High stakes for Biden TRANSCRIPTS: 2/15/20, Hardball w. Chris Matthews

Guests: Ari Rabin-Havt; Steve Benjamin, Symone Sanders, Sam Stein, Andy Slavitt

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And if you don`t know whether you`ll be near your T.V. tomorrow tonight, you can always just DVR THE BEAT right now on your home. Press cable homepage, search Melber and press DVR this show, then you won`t miss tomorrow`s special or any other episodes of THE BEAT.

That does it for us. "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  South Carolina, let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Charleston, South Carolina, the site of tonight`s tenth Democratic debate, as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders continues his rush to the front of the Democratic presidential field. Tonight, his rivals get to blunt his momentum toward Saturday`s South Carolina primary.

There will be seven candidates on stage tonight, the last one before Super Tuesday, a week from today, when 14 states will hold primaries. Sanders will be right in the middle tonight standing between former Vice President Joe Biden, we see that, and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

And one candidate expected to throw some punches tonight is former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who needs to show some muscle. His campaign has put out word, actually, he intends to go nuclear on Senator Sanders tonight, hammering him at every opportunity, releasing an internal poll, in fact, claiming that Sanders would hurt Democrats in down-ballot races.

For his part, last night, Sanders doubled down on his comments he had made in an interview this Sunday on 60 Minutes praising certain aspects of the Castro regime in Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When Fidel Castro first came to power, which was when, `59?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST:  `59-`60.

SANDERS:  Okay. You know what he did? He issued a major literacy program. There were a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. And he formed a literacy brigade, you may read that, and they helped people to learn to read and write.

You know, I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Pete Buttigieg has already telegraphed his own line of attack for those comments. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In our one shot to defeat Donald Trump, we should think carefully about the consequences of nominating Senator Sanders. I don`t want -- as a Democrat, I don`t want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime when we`re going into the election of our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Ari Rabin-Havt, Deputy Campaign Manager for Senator Sanders` campaign.

Ari, how are you going to react to this? Because he is a double-down kind of guy, your candidate, he doesn`t change direction. What kids like about him especially is that big word, authenticity. He has said things in the past -- we`ll show you a couple more that will probably surprise you. But he has said nice things about the Castro regime.

ARI RABIN-HAVT, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER, SANDERS CAMPAIGN:  Look, the truth is there is no candidate on that stage who has stood up against authoritarianism more than Bernie Sanders. When you look at MBS and Saudi Arabia, a year before the rest of Washington, D.C. was on to the fact that he was a murderous thug. Bernie Sanders was talking about it, talking about how we need to get out of his war in Yemen.

You look at Xi, there are candidates on stage tonight who profit from XI`s regime. Bernie Sanders has been talking about authoritarianism and Xi. And, by the way, Bernie Sanders has consistently talked about the authoritarianism in Cuba and has opposed it over and over and over again.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s just let him talk for himself. Here it goes. NBC News reports that in 1986, his remarks at the University of Vermont, Sanders said, I was very excited and impressed by the Cuban revolution, adding that he became sick to his stomach when he heard that John F. Kennedy, the president then, discussed ways -- or he was the candidate for president -- to overturn that revolution in the 16th presidential debate with Richard Nixon. Quote, this was Bernie, I actually left the room because i was about to puke.

Well, according to the Cuban archive, a non-profit which promotes human rights in Cuba, an estimated 5,600 Cubans died in front of firing squads, 1,200 have been killed in extrajudicial assassinations and estimates that 78,000 may have died trying to escape that island. It`s not a free country.

RABIN-HAVT:  It`s not a free country, and Bernie Sanders wouldn`t say it`s a free country. And Bernie Sanders has opposed -- has been consistent in his opposition to authoritarian.

By the way -- one other thing. Let`s talk turkey about this because this is actually important. The other thing Bernie Sanders has been consistent in his opposition to is the idea that U.S. intervention has been a disaster across the world. And was -- as you well know, Chris, was a disaster in Central America. It was a disaster where my family is from in Brazil, has been a disaster in Iran since the `50s, has created an environment -- the overthrow of --

MATTHEWS:  Castro has not just been playing defense, and you know this, Ari. He brought in medium-range nuclear weapons that could hit every U.S. city except Seattle. He is our enemy. He has been our enemy.

RABIN-HAVT:  Yes. And nobody is suggesting that Bernie Sanders is pro- Castro. Bernie Sanders pointed out one aspect of the Castro regime, which by the way, President Obama also pointed to in a speech praising Castro. So if people want to talk about Bernie Sanders` position in Castro, let`s talk about Barack Obama. Let`s talk about turkey, real turkey.

MATTHEWS:  There`s a million Cuban-Americans in Miami. What will Senator Sanders say to them when he says, you lost your country, it was stolen from you, who claim to be a Democrat and then said, oh, yes, by the way, I`m a Marxist and I`m loyal to the Soviet Union. We were all rooting for him as kids. I`m older than you. And Bernie knows this. We all rooted for Castro when he came in. He said, I`m a Democrat. I`m going to overthrow that terrible regime and I`m going to become a Democratic leader of that country and he lied to us.

RABIN-HAVT:  Bernie Sanders opposes authoritarian regimes, be it in Cuba, be it in North Korea. We have a president, by the way --

MATTHEWS:  So what would he say to Cuban-Americans?

RABIN-HAVT:  I would say that Bernie Sanders is for freedom in Cuba, for democracy in Cuba, for human rights in Cuba. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who has consistently stood up for not in Cuba but all around the world, in countries where other candidates are suggesting he hug them tighter, be that China, Saudi Arabia. We have a president who is writing love letters to Kim Jong-un in North Korea. We want an administration that is consistently anti-authoritarianism.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`m for opening up. I`m for that part. I was just there with my wife and I think we got to show more of us and get to know more of them.

Anyway, you are a hell of a writer, a hell of a fighter. Ari Rabin-Havt, thank you, deputy campaign manager for Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, after facing criticism during the Nevada debate for the nondisclosure -- NDAs of women he signed at his company, Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, said last week that three of those women could be released from those NDAs if they wanted to. And what appears to be an attempt to change the narrative, the campaign released an ad today featuring women who have worked with Mayor Bloomberg. Here they go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Working with Mike Bloomberg was one of the most empowering experiences that I`ve had.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s important to talk to the people who know him personally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mike supports women, he promotes women and he respects women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bloomberg`s longtime partner, Diana Taylor, said in an interview that people bothered by those old NDAs should, quote, get over it. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANA TAYLOR, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG`S PARTNER:  I grew up in that world. It was a cruel culture.

We have come a very, very long way and Michael Bloomberg has been at the forefront of that change.

It was 30 years ago. Get over it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a statement, a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson said that Diana offered her personal view from her 40 years working in finance, not the view of the campaign.

I`m joined right now by the Democratic mayor of Columbia, capital of the state, South Carolina, Steve Benjamin, who`s a surrogate for the Bloomberg campaign. Mr. Mayor, thank you.

MAYOR STEVE BENJAMIN (D-COLUMBIA, SC):  I always have to remind people, I am a Democrat but I am elected independently.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.

BENJAMIN:  These are --

MATTHEWS:  Like a lot of mayors. I understand that, non-partisan.

Let me ask you about this candidate. Was that an improper thing for his partner to say?

BENJAMIN:  Well, obviously, we focus on the fact that Mike Bloomberg led the way, the three NDAs that mention him. He obviously has released the women from those NDAs and then more importantly, Bloomberg L.P. became the first company, large company in the country to lay out the fact it will never use NDAs again going forward.

MATTHEWS:  You could say he was bushwhacked last week.

BENJAMIN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Why wasn`t he ready to answer the question last week when Elizabeth Warren went after him?

BENJAMIN:  Last week, the focus -- obviously, Senator Warren was focused on Mike. They all should have been focused on Bernie. Since then --

MATTHEWS:  Why were they? What makes them think -- they`re going after the guy that`s just getting in the race.

BENJAMIN:  It`s amazing. Three -- two primaries -- two caucuses and a primary later, Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner and no one is willing to talk about his extreme record.

MATTHEWS:  Why? What`s going on here?

BENJAMIN:  It`s still a fragmented party that has coalesced around a centrist candidate. But you have these extreme views, this incredibly extreme history and a healthcare plan that`s going to take healthcare away from 150 million Americans, some of the stuff we`re saying about communism and Castro, and no one is willing to talk about it. If you are not willing to take Bernie on stage tonight before Super Tuesday, then you don`t deserve to be the nominee. Mike is prepared to do that and hopefully the other candidates will too.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think the opportunity -- and you got to explain this to me. Bernie Sanders` plan is basically set up a Medicare-for-all plan, and basically say you have to join it, there`s no alternative. You can`t have a private plan. You can`t have a supplemental plan, not like in Canada, you can`t have a supplemental like you have in Great Britain, in U.K. You have to take the plan, the government plan, and that`s it.

BENJAMIN:  You will lose your healthcare on day one.

MATTHEWS:  Why don`t your candidates do anything to challenge that rather strong position?

BENJAMIN:  Well, I think, I mean, Pete did some good work last year. Not only is it -- the deficit in funding that plan is larger than the entire U.S. economy. I mean, so it`s ludicrous. So I think you have to be able to talk about, not only Bernie`s extreme ideas, but also his record.

MATTHEWS:  Now, here is something I don`t believe.

BENJAMIN:  I mean, it`s -- but it`s real, shielding gun manufacturers from liability. We have 40,000 gun deaths a year in this country. So you got to take him straight on.

And I thought Mike delivered the line of the night last week. He talked about, you know, America`s the most well-known socialist, is a multimillionaire with three homes. The last --

MATTHEWS:  Okay, it`s a real question, an honest question. So if Bernie is the nominee, will Mike Bloomberg pay for his general election?

BENJAMIN:  Well, Mike has been a commitment to be in this campaign for the long haul.

MATTHEWS:  You will pay for Bernie Sanders to become president.

BENJAMIN:  Particularly, in the six states that we believe will determine this thing. He`s made a commitment and so we`ll see how it plays out.

MATTHEWS:  You don`t think he`ll pay for Bernie`s campaign?

BENJAMIN:  Mike is the hardest working self-made businessman I`ve ever met and he`s honest.

MATTHEWS:  That`s called a pivot. Thank you, Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, the capital of the state.

As the candidates prepare to face off tonight, they must navigate an important reality if they go after the frontrunner. The Washington Post notes, quote, after giving Sanders a pass for most of the year, any of attacks Democrats launched to the self-described Democratic socialist could undermine the party`s chance of beating Trump in November if Sanders becomes the nominee. Well, it is the conundrum right there.

The Politico reports, further mudding of Bloomberg`s strategy is his pledge to fund the eventual Nominee, even if it ends up being Sanders, who presents the sharpest ideological contrast to the former New York mayor. That was my question right there.

Joining me right now is John Heilemann, co-Host of SHOWTIME`S The Circus, and MSNBC National Affairs Analyst. Also, we`ve got Heidi Przybyla, NBC News Correspondent.

Heidi, that`s the weird thing about this situation right down in South Carolina. Bernie is pulling ahead, Bernie Sanders. He may well be on his way to first ballot knockout. Who knows? Or not.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  He may well be.

MATTHEWS:  People seem very careful about criticizing him. Go ahead.

PRZYBYLA:  Well, he may well be. However, I urge caution here, Chris, looking over some of the polling figures because this is really the first time that African-American voters, as a big, diverse group where they make up a majority of the Democratic primary vote are having their say. And a number of them are still undecided. We don`t know what impact, for example, Elizabeth Warren had, whether she got a bump out of Nevada because so many early voters -- early votes were cast.

So I would just urge caution. And this is going to be the first time that Sanders, as a frontrunner, is going to come under the type of scrutiny that a frontrunner normally comes under. This is going to be the first time he comes under sustained attack on his record. And all of these previous scenarios, he`s kind of stood back and had the occasional dust-up, but it`s going to be nothing like we see tonight, and that is part of the process. That is part of the vetting process, seeing how the frontrunner withstands that type of pressure you just saw on guns, for example.

Chris, this is a place, South Carolina, where Hillary Clinton was accompanied, non-stop, by the mothers of the movement, those African- American mothers so profoundly affected by gun violence. I just don`t think we can make any predictions yet about how this is going to go down other than that it is the last chance for a number of these candidates, and not just Joe Biden. There is going to be a lot of pressure after tonight if there aren`t breakout moments for a number of these candidates to call it quits.

MATTHEWS:  John, I have been waiting for months for the big takeout piece in The New York Times about Bernie Sanders` ideological background. All the things he said, not on the practical things, like healthcare, but everything he said about the world. He`s older than me. He`s been through the cold war. He should have said thousands of things that are interesting. All of a sudden, 60 Minutes finally does it. 60 Minutes puts out a lot of the provocative statements he`s made. It`s very late though we`re getting this stuff. Is it going to make any difference?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  It`s late. I mean, look, the horse may be out of the barn door already. I mean, the reality is, Chris, you look at Super Tuesday, the way DNC designed the schedule in all of its genius, put 14 -- 16 contests three days after South Carolina. A lot of those states have early vote. California, the biggest prize, it`s estimated that a third of the vote is already in.

So, you know, it may be Sanders is already in a position where he is already on a path to obtain an insurmountable lead in pledge delegates. Whether he has enough to get a majority of pledge delegate is another question, but he may be on a path to be able get a plurality no matter what happens now.

We don`t know the answer to that question. I think what Heidi said is right. And what`s really important about the South Carolina contest is that is it is the first time when African-Americans -- they are the most important constituency of the party.

MATTHEWS:  And they are not the most left.

HEILEMANN:  And in this state in particular. A lot of people make mistakes about South Carolina. And we think about the national African-American electorate, which is further to the left than it is in this state. And this state is a conservative state in the Democratic Party. It`s a populous state but it`s a conservative state. And among African-American voters here, you go up country up here, you find a lot of especially socially conservative African-American voters. And they are not -- there is a big generational split.

And I think one of -- these are all these questions we have, will young African-Americans end up with Bernie Sanders while the older, more- established ones go with Joe Biden and other places? We don`t know. And I think it`s part of the reason this is so important not just in terms of the contest itself and potentially slowing Sanders` momentum if he were to lose here to a resurgence of Biden if that happened.

But also, what it says about the rest of the African-American electorate throughout the south, in places like Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi.

MATTHEWS:  The deep south voting pattern.

HEILEMANN:  Correct. What does it say about that? What does it foretell? And what does it signal to those voters many of whom have not made up their mind?

MATTHEWS:  A lot of deep south states with the same voting pattern we have here ethnically (ph).

Anyway, my guests will stick with us.

Coming up, the fight for survival by the moderate candidates, a lot of it is tonight. A last hurrah perhaps for Joe Biden, who knows? Could South Carolina be his last hurrah?

His big lead by the way in the polls here is now almost gone. And you have to win somewhere if you want to argue electability, don`t you?

Plus, new warnings about the coronavirus in the United States. Health officials say it`s inevitable that it will spread here. But is the White House taking that warning seriously? President Trump says everything is under control while his top cabinet officials seem uninformed and unprepared.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA):  But you can`t tell us how many your models are anticipating?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, Senator. Again, I would defer you to the Health and Human Services for that.

KENNEDY:  Okay. You think you ought to check on that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will.

KENNEDY:  -- as the head of Homeland Security?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We`ve got much more to get to tonight, especially that coronavirus. Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC HOST:  Are you going to win here in South Carolina?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes.

HUNT:  Take it to the bank.

BIDEN:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What`s with the sound problem?

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Vice President Joe Biden raising expectations for his campaign in South Carolina, a state he said unequivocally on Sunday that he would win.

And after a disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa and fifth place in New Hampshire, Biden`s best performance to date was in Nevada this past weekend, where he finished a distant second to Senator Sanders.

So, there`s no question a Biden victory on Saturday would go a long way toward reviving his political fortunes.

Well, given Biden`s advantage with African-American voters, South Carolina has long been described as Biden`s firewall. That is, if he wants a shot at the nomination this year, he`s got to win here in this state.

Well, last month, Biden himself called South Carolina his firewall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think I will do well in Nevada. And I have a real firewall in South Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yet Biden now denies he ever described the state as his firewall.

And despite the confidence he`s projecting ahead of Saturday`s vote, he insists he just needs to do well here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION":  South Carolina, though, is your firewall.

BIDEN:  You said it -- my firewall.

BRENNAN:  You need...

BIDEN:  I have never said it...

BRENNAN:  The campaign has said it`s your...

BIDEN:  No...

BRENNAN:  ... firewall.

BIDEN:  No, it`s not a fire -- I said I`m going to do well there. And I will do well there, and I will do well beyond there as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And now, with a major debate tonight and just four days until the primary here in South Carolina, "The New York Times" reports that Bernie Sanders is looking to deliver a knockout blow to Biden on Saturday, in other words, win this thing.

I am joined right now by Symone Sanders, senior adviser for the Biden campaign.

Does he have to win here, the former vice president, because he has been saying for a long time he has to win here?

SYMONE SANDERS, BIDEN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Thank you for having me, Chris.

We intend to win here in South Carolina on Saturday.

MATTHEWS:  And what will that do to the campaign, if you knock it out here, if you win by four or five points?

SANDERS:  Well, look, we intend to win here on Saturday.

And we believe the momentum that we have coming, from a second-place -- a strong second-place win in Nevada, coming into South Carolina, winning here, it will launch us into Super Tuesday.

So, we feel good. We have Super Tuesday operations up and going. We have enjoyed our time here in South Carolina. Vice President Biden has a long history with this state. And so we believe that we will win on Saturday, because we have earned the votes of the voters here in South Carolina.

MATTHEWS:  How do you clear the field of the other moderates? Because you can argue that half the Democratic Party is moderate, if you really want to make a case.

There is certainly at least half that is liberal, too -- very liberal. And Bernie owns that part. How do you clear the rest of the moderate space for your moderate candidate, for the V.P.?

SANDERS:  Well, I`m really not into those labels, Chris.

And let me just tell you that, if you go out there...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do get you up to -- how do you catch up to Bernie then? I will just ask it simpler.

SANDERS:  I will tell you, when you are out there talking to people across the country, people here in South Carolina, they don`t say that this is a progressive or a moderate issue. They are talking about health care, the economy, education.

So this is what I will -- this is what I will tell you about the lane, Chris. We believe that no one should be the Democratic nominee without the ability to demonstrate that they have earned the votes of people of color, the base of the Democratic Party, black voters, Latino voters.

MATTHEWS:  Who has done that yet?

SANDERS:  Well, Joe Biden has definitely done that. But there are some other folks that haven`t.

So, look...

MATTHEWS:  Bernie did pretty well with Latinos out in -- you`re wincing.

SANDERS:  And we won black voters.

Chris, since 1992, the Democratic nominee has been the person that has won black voters in America, OK, since 1992.

So, look, we have demonstrated that we can build a broad coalition. We have demonstrated that we can earn the votes of African-American and some Latino voters in this country. We intend to do very well here in South Carolina on Saturday, go on to Super Tuesday.

So, we look -- we`re excited.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let`s talk to the voters right now. This is a national show.

Why should an African-American from South Carolina vote for Joe Biden?

SANDERS:  Well, let me just -- let me just speak right to the people, if I may, Chris.

Look, the fact of the matter is, Vice President Biden has a history here in South Carolina. And South Carolinians know, black voters across this country know that everything is on the ballot in these elections, when it comes to health care, when it comes to guns, when it comes to education, when it comes to housing, a housing policy that Vice President Biden released earlier just this week.

Vice President Biden has put forth a bold vision. But the reality is, he`s done this before Chris. There`s only one person standing on that debate stage tonight that has taken on the NRA twice and won, Joe Biden. And he will do it a third time as president.

There is only one person on that debate stage that was there...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Symone, I hope he has your juice tonight. Give him some of this juice. Give him some of this. Give him some of this.

SANDERS:  Chris, there is only one person on that debate stage that was there for Affordable -- for the fight for the Affordable Care Act.

So, when we talk about what -- big, bold fights, when we talk about health care, Joe Biden has done it, Chris. So, really, there -- we`re ready for this fight, and I think voters are ready.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Thank you so much, Symone Sanders, who has got the fire.

SANDERS:  Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

The results of South Carolina this weekend will set the trajectory for Super Tuesday, coming up next, a week from now, when the voters of 14 states, a week from now, all get to vote.

"The New York Times" points out that, "Should Mr. Sanders defeat or even finish near Mr. Biden in South Carolina, it could vault him into Super Tuesday three days later with such force that it may be difficulties for any of his opponents to catch up with him."

Here`s what veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said in the wake of the Nevada caucus last weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I just think there`s one, big, huge screaming story here tonight is, and that is there is a front-runner in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.

We`re in a whole new ball game here. And this game could end a little after mid-March. And some of these candidates are going to have to make really hard decisions about who stays in and who gets out and where we go from here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, John Heilemann and Heidi Przybyla are back with me right now.

Let me go to Heidi first. Didn`t have time last time.

How important is this Saturday, and tonight, actually, this debate going into Saturday?

PRZYBYLA:  It`s critically important, not just for Joe Biden, but for some of the other candidates, because, actually, he is their firewall.

If he crumbles, Sanders is going to have such powerful momentum going into those early -- those Super Tuesday states. If you look at the polling, Chris, he is already ahead. He is already very strong in the most delegate- rich states of California and Texas.

If, on the other hand, Biden holds, that is going to create an umbrella possibly for some of these other candidates. At the same time, I do think it`s going to be a two-sided coin here for them, because, if Biden pulls it out, there is going to be so much pressure for there to be a consolidation going into those states.

And even if there is a consolidation, reminder, there`s only three days between South Carolina and those Super Tuesday states, when there is going to be, effectively, 34 percent of the delegates rewarded based on that.

And that is just going to create a lot of momentum for Sanders. So, even if Biden pulls it out, there`s going to have to be other things that happen, including other candidates dropping out.

And there is the X-factor, too, of what some of the party heavyweights are or aren`t doing behind the scenes, like former President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, people who are truly concerned about what we are seeing in terms of the down-ballot effects.

Chris, fun fact here, the candidate who actually fares the worst among those white college-educated suburban women in a head to head vs. Trump, according to ABC News polling, is Bernie Sanders.

So that is the data that some of these party officials are looking at and the concerns -- it underpins the concerns emanating about the down-ballot effects.

MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg received the endorsement today of "The State," the big newspaper here in South Carolina, which describes him as -- quote -- "an energetic, discipline candidate who can offer voters a powerful, yet pragmatic vision of a better America."

The paper said that, despite extensive efforts to interview Bernie Sanders, however, he would not agree to participate.

Now, here`s the problem it seems, John, is that -- John Heilemann, is that now Buttigieg gets a boost from this endorsement. He`s not going to quit after this endorsement. He will fight it out. Biden, if he gets a in here, will -- this Saturday -- will never quit for weeks, right?

Who is quitting?

HEILEMANN:  It`s the biggest problem...

MATTHEWS:  Tom Steyer`s not going to quit. He put all this money into this thing.

HEILEMANN:  It`s a classic, classic prisoner`s dilemma, Chris.

It`s like, it`s -- what collective action would argue for vs. what the individuals all think. And you ask them all, where is their emotions, where are their heart? And you say to someone like Amy Klobuchar, you don`t have a path to be the Democratic nominee anymore. You don`t.

And you could make the -- you don`t have any money. You don`t have a path. You`re not going to collect delegates.

And she -- and her first -- and I`m not quoting her now. I just -- I know what their reactions are. Their reactions, first thing is, why should I be the one to quit? Why shouldn`t it be Steyer?

MATTHEWS:  I`m a woman. Why women quit -- why should the women quit?

HEILEMANN:  Why shouldn`t it be Steyer? Why shouldn`t it be Pete?

MATTHEWS:  Why don`t the billionaires quit?

HEILEMANN:  But, in the end, if they continue to split up, the bigger part of the -- the biggest part of the party is moderate.

The biggest part of the party is not Bernie`s part of the party. The biggest part is not. The anti-Sanders vote is bigger than the Sanders vote. But unless it all comes together, Chris, behind a single...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. The illogic of Democrats always amazes me.

HEILEMANN:  I`m just saying, that`s the reality.

MATTHEWS:  Why did -- Heidi, why -- if that the case, if there`s a bit of an edge to the moderate or non-Bernie faction in the party, why did they all go after Bloomberg the last debate, instead of going after Bernie?

They`re just fighting him. It`s an intramural battle among moderates.

PRZYBYLA:  Elizabeth Warren was the strongest on that, Chris.

And I think, for her, it was probably out of principle, that he kind of stands for everything that she`s fought against over the years, and coming from the finance industry, being a billionaire.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

PRZYBYLA:  Both Bernie and Warren, that is their entire image wrapped up in that.

And so it made a lot less sense for her. And she was the person who pounce the hardest.

But it`ll be totally different tonight. According to all of the reporting that we have gotten, Warren is the only one we don`t know of in terms of having a plan of attacking Bernie Sanders.

It might not make sense for her to do that tonight. Just leave it to the others.

MATTHEWS:  It may be she wants to be V.P. with Sanders. Who knows what people are up to?

HEILEMANN:  You don`t know.

But I will tell you, you remember back in 2016 in the Republican race, Chris, every single one of those candidates who was against Donald Trump, they all kept saying, I got to knock out all the others around in my lane, and eventually I will get Trump won on one.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HEILEMANN:  And when that day comes, I will take him out.

And by the time that day came, it was too late. Trump was already -- had the nomination in his back pocket by the time Ted Cruz finally got him one on one. It`s May and too late.

MATTHEWS:  I know. And I know.

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN:  You have exactly the same thing.

MATTHEWS:  This is how Jimmy Carter got elected president.

HEILEMANN:  That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  All the liberals were on the other side, and he went right past them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John, we have an imperfect system for picking a president.

Thank you, John Heilemann. Thank you, as always, Heidi Przybyla.

Up next:  President Trump continues his war on the justice system of this country, this time focusing on two Supreme Court justices, Sotomayor and Ginsburg, saying they should recuse themselves from any case involving Donald Trump.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up three cases related to President Trump`s tax returns and financial records. If the justices rule against the president, Democrats could finally get the president`s long- sought tax returns, big deal, actually.

That might explain why the press is lashing out right now at two of the justices nominated by Democratic presidents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I always thought that -- frankly, that Justice Ginsburg should do it, because she went wild during the campaign when I was running. I don`t know who she was for. Perhaps she was for Hillary Clinton, if you can believe it.

And then Justice Sotomayor said what she said yesterday. And I just don`t know how they can not recuse themselves for anything having to do with Trump or Trump-related.

But I think what she did say is, she`s trying to shame -- the way I look at -- she`s trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way. And that`s so inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president, in India, actually, this morning referencing a recent dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in which she argues that the Trump administration has become too quick to run to the Supreme Court after losses in lower court.

She writes -- quote -- "Claiming one emergency after another, the government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention, and consuming limited court resources in each. And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow."

She adds that the court is partly to blame because it has been too quick to grant the White House`s -- quote -- "reflexive requests."

For more, I`m joined by Sam Stein, politics editor at The Daily Beast and Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. attorney.

Thank you both.

First of all, let me go to the law of this. And that`s Maya.

Maya, what is this about this strange complaint he has about Sotomayor? What`s this about what she said that he doesn`t like?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  What he doesn`t like is anyone who disagrees with him and doesn`t rule the way he wants them to.

I mean, Sotomayor was writing a dissent. And she was making a legitimate point, which is that it is highly unusual for the Supreme Court to say, you know what, even though this case hasn`t gone through the entire appellate process, we`re going to allow the administration to continue to do something that people are challenging, rather than let it come to us in due course.

And she`s got receipts on this, Chris, because, in the Obama and Bush administrations combined, this happened about eight times. That is not a lot. And then the Trump administration, just in three short years, not even including this case that she filed the dissent in, it`s already been over a dozen just in three short years.

And for the most part, she`s also raising a question about why the court is granting them, when there`s no real national crisis that requires the court to stay an action, until it makes its way through the court.

So, it`s quite legitimate, and it`s just another example of Donald Trump saying, I want judges to do what I want them to do, and, if they don`t, I will attack them.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Sam, this is called judge-shopping. And it`s like, in this case, he goes among the Supreme Court.

He says, I like -- I can live with seven of them. I don`t really like the other two.

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST:  Yes.

Well, and judge-shopping, another term is working the refs.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

STEIN:  It`s framing -- pre-framing in a way outcomes that he doesn`t like.

If something goes against his wishes in the coming session, he can just turn around and say, look, this is a biased institution filled with biased people, and this is not legitimate.

But keep in mind, this is not -- I mean, Trump brings it to an extreme, but this is not totally unique to Trump. This is part of a multi-decade-long effort by conservatives to advance conservative jurisprudence, but also conservative politics, through the judicial system...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

STEIN:  ... to turn the courts into a tool for conservative governance.

And Trump is just taking it out to its logical extremes by saying, look, I want judges to do my bidding.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

STEIN:  What we`re seeing now is a reaction the left to do the same, but they`re way behind the curve here, and they have a lot of catchup to do.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s for sure.

I remind a lot of liberal friends of mine that all the time. In his first term, President Trump has already picked two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. And with Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of course, in their 80s now, it`s conceivable the winner of the next election, this one this year, that winner could pick at least two more.

I have often said, Maya, to people who do care about issues like choice, I say, get ready. It could be 7-2 conservative in a couple of years. And there`s nothing you can do about, except make sure Trump`s not reelected.

WILEY:  Well, I think that is one of the things that we have seen, is Democrats are much less likely to vote based on the appointment power, essentially, of whoever wins office.

And what we have seen on the right is people are very committed and some holding their nose and voting for Trump because of the way they`re going to be able to recreate the judiciary.

But this is something that all Americans, no matter your political party, should be really concerned about, because the framers of the Constitution created an independent judiciary in order to be a check and balance on the power of the presidency or abuses of Congress when it comes to what our Constitution says and what it means.

And what we`re really seeing is an extremely disturbing erosion of the independence of the judiciary.

And one of the things that Sotomayor was pointing to is, do we have a court that is not paying sufficient attention to putting its foot on the brakes when it comes to an administration that is taking too much power? Putting its foot on the brakes when it comes to an administration that is taking too much power and demanding too much loyalty?

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe every suburban voting station on the Democratic side, wherever they have some influence with handing out literature, should hand out one number, 7 to 2.

Thank you so much, Sam Stein. Thank you, Maya Wiley.

Up next, President Trump is praising himself for his decisions on the coronavirus, saying it`s quite -- it`s, quote, very well under control, he says. Well, but officials say -- health officials say the spread of the virus in the U.S. is now inevitable. Who should we believe?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Stocks plunge for a second day, straight day, actually, as the spread of the coronavirus continues to spike fears that it could slow global markets. Today`s losses come a day after the market`s biggest drop in two years. Earlier today, the head of the CDC`s national center for immunization and respiratory diseases warned that Americans should prepare for the inevitability -- that was their word -- that the virus will spread here to the United States.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier told reporters it`s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when. And today, the new virus has infected roughly 80,000 people in roughly 40 countries and has killed about 2,700.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, who is leading the coronavirus response in the U.S., echoed her warning to Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:  We cannot seal off the United States to a virus and we need to be realistic about that. And so this virus --

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL):  Life goes on in some forms, doesn`t it?

AZAR:  It does and we`ll have more cases in the United States. And we`ve been very transparent about that. And we will work to mitigate the impact of those.

MATTHEWS:  According to officials, the coronavirus currently has no cure. President Trump and his national economic advisor Larry Kudlow downplayed the threat of the virus to the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You may ask about the coronavirus, which is, you know, very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it. And the people that have it are -- well, in all cases, I have not heard anything other.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL:  We have contained this. I won`t say airtight but pretty close to airtight. That is human tragedy. There`s no question. And the economic side, I don`t think it`s going to be an economic tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, just yesterday, the Trump administration sent a request to Congress for an additional $2.5 billion in funding to help deal with the coronavirus. As President Trump publicly downplays the virus, "Politico" reports administration officials are privately voicing concerns that the coronavirus is already spreading, undetected, within U.S. borders.

"Politico`s" also reporting that Trump allies and advisers have grown increasingly worried that a botched coronavirus response will hit the U.S. economy. Even Donald Trump Jr. has mused to associates he hopes the White House does not screw up the response and put the president`s best re- election message at risk.

And then there`s Rush Limbaugh, one of Trump`s biggest allies talking it up. He said the coronavirus is no big deal and is part of a Democratic plot to, quote, get the president.

Well, that`s Rush Limbaugh, for what it`s worth. Not much. That`s next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Folks, this coronavirus thing, I want to try to put this in perspective for you. It looks like the coronavirus being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. I believe the way it`s being weaponized is by virtue of the media. And I think it is an effort to bring down Trump and one of the ways it`s been used to do this is to scare investors, to scare people in business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Rush Limbaugh, dismissing the global concern over the coronavirus as overhyped in an effort to get Trump, as he put it.

Well, late tonight actually, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the president has become furious about the stock market slide and believes that extreme warnings from the centers for disease control and prevention have spooked investors.

For more, I`m joined right now by Shannon Pettypiece, MSNBC senior White House digital correspondent, and Andy Slavitt, who`s former head, keep going here, of Medicare under President Obama.

Shannon, where is this now in the president`s view? Is this a -- is this a five? Do you think she`s being -- it`s being typed ten warning or what?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, MSNBC SENIOR WHITE HOUSE DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT:  The most important thing to Trump`s re-election pitch is the economy and the stock market. There`s not much that makes Trump`s advisers nervous, but a downturn in the economy or a bad stock market is the one thing that really gets them jittery.

So, from India, the president has been closely following the stock market even more so than the actual details of what`s been going on with the spread of this virus, closely following the stock market and is very aware and concerned that there is a sense of panic that could spread and that could weigh down stocks and slow down the global economy. Because he very likely and it is a real possibility it`s looking like that he could go into his re-election facing a global economy that is depressed from this when you have a country like China shutting down major cities and now this virus spreading to South Korea and Japan and at the same time having a stock market that`s not looking good.

That`s just so key, central to his pitch, and if he loses those things, he`s going to be in trouble, his advisers think.

MATTHEWS:  I agree. Well, let`s take a look, Andy, what about the nature of this virus? Is it the kind of thing we could expect to be going on through November or is this a bleep?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES:  Well, the problem we have is we have two problems. One is a problem of credibility and one is a problem of competence, which brings that question into bear. You know, we`ve got a president who said that everything is under control and his own CDC, I think in a scary parallel to what`s gone on in the Justice Department where you have career public officials who have to speak out against the president.

And that happens only because you don`t -- Trump has dismantled the chain of command with regard to responding to global pandemics. He`s defunded the CDC. And so, there`s an air of improvisation going on. And so, there are scientists in the CDC and outside the government that have a better feel of what`s going on.

The truth is finally starting to come out today when the CDC officials are bravely speaking up. And we`ve got a competency and a credibility problem, which is going to make it very difficult to manage through this. And I think if people wonder, is there a cost -- is there a credibility cost to a president who doesn`t always tell the truth, it really comes into play now? Because the stock market and a virus are not -- are two things that are not going to be talked into submission by Trump.

The stock market and the virus are going to follow the path that Trump can`t predict. They have control.

MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump has repeatedly assured the public that the coronavirus will dissipate in the spring when it gets warmer. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  There is a theory that in April when it gets warm, historically, that has been able to kill the virus.

The virus, they`re working hard. It looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.

Now, the virus that we`re talking about having to do -- you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, however, as one senior White House official has told "The Washington Post," the idea that the virus will go away in the spring is mainly an educated guess.

Andy, is that -- back to you on this, is this something that`s going to roll and snowball and get worse or is it just going to dissipate when the coming of this different season?

SLAVITT:  Yes, I think the scientists don`t believe that it`s going to go away in the spring. I think, you know, there have been a couple suspect decisions. You know, the president, the administration allowed 14 healthy people to get on a plane that the CDC said they absolutely should not get on. So, these are decisions that I think are not being made with the best interests of the public in mind.

I think that comment that it`s been going in April. He also said we have a vaccine going around the corner.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SLAVITT:  Scientists say in the best case, we will be about 18 months away from a vaccine. They can`t seem to get test kits out. The -- Secretary Azar has said that we have 30 million masks but when he`s pressed he says that`s clearly not enough.

So when pressed into telling the truth, these things are kind of leaking out and Trump keeps finding himself isolated in these perspectives. It can get a lot worse. The thing is it can be controlled if you had a chain of command, you could control this a lot better.

MATTHEWS:  All right. Well, events is a very big word in American and world politics. Events come into play you don`t plan for. And they happen.

Anyway, thanks, Shannon Pettypiece, as always. And, Andy Slavitt, thank you for joining us, sir.

We`re back in a minute. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  -- Democratic presidential candidates will take the debate stage here in Charleston ahead of the state`s primary this Saturday. I`ll be back here in this spin room after the debate tonight with the candidates.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END