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updated 12/8/2010 9:18:18 AM ET 2010-12-08T14:18:18

Guests: Chuck Todd, Mark Halperin, Kelly O‘Donnell, Norah O‘Donnell, Hampton Pearson, Pat Buchanan, Peter Welch, Ed Rendell, David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Mr. President.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York. 

Leading off tonight: The president defends his call.  President Obama has had some tough words today for congressional Democrats unhappy with the tax cut deal.  He said no deal, well, could have meant months of partisan skirmishing with the same result, a protracted battle that would have harmed Americans with higher taxes and lost unemployment checks.  He gave us a hard assessment of the president‘s compromise.  We‘re going to get that tonight.

And we learned late today that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the former presidential candidate, John Edwards, has lost her battle with cancer at the age of just 61.  She was a very popular figure, I must say caught up in a very difficult family situation that became such a political story.

Chuck Todd is NBC‘s chief White House correspondent, and “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin, who‘s MSNBC‘s senior political analyst.  Mark, I want to go to you first on this.  Elizabeth Edwards has just died.  She‘s been in terrible health now for months and years, in fact, caught up in the middle of this triangle, this embarrassment for her husband, hurt to her.  We don‘t see much of this in politics, where you have really a horrible disease striking somebody so popular and as attractive as this, at the same time, she is on the wrong end of a scandal, and it‘s got nothing to do with her.

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, she‘s really one of the most public and valiant cancer survivors—was—this country has ever seen.  She worked so hard with her children to keep her life together under a very difficult situation, and I think it‘s important to remember her in part for what she did with that spotlight.  She didn‘t let herself become a victim.  She worked hard for single-payer health care, for homosexual rights and other issues she cared a lot about.  Even as she was struggling towards the end, she still worried about her family and her country, and I think that‘s an incredible testament to someone so strong who dealt with so much adversity.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, this story blew up right in the middle of a presidential campaign.  John Edwards tried twice.  He almost made it the first time, less of a chance the second time, in the midst of this triangle, you have to call it.  It‘s nothing new in life.  There was infidelity involved, and then there was this terrible disease.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  It was such a surreal issue, frankly, in American politics.  There was nothing like it that you had such a tragic personal story on having to do with cancer, on a spouse, a candidate‘s spouse who was so active and so engaging and engaged with both the media, with her candidate.  And many people believe she was the backbone, that, you know, John Edwards never would have gotten half of -- half of what he got without her pushing him, pushing him as a Senate candidate, pushing him as a presidential candidate, as a vice presidential candidate.  The whole thing, the way it played out in public, I think I‘m sure is something that a lot of loved ones of the entire Edwards family wish wasn‘t so public.  And I think that is such a—it‘s such a complicated legacy that both of them lead.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re saying right now, NBC‘s reporting right now, confirming, rather, the news that Elizabeth Edwards has died just late this afternoon, just about a few moments ago, it‘s been reported.

Mark, it seems to me one of these issues about how we decide who our president should be.  We have this attractive young trial lawyer known for winning big cases against big hospitals and important doctors, and yet he seemed like a cute guy, a guy who may not be that well read, for example, not that deep, if you will, on issues.  And yet, he had this—what seemed to be this anchor of a wife, a very solid person who seemed to be in love with him, clearly.  And yet here was this person who seemed weightier than he in terms of her background, her education, her knowledge, in fact, her seriousness.  And yet it turned out that there was infidelity mixed right into this, and she apparently got knowledge of that ahead of the rest of us.

HALPERIN:  Well, Chris, look, you know, John Heilemann and I, when we were reporting and writing “Game Change,” out of so many interesting characters to right about and to report on—and John and I have had the same experience, which is there are no two characters in the book, a book that includes Sarah Palin and Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton—there are no two characters that had more resonance as we‘ve talked to people about the book than John and Elizabeth Edwards.

The story of how he almost became vice president, how he ran for president twice and how she was a force behind the scenes and a very tough person is really an extraordinary caution for a lot of people to say we see these people put themselves forward for public life, we think we see them and get the sense to know them through their interviews with Oprah Winfrey and news contacts, and yet the story of John and Elizabeth Edwards and what actually was going on with them was one that was not revealed when he was putting himself forward and almost was vice president twice.

MATTHEWS:  Rielle Hunter is, of course, the third part of this triangle.  John had an affair with her.  It‘s well known.  It‘s publicized.  There‘s nothing interesting about that, except that, Chuck, here we are looking back, not—this isn‘t ancient history here.  This is the last couple of elections where we had a man like this.  Like you and like Mark, I was in those magical rooms in Iowa and states like that, where this young guy, this attractive young lawyer, as I said, was able to mesmerize a room of 200 or 300 people, what we call the small room.  He was the great man of the small room.  He came so close with all these problems buried in his background.

TODD:  You know, what‘s interesting is I feel like we do know Elizabeth Edwards.  I feel like she was a—she‘s a real person.  We did get to know her.  We understand her character, understand her motivations, understand her beliefs.  I don‘t think—I can‘t—I‘m not going to speak for other people.  I can‘t say the same thing about John Edwards.  That is where—that is, he‘s still an enigma to me.  I don‘t think any of us know, was he performing an act?  When was he acting?  When wasn‘t he acting?  When was he genuine—

MATTHEWS:  Boy, Chuck, I concur—

TODD:  -- during that whole campaign?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m ditto-ing everything you‘ve said.  When I‘d interview him—excuse me for interrupting, but it—you just strike me as absolutely true.  I‘d interview him and I‘d look into his eyes and I‘d say to myself, I can‘t see anything there.  I don‘t know what—

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  -- what this is I‘m hearing from this guy.  Who is he?

TODD:  But not with her.  That‘s what was so—she—frankly, she should have been the candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, there‘s an American story.

TODD:  She had the passion.  She had the principles.  She had the belief.  She had the spine.  She had the ambition, frankly.  And I think, you know, there‘s probably—you know, maybe some people would argue too much ambition at times or pushed John Edwards too much.  But she had all of the attributes of a successful politician.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  He was—I guess he was acting.  I don‘t know.  Maybe someday, we will get to know John Edwards.

MATTHEWS:  Let me get—

TODD:  I don‘t think we know him.

MATTHEWS:  Let me bring in Kelly O‘Donnell.  Kelly, thanks for joining us.  You‘ve covered Elizabeth Edwards, who‘s just passed away.  We‘re just reporting that right now here live.  And you know, the funny thing is, I kid around with people, as you know, even with you, Kelly, sometimes.  And I once kidded around with Elizabeth Edwards.  I said, Are you Catholic?  You seem Catholic to me.  You look Catholic.  And she kidded me, said, Well, I was raised Italian.  Maybe that‘s it.  You got this notion of my face.  But she had this big, wide face, you know, nothing to hide, it seems.  Your thoughts as a person now that she‘s—we‘ve lost her.

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I‘ve known her for years and I was able to speak to family just a short time ago.  And the scene that they described was at 10:15 this morning, she passed away with family around her.  Her late—her husband, John Edwards—they were not divorced.  He had been there, as well, the children.  Everyone had come together.

And one of the things that I was told is that she was really hoping that after her death, people would not describe this as losing a battle with cancer.  Friends say that Elizabeth view this as a battle to live a good life, and in that context, they believe that she won.  She was trying to create memories and experiences for her—especially her young children, to fill the void that she knew would come when this cancer recurred.

It first was diagnosed in 2004, right after the election.  I remember being at Faneuil Hall when Kerry conceded, John Edwards conceded.  The next day, they were at Boston Mass (SIC) getting this diagnosis.  Then in 2007, amid the campaign, yet again, the recurrence was diagnosed.  And more recently, after going through lots of different types of treatment, her doctor said that it was no longer possibly to aggressively treat it.  It had spread.

And so she had been preparing, especially for her younger children.  And if you remember, she had lost her firstborn, Wade, and they‘re asking that in lieu of any flowers or things like that, for people who are close to the Edwards family to donate to a foundation in his name which puts computers in schools for less privileged children.  So she had been trying to prepare for this, and the hard part is, those I have talked to who are close to her say that she was perhaps more prepared than they are, especially as this news gets out now and the reality of it sets in.

So as you and Chuck were talking about how she might have been the candidate, I always had that sense about her.  Early in their life, it was Elizabeth who was the star of the couple.  She was a terrific lawyer.  She did not take her husband‘s name, Edwards, until the loss of their son at age 16 in a car accident.  She really was her own person in her life before she became a national figure.  She was a health care advocate.

And for those who don‘t know her childhood background, she grew up in Japan and most recently took her family there to show her kids where she had grown up.  She was an Air Force brat.  And so she had that background of military in the family, great intellect.  And we all saw how she went through some very public struggles, not only the loss of her son, but the destruction of her marriage,. and the politics that is always (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

O‘DONNELL:  -- losing elections and so forth.  So she was a very special person to cover.  She was one of those candidates‘ spouses who was always extra kind to those of us who were on the road with them, and that was certainly appreciated.

MATTHEWS:  You seem like you liked her.

O‘DONNELL:  I did like her.  I absolutely liked her.  I found her to be warm and funny.  I found her to be someone who understood when we chased after her, trying to get information, that we were doing our jobs.  I had a sense that she really was passionate about the cause that they were running on back in the time before we knew all of the things that brought that to an end.  But she was someone that I enjoyed covering.

And certainly—one thing you found about people who have gotten to know her, is in this time of her very public battle with this disease, there were many people who were able to express concern for her, and she was always very gracious about it, of how appreciative she was for people‘s interest in her and concern for her.  And she was hoping that this would, of course, bring attention for women also to examine themselves and get the proper checkups, and so forth, on breast cancer.  So she was really someone about a message, and she tried to do that right to the end.

MATTHEWS:  Kelly, it‘s so great being your colleague.  You‘re such a human being about this stuff.  Thank you.  Because this person is somebody I liked, too.  And I—and it‘s—you know, you click on certain people you cover, and others you don‘t.  And I think I‘ll stick with everybody else about her husband.  I still find John Edwards a very hard guy to read, very cute, you know, the superficial dynamite.  Apparently, he was great with juries, had a sharp mind.  Has one.

O‘DONNELL:  But it‘s not about him today.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s—

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s not about him today.

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you for reminding me.  That‘s true.  It‘s true.  Why did I go that direction?  But I cover politics.  Anyway, Kelly O‘Donnell, thank you so much.

We‘re going to be right back.  Chuck Todd, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Mark Halperin.  We‘re going to have more about the death of Elizabeth Edwards ahead in the show.

Also, our other story, of course, the big news story breaking in this evening, this afternoon, was President Obama‘s spirited defense of the tax cut deal.  He basically is saying this is the only deal that was on the table.  The rest would have been skirmishing for months and months and months.  It wasn‘t about values, it was about what you can get done for the people in a tough economic time.  He thinks it‘s a better deal for the economy.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving.  My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation.  My job is to look out for middle class families who are struggling right now to get by and Americans who out of work through no fault of their own.  A long political fight that carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy and it would be a bad deal for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama, of course, today vigorously defending his deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts and take other matters at hand.  Chuck Todd‘s NBC‘s White House correspondent, of course, and (INAUDIBLE) and we also have “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin joining us again.  He‘s MSNBC senior political analyst.

Chuck, I like the president when he‘s strong and doesn‘t try to pretend he‘s somebody else.  He seemed like president today on the economy, and to a lesser extent on the politics.

TODD:  Well, look, he was very fired up on the politics.  It‘s a tough position to defend.  He himself acknowledged it, right?  He sat there and he said, Look, the Republicans wouldn‘t budge.  He basically said, They outmaneuvered me because I‘m up against the clock, and this December 31st is a real time—a real buzzer that he has to deal with.  This isn‘t, as he said, a political debate that he can keep having and keep having because it has real consequences, was what he was trying to do.

I think the fieriness was fascinating.  I can tell you already a lot of folks on the left are a little irked that it took this to fire him up, to show some passion, when he‘s lecturing the left, lecturing his own base.  But the fact is, he had to do this because here‘s the political reality, Chris.  Right now, he does not have the votes in the House, in the lame duck House, to get this deal through.  He may end up getting them.  Vice President Biden‘s got to—is helping whip votes behind the scenes, but that‘s why he had to do this press conference today, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You mean even with a combination of Republican—all the -

most of the Republicans in the House and perhaps the Democrats have been beaten that might want to help him for future friendship, there‘s not enough for 218?

TODD:  The problem is, he doesn‘t—he can‘t—John Boehner has not guaranteed the entire House.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  John Boehner has guaranteed some support, probably half, maybe a little bit more than half, so you‘re not—you‘re still looking at a good chunk of Democrats that they‘re going to have to get.  Now, look, we‘ve done our own survey of at least some Democrats that eked out very narrow elections, and what we‘re finding fascinating—look, the loudest voices in opposition are those from the safest districts.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Sure.

TODD:  And guess what?  The folks that are more likely to support this deal on the Democratic side are the ones that just got out of tough races.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s so true.  Let‘s go right now—let‘s take another look before Mark gets in here.  Here‘s the president talking about the American people being held hostage.  This is powerful language, to say that the people are being held hostage by the opposition and he doesn‘t want to see them get killed in the hostage—attempt to save the hostages.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘ve said before that I felt that the middle class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts.  I think it‘s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed.  Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy.  In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, this show, Mark, is about debates.  I‘m always interested in both sides.  What is the actual alternative argument against the president‘s position from the left?  What would they like him to actually—not talk, not yell, not get red-faced, actually do?

HALPERIN:  Chris, you booked the wrong person if you want to hear that.  I have extraordinary intellectual sympathy for the president.  I think everything he has said leading up to this agreement and everything he said today on the merits is absolutely right.

I think he‘s making things worse for himself, though, by having, as Chuck pointed out, more energy and apparent pique at the left than he does, or at least as much, at the Republicans.  He showed, I thought, no grace today, no humor—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HALPERIN:  -- no sense of bigness.  That‘s what he needs.  He‘s now put himself in the middle.  The Republicans are no great friends of his all of a sudden.  They‘re taking shots at him.  The left is very angry.  He‘s putting himself in a risky place, in the middle, where there‘s a lot of people—as he pointed out repeatedly, the public‘s with him.  But he needs to be bigger, I think, than he was today stylistically.

MATTHEWS:  Well, good point.  Let‘s listen to him now today.  Let‘s see what he‘s doing today.  Here‘s another piece of what he had late this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  To my Democratic friends, what I‘d suggest is let‘s make sure that we understand this is a long game.  This is not a short game.  And to my Republican friends, I would suggest I think this is a good agreement because I know that they‘re swallowing some things that they don‘t like, as well, and I‘m looking forward to seeing them on the field of competition over the next two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow!  There‘s somebody home, Chuck.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Did you see those eyes wide open?  His eyes—I‘ve never seen his eyes so wide open—if that‘s human language, he‘s directly talking to people, if you will.  He‘s saying to the Democrats, I don‘t like your barking at me.  And maybe that‘s natural human—you know—all three of us know, watching politics, that the—the fiercest fights are always within your own party.  The toughest shots come from behind you.

TODD:  Always, yes.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s the ones that go after your character. 

All this talk about manning up and being tough and wussing and Bill Maher going after him, and I would think that would be tougher to take than John Boehner taking some shot across the aisle at me.  I could laugh at that. 

TODD:  Well, that‘s right. 

I think what you saw is Barack Obama, the radical pragmatist.  What‘s different from him than Bill Clinton is, Bill Clinton is true—I think more of a centrist ideologically than perhaps President Obama is.  But President Obama is a pragmatist.  He ran as a pragmatist.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  His entire campaign was about pragmatism.

And think this was their—look, I will tell you this.  The White House is pretty happy with this performance today.  I think they feel like as if this was the president showing that he‘s in charge.  It‘s his town.  He will do what he has to do to get some of these things through. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  But I do think the very muted response so far among Democrats in response, we have not seen many actual lawmakers go public since the president talked.

Now, part of that is because there‘s still a few things happening behind the scenes.  He is going to have to very early now, if he gets this vote, and I think he is going to get it, very early, in January, February, he‘s going to have to show backbone and go after the House Republicans a little bit and McConnell a little bit to sort of regain the faith of the left. 

MATTHEWS:  I got a bigger point.  Rather than going after them, I would say challenge them to do something about long-term debt reduction.  Do it, guys.  You‘re the party of fiscal responsibility?  You Tea Party types out there, start blowing some steam out of your teapots and actually do something about reducing the long-term debt.  Don‘t just try to get yourself elected again.  That‘s what I would like to see. 

Anyway, Chuck Todd, thanks so much for the reporting.

Thank you, Mark Halperin. 

Up next, let‘s get some reaction from the left on what the president said today. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This country was founded on compromise.  I couldn‘t go through the front door at this country‘s founding.  And, you know, if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn‘t have a union. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Obama being somewhat philosophical this afternoon. 

Democratic Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont circulating a letter on Capitol Hill addressed to Speaker Pelosi, it reads in part—quote—“We oppose acceding to Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires.   It is fiscally irresponsible.  It is grossly unfair.  The president should not back down.  Nor should we.”

Congressman Welch joins us right now.

Basically, if you can take a minute, Congressman, lay out the alternative, not just the bellicose opposition to the president.  Everybody‘s doing that now out on the left, the progressive roots.  But just tell me, how would you proceed between now through the rest of December, through however long it took?  How would you fight this fight, if you will? 

REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT:  Well, the president said that the American people agreed with him that we shouldn‘t be going on the credit card to extend tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires.  And I think he should have hung in there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And done what?  And tell me that route and where it goes. 

Lead him.  Tell him where the president should have gone.

WELCH:  Well, first of all, I think he‘s got the bully pulpit and he ultimately has the veto pen.  He‘s got a lot of power.  And what he‘s dealing with—and I have a lot of sympathy on this—is an intractable Senate-Republican leadership that will not cooperate. 

And the two things that are a problem here—and this is why I think, down the road, this leads to much more difficulty for us—is, one, a trillion-dollar deeper hole on our deficit. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  Congressman, I have only got a little time. 

I want you to tell me what he should do.  If you don‘t cut a deal with the Republicans, the taxes goes up for everybody this January 1.  Are you willing to accept that?  Because the Republicans are not going to give you 60 votes to do it your way in the Senate, as you point out. 

WELCH:  He says no.  We have got 53 votes in the Senate.  And the president has to say no to them and engage the American people.

Here‘s the bottom line.  If the American people know that the choice is between the Republican position to hold unemployment benefits hostage and the middle-class tax cuts for 98 percent of the people hostage, or the president‘s position, they are going to come down, I believe, on the side of the president.

And will that then be expressed by them against senators who are holding out with a filibuster?  The president‘s got to have, as I think all of us have to have, ultimately some confidence that the American people are going to know what‘s good for them.  A trillion dollars added on to the debt is not good for them.  This is the political trap that the Republicans have been so successful in setting before.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you believe that the average tax—the majority of the American people out there would support not getting their tax cuts because the president comes out and says, the reason you‘re not getting your tax cuts, or you‘re actually going to get a tax increase, is because they‘re trying to fight for the rich?

And you think they would buy that? 

WELCH:  You know, Chris, I think the American people are getting pretty cynical about what is going on here, because this is an absurd situation, where literally 98 percent of the people would get a tax cut under President Bush—or under President Obama‘s plan, and the Republicans are holding it up. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WELCH:  And then we blink.  I think we blinked too soon.  There‘s a couple more innings in this game. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WELCH:  We could keep—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he wants to use those innings to get don‘t ask,

don‘t tell through, to get the New START nuclear treaty through.  And if he

does go a couple more innings, as you suggest—I‘m just making his case -

right through Christmas—

WELCH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: -- nothing gets done.  Republicans get control of the House next year.  Nothing‘s going to get down on don‘t ask, don‘t tell, and they‘re going to cream you guys. 

WELCH:  You know what?  And that‘s absolutely the position that they have used.  And they have done a stick-up—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WELCH: -- time and again.

Well, let me finish and make one last point. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

WELCH:  This is the political trap that they have set.  And before the ink is dry on this deal that they have demanded, the Republican leadership will accuse the president of being a budget-buster, fiscally reckless, and accuse him of adding a trillion dollars to the deficit. 

And just look at what John Boehner is doing.  He‘s saying, let the Democrats do the dirty work.  He‘s not even telling the president he will get the voters to get this passed.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WELCH:  That should tell us something about what is going on here.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re going to be watching that, sir.

Congressman Welch, we‘re going to be watching the House for the next couple weeks to see if he does get to 218.  I always like to remind people, it takes 218 to do anything. 

Thank you so much for joining us.  Happy Christmas to you, sir.

WELCH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now to Governor Ed Rendell, Democrat of Pennsylvania. 

And I‘m always fascinated to know what the governor thinks. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think the president did what he had to do, because I look down the road to Christmas, Hanukkah—well, Hanukkah has already passed - - this hellacious situation where everybody‘s taxes are going up, we‘re not getting unemployment compensation, we‘re not getting don‘t ask, we have got a nuclear thing with the Russians blown to hell.  And nobody‘s really saying to the president, good work, good—keep fighting like that. 

I don‘t see a lot of hurrahs if he did that route.  My thoughts.

Yours, sir.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, you‘re right, Chris. 

Congressman Welch didn‘t lay out an endgame.  And there is no endgame here.  The president did a good job.  Number one, he only extended the millionaires tax cut two years.  After that, we can go back and peel it back to Reagan-Clinton level.  That‘s number one.

Number two, what the left or certain people on the left are not saying is, we got five very, very important things in return, extension of the earned income tax credit for our poorest Americans, extension of the college tax credit, 13 more months of unemployment insurance for hundreds and hundreds of thousands and millions of Americans desperately in need, 2 percent payroll cut for average working people who make less than $100,000. 

So, if you make $50,000, you‘re getting a $1,000 cut in your federal income tax.  That helps the people we care about very, very much.  And expensing, for small businesses to be able to expense, to write off 100 percent of their investments in their own business in the first year and 50 percent in the second year, that will get this economy humming.

And those are the things that we needed.  So the president just didn‘t concede.  He got a lot back in return that we might not otherwise have gotten. 

MATTHEWS:  I think about the guys in Pennsylvania you and I know, friends of ours, Carney and Murphy, that all lost these elections the last fall, just a couple weeks ago.  I think they would have been better off with this kind of a deal.  It‘s the guys in the safe seats that say fight like hell. 

And it‘s the ones—you know, when you‘re trying to get moderates and suburbanites and rural people, they do want the tax cut.  And they don‘t really care if the rich get them.  They want the tax cut. 

I‘m just making his argument, the president.  There‘s another argument, I know.

RENDELL:  No, but it‘s a strong argument.

And, look, I hate the fact that we didn‘t do the—that we gave a tax cut to the very rich.  When Bill Clinton did it in 1993, as you recall, there were all these talks it‘s going to be a job-killer.  It‘s hurting the job-creators.  Baloney.

We created 23.5 million new jobs right after that happened.  We set off a spiral because we balanced the deficit.  That‘s the important thing.  So, the Republicans are full of bull. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RENDELL:  But they had the cards here, and the president had no choice.  And he created a very good bargain for working-class and middle-class Americans. 

MATTHEWS:  Any chance you will be chief of staff in this administration? 

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  Well, Colin Powell said it again today, but—but I want Colin Powell to be chief of staff. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think you would be great.

Anyway, I will see you in the Pennsylvania Society, hopefully, in New York this weekend.

RENDELL:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a deal-maker and an executive who knows that you have to cut deals at the endgame point.  When you reach the head, when you get to the end of the line, you have got to cut a deal. 

Up next:  Tea for all?  The head of the Tea Party Nation says you shouldn‘t be allowed to vote unless you own property.  This is—are they Federalists?  These guys are supposedly populists.  It sounds like they‘re plutocrats.  You have got to have money to vote.  Hmm.  That‘s what the Tea Party stands for? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks weakening late in the day on news about another insider trading probe.  The Dow Jones industrials ending three points in the red, the S&P up a fraction, the Nasdaq tacking on a 3.5-point gain. 

Stocks were trading higher for most of the day on President Obama‘s tax cut compromise with Republicans.  The deal removes some uncertainty and gives investors an idea of how the president will work with this Congress. 

But bond prices fell sharply on concerns the cuts will lead to ballooning budget deficits.  The 10-year treasury yield jumping to its highest level since June.  Then we heard that report from Reuters claiming federal investigators are stepping up a probe of insider trading, reportedly sending out more than a dozen subpoenas to large hedge funds over the last two weeks.

And Citigroup trading close to three billion shares today, as the government sold off the last of its common stock, share prices up more than 3 percent.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Tea Partiers have famously said they want to take their country back, but no one thought they meant back in time, until now. 

A small group of conservatives are clamoring right now to change the country‘s voting rights.  Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips recently said that the right to vote should be limited to property owners. 

Here he is on his own radio program. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

JUDSON PHILLIPS, FOUNDER, TEA PARTY NATION:  The founding fathers originally said they put certain restrictions on who got the right to vote.  It wasn‘t just you were just a citizen and you automatically got to vote. 

Now, some of their restrictions were—you know, you obviously would not think about today.  But one of them was, you had to be a property owner.  And that makes a lot of sense, because, if you‘re—if you‘re a property owner, you actually have a vested stake in the community.  And if you‘re not a property owner, you know, I‘m sorry, but they—property owners have a little bit more of a vested stake in the community than non-property owners do.

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  I‘m not sure where he stands on property requirements for voting.  David Corn is a Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” and a contributor writer to PoliticsDaily.com.       

Pat, this is a throwback.  I mean, there‘s nothing in our founding documents, certainly not in the Constitution of the United States, requiring landownership before you have the franchise, or the suffrage, if you will. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, the right to vote, Chris, as you know, is restricted to the states. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  They make the decision, and that‘s why you needed a constitutional amendment to make sure African-Americans could vote and women could vote.

And I understand the principle behind it, but I‘m afraid we‘re pretty far beyond that.  A lot of folks who are very wealthy and contribute to a community rent property, or they rent in places.  A lot of retired people do. 

I have thought that maybe it ought to be restricted to folks who pay taxes to the community, but can you really do that, when some young 18-year-old is not paying any taxes, but he is on some hill in Afghanistan? 

I think you should leave it to the states.  And I think the restrictions on the franchise, I don‘t think any of them, realistically, are going to get through in any state. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you support, if you had the opportunity, a landowning requirement to vote?  Do you support it in principle, if it could pass? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, no, I would not restrict it to that.

But the idea of owning property—let me say this, Chris.  I often thought when I was out in Saint Louis and I was renting, I don‘t bother voting and stuff.  I was having a good time.  And the people that lived there and owned houses were really concerned about schools and about traffic and about—and they really get concerned in the community.

And there‘s no doubt, in that sense, they were a better citizen of the community than I was, and then I am right now, when I‘m a property owner in McLean, as you are in Chevy Chase. 

So, I think there‘s an argument that can be made, but, as a practical matter, it ain‘t going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  So—but I can‘t get you straight.  Do you like the idea? 

One last thought here we move back to Corn.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, in principle, it‘s a good idea to have land requirements before you vote, yes or no?

BUCHANAN:  Well, let me say this.

MATTHEWS:  You keep—you waffle. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Winston Churchill—no, I‘m not.  Winston Churchill said it very well.  Anybody who thinks democracy is the best form of government ought to spend five minutes with the average voter. 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  Whoa.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, he said it‘s the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t challenge me on Churchill.  I‘m the Churchillian. 

You‘re the guy with Chamberlain.  Remember that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the Chamberlain guy.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Pat, you didn‘t say that—Pat didn‘t say that when he was running in New Hampshire back in ‘96 and beforehand.

But you came real close to endorsing this.  I mean, Pat, you‘ve wanted to take us back to the 1950s.  But Judson Phillips wants to take us back to the 1750s.  I mean, this is just nonsense.

And the funny thing about this guy is, Chris, he wants property owners to have a right to vote.  Well, what about people who go bankrupt?  Because he filed for bankruptcy a few years.  Does that mean you get your right to vote taken away?  I mean, it‘s just nonsense and it shows you what‘s happening with the leadership of the Tea Party.

BUCHANAN:  It is not right.  Look, the proposition (INAUDIBLE) is true, but the idea that there is, that the franchise is universal—Chris, you had a little test the other day with (INAUDIBLE).  Four—they have four answers you had.  A multiple choice, who‘s the chief justice of the United States?  John Roberts, Hillary Clinton, Antonin Scalia or Joe Lieberman.  Twenty-eight percent got John Roberts.

That tells you, why are people—let me ask you, it‘s a valid question to ask—why are people voting for the next president of the United States who can‘t even name or don‘t even have any idea—

CORN:  You want a test, pat?  I mean, go back to literacy tests?  Maybe a poll tax?  I mean, what do you want?  Maybe English only?  I mean, where are you going to restrict it?

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  I don‘t mind.  Let me go back to Pat.  Pat—

BUCHANAN:  Yes, English.  Yes, English only, I‘d go for that.  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to your requirements.  Your requirements are land ownership, sufficient knowledge of world events and history.  Where are we at?  You have to have some geography in there or not?  Or where else do you need to go for education?

Seriously, Pat, I think you would have a very elitist—

BUCHANAN:  Philosophically.

MATTHEWS:  -- I thought you were anti-elitist.  I think you didn‘t like the cultural elites.

CORN:  Elite is his position.

BUCHANAN:  Let me just say, I know—listen, what I‘m saying is that the idea of universal franchise, I don‘t think that‘s the greatest idea in the world.  It‘s what we‘ve got.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BUCHANAN:  And we‘ve got to live with it.  But I think people who put out these ideas ought not to be thrown out simply because they violate some ideological cannon of people‘s political religion.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look, I know people in our business, Pat, who I don‘t—I mean, on television, who I don‘t think know hardly anything about America‘s political history or politics today.  They can express left wing or right wing opinions easily.  That‘s easy.  That‘s gut stuff.

But I would like to see a lot of people that I work with around this business and I‘d like to ask them, just name the presidents in your lifetime.  I think they would falter.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think Sarah Palin might have a serious problem with some basic information.  She was talking the other day about Ronald Reagan going to college out in California. She doesn‘t even know his life, the hero of your party.  I mean, the ignorance is so overwhelming.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How if you want a requirement for people to run for president know something, Pat?  How about that for a test?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Chris, you‘re making a very good point.  You‘re making a very good point, which is—which is this.  Look, I mean, do we get the best possible decision on who our leaders should be from folks who don‘t know about anything—

MATTHEWS:  Anything, right.

BUCHANAN:  -- politics or issues?  Do we?  And what I‘m saying is why not that these Tea Party guys when they at least are raising a valid criticism of—

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  -- also know—they said they want the government out of Medicaid.  They don‘t even understand the basics of things that they are arguing for or against.

MATTHEWS:  You had a press secretary, Pat, recently, a couple of years ago in your brilliant George W. Bush administration, which didn‘t—they didn‘t want to know a lot of the facts, they had a press secretary, a president of the United States had a press secretary who had never heard of the Cuban missile crisis, had never heard of it.  And she‘s representing the president on national and international affairs.

So, I‘m baffled sometimes by the people that are put in these positions.

BUCHANAN:  But you‘re making my point, Chris.  If—

MATTHEWS:  These plutocrats can find plutocrats.

BUCHANAN:  Well, let me just tell you, suppose in 1963, after the missile crisis, somebody said, I don‘t know what this is.  And they say, who you‘re voting for?  I don‘t know.  Whoever—they take me down on the bus, whoever they tell me to vote for, I‘m going to vote for him.

How do you get the best possible person elected when this is what‘s going on?

CORN:  Pat, do you believe the voters you had behind you in New Hampshire and elsewhere could have passed all these tests?  Were you ready to give them a test?

BUCHANAN:  Well, they were committed enough to be out there in the middle of winter at a rally.  They know what I was saying and believed.  And it was—

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  OK.  Wait a second, a lot of people do that.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

CORN:  Anyone who‘s committing to have to go to a voting booth deserves a right to vote.

MATTHEWS:  You know, they do things you didn‘t know.  They know what night the Knights of Columbus met.  I‘ll tell you that, out there.  Pat, your crowd, though.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Are you knocking the Knights of Columbus?

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m kidding.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I would never.  My family has grown up in that group.  But there were certain bits of knowledge, I‘m being lighthearted here, that some people know and other people don‘t know.  That‘s all.  But I think you should know about American history before you become president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Right, Chris, wouldn‘t you agree that we want the best educated electorate we can with knowledge and understanding of issues and principles and beliefs and history?  I don‘t care who they are without regard to race, color or creed, but who really know something.  That‘s who we want selecting our leaders.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I want?

BUCHANAN:  That‘s all I‘m saying.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I want Pat and David?  I want to have a button with all this button communications that we can do—go to your laptop, your computer at home, and before you vote, the week before you vote, or the weekend, sit there and push a button that tells you, call it citizen or whatever, that tells you how the people in your district voted, state Senate, state assembly, U.S. Congress.  And it just tells you everything about their voting record and issues like life that you care about or foreign policy.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I‘d like to have all of that.  And by the way, with computer technology today, voting knowledge should be easy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, we got to go.  Property rights, yes or no, Pat? 

All right.  Can I put you down for property rights for voting?

CORN:  I think he‘s a maybe on that.

MATTHEWS:  Property rights?

CORN:  I think he‘s a definite maybe.

BUCHANAN:  Yes, stocks are included.

CORN:  I‘d say no.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan—a little undecided on the issue of property rights.  I think he‘s back with John Adams on that maybe.

Anyway, David Corn as always, I know where you stand.  No property rights, but intelligence rights.

Up next: which potential Republican contender for 2012 was actually looking strong right now against President Obama?  Actually, there are some that are looking pretty good.  In fact, one of them beats him.  Let‘s talk about that when we get back.  What‘s the strongest, well, elements, in the Republican field right now?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Late today, we learned that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the former presidential candidate John Edwards, has lost her battle with cancer at the age of just 61.

Norah O‘Donnell is MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent and, of course, covered—you covered her so many times, Elizabeth Edwards.  What do you feel about this and think of it all?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s obviously a very sad day, not just for the Edwards‘ family, but also for many who liked and admired Elizabeth Edwards.  We‘re told that she died at 10:15 this morning.

She‘d been struggling with breast cancer, diagnosed more than six years ago with breast cancer.  It had spread to her bones and to her liver, and she was told in the past couple of weeks that doctors thought that it would be unproductive to continue further treatment.  She was sick over Thanksgiving.  She was briefly hospitalized and so she‘s been back at home with her family and friends in these final hours and finally passed this morning.

Her family put out this statement that I will read to you, Chris, that says, “Elizabeth Anania Edwards, mother, author, advocate died today at her home in Chapel Hill, surrounded by her family.  Today, we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth‘s presence but she remains the heart of this family.  We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.  On behalf of Elizabeth, we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way.  Your support and prayers touched our entire family.”

She is, of course, survived by her older daughter, Cate, a Washington lawyer, who‘s 28 years old, as well as two children, Emma Claire, who is 12 years old, and Jack who is 10 years old.  The Edwards lost their son, Wade, at 16 years old who died in a car crash.  And Edwards family had said that it was their son‘s death, Wade that propelled John Edwards into politics when he first won that race for the United States Senate in a big upset victory.

And many people always saw Elizabeth Edwards as someone who remade the role of political spouse.  She was in many ways the chief strategist, the chief campaign manager in some ways behind John Edwards, a brilliant woman in her own right, a lawyer who practiced under her maiden name for many years before she entered politics with her husband and became an advocate in later years for health care reform and also was a best-selling author of two books, “Saving Graces.”

And, I think many way, too, she grew into her own kind of political figure and well-beloved figure, Chris, because—not only because she suffered breast cancer publicly, talked about it express her loneliness about dealing with breast cancer and struggling with terminal cancer for so many years, but also as a mother who lost a son at the age of 16 and then also as a wife who had been scorned by her husband, who had cheated on her and had a child with another woman, and she talked about that quite publicly in the end.

She is separated from John Edwards—

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK.

O‘DONNELL:  -- but they were—he was with her at the end, I‘m told, by friends—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  That was good.  Thank you so much.  Great reporting.  Norah O‘Donnell, who covered so much of the political life, at the end especially on Elizabeth Edwards, who died today.

When we got word of Elizabeth Edwards‘ death late today, it turns out that I was just returning from a memorial service for Ted Sorenson, my friend and top aide to President John F. Kennedy.  My tribute to Ted Sorenson—when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This afternoon, there was a memorial service here in New York for the great Theodore Sorenson who served as counselor and most notably as speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy.

A good speechwriter can hear the voice of the president as he or she drafts his words.  A great one can hear the years.  Ted Sorensen can hear what Jack Kennedy could hear, this brightly (ph) cadence of a country young in spirit venturing out to new frontiers.  He sensed in the air that Kennedy and he both breath the brisk aspiration of a young generation come to authority, the changing of the guard from the old generals of World War II to the young officers come back to lead the revelry of that torch being passed.

Ted once said that it‘s not the words John F. Kennedy spoke but the nobility of what he said.  As with Hemingway, the authority of that nobility arose from the back story.

When you have lost a brother in war, when you have heroically saved your crew members in the South Pacific, you can call upon your fellow Americans to ask what they can do for their country.

Here was the war, the young PT boat skipper who carried on his back his badly burned chief engineer for four hours through Japanese-held waters, the strap of the man‘s life jacket clenched in Jack‘s teeth.  Here was the conscientious objector with the same determination to prevent a far worse war.

Ted may not have known, I hope did he how Jack once wrote a war buddy in 1945 that the wars would only end when the CEO gets the same admiration as the fighter.  Such moral respect he had for this man he called his intellectual blood bank.

People asked what comes first, the president or the speechwriter?  What comes first when the composer works with the lyricist?  It‘s the music that drives the words.  There‘s a meeting of souls and writing of words for history.

Ted and Jack spent a decade together.  They spent years writing in a small plane, just the two of them, these two young guys out to win the trust of their country.  In that small plane, they carried the ideas that would become the new frontier.

I think Ted Sorenson cherished those years and together, they found the words.  “So, it is apparently necessary for me to state once again—not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.  We are confronted primarily with a moral issue it is as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.  Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man and man can be as big as he wants.  No problem of human history is beyond human beings, man‘s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable and we believe we can do it again.”

I was on the Rhodesian Railroad 40 years ago, the overnight train from Mozambique.  I was reading a paperback edition of “Kennedy” by Ted Sorensen.  When I got home to the United States in my years in the Peace Corps, I wanted to be like Ted Sorenson, a legislative assistant to a U.S.  senator and someday write speeches for a president.  A few years back, I saw an honest memo my friend Rick Herzberg (ph) wrote in getting me approved for the job my hopes, quote, “He is a fast solid writer, politically very savvy, but Chris is no Sorenson.”

A few months back when we were on a panel together at the Smithsonian Institute, I told the man we honored today how I had long wanted to be a Ted Sorenson.  “You can‘t,” he said, “the position‘s already taken”—the truest word he is ever spoke.

Ted was unique and always his own and we will dearly miss him, as a friend, as our noble countryman, as a moral pathfinder.

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

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

           

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