like, what does NATO think? Is he supporting us? Is he not? Is he going to -- do we have to pay these bills? Maybe we have to pay the bills. We don`t know. What are we going to do, Pence? Pence says, well, they will us. Trump says, no, maybe not. I think that`s part of a strategy.

BERNARD: Yes. I think you`re left to just think, well, maybe Trump isn`t entirely crazy because Mike Pence seems to be making some sense and maybe that`s the strategy.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about the CPAC today. I went to CPAC ten years ago. I used to go on, because it reminds of the old YAFfer days. Young American for Freedom.

It`s all right. They are who they are. But they seem to be now Trumpites.

And I always wonder, how can you have this mass conversion? Republicans tend to be pro-free trade. That`s what they believe in. Free trade, you know? Adam Smith, you know?

Now, they are all with him on trade, I guess. They are pretty hawkish, he`s not really exactly hawkish. A lot of stuff, immigration they were not madly anti-immigrant. Now, they are.

How can they convert as a mass group? It`s like one of these religious things where 500 people get married the same day. I mean, how does that happen?

VOGEL: Yes, I think CPAC has kind of lost its status as a moral compass of --

MATTHEWS: Are they Trumpites? Are they Trumpites now?

VOGEL: I think that they are. And it`s such a stark change from not just decades ago and not just the William Buckley era --

MATTHEWS: But they love Russia now.

VOGEL: But even -- last year, last year, Trump pulled out of the CPAC because they were protesting --

MATTHEWS: Hey, Mark, why are they pro -- they now like Russia, the right wing.

PENN: Well, but they`re just -- look, they`re just have following Trump. I think you`re quite right. Trump -- they never thought they would have as much power and they never thought Trump was going to win. And they kind of figure how -- it`s in our interest. We`re going to have to really cater to Trump a little bit, even though we completely disagree with him on probably 70 percent of the issues.

MATTHEWS: Well, 90 percent of Republicans like Trump in our latest polling, self-identified. Go figure. Anyway --

PENN: The grassroots?

MATTHEWS: Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love. Democrats aren`t in love with anybody right now.

Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable is staying with us as we continue to await the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, to take the stage at CPAC. There it is. He`s coming there.

Plus, new reporting on a story -- he`s not there yet -- the Trump`s campaign manager and what reads like. It`s kind of something that reads like a blackmail threat. And we`ve got it now to talk about it. Somebody thinks that Paul Manafort was basically threatened with blackmail. We`re going to talk about that when we come back.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

According to a report by Ken Vogel on "Politico" today, Donald Trump`s former campaign manager became the victim of blackmail attempt while he was serving in the campaign last summer. Paul Manafort`s daughter, the report says, received message from someone claiming to be a Ukrainian politician who threatened to expose undisclosed evidence of Manafort`s unsavory financial dealings with the former pro-Putin Ukrainian leader.

Well, that politician denied to "Politico" the message came from him. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing regarding his work in Ukraine.

We`re back with the roundtable, Ken, Michelle and Mark.

Ken, you go. How good is this? How solid is this right now?

VOGEL: The hack is on.

MATTHEWS: There was a blackmail threat?

VOGEL: Yes. We just don`t know precisely who it was by. It could have been an effort to setup this Ukrainian parliamentarian. What we do know is this takes sort of out of realm of the hypothetical and into the real world, these sort of concerns that Democrats have raised about how --

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s come back and remind everybody -- why did Trump dump Manafort after he worked for him for a while?

VOGEL: It was because of questions about his work in Ukraine for this pro- Putin politician, Viktor Yanukovych --

MATTHEWS: So, there`s something there.

VOGEL: There`s absolutely something there. He has to step down from the campaign --

MATTHEWS: OK, the second question that comes to my mind is, how did Manafort get together with Trump? How did they get together? Was it Russian connections?

VOGEL: He -- apparently, he was introduced to him by this Tom Barrack guy --

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know Tom --

VOGEL: A California financier, right, and so, Manafort had worked for Tom Barrack, but what is alleged in this blackmail email is that, in fact, Manafort had worked with Trump back in 2012 to broker meetings with other pro-Putin Ukrainian politician. That`s what`s alleged in this email, that the White House didn`t comment on that. The Ukrainian guy said he didn`t send the e-mail, but what we see is how these types of connections can potentially --

MATTHEWS: How far back does Trump go in Russia? Do you know?

VOGEL: Trump, I mean, Trump --

MATTHEWS: When he first get in over there? When he first get in over there --

VOGEL: I mean, he had business ties going back ten years or so.

MATTHEWS: I hear more. But go ahead, Michelle?

BERNARD: Well, I mean, I --

MATTHEWS: This gets to the heart of the whole messy mess, which is what is the entanglement that the Trump rump campaign had with the Russians?

BERNARD: Absolutely, because if you look at the tweets and your fine reporting, once you -- you have to deal with the first question which is the veracity of the tweets, the veracity of the e-mails that were sent to Manafort`s daughter. If they are truthful, there`s a lot more there there.

MATTHEWS: Right. And we`ll be back with you guys.

Here`s Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, speaking at CPAC, coming out to the applause we don`t hear yet.






It is great to be back at the premier gathering of conservatives in the United States of America.


You know, this is the ninth time I`ve had the privilege to address CPAC. Thanks to all of you and the confidence of our new president, this is the first time I`m here as vice president of the United States of America.


Because of all of you, because of your hard work and your support and your prayers, my family and I have the privilege to serve. And more importantly, because of all of you, my friend Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States of America.


You know, the president and I have become good friends. It`s the greatest privilege of my life to be vice president to a leader of such conviction, vision, and courage. Now, some people have remarked we`re a little bit different.


You know, I`m a small town guy, he`s big city. I`m Midwest, he`s Manhattan Island. He`s known for his bigger-than-life personality, his charm and his charisma and I`m like -- not.


You know, as I said at the Republican convention, I guess he was just looking to balance the ticket.

All kidding aside, when President Trump asked me to join him on the ticket, I said yes in a heart beat, because you have elected a man for president who never quits, he never backs down, he is a fighter, he is a winner, and I promise you -- he will never stop fighting until we make America great again.


You know, from the outset, our president reminded me of somebody else, a man who inspired me to join the cause of conservatism nearly 40 years ago. President Ronald Reagan.


I believe President Trump has given voice to the aspirations and frustrations of the American people like no leader since Reagan. I just knew our new president would reignite our cause and renew it in our own day. And he did just that.

President Trump won a historic victory all across the United States of America.


Think about it.

Thirty out 50 states, including states that no Republican had carried in a generation, President Donald Trump turned the blue wall red.


And you know what? The establishment never saw it coming.


I mean, the media, the elites, the insiders, everybody else who profits off preserving the status quo, they dismissed our president every step of the way. And in dismissing him, they also dismissed millions of the hardworking forgotten men and women who make this country great. Worse yet, they`re still trying to dismiss him. They`re still trying to dismiss all of us.

What they should have learned on Election Day is this is not a government of the elites, by the media or for the establishment. What November 8th showed, even if they didn`t listen, is that this is still government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


MATTHEWS: We`ve been listening right now to Vice President Mike Pence really addressed the crowd at CPAC tonight. We`ll continue to monitor the vice president.

And right now, we`re back with our HARDBALL round table.

Ken, this is the old time religion. This is a good speech. I can tell it`s working with that crowd, that crowd. He could have given it 20 years ago 30, years ago. Reaganism as defined by -- he got a lot of votes. We like getting elected.

VOGEL: It`s like a Donald Trump speech. Recounting the electoral victory and --

MATTHEWS: But also going back with the incense out for Trump -- for Reagan.

VOGEL: The comparison with Reagan I think for some folks in that audience might not sit particularly well. But nonetheless, it`s why he can be that counterbalance to Trump and why Trump likes having him in the administration --

MATTHEWS: He connects with the religion.

VOGEL: But, it`s, I mean, like, you know, the poll numbers that Mark cited, having Trump less popular than someone, Trump would typically -- that would really bother Trump but it doesn`t because Pence is subordinate.

MATTHEWS: Michelle, there`s the numbers of how much people approved from the polling. You know, I get the feeling people believe Pence believes it. They used to say that about Bobby Kennedy. This guy believes what he says.

That`s why gay people I think are worried about Pence. He really believes about his positions. Women care about his positions on reproductive rights. He`s the real thing.

Trump is the guy who`s -- he`s like a fan dancer. He`s come up with this shtick, you know, "I`m pro life." Oh, yes, right, OK. Or I`m anti-gay. No, you`re not. But you know, we know why you`re doing it.

BERNARD: Yes, and the thing that is --

MATTHEWS: Fan dancer may not be the best demonstration --

BERNARD: He might not appreciate it. But, you know, the thing about Pence that can be alarming is, you know, his aw-shucks Gomer Pyle, I`m just a small town guy.


BERNARD: You know, people like it, it can be disarming and it can be deceiving.

MATTHEWS: It works.

BERNARD: It works with this crowd but it also is scary, because it hides the scariness of mike Pence hides behinds that aw shucks I`m just a country boy, but I --

MATTHEWS: If you happen to be gay or a minority or a woman --

BERNARD: Well, that was I was going to say because hiding behind that shield is the man who does not believe in the rights of the LGBT community, of African-Americans, he`s anti-choice. Scary.

MATTHEWS: It is warm sounding, though, isn`t it?


PENN: Yes. Look, I think a couple things. I think we learned from Gore that a loyal vice president, even when you don`t believe everything he`s saying, at least he`s loyal. I think vice presidents get respect for that. And I think also we have a vice president in the White House now who`s running for president and we haven`t had that in a while.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

PENN: And that means he`s going to have a breaking influence.

MATTHEWS: I think loyalty is the one thing that covers a lot of sins because loyalty is a good value. That`s why we like dogs.

BERNARD: Yes. But the question is, does loyalty matter to Donald Trump? If Mike Pence`s approval ratings keep getting higher and higher, how long does that loyalty last? How long is it going to pay off?

MATTHEWS: Do you think he would get rid of that in the next four years if he`s up for reelection? He`ll need him.

BERNARD: He needs him particularly on dealing with members of the Hill but we don`t know --

MATTHEWS: How do we get to 2020? We`ll take that off the table.

Ken Vogel, this Russian thing, does it have legs?

VOGEL: Oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Is this going to go all the way to big time congressional investigation? Is this real?

VOGEL: There are definitely -- for instance, we heard a story today that the White House -- Reince Priebus actually talked to the FBI --

MATTHEWS: Asking them to snuff the story.

VOGEL: Yes. Well, asking them to come out and vouch for the White House and say that this is not -- there`s no senior officials being implicated.

MATTHEWS: And the response from Comey was?

VOGEL: Well, we understand that they`re going to continue with whatever investigation they have.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think he`s going to get help from Comey in this baby.

Anyway, Ken Vogel, thanks, great reporting. Michelle Bernard and Mark Penn, great poll.

Now, it`s time for Trump watch for this Thursday, February 23rd, 2017.

Republicans are now learning the high price of having Donald Trump as their leader. You might call it sticker shock. You can catch the decibel level at the town meetings of those Republicans who dare to hold such open air, open door gatherings of contempt for all things Trump.

What we`re hearing at these meetings is the country`s stark divide between the 90 percent, nine out of ten Republicans, who support the new president, against the majority of the country that opposes him. This means to be a GOP representative between now and November, 2018, is to face a two-front war -- ward off the wildfire events like the CPAC convention here in Washington and face down critics of Donald Trump coming to you from the left. Protect your reputation on one front, your position as a member of Congress on the other.

This means that Republicans need to look both ways before crossing the street or, in this case, before showing up with some alt-right guy you don`t think was going to be at that event or voting too much in lockstep with Trump when it means hurting people in kitchen table issues back home.

Tricky business being a Republican these days. And it ought to be.

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