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updated 12/3/2010 12:18:09 PM ET 2010-12-03T17:18:09

Guests: Rep. Jim McDermott, John Feehery, Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Kent Conrad, Clarence Page, Steve McMahon, Lewis Moore, Cory Williams

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bad day for Charlie Rangel.  Let‘s play

HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Censure.  For 40 years, New York City‘s Charlie Rangel has been a powerful and spirited voice in the House of Representatives, and until recently, he was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  But today, the Harlem congressman could be forced to stand in the well of the House and face formal censure by his peers. We expect that to happen sometime in this hour, and when it does, we‘ll go to the floor of the House live and bring you the dramatic scene.

Also, when Mitch McConnell announced yesterday that Republican senators would filibuster anything the Democrats want done until tax cuts for the wealthy are extended, he signaled the end of that one-day bipartisan truce.  Today, House Democrats hit back.  They scheduled a largely symbolic vote forcing the Republicans to vote against tax cuts just for the middle class.  Did it accomplish anything?  No.  It will die in the Senate.  But Democrats hope to use the vote to embarrass the Republicans in the future.

Plus, it looks like the deficit commission won‘t get that 14 votes for passage, but today two more Republican senators signed on.  And so what will President Obama do if there‘s no official bipartisan agreement?

And add Ed Rollins to the growing list of mainstream Republicans who can‘t stand Sarah Palin and aren‘t afraid to say so.  Is there a coordinated Republican movement to knock her out of the ring?

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with the Democrats‘ stand on taxes.  Their hearts may be in the right place, but their political instincts, I think, are all wrong.

Let‘s start with the battle over taxes.  Congressman Jim McDermott‘s a Democrat from Washington state.  He joins us right now at the front of the show.  What does that vote accomplish today?  You basically voted to extend the tax cuts, the Bush tax cuts, but not the tax cuts for people in the top 2 percent, over $250,000 a year.  The Senate‘s not going to let that come to a vote, so why go through the process today, sir?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON:  Well, we had to call their bluff.  We‘re going to see whether they are going to hold the unemployed people in this country hostage, Chris, or are they going to take care of only the rich?  They have—they have made it very clear that the rich is their only priority, and we wanted to put it out there and say, All right, here it is.  Pass it.  Now, get on with it, and let‘s see what you do with the unemployment, because they‘re going to try and make some kind of deal where they give two months of unemployment benefits and two years of tax benefits to people on the top, or some crazy deal like that.  It‘s not going to work.  I think we‘re heading in for a real train wreck.

MATTHEWS:  Do you disagree with the president on this?

MCDERMOTT:  Yes, I do.  I think talking to them is almost a waste of time, not maybe totally a waste of time, but you can‘t negotiate by negotiating with yourself and trying to figure out where the Republicans will—how low will they go because they‘re going to go lower.  They simply have refused to deal at Christmastime with unemployment, and they are saying to people, We‘re going to put a lump of coal in your sock—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCDERMOTT:  -- and gold in the sock of the people at the top.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s see—I have a lot of respect for you, sir, but let‘s ask how much nerve you have.  Are you willing to go to Christmas Eve and say to the people who are wanting to get their tax cut continued, across the board, We‘re willing to do nothing because if the Senate wants to veto a tax cut just for the people below $250,000 a year, we‘re willing to meet their test.

Are you willing to say, We‘ll go out of recess this year—we‘ll recess the Congress without continuing the Bush tax cuts for anybody if the Republicans say that‘s the deal?  Because they could.  All they got to do is say, No deal, no vote in the Senate, nothing gets done.  Everybody‘s taxes go up.  If they threaten you with that, what would be your response?

MCDERMOTT:  That can be reversed.  The tax stuff can be reversed.  But what can‘t be reversed is the fact that unemployment—

MATTHEWS:  How?

MCDERMOTT:  Well, because you come back and you retroactively apply the tax cut in—in some point in January.  This is not on—the tax cut is not an issue now.  It is a way of covering up the—

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is amazing!  You are the first person to come on

HARDBALL and say, as a Democrat, you‘re not afraid of the Republicans‘

worst threat against you, which is to force taxes up for everybody January

1.         You‘re willing to make that stand, in other words, say, OK, guys, play it tough.  Over Christmas, everybody‘ll get to think about the fact that you guys wouldn‘t let us have a vote.  You‘re willing to go that far.  The president is not, obviously.

MCDERMOTT:  I‘m not.  And (INAUDIBLE) but I am because I care about the unemployed.  They are the—they should be the number one question.  This is Christmastime.  We talk about Good Samaritans.  We talk about the poor, the little baby Jesus in the cradle and all this stuff, and then we say to the unemployed, We won‘t give you a check to feed your family.  That‘s simply wrong!

And I don‘t care—tax cuts can wait.  We can get to them down the road someplace.  But I think you have to force the Republicans out in the open and take all their clothes off and let them stand there naked and say, We will not take care of poor.  We will not take care of unemployed people who were creamed by Wall Street not through any fault of their own.  They were working along, they‘ve been working for 50 years at a job, and suddenly, they got nothing.  And that kind of stuff has got to be met directly.  You cannot back down to that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, Christmas isn‘t just that stuff, by the way.  Just to correct you from my point of view.  I don‘t know what yours is, Congressman, but I wouldn‘t call Christmas just that stuff.  It happens to be my favorite day of the year for every possible reason, including religion.

But let me ask you this.  Why don‘t you do what you did today, this nut-cutting bill you put on the floor, to use a nice phrase, to force the Republicans to say who they are?  Why don‘t you do the same thing on the issue of you keep talking about, which is unemployment comp?  Force them to vote an extension of the unemployment comp.  I mean, that would be the—if I were Steny Hoyer, I would say that was the nervy thing to do, force Republicans, as you say, on Christmas month, December, to be real Scrooges.  Make them do it!  Why don‘t you force that vote, too, like this one today on taxes?

MCDERMOTT:  I‘d be willing to do it again.  The president said—

MATTHEWS:  Well, why aren‘t you doing it?  Make them vote on extending unemployment right now, up or down, simple vote in the House.  You‘ve got the House Rules Committee.  You control the agenda in this lame—you‘re laughing.  It‘s such an easy one.  It‘s a home run.  This thing today‘s a bunt.  A home run would be, make those guys vote against unemployment extension.

MCDERMOTT:  If you get it on the floor, I‘ll vote for it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s so hard about getting through Rules?  You control Rules, your party.

MCDERMOTT:  Because—

MATTHEWS:  The Speaker controls Rules.

MCDERMOTT:  Because we have put over and over and over again these things, and we just keep getting the same results.  So at some point, we‘ve already proved our point.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  No, you‘re BSing me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are BSing me, Congressman.  You haven‘t come up with a good reason.  If you‘re going to play hardball, if you‘re really going to stick it to the Republicans on Christmas Eve and show them for the Scrooges they are, as you see it, make them vote against jobless benefits for the people who‘ve been out of work for months.  Why don‘t you force that as a vote this week?

MCDERMOTT:  We‘ve got—today‘s the 2nd of December.  We‘ve got plenty of time—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCDERMOTT:  -- until Christmas time to put this bill together and put it out there.  I think it‘d be a wonderful vote to take on about the 18th of December.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve got a good heart.  Anyway, Congressman McDermott, thank you for coming on to represent the progressive thinking of your party.  Thanks so much for joining us.

MCDERMOTT:  You‘re welcome.

MATTHEWS:  Right now, we have another point of view, perhaps a cynic, perhaps a person who doesn‘t think Christmas is just stuff.  John Feehery joins us.  He, of course, was spokesman for Dennis Hastert, the former Republican Speaker.

Sir, counter there.  He says you guys got nailed today—I think it was a bunt, I think he‘s calling it more than that—by forcing Republicans to vote in the interests of the rich.  I say a much better vote, if you‘re going to play this kind of hardball, make your party, Republicans, vote against extending unemployment benefits at Christmas.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I—let me—let me say what I think is going on here—

MATTHEWS:  You want to answer my question first before you give a speech?

FEEHERY:  Let me give an analysis if what‘s going on.  This is a big kabuki dance—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FEEHERY:  -- what these—the Democrats are doing in the House is they‘re sending a bill over so that they can have a vehicle to put the whole conference report, which is going include probably a one or two-year extension of the tax cuts—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FEEHERY:  -- and probably unemployment in one big package.  That‘s going to get the sign-off from the Republicans.  This whole thing was, of course, political theater and really kind of a waste of time, but I think the Democrats feel better about themselves that—

MATTHEWS:  But we all know roughly what‘s going to happen.  There‘s going to be an extension of all the Bush tax cuts.

FEEHERY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s going to be an extension of unemployment benefits.  So what does it benefit either party to go through what you call a kabuki dance?

FEEHERY:  Well, I think the Democrats who run the House and the Senate still with wide majorities in both places, they think that they can get some political mileage of this.

MATTHEWS:  Are they?

FEEHERY:  I don‘t think so. I don‘t think it makes any bit of difference.  I think at the end of the day, you‘re going to have a two-year extension because—

MATTHEWS:  Tell me, wasn‘t my idea better than the Democrats‘?

FEEHERY:  Well, the reason—

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t it a really smart move to go to the floor and say, OK, Mr. Republican, country club Republican, you vote against unemployment benefits for the people out of work.  Go ahead and do it.

FEEHERY:  Well, I think—

MATTHEWS:  Will they do it?

FEEHERY:  Well, they‘ve done it several times, and it hasn‘t made any real—but what people want, Chris, is they want a job.  They want—and they believe in the—you‘re going to say this later in your program. 

Taxes—this argument does not work well for Democrats because Democrats -

most people think, Hey, these tax cuts go—these tax cuts go (INAUDIBLE) away, then jobs get lost.  And we‘ve effectively said that, and the Democrats have no counter to that.

So what people want is a job.  Now, they made this vote many times.  Hasn‘t made one bit of difference.  So what‘s going to happen?  They‘re going to stick this in a big package.  You‘re going to have a two-year extension of all tax cuts because that is what people think—they don‘t want the economy to crater.

MATTHEWS:  What are the -- (INAUDIBLE) Republican Party, now that you‘re speaking for it tonight, John Feehery, what is your party willing to do to reduce the deficit?  You say continue tax cuts for the rich, so we‘re going to have another $4 trillion in debt.  Fair enough.  If that‘s what the country wants, if they want the tax cuts, but it does mean a bigger debt.  What are the Republicans willing to really, really cut, come on television here, cut on C-Span, cut in front of our faces, huge programs to get the debt gone?  What are they really going to do?

FEEHERY:  Well, I think—

MATTHEWS:  You got power.  You have the power.

FEEHERY:  I think a lot—we don‘t have all, we have a little bit of power.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got the House.

FEEHERY:  We have the House.  We don‘t have the Senate.  We don‘t have the White House.  But what they are going to do is they‘re going to put forward several spending cuts bill at the beginning of this year.  They‘re going to—

MATTHEWS:  What, waste, fraud and abuse?

FEEHERY:  They‘re willing—they‘re willing—many Republicans have said they‘re willing to talk about raising the retirement age when it comes to Social Security and dealing with some real Medicare reforms that‘ll save money in the out years.  Also—

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re really going to do this this year?

FEEHERY:  I think they are going to—I think Paul Ryan is—Paul Ryan has said very, very positive things about this debt commission.  Now, on the tax front—

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  He isn‘t even with the debt commission. 

I‘ve got him down here, he‘s not voting for it.

FEEHERY:  He has said very positive—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s an opponent.

FEEHERY:  He has said very positive—

MATTHEWS:  You have just BSed me!  He is coming out against the commission report, and you just said he‘s for it!

FEEHERY:  What I said is he has said very positive things about it.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that mean?

FEEHERY:  It means that there‘s—the elements, especially when it comes to the spending cuts, that he‘s going to put on the floor as part (INAUDIBLE) And he actually said that there are elements in this commission that he‘s going to put—

MATTHEWS:  In other words, bottom line, after all the talk, he‘s not backing the commission report—

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  What he‘s not backing are some of the tax increases.

MATTHEWS:  You mean the plugging of the loopholes?

FEEHERY:  He‘s not in favor of the tax increases and—

MATTHEWS:  What tax increases?

FEEHERY:  The—there‘s all kinds of—

MATTHEWS:  They‘re lowering the tax rates.

FEEHERY:  They‘re lowering some—

MATTHEWS:  The commission is.

FEEHERY:  -- but they‘re getting rid of some of the other 6tax provisions that are going to—

MATTHEWS:  They‘re called loopholes.

FEEHERY:  Well, they‘re called loop—some of—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In other words, Republicans talk a good line, but when it comes to a bipartisan commission to actually do something about it—

FEEHERY:  The Republicans—

MATTHEWS:  -- Paul Ryan, the shining star of the Republican right, who says he‘s going to do something about deficit, isn‘t going to do anything.

FEEHERY:  Republicans are going to focus on spending cuts, and that‘s what they‘re going to do in the first six months of this year, with the budget, with the appropriations and with entitlements reforms that ultimately are the ways that you balance this budget.  You got to cut spending first.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you know, it‘s almost like Popeye.  Who was it, Wimpy, that sound, I‘ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today?  They want the hamburger.  The Republican‘s voted—

FEEHERY:  Chris—Chris—

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) The two biggest votes your party wants this December, a tax cut for the rich, which will be adding to the deficit, right?  And you want—you‘ll end up voting for the unemployment benefits.  You‘ll end up doing that because you have to, no matter what McDermott says.  You‘ll have to do it.  So basically, extend—increase the debt as part of spending, increase the debt as part of tax policy, increase the debt overall before Christmas, meanwhile getting elected to control the House on the promise to reduce the deficit.

FEEHERY:  I think what Republicans—

MATTHEWS:  But not doing it.

FEEHERY:  Republicans are going to be for cutting spending.  They‘re also going to look for offsets for this unemployment.  They‘ve done that every step of the way, and there‘s going to be offsets in this thing.  And the fact of the matter is, without spending cuts—if you raise taxes—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

FEEHERY:  -- without spending cuts, you have bigger government.  If you don‘t spend—cut spending—

MATTHEWS:  Feehery—

FEEHERY:  -- and keep taxes low, you‘re not going to have the economic growth.

MATTHEWS:  If you give me one more procedural—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- think I‘m talking to Bob Dole here.  This is Bob Dole stuff—

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  Without economic growth, you‘ll never balance the budget.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  But on the two biggest issues they‘re going to vote on this fall, this—what‘s left of this fall, this Christmas season, you‘re not going to do anything to reduce the debt, right?

FEEHERY:  Well, the Democrats are in charge of everything.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FEEHERY:  What they‘re going to do is they‘re going to keep the tax cuts and allow for economic growth.  Cut spending—

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.

FEEHERY:  -- grow the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Republicans are raising the debt this fall and talking about lowering it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s true!  And you know I‘m right.

Coming up: Two more Republican senators have signed onto the deficit commission‘s plan, but not the hero of new season, Paul Ryan.  Is this the bipartisan agreement that we‘ve been waiting to see?  By the way, they‘re not going to get the 14 votes because Max Baucus dropped the ball.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, more pressure on Senate Republicans to ratify that new START treaty on nuclear weapons with the Russians.  Five former Republican secretaries of state—Henry the K, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger Colin Powell—all weighed in today with a “Washington Post” article supporting the treaty.  They write the treaty reduces the number of nuclear weapons that each side deploys while enabling the United States to maintain as strong nuclear deterrent.  We‘ll see whether those campaign pushes—this campaign pushes Republicans to vote for this this year.  We‘re all hoping to keep peace with the Russians.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the latest on Charlie Rangel.  The House of Representatives now voting right now on whether to change the proposed censure of Rangel, which is very serious business, to a simple reprimand.  If the vote fails, the House will then vote on censure.  We‘re going to keep you posted on this vote and we‘re going to go to the House floor immediately and live if and when Congressman Rangel faces the peers—his peers, rather, from the well of the House and has to take it.

Now to President Obama‘s deficit reform commission.  Today, the proposal picked up the support of Republican senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho.  Senator Crapo joins us now with another supporter of the measure, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, who‘s the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

I want to go to Senator Conrad first because you were the one right out front here on this.  There are now nine votes, as I‘m counting it here, of the necessary 14 out of the 18.  How important is it whether the president gets the 14 in the bipartisan commission?

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D-ND), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIR:  Well, it would be very good if we got 14 because then we are assured of a vote in both houses of Congress.  But look, I think this will be a success if we get a majority of the commissioners behind a plan that really does bring down the deficit dramatically, controls the debt, cuts spending, dramatically reforms the tax system and secures the solvency of Social Security for the next 75 years.  That is a remarkable accomplishment.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Crapo, your view?  You‘re now aboard those who support the bipartisan report.  Give us your case, if you can.

SEN. MIKE CRAPO ®, IDAHO:  Well, I agree with what Kent said, and I think we are going to get at least a majority when all is said and done.  I hope we get to 14, or as close to it as we can.  I think it‘s important for the American people to know that in addition to focusing primarily and aggressively on spending, that this plan actually involves very major tax reform.  In fact, I think it‘s probably the most significant and far-reaching tax reform I‘ve seen in my lifetime.  It gives us an opportunity to make our tax code more fair, more competitive in the global environment, much less costly to comply with and helps us to move our economy into a position where it can get some dynamic growth.

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, I‘ll ask you—I‘ll throw this as a toss-up to you.  It seems to me that the problem for years has been it‘s very tough to reduce the deficit.  It‘s easy to vote for a tax cut.  It‘s very easy to vote for a spending bill.  It‘s very hard to vote against both of them or to build your career, in fact, on being an opponent of big debt.  Debt seems to be the solution to a lot of politicians‘ predicaments, not the problem.  Your thoughts, Senator Conrad, as chairman of the Budget Committee?

CONRAD:  Look, we‘ve reached a defining moment.  We are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend.  That cannot be continued much longer.  It fundamentally threatens the economic security of the United States.  We are borrowing money at record rates, and it‘s got to stop.  We need to pivot.  We need to focus on getting our deficits and debt under control.

This commission report, while not perfect, goes a long way, $4 trillion of debt reduction over the next decade.  That is moving in the right direction, and, as Senator Crapo has said, fundamental, far-reaching tax reform that‘s going to make America more competitive and that‘s going to help us grow.  That‘s exactly what our country needs. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s two issues—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, go ahead.  Go ahead, Senator Crapo. 

CRAPO:  Well, the problem we face right now, among many, is that our national debt is 62 percent of gross—our GDP. 

And if we continue to follow current policies, that debt will grow to 90 percent of GDP by 2020 and 180 percent of GDP by 2035.  Now, we will never get there, because the economy will implode far before that. 

We don‘t have time for more gridlock.  We don‘t have time for inaction.  In fact, the decision to do nothing right now will involve far more pain on both the spending and the taxing side than any kind of proposal that is included in this plan. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, Senator Conrad, then Senator Crapo, a lot of countries are going to the dogs right now in terms of their fiscal finances.  They‘re making jokes of themselves.  Greece, a great country, a joke fiscally.  The Irish, which I happen to like, a joke, it‘s become over there. 

Portugal, Italy, these countries are joining the list.  Are we on that list at some point?  Are we going to be another country down the road, with all our greatness, that can‘t balance our books because we don‘t have the guts to do it?  And if you don‘t follow the kind of direction you guys are leading us in right now, we‘re going to be on that list of what they‘re calling in Europe now the PIGS. 

CONRAD:  No, Chris, there is no question that we are headed in a direction that could lead to a financial crisis in the United States. 

The Chinese leadership have told some of our leadership that they believe we have lost the will to make the tough decisions.  And they believe, as a result, that we will become a second-rate economic power over time. 

I hope we prove them wrong.  And I think the courage of Senator Crapo and Tom Coburn to stand up today and say, yes, although there are things none of us like in this package, hey, the important thing is that it will help get this debt under control and move America forward. 

CRAPO:  And, Chris, you are right.  The United States is rapidly approaching that point where our fiscal condition is going to be very similar to that of many countries who are facing this kind of difficult problem across the world.

I meant it when I said we don‘t have time for gridlock.  We must get engaged on an aggressive plan.  The economists who advised this told us that one of the best things we could do for our economy is simply to get a plan in place, so that the world economy and the people of the globe would know that America is going to start fixing its fiscal condition, rather than letting it continue to rapidly deteriorate. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you gentlemen about the places to hide.  It seems to me that the facts are on the table, that the entitlement programs will drive the percentage of government spending in GDP—of GDP up to about 30 percent.  Nobody‘s going to pay that many taxes in this country. 

The issues of the national debt, as you point, it‘s up to $14 trillion.  Nobody denies these numbers.  But what politicians do when they come on this show is find hiding places.  Some will say, oh, we‘re going to spend—we‘re going to pay for unemployment benefits by taking money out of the stimulus package, or we‘re going to have a public option in health care, and that‘s going to save everything.

Politicians seem to find places to hide from the truth.  How do you force them to give up their hiding places, stop with that, and face the real truth?

Senator Crapo, you on this first.  How do you force your colleagues to face the objective reality here? 

CRAPO:  Well, Chris, the first thing is that this plan, if it gets sufficient votes, would do that.  And that‘s one of the reasons why I think those of us supporting it are so committed to it. 

There are many things in this plan that are painful.  In fact, there is pain across this plan, and there is no way to develop a plan to deal with our fiscal condition right now that doesn‘t involve that kind of shared sacrifice.

But we also have shared opportunity here to do the right things.  And I believe that the focus that this plan brings to the issue is the kind of thing that will help us stop seeking those hiding places, as you call it, and push ourselves into a realization that we don‘t have time to let this sit anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s an honor to have both of you on.

I have always liked Senator Conrad.  Now I like Senator Crapo. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so—not that it matters a lot to the public out there, but I do like guys who have the guts, and women, to stand up for what is obviously the objection threat facing this country. 

Thank you so much for coming on HARDBALL. 

CONRAD:  Thanks, Chris. 

CRAPO:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  We at HARDBALL will be right back with more on Charlie Rangel‘s travails tonight.  And maybe he earned them, but it‘s a sad night in the Congress tonight.

We will be right back with MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

Mitt Romney has a problem with credibility.  Let‘s accept that.  People think he‘s not who he tries coming across as.  He showed this problem again last night, trying to, A., to pretend he‘s not dead-set running for president, which he is, and, B.—this is much worse—pretending he admires Sarah Palin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  She‘s a remarkable, energetic, powerful figure in the—in my party. 

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  Well, that‘s true. 

That‘s true. 

ROMNEY:  And attractive, too. 

LENO:  And attractive as well.

ROMNEY:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes. 

LENO:  Well, OK.

Now, let me ask you, she‘s—let‘s say you decide to run.  Remember, she said, no other—if there are no other good candidates, she will enter the race.  Now, if you enter, and then she enters, is that an insult? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY:  Maybe it means she thinks that I‘m a great candidate. 

LENO:  No, no.  Look, the fact that she quit as governor—now, you were the governor of a state.  Could you ever see yourself quitting for any other reason? 

ROMNEY:  No, it‘s hard to imagine a circumstance where I would have quit.  I loved the job.

The truth was, being governor is probably the best job you can think of.  But she had her reasons.  And, by the way, if someone‘s looking for me to say something about—negative about Sarah Palin, why, that‘s not going to come with me.  I mean, did you see what she did to the halibut the other night on her show? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here a look at what Romney was referring to, Sarah on her TLC reality show last month channeling a frontierswoman with some unfortunate fish. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I have told you my theory of this Republican fight.  Palin‘s going for the Western conference championship.  Mitt is going for the Eastern conference championship.  No reason for him to knock her until he sees it‘s her against him in the finals.

If she doesn‘t make it to the finals, he will want her backing against whoever does, and not only that, but against President Obama as well.  He knows what he‘s doing.  Don‘t knock her until you have to.

Next:  Don‘t expect much House debate next year over climate change.  Republicans just announced that they‘re eliminating altogether the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. 

John Boehner put out a statement saying the move was part of his pledge of—quote—“reducing waste and duplication in Congress.”

Well, let‘s just treat the whole planet—Why not? -- like John Boehner does his ashtray. 

Anyway, finally, Noah‘s Ark is head to Kentucky.  Yesterday, Governor Steve Beshear announced plans for a creationist-themed amusement park to open in his state in 2014.  Among the attractions, a full-scale wooden replica of Noah‘s Ark that will stretch the distance of two football fields.  Also in the park, live animal shows, a replica of the Tower of Babel, and a 1st century Middle Eastern village.

Governor Beshear, by the way, is a Democrat.  He says he‘s in favor of the project because it will create jobs. 

But there‘s a catch, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.”

This religious theme park is also seeking big tax incentives under the state‘s tourism act.  How much could it qualify for over 10 years?  According to “The Louisville Courier-Journal,” $37.5 million in tax write-offs.  Taxpayers would be subsidizing this creationist park with $37.5 million—tonight‘s very creative “Big Number.” 

And there‘s breaking news on Charlie Rangel.  It‘s not good for him.  The House of Representatives has voted down an alternative to merely reprimand Congressman Rangel, instead of censuring him.  The House will now vote on the much more serious charge of censure, which seems very likely to pass at this point.

And, if that happens, Rangel will have to face his peers in that room we‘re looking at right now and hear the charges against him while standing in the well of the House.  We will bring it all to you live as it happens.

HARDBALL continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Day two of a convincing December rally, the Dow Jones surging 106 points, the S&P climbing 15, and the Nasdaq jumping nearly 30 points.  Investors apparently buying into some overall optimism about the economy.  Some analysts say this rally appears sustainable, based on a spike in private hiring and small signs of recovery in the housing market. 

Investors also reacting to an upbeat economic forecast from Goldman Sachs.  Goldman is predicting stronger economic growth, higher equity prices and more supportive interest rate environment in the coming year.  Investment bank UBS, meanwhile, tilting its market outlook, good, with a chance of great, predicting its share price will rise more than 12 percent.

On the retail side, most retailers delivered better-than-expected November sales reports.  Teen retailers and teen department stores enjoying especially strong sales, but grocery stores were one of the few weak spots today, after Kroger slashed its 2010 profit and sales forecasts. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The powers that be in the Republican Party slowly, but surely moving against Sarah Palin‘s possible presidential campaign.  On Tuesday, MSNBC‘s own Joe Scarborough wrote this in Politico—quote—“Republicans have a problem.  The most talked-about figure in the GOP is a reality show star who cannot be elected.  And yet the same leaders who fret that Sarah Palin could devastate their party in 2012 are too scared to say in public what they all complain about in private.”

I ditto that, by the way.  I have experienced the comments in private. 

Well, maybe folks are getting less scared.  Here‘s former McCain-Palin campaign adviser Nicolle Wallace on “MORNING JOE” on Wednesday.  Let‘s listen to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MORNING JOE”)

NICOLLE WALLACE, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  I

really believe that, if it looked like she were about to become the nominee, or, heaven forbid, the leader of the free world, a whole lot of people would—would stand up and—and say a whole lot of things. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

And here‘s longtime Republican wise man Ed Rollins on CNN.com on Wednesday.  This is so beautifully written: “I knew Ronald Reagan, and you‘re no Ronald Reagan.  You‘re a media star and a great curiosity.  I know you were only 2 when Ronald Reagan was elected by a landslide to the first of two terms as governor of California in 1986”—“1966,” rather—but I would have hoped somewhere along the way, through the five colleges you attended, that you would have learned a little history.  And I can tell you, being governor of the most populous state is a lot tougher than being governor of one of the least populous states.

“He won two electoral landslides and won the presidency and made the presidency work again after several failed presidencies.  He also never quit anything or any job before it was done. 

“Ms. Palin, serious stuff needs to be accomplished in Washington.  If you want to be a player, go to school and learn the issues.  But smart people around—put smart people around you and listen to them.  If you want to be taken seriously, be serious.”

Well, did Rollins and Wallace officially or unofficially get the signal that it‘s time to take down Sarah Palin? 

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist for “The Washington Tribune.”  Rather, he works in Washington for “The Chicago Tribune.”  And Steve McMahon has no discernible position anywhere, but he‘s the Democratic strategist.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Obviously, he‘s a great campaign adviser to people.

Let me go to this, Clarence.  It seems to me that it‘s getting closer to reality check.  No matter what anybody says, presidential elections are about to start. 

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Some don‘t want her on the list.  They don‘t anybody taking her seriously, because she could take all the air out of the room and let some nut win, because everybody‘s focused on her. 

PAGE:  And that‘s not new.  What is new is the polls that consistently show her and Mike Huckabee up there at the top, competing with or beating Mitt Romney and the other establishment candidates or hopefuls, like Tim Pawlenty and others. 

There is a real genuine fear among establishment Republicans that Sarah Palin might just get the nomination or certainly cause enough damage on her way—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Clarence—OK, we have got to go right now. 

Charlie Rangel—gentlemen, you have to take a break.

Now live here.  We‘re going to—we want to tell you right now that Charlie Rangel—we‘re looking at the numbers now, 247 votes for censure, just 51 against.  That‘s not many votes.  That‘s probably the Black Caucus guys, a lot of them, and women.  I think that—and his close friends in New York.

This is a stunning development. 

PAGE:  Yes, it is.

MATTHEWS:  This is a former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, one of the most popular members of the Congress, censured. 

PAGE:  That‘s right.  That‘s right. 

And I think that we know—the number that really got me today, Chris, was not the Democrats speaking on his behalf, but Peter King, a Republican from New York, who says right up front:  I have never agreed with Charlie on anything in policy—they have debated repeatedly on talk shows, et cetera—but it‘s a travesty to go and hit him with censure, when a reprimand is all that—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And what‘s the distinction in terms of the gravity? 

Obviously, censure is real bad in history.  A reprimand, you can survive. 

PAGE:  A censure, they call you into the well.  You get dressed down in front of everybody, you know?

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to see that.  We‘re going to see that. 

PAGE:  Newt Gingrich didn‘t get censured.  Tom DeLay didn‘t get censured. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, didn‘t they get out in time?  Didn‘t they beat the judge? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t those gentlemen quit?

PAGE:  Gingrich stayed in Congress after his reprimand.  In the early ‘80s, two sex offenders were censured in the House.  That‘s the last time anybody was censured.  Only, what, 22 in the history of the Congress have been censured.

MATTHEWS:  So, you say it‘s way overboard.

PAGE:  Way overboard.  These were not—even the chief prosecutor said that Rangel was not guilty of corruption.  It was carelessness, sloppiness, which is also illegal.  They got rules against that.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I don‘t think—I don‘t think it bides anybody to talk about too much.  But I‘ll just say it, the guy‘s war record back when he was 20 years old, an African-American guy, soon after we integrate our military services in 1950, zero degrees in Korea, facing the Red Chinese Army, coming in waves against them.  He‘s leading a unit of 30 guys in his outfit, they get surrounded by the Chinese, he gets wounded, survives the wounding, comes home, praise to God, and gets home, is trying to serve his country all these years, and then, of course, began to do all the things he‘s accused of.  I think the facts are on the table.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  The facts are on the table and he made a mistake and he‘s paid dearly for it already by losing his committee chairmanship.

MATTHEWS: But none of this money went to him, by the way.

MCMAHON:  Right.  That‘s right.  That‘s right.  The irony here, of course, is that he‘s being accused of treating himself or holding himself to a different standard than everybody else.  And his defense today was, hold me to the same standard as everybody else has been held, too, which would have been a reprimand.

PAGE:  Right.

MCMAHON:  Not a censure.  This is a sad day—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you think the Congress—look, I worked up there for years.  I have a lot of faith in the ethics committee because it‘s so hard, it‘s really hard to bring charges to the ethics committee.  They‘re not exactly looking for trouble.

           

PAGE:  They‘re under pressure to get tougher.

MATTHEWS:  You think that‘s what‘s going on?

PAGE:  Nancy Pelosi is under pressure to be tougher.  And Nancy Pelosi has been tougher.

MCMAHON:  Yes, that‘s absolutely what‘s going on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think Zoe Lofgren and those people, that last thing on earth they want to do is be the bad guys.  I think—I think he broke the rules in three regards.  He didn‘t report tax income, the money from his house in Dominican Republican.  He used New York rent control laws to get cheaper, more available or larger holdings for operations to run political operations in.  And he is putting this squeeze apparently on big CEOs of big corporations who are taxed by his committee to help him with his institute he wanted to set up in New York.

So, these are real serious problems.

MCMAHON:  He did the very kinds of things that lead to a reprimand. 

And that‘s why everybody else has done similar kinds of things has gotten.  Ironically, the ethics committee recommended a reprimand initially, and Charlie Rangel felt that was too serious because he didn‘t feel like he had violated the rules to that degree.  He turned them down, and then they raised the ante, which indicates, I think, that somebody was trying to get even with—

MATTHEWS:  I watch a couple of things, I want your views on this.  I got your emotions, I want your views on this now.

Couple of things go on in Congress and having worked up there many years, you guys have seen it, too.  One member get to be in there long time and they accumulate perquisites—they learn about things, they take advantage of things, they find loopholes, they find the gray areas and they jump in to them.

The old breed guys are particularly given to this because they come from big city political areas where the game of the politician is to take advantage of what‘s giving to you and use it to keep your political machine going.  You‘re expected to use the money you get for staff hire to build something of a political machine locally.  That‘s the way you keep those seats, right?

They‘re all Democratic seats.  You got to build a little political operation.  You use all the advantages you get.  That‘s what he was doing here.

MCMAHON:  You know, Dan Rostenkowski got in trouble for buying things at the congressional bookstore and giving them away to constituents.  And at that time, he said—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He made people kick back their income so he could distribute them to more people.

MCMAHON:  He did some other things, too. But at the end of the day, what he said was, I never changed, the rules did.  And that‘s what sometimes does to older guys.  They don‘t change.  They do it the same way for 50 or 60 years.  The rules changed.

MATTHEWS:  Well, my old friend Jack Murtha once said about one of his colleagues, the guy never change.  And that‘s the probability of all these guys and I do love them.  That‘s my problem.  But I‘m willing to sit here and tell what rules they broke, unlike you, soft-hearted.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  They broke the rules but they were not criminal violations.

MATTHEWS:  The tax one, we‘ll see, as it was said today, as I read extensively on this, people who don‘t pay their taxes tend to suffer worst consequences than to have somebody read bad things against him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Steven McMahon, Clarence Page.  Wouldn‘t be here if I didn‘t love you guys, too.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  HARDBALL back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  He rescued American hostages from North Korea, delivered relief to earthquake victims in Haiti, and leads global health and peace initiatives around the world.  But today, former President Bill Clinton failed to convince the International Soccer Federation to award the 2022 World Cup to the United States.  It went instead to Qatar.  Russia got the 2018 World Cup.  This marks the second international loss for the United States in two years after Chicago failed to win the 2016 Olympic Games, despite a personal lobbying effort by President Barack Obama.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Conservative state lawmakers in Oklahoma ginned up fear actually of a Muslim takeover of the legal system when they pushed a constitutional amendment in their state banning Islamic law in the state‘s courts.  Voters overwhelmingly passed that measure this Election Day.  But a federal judge temporarily halted that amendment this week and questioned its constitutionality.  The injunction has not deterred some conservative lawmakers who want to appeal the judge‘s decision.

Republican State Representative Lewis Moore co-authored the amendment and Democratic State Representative Cory Williams opposed it.

Gentlemen, let me got to Representative Moore.

Why did you need an amendment—or rather an amendment to the Constitution of Oklahoma, the state constitution, to prevent the application of Sharia law in your state?

LEWIS MOORE ®, OKLAHOMA STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Chris, we were looking at the future.  It‘s not necessarily a threat at this time.  It is something that we felt like we should take action now while we have the opportunity to take action and while we have the support to do so.  To put something on the books that protects Oklahoma and its citizens in our way of life.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the people of Oklahoma wouldn‘t be prepared to take such action when it was appropriate rather than take it now?  In other words, were you afraid that if you didn‘t act now, that Sharia law would, in some way, find itself into the law books of Oklahoma?  Did you believe that that was plausible in your state of Oklahoma?  That the people face the real threat, the real threat, of Sharia law being imposed on them?

MOORE:  Well, I don‘t know what you—by “real threat.”

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what you do for a living, is deal with reality, isn‘t it?

MOORE:  Yes.  The real threat is that Sharia law says that it defines jihad as opposing—as imposing their law on us and opposing the U.S. and anybody who is not Muslim in any way, whether it‘s violent or nonviolent.  And so, in respect, we are opposing them even as we speak.  I mean, they‘re opposing us.

We just wanted to do it—and who knows, as of yet would be.  Who knows yet when the right time would be.  We just felt like now was—as good of a time as any, even though there wasn‘t a fear or imminent danger, necessarily.  But that the time was right to do—to do something now.

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine that someone would see this all as a gimmick politically to embarrass anybody who didn‘t vote your way?  To be able to use it as a political weapon?  To either force people to either vote your way on something that‘s apparently not necessarily in the foreseeable future, but to get them in trouble if they voted against it?  Could it be seen as a pure political move on your part to embarrass Democrats?

MOORE:  Chris, does that ever happen?  Absolutely that happens.

MATTHEWS:  Is it happening here?

MOORE:  I don‘t think so.  That was not my motivation, and I don‘t know what the motivation of the two authors were.  But that was not—that was certainly not my motivation.

We had 12 another or 12 total state statute—state laws that we were voting on, state questions that we were voting on, and people could have chosen any of those to motivate them to go to the polls.  As far as—

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to—let me—let me hear your colleague on this, because I wonder if there‘s a disagreement here.

MOORE:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Representative Cory Williams, your views on this.  You voted against the amendment.  It seems to me that would be—it looks to me like a snare, that they did this to catch people like you to vote against it to say that you‘re pro-jihadist or something absurd like that.

CORY WILLIAMS, OKLAHOMA STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Absolutely.  In fact I was approached on the floor of the house whenever the vote was going on and asked by several of my colleagues to change my vote on it, based primarily on it would make me a very large target in my re-election campaign.  And it did, it played out very big in my race.

They ran 60-second radio spots, saying that I wanted extreme Muslim militant terrorists to be tried in Oklahoma under Muslim law.  And they sent out fliers and leaflets at doorsteps and did a CIA operative robocall into my district.  So, I think that it had everything to do with political motivations and very little to do with reality.  We already have laws on the books protecting us.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  Protecting us from this, it‘s called the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma Constitution.  So, to me, it was nothing but political motivation.

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me, Representative Moore, that the Constitution is the supreme law of our land.  Now, we can argue about chief justices and all and justices, the Supreme Court interpreting it their way.  But I‘ve never heard of a Supreme Court justice who would have an influence over your state or even an appellate court ever saying that they think that foreign law should trump American law, that there should be some notion that we don‘t apply the law of our land, but we play some weird exotica on our people, like Sharia law, on the American people.

Do you really believe that it‘s plausible that in the state of Oklahoma, plausible, that in the world in which we live, that you people down there would be subjected to Sharia law, the law of Islamic fundamentalism?

MOORE:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that‘s really plausible that the people would be so odd that the conservative state like Oklahoma would ever allow itself to be ruled under Sharia law?  Do you really believe that‘s plausible, sir?

MOORE:  Chris, I would certainly hope not.  And—

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m asking a question.

MOORE:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking, go ahead.  Do you believe that it‘s plausible that the state of Oklahoma would apply Sharia law?  Do you believe it‘s plausible?

MOORE:  No, I don‘t believe it‘s plausible.

MATTHEWS:  Then why pass the law?

MOORE:  Especially if we protect ourselves in Article VI of the Constitution that says that the Constitution is the Supreme Court of the land, you are correct.  But Sharia law, says that—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.

MOORE: -- if they apply Sharia law, that it is the law that has to be imposed.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, thank you.  I think we‘ve got better things to do than this.  But thank you, Representative Lewis Moore, for coming on.  I appreciate your coming on, and honestly giving your case.  And, Representative Cory Williams, I wish you well in defending yourself against this ludicrous charges that you‘re for Sharia law because you didn‘t vote for some bogus amendment that the Constitution of Oklahoma.  Thanks for joining us, sirs.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Chris.

MOORE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now—thank you, gentlemen.

Let‘s go right now to the floor of the House where a very dramatic moment is about to take place, the censuring of Charlie Rangel.

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  I fully recognized that constitutionally that this body has the full jurisdiction to determine the conduct of one of its members.  My predecessor suffered because they didn‘t allow him to be a member before they decided that he should be expelled.  But notwithstanding that we do know that we are a political body and even though it is painful to accept this vote, I‘m fully aware that this vote reflects perhaps the thinking, not just of the members, but the political tide under constituency of this body.

Having said that and having my opportunity to do what I wanted to do initially, and that is, to make certain that this body and this country would know that at no time has it ever entered my mind to enrich myself or to do violence to the honesty that‘s expected of all of us in this House.  I think that has been proven and that has been what I‘ve been asking for, and that‘s why I‘ve admitted to mistakes and was prepared to do what I‘ve done.

I understand that this is a new criteria and a breakthrough in order to teach somebody a higher lesson than those that in the past that have done far more harm to the reputation of this body than I.  But I just would want all of you to know that—in my heart I truly feel good.  It‘s not all of the commitments that are made to God in 1950.  A lot of it has to do with the fact that I know in my heart that I‘m not going to be judged by this Congress, but I‘m going to be judged by my life, my activities, my contributions to society, and I just apologized for the awkward position that some of you that are in.  But at the end of the day, as I started off saying, compared to where I‘ve been, I haven‘t had a bad day since.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  That was Charlie Rangel defending himself morally as an American, I guess, against the charges against him.  But House has voted overwhelmingly to censure him.  This is a very serious—a very serious charge by the entire House of Representatives.  Very few members voted against the censuring resolution.

This is going to matter.  It‘s going to be in the front pages of the New York papers tomorrow and around the country, Charlie Rangel former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has been hurt today badly despite his high morale apparently.

The facts are on the table now.  He‘s been censured by the House.  He‘s one of just a number of less than two dozen members in the history of the House that faced this ignominy and now, he has face it in his life and his obituary.  It‘s going to be there.  We‘ll see.

President Clinton was impeached by the House and he‘s gone on to a—

I must say, a spectacular second career.  That‘s always possible in this country, comebacks are always possible.  But this day for Charlie Rangel was a bad day, no matter what he said.

           

The charges against him are basically that he used his power as chairman of the ways and means committee and as a member of the Congress to do a couple of things he shouldn‘t have done.  He apparently put pressure on top CEOs of major corporations to continue institute after him.  He used a New York rent control laws and gotten himself a very large political operation based in New York.  And he didn‘t pay taxes.

Now, this is a charge that‘s going to obviously going to affect the IRS rulings in the future.  He didn‘t pay taxes on matters involving his holdings overseas in the Dominican Republic.  These are issues I think, your quick thoughts on this, Clarence.

PAGE:  Well, he low-balled the taxes on his rent that he was charging.  Not on the summer house in the Dominican Republic.  You know, these were not criminal charges as I said earlier.  They were more in the level of misdemeanor and procedural errors.  It‘s just that there were so many of them that the ethics committee decided they had to go for censure.  It‘s regrettable but there it is.

MATTHEWS:  They voted for it.  Steve McMahon, a big vote for censure tonight.

MCMAHON:  A big vote.  If he‘d been a junior member of Congress rather than the senior member and the chairman of ways and means committee, he would had been—he would have been reprimanded.  He probably should had been.  It‘s a sad day for Congress and obviously for Congressman Rangel.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What a moment in history.  This moment, is this going to affect—is he going to run for re-election, do you think?

MCMAHON:  Well, I mean, he just ran for re-election and won 80 percent of the vote.  These charges were standing against him.  I think that he‘s going to be—

MATTHEWS:  How‘s this going to go over at home?  He represents Harlem. 

Harlem is, of course, become a much more dynamic community.  It‘s moving. 

Are they just going to say, this is part of life?

PAGE:  I think Harlem will react the way the Black Caucus members and some of his Republican friends reacted.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Clarence Page, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Steve McMahon.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us tonight.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

           

                       

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